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Stuck Indoors? You Can Still Make Great Photos When You Have to Stay Home

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This post is part of a series called Where Do You Stand?.
Fresh Eyes Every Day: The Challenges and Rewards of Photographing Close to Home

Recently here on Tuts+ we published an article about finding inspiration by photographing close to home. In this article, we'll explore inspiration you can get right at home.

To those who complain there is nothing to photograph at home: there is! Many photographers spend their entire lives exploring studio photography, after all. So, without further ado, let's get to transforming your house into your own personal studio and start the adventure!

Photography can start on your dinning table with dishes glasses and placemats
Photography can start on your dinning table, with dishes, glasses and placemats

Re-Imagining Your Space

Home means family to most people, and portrait photography is something many immediately think about when asked what they would photograph at home. There is so much more to do inside a house that, I bet, you’ll be amazed when you finish reading this article. Through the practice of “home photography” you’ll not only extend your pastime to new grounds, but also rediscover the photographic opportunities around you all the time, starting with the dishes and cutlery used in your kitchen and going all the way through to the patterns found in a drawer filled with colourful socks.

Sunsets are a viable theme when photographing from home but there is much more you can photograph from your window
Sunsets are a viable theme when photographing from home, but there is much more you can photograph from your window

Marcel Proust once wrote that “the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” and that applies inside your house as much as it applies to photographing close to home. It is only through a renewed vision you can discover what is photographically interesting in surroundings you think have no photographic spark. Friends, especially if they have a keen interest in photography, may help you to discover the hidden jewels inside your home.

Photography Starts at Home

One of the first things I tend to do when I visit someone that enjoys photography is to share my enthusiasm for the photographic opportunities their places offer. My remarks are, usually, met with a “never thought about it.” It’s strange to me, because I never tire of photographing at home. And home is not a static playground, but an active environment where new things happen every day. Learning to integrate photography into your life at home may be one of the best disciplines to learn as a photographer. Both because it teaches you to see with a new pair of eyes and also because it reveals that photography is not an art that can only be practiced outdoors or away. Photography starts at home.

There is a whole world of possibilities right outside your window and sometimes a unique point of view to certain activities
There is a whole world of possibilities right outside your window, and sometimes a unique point of view to certain activities

Acquiring the taste for photographing at home means that you can extend your passion to moments that would otherwise be dull. No more “the weather is bad, I can not photograph”. You can, because you’re no longer dependent on travelling somewhere. Photography exists, for you, everywhere.

In fact, photographing at home can, sometimes, be the only option for some people,  meaning their investment in photography as a pastime will help to fill the days, besides having a healing and therapeutic function. So, discovering this potential when you’re younger may be an asset for a better and more interesting and engaged life later on.

For some people this may sound like an escape and a seclusion from the world, but in fact photographing at home does not mean you forget the world outside. The sunset or cloud formations as seen from your window or the activity on your street at different hours of the day, again seen from your vantage point, can offer interesting moments and perspectives that are, many times, unique. Try it, and you’ll be amazed at the potential. You can do year-long projects covering themes like these. A time-lapse project, for example is something that can extend this discovery experience in a magical way.

Bring Nature Home

A simple tabletop studio, which can be created with a single sheet of cardboard and reflectors, opens an infinite number of possibilities. From stamps to collections of small figurines or toys, jewellery, perfume bottles, the number of objects that can be photographed is only limited by your imagination. Even vegetables and fruits offer multiple compositions which can be explored to create a unique series of photographs.

Small insects are easily photographed at home too and you can have long time projects with them
Small insects are easily photographed at home too, and you can have long time projects with them

Photographing at home does not mean your interest for nature subjects has to be left aside. Flowers are a good theme to photograph home – maybe you tend a small garden in pots – and even small animals, like insects, can be photographed in a makeshift studio.  Sometimes I find insects on my window sill, on a 3rd floor apartment, and I will pick them up for a photographic session. Projects like following a caterpillar transforming into a pupa and finally into a butterfly can make for some exciting weeks. You just have to study a bit about the life cycle of insects in your area and try to get, at a garden center, plants that can be home to caterpillars. Then you’ll be able to create images like those shown above, with two stages of development of a Swallowtail - Papilio machaon - butterfly.

Studying about the subjects you photograph is another part of the fun of photography. You’re not just taking pictures, you’re learning new about the world through your interest. If you’re really interested in creating complete narratives with your photographs, a project like the butterfly can be transformed into different things, from a slideshow to a book or eBook you can share with family and friends. That’s another aspect of photography that should not be forgotten: it can make us discover new things about objects or subjects we would otherwise not look at with much attention.

The daily life right outside your window can be a theme for many projects
The daily life right outside your window can be a theme for many projects

Every Picture Tells a Story

I recently had a project for a Modern Anthropology course I followed and ended photographing a wooden egg and a backscratcher, objects that I had never thought about before. Suddenly the project was more than photography as it led me to explore the information available on the web, only to find out interesting stories about wooden eggs and backscratchers. Is this important knowledge for someone’s life? Probably not, but it makes for a nice conversation theme with friends. I do think these explorations, which go well beyond the simple picture taking, may interest people, and make them explore other areas, and then connect all the dots and probably build stories. These are meaningful ways to fill one’s day. At home!

The experience of photographing at home will teach you that it does not matter where you’re photographing, it is always a challenge to work with light to get the best results. If what excites you in photography is the play of light and the way it changes the world around us, having the experience of playing with light in a controlled setting and with objects which you thought you knew is not only and adventure but a practical lesson that you can apply anywhere, once you’ve mastered the techniques and tools.

Vegetables and fruits make for some interesting subjects and can be photographed in different ways
Vegetables and fruits make for some interesting subjects and can be photographed in different ways

Besides the suggestions above, I’ve created a list of other topics that you can explore. This is just an initial list that you may adapt to your own circumstances. All the projects mentioned below can be done at home, and are not limited to one single session. Some of them may become a pastime within a pastime.

A Few Handy Ideas for Photo Sessions at Home

  1. Collections: Start photographing your own collections, from stamps to figurines, from miniature cars to coins. When you’re confident with our skills and if you want to continue, offer to photograph collections of objects from your friends.
  2. Food photography: 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.
  3. Pet photography: If you like animals, get people to know you like to photograph animals and offer to photograph theirs if brought to you. 
  4. Portraiture: photograph people creating a simple, natural light studio at home, for regular portrait photography. Invite your neighbours, family, friends, have fun. This can be a lifelong project, if you photograph your friends at different times in their lives. Your imagination is the only limit here.
  5. The world outside: The world out of your window(s) offers infinite possibilities, and not only sunrise, sunset, sky, cloud formations. Street life at different hours of the day allows for the creation of a unique series of single images or time-lapse narratives.
The challenge of playing with light is an ongoing adventure even at home
The challenge of playing with light is an ongoing adventure, even at home

Photography is for Everyone

These projects are just the starting point of a never-ending adventure for everyone with a camera. I truly believe we can, as I use to say, “walk less, photograph more”, and the concept can and should be extended to people that has difficulty moving out from home.

People with reduced mobility can find in photography a fantastic pastime and reach the benefits of the therapeutic effect that photography can have on people. Suddenly the hours seem to run and the days are more joyful. People just have to find the whole world of possibilities they have in their homes. I hope this article helps you to discover that and I hope you feel willing to share this idea with others.

Keep Learning

Here is a small round-up of my articles, and those from other Tuts+ authors, to get you working on photography projects at home:

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