by professional interior photographer Chris Humphreys. www.chrishumphreys.net
Whether you're a beginner starting out, or an experienced photographer looking to turn professional, these tips for better interior photos will give you a good head start. But before diving into the top tips, I will guide you through your digital camera settings and give you the inside professional knowledge to give you a head start and improve your interior photography skills.
Good interior photography is all about maximising the use of light, space and colour. Interior designers will agonise over the tiniest details, and they rely on good photography to convey this on Instagram and other social media.
Interior photography isn't just about using a wide angle lens to capture a whole space, it is also about taking lifestyle type photographs of materials, furniture and patterns to create pleasing compositions. These are usually the type of interior photos that have the biggest impact on Instagram and interior designers love them!
I'll be covering the following topics, click on a link to go directly to that section:
How do professionals take interior design photos?
Professional interior photography can often look a little daunting for a beginner, where images are so perfect, crisp and well lit. A professional photographer will use various tools and experience when shooting interiors, and of course capturing interior photos is only part of the process, you also need to become highly skilled at photo editing.
Many people think you need a good camera to take the best interior photos, that simply isn't true. I started years ago with a Nikon D80 consumer camera at the start of my professional carrier, the truth is any consumer DSLR camera is capable of capturing excellent photography. You just need to work within the limits of the camera, the only thing that a £3000 Nikon D850 camera will do better is allow you to push those limits further.
The biggest factor that affects interior photography is light, this is something that every professional will try to control in some way, whether it by by turning off artificial lighting to use only daylight, or introducing additional flash lighting to bring out detail in shadow areas. More about lighting in the next section.
With interior photography it really is a case of quality over quantity, a 'spray and pray' approach may work for sports photography but it doesn't work for interior photography. Stand back and look at your subject, ask yourself what it is about the subject that you find pleasing? Is it the whole room, part of the room, a cushion, a chair? Whatever it is then make sure that you focus on that part only for that shot. Then think about where the main light source is coming from, is it a window? Can you control it by closing a curtain or blind slightly? Do you need to? Do you need supplementary lighting from off-camera flash?
Next, adjust anything that needs to be tweaked. The first thing I do when photographing a show home is plump all the cushions and straighten all the curtains. It's the little things that go a long way to making stunning photos, so take your time and move any accessories that don't work or are in slightly the wrong place (though my preference is usually to move my camera before rearranging a room).
Taking the photograph is then a matter of adjusting the settings (see below) and ensuring pin sharp focus on the subject. You may choose to use a shallow depth of field with an f stop of around f/4, if you do, make sure the subject (say a vase) is prominent in the frame, either in the foreground or centre and fix your focus on that.
Use a remote shutter release and take the photo, review it for exposure by checking your histogram and then again for focus using your LCD screen. After that you're done with that shot and can move onto the next.
There's a lot to this subject and is something I'll cover in a related article. So subscribe below and look out for further pro photography advice.
How do I get the best lighting for interior photos?
This is something of a minefield, but I'll try to break it down. In simple terms you have 3 sources of light available to you on any shoot.
Most interior photography you'll see online will predominantly be lit by daylight, this is because it is fairly uniform, very bright and....well....natural! So use natural light where possible, however there are times when it is makes life difficult for instance when bright sunlight is streaming into a space, the contrast can make it very hard to capture pleasing photographs, but with the right technique and skill it can produce amazing photos. However most interior photographers prefer diffuse lighting from cloud cover, this gives the most even and predictable lighting indoors and is easy to control. But not all interior spaces will be sufficiently lit by daylight, so you may need to consider other light sources.
On-site artificial light
By on-site artificial light, we are referring to ceiling lights (spotlights/pendants) and floor lamps/table lamps. This is where it becomes a bit more complicated because as soon as you switch on ceiling lights or side lamps you have two or more different colour temperatures of light in your space to deal with. Your camera can only select one white balance setting to use at any one time, so it will either select an auto-balance to work with daylight or one to work with the light bulbs.
More often than not it will pick somewhere in the middle and cause color casts where your interior photos will have a cold looking area close to the window and very warm yellow looking. Don't worry too much though as you will be shooting in RAW and white balance can be adjusted in photo editing. A good compromise is to shoot interiors on a bright day with thin cloud cover (or no direct sunlight) and only use the side lamps rather than the ceiling lights. This will give your photos warmth and atmosphere but still taking advantage of daylight as the main source.
Strobes or flashlight
With interior photography at some point, you're going to need to introduce a little bit of off-camera flashlight. This is most useful to fill in shadows in low light areas of the scene. This is where shooting in manual mode is helpful, as you need to think of lighting in separate component elements. Your camera is set up to take photographs with general ambient light settings, and you want to make sure the photo is as light as possible without overexposing the brightest parts of the scene (usually the window). Then you are using the flash as an additional source to add as much light as required to lift the shadows slightly. This is where off-camera flash units are useful as these can be directed at the shadow area, I often use these with a small handheld umbrella to diffuse the flashlight further.
