5 Tips for More Effective Interior Photographs

5 Tips for More Effective Interior Photographs

Shooting interiors for real estate shouldn’t be that challenging if your goal is simply to photograph the entire space. However, if the goal is to come up with visually impactful images, then it’s very likely that you’ll have to solve some problems while shooting.

When photographing interiors, how you plan your entire shoot can greatly affect how impactful and effective your output images will be. Regardless of what kind of space you are shooting, how your images will look will be greatly affected by how various ambient light sources interact within and around your frame, which is why being mindful of your process and planning your sequence is of utmost importance. These five reminders below should help you achieve better images through lighting, composition, and conceptualization.

1. Sequence Your Shots Depending on Natural Light

The earliest piece of information you should know about a space that you are about to photograph (aside from seeing the design itself from perspectives and actual photos) should be where the light will be coming from. This should always be a crucial step, especially when determining what your “hero” shots will be and how you will go about shooting them. The important things to consider would be “When will beautiful natural light come in to cast onto this facade?” and “What time of day should I prioritize when planning the shot?”

Depending on the actual size of the space and the actual requirements of the project, photographing a space can be as quick as a couple of hours or can be as lengthy as an entire day or even more. If the shoot will take less than the entire day (or part of the multi-day shoot will take less), setting when to start shooting will greatly impact how comfortable and efficient the shoot will be and possibly with more visually beautiful output.

This shoot started mid-afternoon with a lot of time to spare. Since the bathroom is the one least affected by ambient light, I shot it first to get it done right away while waiting for better light in the other areas. 

First, determine whether beautiful light will impact your hero layouts around sunrise or around sunset. If the former, then this means that all other (less priority) layouts will happen later in the morning. Alternatively, if the latter applies, then the hero shot will be saved for last, and all other layouts will be done prior.

Given this, the spaces and locations that are least affected by ambient natural light should be done chronologically farthest from sunrise or sunset and depending on how much time you set for the entire shoot, these can be the most comfortable parts of the process since there won’t be as much adaptation to light required. If an early start will be done, then less light-dependent layouts can be done with no time pressure at all. If the shoot culminates after sunset, then the less light-dependent layouts can be comfortably done first. Regardless, planning your sequence and having enough time will come with a lot of benefits.

2. Know Which Layouts To Shoot in Different Light

When it comes to photographing spaces that are greatly affected by ambient light, especially those with large windows or glass panels, it is important to foresee how different times of day will affect the quality of light and the mood that it will create. It is generally safe to assume that most “hero” layouts (usually master bedrooms, executive offices, grand halls, etc.) will have entry points for natural light, which also means that they are worth photographing in multiple parts of the day both for variety and controlled lighting.

A room can have an entirely different feel and mood during the day compared to how it looks at twilight, especially if the frame includes a window with the sky outside kept visible. While planning your shoot, always leave some room for some re-shoots just in case you find out that what was already a really good image taken earlier might actually be even better when the light has changed.

3. Don’t Forget To Be in the Space

This pertains more to spaces that are significantly wide. Most photographers start shooting with the aim of capturing as much of the entire space as possible within a single frame. However, the drawback of this is that if you’re using an ultra-wide-angle lens, it doesn’t just distort the lines close to the sides but more importantly, it distorts the perception of spatial relationships in the space. Sometimes it is better to capture less of the space and instead creatively compose the shot in a more visually impactful way.

This might mean zooming in instead of using the widest focal length of your lens or alternatively, stepping further inside the space to capture the perspective of someone who is literally within the space that you are photographing. Spaces that are too wide tend to have too much empty space, while capturing perspectives inside the space can feel more relatable to the viewer. Once you’re already inside the space, don’t forget to turn around and see what the other sides might offer.

4. Know When To Say 'I’ll Have To Fix This in Post'

When photographing any kind of space or uncontrolled environment, especially when dealing with limited time due to logistics or changes in lighting, it is very important to know when to say “I’ll fix this later.” One of the worst things that can happen during a shoot is being too fixated on a problem that you’d end up wasting time when it was something that could be fixed in post all along.

Though not the best looking composition, this was the only feasible angle from this side of the room. However this emphasized the glossy finish of the desk which had to be replaced in post to lessen visual distractions

Generally, photographers have the tendency to try to achieve as close to the intended output as possible in-camera. However, in photographing interiors, architecture, or anything along the lines of commercial photography, the reality is that in most cases, post-production is inevitable. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that how we perceive certain details and angles with our eyes are inevitably way too different from how we capture them in camera. There may be some details that are absolutely fine in-person but can cause problems in visual design when captured with the camera. This can be as simple as colors that are differently rendered by the camera sensor or surfaces that become way too reflective when photographed. Post-production is a tool available to bridge that gap that is impossible to be dealt with during the shoot.

5. Sometimes the Simplest Approach Works Best

Any experienced photographer would agree that being a professional doesn’t just mean stepping in and creating art for your client. More often than not, clients willingly pay higher rates because they expect us to solve creative problems for them instead of just pressing a bunch of buttons on a fancy device. Aside from being able to establish our own style and unique approach to photography, what we gain from experience as professionals would be the ability to think of solutions to overcome challenges. In architectural and interior photography, these problems are often related to spatial limitations and/or tricky lighting situations.

This shot involved turning off the lights for the majority of the 30-second exposure to lessen the impact it had on the luminosity of the view outside.

While there would probably never be a tip that would solve any problem universally, it will always be helpful to keep in mind that most of the time, the simplest approach works best. When problems arise due to limitations in space, no matter how unglamorous it may seem, shooting from outside the door, the window, or on the other side of a glass panel might be the most effective solution. When it comes to problems in lighting, specifically when artificial lights cause an imbalance in exposure, selectively turning them on and off while exposing just might be the most foolproof approach.

It is important to realize that shooting interiors and real estate often means dealing with a lot of factors that the photographer cannot control. Instead, the shooting process should always be full of steps to adapt to such challenges in order to assure better output. Your best approach to assure successful execution of the project will always be to avoid being overwhelmed and come up with solutions in a snap.

Nicco Valenzuela's picture

Nicco Valenzuela is a photographer from Quezon City, Philippines. Nicco shoots skyscrapers and cityscapes professionally as an architectural photographer and Landscape and travel photographs as a hobby.

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Put the toilet seat down.

Yeah I did later on. Hahahaha

That would have been done on my initial walkthrough, before the camera was even on the tripod.

My first thought, but I've been shooting RE for a dozen years, so...