One of the first questions almost everyone asks when they’re thinking of having a portrait session, and especially a family portrait session: “Where will we do the shoot?”.
Portrait sessions can happen pretty much anywhere—especially if you don’t mind running from the cops. But even accounting for all the legally dubious options, there are so many places to choose from. Docks, harbors, downtowns, gardens, parks, museums, monuments, paths, trails, nature preserves, restaurants… if it’s a place you’re allowed to be, there’s a good chance a portrait session can be arranged there. But, for all the really beautiful and interesting locations, you might be sitting in the best option of all right now: Your own home.
Not every home is a good spot for every portrait session, but it’s almost always an option worth looking into. Don’t jump to the conclusion that your house isn’t nice enough, that it’s too messy, or that it isn’t landscaped well enough. Those things could come into play, but lets face it, if you’re hiring a photographer it’s most likely because you don’t know how to do what a photographer does. And ultimately, it’s not so much about what your space looks like to you, as it is about what a good photographer can make of the space. And there are plenty of reasons to let them try.
Of all the reasons it’s a good idea to shoot in your home, those who are fans of authenticity in portrait photography, look no further than the built-in comfort that comes from staying in your home. It’s perfectly normal during a portrait session to feel a little nervous or self-conscious. It’s isn’t something you do every day. And when you’re out and about on a portrait session, it can feel a little silly or even vain, knowing that others can see you. So a good portion of most portrait sessions is spent just getting into a more relaxed candor with your photographer. Getting comfortable. Portrait sessions held in the home usually spend a lot less time getting comfortable, and instead can capitalize on the build in comfort of your own private space.
Your Private Personality is at Home
We all put on some kind of mask when we leave the house. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but realize that in some sense, the space we live really reflects a great deal about us because it’s one of the only places we’re ‘unmasked’. The way we choose to decorate, what we prioritize, and the way things are kept together, all reflect something about yourself beyond the blazer or the blouse you put on in the morning. Anecdotally, this rings true in my own life, as some of my favorite images of parents and relatives, living and lost, were taken in or around their own home.
A photo of you among the strange shapes of a sculpture garden may never carry as much meaning as a photo of you in your kitchen, no matter how into art your lifestyle is. A photo of you in the bleachers of a stadium may never have the same weight as a photo of you lounging on your back deck, no matter how much you enjoyed college football. If you purpose is preservation of personality, and your priority is authenticity, then your home may be the very best way to reflect that.
Layers of Meaning
As I’ve described in the past, ‘good’ art is layered. It’s more than it’s aesthetic veneer. It asks question, and then answers them with colors, shapes, tones, connotations, and the careful process of inclusion and exclusion. In a portrait, the question is almost always, “who are these people”, and the answer is far too often nothing more than “people looking nice”. That is shallow art. If you asked this question with words, and got that answer back, you’d roll your eyes because it’s a thoroughly useless answer.
A good photographer, as with any artist, attempts to fold in as many layers of meaning as possible into a single photograph, and usually without getting too kitsch about it. Your home probably includes many layers of personal meaning. Perhaps it’s where you grew up. Maybe it was your first house. Maybe it’s where you raised your kids, or where your fiancee proposed. Maybe it’s decorated with elephant paraphernalia you acquired when you spent that year as a zookeeper. All of these things hold implicit meaning to you, and will hold meaning to those who know and love you. Meaning beyond simply how you look. This is something nearly impossible to authentically replicate outside of your own nest.
It’s Often Beautiful
Yes, your house is beautiful. Unique, perhaps not, but it is certainly not without it’s charms. However, you might not be able to see that so clearly since you walk up to it every day, and since the neighborhood is your stomping ground. It looks like the white noise of your spacial life. But here’s the thing, lives transform, people move, environments change. Some of the people for whom these photos are created—those who perhaps may wait decades to care these photos—will never live there and they will never see your current home as the white-noise of life. They’ll see beauty.
If you ask a photographer where their favorite place to shoot is, they will probably tell you about a place they’ve only been once or twice. That’s because the interesting aesthetic nuances of any space become invisible with familiarity. Those are the places that seemed totally alive to the photographer, and something similar will happen with the portraits you create at home. The nuances of your home captured in your portraits will become more beautiful as that place in the real world develops, or changes, or is replaced.
Your home is, bar none, the easiest place for you to hold a session. You simply wait for your photographer to arrive. If you’re doing family portraits and have small children, shooting in your home requires almost no extra organization. When photos are taken in a public location, you have to come equipped to handle the many idiosyncrasies of children that age. Snacks, coats, diapers, extra shoes, blankets, toys. The list could go on. Shooting in your home completely removes all the family-outing related tasks you would otherwise need to do to get everyone out the door.
This is true for groups of adults too. Everyone is on a slightly different timetable, everyone has to get themselves ready at their own pace. Making sure everyone gets out the door in time can be a headache, regardless of how old they are. Shooting in your home relaxes all of this in a way that no other location anywhere possibly could. And, the extra headspace could be used to tidy up the house—which is something you’ll still appreciate once the session is over.
Flexibility is King
No other location will offer up as much flexibility as shooting in your home will. Granted, from the photographer’s point of view, shooting in your home may be creatively restrictive in some aspects. But from your point of view, a new outfit is just upstairs, so no biggie if your first choice in wardrobe didn’t work out. Jewelry, makeup, hair, wardrobe and personally relevant props are all at arms length during portrait sessions held at home, and that can be a powerful tool in having a comfortable and productive session.
It’s not uncommon for people to get a little up-in-their-head about how to present themselves during a portrait session. People often arrive a little over dressed and we end up helping them take a step back. But, the flexibility in sessions held at home makes sure that it doesn’t have to play out like that, and it allows you to play the best of both worlds. If the blazer is a little over the top, but the shirt underneath isn’t great on its own—no problem, just go change it up real quick.
So how about your home?
There’s no way for us to know whether your home is suitable for a portrait session without seeing it first. If you’d like to check about whether your home will make a good spot for a portrait session, send us a few snapshots from your phone. We’ll be happy to give you our feedback. We’ll be most interested in the quality of light and the amount of space available, but we’ll also give you some feedback on the aesthetic qualities, and an idea of what your images may look like from a stylistic standpoint. If you’re interested in having some portraits created, click here to learn more about our portrait photography services!