Interior photography is typically in high demand. The needs of a real estate agent may differ from those of an interior designer, but they both want great pictures.
This can make photographing architecture and interiors seem a bit daunting at first. But with these basic tips to get you started, you’ll soon be offering consistent quality images to your clients!
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You’ll need a DSLR, a wide angle lens, and a detail lens. I personally shoot on a Canon 5D Mark III.
ExpertPhotography recommends: Canon 5D Mark III
I love the 16-35mm/f2.8 lens for wide shots because it gives me enough flexibility for interiors. With wide lenses in general, I’ve found that testing them out before buying is crucial. Distortion on the edges of the frame and sharpness can vary quite a bit from brand to brand.
I always end up purchasing the Canon brand itself for wide lenses, and have been happy with it. While it can go quite wide, I typically end up shooting at about 20-25mm. Each space needs to be considered individually though.
Over time, you’ll most likely find that there’s a sweet spot of a little distortion and greater artistic composition if you do NOT shoot at the widest capacity.
ExpertPhotography recommends: Canon EF 16-35 mm
Your detail lens should be something like a 50 or 85, and open to 2.8 or lower. While lenses like the 70-200mm/f2.8 are fantastic, there’s often not enough space to make use of them when shooting. If you specialise in real estate, you’ll often find yourself in small spaces and squeezing into corners!
My go-to lens at the moment is the “nifty fifty”, as it’s often called – Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 lens.
ExpertPhotography recommends: Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8
Ideally you’ll want to work with strobes. Budget restrictions often mean that you’ll be working with flash units instead. That’s okay! I recommend having at least one flash unit, and a set of wireless triggers for it.
A trigger gives you the freedom to move the flash unit anywhere you want. My current favourite triggers are from the Yongnuo RF-603C-II-C3 kit.
They’re very cheap, have been surprisingly sturdy and reliable, and suit my needs perfectly.
ExpertPhotography recommends: Yongnuo RF-603C-II-C3 kit
While you’ll eventually want to get a softbox to help diffuse the light, a flash unit will suffice for starting out.
A tripod is a must for your wide shots. A solid, sturdy, and well-made tripod will be well worth the money. However, if you’re testing the waters and have a tight budget, any basic tripod will be sufficient to get you going!
Detail shots are typically handheld, mostly because you’re getting into tight corners or awkward angles. Detail shots are also often improvised since each space and decor is unique.
You might want to consider purchasing a CamRanger.
A CamRanger allows your camera to connect to a tablet, phone, or laptop via a hotspo. Like that you can control every setting in the camera remotely!
It also has a client mode that allows someone to follow along without having access to changing your settings. This is especially useful when you work with interior designers. They often want to follow along and adjust details as you go.
ExpertPhotography recommends: CamRanger
Shooting from a corner helps to show adjoining spaces. One light was bounced off the left wall to softly fill in shadows. Second shot was taken to expose for lush landscaping outside.
For real estate, your goal is to give a visual tour of the property. You’ll focus on wide shots, and you’ll want to cover everything on the property.
For designers and builders, be sure to have clear and open communication before the shoot. This way, you’ll come up with a picture list that fits their needs.
A typical wide shot of a room is from one corner, looking towards another corner, and showing two walls. Be sure to choose an angle that has interest, and isn’t too visually cluttered. These angles usually include windows, sitting areas, or views into adjoining spaces.
You may also want to shoot a wall straight-on. This can create balance and sometimes symmetry. It is also a perfect option for feature walls with artwork.
Regardless of the composition, keeping your camera level is extremely important.
You’ll avoid additional distortion and not have to straighten lines in post-production. Moving the camera up or down will adjust the verticals until they’re straight. Turning the camera left and right will adjust horizontals until they’re straight as well.
For details, it’s a good idea to focus on small vignettes, texture, and colour. Details should typically be photographed with shallower depths of field to help guide the eye to small details. This is where having a lens that can open up to 2.8 or 1.8 can be useful!
