Photographing Interiors

Secrets of Real Estate Interior Photography

The title says "Secrets" but how secret can something published on the Internet be? Instead, this article really talks about easy and effective methods I use in photographing interiors for real estate sales and rentals. I don't venture beyond basics into advanced photographic techniques for architecture photography. If you're planning to shoot the cover of Architectural Digest magazine, you won't be needing this article. But the vast majority of people shooting real estate interiors should find something here that will improve their skills and give good results. Start with some easy ones, and use your judgment about which solutions are worth the extra time they may take.

What's Wrong With This Picture *
On this page (below) is a short list of guidelines, but on the following pages I've expounded further on some common problems and my solutions.
  1. Solutions to, "The Room Looks Dark"
  2. Solutions to, "The Room Looks Small"
  3. Solutions to, "The Room Looks Shabby"
  4. Solutions to, "The View Looks Ugly"

Beginner Basics: Start Here

  1. Find the most flattering angle. Move around and look for pleasing angles. Show off the good features and hide any bad spots just by moving your position. Shoot from several angles if you're not sure which is best, then decide later.
  2. Back up! Put yourself tight into a corner or doorway to capture lots of the room. Rarely will the middle of a room be the best camera position.
  3. Hold the camera straight, not inclining up or down and not tilted to either side. Easy method: the left and right edges of your viewfinder should be exactly parallel with vertical lines in the scene, such as doorways.
  4. Use a tripod, even if it's a $10 discount mart special. Holding the camera perfectly still will save many shots that would be ruined by a hand-held camera.
  5. Use the self-timer and let go of the camera so you don't jar it during the exposure. The timer adds a few seconds, but patience is rewarded.
  6. Get Down! If holding the camera straight (above) aims too high, bend your knees or sit on a chair to lower the camera position. Get comfortable, though, before carefully aiming and taking the shot.
  7. Get Up! Not all shots need to be from human head height... try for some variety by elevating your position (careful if standing on things), or shoot from a balcony or staircase.
  8. Adjust for even light throughout the room to avoid dark areas or too-bright areas (like sun-blasted windows). The camera captures a narrow range from dark to light, so the more evenly lit the more good detail will show in the photograph. There are lots of things you can adjust, and lots of combinations: open/close shades, turn lamps on/off, add lamps from other rooms, use your flash.
  9. Avoid fluorescent lighting which can look ugly-green on film. Mixing fluorescent with daylight (windows) and tungsten (regular light bulbs) requires some expertise, though digital cameras with automatic white balance will handle the mix better than film.
  10. Housekeeping details will show up clearly in a photograph. Schedule your photo session after a house cleaning, and watch for stray dirt. Take the time to straighten furniture, drapes, linens, and brush out obvious foot tracks in pile carpet using a broom. Move trash cans and clutter out of sight.
  11. Overcast skies can be perfect for shooting interiors: the windows look bright but not overwhelmingly so.

Some General Guidance for Real Estate Interior Photography

  • Interior photographs should be in sharp focus everywhere. Use hyperfocal principles to focus one-third of the distance into the scene. Avoid shooting very close to objects (adding to focus difficulties). Keep apertures small (typically f/11 to f/16).
  • With your camera on a sturdy tripod, use longer shutter times to drink in the available light. Interiors are still lifes: nothing moves, so long exposures work well. You don't need strong light... just consistent and even light.
  • Take a careful moment to scan your frame in the viewfinder, imagining it as a two-dimensional (flat) photograph. Interiors usually appear complex on film, so try to simplify: remove clutter and hide defects. Avoid prominent objects on the edges of the frame.
  • Carefully align the camera on the tripod: avoid elevating up or down, or the side-to-side cant (tilt) characteristic of amateur photographs. Check the alignment of vertical objects (like door frames): they should be parallel with the sides of your viewfinder frame. Tip the camera up/down and right/left until all verticals are parallel. With a little practice this is easy, and it makes a big difference.
  • Meter on mid-tone objects (not dark furniture or white walls), and don't be afraid to overexpose bright lamps and windows somewhat: it's a popular look because we generally like to see bright interiors, not underexposed murk.
  • Bracket exposures by as much as a full stop plus and minus, varying the shutter speed -- easy on a still life subject. Later, you can pick the most appealing image of the three, and sometimes it's not the middle exposure you'd expect. Given the time you spend shooting, it's worth it to know you'll have a choice of the best result after you're finished. And different clients may have a preference for a more over- or under-exposed look than you personally favor.
  • Shoot wide-angle to capture entire rooms and make them look big, but don't ignore the details: the unique character of some interiors can be found in smaller areas or objects, or even close-ups. Overuse of ultra-wide shots can be tiresome for your viewers, and the optical quality of wide-angle lenses is inferior (for those doing enlargements).
  • Watch out for mirrors, which can show part of you (the photographer) in the scene. Clients will almost certainly reject a real-estate shot which includes the photographer (it's nothing personal). And other smooth surfaces such as window glass can reflect your flashes, so examine your results carefully before calling the shot complete.
  • Watch out for flash reflections in glass (picture frames, windows, mirrors). Such reflections will create intense hot spots where you didn't expect them, and will likely cause the image to be discarded.

Now, onward to the most common problems and their solutions, starting with the most common of all: The Room Looks Dark.

* What's Wrong with the picture (top right)? Nothing terrible, but some definite improvements could be made. Start by lowering the tripod a few inches (keeping the camera straight) to capture more of the bed and less of the ceiling. Remove the chair on the right which clutters the scene. Either shift the camera position slightly left or remove the desk (lower right) as an unwanted obstruction. Use high power halogen bulbs in the lamps so they cast a warmer glow onto furniture and ceiling. Diffuse the flash spot lighting the bed to soften the shadow of the bedframe and the shadow across the floor (bottom left), in this case with either a softbox or a shoot-through umbrella.

Updated 19-aug-11   Contents copyright © 2001 - 2011 PhotoCentric.Net, All Rights Reserved