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Well, PEOPLE FIRST. Obviously. That goes without saying. After we get that straight, then comes the light and the stuff.

That’s how I choose what to use and where to shoot in a clients’ home. I take a walk around and watch where the kids gravitate naturally as they show me. I’m like, “Okay there’s a good window – there’s some gorgeous color – oh! There’s some pretty stuff.”

I ask them what is important to them, what corners of their home are favorite. I ask them what, if any, objects they would like to incorporate.

I like to try for 5-10 different set ups, depending on how many people are involved. A set up is one location or activity in the home.

Sometimes light is most important in a certain set up, sometimes the thing they want to incorporate is in a dark place and that is what is important. I crank my ISO and give it to them anyway if I can’t move it to better light.

For this session I was working in a two bedroom loft apartment. I would say they had low to average natural lighting in their home. It was not the most difficult house I’ve worked in, but it was also not the easiest. Just a sweet, real home filled with mementos and love, so I felt it would be the perfect one to share.

Bedroom set up: I fell in love with the pile of stuffed animals in their shared room, so even though the lighting wasn’t the best on the floor there I asked them to hop into position. The blinds are partially down and closed because there was direct sunlight coming through and I was blocking it. After I shot them like this, I asked them to each sit on the top bunk near the window. I moved to the end of the bunk bed, side-lighting them with the window as I photographed them together. A reflector would have come in handy if I ever used the one I bought in 2003. I usually move too fast for reflectors.

Drum set up: The sliding glass door offered some amazing light in their main living area. I knew I would want to shoot there. The fact that the drum set was placed there was just my luck. After we shot those, I placed a chair in front of the window and faced my clients towards the light for portraits. (Cropped out of the photos is the treadmill next to the daughter and the big screen TV next to the son.)

Play kitchen/Art set up: The blue metal cabinet and wall of artwork caught my eye immediately upon entering their home. I knew I had to use it in some way, just for my own satisfaction. There was a window above the cabinet that was covered. We had to open the drapes and pull up the blinds completely to light that area. I asked the daughter to hang out by her play kitchen, and got that image as she walked over.

The old payphone was something they loved and really wanted to incorporate. I asked to place it in the spot that inspired me so that I could fill two requests at once. Theirs and mine.

To summarize my organized chaos:

There is the light, there is what the client wants, and there is what you see.

I take note of the light and move furniture or stuff to place people where I find it appealing.
I pay attention to the corners of a home that inspire me personally and find a way to use them.
I ask the client what part of their home inspire them and do my best to use it whether good light or bad.
I find out where they spend most time together and what they do, and then we do that.
I ask the client what objects, if any, they would like to incorporate into the session.
I take photos of small details on shelves and nightstands, etc.

If I can shoot in good light, I do.
If I can’t, I make it work.

This is very personal as lighting and decor preferences have a BIG range. Don’t go into someone’s home with the intention of shooting just what is popular right now. Go to a home with the intention of finding what the client loves about it and what you are personally touched or inspired by. If you walk in and the house is dark or small for your taste, drop your light drenched hopes and dreams and focus on the reality in front of you. (MAKE IT WORK – TIM GUNN.) Your clients are trusting you in their most vulnerable place – their home. Earn that trust.

If HOME is chosen as the location for the session, it is most definitely loved. And that is all the inspiration I need. All you have to do is pay attention to what is loved.


Araxi - "Don’t go into someone’s home with the intention of shooting just what is popular right now. " I love this.

Monica - Love this.

Monica Justesen Photography - Thank you so much for this entry. I always love a little insight into how fellow photographers work, especially in natural light but atypical from a traditional setup. Great shots, Tara!

kelly russo - Love the realness of your home sessions. Do you spot meter?

Miriam - Very informative. Thank you

kati - YES. right on, tara. love.

Joy - Awesome Tara! Thanks for sharing!

stacey - you are a wonder for sharing such an intimate look at your sessions! you have an innate gift to capture your subjects naturally...many try to do this with slight success, but you nail it every time! love you and your heart for sharing! xo

krista resnick - now you just need to do a post on post-processing...:)

alana - this is great Tara! thanks so much for sharing.

Candace - Thank you so much for sharing this. Loved what you wrote :)

Elise - Oh Tara. I am so excited to work with you, I could cry. This is amazing.

mel - Thank you!!

ali - "Drop your light drenched hopes and dreams and focus on the reality..." thank you SO much for this. You are so wise and so awesome :)

Paula S. - Nope, sorry. This still isn't enough info. You must be cloned. NO, wait. Your brain must be tranplanted into my skull! AARRGGHHHHHHH! (forgive my crazy. I'm tired and need to go to bed. Thanks for sharing.)

Jaana - oh you! you're just. so. good.

Kim H. - Amazing, beautiful, I loved this post. Thank you so much for sharing your insights and how you work. I would love more of these posts. Seeing the pictures and then your descriptions were so helpful.

Cristin - Tara, thank you for your insight! I love your simple, laid back approach to photography. I laughed at your reflector comment, because those things are nice in theory but kind of a PITA. I read once that you don't own a tripod either. You just use what's available. Why not? Amazing, beautiful work!

Maureen - thanks for sharing some of the thought process behind your beautiful work.

amber fischer - "...focus on the reality in front of you." - yes, yes, yes. I did an in-home session last year for my best friend (before I moved away to Minnesota), and it wasn't until NOW (a year later) that I finally appreciate the photos and see how precious they are. I was comparing their house and my photos with those that I often see on interior design blogs, but I was completely missing the point. Now my best friend and her boys are getting ready to move to a different house and she and I are so very glad that we did this shoot and captured them at this point in their life.

Alice - Thanks for all these tips ! Thanks for sharing, i love hearing about the backstage things... These are great advice. I always wonder how you capture all these beautiful moments, and how you do to make all your photos look gorgeous ! I wish i had a little once of your talent !!! Thanks so much.

Kari - "pay attention to what is loved" good advice for mommas everywhere. thank you.

Melissa - Love this post - such great advice and ideas!

Rachel - Great advice, thank you!

Annie Otzen - Thank you so much for this post!! I love your photography and it's so nice to see what is going on in your head! Awesome!!

Jakki - Great reminders for a true meaningful session...

Trude - Amen. I think this is why your home sessions are so wildly inspiring - it's that perfect blend of clients who love their homes paired with your fresh, creative perspective and kickass skillz. Thanks for sharing!!

Blair - I just wanted you to know, you are the photographer I want to be when I grow up. You have created (and I know it takes hard work) a wonderful cohesion between the clients that find you and the work you create. I am jealous.

Katy - while this is all good advice you can't overlook your particular gift for seeing the beauty and light in pretty much any space, and noticing the little details that make each family special. you have a beautiful way of seeing the world and it comes through in your work... which is why it resonates with so many people.

Kimble - I really love the bunk bed shots.

Stevie - you are so inspiring .. thanks for sharing yourself with the world

Elisa - Thank you, Tara! I consider this post to be one of my Christmas presents. I just loved it. Happy holidays to you and your family!

Life with Kaishon - You always have such wonderful advice. Thank you for sharing.

Julie - I would love to see more of your work! Please continue to share your sessions! Love your work!

Jenn S. - make it work...probably the best advice about in home sessions. LOVE this...and I love how you always seem to make it work.

Susie - " I crank my ISO and give it to them anyway " I just love this- thanks, Tara. It touched me in a way that says, I'm here for you.

Becca - So wonderfully said... Inspirational & informative ! Thank you for sharing

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