When it comes to newborn sessions (and sometimes maternity too), it’s no secret that I prefer to photograph them in their own home. Living in the Northeast here on the coast of Maine, if I depended on warm outdoor weather for all of my portrait sessions, that would pretty much mean closing down for half the year! Other photographers often ask me how I photograph in the client’s home when I have never seen it before, and if I bring anything with me to ensure a smooth session. As I begin a busy winter season of almost all in-home family portrait sessions (already 8 newborns on my calendar in the next couple months!), I thought I would share a bit today on how I handle photographing in my client’s home well.
I really love the opportunity to photograph in my client’s home for a few different reasons:
- I believe it really adds to how special the portraits are. You will be able to look back at the very first family portrait years from now, and remember that it was the first house you brought your baby home to. Even if it’s not your forever house, the memories that those walls hold will be an additional treasure throughout your photographs. The portraits will also look more unique to each client then if done in the same studio every time.
- It’s so much easier on my client, especially for newborn sessions. Not having to factor in a trip in the car, or packing what they may or may not need away from home is such a benefit. I also work with a lot of first time moms, and it’s often important to them that they will be able to feed their baby in the comfort of their own home. I work with local hair and makeup artists who travel as well, and most often meet my clients right in their home prior to my arrival. It makes the session less stressful for my client, and more of a pampering experience!
- From my own perspective, it makes much more sense for me in this time of business. As much as I am hoping to begin booking many more local Maine families in the year to come, I still travel to my clients more often then I am home for them. In just the past two days alone my inbox inquiries have included New York, California, and Maryland. So for me, investing a hefty monthly amount in a studio space wouldn’t benefit my current business model.
- Photographing in my client’s home not only fits my current business structure, but my shooting style as well. I only use natural light, and never use props or artificial lighting, so I have no set up and tear down. I simply show up with my camera.
The first thing I make sure happens is my pre-booking communication with my clients. 99% of all newborn portrait sessions I book will take place in the client’s home, and sometimes maternity as well. I always explain to inquiring families that the session will take place in their home providing their is ample window light. Most people know what natural light means, but I am always wanting to clarify that I mean light coming in through a window just in case. Because it won’t matter how many lamps and ceiling lights you have- if there is no window light- there is no light for my portraits.
I then go on to explain that a clean window space with light or neutral colored walls is best, no matter what room that actually may be in. There have been occasions where the best window light was in the kitchen, or the bathroom. If that’s the case, that’s where we do the session. Most of my sessions take place almost entirely in front of one single window space.
If there’s any question or doubt, they send me snapshots, but for the most part, this hasn’t ever been an issue. I used to get nervous when I arrived at a client’s home that I had never been to with the plan of photographing their session in a space I had never personally seen. So if you feel that way sometimes, I understand and have totally been there. I think that what really started to help me, was of course the experience of doing it more often and growing in my confidence that way, but also learning to speak up and ask for what I needed. I learned to educate my clients more, and explain what I needed to create the portraits they saw and loved in my portfolio. I learned to be the expert and present myself as such. After all, that’s why they hired me. That doesn’t mean I show up and bark orders and act like a demanding artist- quite the opposite. I simply learned to be honest and confident in what I needed to create my work.
When I arrive to an in-home portrait session, such as for a newborn or maternity session, I have a little mental checklist of questions as I walk in and start unpacking my camera bag:
- Where is the best window light? Often my client will walk me through their home and point out their favorite spaces. As they do so, I take mental notes on which spaces were best. This way as we move through the session, I know exactly what places to set up the portraits.
- Is there any unappealing color casting anywhere? One of the reasons I prefer to photograph near white or neutral colored walls, is that it doesn’t effect the color of my images. So if there are dark, or heavily colored curtains, walls, or reflections, I want to make note of that so I can fix it the best of my ability, either by moving to a different window space, removing what is causing the color casting, or paying very close attention to my white balance.
