Vital Tips for Photographing and Editing Interiors

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Vital Tips for Photographing and Editing Interiors

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Shooting interiors can be tricky. Spaces tend to either look cold and empty, or warm and inviting. While we always strive to capture what the eye sees, the complexity of the human eye will never be matched by the lens of any camera. Still, there are things you can do before, during, and after shooting an interior space that will go a long way in improving your chances of ending up with stellar photos.

Not sure where to start for improving your architectural photos? Here are my favorite tips for photographing interiors, plus some tricks for touching them up with Adobe Lightroom.

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How to Shoot Your Best Interior Photos

Grab your favorite camera and use these tips for snapping more professional-looking photos every time.

1. Prepare the space

Set the stage by taking the time to de-clutter and open up the space. Clear all flat surfaces and floor areas. Open all blinds and curtains. Clean any dirty dishes in the sink and put them away. Be sure to clean the space much more so than you would for yourself. We get used to clutter and become blind to it, but a bit of clutter in a photo goes a very long way.

2. Add warmth and life with personal touches

The space should feel lived-in and inviting, like the kind of place you can imagine yourself spending your days.

You can create those feelings in your photos, by adding personal touches. Set the dining table for two and place a vase of fresh flowers in the center. Transform an empty breakfast nook into a great spot to lounge by adding a newspaper, coffee cup, and a plate or bowl of light (and pretty) snacks. Hang a fluffy bathrobe on a hook next to the bathtub.

When it comes to decorations or color palettes, you want to either fill the space with personality to play up the uniqueness of it, or keep everything neutral with pops of bright color.

Interiors2

3. Fill the room with light

All interior lights MUST be on. While they’re not necessarily helpful in actually lighting the space, they help to create the ambiance. The absence of interior lights will give the space a cold, empty feel.

When using flash, never directly point it into the space. Instead, bounce it off the ceiling or walls, depending on what the space offers. If you can help it, always use flash as a source to fill in shadows, rather than as a main source. That said, if there is enough ambient light (which is your ultimate goal), skip using flash altogether.

Also, play with the strength of your flash. For my Canon, I like to slightly overexpose by about 1/3 of a stop and push the flash to about +2/3 in ETTL mode. Each camera can be different, so don’t be shy about experimenting with what works best with yours.

For outdoor shots, consider setting your flash to manual mode and using it as the fill light. I tend to set mine at 1/16th of full strength, but again, experiment with what works with your camera’s setting and your personal preference.

4. Shoot low

Keep verticals as truly vertical as possible by shooting from a slightly lower camera angle. If you’re going for a graphic composition, watch your horizontals as well. It’s quite easy to fix these issues in Lightroom during your final edit (see more in the first editing tip below).

5. Strike a balance

When composing your shot, focus the viewer’s attention on where you want it to go. Consider using staged items to add depth and interest in the foreground. Try blurring the background to make foreground objects really pop. Avoid flat looking photos by contrasting different elements in the foreground, middle-ground and background. Remember to aim for balance, not distraction.

Using the background to show a connecting room is also a great way to give the viewer a sense of space. This will add interest and make the viewer feel like they can visualize walking through the home.

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How to Edit Your Interior Photos

Import your photos to Lightroom and follow these basic editing steps to create more powerful images. Tip: You can also use Photoshop for many of the steps laid out below.

1. Straighten out the lines

Doing this will instantly polish up your photos. If you shot at a height of roughly five feet from the floor and kept the camera level, the amount of straightening you have to correct should be minimal. In Lightroom, you can find this tool under Lens Correction under the Manual section (tab).

2. Fill in and even out the light

Screen Shot 2015 02 10 at 2 01 28 PM

Before doing any adjustment to brightness or exposure, be sure to correct any lens vignetting that may have happened. This is when the corners of the image are a bit darker, and is a common effect in wide lenses. You can find the slider for this setting in Lightroom under Lens Correction, Manual, then Vignetting.

Once your corners are corrected, use the Adjustment Brush to correct the exposure in bright or dark areas. This is your time to “dodge and burn.” I find that erring on the side of overexposure actually has a more natural feel to the space. I recommend pushing the overall exposure up slowly, then when it feels too bright, start pulling back.

You can also lighten dark areas slightly with the shadows slider in the top (Basic panel) section. However, be careful not to lighten so much that you bring out grain (noise) or that the image looks fake.

3. Perform color corrections

Adjust the overall temperature as needed. You’re aiming for warmth, not yellow. Also, bump up the Vibrance a bit instead of messing with the saturation. Oversaturating can quickly make a photo look too fake, while Vibrance is a more subtle tool that helps give the color a little extra kick. Again, playing with the sliders on these settings, and seeing what your eye is comfortable with, will go a long way toward honing color-correcting skills.

