How do you get better photographs of interiors? (part 2)

February 5th, 2014

Richard Gill

In the second part of this article we are going to disucss how to take your photographs and produce good results using an auto scene mode.

For those of you who have invested in the DSLR you really want to get into “Aperture” priority mode, if you click here you can get guidance on how to use this, but for the purposes of this article we are going to assume you are just using the auto modes and in particular the “scene” options.  On most compact cameras you will also have an auto mode button and you should also have some programmes for different scenes as well e.g. portrait, night portrait, landscape, sports etc.

The first thing to do is to have a good look round the room and look for anything that might spoil your picture. Make sure everything is clean and tidy, look out for untidy cobwebs in the nooks and crannies, wires dangling from table lamps, articles of furniture that are blocking a feature. You will be surprised how much detail a camera will pick up. Also now is the time to look at the lighting.  Turn on all the lights as this always makes a room appear more cosy.  Light a fire in the fireplace (quick tip – just light a few pieces of crumpled newspaper or a couple of firelighters and that will be enough to create the effect of a lit fire). 

Is there a good view from the window or is it boring and uninspiring? How much light is coming through?  Do you need to take a photograph looking towards the window?  If you do and there is nothing of interest to see through the window, then make your life easy and close the blinds (if there are any). This will often give a lovely soft diffused lighting in the room and allow you to capture a great picture like this:

living and dining area
Apartment living and dining area

Some of the time you will also be taking photographs with windows behind you looking into the room so you don’t have to worry about blown out windows.    Most of the time you won’t be that lucky.  So now you can set up your camera on its tripod. It is usually best to be in a corner of the room or doorway looking into the room.  If you leave your camera set on auto or “P” setting you will probably end up with something like this:

Click on the images to see a larger version 

As you can see none of these images are what you want.   In the top two taken on the compact camera.  The camera has exposed the picture for the light coming through the windows which is much brighter than the rest of the room and  in the bottom two the DSLR has tried to lighten up the scene by using the built-in flash, but the image looks cold and still a bit dark.

What your really need the camera to do is to use all the available light in the room, but also to compensate for the bright windows by using a small amount of flash – “fill-in flash”. Fortunately one of the pre-programmed scene modes does something pretty close to this.  You might expect to use the “indoor/party” mode but in fact you will find that the night portrait is the option that usually gives best results.  You can see below the same photographs taken using the night portrait setting.

Click on the images to see a larger version

There are occasions when the night portrait might spoil your picture for example in the DSLR version there is a glaring reflection of the flash in the TV screen.  You could reposition yourself to avoid the flash hitting the screen, but you might not be able to do this if there is furniture or some other obstruction in your way.  So another option is to use night landscape mode.  This will  turn off the flash and make the camera take a long exposure to make more use of the available light.  You need to have your camera on a tripod for this, otherwise your image is likely to be blurred from camera shake.

Interior photograph from DSLR in night landscape mode

Interior photograph from DSLR in night landscape mode

So there you have the solution – use your camera in night portrait or night landscape mode.  You can see the set up we used for this article below.  You can get a copy of this article by clicking here and you can see a video version here. If you need anymore advice on what to hire us to take your photos please get in touch our details are at the bottom of the page.