Eleven Beautiful Architectural Photographs And How They Were Made

Eleven Beautiful Architectural Photographs And How They Were Made

As I continue my articles on interior, architectural, and real estate photography, I thought it would be interesting to see different approaches to shooting these types of subjects. So, for this month's article, I've invited a number of professional interior, architectural, and real estate photographers to share their images and techniques with everyone who reads Fstoppers.

As anyone who shoots interiors and architecture can tell you, there are well over one hundred ways to shoot any space. To use lights, or not to use lights? What composition would best suit the space? What is necessary to include, and what is not necessary to include? Will a single exposure work, or will we have to blend multiple exposures? How much time do we have? Do paint and fabric colors need to be matched? What about camera and lens choices? The list goes on and on. Since it is of the utmost importance that every element of the scene is working to complement the photo, great care must be taken in each step of creating one of these shots.

We also have to take into consideration the final end user of the photos, and adjust our pictures accordingly. While both a real estate agent and a high-profile architect need great photos, those photos will hardly ever be created in the same way. A real estate agent will be hard pressed to pay the full commercial rates that an architect might, and because of this, the photographers will approach each shoot differently due to budget constraints or the demands of the client.

I reached out to a number of professionals who were kind enough to share some information about how they created each of their images below. I've chosen to feature a variety of styles from a variety of shooters, from real estate to high-end commercial, so that you can get a feel for the difference in approaches and techniques. I hope that after reading this post, you'll be able to learn a couple of new tricks, or further your understanding of the complexities of architectural and interior photography.

David Eichler

David Eichler is a San Francisco Bay-area based architectural, interiors, and luxury real estate photographer. And yep, it's no coincidence: that Eichler. David's grandfather was the great Joseph Eichler, the real estate developer and designer who you might have known as the man who made the Eichler-style home popular. It's no question that architecture is in David's blood, and his images show that. With impeccable attention to detail and composition, David's images are great case studies for showing the beauty designed into a space.

"The living room shot below is a composite of an ambient exposure fusion blend for the interior (using Photomatix Pro), a separate single exposure for the exterior, and parts of an additional exposure for the interior that I supplemented with strobe lighting from two monolights."


For the below photo, a very simple light setup was all that was needed.  Of this image, David says "the sun room photo below is a single exposure with fill lighting from two monolights bounced off the ceiling." Nothing crazy lighting-wise here. Sometimes letting the space speak for itself is all that is necessary, and an important tool that any architectural photographer must have in his bag is the knowledge of not only when to light a space, but how much light to use.



Cynthia Walker

Cynthia Walker is an Alabama-based real estate photographer who works using mostly natural light and a number of blending techniques: both hand-blends in Photoshop and Enfuse-based HDR images.  I suspect, like many real estate photographers, that Cynthia is using this workflow in an effort to move quickly and deliver a high-quality image not attainable by a single exposure.

"This job in particular was for, you guessed it, a Real Estate agent. I chose this composition to show off this amazing patio and backyard, which the homeowner had spent countless hours on to get it to look like a home that would be featured in a magazine such as Southern Living. The biggest challenge for this image was getting the right balance with the highlights of the yard and shadows of the covered patio. I took two exposures on site: one for the backyard and one for the patio. Once at home, I blended them together in Photoshop using a quick mask and adjusted the opacity to taste. "

By using only ambient exposures, Cynthia was able to retain a natural, attainable feel. I wouldn't have any problem imagining myself walking right into this scene. And that's something that a real estate agent as well as a potential home buyer will love to see.

Raif Fluker

Raif Fluker is a Florida-based architectural, interiors, hotel and resort photographer who was kind enough to show us a few of his shots that required a somewhat more complicated light setup than you'd imagine. By finessing multiple lights, adding small kisses and big truckloads of light throughout the scene, Raif is able to make some huge and extravagant spaces look entirely natural and inviting.

