10 tips for Better Interiors Photography

I’ve put this short list together with the capable amateur in mind. I won’t be going into long details about camera settings or white balance but it more of checklist of hints to keep in mind. Interiors photography is great fun and fabulous way to learn about lighting.

  1. Prepare the room – Remove clutter where possible. Having a waste bin in shot and clothes everywhere is not going to look great in the photographs. Cord and cables are often a pain particularly in hotel rooms where they always seem to be noticed. Try and hide or remove where possible. If I am shooting a hi-end property for an estate agent I generally work room by room. The key is to keep the character of the rooms and the building but just make the rooms look as big and open as possible. Consider taking some flowers to brighten up a kitchen and light bed linen often looks far better than dark for general shots. A nice clear floor space can add depth to the room so although a nice rug can add to the décor of a room it might make it appear smaller in the photographs. Other things to think about are removing some of the many family photos and personal items, pet stuff and clutter off work surfaces in the kitchen. A cluttered kitchen, especially is small can be a big turn-off. Finally, in the bathroom try and remove toiletries and make-up and for heaven sake please put down the loo seat!
  2. Choose your time of day – Early in the evening may suit an east facing property, whereas if the property has many windows it might be best to shoot around midday. I would always recommend spending a few hours on-site as minute by minute the weather and light can change (certainly in the UK). Light is always your friend but it can be overpowering. If you are photographing very white interiors and want a flat light too bright a light can be a pain.
  3. Watch the verticals – If you point your camera up your vertical lines will converge. That is just perspective at work. Shooting with a wide -angle lens really amplifies this so be careful. When you are looking through the view finder, or checking your live view, check the verticals.
  4. Unsure on lighting? What’s the rush? – One of my favourite things about shooting interiors is that normally time is not pressing on you. Photographing people and processes tends to be somewhat time critical but not interiors. If are unsure what approach to take when photographing a room first try with all the light off (this might be harder if there are no windows). Then take some frames with all the light on. It seems obvious but every space requires learning and experience is something you gain as you go. I have learnt, for example, that you average dark wooden interior (like a pub) need loads of light. A modern white, minimalist apartment might photograph very well with no lights on if the weather is good.
  5. Adding light – I try and think of lighting in interiors as omni (general and spread) and highlight (targeted). Omni light just lifts the whole ambient level up. You can do this with a strobe and a diffuser such as a shoot through umbrella. Targeted light can just be a zoomed in strobe or a strobe with a grid spot on. Some rooms just need an overall lift of light to make then shine. These are usually small bathrooms or light living rooms. I do however light to add lighting for creative effect. If you are photographing a long or large room, the wall farthest from the window may be darkest. Adding supplemental light can really help this. Or you may have a dark corner that just needs a boost. If I’m doing a magazine shoot, I may use lighting more creatively to replicate window light in a room that doesn’t have much.
  6. Use minimal equipment – I tend to carry two light stands Manfrotto Nano Plus (great kit!) and carry two more strobes in my kit case when photographing interiors. My kit case for interiors is one body and two lenses and I don’t always shoot with a tripod. Lots of people shoot interiors religiously with a tripod. I tend to find that as I’m adding light into a room and happy to shoot at 400ISO I can be faster and more creative without one. If, however, you are photographing dark rooms and have no additional lighting then you may need to use a tripod for those long exposures. ****This is one of those things I like to tell my students, especially those landscape photographers. Get rid of your tripod! As soon as you do you realise that you can lie down in a field of flowers, you get great photographs. It frees you up from choosing a spot, setting up, and then taking a frame. You a can flow and be more creative, more spontaneous.****
  7. Dwell on the detail – Big room shots are great and they really tell the story but don’t forget the detail. Small details, even textures and patterns can make great small vignettes. Reception rooms may have hero pieces such as a piece of sculpture or a stained-glass window that should be highlighted. A kitchen may have a wonderful work surface and a bathroom a fantastic copper bath.
  8. Outside space – If the space is nice, this should not be an afterthought. Again, you can dress up this space a little with a bowl of fruit and some fizzy apple juice but as long as it’s clean, that’s a start. Ensuring the lawn is mown and the garden reasonably tidy also helps. Here the time of day can be very critical as houses tend to over shadow (literally) gardens in either the morning or evening.
  9. Learning is a journey – Its rare on a job you get chance to play and experiment with different techniques of lighting and approach. When photographing interiors, you can try different things and see what works and what doesn’t. The only thing you have to do is ensure before you leave the shoot you have some good solid images the client will like.
  10. Don’t over edit – Camera developments (such as RAW) can mean that people learning photography all do the same processes. So, you reduce highlights, boost shadows and slightly desaturate, all in RAW. The problem is the images can look flat and lifeless. Try and edit (and also to shoot) so your images have some life and pop about them. Washed out colours can look very cool in certain magazines but sometimes, on an uncalibrated monitor, they just look washed out.

I hope this all helps. Please feel free to leave a comment.

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