Photography is my weekend hobby and I am still in the basic skill level. I recently upgraded to a used Nikon D80 with DX AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm lens and I am still learning how to use it. I have really only used it on Auto Mode. Unfortunately, I cannot purchase any more equipment right now or any time soon.

I am supposed to do an indoor maternity shoot in 2 days for a family member and I am really nervous. I would love to give her studio quality photos. These photos will be taken indoors and will most likely be in a bedroom. Are there any tips someone can give me to get some perfect pictures?

She has sent me several ideas and most have a black or white background. I have read a few articles over creating a black background by either changing some settings or building and actual background. Most of the settings changes mentioned using another flash & I just have the built-in pop-up flash. Any tips to help me create perfect pictures would be greatly appreciated!

I mainly use the Lightroom app on my tablet to edit photos. If there is a better inexpensive but pretty easy to use app, please let me know!

  • \$\begingroup\$ How did it work out? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 11:45

4 Answers 4


You can get old 'manual' external flashes for very little (or even free from op shops and similar )and use a flash activated trigger to trigger them. Setting needs to be done manually but it's not hard [tm] to get light levels OK when you are in a staticish setting. Your camera also may allow cable trigger. Be sure that external flash voltage does not exceed what your camera is rated for (as happens :-( ). ... –

You can use various external lights for lighting as long as you get very familiar with what their light does to your pictures. For LED or fluoresent lighting you need to note not only the basic colour temperatures but whether the spectrum has "holes" in it which affect results and how colours render when they are used alone or mixed with flash or other lights. You may be able to get 100 Watt (input!) CFL lamps which provide 'large' amounts of light (say 500 Watt + halogen equivalent) BUT of course the preceding warnings re light quality apply.

Where are you located? (Country & city if you are happy to say). Sometimes people know people who live in surprising places and it may be possible to get help/gear/ old stuff going begging. eg I'm in (presumably) far away New Zealand but know people all over the world - multiply that by the number of people in this group and you may be lucky.

Here is a 2012 SE answer of mine re using on camera flash (OCF).
Many people have nothing good to say about OCF but, as I note,
"Personally, I find having a pop-up flash IMMENSELY useful and valuable. By all means make every effort to have a better alternative available, but the popup flash certainly has its place." Have a look at my (and other's) comments and at the linked gallery of photos, all taken using OCF

Note the links in that answer to various attempts at OCF diffusers - some DIY and some commercial. Some work OK. None are ideal. Many are worth trying to see how well they work. I have a slew of highish power flashes, but I also have one of these (but not Gary Fong branded I imagine) that usually travels with me "just in case". Not marvellous - but also better than not using it.

Note in the referenced album above - the aim is not to show that OCF is marvelous, but that where you have no easy option it can be very useful.

It's not re maternity photography, but you may find my & 5 other wedding photography related answer here of some use. Don't be put off. What you are doing is FAR less pressure intensive than weddings - but there are some general similarities.

Suggestion: Be able to upload your photos (or display from your camera) on a system with a good screen size DURING the session so you can get a good feel for how they will look. I find that the camera LCD is usually not a good way to judge what images MAY look like - while the resolution is obviously low it can also makes less than ideal photos look better than they will at final size. Your tablet MAY be good enough if screen size and resolution and quality are good enough.

When going to an indoor venue, when the occasion makes it appropriate to do so, I often take a LCD monitor and one or more netbook/notebook computers so I can upload and display photos during the course of the 'event'. While this can expose you to having people see your disasters it also gives participants a good feel for what they can expect - the result is usually positive.

  • \$\begingroup\$ thank you very much for your tips. i live in Longview, Texas. not to sure if we have any camera shops around here that would have used items/gear. i had to buy my last camera from the pawn shop and they still didnt have much to offer. i got my current camera off of Ebay, its been pretty easy and fun to use in auto mode and gives me really nice pictures that require little editing. i have a little facebook page set up if you would like to see my work. its called "Ole County Line Photography" i think everything posted from this year was done with the Nikon. \$\endgroup\$
    – stephanie
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 13:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ there is shoots from my previous camera and you can see how much better this one is, also you can tell how much i have learned on the editing side of photography. thank you again for the useful tips. looks like ill be buying a sheet and bringing the lamps from my house! lol \$\endgroup\$
    – stephanie
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 13:31

I recently upgraded to a used Nikon D80 with DX AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm lens and I am still learning how to use it. I have really only used it on Auto Mode. Unfortunately, I cannot purchase any more equipment right now or any time soon.

I am supposed to do an indoor maternity shoot in 2 days for a family member and I am really nervous.

Oh. Dear.

Here's the thing. DIFF shoots (doing it for free/family/friends) have the potential to screw up relationships if they go down in flaming disaster. Make sure, if this relationship is important to you, that having the shoot go down in flaming disaster won't hurt it. Set expectations appropriately. Non-photographers always have the expectation that since you got the big "professional" dSLR, that you are now capable of doing professional studio-quality images. But all owning a dSLR makes you is a dSLR owner, not a pro. If you can be upfront and communicate this to them, that is a good thing.

It's not that it's not doable. It's just that it's really really hard to do well, given your current lack of experience and equipment.

