As interior designers, having good photographs of our finished projects is essential for our brand image and to show off what we’re capable of creating in order to attract new customers. Good interior photos are also important if we aim to have our works published in online or print publications.
Ideally, we should leave this task in the hands of an experienced interior photographer. Someone who can not only capture our work in the best light, but who will also bring their own perspective and experience into creating eye-catching images that will evoke the atmosphere of the interior we designed.
But sometimes this might not be possible or easily achievable: either due to budget constrains or when we’re located in a smaller city where there aren’t any professional interior photographers nearby. This is actually how I started to photograph my own projects in the first place: there weren’t any such photographers in my hometown (that I knew of) and I couldn’t afford bringing someone from one of the bigger cities.
When I first started to photograph interiors in 2015 I already knew how to work with a professional camera, how to set it up and how to work with light, because I had a few years of experience as a portrait photographer.
However, photographing interior design is different from photographing people so, while I knew how to technically operate a camera, I had to learn how to actually photograph an interior. For this, studying interior design and architecture magazines was the first thing that helped me learn quickly. The 2nd thing was to study what other professional interior photographers did and recommended.
So, to cut the long story short, here are 5 general tips that I learnt along the way, that you can apply to elevate your interior photography. If you want to learn more about the subject, I have written an ebook about it, which you can find here: Photographing Interior Design (with natural light).
1. Keep verticals straight
The most important thing to take into account when photographing interior design is to keep all verticals straight. Make sure to avoid crooked or slightly angled captures, as they give an unprofessional, snapshot-kind-of look. In 99% of the cases photos won’t be perfectly straight in camera and in 99% of the cases you will also have to deal with lens distortion, but you can fix all these in post-processing.
I personally use Adobe Lightroom and it’s quite an easy fix (both on mobile and desktop): there’s an automatic function that helps straighten the image. In case that fails, you can still do it manually by using guides that help level the image (I explain the method I use in my ebook).
The only exception to this rule is when intentionally shooting angled for a particular design detail, but in these cases the intention should be obvious.
2. Beware of negative space
Subjects in photos need negative space in order to “breathe”. Depending on the intended composition and the subject of the image, there can be too little or too much negative space. Too little negative space is when the frame is extremely crowded and the eye can’t focus or find the main subject. In this case, take a step back or move to the sides, zoom in or out and try to recompose the frame.
Too much negative space usually happens when you’re shooting too wide and/ or too close to a large element (like floor, ceiling or wall) which ends up filling up too much of the image.
Ask yourself what is the main subject of your capture and try to build your composition around it. There’s no need to tell everything about the space in just a single capture, but rather compose a story about the interior with the help of various captures from different angles.
3. One-point perspective
If you flip through any professional interior design or architecture magazine, you’ll notice that many (if not most) of the photos are captured in a one-point perspective. This basically means that you position your camera directly perpendicular to the wall in front of you. In this situation, not just the verticals, but the horizontal lines have to be perfectly levelled too! These kind of captures can be a bit harder to get just right, but they can make for very beautiful – aesthetically pleasing – compositions, so I definitely recommend you to include them when photographing interiors and architecture.
4. Avoid super wide angle shots
Super wide angle shots (wider than 18 mm focal length) are mostly used in real estate photography, but interior design photography is a bit different. While in real estate you need photos to show off as much of the space as possible at a glance, plus sometimes make the space look larger than in reality (this is a practice I don’t agree with but that’s another story), when photographing interior design you should tell a story about the space and the designer’s abilities.
This means that there’s no need to show off everything with a single capture, but rather have multiple captures that are like “chapters” to a whole story. Therefore, the sweet spot for interior design photography is generally considered to be at around 24 mm focal length (on a full frame camera): it’s wide enough, but not too wide.
This is obviously not set in stone, so you can play around depending on the space. For very small spaces you might definitely need to go wider than 24 mm, but always think about the context. Maybe you have enough space to take a step back or shoot from outside the room for example. The wider the focal length, the more lens distortion you’ll have to deal with, so take that into account as well when composing your frame.
5. Artificial lights: on or off?
This is actually debatable and depends a lot on the context, but generally I photograph all my interiors with having all the artificial lights turned off for a few reasons.
Firstly, artificial light has a different colour temperature and intensity than natural light (which is the one you adjust the exposure and colour balance to), therefore it will produce various colour casts on your subjects and sometimes blown out areas in your image. This can be very difficult and/ or time consuming to edit out.
Secondly, using only the available natural light makes for a much cleaner image and also for a better light – shadow balance, depending on the context.
These being said, there are occasions when turning on some of the artificial lighting might be required: when it was specifically designed and intended for a certain atmosphere by the interior designer. Think about a LED strip highlighting an interesting wall for example, or a lamp completing a cozy reading nook. The decision depends on the ambience desired to come across in the final images.
Want to learn more about interior design photography?
Whew, if you made it all the way to here, kudos! I hope you found this article useful in improving your interior design photos and if you want to further dive in on the subject, here’s again the link to the PDF guide that I wrote: Photographing Interior Design (with natural light).
Throughout this guide I cover all the information from this article in more detail, with more examples, as well as many other things to pay attention to when capturing professional-looking photos of interior design. I’m also covering the subject of equipment and a walkthrough of editing an interior photo from start to finish, so it’s a comprehensive resource for anyone looking to learn about photographing interior design.
Let me know if you have any questions!