"The set up for this shot was one monolight just barely to the right of the camera, supplemented with a Canon 430ex at full power to the left of the camera. In the opposite room were three lights. A monolight and an SB-80 on full power illuminated the room while fighting the bright florida sun, and a gridded SB-80 was used to bring out some detail in the red chairs. I also hand-held an SB-80 with a grid and a CTO to highlight the table in front of the camera. The view was pulled in on one exposure, not masked in."

Getting that view in one exposure is no small feat: With high-noon Florida sun blasting in, it would be easy to overlight the space and make it look a bit fake.  By finessing all of those lights, Raif is able to keep the space feeling natural and also keep it well-illuminated so that the viewer can see all of the architectural and design details throughout.

The next space that Raif shot was nothing short of cavernous. While these large spaces look amazing to the naked eye, they are actually incredibly difficult to photograph. This situation was made even tricker by the fact that earth tones dominated the scene and sucked up all of the light. In order to overcome these challenges and keep the room looking natural, Raif had to use a smorgasbord of speedlights. This is one of those photos where you'd be easily fooled without an explanation.

"The set up here was one monolight just behind the camera for fill. I placed another monolight just out of the frame on the right hand side of the living room, illuminating the couches and fireplace. Two SB-80's were used to illuminate the upstairs area. Lastly, I had one Canon 430ex in the hall between the bar and the living room, and a pair of SB-80's to lighten up the bar area."

Scott Hargis

Scott Hargis, a San Francisco based architecture and interiors photographer, has been featured on fstoppers before.  And it's no wonder: his impeccable attention to detail and vast knowledge base combine to help him create some stunning interior images. Scott is known across the web and within interior photography circles as a master of lighting, and his images attest to this.

On creating the below image, Scott says:

"This was the first shot I "saw" upon walking into this new construction project by Dogtown Development in Oakland, CA. Pretty much everything you need to know about this place can be gotten from this photo! I loved the colors, and the styling was spot-on. Obviously, I'm bringing light in via a strobe outside the window, which had to be "boomed" into position from an adjoining deck. Additional fill light is coming in from camera left.  The idea was to accentuate the existing sunlight, while still controlling the highlights  on the windowframe. "

Once again, all that's used are a few strategically-placed kisses of light to bring the space to life. By controlling the light, Scott is able to create the feel of a warm summery afternoon. Look me in the eye and tell me you wouldn't love pouring yourself a glass of wine and cooking a nice meal or reading by the window...you just can't!

The next image from Scott is a bit more on the commercial side of things, in contrast to many of the images of home interiors featured in this post. Shot for an architect, Scott had a specific set of instructions to follow when he was contracted to create this image.

"This image was made for Dumican & Mosey Architects of San Francisco, and is intended to show the cantilevered wooden overhang and the translucent blue divider wall in relation to the conference room. Nearly every square inch of this scene is getting additional lighting! Controlling reflections and glare on the shiny wood surfaces (as well as the glass) was a real challenge and required us to "kill" a lot of the existing practicals, replacing them with our own light. The addition of the two figures in the conference room was a last-minute decision, which I think adds a lot to the photo. There are at least 4 strobes, and as many hotlights involved in this shot, but the real work was in controlling the existing lighting, much of which was either turned off, or else scrimmed and otherwise modified."

Wayne Capili 

Wayne Capili is a Monterey, California-based commercial, portrait, and luxury real estate photographer who has made a name for himself with a unique lighting style that relies mostly on hard light. Wayne developed his lighting technique in response to his clients, who came to him seeking a way for their images to jump off the page in print media. While Wayne shoots digitally, he keeps in mind that the end result is going to be viewed in print just as much as it would be on a screen, and his lighting is modified as a result. I think wayne has come up with a beautiful style, and it's refreshing to see interior photographs lit with a little bit of an edge. Wayne was gracious enough to go into detail about the process of creating this image for us:

"The parts list:
6 Photogenic 1250 Monolights with various reflectors
6 sb800
1 8in Fresnel - Speedotron 1250

The first thing was to light the far room, I did a basic exposure wash with a Photogenic to bring up the EV, which I bounced on the left wall with a 22 inch reflector for wide soft fill. And here is where it gets complicated...

