4 Things You Already Own That Will Help You Take Striking Portraits


It's a given that the sun is an invaluable tool for photographers. Light is something we've all found both comfort and trouble in. Many artists are already aware of their favourite time of day for shooting, but it's often healthy to expose yourself to new methods. The more possibilities you're familiar with, the stronger your skills will get. Even if a new way of photographing doesn't stick with you, you'll still have beneficial knowledge which might come in handy at the most unexpected (and best) moment.

by Taya Iv

For instance, I wasn't a fan of nighttime photography for a very long time. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love other people's nighttime shots. However, I often felt that my style wouldn't work well with artificial lights or starry skies. In addition to fearing grain, I couldn't imagine how I, a portrait photographer, could take appealing photos of faces lit by almost no light at all. I believe it was fashion photographer Lara Jade – as well as an abundance of talented nighttime photographers – whose work encouraged me to be more experimental in every possible way. Eventually, I came to appreciate the value of ISO, artificial light, and dark locations. Though I still prefer abundant sunlight to artificial light, I'm no longer irrationally afraid of finding myself in a badly lit location.

While this article isn't about nighttime photography, it covers a topic that almost every art genre is connected to: experimentation and openness. Had I given up on nighttime photography during my first shoot, I would've missed a plethora of fantastic opportunities. Similarly, had I not experimented with light patterns, I wouldn't have discovered an effective way to take striking portraits with the help of accessible items.

This article will cover 4 simple things you already own (or have access to) which will help you make the most of sunlight. The reason this list contains simple items is that I find an endless amount of beauty and potential in everyday objects. Living in small apartments with a limited amount of equipment has taught me to value the tiniest of details. By taking advantage of unusual light patterns created by things most of you own makes this kind of photography accessible to almost everyone. Though I'm more than grateful for tutorials that encourage the use of advanced photography equipment and complicated techniques, I also cherish the beauty of creating striking portraits with very few tools. I hope these tips inspire you to see your possessions in a new light. Let them help you take the most wonderful photographs. 🙂

1. Lace Curtains

Shadows cast by lace curtains create elegant, tattoo-like decorations which are ideal for enhancing closeups or very simple portraits. The ones I use have floral patterns, which help me take natural and feminine photos. These shadows look particularly good on hands, simple clothes, and, of course, faces. When I'm completely out of ideas for a shoot but I still want to take photos, I work with lace curtains to find at least a tiny spark of creativity during a phase of artistic drought. Sometimes, you just have to remind yourself that original ideas can emerge from simple things you see and use every day. Realizing this always makes me feel a little more refreshed.

A few great alternatives to lace curtains are:

  • straw hats
  • chunky scarves
  • doilies
by Taya Iv

2. Hands

For harsher results, use hand shadows. Though this technique might become limiting, it can come in handy (no pun intended) at least once every few shoots. I myself use hand shadows during sunny midday shoots. I also use them when I simply want to highlight a certain facial feature. The photo below was taken spontaneously during a picnic. I didn't have anything to use as a shadow caster so I simply tried to stop the golden hour light from completely covering my face. If you're into self-portraits, don't be afraid of playing with all kinds of hand shadows whilst taking photos. I find that the results often look intimate, unique, and visually appealing.

by Taya Iv

3. Hair

If all else fails, hair is the solution. This might sound like another obvious tip, but you'd be surprised to know how often hair shadows have transformed my dull shots into creative portraits. Unlike hand shadows, hair shadows can be used in a variety of interesting ways thanks to their unruliness. In my opinion, they are brilliant at creating dreamy (albeit messy) results. Hair shadows can also be used to frame a face, so if you're a fan of closeups then definitely give them another try.

4. Nature

You don't have to go to a jungle to make the most of nature's very own light patterns. Personally, I love the shadows that any leaf, branch, and flower creates. There's always something worth experimenting with outdoors (unless it's poisonous!). If you're a plant owner, you might find inspiration in your flora's shadows. When I'm completely out of photography-related ideas, I find some time to take a walk in a local park on a sunny day. Noticing the various shadows cast by nature fills my mind with brand new ideas. Even if I return home without any new photographs, I feel refreshed and prepared for a new day of shooting. Wherever you are and whatever you own, you'll find potential everywhere if you keep your eyes open.

by Taya Iv

A Few More Ideas

If the previous points didn't inspire you, here are a few more items you could work with to create interesting patterns:

  • window shutters
  • steam from hot beverages
  • fences
  • tinsel

Simplicity can be a loyal photography companion. Enhancing it with the help of accessible items like curtains and hands will introduce you to a different way of shooting and allow you to experiment with a new style. Even if my perspective doesn't appeal to you, try noticing shadows you once ignored. If you don't take photos of them or use them in any way, at least you'll take the time to appreciate the beauty of the present moment. That in itself could inspire you. 🙂

Good luck!


by Taya Iv
by Taya Iv

About Author

Taissia is a professional photographer and educator.

Excelllent ideas! I totally forgot about the lace curtains and how their casts are so lovely. AND, I cannot wait to try steam…excellent and thank you!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *