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Time Out With Tanya

No Studio? No Problem! Part 3: Shooting in the Living Room

By Tanya Goodall Smith on March 7th 2014

Welcome to Time Out with Tanya, where I’ve put my fast paced graphic design career on hold in favor of adventures in motherhood. I’m capturing every moment on camera and you can come along, if you’d like. Sign up for my weekly email here so you’ll never miss a Time Out.


In Part 3 of our No Studio? No Problem! Series, I’m sharing some ideas for creating professional portraiture in the Living Room area of a home. Click here to read No Studio? No Problem! Part 1: Mobile Photography Studio Kit, where I list all the gear I use on-location, and Part 2: Shooting in the Master Bedroom.

Natural Window Light


ISO 1600, 50mm, f/4, 1/640 sec

If you’re lucky enough to have a huge set of north facing windows in your home, there’s no reason you can’t shoot with natural light during the day, especially if you have a camera and lens that can handle lower light situations. In the above image, I’m simply using light coming in from the windows at camera left and shooting with the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 50mm f/1.4 lens. I use sheer white curtains on my windows for a nice diffused light. I actually keep a couple of these curtain panels in my camera bag for use on-location, in case I want to use window light and it’s a little too harsh.

Natural Light with Reflector


Here I’m shooting in the same little corner of my living room, this time with a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L lens and I’ve propped a reflector up on the back of the sofa to bounce a little light onto the other side of the face. This works really well and doesn’t require any additional lighting set up. I personally prefer photographing kids with natural light whenever possible.


ISO 1000, 70mm, f/4, 1/100 sec

Of course, I’m editing my images with the SLR Lounge Lightroom Preset System. For this image, I simply used the Standard Color Import preset. One click. Boom. Done!

Continuous Light


ISO 400, 85mm, f/1.8, 1/200 sec

For this set up, I was being a little lazy and didn’t want to drag out my Backdrop Stand, so I just taped a roll of paper to my fireplace mantel. Why didn’t I think of this sooner??! I also happened to have a new NEEWER LED Video Light, and wanted to test it out for still photos. I placed it inside an octagonal umbrella modifier at camera right as a fill for the window light at camera left. It worked great!



ISO 800, 70mm, f/2.8, 1/125 sec

This portrait was from a session during the month of December, which is frigid and dark here in Spokane. The whole family was together for Christmas and the mom wanted portraits taken in the home. No problem. I simply set up one Speedlite on a Light stand and bounced the flash off the ceiling. It was quick and easy to move around as needed.


ISO 160, 70mm, f/2.8, 1/160 sec

For a more dramatic look, set up a backdrop and use your flash with a soft box modifier and grid, which is exactly what I did for this Super Hero birthday party photo booth. In hindsight, I wish I’d placed a second light to the left, to highlight the hair and separate the kids from the backdrop a little, but, learning by experience is my favorite part of photography. I’m constantly experimenting and improving.

For more information about creative lighting, check out the SLR Lounge Lighting 101 Workshop DVD, available in the SLR Lounge store. Click here to view more details.

So, how do you create memorable portraits in the homes of your clients? One commenter following the previous article in this series thought photographing in the bedroom of a client’s home was totally unprofessional. Do you agree?

CREDITS: All photographs by Tanya Smith are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

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Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Ally

    In general, I do not like doing sessions in clients’ home for a few reasons. The first is that I do not know what the lighting will be like (will there be a big window, or will it be dark?). Second, I don’t know how much space I will have, or how cluttered that space will be. And, most importantly, I find that young children are so much more distracted in their own home. They want to watch tv, play with their toys, go to another room… If they are in my studio, I have more control over them: they are there to see me for a specific reason and I am the boss. If clients don’t want a studio session, we go on nature walks. I am still in control, kids are relaxed and happy, the lighting is natural and the backgrounds are wonderful.

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  2. Picture Zealot

    HAHAHAHAHAHAAHAH! I think pictures in the home environment are so much more genuine and better reflect who the people are. Even if a photographer may be a stranger in someone’s home, the subjects going into a studio is even stranger, if that makes sense. There are also usually a lot of options in (or outside of) someone’s home too, including a studio-like picture like you’ve shown, and they don’t have to go anywhere and are more comfortable.

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  3. Shawn

    I love shooting in the client’s home. It seems always to be a place where they’re very comfortable. Shooting in a living room or family room next to a large window is wonderful. I also love shooting in bedrooms. The master bedroom or guest room typically have richer bedding and more formal headboards and furnishings. The children’s bedrooms are very familiar to them and if furnished well can make wonderful sets.

    I really like using bedroom and closet doors as bounce flash modifiers as they’re large, usually white and can often be adjusted to point direct the light where I desire. I also prefer them over the ceiling as I prefer the light more horizontal than vertical like you get off the ceiling.

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    • Tanya Smith

      Great tips! You can also bounce a flash off a reflector if the walls are not white.

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  4. Kim

    It can be an uncomfortable feeling allowing a stranger into your home, especially one with an eye for detail. A stranger who points a camera at you, another uncomfortable feeling for most people. As the professional in the room it’s up to you to dissipate that emotion and make sure your client can enjoy the time with you. Failing to work with and judge the situation is unprofessional, allowing a person to feel at home is not. So it not where you shoot it’s how you shoot.

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  5. Pye

    Love this Tanya, I love shooting in the clients homes whenever possible, cause they are the most comfortable there! Great article!

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    • tanya

      Exactly! Moms love it because it eliminates the stress of having to drag their kids and all their stuff to a studio.

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  6. Anthony Thurston

    I feel like shooting in a clients home because you can’t shoot elsewhere is unprofessional. However, if you are shooting there because that is what they requested or because that is what they preferred, then I see no issues with that.

    Professional quality images can be made anywhere, if you do a good job clients will like your images regardless of the location of the shoot.

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