10 beginner tips for shooting indoors this winter

STUCK INSIDE FOR THE WINTER HOLIDAYS?  Here are 10 beginner tips to help you take better pictures in a house full of chaos!

It’s easy to take beautiful pictures of your family enjoying themselves when you’re in a warm scenic spot for the holidays. But it can be much harder motivating yourself to capture holiday memories when they’re happening in your home surrounded by the chaotic debris of dishes, laundry, toys, blocks and crayons. 

So for those of you staying put for the school holidays I’ve put together a few tips for taking album worthy holiday snaps in your own home…

1.  Get in close and fill the frame

This first tip is a good idea regardless of the weather or your location.  There’s a natural tendency, especially when you’re shooting most of your snaps on your phone, to stand way back and get the whole scene in your frame.  But unless the location is your intended subject, all this does is put distance between you and the thing you really want to capture.  So instead, get in close. Fill the whole frame with a beaming face or tiny hands.  Not only does this isolate your subject and eliminate background clutter, but it also allows you to really focus on emotion; something that elevates a photograph from ‘quick snap’ to considered image.

Those pouty little lips!

Those pouty little lips!

2.  Relocate and elevate your subject

When you can’t bear the idea of trying to tidy up the chaos, try moving your muse instead.  Let them carry on what they’re doing in an elevated spot, like up at (or on top of!) the table or up on the bed.  Usually this will cut back on 50% of the ground level clutter.  If that doesn’t make sense, wait until you can gently orchestrate an activity like baking and use that as a chance to get some pics up on the kitchen bench and away from the melee in the living room.

There's still a lot of clutter in this shot, but by elevating the subject into a slightly more unusual spot, she clearly stays the focus.

There's still a lot of clutter in this shot, but by elevating the subject into a slightly more unusual spot, she clearly stays the focus.

3.  Shoot from above

This is a great hack for avoiding a cluttered scene.  Imagine you’re taking the “spider’s eye view”, climb up on the furniture and shoot directly down on the activity taking place.  This provides a different perspective and creates an interesting image.  It also means you only see the subject, and not the mess behind them them!

Spiders eye view works wonders for avoiding clutter.

Spiders eye view works wonders for avoiding clutter.

4.  Shoot where and when you have the best light

Great light is always the #1 difference between a drab shot and a beautiful one.  And in winter, when the days seem short and bleak, it can be hard to come by.  So get to know your home.  Which rooms have the best light in the morning, noon and afternoon?  By “best light” I mean soft, even, diffused light - not harsh, strong, shadow casting light.  You’re looking for the kind of soft light that makes your features look even and smooth, not the super bright light that pours in through a north facing window at mid day and makes the carpet feel hot.  Once you know where the good light is, think about what activities happen in those locations and how you could make the most of them. 

Winter is also a great time to take advantage of interesting pockets of light.  So if you’re feeling more adventurous see what you can make out of interesting light ‘features’ like light through slanted blinds, or a glowing sunrise light through a wintery window.

Sunrise on my very grubby kitchen window.

Sunrise on my very grubby kitchen window.

5.  Only clear the immediate area

If you’re intent on shooting a nice “clean” scene, don’t worry about clearing the whole room.  Just tidy the immediate area in your scene.  That can be as simple as 30 seconds of madly chucking all the debris behind you, or under a bed, or in a cupboard before you click.  In this series of shots I quickly grabbed the abandoned washing from the basket, two pairs of shoes, a couple of layabout toys and a water bottle and chucked them out the door and out of sight.  The result is a nice clean frame so that I could focus on the comedy taking place!

There were about 20 images in this little sequence that deserved a Benny Hill soundtrack.  There's still a lot going on in the frame, but I moved the things that I really didn't want seen.

There were about 20 images in this little sequence that deserved a Benny Hill soundtrack.  There's still a lot going on in the frame, but I moved the things that I really didn't want seen.

6.  Focus on the details not the whole scene

By zooming in on the details you once again eliminate background distractions and you add context to the story you’re telling.  In years gone by your children might not remember exactly how much they loved playing with Lego, or how fascinated they were with a tiny treasure, but you will have preserved that memory.  

7.  Play hide and seek

This is slightly obscure but it’s also something I love to do and it’s a fun thing to try when you’re not able to find “soft light”.  By playing under the sheets you can diffuse harsher light and get a fun shot at the same time.  French photographer Lisa Tichane is a master of creating fun filled images with this technique.  Check out her work here.

8.  Turn off overhead lights

This might seem counterintuitive when it’s winter and it feels a bit gloomy, but believe me your pictures will be a million times better for relying on natural light.  Ceiling lights greatly effect your image’s ‘white balance’ by creating colour casts, in the case of most house lights a yellow/orange glow. Overhead lights also create ugly downcast shadows under the eyes.  So to avoid making your kids look like tired oompa-loompas switch off the overhead lights and move them close to a natural light source (a window or door).  Obviously this only works during daylight hours.

Photographing Indoors in Winter (7 of 18).jpg

9.  Use a wide aperture to blur your background

This one is for those of you using a DSLR in Aperture Priority or Manual mode.  Open your aperture really wide (that means a smaller f-number like f/1.8 or f/2.8).  When you shoot wide open you decrease your focal range, meaning that a narrower sliver of the scene is actually in focus.  As a result (provided you focus accurately on your subject) your background will be blurred.  Just remember that the wider your aperture, the shallower your depth of field, so your focus will need to be spot on.  There are a gazillion tutorials on shooting “wide open” across the internet.  If the idea of blurred backgrounds or dreamy bokeh appeals to you I do recommend you do a little research.

Photographing Indoors in Winter (18 of 18).jpg

10.  Shoot when the kids are finally peaceful!  A.K.A. asleep.

So this is kinda cheating, but it’s also one of my favourite times to get restful photos of the kids zonked out after a fun day.  Most of the time this means it’s going to be dark, which means you need a camera that can cope with the dark – for example a DSLR that copes well at high ISO’s – if you’re not sure what any of that means then I don’t recommend trying to do night time sleep shots (stick to day-time naps).  If you do understand ISO and the role it plays in correct exposure then I would highly recommend checking out Vironica Golden’s tutorial on taking pictures of your kids when they’re sleeping.  My personal preference is to leave my flash off and rely on white coloured artificial light from an iPad!

If you enjoyed these beginners’ tips and would like more like them, then please comment below and let me know what interests you!