This guide will give you some practical tips on how to capture meaningful but artistic documentary style photos during your time at home. Included are tips on how to find the best light and some inspirational ideas for what to capture and how to do it.
Danielle Blewitt Photography | Pittsburgh, PA
Spending a lot of time inside lately? Yes, us too (unfortunately). There is no doubt we are living in one of the most uncertain times in history. Although there is an uneasy feeling that surrounds us, there is a beautiful silver lining to it all.. quality family time at home.
How do you think your children will remember this time? I’m fairly certain they won’t be bothered with the anxiety or fear that many of us feel but instead they will remember the good stuff. They are getting more time than ever with mom and dad and enjoying genuine family time.
Albeit life is far from normal right now, I urge you to document your days. Snapping some photos will give your family a tangible way to remember this crazy time and preserve some great moments.
HOW TO EXECUTE BEAUTIFUL INDOOR DOCUMENTARY PHOTOS
Before we jump into the “what” to shoot, I have a few tips on the “how,” including how to find the best indoor light. The most important aspect to capturing any photo is the availability and use of light.
Here are some of my favorite ways to find the best indoor light for photos.
Window Light – Natural, abundant and directional light is any photographers best friend. If you want to document the happenings in your home, try to position yourself near a window.
There are a few ways the light can be used to create beautiful photos.
- Flat Light – This is when your subject is facing the window. The light hits the subject straight on and lights their face evenly. This is a great way to capture the full details of a scene or your subject. How To: Have your subject face the window. You will have to position yourself with the window to your back, therefore standing in between the window and your subject.
- Directional – This is using the light in a more creative and dramatic way by angling your subject from the window. The contrast of the light and shadows will give you a much more dimensional portrait. I personally love using window light this way!How To: Place your subject at an angle near a window. A 45 degree angle will give you some nice dimension, while a 90 degree angle will create much more dramatic contrast between light and shadows.
- Backlit or Silhouette – For a more creative look, a backlit photo or a silhouette can tell a beautiful story in an artistic way. A backlit photo is just that, where the light source is coming from behind the subject. A silhouette is where the background is brighter than the subject, and your subject is darker. When done properly, a silhouette can be striking and tell a story. How To: To achieve this look, you need a bright and concentrated light source. Windows make for really great backdrops for a silhouette. Ideally you want your subject to be filling the frame, meaning you want as much background as you can around your subject so that details can be defined . You, as the photographer will be facing the window with your subject between you and the window. Camera Phone Tip: If you are using a camera on your phone, your phone will automatically try to light your subject. You need to override this by touching the background. This will tell your camera that you want it to expose for the background and keep your subject in the shadow. Most phones will allow you to specify the area of focus by touching the screen, however it will quickly try to revert back to the auto focus.
- Pockets of Light – Pay attention to how light streams into your home throughout the day. You will notice pockets of light in the early morning and before the sun sets when the sun is near the horizon and peeking in the windows. These pockets of light can make for some really unique photos and dramatic storytelling.
- Shoot From Above – Getting above the action can give the viewer a unique peak into the scene. You can see the action rather than just a standard portrait.
- Get Low – With little ones, so much of the action happens down low on the floor. Getting low will make the viewer feel like they are in on the action. It gives you a unique and memorable perspective for great storytelling.
- Get In the Action – One of my favorite ways to tell a story is by layering my photos. By including some items in the foreground and background immerses the viewer in the scene, making them feel like they are there. When the focus is on your subject the blurred items in front and behind the subject add a lot of dimension.
- Details, Details, Details – The story is in the details. Remember, you do not always need to include a face or a head in every photo. Zooming in and focusing on the details can help supplement your storytelling.
Flat Light – She is facing the window and the light is hitting her straight on and lighting her features evenly.
Flat Window Light – With the light coming straight in, there are very little shadows and dimension. The light is flat.
Directional Light – The light is coming from the side, giving his face some highlights and shadows.
Directional Light – In this self portrait, I was facing the window at an angle, making for a more dramatic portrait.
Silhouette – Although the subject is in shadow, the light surrounding her profile produces a beautiful silhouette.
Backlit – With the window behind her, the light illuminates her profile defining her actions.
Silhouette – This is a perfect mix of using dimensional window light for a silhouette.
Dramatic Lighting – An early morning bath mixed perfectly with light streaming through our blinds.
Dramatic Lighting – We cheated a little here, using a blanket to filter and texture the pockets of morning light.
Dramatic Lighting – As the sun sets, it peeks through our window blinds for a unique photo opportunity.
WHAT TO CAPTURE FOR INDOOR DOCUMENTARY PHOTOS
Now for the good stuff, focusing on “what” we should try to document and how to do it. Memories are best when they are documented.
Put Your Viewer in the Scene – Documentary style photos are used to tell a story. You want the viewer to be able to feel like they are there. There are a few ways I love to do this through photos.
Shoot from Above: This birds eye view from above shows all the action.
Shoot from Above: A common scene in our house, lots and lots of toys!
Shoot From Above: Only from above can you see the fun they are having with each other.
Documentary Photos: My son in the foreground and kitchen in the background helps shape the story being told.
Documentary Photos: Peaking through the action gives the viewer a unique way to see the action.
Documentary Photos: The focus is on my son but the action surrounding him tells a funny story.
Details: There is beauty in the details. These little hands make my heart happy.
Details: You do not always need a face in the photo to tell your story.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO REMEMBER MOST?
There are certainly a lot of things that we will want to forget about the pandemic but we can control what we CHOOSE to remember.
For me it will be seeing my son live out his dream of jumping in muddy puddles, making cinnamon rolls from scratch, the numerous dance parties we had and so many other memories that are a direct result of our extended and uninterrupted time at home.
What I Want to Remember: This was a dream moment for my son – jumping in muddy puddles!
What I Want to Remember: Baking cinnamon rolls from scratch was the perfect (and yummy) indoor activity.
DON’T FORGET THE BASICS
Any photo whether it’s just a quick snap shot on your phone or a one that is intentional, you always want to keep a few tips in mind to capture a beautiful image.
A DOCUMENTARY CHALLENGE FOR YOU
I challenge you to pick the 5 things you want to remember from this crazy time in our lives and challenge yourself to capture each thing. The connections that are happening now are unscripted, natural and genuine. Record the moments you want to choose to remember, the ones that I promise you will appreciate what was happening when we look back at this time.
Wishing you health and happiness!
Life moves too fast. Although we can’t slow it down, we can record the moments that fill our hearts and tell our story through photos and films. I am a Pittsburgh family photographer and film maker that helps families record their stories and pause some of life’s greatest moments.
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