#20 in the Judging a Photograph Series
Professional interiors photographers often don’t get the credit they deserve. After all, a successful interiors image looks serene, even toned and un-dramatic. The skill that goes into making shot like this is not obvious. These photographers prefer natural light and a large depth of field from a small aperture so they will probably use a tripod. Their lens will be a wide angle – but not too wide like an estate agent. They may use a polarising filter to eliminate reflections. Their shots may be HDR to deal with the dark corners and bright windows. They may use coloured gels and massive lamps outside the window to fake good weather.
One photographer I know has a case full of flash guns and near magical skill in clamping them in unobtrusive corners to even the light with tiny pulses and reflectors. This allows him to include models in the shot without using HDR.
Duh …. What? Skip to this paragraph
If I’ve lost you a bit with all that technical guff, then skip to this paragraph, because now I’m going to show you how to fake it. What kind of shots can you get if you haven’t got all the right equipment? Let’s assume you’ve got your everyday camera, half a clue how to use it and no tripod or flashgun. You want to take an interiors shot that shows you have a great eye for photography.
As examples, I’m using pictures of the interior of Temple Newsam house near Leeds.
Step 1 – don’t take just any shot.
You have to accept there are some shots you simply can’t do. Avoid awkward reflective surfaces. Avoid high contrast near a window on a sunny day. This shot below is an example of this problem. The degree of contrast is far too high. The solution here may be to stand with the window behind you. Or come back on a cloudy day, at a time when the sun is on the other side of the building. Or just find something else to shoot!
Step 2 – compose your shot
The two main things to remember here are lines and height. Interiors tend to have rigid lines and corners. Get your horizons straight and try to finish diagonal lines neatly in the corners of the frame. Try to allow space for an imaginary person to move through or sit the room. This is where the magic happens; people do imagine themselves in interiors shots and this can really sell it.
Then for height, hold your camera lower down between waist and chest height. You can see from the image below that if the camera is too high then we look down onto chair seats in the foreground as if we are high up, but in the background the bed looks more like a normal height. Vertical lines in the room are leaning. It’s visually confusing.
Step 3 – pick your settings
Use a wide angle but keep the edges of your photo looking realistic and not stretched. Set your ISO to a high number and don’t leave it on automatic. Set your aperture to something fairly small, ideally at least f/8. Your shutter speed should be set as low as your steady hands allow. The wide angle should help you here. Different people have different levels of hand steadiness; I can shoot hand-held at a 50th on a wide angle. Shoot RAW not jpeg if you have that ability. Take a test shot.
Step 4 – adjust your settings
If your test shot is too dark, then open up your aperture. Don’t set your shutter speed any slower or you will get movement blur from your shaking hands. Focus one third of the distance into your picture to try to keep it all sharp. If the shot is too bright then turn down your ISO and increase your shutter speed. Either way you do not need a perfect exposure. If you are shooting RAW then you can be almost 2 stops under or over-exposed and you will still be able to salvage your shot when you edit. Best to get it as close as you can, though.
Step 5 – fix it in post
I mean, edit it on your computer! Improve the exposure and white balance. Reduce contrast, brighten shadows then add some sharpening. Deal with any wonky horizons when you crop.
I am pleased with this shot of the ballroom at Temple Newsam. The advantage of this room is its huge size meaning that the perspective was never too stretched. Also the windows spaced out at intervals give pretty even lighting except on the very far left. The lines in the ceiling and floor make it easy for me to compose the shot. Despite this the contrast was high and the shadows were dark so I did everything I mentioned in step 5 above!
Have you got any more tips to add? Please comment below!
Read the previous blog in the Judging a Photograph Series by clicking here.
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