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4. Adjust the clarity and sharpness

Push the Clarity slider up (to the right) slowly. Clarity is a great way to polish up a photo without going overboard on contrast; plus, it gives the photo an overall crisp look. Depending on the image, you may want to simultaneously play with darkening the blacks a bit, too.

Lightroom has two great presets built-in for sharpening: faces and scenic. I use scenic for architectural mages because it sharpens a bit more than the preset for faces. It’s a subtle, but vital, touch.

5. Clean up with spot removal and cloning

Use the Spot Brush tool to remove any dust spots or other anomalies that may have gotten onto the photo. You will see two options in Lightroom for the brush: Clone and Heal. Healing is a great option when correcting small spots, as it will have a softer blend to it. Next, use the Cloning tool to remove any glares or reflections of you in the photo. You can also use it to remove address numbers, if requested.

While I typically use Lightroom for editing photos, my personal preference for cloning is Photoshop’s stamp tool. It seems to allow for more control over the brush itself, therefore making it easier to clone in a way that looks natural.

How do you shoot and edit interior spaces? Share your tips and photos in the comments section below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Natalia Robert , founder and lead photographer of Full Circle Images, brings her background as an architectural designer forward to produce luxurious images that create a sense of warmth and culture. Natalia is based in San Diego, California, USA. She has had the honor of shooting with AirBnB for 3 years and counting, as well as with various publications, TEDxSanDiego, and countless small businesses to convey stories through strong imagery. Today, her furry co-pilot, Daisy, inspires a daily sense of wanderlust while serving as a reminder of how valuable it is to maintain a sense of HOME.

  • what about multiple exposures, extra light to dark walls, comp in ps?

  • Michael O

    If you’re shooting interior HDR for your own personal satisfaction, then yeah, use merge to HDR in Photoshop, or import into Photomatix or your HDR programme of choice.

    But for me, if you are shooting interiors, then you want it as realistic as possible. Anything over the top will make the space look impersonal. In my opinion that is.

  • Natalia Robert

    Great point! While stacking multiple exposures is traditionally the norm in a lot of architectural photography, I’m a big believer that the tide is very much turning to a much more natural look. To this end, I don’t do any stacking. All photos you see on this article are single exposure, and in fact, I have never submitted a stacked image for any client work in over 200+ properties I’ve shot! The process in the article above is my actual editing workflow for all my architectural work, and it definitely is in line with a naturally lit look for a space.

  • Natalia Robert

    I agree, Michael. A natural look is very much where architectural photography is heading, and so the use of HDR methods is becoming less and less common.

  • Michael O

    Agreed. But if accentuated detail is wanted. Then I would suggest they utilise the luminosity masking technique for a very natural, but highly detailed shot.

    But in all honesty, as in my first response, and Natalia agreed, natural is the way to go for any interior shot.

  • I have gone to shooting all HDR and no flash. So tell me how you get the natural look with the “blue” outdoor light coming in with the tungsten light. If I set the WB to tungsten my window light is blue. I’m looking at the very last image. If I shot this, I would have to change the blue tint by reducing blue saturation. Thanks for the tips.

  • Natalia Robert

    Thanks for the question, Jim! I typically shoot on AutoWB and correct any areas of varying temps with the brush tool in LR. With the brush, you can adjust light temps in specific areas quite easily. Also, depending on the composition, the gradient filter is great, too. The gradient filter I use more for helping to brighten shadows than to help with color temp variations. Both the brush and gradient tools can be found under the histogram in the Develop module of LR. Hope this helps answer your question!

  • Great! thanks for the reply. Yes I know the tool well. What about exposure? What about not blowing out windows? Are you using flash to counter that?

  • Natalia Robert

    Yes, the flash helps with that for sure. If I want to keep some detail of the exterior view, I’ll underexpose a bit and manually set my flash to fill the space with a soft light. It’s a balancing act between not blowing out the exterior and not leaving the interior so dark that you get lots of grain in post. This usually takes a couple of shots to find the sweet spot, but I tend to start with underexposing by about a full stop and then setting my flash to 1/8 power. That tends to be a good starting point for me. And the flash of course is always bounced off a wall or ceiling to avoid looking harsh since the goal is to look as natural as possible 🙂
    It will almost always need a bit of adjustment in LR to bring down highlights of exterior and brighten interior a bit, but I strive to get it as close as I can to my final in-camera so that it doesn’t need too much work.
    Great question! Hope this helps you out!

