Photography is mostly presented as an outdoor activity.
Let me take you on a different voyage, inwards, discovering how to create your photography space within your home. For when you’ve to stay home or if you always stay home.
The subject of photography indoors has always interested me and excited my curiosity. No, I am not speaking of studio photography, although that does mean a way to spend many hours indoors, either for passion or because you’re a professional photographer doing studio work. I am talking about discovering what you can photograph at home.
I know that, if you’re like many people I talk to, you’ve just thought: “but there is nothing to photograph at home”. If you just said or imagined that, tell me, then, why the idea of studio photography excites you, probably? Isn’t it an activity where the photographer spends hours, days, months, photographing indoors? And no, not all of them photograph models and exquisite setups. Some photograph wine bottles, objects, products in general. If that idea excites you, why shouldn’t the idea of creating your own studio, at home, excite you as well?
Photography exists everywhere
See, I’ve got a point here. Now that you understand that there may be some sense in what I am trying to explain, let’s move further. Why am I so interested in photographing at home? Well, first because I always find there is so much you can create indoors, second because it is a terrific boot camp to explore light and understand how it works, and that experience can be taken outdoors to multiple types of photography. Last but not least, understanding that photography doesn’t end if I stay at home is an important aspect for me, when I think about the future.
Exploring the potential of photography at home means that even if the weather outside is not inviting, you can dedicate time to indoors projects that may be on-going. Suddenly, your photography becomes free of having to travel somewhere. A corner of a room or a tabletop transform into a “vast landscape” for hours of fun. Photography exists, for you, everywhere!
Photography at home may be part of your natural development as a photographer, but it is also an exercise that helps to pass the time if you’ve to stay home, for different reasons, from a temporary illness to a broken leg. In fact, photographing at home is, sometimes, the only option available to people, meaning photography can be both a pastime and have healing and therapeutic functions. This means that if you start to explore its potential when you’re younger, you may use that knowledge as an asset for a better and more interesting and engaged life later on.
Learn to SEE with new eyes
Call me crazy, but I am preparing myself for a time when I may not be able to move where my minds wants to go, a time when staying home may be my best option. I sincerely believe that part of the reason why I keep “young” – as some people tell me – has to do with the excitement I feel for photography, and I don’t want to give that up simply because my legs and body don’t want to carry me on the same adventures I had in my twenties or even today. Photography helps my imagination to run wild and free, even if I sit down by a table, playing with tabletop photography. This is no empty talk, something I say because it sounds good, I really mean it, because I spend hours playing with a variety of subjects and never get tired of exploring what light does to them. Each time I return, time flies for me!
I’ve photographed at home for decades now, and I’ve never reached a point where I said or felt “there is nothing more to photograph here”. There is, believe me, and that’s something I want you to explore through this article and take even further when, after reading it, you begin to look at the walls around you with different eyes. If I manage to awake readers to a new vision of their homes, I will be happy. And if you feel you want to keep the conversation going on or simply ask for some more advice, feel free to get in touch with me. Or follow me here at MSoX for some more adventures in photography. Because even if I write about other themes, some outdoors, the tips shared may, in many cases, be used for indoors projects. After all, light is light, and photography is nothing more than painting with it.
Marcel Proust once wrote that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes”. While Proust probably wrote it thinking about travel within the confines of a familiar landscape, the truth is that the idea can be extended to home. Whenever I visit someone, I always find in their homes interesting stuff to photograph, from a collection of bottles or vases to flowers or even the view outside their window. When I tell them so, the usual reply is “do you really think so? I never thought about it!”.
Home as a vibrant studio
A good way to get started, if you’ve no ideas, is to ask people around you. Friends, especially if they are keen photographers, may be your best source of ideas when it comes to photographing at home. Ask them if there’s something in your house that they think is worth photographing. Besides giving you ideas, your query will probably make them discover their own places under a new eye, especially if you share with them this article.
As mentioned above, one of the first things people tend to say, when told they should explore their own home as a photographic playground, is that there isn’t much to photograph. There is, as home is not a static place, and new things happen every day, both indoors and outside your window. If you learn to integrate photography with your life at home, everything is seen under a new pair of eyes, from the activity in the kitchen to your pets or a flower growing on your balcony. And yes, these are suggestions for photo activities you can keep going on for long periods of time.
The core idea for this article is that photography is not something that can only be practiced outdoors or in far away places. Photography starts at home. Now that the concept is finally explained, let’s go through some activities you can try. My suggestions, here, for photographing at home, are just, believe me, the tip of the iceberg. Depending on where you live, there are diverse opportunities, enough for a variety of projects that can take months, sometimes years.
Here are my suggestions for projects you may want to explore:
Create a studio, create portraits
Photographing the people around you can be a lifelong experience. With a tripod, a simple reflector and or a LED panel, so you can work even when there is no natural light and you want some control over the results, you can create a makeshift studio – see, we will have studio photography, after all – that can be the center of multiple visits by family and friends. Invite neighbours, friends, family, and photograph them at different times throughout their lives. You’ll have a unique collection to share and a field of exploration where the only limit is your imagination. Try different styles, study the work of different photographers and try to understand their work. You’ll discover you do not need sophisticated setups most of the time.