Off camera flash can also be useful when you require a view through a window to be visible while exposing the space correctly. In this situation I usually take two exposures, one for the space with normal internal settings and another specifically exposed for the window view with the foreground lit with flashlight. This then allows for easier blending in post production.
Again interior photography lighting is an expansive subject and something I will cover in another article.
What are the best settings for interior photography?
You need to take control of your camera, so to start with put your camera in manual mode and use a tripod. A tripod is essential to interior photography as you will usually be going for a long exposure and won't be able to hand hold. Once you're set up there are three basic camera settings you can control. I've put these in order of priority!
Aperture. Why is this first you ask? Well before you make any other adjustments, you need to think about what depth of field you want to achieve, is it a wide room shot that needs to be pin sharp throughout the photo? Or is it a lifestyle type detailed photo that would benefit from a shallow depth of field? I would usually go for f/11 for front to back sharpness with a wide angled lens and around f/4 for lifestyle shots on a 50mm lens. But experiment with different settings to see what works for you best.
ISO. Now set your ISO at it's base setting (note this is not the same as it's lowest setting). This will usually be around ISO 64 or 125. I only tend to vary from this when shooting handheld inside using a flash for speed, and in this circumstance I set the ISO at 250 and turn auto ISO on, this allows my Nikon D850 to automatically increase the ISO if it detects there is not enough natural and flashlight combined to correctly expose the scene at the required handheld shutter speed.
Shutter Speed. Still with me? I know, a lot of information to take in. Having fixed the two variables above and assuming you are using a tripod, you then need to dial in the correct shutter speed. This is where you really need to pay attention to your histogram. I have my shutter speed dial set so that when I spin it to the right, the histogram moves to the right and vice versa. I find this quickly allows me to set the exposure I want for a given situation.
There are no hard and fast rules for what settings to use, but once you have taken hundreds of interior photos you start to get a feel for what settings will work in any given situation and it becomes much more instinctive. But to start with, take a methodical approach as above and you won't go far wrong.
Here are my expert tips for creating great interiors:
Use these photography tips and tricks for perfect interior real estate photos every time. Use these as inspiration to find different types of interior photography compositions, don't be afraid to experiment.
1. Square it up
Create impact by shooting square on to a room or furniture and turn the photograph into a single point perspective. This effect draws the viewer into the image and works best when there is a strong focal point. For maximum impact take time to ensure that the vertical and horizontal lines are parallel to the plane of the photograph. Photos taken in this way have high visual impact.
2. Take a look down
In large public spaces look for opportunities to shoot from high looking down. This will often add layers and give depth to an images, and including people will give scale. Try shooting in both landscape and portrait format to see what works the best, a tripod with a horizontal centre column option is useful, otherwise increase the ISO and hand hold (tightly!).
3. Use artificial feature lighting
In some interior spaces the lighting is the main feature so look for it and use it, exposure is critical to a successful image. Use a tripod and take two shots, exposing one for the feature lighting and the other for the ambient light. Using the ambient light photo as the main image, add the feature lighting image using a layer mask. Your aim is to ensure that the feature lighting doesn't appear over exposed which may happen if you meter for the space only.
4. The devil's in the detail
Look around for an eye catching detail to compliment a set of images. It might be an abstract from a larger composition, an entire object or just something that catches your eye, but think about what it says and how it relates to the set. This shot was part of a set from an interior designer’s house, a peephole into a bathroom, naughty!
5. Stairway to heaven
Shot from above or below, spiral stairs will give a classic and very pleasing composition close to the Fibonacci spiral. The taller the stair the better, try to place the vanishing point of the stair on the intersection of thirds. Spiral stairs show this effect off the best but almost any stair will give a pleasing and dynamic composition.
6. Don't abuse the wide angle lens
In small rooms go for a wide angle lens to make the space feel bigger. In really confined spaces back the tripod into a corner with just enough space to see the LCD, live view is a distinct advantage here. Level the camera, compose the shot, set the self timer and leave the room. Be careful about how wide you go though and what objects appear in the foreground. For instance with living room photography furniture can appear distorted when using a wide lens, so move the camera to a different position and back up as far as possible to allow you to zoom in more.
7. Bright white walls
Correctly exposing brightly decorated spaces can be tricky as the camera’s metering will assume you want the white walls to read as a mid-tone (much the same as when shooting in snow). Shoot in manual and over-expose around 2/3’s of a stop, checking the histogram to make sure the white walls are appearing close to the right hand edge. When processing your photos, try to push the histogram as far right as possible to make those bright white spaces really pop.