  • I do this for a living: BLOWING out the windows is not part of our jobs! Floor reflections are also not part of the job description. There is such an easy fix for it really…If you want to understand architectural photography please study Mr. Jeffrey Jacobs or Mark Borosh…

  • Natalia Robert

    Different folks, different strokes! I do this for a living as well, and completely understand that there are different views out there on what should and shouldn’t be done. You are welcome to take or leave anything in this article, since clearly it doesn’t resonate with you. Both those photographers have beautiful work!

  • Michael O

    Natalie, just curious if you ever shoot with a say, 8 stop ND, timed to perfection to expose the window right, and just using internal lights as source? Maybe filled with flash if too dark?

  • Not so; I beg to differ; this is a job like every other job where one has to learn how to do the job regardless of the conditions before doing the job for others. We’ll have to agree to disagree regarding the way we approach this professionally.

    I either light when I can or bracket when I can’t light. It depends on how much time I have at the shoot, but regardless of how much time I have, I’m still not going to blow the windows. My clients are particular to not doing that because in some cases there are views to preserve, and I generally don’t like to do that.

  • “I’m a big believer that the tide is very much turning to a much more natural look.”

    The reasons I disagree with this statement are:

    1. For real estate photography the property has to be represented as a buyer would see it; a buyer will see through the windows so there’s no excuse to blow them.

    2. An interior design/architect client needs their design to represents as “THEY” saw/designed it as well, so blowing the windows is not how “THEY” picture it. This type of photography is almost always for someone else, and their needs need to come first, as in you have to think/know how they want that space represented. That’s why HDR doesn’t belong in either UNLESS it is for your own personal purpose. These people have to continue selling their services or properties so you can’t go all artzy on a product that needs to sell.

    IF you photograph architecture while traveling for yourself you can go crazy. I did not shoot this for a client, I shot it for myself:
    http://acorner.net/blog/2014/8/my-recent-visit-to-the-dali-museum
    and here:
    http://acorner.net/blog/2014/8/more-from-the-salvador-dali-museum

    For the record: I have NOTHING against HDR, I just can’t use it for my job…my clients expect to see clean rooms so their clients have a way to see their ability to either sell their homes or re-design their kitchens. HDR is too over processed usually, and is an artzy look that does not properly represent these properties as they need to be represented.

    I use a lot of masking; I shoot 6, to 8 exposures and use masking. NOT the HDR feature in either Photomatix or Photoshop.

  • False statement. Join ASMP and learn more from those folks.

  • The reason this is false is simply because each property is very different; you’ve got windows facing oceans, or walls, you’ve got dark furniture, or white furniture, you have to adapt your lighting and techniques to where the property/room etc. is represented the best; layering and using masks is something most serious photographers in this area of photography use ‘because’ of the challenges each spaces pose.

  • Marc

    I enjoyed the chat about blowing out the windows, while i am doing mostly interiors with only one window less than 3×3 feet (and it is not in prison 😉 The rooms i do are mostly dark and the walls are made of tadelakt, a moroccan way of working. Tadelakt has the bad habit of reflections all over the wall. This results easaly blown out lightning. So mostly i do bracketting, choose the best one of the tree pictures. Consequently i take pictures as i call ‘run down’, meaning decrieasing shutter with one stop and take a picture until the ‘blown out zone’ is reduced to (almost) zero.

  • Use a circular polarizer for reflections…get an expensive one because the cheap ones SUCK.

    You should probably get a few lights to compensate, because when shooting in very dark situations the first thing most people do is increase the ISO which is a HUGE mistake, rather, keep it at 100 and use lights to light the space. I have to do this pretty much every time I need to shoot a bathroom all tiny 3×4’s…

  • You can also use content aware to get rid of those hot spots.

  • Change your white balance to shade or cloudy to get rid of the “blue” either in camera or in Lightroom/Photoshop. Takes 20 seconds to fix or less.

  • If you change the WB to get rid of blue then you affect the entire image. I use the blue saturation slider and bring it down in LR. Thanks for your post.

  • Marc

    Tx. I always shoot on tripod with ISO100. I am familiar with the content aware tool, it just doesn’t work always. I do have a polarizer but using it in interior photography is new to me. I will try next time

  • Yep; the CP filter is awesome for reducing reflections; I use it the time. If the CA doesn’t work use the clone tool; I’m usually zoomed at 600+% fixing things with the clone tool when all else fails.
    I never shot interiors/exteriors hand held, only with tripod…

  • This “blue hue” you’re talking about never happened to me. I usually keep the WB on Auto when I don’t use lights and have to match it with the lights I’m using, and shoot RAW so I start the editing from scratch. I was suggesting that as a “save”…

  • Natalia Robert

    No, Michael, I haven’t used any ND filters before, but it’s been something I’ve been wanting to play with for landscapes. Hadn’t thought about using them for interiors, but it would be fun to try out. Thanks for the suggestion!

