Interior photography isn't always as easy as it seems! Many professionals shoot with several strobe lights, tethered to a laptop, and with one or more assistants. Every chair and pillow must be just right, every frame must be level, the scene can't look sparse but it can't looked cluttered either... absolutely no element can be overlooked.
In all of my time assisting for interior shoots, and now tackling a few of my own, I wanted to pass along a few insights for anyone looking to beautifully document an interior space whether it be a home, office, renovation, or even for a client!
First, let's talk angles! With wide angle lenses, every minute adjustment is amplified on the edges of the frame. When it comes to interior photography, that means depending on the height of your tripod and the tilt of your camera, rooms can easily look like they're leaning noticeably towards or away from the camera. Look at the edges of your frame and make sure anything that's supposed to be vertical actually is!
If you're camera is too low you won't see any table tops, but if it's too high you'll be looking down at the scene which leads to that leaning room illusion. Find the right height for your space and adjust the camera so vertical lines are vertical throughout the entire frame. If, after all these adjustments, you have just a little too much floor or ceiling showing don't worry, you can always crop the photo later to make the composition perfectly balanced.
A good default location for shooting is from a corner of the room approaching the space at an angle. This often allows the widest angle of view, capturing the whole space in one grand shot. But it's not the only solution! Sometimes shooting a space straight on can be more engaging and stronger compositionally. Play with your camera location and walk around handheld before deciding on a spot and locking in with a tripod.
Below you'll see I started with this music room at an angle. I was able to shoot the entire room from edge to edge, but I wasn't entirely happy. I switched to a straight on composition where I lost the view of the xylophone to the right but I gained a view of the hutch on the left. Even though the hutch wasn't technically part of the room, it helped fill the negative space on the left side of the frame. I think this second composition is stronger; the room feels brighter, and the piano and rug pattern are more pronounced. What do you think?
Motion & MovementAdding motion to a scene can help infuse life into a static setting. Many of these interiors can feel overly staged or not lived in, but incorporating a model or a pet can help make it feel real. A little bit of movement creates motion blur which isn't necessarily a bad thing here! Blur keeps attention on the sharp interior while imbuing energy into an otherwise static scene.
Here I photographed the family cat on the table instead of shooing her away. She was friendly and actually took direction well, so why not use her! With pets, especially dark ones, be very aware of their shape. It's important to keep them recognizable as cats and dogs with heads, ears, tails, and four legs. Motion and position can often make them look like unrecognizable dark blobs. Long exposures and fast animals don't usually mix and can create "ghosting" of moving appendages. Make sure any animals are friendly and can stay relatively still or move slowly for the exposure.
In my last blog post you'll notice the family dog was incorporated into a shot of the entryway. A few kibbles on the floor and several attempts later we managed to nail the final shot of him walking down the hall. He often moved too fast and looked like he only had one leg, or his head was to the ground and he became a floor sniffing black mass. It took a long time to get the right combination of shutter speed and doggy movement, but we finally had a shot that worked! Working with animals is time consuming and difficult but is often very rewarding.
Working with models is much easier than animals, as they take direction much better! Play around with people in the scene either walking through or doing everyday tasks. Here, I modeled for my own shot and pretended to be arranging flowers. It still took a lot of trial and error to get the pose just right in combination with the right amount of motion for the shutter speed, but it all came together in the end. And remember, it's not about the pets or the models; the end goal is to document the space in a flattering manner. Models should add to the end result, not distract from the space.
Scenes might look normal, but every element has to be in just the right place to come across on camera. Wide angle lenses amplify the foreground and shrink the background, which means foreground objects are often distorted and need major adjustment to look normal. If you can't tell what something is through the camera, best to just take it out of the shot altogether. The simpler, the better, but too sparse and a home might look like no one lives there. Utilize any recognizable everyday objects that are already in the home and arrange them in a way that's undistorted to the camera. They bring much needed texture and color to otherwise bland countertops, tables and chairs. If there are windows let the natural light shine through! If there are recessed lights, turn them on to prevent the appearance of little black holes in the ceiling. The scene should looked lived-in, welcoming and engaging!
Flowers are a wonderful go-to item for staging. Professionals will often bring their own items from throw blankets, to pillows, fruit, and flowers. Here, for a standard kitchen angle, the flowers could be on the counter close to the sink, on the back of the counter... but I ended up placing with them in the sink. This is actually a great spot as it helps fill the empty hole of the sink in the foreground and keep the color to the forefront.
I cleared off the island almost completely, but left several appliances in the background for the sake of time. Kitchens are often the busiest scenes to stage, by which I mean I had the most objects and elements to consider before taking the final shot. I could've probably turned the tea kettle so the spout was recognizable, or put a cutting board with a sliced lemon on the counter somewhere. Other than these small oversights, I was very happy with the final result!
When you're tired of photographing one room at a time think about "look throughs" or shots that incorporate more than one room into the frame. This helps bring a story of a home together, bringing flow to the image series and preventing a compartmentalized feeling. This house has a very open floor plan and the kitchen and dining room are adjoining, which made for a composition that easily incorporated the kitchen into the shot and helped tie together the other kitchen shots from earlier for a cohesive set of images. While this isn't technically looking through a hall or doorway into the dining room, it still helps bring two spaces together into one cohesive image. Think about presenting the images as a story that needs to make sense and have smooth transitions. Shots like this can help tie that story together.
Last but not least is one of my favorite interior photography shots, the vignette. By definition, a vignette is "a brief evocative description, account, or episode." With interior photography this often translates to just a piece of a room or a small portion of a setting that still evokes all the feeling and emotion of the full scene. My last interior shoot had vignettes from the living room, showing detail and giving an intimate sense of the space. This house presented me with several opportunities but these two are my favorite: the music room piano, and details from the kitchen counter! Both have very different textures and color palettes, but both offer a more intimate insight into the living space bolstering the idea that life exists in these spaces.
These tips can apply to any scene you're shooting, whether it's indoors or out, a home or a natural setting. Documenting spaces isn't just about snapping a shot and walking away; it's about conveying an intentional message about the energy and life that these spaces embody. And of course, don't forget to have fun! Shoots like these are a creative puzzle for any photographer. We have to find the right light, the right angle, and the right elements to flatter a scene and create the best images possible!