Architectural Photography Part 2: Interior Photography Basics

Learn to Take Better Indoor Photographs

Here’s the second installment in a quick tutorial on photographing architecture. In Part 1, we explored the fundamentals of exterior shooting. Please read or review that one here, as some of the information will be helpful as we take a look at shooting interiors.

As mentioned in the previous article, this genre overlaps with several others, if you’re specific with the designations. Knowing how to take good quality interior photos can be an invaluable skill in advertising for hotels, resorts and other lodgings, interior design, commercial and residential real estate, restaurants, tourist attractions and even weddings.

Equipment

There’s very little difference in the basic equipment needed for exterior and interior photography. There are some important considerations, however:

Lighting: The most likely addition to your kit will be supplemental lighting, such as portable light stands or strobes. Many venues won’t allow flash photography or have room for you to set up lighting, so working with the available light will often be your only option.

Irix 15mm f/2.4 Firefly by Irix lens on 500px.com

Gray Card: Determining the correct WB setting for an indoor shoot can be difficult. Having a gray card on hand and learning to use it to set a custom white balance setting is a great way to save yourself time and effort in processing. Have one, or better yet, one of the many inexpensive kits available that include a white card.

Tripod: Space limitations and people may limit the amount or size of equipment you’ll be able to use. You may have to use a monopod or more compact tripod, or you may have to up your ISO and ditch the tripod altogether. When you have the opportunity, however, a tripod will be one of your most effective tools.

An uncorrected wide-angle lens will create enough barrel distortion to make post-processing a nightmare.

A Note About Lenses

The value of a rectilinear wide-angle lens will become especially obvious when you move indoors. One of the greatest challenges in shooting interiors is including as much of the interior as possible. An uncorrected wide-angle lens will create enough barrel distortion to make post-processing a nightmare.

Rectilinear lenses contain elements that correct this curvature so that straight lines remain as straight as possible. No lens is perfect, but the Irix 15mm lens performs far better than most. Take a look at the distortion map below to see just how well:

Distortion map: Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens
Distortion map: Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens

If you haven’t seen this lens yet, take a few moments to see what it can do for your photography and its surprisingly reasonable price: Irix 15mm f/2.4

Mixed Lighting

One common problem when shooting indoors is encountering mixed lighting situations. For example, you might have a room lit by tungsten fixtures with sunlight spilling in through multiple windows. Unlike your camera, your brain can adjust to these conditions, so it’s not uncommon to overlook them. These differences in color temperature will cause unbalanced colors in your photos, however, so it’s best to learn to recognize and deal with them.

In many cases, the solution is one of compromise. For instance, in the scenario described above, choosing a daylight setting will cause the areas lit by the tungsten lighting to render in warmer colors. This can be a pleasing effect, but it’s also possible that you’ll want to correct those colors in some of the areas. In that case, you may be able to use fill flash for those areas, as the color will be close to daylight.

Irix 15mm f/2.4 Sample 01 by Irix lens on 500px.com

There are other solutions, as well, including automatic WB bracketing, available on many DSLRs. You may also simply take duplicate shots using different white balance settings. Either of these will require some time in processing to blend the exposures. If possible, you can also do your indoor shoot in the later hours of the day, when window light isn’t a major factor.

Finally, shoot RAW if possible, so that white balance will be easy to adjust when you process your images.

Exposure Bracketing

This was also mentioned in Part 1. Most photographers are familiar with bracketing exposures, so I won’t go into detail on the procedure. The purpose for it in interior photography is basically the same, with one important difference:

Interior photographs are often excellent candidates for HDR processing or exposure blending. The increased dynamic range may help bring out subtle details in shadow and highlight areas that can add tremendous impact to your images. It’s important to avoid “overcooking” your images, unless your aim is to create a surreal impression.

Exposure Settings

Again, the same general exposure guidelines apply as stated in the first article. A narrow aperture will extend your depth of field, and the corresponding lower shutter speed won’t be an issue of the camera setup is stable. When you’re unable to use a slow shutter, you’ll need to increase the ISO setting to compensate.

One more note about shutter speed and the ISO setting: The lowest ISO will ensure the least amount of noise, – to a point. In extremely dark interiors, long exposures can actually create more noise. Keep your long-exposure noise reduction set to ON and try not to let your shutter stay open too long.

Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone by Irix lens on 500px.com

Low light can often make focusing indoors difficult.

Focusing

Working with a short focal length gives you a general advantage when it comes to depth of field. A wide-angle lens simply tends to perform better in that respect. Nevertheless, where you focus is still critical if you want to produce the best front-to-back sharpness in your images.

Low light can often make focusing indoors difficult. Distances can be difficult to judge, as well, which makes finding the hyperfocal distance for a given aperture difficult. A depth of field scale or the hyperfocal distance scale on Irix lenses can help you set your focus without the need to check it visually. See this article to learn more.

Summary

Interior and exterior architectural photography both require a similar list of basic gear. Supplemental lighting may be more important when shooting indoors, but in many cases careful planning can eliminate the need for it. For both inside and outside shots, a rectilinear wide-angle lens is a great choice.

A steady camera setup and remote shutter release are important to avoid camera shake. Knowing how to manage your exposure settings and focus in manual mode will also help you get the best results, without the errors that can occur with automatic systems.

With the right basic equipment and the tips in this two-part tutorial, you should find that captivating architecture photos aren’t extremely difficult to capture. In turn, I hope you’ll find working in this versatile genre both creatively and financially rewarding.

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