I am a hobbyist photographer and my main muses are my young children. I strive to document their daily lives. Whether it is a big milestone or more mundane little details of their lives, loves and personalities. I never want to forget these moments. This means I photograph in our house A LOT. As much as I have high hopes that one day I’ll live in a spotless house, I’m also a realist. I know that it’s not going to happen any time soon. Children and work is enough to juggle. Throw in a global pandemic and homeschooling and there is no chance! I had to embrace shooting through the mess!
I’ve become pretty good at hiding the mess in my images. I’m not going to lie, sometimes it’s a case of sweeping it all out of view. But I’m going to share a few photography techniques that can also help!
This a big favourite of mine… if there is mess in the background of the story I’m trying to tell, I’ll move around. Will shooting the scene from another direction ‘tidy up’ the mess and retain the story? You can even dramatically change the POV by shooting from above. In our playroom this is a common occurrence as there is rarely a mess free angle! When taking this image, I saw my daughter lying on the floor practicing her handwriting. You can see from the pull back that this mess wasn’t adding to the story. So I grabbed the stool and shot this scene from above.
Photographing close to your light source will enable you to throw your background into darkness. This is a brilliant way to hide the mess! In the example below, I wanted to get a details shot of my daughters braids and didn’t want any distracting elements in the image. I asked my daughter to stand close to the window to make use of strong directional light. I knew I didn’t need to worry about what else was in the shot. In post processing I was able to lower the shadows and create a black background and bring the focus to her hair.
I shoot daily, and often just capture a moment as it unfolds. Because of this, I will edit out any distracting elements that I either couldn’t or didn’t have time to move! One morning I found my son playing with his little animals with one of our cats watching intently. So I grabbed my camera and snapped a few shots quickly before the moment was over. The lack of planning shows in the SOOC. There was mess on the desk that I would have pushed away and I would have grabbed a stool to enable me to hide my pajamas and slippers that were in the frame. But I love this photo and I’m glad I took the imperfectly perfect moment. In post processing I cropped out the mess on the desk and cloned out my legs to remove the ‘mess’ from the photo.
Focusing in on details is a great way to crop in close and not have to worry about what mess is around you. Capturing little details make wonderful memories and enable the viewer to see these details that often only a parent would see. In the photos below, my daughter was colouring a rainbow with chalk on the patio at the start of the first lockdown. You can see in one of the SOOCs that we had an old sofa waiting to be picked up in the background and the arm of a garden chair going into her head. But I chose a crop that focused entirely on the rainbow and the chalk. This eliminates the messy background perfectly.
Mess shouldn’t always be hidden! I’m continually in awe of the many amazing documentary photographers who are able to capture the mess in the most beautiful and inspiring ways. Learning to photograph the mess is a personal goal of mine as I truly believe all the details hidden in the mess will be cherished by my children when they are older.
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