4 Tips to Help People Photographers Shoot Interior Spaces

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As a people photographer, I am not a specialist in photographing still forms like architectural structures and interior spaces. However, because I photograph weddings, I often take photos of interiors and locations as part of the wedding photos I give my clients. This is essentially how I learned to develop an eye for detail, form and structure as part and parcel of my work.

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Let me share with you a few tips I have learned that will hopefully get you started in photographing interior spaces and architecture if you are a people photographer.

#1 Use natural light

One of the advantages of still photography is simply that – nothing moves. You can leverage this by playing with your settings, especially the shutter speed. With the camera rested on a tripod or a table, you can play around with very slow shutter speeds to maximize capturing ambient light even in very dark corners, limited light, or night interior photography. If there are lamps and lights that make up the overall ambiance of the room, include them and take advantage of slow shutter speeds and long exposures. You can also keep your ISO low this way and have the bonus of clean noiseless images.

It is important to remember that for interiors, you should aim for balanced lighting. Meaning there are no overly dark shadows or overly bright highlights. You want to see the detail in dark areas but not blow out the light areas altogether. Because we are talking about natural light, think about which times of the day which best feature the interior space. Early morning and late afternoon light are the softest. Overcast days produce soft light. Bright super sunny days produce harsher light especially midday and therefore you may want to take into consideration shadows produced in the interior from harsh outside light. In contrast to photographing people, I would normally use these shadows as an artistic element of the photo. Interior spaces however are different and this may not always be appropriate.

Early morning and late afternoon light are the softest. Overcast days produce soft light. Bright super sunny days produce harsher light, especially midday. Therefore you may want to take into consideration any shadows produced in the interior from harsh outside light. In contrast to photographing people, I would normally use these shadows as an artistic element of the photo. Interior spaces, however, are different and this may not always be appropriate.

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#2 Don’t forget your 50mm lens

Not only is the 50mm lens the closest lens that resembles the human eye (when using a full frame camera), it is also the perfect lens to separate some areas and details of the space without going in too close. In a way, it is an excellent “portrait” lens for spaces, whereas my 85mm is my choice of portrait lens for people.

When using wider lenses, I find I have to correct quite a lot of distortion on the edges of the frame. With the 50mm this is hardly an issue. The results are pleasing to the eye and it evokes a very natural look, making you feel like you are within the actual space yourself.

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#3 Get the white balance right

This is tricky and the nemesis of many photographers. Most non-photographers are oblivious to white balance. This is especially obvious in weddings where the bride’s dress looks blue and people’s faces register as magenta, yet hardly anyone notices.

When I sold my house a few years back, the real estate agents who boasted of great property photography sent a photographer to my house to take some professional pictures. She arrived with a camera on the tripod and a flash head pointed slightly upwards. The lens used was very wide – I guessed around 10mm or 14mm. It took many days before the photos were up online, when finally I saw them, they were all very blue. My home felt so cold and not homely. One of the reasons for that was the incorrect white balance.

Personally, I prefer a warm feel to all my photos so I tend to edit towards that side. But do be careful that the whites still look white and not yellow or cream. Remember that what often draws people to an image is a feeling or emotion. Your image becomes all the more powerful if it reminds the viewer of a sentiment, experience, or something that resonates with them. White balance is key in helping achieve this kind of engagement with your viewer.

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#4 Remember to go close, not just wide

Nowadays, when you browse through interior design catalogues or blogs, you will come across many interior details, arrangements and vignettes that do not show the entire space. Everyone is doing it from high street department stores to high end interior designers. There must be a good reason for it. In order to reinforce engagement and a connection to your audience, details are essential.

Imagine walking into a space, or that you are viewing a house for the first time. Before you walk though the door, you survey the outside look of the property and its surroundings. You do the same as you walk in, surveying the overall scene before your eyes. But when you are inside you get closer and see the details.

You may want to touch and feel the walls, flip some switches on if they work, or sit on the sofa with fluffy scatter cushions. You want to get close, touch and feel things. It is not only a visual connection then, it becomes physical. This is the sense you want to achieve with your images when the viewer is not physically in the space. That is why close up shots and details are important.

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Conclusion

With photography, aim to connect with your viewers not only by using visual senses but also with the power of emotion. If you can add a virtual physical touch to this engagement, all the better. When viewers look at your images and say, “I feel like I was actually there.” take that as one of the highest compliments.

I hope you enjoyed this little beginner’s journey into interior photography. Of course there are many more tips like straightening horizons and shooting through doors. If you have any other awesome tips, do share them here in the comments below.

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Lily Sawyer

is a wedding and portrait photographer based in London. Her absolute favourite past time is going on “mummy” dates with her kids and husband. Other than that, as a homebody, she is content curled up on the sofa, hot chocolate in hand, watching films with her family whenever she has a free weekend. Check out her work on www.lilysawyer.com Follow her on her fave social media platform Instagram.

  • manicool

    i can just say amaaazing. Such types of pictures can make your day. one question what type of pcwares for editing your pictures for effects.

  • Michael in TO

    First and foremost Lily, that you for taking the time to make this post. MUCH more of an investment in time than my commenting. Thank you!!

    If you decide to get into this a bit (more than just being casually interested)…I can not recommend too strongly the use of a shift lens (called Tilt Shift by some. Nikon calls these lenses PC for Perspective Control). I shoot with a 24mm PC lens that to my eye is distortion free so long as the camera is level. What you get are distortion-free images with truly vertical verticals. No need to correct distortion.

    Hoping this is not too off topic! You mention blue photos from a real-estate shooter. I have met (and seen the work of good real estate shooters (and these folks are talented technically and aesthetically…often staging shots themselves as they are aware of what angles work and why)….but I have to say, in trying to “get into this field”, most real estate agents do not value good photography. I asked an agent for whom I had been doing some branding work what he paid for images (I asked because their shots were truly awful)….They paid $400 for a house/home to be set-up, photographed, images processed and a 4-page brochure to be created. Why? They want (of course) to put more money in their pocket and the shooting comes from the RE agent’s cut. So homeowner’s get horrid photos (the end-result of purchase price and how it is affected is an unknown)…and your home looks a little worse than it might.

    Personally (or rather professionally), I get paid to shoot and this pricing is more than a bit insulting. As a result, I will not darken the door of RE agents.

    Back to blue photos….please everyone…if you have a grey card (and you should)….one frame per set-up and your neutrals will be neutral.

    If windows are blown out due to excess light, shoot 2 exposures (one for outside and one for inside) and merge them in Photoshop!

    Hope some of this info is helpful!

  • John McCubbin

    Thanks, Lily – a very informative and useful post. Your practical, first hand advice is truly appreciated!

  • Lily Sawyer

    Thank you Michael, this is so helpful. I’ve been wanting to get a tilt shift lens for some time. At the moment I use 14mm for really wide shots but with the D750’s flip LCD screen can get the verticals straight although the downside is that you get a lot of foreground. Might be time to get the tilt shift!

  • Lily Sawyer

    Glad you liked it John. All the best.

  • Lily Sawyer

    I edit in Bridge and Photoshop. There’s an article about editing in Bridge that I have written here in DPS if you search it. Thanks for the positive comments.

  • bear

    Even though I learned photography, I did not take some photographs of the wedding during my school. Before I become a people photographer, I have helped to take a lot of photographs in the wedding party for my families several times in interior spaces. It was my first time. While I have been reading your thoughts and experience with the artist, I really need to learn and improve these challenges of taking photograph in interior spaces. For photography, it has the different skills and tips in the camera. I will learn and challenge about how I use my camera to get the white balance right and natural light to move in interior spaces if I know functions on my digital camera.

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