8 Tips for in-home portrait photography

In-home portrait sessions don’t seem like they would be all that different from shooting outside, but they’ve got their own set of challenges.

If you’ve been around here for anything length of time though, you know that shooting inside, at home, is one of my favourite things. Whether it’s just me and Duncan, or my family over the holidays, or a lazy morning portrait session…sign me the eff up.

I’ve made a conscious effort to get better at this, so today I’m sharing what I’ve learned with you:


in-home portrait session tips

1. Finding the light

This is fairly straightforward, but the mindset is a little different than finding light outside. For starters, “outside” usually has just one light source, and you can’t turn it off. In fact, we’re often working against light that we think is “less than ideal.” Inside, you can have light coming from all over, in all different colours, and it’s often much weaker light than what we’re dealing with outside.

It’s best to limit the number of light sources for a more natural look. i.e., if you can get away with one light, leave the other ones off.

And when you can, try to use the sun over artificial lights! That means getting your subjects near the windows, often trying to get as much light as possible on your sensor. Outside, we “backlight” a lot, i.e. put the sun behind our subjects to avoid harsh shadows. With a window, backlighting just makes exposing the image more difficult and uneven. Feel free to turn your subjects’ faces into the light! You can always make very good use of sheer curtains as diffusers if the light is too strong.


in-home portrait session tips

2. Embrace those weird shadows

When dealing with buildings/etc., you’re going to get some shadows that you won’t really see in nature. More harsh lines, more weird shapes, etc. You can try to avoid them, which is fine, but you can also embrace them!

“It’s art.”

Let the light fall diagonally across your subject’s face, let the lines be harsh, let the patterns be unnatural. Run with it.


in-home portrait session tips

3. Ride the ISO

Look, you might have to.

By that, I mean, don’t be afraid to bump the ISO higher than you normally would. If I’m shooting outside, I prefer to schedule the session for sunrise or sunset, but for in-home sessions, I want as much light as possible, so I aim for the brighter parts of the day. It can get pretty dark, depending on how large the windows are, which direction they’re facing, etc. Push that ISO; a little grain never hurt anyone, and it’s better than an entire gallery of blur.

(Need a refresher on ISO? I got you.)


4. Pay closer attention to your white balance

Nothing screams “unnatural” like the yellow cast of overhead lighting.

Most people don’t set their lights to exactly mimic the temperature of daylight (how dare they), so images taken indoors tend to be more yellow straight out of camera. Unless you compensate (a lot) with your white balance while shooting.

Yes, you can fix this in post, and it’s not always a difficult fix, but it can be so damn frustrating. And if an image is too yellow, you may not be able to salvage the true colours! Get it close in camera, and you’ll save yourself a lot of pain and suffering.

…not actual suffering. But you know.


5. Notice the details

If you’re shooting an in-home session, you’re in someone’s home; it’s right there in the name. Document it for them, tell their story. If it’s your home, tell your story. You likely have a wealth of details at your disposal that you may not be used to if you only shoot outside. What do they have hanging on the walls? What’s sitting on the shelves, what memories do they have on display, what kind of plants are hanging about?

(If they don’t have any plants, may I suggest you gift them one of these; their lives can only improve.)


in-home portrait session tips

6. Try new things

Especially if you aren’t used to in-home sessions, this is your chance to try things you may not have been able to before! Different prompts, lighting, moods, anything. There aren’t many “props” outside either, so when you move inside, don’t be afraid to use what’s around you!

…It’s really fun.


in-home portrait session tips

7. Unless it’s deliberate, don’t make it weird.

Personal preference, but…

Ballgowns and heels aren’t normal inside. Even “shoes” are rarely normal inside. Let them be barefoot, let them wear the comfy clothes they usually wear at home. Unless you’re deliberately going for that sort of contrast, or you’re in a big fancy mansion and want fancy clothes to match, think carefully about where you are.

Don’t just try and take an outdoor session and move it inside. The environment is just as important here as anything else; let it guide your other decisions.


in-home portrait session tips

8. Practice

Has to be done, my sweet baby angels.

In-home sessions are just…different. And as with all new things, if you aren’t used to it, you’re going to have to practice! Train your brain to think about composition in new ways, learn your camera’s limits and then push them. We all have our “go to” settings for different situations outside, but you’ll likely have to learn a whole new list of go to’s for inside–practice until they’re second nature. Practice editing until you know how far you can push your images (if need be), and let that guide your shooting style.



Shooting indoors will always be special to me. And now that we’re approaching the winter months (in California. Read: may have to put on a jacket and the sun goes down pretty early), in-home sessions are where it’s at! Hit me up for some cosy in-homes this season; you don’t even have to wear real pants.

Win win.

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