5 Tips to Improve Your Interior Photography
Over the last year, I've done a surprising amount of interior photography. Travel and food photography has been my main focus but between restaurant interiors and hotels, I've found myself ending a lot of shoots with interior photos. I’ve had to figure a lot of it out as I went from reading and trial and error. Here are the 5 things I wish someone had told me a year ago:
Clean up and stage the space
If you want a space to look appealing, it has to be clean. Wipe down everything. For some reason tiny things like smudges, greasy spots and dust don’t look so bad in person (within reason) but then look glaringly awful in a photo. Cleaning can seem like a pain but 20 minutes of cleaning can save a ton of Photoshop work later down the road. Thanks to my GIF making experience, I'm pretty handy in Photoshop and early on I figured that it wouldn't be so bad edit out a smudge or two. The thing is if one spot takes 10 minutes to edit out but it's in 15 photos, then that quickly adds up.
As a photographer, my ideal situation is to walk into a space that is set and ready to go. I deeply appreciate it when I arrive to a shoot and can get right to the photography instead of tidying. There’s a special place in my heart for the restaurants and hotels that thoughtfully arrange everything before my arrival. It’s the best.
Choose your gear carefully
Most of the time, I’m a huge proponent of not focusing too heavily on having the “right” camera or the “right” lens. With food photography and portrait photography, skills can compensate a lot if you forget to bring some piece of equipment. Lens distortion is hard to spot with organic and rounded shapes so you always have some wiggle room.
For interior photography, the straight lines of walls, furniture and decorations make distortion a lot easier to spot and a lot more difficult to edit out.
For most interior shoots, I bring a tripod, my Canon 5d mk iv, a 35mm lens and a 50mm lens. Additionally, I have a 15mm lens but generally try not to use that since the distortion is extreme and often makes the spaces look much larger. As a photographer I try to discourage fluffing something up so excessively for a photoshoot that it’s unrecognizable from the original. When I was looking to purchase a home, I often felt a sense of disappointment when I realized that a place was in fact about 25% smaller than it looked in a photo because of a wide angle lens photo. Disappointment is not a good starting point for any situation so I try to stick to more realistic 35mm and 50mm focal lengths.
Shoot straight on or into an angle
Personally, I shoot directly into a room about 5 feet from the ground or into an angle of a room to keep it looking relatively straight and even. I’m not sure if this would be acceptable if I was working as a purely architecture or interior photographer but it works well for my purposes.
Shooting directly into a space, you end up with an image that looks straight out of the camera or at the very least is pretty straightforward to straighten out when editing.
If I'm shooting for a project where I know that only one image is necessary, I'll lean most on shooting directly into a room. Often though, projects require a couple of perspectives. In those instances, I tend to mix in tight shots and shots where I shoot into a corner. One maddening issue with interior photography and squaring everything up is if some element in the room isn't perfectly straight. For example, in the image below, the large scale art piece isn't straight (you'll notice it if you look at the bottom border and the top of the blue booth seating). Short of Photoshoping the art piece out, creating a new background and adding an edited version of that piece back in, there was no way to make this image look straight. There's an unfortunate amount of compromises that often need to happen in interior photography.
Use a tripod
Originally this tip was going to be to turn off all the lights and control the light of a room. That can be helpful but pretty often lighting helps add ambiance to a room and you want to capture that. My workaround is to use a tripod.
With a tripod, you can shoot a room at different exposures (to account for window light) and with lights on and off. Also, if you want to stage the photos with people in the space, it’s nice to get your shot set up perfectly with a tripod and then add in people. This will all require you to do a considerable amount of image stacking later so take that into account when you are trying estimate how long it will take to edit everything. By taking multiple shots of the same scene you will have greater control over the scene.
Edit out lens distortion
I generally edit interior photos with a glass of wine in hand because it is a tad mind bending. Usually, I lens correct, which almost always helps and requires just checking one box in Lightroom (see the GIF below)! From there, I do guided edits. The funny thing about this sort of editing is that the first few images are pretty easy but after a couple I find myself about an inch from the screen trying to figure out if something looks straight or looks like it’s leaning a little to the left. For interior photography edits, I find that it’s best to do it in chunks. It sort of reminds me of perfume shopping. Your senses get out of whack and you need a moment to reset.
Also, I wanted to include this image because I didn't shoot straight in or into a corner so it feels oddly unanchored. In this photo, no matter which end I straighten, some other piece looks off.
Figuring out Interior Photography a little at a time
While I don't see myself wanting to jump into interior photography full force, I have appreciated the experience of figuring it out a little at a time. It's still very much a work in progress. Interior photography requires me to slow down and to think more intently on the technicals of a shot, which has a positive impact of the rest of my photography work.