6 Ways to Shoot in Cluttered Locations

Whilst my home isn't exactly an rubbish tip, it's a normal family home with lots of clutter from day to day life. Many times I find myself wishing I had a home that was a bit more camera friendly (imagine, large windows, white walls, crisp clean furniture, no lego pieces in sight and no drawing on the walls...mmm, bliss) but you just have to learn to work with what you've got! Although I definitely love to show our home "as is" in pictures, especially when I am in full-on documentary mode, there are other times when I crave simplicity, so I try to find areas that give me a more "clean" uncluttered look. 

Here are 6 ways we can get a cleaner look, even when shooting in cluttered locations. 

1) Shoot down on your subject to cut off distractions and / or fill the frame. 

A very easy way to get a nice clean background is simply to shoot down on your subject, and make sure they are filling a good portion of the frame.    This first image is taken in my living room, with me standing on the couch and shooting down on my subject - this gets rid of all the normal household items.  If you find you still are getting in clutter, shoot tighter, filling the frame with more of your subject. 

2) Find blank walls to use as a backdrop

Any blank wall in your home can be used as a neutral backdrop!  This image was taken in my hallway, which has one wall without pictures or other items on the wall, and since it is also painted white, it's my go to wall when I want a clean simple portrait. Again, filling the frame ensures that not too much clutter is seen!  You'll want to make sure this is near a window though, so you have good natural light coming in. 

3) Clone or paint in more of the blank backgrounds if needed.  

This next image was taken in my bedroom.   The wall behind is actually a brown colour, but I don't like it, so I tend to "paint" in more of the white bedspread in Photoshop, giving me a more simple background. This can be done with anything - walls, seamless backdrops etc - it's usually referred to as "extending the canvas" or in this case, extending the bed spread :) 

4) Blow out windows or doors to give you a clean white backdrop

This is another trick I use quite often - I shoot into windows (or doors) that have a strong light source. This effectively "blows them out" meaning that the background is so overexposed that it shows as white. To do this, place your subject is front of a window that has a good amount of light coming in, and meter for your subject (more on how to do this here) The result should be a perfectly exposed subject, but a white background. If it is not as big an area as you would like, remember you can clone in an area to make this look larger. 

6) Use the Inverse Square Law trick to darken your background

The next trick goes the opposite way - you can use the Inverse Square Law to darken your background. This is not as scary as it sounds! Essentially, what you need to find an area that has good light fall off - a place where there is plenty of light coming in, but that has an area behind it that does not receive any light. Place your subject in the area of light, and as you expose for your subject, the background will naturally darken. (You can read more about this here

You can do this with any light source, including light from a computer tablet - anywhere where the light on your subject is stronger than the light behind them works! 


6) Move Furniture, or Artwork On Walls

A little drastic perhaps, which is why I have left it to the end! If you feel you would get a better picture without the couch, TV, table there - move it! I usually have a couch in front of this window, but when I moved it, my son went in and I got some lovely "clean" pictures of him by the window.  

A simpler version of this is simply to move whatever distractions there are in the frame: for example, take down a couple of pictures from the wall, or move a plant pot - whatever gives you that clean background you are looking for. 

Lastly, if you shoot with a very shallow depth of field, you will also help to blur out the background, and therefore minimise any distractions. 

I hope this gives you some ideas of how to cut down on any distractions or household clutter when you are in the mood for a "clean" look!