Here is a photo of Imp (my two year old, and "Imp" is his very fitting nickname!) I took yesterday in my fancy home studio. Yes, I do have my own studio. And guess what, so do you! I drew a diagram of mine as seen below.
Fancy, right? I am pretty much a 100% natural light photographer. It is not that I don't like flash or am scared of using it, I just prefer to shoot with natural light whenever possible.
For this shot of Imp [...]
I draped our kitchen cabinet with a $8 black fleece throw from Walmart. This is perpendicular to our window. Then I had Imp stand about 2 feet from it (so I wouldn't capture every wrinkle, fold, and crumb in the throw), looking out almost parallel to the window, slightly turned toward it(as seen in the comic above). Oh, and I made sure to take the photo after his nap so I could capture his bedhead (sorry Imp!).
I love this type of position because I can get those lovely catchlights in both eyes but still have some shadow on the side of the face away from the window. Here are the technical details: ISO 400, f5.6, 1/30s, 28-135@53mm. This was a lucky shot because my speed was a bit too slow at 1/30s and many of my images had some motion blur. I did a quick and dirty edit in LightRoom2 (exposure and eye pop) and then some sharpening and removed some red marker from his face in Photoshop CS4.
Rembrandt knew the secret of great lighting and you can learn from him and use it in your photography. Flashes are great for capturing images in dim lighting, fast action, or using as a fill light. However, for most of us who have those flashes mounted right on top of our camera, we can turn them off and use flattering soft natural light to create dramatic shadows in our portraits.
So do you need a fancy studio and light set to get beautiful portraits? Nope. All you need is a background that is not distracting (fleece throws work great!), a window (garages and sheds make great studios too, just open the door), and a model (somewhat reluctant in my case). And make sure when you are taking the photo to turn your model toward the light until you see catchlights in both eyes.
Also, a word of advice. When you promise your two year old that you are going to give them a chocolate chip for being such a good model, make sure that you and your husband have not eaten them all the night before... I was able to save the moment with air-popped popcorn (air-pooped according to Imp, everything is poop this, poop that) and plain almonds. Most kids won't settle this easy... ;-)
If you have any questions, please post them them in my CoffeeShop Flickr Group!