1 Sb800, set at 105mm on fireplace
1 SB800, high camera left aimed center of room for detail for table
1 SB800, 105mm , camera right and high for the chairs on left
1 SB800, right hand side and low, to light chair 
1 SB800 Right near the lower wall for far table detail.
1 SB800 pointed up for ceiling

1 Photogenic 1250 in hall with Profoto Proglobe high for floor and side wall

1 Photogenic 1250 above camera pointed toward ceiling

2 Photogenic 1250 outside to change color temp of the blue/cyan 
and light tree

8in Fresnel outside to simulate sunlight

I set flash exposure to be f8, which made it easy to get the blue sky because once the f stop is set I could control the outside ambient exposure with the shutter speed."

Wayne isn't messing around. The below image is stunning, and makes me want to thrown in the towel on my hip city life and move right in to this gorgeous coastal property. His lighting is dynamic and I'd certainly say that he achieved his goal of making the image jump right off of the screen.


M. James Northen

M. James Northen is an architectural and interiors photographer based in the Southeast United States. Shooting mostly for magazines and publications in the area, he has a wealth of experience creating interesting photographs to accompany articles and I thought this would make a great addition on the editorial side of things. The below image was shot for Vero Beach Magazine, and M. James explains how he pulled it off, creating a stunning image of a simple space after starting with almost nothing:

"This was taken for Vero Beach Magazine for an article about outdoor living spaces. This was quite a large space but a lot of it was barren of any furnishings or any other embellishments and looked, well, blah. The morning sun was coming in from the left and making for nice light and this was the point of interest. The homeowner was at home and asked it there was anything I needed. I asked her to set the table and get a plant from somewhere. She did that in no time at all and I sensed I could go further ... I asked for some long stem wine glasses... She arrived back shortly with four perfect glasses filled with Orange Juice. I had expected empty .... filled, even better. Really nice to have someone who wants to help and gets it.

Simple setup - One Alien Bee 1600 Behind me to the right at full blast fired into the ceiling. I then moved it down into the right side of the scene but out of frame dialed back a bit and made another exposure. Blended the two frames together in Photoshop and arrived at the final image - then cropped it square to get this image."

Sometimes keeping it simple and moving quickly is the best solution - especially when working under magazine direction and tight deadlines.


Thomas Grubba

Thomas Grubba is a real estate and architectural photographer based in Oakland, CA, who set out to make a stunning exterior image for a real estate client that wanted the listing to stand out in the endless sea that is the California real estate market.

"The client for this shoot wanted a dramatic evening shot, something that would set it apart from the other properties in the area. It’s set on over 2 acres in an exclusive area of Lafayette, CA. In considering the composition it was important to show the flow to the open space/hills behind the house while including the pool and hot tub area in front of the house. This image was made over the course of 2 hours with different exposures for the sky, hills, pool area and the house. When I had a dark enough base exposure I lit selected areas using an SB 800 and pocket wizards. My trusty assistant kept an eye on the camera making sure I covered the important areas of the image, the staircase to the left, front walls of the house, the retaining wall and landscaping and yes even the pool. I then manually blended all the layers together in Photoshop; all told I used about 85 exposures for the final image."

And the end result? One absolutely killer real estate image. It's a shot like this that is going to stand out on an MLS or a Homes & Land magazine and drive views to the home, inevitably ending in a sale and a happy client.

Brian McLochlainn

Our last image takes us across the pond to County Kildare, Ireland, where photographer Brian MacLochlainn works to create beautiful images for estate agents all across Ireland. While the image below looks rather simple to create, it was actually a deceptively complicated shot to pull off.

"This place was just a bit mad, someone went all out to have fun designing this place. While it looked pretty neat it was somewhat of a nightmare to shoot.

