But my house looks like crap {and other nonsense excuses}

This post isn’t actually about crappy looking houses. No really. I mean, this room is clearly Pinterest-worthy but perhaps you have a space in your home that’s not quite so glamorous as this one. This post is for those of you out there who have not yet committed to a wall color even though you moved in four years ago and have explosions of toys in every room and the worst part is, that’s actually where they go. Like, that roller coaster you see… that’s where I put it, on purpose. The Zappos box? Well, “a place for everything and everything in it’s place” right? I honestly feel like the never-used pool table is the perfect place for a Zappos box. It will stay there until December at which time this table will be converted to a gift wrapping station.

But back to the point. If you’re a photographer, you already know how important good light is for creating a beautiful photograph. It’s pretty much required unless you have the most amazing, once in a lifetime moment happening before your eyes in which case a great photograph can be carried by that moment and maybe some killer composition. But that’s kind of rare.

Every once in a while, someone will ask me “well what do you do when your kid is being adorable and funny and photo-worthy in bad light?” The honest answer? I don’t take the picture. I just don’t. My daughter is cute 82.4% of the time. I’ll get another chance at it. But she’s jumping around on one leg with a pirate patch over one eye and wearing my bra as a necklace? I know it’s hard to believe, but she’ll do it again. Or something really similar. But let’s just say, I’m totally loving the moment and I want to capture it. Need to capture it! Or maybe it’s a client’s home and I don’t have all day to wait for the cuteness to occur in a better spot. That’s when you have to get creative and make the spot work for you.

So onto this gem of a picture! I noticed Isla doing some random cute stuff. I thought to myself “oh that’s kind of silly” and silently wished she was in a different room. And then I thought – tutorial! So here is a pullback of how it looked – in all it’s glory.
messy house tutorial

Even if I ignore the bad composition and uninteresting light, what have I really captured here? Certainly not the feeling of childhood imagination or whimsy. It’s just a big old mess. Even with my mommy goggles firmly in place it’s just really pretty awful. But what can I do? What if I really REALLY want the shot? The answer is to MOVE YOURSELF. Move all around in every direction.

Nope. The light is illuminating everything behind her and it just looks like a big tunnel of clutter.

Meh. This angle is a little better but it’s still so busy and it doesn’t give me much of a story. It’s just kind of whatever.

Still looking pretty bad but I feel like I’m getting closer… maybe if I could isolate her just a little more.

I know, I’ll just back up! Except… gross. My crazy messy house is in the way again. And where is Isla?

Finally, by positioning myself in such a way that I was able to take up almost half of my frame with a kind of negative space (the chair), I successfully isolated Isla and her mess creating a strong image. It’s not perfect by any stretch and honestly this is a scene I would have just let go. There are plenty of other chances to get a better shot of a similar thing. But for the purposes of this tutorial or at a client’s home, this is the shot I would have gone with.
messy house tutorial

No, you can’t see her face and no you can’t see the actual things she’s playing with but you still get it. She’s got something around her head and laying at her feet are various objects of various colors. It’s clear she’s a toddler into something. And really, what more do you need to know? The juxtaposition of the chair sitting quietly in the shadows adds to the feeling of that natural chaos that ensues when mom tries to straighten the house. And in reality, I had been straightening things up in the living room while she destroyed my spotless lanai! The pillow was on a different chair but I moved it to this one to help cover a wall outlet because I hate cloning and I needed a little brightness on that side of the frame to even things out.

But just to help complete the story and add a little touch of the aftermath, I snapped this detail shot long after Isla had run away from the scene (and was off destroying something else). The floor was covered in toys but I chose to isolate just a small patch of the chaos. Again, this decision helps to draw the viewer to exactly what you want them to notice and emphasize the contrast between a spotless floor and the aftermath of a two year old.

jessica thomason kids were here

I hope this was helpful! I kind of love writing tutorials so if you are interested in getting these sent straight to your inbox, contact me and I’ll add you to a brand new mailing list I’m putting together!

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  • Nikki K. - Thanks for sharing this! A lot of great advice because I am one of those people who says their house is too messy and distracting for beautiful photos.ReplyCancel

  • Elisa Elgstrom - great stuff Jessica 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Michele Kendzie - This is awesome! I love your humor, and this step-by-step tutorial was very helpful! I am not new to the idea of moving around to find a good angle, but I’m clearly not moving around enough!ReplyCancel

  • Sandi Farrell - So there is such a thing as a lanai! That word makes me think of the Golden Girls. Love this post — you can make something beautiful out of any situation!ReplyCancel

  • Alisha Fenn - thank you for this!!ReplyCancel