I would love to give her studio quality photos. These photos will be taken indoors and will most likely be in a bedroom. Are there any tips someone can give me to get some perfect pictures?

Just me, but I would really really concentrate on this more as fun-family togetherness-time, rather than A Shoot, and to stress that they always have the option to go hire a professional photographer. Treat this as a no-harm/no-foul situation, rather than a "have to deliver" situation. Because perfect is not likely to happen when you're still learning your camera--mistakes are always part of learning.

Most pros can operate their cameras instinctively, because there's so much else you have to think about during a shoot: keeping everybody engaged, happy, and relaxed, your lighting, your composition, your setups, etc. etc. They're used to delivering under pressure to deadline. You probably aren't, and adrenaline and stress can reduce your shooting skillz even further.

Auto mode is gonna suck at this, because it's going to want to shoot off your pop-up flash most of the time if you don't have the camera set right. I'd highly recommend at least shifting to P mode, so you can keep the pop-up flash from firing when you want to. Ideally, you should be familiar enough with your camera that you can shoot in A or M.

She has sent me several ideas and most have a black or white background.

These types of shots typically require lighting gear. The reason the background is black or white is because the background and the subject are lit separately, so that in comparison to the subject, the background is over or underexposed to the point of being white or black. See Zack Arias's white seamless youtube tutorials (Part 1, Part 2). You don't have the gear or experience or room to do this just now, so I would look at these images more for posing ideas and composition rather than "look". If your relative insists on this exact look, then it's time to gently suggest hiring a professional who does have the room, gear, and experience, or maybe doing this for the next baby bump, when you've gotten lighting under your belt.

You cannot do this with just a pop-up flash, because a) it's not powerful enough, b) it's just one light, not two (or three, or four), and c) you can't change where it's positioned in relation to the camera lens [which is why you get that white, flat, deer-in-the-headlights look with it most of the time].

I would suggest making sure that your shoot is in the daytime in a room with a large window. Put a sheet or paper over the window (or use a translucent shade), so that the light from the window is diffused. This will soften the shadows and create a more pleasing, softer look. If the light from the window is super-bright, you might be able to get the background to fade off a bit.

You can also use a big white flat piece of anything (paper, foam core, cardboard, sheet), or possibly, say, a car shade, to reflect/bounce the light from the window onto the other side of her, so that the shadow side is lifted/filled a little. Getting another family member (spouse?) to help you out by holding your reflector might make things feel more collaborative.

I would also bump up the camera ISO settings into the 800-1600 range, at least, because the 18-55 kit lens doesn't open up very wide, and tends to be sharper when stopped into the f/5.6-f/8 range. Ideally, you may want to consider renting or buying a faster lens for portraits. f/2.8 zooms are expensive, so most folks go for primes. The AF-S 35mm f/1.8 DX lens is where a lot of folks start, although the AF-S FX 50mm f/1.8 or 85mm f/1.8 might be good, too.

If you're shooting in JPEG, double-check your white balance before starting. If you're shooting RAW, consider shooting a reference color chart, or grey card (if you have one) before the shot for white balancing help later in post.

Since you use Lightroom, I'd also recommend that, if you have the time and inclination, that you learn how to set up Lightroom to shoot tethered, so that your relative can see what you're getting on the screen as you shoot. I found during my one and only DIFF shoot (I'm typically a landscape photographer, not a portrait shooter) that giving the solemn promise to delete any images my subject finds horrifying can help relax everybody a bit and take some of the pressure off and frees both of you up to try deliberately goofy/silly things. :)

Good luck!

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @stephanie. You're welcome. Since this is Stack Exchange, not a messageboard, thanks can also be expressed in accepting or (when you get the rep) upvoting an answer. If you plan to stick around, please read the Tour \$\endgroup\$
    – inkista
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 16:18
  1. Try learning as much as you can about light. Best would be a book about shooting people and nudes in natural light, you can try the Luminous Portrait by Elisabeth Messina - besides discussions about light it also has examples of settings.
  2. See if you can organize the room a little bit. The lady should be the most important thing in the pictures. See if you can remove or avoid things that attract attention, but are not related to the main message you are trying to convey with your photographs. Perhaps try removing excess colorful objects.
  3. Leave the pop up flash alone. Large white board might be useful to reflect light to darker areas. I suppose your light source will be the window. Unless you are shooting in b&w, don't mix light sources like window light and electric lamps.
  4. Consider bringing a tripod
  5. Do some test shots and evaluate them very critically. Is the light what you wanted? Is it sharp? Is the background good? Is there anything that "sticks" from the image, like a large colorful Mickey Mouse alarm clock in otherwise monochromatic romantic settings?
  • \$\begingroup\$ The user already said that she cannot buy equipment, so I guess a tripod is kinda off-limits. While I agree on the other points, I disagree on point 3 (not being able to shoot with a tripod). "Studio-quality-Pictures" means IMHO also not very high-ISO pictures... But in a room with a window (assuming it's a standard one), an ISO 1000 is easily necessary. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 9:36

Find the largest window in the house, remove any distracting elements out of the background, and shoot with the light to the side of the subject. Shoot using whatever settings you are comfortable with.

If the home does not have large windows or is full of distracting items; go outside. The images will likely be better anyways and a nice overcast day will make your life easy.


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