In total, there were 8 exposures at work:

4 shifted left and 4 shifted right with a Canon 5dII and a 24TS/EII lens: three of those exposures were used to create a Photomatix fusion, and the remaining exposure was create with additional light: one bounced into the ceiling, one through a softbox camera right, a bare speedlight bounced camera left. I then blended the two layers in photoshop to add definition and directional light in an otherwise extremely white, high-key situation. The fire was added in post and a few quick touches were put on before delivering to the client."
Whether or not this last room is your style, you can't deny that Brian came up with a clever solution to shooting such a complex space. The whites are well controlled, there is detail throughout, and the directional light lends a believability to the space.

And for next time...

I hope you were able to learn a thing or two about shooting architectural spaces with these examples. While shooting architecture and interiors can be a tricky and complicated endeavor, I'd like to think that this post got some creative juices flowing whether or you're a real estate photographer looking to add some spice to your shots, or a portrait photographer who is looking to add some killer light to an environmental portrait of a CEO.

If you have any requests for articles in this vein, let me know in the comments section below. I'm planning a few more posts in this style, though I'm going to up the complexity a bit in the next installment. Stay tuned!


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Mike Hylandsson's picture

Mike, I really like these/your posts on interior lighting!

Mike Kelley's picture

Thanks Mike! Got more coming :)

Nice examples Mike! I'd love to be featured sometime! ;)

Mike Kelley's picture

Thanks John! If you shoot anything cool in the future and have BTS material to accompany it, drop me an email and maybe we can work something out.

Great job Mike!!

- Joe Gunawan | fotosiamo.com

Mike Kelley's picture

Thanks Joe!

Mike, I'm breaking into the RE photography market as we speak. A couple of months ago, I was blindly shooting 5 bracketed shots under ambient light, correcting color and then pulling them into Photomatix and calling it a day. Your articles, combined with some research on layer masks have probably put at least a few thousand bucks in my pocket.

Seriously...thanks for writing these. 

Mike Kelley's picture

Make royalty checks payable to Michael Kelley Photography :)

Glad you enjoy! And even happier that you've gotten a few extra bucks out of them, too.

James Tarry's picture

I enjoy reading these posts however i will say that there is a massive difference between how RE photography in the US is shot to the UK. In 5 years of shooting Interiors in the UK for marketing, developers and interior designers i have never shot using multiple exposures (and never would) for starters. For RE in UK you just wouldnt get away with shooting multiple exposures for two reasons "realness" and time (especially if you are shooting for actual Real Estate agents). I use one speed light and a 5dmk2 and just a damn good understanding of light. 


Mike Kelley's picture

Something to think about - what exactly is 'realness?'

No camera can efficiently capture what the eye sees. Using lights and multiple flashes is only a technique to manipulate photos to make them more like what the eye would see, and thus, more 'real'. Of course, you can use lights and blends for other reasons as well, such as making a more dynamic image for a restaurant or hotel client who is interested in an edgier, lit look that would appeal to a younger clientele. It's all in how you use it, and using lights is no less real than using only a single exposure.

As far as the time thing goes, I've found that it varies by agent. I've had agents hire me and give me an entire week to shoot a property, moving at a rate of about 4 shots per day.  I've also had agents give me an hour. If they want high quality, they'll wait a few hours. Genius takes time :)

James Tarry's picture

When i say realness i refer to obviously HDR style images-i am of course generalising but on the whole they do not wash with a lot of agents over here (UK). I personally would never use mutliples because i dont like the look and i cannot stand HDR photography. Just an opinion. 

However, time wise. The majority of agents over here and ive shot for 4 of the biggest-you will be lucky to get more than an hour in each property. I tried to get at least two hours in a £19m house the other day the owner gave me 1hr.  Some agents (and ive witnessed and been a part of) will give you up to 12 properties a day to shoot-mulitple shots is just not possible. I currently shoot for one of the most prestigious and shoot mostly high end in four of the most expensive areas in London and still i shoot four properties a day max-sometimes im able to get a couple of hours..... bare in mind we draw floor plans also. 

Like i say the American market-works VERY different from the UK or maybe more specific the London one. I disagree that genius takes time-it just helps.

