Listening to Tara Whitney – How to Use Your Client’s Home to Your Advantage

Stolen word for word from Tara Whitney’s fabulous blog.  (with her permission of course).  We just loved it so and couldn’t say it better ourselves.


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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.



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