How to Photograph Interiors Like a Pro
Taking photos of your home that you’re proud enough to share on Instagram can be a daunting task. Getting an interior scene to look drool-worthy requires a special balance of focal length, composition, and exposure. Vivian Johnson, a photographer based in Oakland, Calif., has some tips from her years of experience working with professional designers.
Build your compositions with a story in mind
Johnson suggests you start by asking yourself, “What do you want to present in this piece?” What do you like? The goal is to show the history of the house. Identifying notable areas of a room that tell this story will help you get started. Then create a composition based on that.
When composing your images, Johnson explains, you need to “be aware of what you’re cutting out and including in the frame so it doesn’t look awkward. Just like when you shoot people, you try not to cut your hands or your feet. Looking at the edges of the frame and how things like furniture and decorative items meet those edges will help create a more solid composition.
Position your camera carefully
One of the most effective tools for creating professional, natural-looking interior photographs is keeping your camera straight and level. Vertical lines, such as the corners of walls or railings, should be completely vertical and not converge. Avoid pulling at a downward or upward angle to keep the lines parallel.
The height of your vantage point does indeed make a huge difference. “I try to get closer to your eye level, not sitting or too high,” Johnson says. Shooting from this vantage point creates an appropriate sense of the viewer’s natural place in the room.
Beyond wide shots of the room, you can also highlight details. For example, if you’re in a space with specialized knobs or handles, consider closer shots that showcase those special elements. “If a kitchen has a special faucet or appliance, I will photograph those details,” she points out.
Dial in the right camera settings and tools
When shooting interiors, you want to make sure your camera settings will help you get the best results. For starters, shooting with your camera’s lowest possible ISO setting will result in the sharpest, least noisy image. “I try to shoot at ISO 100,” says Johnson. Not only will you have a noise-free image, but you will also have the greatest flexibility to adjust exposure while editing.
The aperture is the other main parameter to consider for indoor photography. A smaller aperture will maximize depth of field and help bring the whole piece into focus. “I’m usually at f/11, or higher if necessary,” she explains. Try experimenting with the aperture values of your lenses to maximize the depth of field needed to bring the entire scene into sharp focus. But beware: using too small an aperture can result in loss of sharpness due to lens diffraction, so don’t stop more than necessary.
A low ISO and smaller aperture will require a slower shutter speed, so Johnson almost always shoots with a tripod. Placing your camera on a tripod stabilizes your camera for sharper images. Johnson also recommends it for keeping lines straight.
Focal length also plays an important role in creating successful indoor photos. “I don’t like to shoot with a very wide angle, even when I’m shooting indoors,” she explains. “I try to move back as far as possible and then use whatever focal length is appropriate for whatever is in the room. » Using a lens that is not excessively wide (eg, 24mm) creates a more pleasing natural perspective and reduces distortion.
Spend a lot of time lighting and styling
Your composition and settings only serve to emphasize the most important elements of an interior photograph: the quality of the light and the style of the scene.
Having worked with many professional interior designers, Johnson suggests setting up your composition with the camera first and styling your hair afterwards. “I’ll set up the camera and then we’ll create the style from there,” she says. Staging after knowing the composition can help you build your scene from the camera’s perspective.
Of course, a flattering light will enhance the quality of any scene. Johnson points out, “You don’t want to take pictures when the sun is direct and strong through the windows,” she says. “Overcast days are great because it’s like a huge softbox outside.” She also suggests turning off all the lights, as they can cast a yellow tone in the room and complicate white balance.
Tap your smartphone and computer as essential helpers
Johnson takes photos connected to a computer while at work, so the preview image appears on a large screen. This makes it much easier to see small details that you might miss when looking through the viewfinder or the back of a camera. Adobe Lightroom has a tethered shooting option that works with cameras from major manufacturers.
To help with lighting, you can use an app to track how the sun moves across the sky during the day. Johnson uses one called Sunscout. “I can base my shot list and timing on how the light enters the room at what time of day,” she explains.
There may be times when the limitations of available light must be overcome with software tools. “Sometimes I use multiple exposures in the room and then mix the images together,” she says. It doesn’t go as far as HDR though; instead, she taps on careful masking and blending to create an even balance of exposure across the entire scene.
For those whose only camera is a smartphone, Johnson points to a potential benefit: “With a phone, you can go further.” Being able to step back allows you to create compositions and find perspectives you couldn’t otherwise achieve with a camera and tripod.
You can find more of Vivian’s work on her website and Instagram.