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Photographing Interiors

 2nd Aug 2010

photographing interiorsJane Shattuck from Planet Barbados recently filled in our video questionnaire and asked us about photographing interiors which I thought was a great idea for one of our tips as well as a series of films for our Photography Videos section.

Whether you’re doing it because you enjoy it or because like Jane it’s part of your business - photographing interiors can present it’s own set of tricky situations.

Interiors have their own mood and character and it’s important to capture this. No matter how beautifully furnished an interior might be ­ when photographing it it’s vital to capture the feeling of the space.

The first bit of advice I’m going to give you is crucial and flies against what logically seems to be the right way to go about it.

  • photographing-interiors-1Don’t whatever you do use flash unless you absolutely have to!

“But Mike you numpty ­ it’s going to be dark!” It might well be but the next piece of advice neatly takes carte of that…

  • Always use a tripod!

Flash will kill the atmosphere of a room stone dead. It’ll wipe out foreground shadows and create background ones that don’t exist in reality.

On-camera flash will make things close to it very bright and over-exposed and unless you combine it with a slow shutter speed ­ it’ll make the back of the room dark. So to begin with - don’t do it!

Use a tripod and let the camera set a slow exposure to photographing-interiors-3make up for low light. So long as there’s no movement you can use shutter speeds as long as you like. (I did one a couple of weeks ago which was 2.5 minutes!)

  • When shooting towards a window - overexpose by a stop or more because all that brightness outside will confuse your camera into making the shot too dark.

Now this will usually result in the detail outside the window being burnt out and blown away ­ but you have to decide what you want. Do you want a shot of the room with lovely bright windows, or do you want a shot of a dark room with lots of detail in the garden? Sorry ­ you’re butting up against the laws of physics and can’t have both in one exposure.

  • Tidy up! It sounds silly I know but it’s very easy to get lost in camera technicalities when photographing interiors and not notice messy phone wires or full up waste paper baskets. Even the slightest bit of dust on a surface can show up in the pictures.
  • Be careful to keep the verticals vertical by keeping your camera level. If you tilt the camera up or down the verticals will converge distorting the building. The camera has to be parallel to the vertical surfaces. (You can correct this to an extent using Photoshop’s ‘Transform Perspective’ tool.)
  • photographing interiorsTake shots with the lights on as well as with them off. Having the lights on in daylight can enhance an interior’s appeal no end.
  • Shoot details when photographing interiors and get in close to the finishing touches which make the space what it is.
  • To ensure front to back sharpness when shooting an overview of an interior use a small aperture for lots of depth of field. When shooting detail you might want a shallow depth of field to concentrate the viewer’s attention.


Now I know I haven’t mentioned what to do when you do absolutely need to use flash’ yet.

About the only time I use flash is to lift a particularly dark corner of a room - ­ and even then it’s a studio light so I can control the direction it’s coming from.

But you can give a dark corner a lift with a dedicated flash gun by setting output of about -1.7 and bouncing it off the ceiling. Try different power settings and repeat the shot until you get some semblance of what you’re looking for.

If you do use the flash - make sure you copy the shutter speed and aperture and manually set the exposure yourself because most cameras will default to a 60th sec shutter speed and that’ll wreck your nice slow exposure for the available light in the room.

I’m sorry for the break in free tips this month (I usually try to do at least two) - but the workload of setting up our new online photography training videos has taken over every last moment of life for Jayne and me.

mike-browneNow I’m not making excuses ­and though I say it myself, these films are fantastic and we can’t wait to have them out there making a difference.

Happy shooting until next time…

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