Photography tips: Doorway for fabulous portrait

April 3, 2020

Coronavirus lockdown is here to stay and we are all stuck inside. But on a positive side there will never be a better opportunity to take some lovely portraits of your kids and family. Whether you have a digital camera or just a smartphone these tips will help you to take great portraits of your children  indoors. Believe it or not a doorway is all you need to transform an everyday moment into a glorious natural light portrait. Here’s how to pull this off:

Indoor portrait can be tricky

Light produced by home light bulbs is harsh and often placed too high up creating unflattering shadows and “panda” eyes. But open your door, step outside, place your subject inside the doorway and you have a light source that creates natural, soft light for a flattering portrait. 


  • Position your child so she or he is standing slightly inside the doorway and facing out the door;
  • If your child is willing to pose, have him/her turn the body slightly to the side;
  • Step outside the door and ask your cutie to smile sweetly at you;
  • Take a picture while admiring the glow bathing your child’s face.

The science behind the portrait

If you ask me why it works here is the quick answer: when you are indoors with the primary lighting coming from ceiling fixtures, the main light source is falling straight down, producing harsh shadows under your subject’s eyes and nose. This causes what photographers call racoon or panda eyes. To achieve more flattering illumination we need our light  to be broader, coming from more than one direction, bouncing off things before lighting our subject. When we open the door and stand in a doorway, especially on a cloudy day, light gets softer as it goes through the clouds and bounces off the ground before reaching subjects face. This effect will result in gradual transitions between light and shadow on your subject, and you’ll achieve what’s generally considered a more flattering portrait.

Your child is basked in light coming from the door opening while being shielded from direct sunlight that would otherwise result in unpleasant shadows. This technique works with digital cameras and smartphones. For best results attach a longer lens to your camera or use zoom function on your phone. Zooming in focuses all attention on your subject and removes clutter.

For this photo of my daughter I used a 120 mm lens and stood 3-4 meters outside. Long lens helped me to stay away from her and not to block the light with my body. She sat on a chair two steps inside the doorway.

With smartphones use the zoom function on your camera. By “zooming in,” you’ll avoid having the child appear too far away as you stand outside the door. “Zoom in” by pressing two fingers on the screen and spreading them apart. For smaller children you can also stand in the doorway while crouching.

Give it a try!

For my client sessions I often use flash when available light is not up to the task but in daily use open light from a doorway will turn a snapshot into a celebration of everyday life. You can ignore the strange looks from neighbors. At the end of the day, it’s worth getting that image you’ll treasure forever.