I'm interested in this discussion between the two of you. I've followed Mike's work for a long time and his stuff is top notch - but his workflow uses multiple lights/remotes, with lots of post. But I just looked at James' site and he's equally badass (all with evidently one speedlight and an hour of shooting). 
Mike, you asked us to tell you what sort of posts we want more of - I'm interested in exploring the differences between simple and complicated set ups. This article was great, but it's a bit overwhelming to read about their labyrinth of light or their massive arsenal of gear when many working photographers don't have $20k of kit, nor the time to scout, set up, shoot and break down gear for 3-5 rooms. I shoot 3 properties a day and would love some effective ways of improving my real estate work that don't include 'acquire more lights and intuitively set them up in unexpected places'. Clearly there's a difference between high paying jobs for clients with discerning tastes versus $150 MLS jobs, but I'd love your take on bridging the gap a bit.Regardless, great piece and continued success to you and all the shooters you profiled. Your posts have taught me more than any book I own.

James Tarry's picture

Hi Michael-thank you for your compliment. Im not trying to have a dig at the article or the guys work above, but i see these articles alot and they always presume that the photographers take lights everywhere with them and its not the case. Even the Architectural photography in Europe differs from the American way of shooting (ie: no flash all natural)

The point i was trying to raise though was that there is a difference (and im talking strictly interiors shots for Estate Agents here) between US and London. I dont know any company that hires photographers to take around lighting equipment and take more than one day, the market is that fierce here. I have a company in mind-they shoot the utter pinnacle of property and they zip around London on a motorbike with a tripod, camera and speedlights. Pretty much all the photography/floorplan companies in London operate the same. We have to produce top quality work without the equipment-and it is possible. You just have to understand natural light, interior lighting and your camera-and have a smidge of talent-or else the result can look shocking (as i see in most estate agent windows!!). 


A nice read Mike.  You ever get back to Tahoe?  We should have lunch sometime...  GP Martin

Mike, this was really well done and very interesting.  You managed to include a group of shooters with a variety of techniques and all accompanied with stunning photos.  Nice job!

Mike, enjoyed the information. I am an agent who shoots my own photos. We are under very tight deadlines and have to use a variety of methods. I love the choices you made to assist us in setting out standards high.

James, I believe there are actually a few shooters in the UK using multiple exposures,  when it come to the "realness" issue, I don't think obvious HDR is passable with many people in any market (UK, EU or the USA). But personally I think obvious HDR is a bit like bad use of strobes. they both result in poor quality images and both make it really easy for a viewer of the image to see what the photographer has done.

Michael, I notice that there is a fair variety of photographers in there that range from folks that take 3-5 photos a day to others that can do 3-5 properties in a day. Some of the techniques above can be modified to work for you.

James Tarry's picture

Hi Brian, i obviously cannot talk for the whole of UK-i can on my experience in London though and off the top of my head (im talking strictly for Estate Agents) you will not find many who use multiple shots and the photographers i know are all 100% on disagreement in using it-i know of maybe one company that might use it from time to time. But i guarantee you the top/biggest say 3 dont. 

In order to get the images the way I want them, takes time. I make sure that the client understands that, and shares the my goal in getting the best image possible. Being rushed through a $25 million property in an hour? Not only doesn't that agent really care about the process, but is short-changing the listing client.

By the way, multiple exposure does not necessarily mean HDR, or fusion.



James Tarry's picture

Hi George

Trying to highlight that the London Real Estate market differs extremely from the USA one is giving me a headache. If im doing private work-god yes, im taking all day however it doesnt work like that for the Real Estate Agents-not all the time. Not in london-a market i know and have worked in for a considerable amount of time.

1hr for £19m was an extreme example but it happened and happens, and it was the client that gave me an hour despite me booking all day out. Care-yes the agents and we care-in a market dominated by internet and print marketing we have to have top quality images or else the agent looks appalling.

