An important lesson for beginner photographers is that an interior space can be just as compelling a photographic subject as the obvious ones—family, friends, pets, etc. Part 1 of this PhotographyTalk.com article began to explain why and how to take pictures of interiors and capture what makes them interesting, attractive, inviting and cozy. Part 2 continues that exploration with tips on how to highlight the important elements in a room with color and light and to remove distractions that may hide the essence of an interior space.
How to Emphasize the Principal Element in an Interior Space
One of the primary techniques of good photography is to fill the frame with your primary object or subject. For interior architectural photography, the entire space is the main object. That’s why it is so important to spend some time looking at the space you want to shoot. In other words, scout the location. You want to determine the principal element in the room that defines it, that reveals its essence.
It could be a painting of a family member above the fireplace; a beautiful, open staircase; or maybe an antique grandfather clock. Obviously, you can’t fill the frame of your viewfinder with just that object or you are no longer shooting the interior space. You can, however, find one or more pleasing angles of the entire room that also highlight that principal element.
Color and lighting are the two methods that will help draw viewers of your interior photos to that principal element. A vase of colorful flowers is a simple prop that works wonders. Dark furniture is no longer lost in your image if you strategically place that vase of flowers on a tabletop, for example. Tastefully drape a single-colored afghan across the corner of a dark sofa or chair. Replace dull pillows with bold colors or patterns. For a fireplace or grandfather clock, try a tall vase with vertical plants and flowers on the floor next to that object. Flowers will also help to brighten a long staircase of dark wood, but use them sparingly.
Lighting is the other technique that can draw attention to the principal element in your interior photos. Before explaining how to do that specifically, you must understand how to light the entire room.
First, don’t use your flash; it will cast too many dark shadows. Instead, open all the drapes or curtains, but, as mentioned in Part 1, don’t shoot during the brightest time of the day if the light coming through those windows will over-power the room. It’s better to shoot during twilight when there is some exterior light, but it will be more in balance with the interior lighting. The other option is to draw the drapes and curtains and eliminate as much daylight as possible. This is probably preferable if you want to emphasize expensive or highly designed window treatments.
Turn on all the lights in the room or space to find that balance with any exterior light. Tungsten light, or standard light bulbs, is in the pleasing, blue portion of the spectrum; so they are good illumination for your photos. You might want to try a pro trick to achieve that balance with any interior light: Replace the light bulbs with brighter ones, although you must be careful not to overload any circuits. If the only interior lighting is fluorescent fixtures (more likely in a commercial space), then you won’t want to use them. You’ll need to light the room with multiple lighting units. You may also find remote flash-triggering products to be helpful. Read more in these PhotographyTalk.com articles:
Whether you are able to control the light or must shoot in low light, you will want to take your interior photos from a tripod and use a higher ISO setting.
Once you’ve experimented with lighting your subject interior space, you may need an additional lighting unit pointed at the principal element in the room to make sure it is fully visible and accentuated. To light a long staircase dramatically, for example, will probably require a light fixture on the second floor casting light across the wall along the stairs. Interior architectural photography is a great laboratory to learn about lighting.
Other Interior Photography Tips
Another pro trick is to de-clutter a room severely. They typically remove all extraneous objects, such as pillows, wastebaskets, telephone and various knick-knacks. The pros also tend to move the furniture to conform to the best angle of view in the camera. This is another area for experimentation. Shoot the interior space in its “typical” neat appearance, and then take a series of pictures, as you remove the clutter (and remove even more), and also try different arrangements of the furniture.
Be aware of the vertical and horizontal lines in your interior photos. They must be perfectly vertical and horizontal to show a room at its best; otherwise, those crooked lines become distractions. Check that your camera is positioned correctly to keep all lines straight, especially the corners of the room.