  • Michael O

    I’ve not either, might give it a go to see how it goes. I might even flash some colour gels for inventiveness lol

  • Natalia Robert

    How fun! Would love to see how some of your experiments turn out.

  • You have to be careful because ND filters will add a lot of noise especially if the room has dark elements like dark wall paint, furniture, cabinets etc. It’s one thing to take it to the beach to smooth out water, and a whole other when you shoot furniture through it.

  • Michael O

    So long as I am not using these for business purposes, I can live with a bit of grit in the images hehe. It’s onlyan experiment for fun. 🙂

  • Right! 🙂

  • Kiff

    I find a good way is to shoot two sequences. Set your WB to daylight (or even use a color card). Turn off all the lights and shoot your first sequence. Even better add some flash as well.

    Turn lights on – shoot second sequence with same WB.

    Later in PS, do your normal stuff to the first sequence, then overlay your second sequence, change the blending mode to color and use opacity to get the effect you want. You can either have warm soft lighting or cool white!

    You can even duplicate that layer again, change blending to luminance and play!

    Having said all that, I find HDR adds too much noise. For me a good powerful flash gives much cleaner results. If you need to blend then use enfuse in LR.

    To join the earlier debate, I agree with Alexandra G, you shouldn’t blow out the windows…

  • Evren Arisoy

    Thank you for your article Natalia but I agree with Alexandra. Especially your first three photos look like an amateur’s photos rather than being a professional’s “different strokes”. I’m surprised that your photos are published in magazines! I like your 4th photo though (except for the side table with too much wide angle distortion on it). You have the “eye”, please do not blow the light 🙂

  • Evren Arisoy

    I completely agree with you Alexandra.
    (I’ve checked your website and love the fireworks!)

  • Evren Arisoy

    I think Michael wanted to say that there is too much HDR on your first photo 😉

  • Thank you.

    They are pretty addictive….LOL They’re my “favorite ride” there…Thanks 🙂

  • DNSFOIG

    I thought you shoot from a slightly ‘higher’ level to keep verticals vertical not lower? This creates ‘converging verticals the lower the camera position or am I doing it all wrong after 20 + years? Ah well thank goodness for my Tilt-Shift lens not a problem using that

  • Cecilia

    I love your photos! Thank you for the article.

  • Evren Arisoy

    One of the most difficult subjects to shoot too. Your exposures are perfect!
    You’re welcome 🙂

  • It’s true; I had to learn the show and memorize the moments I was looking to shoot; it took me a while…the other thing that’s hard is avoiding the “kid on shoulders syndrome”! LOL and finding foregrounds ….Not easy…Thank you much! I am glad you liked them. 🙂

  • Erica

    Not a photographer, so a lot of this thread goes past what I know- but as a buyer and viewer of homes I prefer this style. It calls to me, and I would much rather want to view or be in a home that has this type of magical natural light. It calls to me – a place I want to be in! Great tips, Natalia. Thanks!

  • Natalia Robert

    Thanks for your comment! The verticals stay vertical because of the camera being level, not necessarily because of the height of the camera. For example, you could potentially shoot very low to the floor, but if the camera is level and not tilted up or down, your verticals would still remain vertical.
    I just went back and re-read that point in the article and the wording is a bit misleading, so I apologize for that. The height of the camera that’s recommended (roughly five feet from floor) is what typically will get what you want in frame; not too much floor and not too much ceiling. Regardless of the height where you place the camera, you should definitely always keep it level to avoid those converging verticals, though!

  • Natalia Robert

    Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the article 🙂

  • Natalia Robert

    Thanks for the home buyer’s point of view, Erica! Glad you enjoyed the article!

  • Evren Arisoy

    Sorry for my late reply Alexandra:
    Yes, it can take some time but that’s how we learn and improve ourselves 😉
    Oh kids and our efforts to have good shots while together with family or friends 🙂
    You are welcome and have a nice weekend..

  • Greg

    Thanks Natalia for the great article! I’m sure it will help me as I’m just starting out in real estate photography.

  • Mitchell

    How would you not blow up the windows? I recently purchases a ND filter and hoping it will help with that. I’m just getting into shooting in door photography for my business. Thanks in advance for any reply.

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