As for not using multiple images (i know the difference)/HDR/fusion/lighting rigs its just something thats rarely done. I spoke to a friend who shoots for an interior magazine who laughed at using fushion/HDR or Multiple images. One light/softbox-thats all he uses. I know (european) architectural photographers-no lights, one exposure. Real Estate photographers-one exposure, one speedlight maybe two. 

yes, Im sure there are photographers in London doing multiples but what i said was on the whole out of all the agencies/photographers that i know that shoot in London dont use the techniques in this blog and of which i feel needs to be highlighted. 

Its not about short changing-ive been banging on trying to say that images of high standard can be done, and are being done very differently to those in this blog and i think it should be reflected. 

I was advised to not have this discussion on here because to quote (although not naming him) "ive tried to highlight it before between America RE and UK RE photography.... and it went on for days... they just wont believe anything i say about how we shoot/exposures/lighting compared to them-in the end i gave up"

Thats all. I give up. Haha

Simon Whitehead's picture

 James, I'm genuinely interested to know the process the photographers you know use if they are taking 1 exposure and have no (or very little) supplementary lighting? Are they relying on ambient light and light fittings in the property alone? Are they taking long exposures and filling in the shadows with multiple flash pops? How are they capturing the dynamics of the sky and the shadows inside in one shot? Are they using a powerful light and a big softbox and blasting the ceiling?


James, you have said there are two reasons for not shooting multiple exposures: 
1, speed, I can shoot 3 or more properties a day. Although I prefer to keep it closer to 1-2 properties a day, I have had to shoot 9 properties in one day.
2, realness, As I have said bad hdr looks awful and as it is easier and cheaper to start with than using additional lighting you see lots of really bad hdr. However good hdr is a bit like using additional lighting, in my opinion, if it is well done the image looks realistic and and the the viewer will not be able to work out how it is done. 

Personally I don't feel my image above looks unrealistic nor do any of the other images above or any images on my site.


James Tarry's picture

Hey Brian. Its a personal opinion as i stated in another post on here and im not having a go at anyones work on here im simply trying to highlight that Real Estate photography for pure estate agents differs in London to the American model so often shown, re lighting and fusion.

If i were to shoot 20 odd images per property, with mulitple exposures on every shot, 5-6 times a day, turn them around before the following morning id be editing for ages you do what you personally feel gets you best results.

Im not trying to turn this into an HDR/fusion debate..... i dont like it at all and dont feel the need to ever use it.... you like it and you use it. Fair enough. Again i was trying to highlight that the American model always shown in blogs like this off mutilple lighting/fusion isnt neccesserily across the board and can be done and is being done with a lot less from my experiance of 5years within the London Real Estate photography market.

How much do real estate/ exterior/ interior photographers charge for 1 shot or 1 location? It's something I have considered getting into, but I wouldn't know what to tell people if they asked me.

Mike Kelley's picture

Just like any genre, there are McDonald's - quality companies charging $69 a shoot for a run-thru virtual tour all the way up to boutique and shelter magazine shooters billing into the five figures.

Great Blog ... and even more interesting comments! I shoot weddings and events and have shot several homes for Realtors, so if I can learn just one new trick to add to my arsenal of techniques, any article is worth a read whatever the subject.
Being British and having lived in Florida for twenty years, I wonder if the 'realness' that James touches upon is a cultural thing! Whether it is a TV program, or film, the lighting seems a lot more natural in the UK, even the actors and actresses with their crumpled clothes and messy hair, compared to the American counterparts with immaculate pressed clothes and perfect hair! Sorry if it's a bit off the subject but just an observation!
PS. There is an awesome architectural photographer in New York that only shoots available light.
Funny enough he's from the UK!

Great article Mike!

Really great article Mike!  Nice examples of some really stunning work & how they were created!  I hope you have some more articles coming!

Wonderful photos. Can anyone suggest what they think is the best book on real estate photography?

Yucel Yalim's picture

Any of these guys write books? Most of the books I've seen are older... S/W changes a lot... and with new s/w, you have new realities... Anyone know of any current books they recommend for high end interiors, please email me, email is avail on my website. Thanks