Photograph your pets
If you’ve pets at home, you’ve the chance to do some “portrait” and documentary photography of the animal world. Photographing your pets is a non-stop project that can be transformed in everything from eBooks to slideshows. From formal portraits to unique images of their behaviour, there’s a whole world to explore. Even if you do not have a companion animal, but like pets, get people to know that you like to photograph animals and offer to photograph theirs if brought to your place. Photograph them with their pet for unique portraits that will be cherished!
Photographing series of objects allows photographers to explore practical uses of light for documenting or creative purposes. Whichever direction you take – and you can explore both with the same subjects – start photographing collections: stamps, figurines, parfum flasks, miniature cars or coins. When you feel confident with our skills and if you want to continue, offer to photograph collections of objects from your friends.
Cook meals, photograph them
There is a trend in modern photography: people photograph dishes at restaurants, before eating them. Nothing stops you from doing the same at home. But start before, and whenever you cook or there is activity in the kitchen, take pictures. It’s a never ending project. Create still life compositions with bowls of fruits. Onions peels, vegetables just cut, everything is an excuse to get a camera to the kitchen table. It’a a colourful experience, an essay on textures and an exercise in composition.
Bring Nature home
Nature is closer than you think, even if you’re staying home. Flowers in vases are a good subject to photograph throughout the year. If you’ve them on a balcony, there may even be a chance, depending on the flowers, to attract insects, like bees, so you can have your share of nature elements. Depending on where you live, you can also photograph insects that enter your home, or appear on your window sill. Sometimes, I find flying ants on my windows – a 3rd floor – and take them in to photograph them, freeing them again afterwards. Be respectful of the little critters, though! I’ve also photographed the whole cycle from a caterpillar to a butterfly, which is a project for some weeks that will expand your knowledge about some species. In fact, studying about the subjects you photograph, from animals to flowers is part of the fun and another way to keep you busy with interesting activities.
Turn your lens outside
Being home does not mean you’re secluded from life outside. Your windows can open to different experiences, which vary depending on where you live. Sunsets and the sky in general, as seen from your windows, may be an ever changing show explorable almost everyday. Or maybe you live just above a busy street and your vantage point gives you unique perspectives of everyday life. Try to explore how light and movement change on your street throughout the day. Projects like time-lapse photography can expand this, offering you unique results that go beyond the single stills you shoot.
Use the suggestions above as a starting point for your own explorations. You do not need much gear to accomplish them and I have created a “recipe” for you with the “ingredients” needed. What’s important – and the real fun part of it – is to explore how light works with the different subjects, be it natural or artificial light, and how you can control all that in simple ways. The fact that these subjects, in most cases, do not go away, contributes to make it easy to try different setings and study results. Even if you’re only staying home for a period, these practical lessons are something you can apply anywhere, once you’ve mastered the techniques and tools.
The examples above should help you to get started. Depending on your interests and a lot of other aspects, you’ll find your own path for this adventure. Enter it with some disicpline and goals defined, but also accepting the serendipity that comes, unexpected, upon us. If you keep your eyes opened, you’ll discover there is a lot happening inside your home. Share it through your images, and share the idea with your friends. Share this article, as it may help others to discover their own spaces. It may also be good reading to someone with reduced mobility who searches for a pastime: photography at home can offer hours of intense funand labour and have a therapeutic effect.
Recipe for “Photography: the adventure starts home”
- A camera with manual control
- Some lenses, from wide-angle to macro or close-up, although something like a 18-135mm may be enough
- A table, for tabletop photography
- A window for – some – portrait photography
- A tripod, essential for some of the work. A tripod like the BeFree One Aluminium Travel Tripod with Head, may be enough, but if you want something larger, check the 290 Light Alu 3-Section Tripod Kit with 494RC2 Ball Head.
- A LED light or panel, which will be used for portrait and all other sessions under artificial light. A LED panel gives you light to work even when the sun is gone. A good and simple LED panel is balanced either for daylight or tungsten. A LED Light SPECTRA2 is a good starting point. If you want something more sophisticated, then the LED Light LYKOS Daylight is the obvious choice. A LED light is enough to start, you can always buy some more if needed.
- A Lastolite Collapsible Diffuser 50cm 2 Stop, which is a diffuser, but, obviously, also works as a reflector. Used with a LED panel, it gives you the fill-in light, if needed, from the opposite side, hence the reason why I suggest that one LED light is enough. Used over a window, the diffuser softens the light from the Sun. My choice of a 50cm size is simple: it is easy to handle and is enough to soften the light coming through a window, for most portraiture work, while also being a manageable size for tabletop. My idea of “less gear more fun” applies here. I know there are some reflectors/diffusers with multiple surfaces, but I want to keep it simple here.