Ten years ago, I started my entrepreneurial career as a home stager. As a drop out interior design student, I never could let go of the feeling to do something with interior once and when I finally decided to quit my day job, being a home stager felt like a career that could pay the bills and give me a jump start towards the design business. In stead of that, I ended making interior photos every single day! Back in the day before the crisis hit the real estate market, I did find agents that wanted to work with a professional stager. But to keep down the expenses, they took their own photos.
My first interior photos (...)
Boy, I made lovely interiors from scratch, and when I saw the photos on the Dutch MLS, they still looked like crap. So I decided that I’d better take the pictures myself. With just the knowledge of the few photography classes that I took in art school, I set my first steps into photography.
My pictures looked crap! Better than the photos of the realtors but "Better" was not enough! There were no courses on interior photography in the Netherlands, so it has been a lot of trial and error before I was finally satisfied with my work. I took years before I dared to call myself a photographer by profession.
So what are my expert tips to create good interior photos?
First of all, in photography, there are no rules, just guidelines that you can follow until you discover your own style. I love bright and airy shots, other prefer dark and moody. But when you use my tips, you will have a good start into interior photography:
1. Use natural light whenever possible!
So turn all the lights off. I repeat OFF! Light bulbs cause terrible shadows and color casts. As human beings, we are very capable of interpreting the yellow color cast of incandescent bulbs or the dull green of fluorescent lights as white light, but the camera has no brain to understand colors as we can. The other day to a client wondered why I did not want her to switch on the light. It was a dark and rainy day (hello fall!), so I showed her both photos on the back of my camera. She was easily convinced to keep the lights off:
Quite a difference isn’t it? Of course, there are situations when there is no light entering a room, many bathrooms in the Netherlands don’t have any windows, but as soon as there is some daylight entering, I use that. Oh, and flash is a big no-no to me! Light has to come from natural directions and flash disturbs that feeling.
2. Use a tripod
The light conditions are rarely good enough to shoot handheld indoors. So a tripod is a must! I prefer to keep my aperture between F/9 and F/11 and my ISO as low as possible (100 yes!) to create an overall sharp image. And with your camera mounted on a tripod, the shutter speed is no longer an issue. Invest in a sturdy one with bubble levels, and it will last you a life time.
3. Keep your lines straight
Keep you verticals vertical and, when shooting a one point perspective, your horizontals horizontal too! Our brain is capable of realizing that doors are vertical even if we see them from an angled view but the camera is not. Using a tripod and a tripod head with bubble levels makes it easier to keep the lines straight!
4. Stay in line
When you are doing a series of photos in one single interior, shoot them from the same height. It creates a more balanced overview of the space, and that’s a lot easier on the eye going through the photos. Other wise the viewer will feel like he or she is hopping up and down through the room when looking at the pictures. I prefer to hold my camera at chest height, between the ceiling and the floor. That way, you will look over the table and countertops.
5. Overcast days are the best
When I am shooting real estate, I prefer to work on a sunny day, but that’s just for the outdoor shots! Every house in its surroundings looks better when the sun is shining, and the sky is blue. But the sunlight creates a very sharp difference between lights and darks indoors especially when it is shining straight through the windows. So when I am shooting interiors, I prefer an overcast day. The clouds function as a large soft box creating lovely soft shadows.
6. Stage, stage, stage!
The best interior photos are carefully styled. First of all, get out all the clutter like cords, cables, mail, etc. Basically, anything that is not intended for decoration purposes. Don’t be afraid to remove or reposition accessories and furniture to create a better composition. Depending on the purpose, you can always remove things like light switches and outlets in Photoshop too unless you are shooting real estate: therefore you need to keep things real!
7. Create space
The hardest part of interior photography (besides the light) is the lack of space. So don’t be afraid to move furniture when it is standing in the way of creating a beautiful shot. Or shoot from the hallway into the room at the point where you won’t see the doorposts in the viewfinder anymore.
8. Don’t abuse your wide angle lens
A wide angle lens is a must in interior photography, but I see many photographers that tend to use it as broadly as possible. I hardly shoot wider than 22-24 mm. (13-14mm on a crop camera). You won’t be able to capture a room in one shot, but it does show it most naturally without distortions. And why not take another shot from a different angle?
9. Go closer
Create overviews of the rooms but don’t forget to shoot vignettes and close ups too. In those, you can really capture the mood of the space. Change your aperture: Make the hole of light that enters your camera as big as possible because it is also responsible for depth of field. A close up from a vase looks so much better with a blurry background. Don’t forget to crank up your aperture when you are reshooting a wider view!
10. Change your camera settings to RAW.
RAW files contain all the data that you capture, unlike jpegs that are compressed and ‘edited’ in the camera. You do need Photoshop’s camera raw processor or Lightroom to you can retrieve a lot of information in blown out or under exposed area’s without loss of quality. Besides, you are able to adjust the white balance more accurately so:
11. Edit every-single-photo!
Editing software is a must to enhance your pictures and retrieve the best results. It’s where you are able to create real magic! Take a look at the unedited RAW file below and the final result; yes the end result indeed is the same shot! I use it as an example for my interior photography students to show them how they are able to recover a seemingly failed picture into something that is still usable when taking the plunge and switch from shooting in jpeg to RAW.
There is so much more to tell about creating interior photos. I have shared my knowledge with a lot of students over the past years in my courses. From all the content that I have developed over the years, I am creating an online course right now. I am planning to launch it this fall, but I am a perfectionist, so there is no deadline yet.
Leave your name and email below, and I will keep you posted, and I will send you my Epic Photographers Business Plan!
In case you wonder what happened to my career as a home stager: I use my knowledge in that field to style every single interior that I shoot. Not by swapping entire interiors but by decluttering and readjusting things. By making interior photos, I have the best of both worlds!