10 Tips for Better Interior Photography

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Whether it’s because of a love of seeing what other people do with their homes, or because we’ve got a friend in real estate, loads of us are turning to real estate photography. Of course anyone can run around and shoot a house in a few minutes. It may be useable, but better images command a better price for a house, either for sale or rental. So what can you do to make your interior photography stand out from the others?

Well, quite a lot actually. Some of it just boils down to a basic understanding of what an interior shot requires. Great angles, straight walls, and even light make a massive difference to the shot. We’re not talking about high end, multi-light setups with tilt shift lenses here, just getting better shots.

#1 – Use a tripod

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You can nip around and shoot handheld, but for many houses, you may need longer exposures. High ISO will just introduce too much noise, so a tripod is the best option. It does slow you down, but it also makes you concentrate on the shot more. You can use the time to check around the frame for stray cables, or clutter, and create the composition before you hit the shutter button. A few of the other tips benefit from using a tripod as well.

#2 – Use Live View

I shoot with a Fuji X-T10, so everything is live view, either by screen or by electronic viewfinder. Most cameras have a Live View option (if your camera has a video mode you likely have Live View), meaning you can see the shot before you take it. It’s even better if the camera has a tilt screen.

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#3 – Go wide

Shooting wide can make the room look great, though you need to be careful that you don’t over do it. Sitting tight into one corner while you try to get the other three corners in just looks wrong. Don’t do it. Anything in the 16-24mm range on full frame (or the crop equivalent which equates to 10-16mm approx.) is great. You also don’t need to show everything. Our eyes and brain will fill in gaps, so half a cabinet and the pillows section of a bed work fine in a photo. I use the Samyang 12mm lens (check prices for that lens on Amazon or B&H Photo) for my wide interior work.

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#4 – Shot one or two point perspectives

There are standard views you can shoot. A 1-point perspective is shooting so the sensor plane is parallel to a wall. It shows the side wall leading into the back wall and helps set a scene. A 2-point perspective is where you’re shooting into a corner. The corner doesn’t need to be centered in the frame, but don’t try and show three walls.

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#5 – Shoot from mid-room height

We can’t all afford a tilt-shift lens to keep perspective in check, so it’s a really good idea to shoot with the camera at or slightly above mid-room height. This means you can keep the camera aimed out straight to keep the walls vertical. While the perspective distortion you get can be corrected in post-production, it’s much easier to get it right in camera. This is another reason to use a tripod as well.

#6 – Use a bubble level

Most cameras have an electronic level, but not all. Even then, some only work for the horizon line, and don’t show tilt. There’s also a question of tolerance too. I find a little hotshoe bubble level to work great, and you see exactly when the camera is level, both side to side and up and down. The latter is essential to keep the walls looking straight.

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#7 – Bracket, bracket, bracket

When shooting interiors, there’s often a huge range of light in a room. From the light outside to the darkest corners of a room. Often it’s more than your camera can capture in one shot. Bracketing is your friend here. This means you’re taking a normal exposure, a shot 2 stops underexposed, and one 2 stops overexposed. Lightroom’s Merge to HDR function can be used to combine the shots for more editing leeway. You can also opt to use more shots (4 stops under and overexposed if you want even more latitude) for example, when you want to show the view outside a window.

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#8 – Use fill flash

Another way to bring down the dynamic range is to use bounced flash to fill in the shadows. By aiming your flash at the ceiling and walls behind you, you can lessen the shadows in the area in front of you. It’s possible to do this on-camera, but it works well off-camera too. You can even just hold the flash in your hand pointed at the ceiling.

You’ll need a radio trigger for the flash, or a system with built-in triggers like the Cactus RF-60 (price on Amazon and B&H Photo) and V6ii trigger. See the difference in the towels and the near part of the bed in these photos? That’s what fill flash does. It’s subtle, but lifts the light in the room.

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#9 – Go vertical for magazines

With so much interior work viewed on the web, there’s been a shift towards horizontal images in the interior photography world. But print magazines are still out there, and if you want your work published, you’ll need to shoot verticals for single magazine pages. Verticals usually mean letting the eye fill in gaps, so make use of composition to show hints of the room.

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#10 – Post-processing magic

Get as much right in-camera as possible, but do edit your Raw files to bring out their best. When post-processing in a program like Lightroom, you should bring the Highlights down and open up the Shadows. Next bring the Blacks down to ensure that the contrast lost from opening up the Shadows doesn’t impact the image too much. A little Clarity can also help. Find a Lens Profile in Lens Corrections to correct for distortions. Use Lightroom’s Upright tool to fix perspective issues in the image that can happen.

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Conclusion

Hopefully you’ve found these tips helpful for getting started doing interior photography. If you have any others to share please do so in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Sean McCormack is a Fuji X Photographer and author based in the Galway in the west of Ireland. He's the author of The Indispensable Guide to Lightroom CC. When he's not writing or creating YouTube content, he shoots people, places and even things.

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  • Greg

    Great suggestions – and clean everything up and put away objects. It should be extremely minimal.

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  • Tim Lowe

    You lost me on bracketing. It’s the sign of a photographer who doesn’t know their craft. Use a spot meter (either internal or external), understand the latitude of your film or sensor, have a working knowledge of the zone system and make the damned image.

    “I’ll never understand bracketing. Either you know the exposure or you don’t.”
    – Ansel Adams.

