How do you get better photographs of interiors? (part 1)

January 30th, 2014

Richard Gill

How to Photograph Interiors

A quick and easy way to get better results on a compact or consumer DSLR camera.  In this first post we are getting discuss what causes the  problems and what equipment you should be using.

Taking photographs of house or building interiors is fraught with problems and this is the reason why many estate agents or hotels choose professionals.  The lighting inside a room is usually from a mixture of sources, windows, artificial lights (which can be up, down or spot lights and a mixture of technologies) as well as lights suspended from the ceiling, or reflected from mirrors. In addition they are all producing different colours of white light.  For example halogen down lights tend to produce a warm or yellowish colour, fluorescents usually a neutral colour, LEDs can be both cold (blueish) and warm, and daylight changes throughout the day from warm to cool and back to warm.   Your eye and brain process all this and continually adjust without you even noticing, so with your eyes you expect that a photograph is going to turn out like this:

Cottage kitchen and dining room

Cottage kitchen dining room

The room looks warm and inviting , with the view through the window still visible and natural.  However your camera has other ideas and takes a picture like this one:

Kitchen diner with over exposed windows

Cottage kitchen diner with over exposed windows

The windows look too bright and “blown”, the view has disappeared and the interior seems a bit dark. So what’s gone wrong?

Well firstly your and eye brain are much more sophisticated than your camera’s processor and sensor.  When you look around the room your eye is constantly adjusting to the different lighting conditions.  As you look out through the window your iris contracts to let in less light and you focus on the view and then as you turn to look into the room it expands again letting in more light and making the room appear brighter.  Unfortunately your camera can not make these multiple adjustments and so it sets its own “iris” for an average value of the amount of light and lets that hit the sensor.   Then the processor’s software does the best job it can to analyse this, so you end up with an average exposure with  parts of the picture inevitably either over or underexposed.

So how do you avoid these problems?  The first question you need to ask yourself is “what I am going to use these photographs for?”  If you want them for a new brochure advertisement or to showcase your business or an application where you expect them to be in circulation for some time then bite the bullet and call in the professionals. Professional spend thousands not their equipment, they have lenses that will produce pin sharp results  and they have specialist lighting to help in difficult lighting conditions.  However if you are using your images for short term uses such as your social media, your Facebook page, Google+ etc then  you want a DIY solution. Similarly many estate agents who are photographing several properties a week, will not have the budget to employ a professional. If this is something your are going to do regularly and your care about image quality then go an buy yourself a Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera and a decent wide angle lens; you should be able to get a good set-up for around £700.   Any camera made by the leading brands like Nikon or Canon will produce great results.  If you are only going to use it for this kind of photography you can just buy the body only which we cost less than £300.  Combine this with a 10-20mm wide angle lens  for example from  Sigma which will cost you another £3-350.  You will need one other essential piece, a tripod. Avoid the cheap lightweight type as and get yourself something more robust which will set you back another £60 or so.  If you don’t have the budget for a DSLR ha compact camera can produce good results although its field of view will be more limited, but try again one with some built in automatic scene modes.

Watch out for our second post in which we explain how to take your photos and set up your camera to get the best results.