1. De-clutter and Stage the Room.
This is always the first step to making your interior images sparkle. Obviously use your discretion, but I tend to remove most things from the kitchen counter, hide cords, make sure window shades are drawn to the same length, remove AC units, and hide remote controls and trash receptacles. I also take care to fluff pillows, add flowers if possible, remove towels from the bathroom and strike an organized, minimalist balance. Dusting never hurts either.
2. Use Natural Light. Photograph during the early morning or late afternoon, when the sun is softer and more even, and open curtains and shades to allow as much natural light into the room as the day allows. If needed, turn on lamps and overhead lights, but be careful, as they could cast unruly shadows and your photo may be more successful without them.
3. Use a Tripod. It's better to use a tripod to make a long exposure rather than turning on several lights throughout the room or adding a flash, which may overexpose your image in the foreground and/or cast shadows in inappropriate places. (Light color balancing can also be tricky — flash is blue, fluorescent lighting is green, and ambient light is orange, so it's best to stick with one color light source.) Using a tripod will also allow you to square up the vertical and horizontal lines of a space, and of course allow you to truly envision and compose your shot. It also allows for sharper images (more depth of field and no camera shake) with a smaller aperture (higher number, i.e. f11.) Use a tripod for any shutter speed less than 1/60th of a second.
4. Shoot On Your Knees. Having a lower perspective will better allow you to include the furniture, which should be the grounding element within the space. Photographing while standing up will likely crop out legs of furniture and give the ceiling too much dominance in the shot.
5. Use a Wide Angle Lens. The smaller the space (think bathroom) the wider the lens you need to shoot it. Wide lenses distort lines at the edges, so be aware of your composition before you shoot. Wide lenses generally have a focal length of 14-35mm. A 50mm lens is your classic photojournalist length, and anything over that is considered a zoon lens. Zooms lenses are not the best for interiors because they crop too much of the space. However, they can work just fine for vignettes.
6. Determine Your Point of View. Generally a room has a focal point. Try to capture it, but also play with the direction of light. If light is coming in through a sliding glass door, you may want to avoid shooting straight into that light. Shooting directly into the light will create a smoky halo around your subject and depending on what setting you use, may underexpose your subject, or overexpose the light source. Instead, try shooting with light coming from the side; it will beautifully illuminate the room. (One strong direction of light is often better than several weaker lights.) Be aware of lines within your composition and how they lead your eyes through the image.
7. Know Your Aperture. The larger the Aperture (lower the number, i.e. f2) the more light will enter into the image, but the shallower the depth of field will be. When photographing interiors it is best to use an aperture of 5.6 or higher so that the entire image (foreground, middleground, background) is in focus. When photographing a specific object within a room, a chair for example, reverse this logic, since you want the in-focus chair to pop out from the out of focus room.
8. Know Your Shutter. The slower the shutter speed (ie 1/30 of a second), the slower the aperture opens and closes, meaning the more light gets into your image. Slower shutter speeds are fabulous for bringing out warm ambient light but require a tripod. When shooting with flash, always use a slow shutter speed so the flash does not overpower the shot and flatten your image.
9. Expose Correctly. Blown out (overexposed) whites in windows are mostly fine as long as you have the proper exposure on what you consider to be the main subject. ISO is also your friend and should be increased as needed. I always start at 200 and slowly increase, never going over 1000. Your ISO latitude will depend on your camera model. Higher end cameras are very forgiving; lower end, not so much.
10. Post Production. The digital darkroom is your friend. When shooting RAW you must take time to sharpen and add some black and contrast to your images. Color correction and composition can also be perfected at this step.
What tips can you share for photographing interiors?
(Image: Tanya Lacourse for Violet Marsh Photography)