  • Sean McCormack

    My sensor doesn’t have 12 stops of latitude. I suspect that yours doesn’t either. Of course you might have a top of the line medium format digital back, but then you probably don’t shoot real estate with that. The bracketing is done to combine exposures using HDR, not to choose the correct exposure from a bracketed set. I think you’ll find that’s what Ansel Adams is referring to. He’s also the man that dodged and burned quite a lot to create his images to pull back detail or control shadow contrast for black and white images. These are not black and white images for a start. They’re also not art prints either. They’re images to get a place rented or sold.

  • Sean McCormack

    Too true Greg. Clean and uncluttered is what I tell them.

  • Tim Lowe

    Yeah. You seem to have no understanding of the zone system. First, there are 11 zones, 4 of which denote no or almost no detail. Unless you are shooting E-6 film or have a really old digital sensor, you can usually capture 6 stops of detail. Second, it’s not about capturing ever detail in the subject. It’s about capturing the detail you want.

    HDR? Jesus…

  • Sean McCormack

    Your assumption is incorrect. I’ve read, used and reread The Camera, The Negative and The Print. They’re right behind my head to my left in fact. This is a post on commercial shooting to please a client. Clients want what we can’t even see ourselves sometimes. They occasionally want the outside and the inside visible together and as commercial photographers, our job is to please them. I could’ve talked about exposing for the outside, while over exposing the window frame internally with flash, then using Darken mode to blend it with a correctly exposed interior shot, but that’s a slightly more complex technique. This is not about 1 single correctly exposed shot. Sensor latitude is increasing constantly, especially with Medium Format, and perhaps it will be a single shot one day, but right now it requires more than 1 image to capture the range requested by clients.

  • Dacia Kahn

    The tips here were so precise & hands on!

  • Randall Roberts

    More often than not (okay, always), HDR Jesus is just the savior the client is looking for. The photo should at least match the human eye’s dynamic range of 10-14 stops, so 6 stops doesn’t really cut it. It is, in fact, about capturing every detail in the subject for this particular subject.

  • Randall Roberts

    Which is, of course, to say that I agree with Sean…

  • travel_bug

    I find the tone of your responses contains just a little aggravation. Also you are in attack mode by stating “You seem to have no understanding of the zone system”. So what if Sean is using HDR? If you don’t like that technique don’t use it and learn to lead a more subdued and tranquil existence – you might live longer if you do.

  • travel_bug

    Also, Jesus is credited with a lot of stuff but HDR? Where does that connection come from?

  • One other additional piece of advice is to turn on all lights in a room. Although they typically don’t add any significant light to the scene it does give the room a warmer and more appealing visual feel.

  • Sean McCormack

    That would actually be a style choice Wade. European style tends towards lights off, with lights on being a more American style. Personally, I often will shoot both and see which one looks better. If you love lights on, a great tip is to travel with your own bulbs, with both daylight and tungsten options depending on what the room requires. Less cleanup work in post when you’re shooting bathrooms with no window and an open door. Quicker to swap a bulb that remove the blue/yellow mix in post.

    I should also say that shooting both means you can layer them and control the appearance of the lights via the opacity slider.

  • Felicity

    Hi Sean. Appreciated your article! May be a silly question for some, but when you do the post processing, it is after HDR has been done? Am new to the world of photography. Thanks in advance

  • Thanks really helpful!!

  • Aamrapali Bhogle Sonawane

    By far the BEST tutorial on interior photography! Great tips! Thanks.. 🙂

  • Every discussion about bracketing, @tim_lowe will show disgust with a holier-than-you attitude, and will use the same Ansel Adams quote. I’d love to see his interior shots that shows detail outside a bright window and clean (detailed) dark areas of a room.

  • Jeff

    Yeah, after looking at Tim’s comments on other articles, I wouldn’t take what he says too seriously. His goal isn’t to read them for information. It’s to identify any little thing he disagrees with and challenges the author by attempting to belittle them in front of the readers. He’s the typical unhappy “Alpha Photographer” that sets out to discredit others that are genuinely trying to inform a photo community. Bless your heart Tim. One day, you will be heard. Never cease believing that.

  • This was so helpful – thank you.

    Hannah
    https://hannahcochranphoto.com

  • Sean McCormack

    Hi Hannah,
    Love what you’ve up on the website. While the site looks great with the magazine style look, a lot of interiors do need wide shots, so consider a few of those as well. I look forward to the other galleries having photos. You’ve a really distinctive style.

  • Hey Sean,

    Wow – thanks for a response and such a quick response at that! I just started learning photography (as a hobby) this January and am completely self-taught (a la why I stumbled across your website). As you’ve probably notice, I’m just starting to ramp up my portfolio. Up until this point, I’ve done mostly travel and lifestyle shots for myself, and just recently started to pick up some freelance/client work. I have my first professional interior photoshoot this Friday (of a cafe) and found your website to be very helpful and will definitely be coming back for more tips.

    PS. I’ll have to read more about this bounced flash, since that is totally new to me.

    Thanks again!
    Hannah

  • Sean McCormack

    While it’s more portrait based, here’s one I’ve done on my YouTube channel:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMKrEQvSp5c

    That said, only use it if you need that lick of light to fill in. Better to keep that look that defines your work. That’s what gets you hired.

  • Will absolutely check it out. Thanks again.

  • Hey Sean, awesome tutorial for using flash. I know this arcticle is a little old at this point, so was curious if you have a recommendation for the best flash system (for a beginner to amateur like myself) for Sony ARii?

    Thanks!

  • Sean McCormack

    Hannah, I’m totally impressed with all of the stuff that Godox is doing currently. They’ve dedicated small flashes like that TT350 in a Sony version as well as a whole range of lighting right up to high power location lights… all run from the same trigger.

  • Thank you as always! Will check them out 🙂

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