- Are there any lamps or lights on? There have been many occasions where I have struggled to get my white balance where I wanted, and wondered why on earth they were looking so warm on the back of my camera. 9 times of out 10 this means that I almost missed a really important step- to make sure all the house lights near where we are photographing are turned off. Sometimes my client will flip a switch out of habit as we walk into a room, and it may even be a small lamp in the corner, but it will effect the color and light of my images. Always double check the house lights around you and be sure they are turned off.
In my newborn portrait sessions, babies are never, ever placed in anything except the parent’s arms. This may not be everyone’s style, and that’s more than ok, because I am not the photographer for everyone. I am the photographer for families who value timeless over trendy, and who desire classic black and white portraits holding their little ones in a style that will still be appreciated and adored in the generations to come. When I first started my photography business, I was so drawn to taking pictures of babies and children- but I thought that you had to use these elaborate props and even random antiques to show that you were a creative photographer. As I grew in my craft, I realized that the classic, timeless style was for me, and I never looked back.
In-home maternity and newborn portrait sessions are actually posed and handled almost identically as far as posing and how I complete the session. Whether a mother is resting her hand on her expecting belly, or snuggling her newborn on her chest, I still want that same dimensional window light. I learned this technique by studying how wedding photographers would pose their bride and grooms in their “getting ready” pictures- angled at the window for that beautiful dimensional light, which not only keeps an image from looking flat and lifeless, but it’s crucial for a strong black and white portrait. If your black and white images are always coming out gray and muddy looking- it’s probably the way you are using light! Justin & Mary are fantastic teachers of this lighting technique, and I have learned from their blog posts and workshops for years now!
Last but not least, I want to share what I bring with me for an in-home portrait session. Like I mentioned above, I don’t bring any posing props or lighting set ups, but I do show up with a few different key items:
- My Camera & Lens- this sounds pretty obvious but what I want to note is the kind of camera and lens that I use and bring. The first couple years of my business I used a Canon Mark II with a 50 1:4 lens. I did use a zoom lens for outdoor, but this was my main combo. One of the main reasons I upgraded my gear was because of the amount of indoor sessions I started to book. I needed a camera and a lens that both handled lower lit situations better. So I upgraded to the Canon Mark III and shortly after the 50 1:2L. This my ONLY digital go to for camera gear. I don’t have a bag of numerous lenses because I truthfully do not NEED them. The 85 1:2L is a go to lens for many other portrait photographers, but it’s not a lens conducive for the tight indoor spaces that I usually find myself in. So I currently stick with the 50. And light wise, that extra stop makes ALL the difference. It’s pricier- but for a reason!
- A small step ladder- this is something I started to keep in the back of my car last year. I don’t always bring it in, or always find it necessary, but the few times that I have needed it has made it a life saver! I tend to photograph indoors without shoes, and I am relatively short without the help of heels- and if I have a taller client- especially a tall Dad in the session- I want to make sure I am photographing at the right angle, and I don’t always have the extra space to back up. It has also helped me to get some close up portraits of the baby snuggling on the mother’s shoulder. Getting up a step or two higher lets me see the baby’s face a bit more, and I prefer using my own little step ladder to climbing on my client’s furniture.
- Sheer curtains- I have only had to pull these out once, but I actually keep an extra set of sheer Ikea curtains in the back of my car as well. Often if the curtains are not working because of their dark or bright color, I am able to either remove them completely, or switch them out with curtains from another room. However I carry these with me just in case. Since my sessions take place entirely by a window- if the curtains were a bright color, they could potentially ruin the look of all of the images either by blocking light, or cast an unappealing color on my client’s skin tone.
I hope this blog post helped you if you are a photographer looking to get better at photographing sessions in your client’s home, or even help educate you if you’re still looking for the perfect maternity and newborn photographer for your family. Have questions about anything I mentioned? Leave a comment below and I will do my best at answering them.