Be sure to pay attention to what’s in the foreground, middleground, and background when doing details. Play with a few different versions so that you have options when editing.
The idea is to fill in the “story” of the space with smaller vignettes and details, helping to create a narrative for the viewer.
Vignettes and details like these are vital for working with designers, but can also show a property’s character in a real estate listing.
A straight-on shot of a feature wall like this one with the couch and artwork can add new perspective to the typical angles of a space.
Lighting & shooting for editing
Natural light is ideal and should be maximized for a natural look. However, flash units or strobes are a huge help for filling in shadows or to light a space when it’s very dark.
For interiors, I personally love shooting midday when the light is bright, but straight overhead. Like that, there aren’t any long bright spots from the sun streaking in through the window.
You should use your flash unit to fill in shadows as needed. Aim it towards a wall behind you or at the ceiling above you to help diffuse the light. Adjust its strength so that it fills shadows without becoming overpowering.
For bright spaces at midday on a sunny day, you’ll need to be at half power or close to it. For spaces that aren’t too bright or for days when the sun isn’t particularly strong, a longer exposure and flash strength of 1/16th or 1/8th power will be enough.
Don’t be afraid to take several shots until you find the lighting setup that works for you! Light quality and strength can change instantly so be sure to adjust lighting strength as needed between shots.
You’ll typically want a 3/4 shot like this of each bedroom to show layout and nearby windows. Natural light only in this photo, and I did post-processing in Lightroom.
Lightroom and Photoshop are pivotal for my editing process.
Syncing your edits in Lightroom (this is within the Develop tab) can apply edits to a bunch of photos at once, saving you some time. This is perfect for multiple shots within one room where lighting conditions are all the same.
Also, consider saving edit settings that you use often as presets, so that you can apply them more quickly to future shoots. This way you can apply a preset with one click, tweak it for any small adjustments, and then sync those edits to the rest of the photos in that space.
Layering multiple shots with a mask can be done in Photoshop. Your base shot is the one exposed for the room, then you bring in the photo that exposes for the outside view as a new layer. Apply a mask to the outside view layer, then use the lasso to cut out the area that you want to reveal. With practice, this process will get easier and faster.
This photo combines 3 separate exposures to help compensate for bright spots in the interior and to make the views outside visible. I used masked layers in Photoshop and did the final edits in Lightroom.
Each person develops their own workflow over time, but here are some good tips to keep in mind:
- Before each shoot, get yourself in the habit of doing a check of all your gear. Be sure to look up the property address as well so that you’re clear on where you’re going. Like that, you’ll have time to ask the client any questions that may come up (gate codes or designated parking spaces, for example).
- Take lots of angles and multiple exposures. This will give you more flexibility and options when you go to edit until you find your rhythm. With time you’ll find yourself shooting less and more intentionally, but experimentation helps to find your way early on!
- When shooting, keep your f-stop high for the wide shots and low for the details. Wide shots should be at 9.0 or higher, and details should be at 4.0 or lower. This helps ensure that wide shots are sharp throughout, while details have shallow depth of field for a bit more artistry.
- Importing photos into Lightroom helps to have all shots handy for reference, and to organize your photo library. Lightroom makes culling very easy with tools like flagging and colour coding. After initial culling, I recommend doing a round of quick edits with basics like lens correction, line-straightening and adjusting exposure.
- Using presets to help export photos from Lightroom is also a big help. Having a preset to export to high-resolution, to MLS size for real estate, or web-sized for smaller files can be a huge time saver when you’re juggling clients.
Photographing architecture and interiors can seem like a difficult niche to enter at first. But starting with these basics will get you going as you find your rhythm.
Keep in mind that your clients will largely determine your technique and workflow, and that each client will have slightly different needs!
Getting comfortable with your gear, experimenting with composition, familiarizing yourself with editing software techniques, and learning from each shoot are essential skills to develop.
And before you know it, photographing interiors and architectural spaces will be second nature to you! For more information check out our article on tips for magazine worthy interior photography.
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