8. High Contrast indoor scenes
Many interior scenes will include bright daylight shining through a window in combination with deep shadows; these can be dealt with in two ways. You can take multiple exposures using bracketing and combine them as a single HDR raw file in Lightroom, which then gives you up to 10 stops of dynamic range in each direction. Or you can take two exposures, an ambient shot and an exposure for the sunlit areas (including a window view) with a flash to fill in shadows. These then need to be carefully blended together in post-processing.
9. Control colour casts
When shooting a scene which has a mix of natural light through windows / rooflights and artificial lighting, the resultant shot will have a mix of colour casts to deal with. These can be overcome in post processing by setting the white balance for the natural light and using the local adjustment brush with a temperature adjustment in the artificially lit areas. This takes time and practice, a good tip is to slide the vibrance and saturation sliders all the way to max in Lightroom, this will allow you to see the colour variation much more easily. You can then make the local adjustments before sliding them back to the middle.
10. Frame a window view
Architects will often frame external views from inside a building, look for these and think about the best angle to capture them. You may need to take two photos, one for inside and one for the view. Use the interior exposure as a base and blend in the view using a layer mask. Be careful to keep the view through the window lighter than the interior exposure as that is how the human eye would perceive it.
11. Use long exposure for motion blur
People not only give scale to a scene but can be used to add movement and drama to your photos. An otherwise static scene can be transformed with people moving through the space. Use a tripod and set a shutter speed of between ½ -1 second, people in the foreground will blur more than people in the distance. You will need to experiment with shutter speeds to achieve the optimal effect as both lighting levels and the speed of movement will affect your photos. You're aiming for enough movement so you can still make out the shapes of people, and not so much that you lose them completely.
12. Crop in for composition
Try to look for compositions within a space, this means imagining the final image and thinking about the final crop. Tall spaces often suit vertical crops and wide spaces can work well with a panoramic image. Think about proportion, layers, colours and using the building’s structural elements to divide the image. This is where a higher pixel count helps, my Nikon D850 for instance has a 45MP sensor which allows me to heavily crop into my photos when required.
13. Look for the unexpected
Great abstract shots can compliment a set of photographs and are often created by looking for an unusual angle to shoot from. When you’ve spotted the shot, think about what you’re trying to achieve with the final image. This shot of a glazed bridge from below was deliberately exposed to create a strong silhouette of the structure and people rather than an ‘average’ exposure.
14. Play with depth of field
Not all interior photography needs to have tack sharp focus from front to back, think about using a shallow depth of field to draw attention to a specific part of your photos. Open up the aperture and get close to the subject, the more separation from foreground to background the greater the effect. Interior designers love these type of photographs.
15. Be careful of reflections
Reflective surfaces can bring an interior to life and make for great photographs, but you want to make sure your reflection isn't visible if possible. In some instances it is unavoidable, such as this shot directly into a mirror. Try to position the camera and tripod against a background that will allow it to be easily cloned out in post production. Get yourself out of shot and use a self timer or remote release to trigger the shutter. In spaces with complex reflections when your kit can't be placed next to a plane background, you can sometimes get away with standing next to the mirror and shooting in the opposite direction to create a 'reflection' photograph which can then be cloned in to the main shot.
16. Room to room photos
Look for opportunities to shoot from one room from another, this allows the viewer to imagine themselves in the space. This shot of a bathroom through the door opening gives a glimpse of the space inside and creates a sense of mystery. It also emphasizes the lighting within the space and frames the view. Use a longer focal length to foreshorten the perspective and compress the view.
17. Adjust white balance in RAW
Many interior photography scenes have a mix of natural and artificial light together with strong colours, so it can be difficult for the camera to accurately set the white balance. Shoot in RAW and include a neutral grey card in a duplicate shot, you can correct the white balance in your RAW editor by clicking on the card with the eye dropper. Repeat for each different lighting situation.
18. Straighten up verticals
Interior photography will usually look better with true verticals. Pro architectural photographers will often use a tilt and shift lens to achieve this, but software such as Lightroom, Photoshop or PT Lens will easily correct most situations. You can achieve this with a standard lens by keeping the camera level when shooting, if the tripod has an integral spirit level use it, otherwise buy a cheap hot shoe mounted level.
19. Use natural lighting if possible
Architects will often design buildings to make the most of natural light at different times of the day. So don’t always reach for the light switch, instead think about the best angle and time of day to shoot to make the most of the available light. The rooflight in this shot floods the space with light during the day but gives way to artificial lighting later in the day – both photos are worth having.
20. Control reflections from glazing
Polarising filters aren’t just for landscape photographers, interior scenes will often have a number of reflective surfaces which need to be controlled. Reflections can enliven a shot and provide interest but in certain situations can be a distraction. A polarising filter was used in this shot to reduce the reflections in the glass and allow the view beyond to show through.
Look out for further top tips in related articles coming soon. Hit the subscribe button to keep up to date. Thanks for reading!
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Why not check out my blog: Pro Guide to Architectural Photography