the secret to a better portrait {how to take school photos at home!}

My oldest starts seventh grade this year and I have never purchased school pictures for any of my kids. I sometimes will buy the class photo for them, but I have no interest in paying exhorbitant prices for a school snapshot of them with messy hair and a cheesy smile. Instead I spent about ten minutes per child in my own home taking yearly photos that look loads better than the school pics and cost me almost nothing. You can do this too, even if you only shoot on AUTO. There are just two things you need for a great portrait: a plain background and good light. Keep reading to learn how you can take great portraits of your kids at home.

Learn how easy it is to take gorgeous portraits of your children in your own home, and stop spending so much money on yearly school pictures!


I’ve talked about backgrounds before. For a school picture type photo I prefer a plain background. You can create an inexpensive DIY backdrop board, use black velvet or another large piece of fabric or blanket, or simply position your child in front of a wall, like I did for the photos in today’s post. This post and this post give even more background ideas.

Today I want to talk a little more about lighting and the HUGE difference it makes in how your photos turn out. In a studio, a photographer has lights that provide the look she or he wants on a photo. Since you and I don’t have lights, we can just use window light instead. But you have to position your subject (the person you are photographing) correctly in relation to the window to get a great photo. Look at these two pictures:

They were both taken on auto, in my kitchen, just a few minutes apart, but there’s a huge difference. The photo on the left is a snapshot: slightly blurry and kind of dark. The photo on the right, however, is a portrait: it’s super crisp and clear and the girl’s eyes sparkle and her skin glows. What made the difference? Where both of us stood in relation to the window (the dominant light in the room – always turn off your overhead light and use window light instead when taking indoor portraits).

The photo above shows our setup for these pictures (and it’s a good reminder than you don’t need a studio to get great headshots!). When I stood away from the window and my daughter looked at me, all the light was coming from behind her, leaving her face and eyes dark in the photo. But when I stood closer to the window and she looked at me she was facing one side of the window (at about a 45-60 degree angle), allowing the light to brighten one side of her face while the other side was softly shadowed, which gives the photo a beautiful amount of light/dark contrast. Photos with lots of light/dark contrast look stunning when converted to black & white:

So pull up and wall and a window and try taking photos at home this year – get better photos and save yourself some cash (which you could in turn donate back to your school!). Check out these posts for a little more info:

For more in-depth discussion of how to position your child toward window, read this post.

Remember that photos taken on auto are often underexposed and need to be brightened, so read this post on how to do that – it’s super easy!

And for more info on a better black and white, check out my post over at eighteen25 today!

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  1. 2

    Guillaume says

    Hi, very interesting post !
    Note : The link in the setence “And for more info on a better black and white, check out my post over at eighteen25 today!” is incorrect : it refers an article of your blog not eighteen25

  2. 4

    Michelle says

    Love your posts! Just stumbled across your blog via Bloglovin’ (which I had previously never heard of before!). Will be reading more.

  3. 7

    Lauren @ Imperfect and Fabulous says

    These are great tips! My little one is notoriously hard to get a good photo of so I will definitely be trying out these tips.
    Lauren @

  4. 10


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      admin says

      Hi! Thanks for your nice words about my site. I used the Modern Blogger Pro theme from Pretty Darn Cute Designs – it’s a WordPress blog using the Genesis framework. HTH!

  5. 12

    sonja says

    oh, very helpful. Would love to read some more photographing tips. For example “how to get great party-snapshots” (my problem there:dark light, people dancing etc…..)

  6. 14


    Just discovered your blog and it seems I have some reading to do! Just did a photography workshop (totally new to it), and I think your blog is a great follow up to it!
    Thank you!
    Happy 2014!!!

  7. 16

    Cindy cottle says

    How do you achieve the soft smiles? I take a lot of pictures of 4 yr olds in my class for a memory book at the end of the year. They all want to do the cheesy smile.

  8. 18

    dawn says

    What kind of lens are you using in this picture of your daughter’s face? I’m thinking of buying the Canon 50mm 1.8 lens and wondered what you thought. I only have the kit lenses so far.

  9. 19


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