I once ran into an acquaintance at the local coffee shop who had seen my photographs on Facebook. She was so nice and complimentary, but she said something that made me giggle: “I just don’t know how you always keep your house so clean!” You see, I have four children. And in between the laundry, books, papers, art projects, board games, sports equipment, and dishes, there is no keeping this house clean. We could live in Buckingham Palace and you would still see the mess.

As I thought about it more, I started realizing I have a method to the madness. Over the years, I’d been photographing in the midst of our mess. You see, I intentionally shoot in a way that highlights my subjects and minimizes the distractions (re: messes). Sure, sometimes I clone-out a stain on the rug or a fingerprint on the wall, but more often than not, I make the mess disappear in the camera. Here are my favorite tricks for shooting in my perpetually messy house:

1. Shoot from above

Sure, sometimes my floor is messy. Usually, though, I can find a few square feet clean enough to make it look as if the whole house is clean. Using an overhead perspective to make the floor the backdrop is a great way to give the illusion of an expanse of clean floor.

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2. Shoot in a pocket of light

Exposing for your subject in a pocket of light makes everything in the shadows disappear into darkness. As long as you have that one little spot in the light clean, no one has to know about what is beyond it.

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3. Shoot in front of a bright window

Bright light coming through a window feels so happy and airy that people will read it as “clean.” Even better, you can use that light to blow out the background and create a perfectly white backdrop in front of which your subjects can stand.

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4. Shoot close… really close

When you fill the frame with your subject, the area beyond them doesn’t matter anymore! Get nice and close to capture the details of those little faces or feet and forget about the mess beyond the edges of the frame.

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5. Embrace the mess

Sometimes, the mess is where the beauty is. While I often shoot to minimize our cluttered house, I am also not trying to be something I am not, so I shoot the mess too. Someday, I will miss having a magically regenerating basket of dirty laundry and will pine for the days of fingerprints on my mirrors and Legos underfoot (wait… nevermind, I will NOT miss stepping on Legos!). By shooting in a way that captures our lives in the midst of the mess, I will have a little snapshots of this stage of life to hold onto and a good reminder that beautiful memories can happen anywhere — even in my messy home.

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More often than not, Kellie makes the mess disappear in the camera. Here are her favorite tricks for shooting photos in a messy house.