Life through a lens: How to photograph the great indoors

Life through a lens: How to photograph the great indoors
Smartphone capturing interior

Ready to slam Instagram with your great indoors? Whether you’re tottering around with an arsenal of DSLR gear, or exploring with a fixed lens "bridge" camera (a safe departure from the phone for telephoto reach), there are insider tricks to bring your photography one click closer to magazine level fantasy.

First of all, investigate the intelligent tools at your disposal. There are programs, metering choices, artful settings, digital levels, prompts and follow-up software to overcome mistakes from exposure issues to colour balance, once chemically welded into expensive film. Once you own the camera, digital photography is cheap. Look up the PDF instructions, and ensure you know what automatic and creative crutches your device offers.

We are not aspiring to the exquisite illustrations of professionals including our in-house Property & Interiors crew here at the Irish Examiner, or celebrated architecture artists of the IPPA like Janice O’Connell of f22 (Cork). Making up a sales brochure? Hire a seasoned, dedicated snapper. In terms of inspiration for the amateur — take a forensic, wide-eyed look at what talented individuals achieve every day of the week.

STAGE AND PLAN

 

What’s the picture for? Something intimate and atmospheric for your social network pages presents different questions than shots to promote the rental of an Airbnb. Take some rough ‘sketch’ exposures. Examine the integral screen, or upload shots to your PC. What’s working? What’s getting in the way? How’s the lighting? Is this what you imagined? Move around, experiment with position and camera settings. Assemble a short story in one or several shots. Selling – we’re not flogging the furniture. You can put that table/cushion back afterwards (see my living-room).

Life through a lens: How to photograph the great indoors
Before: An area of Kya's big (and only) living-room. Taking out some furniture and personal stuff, using a tripod and opening the adjoining doors improves the flow and takes the composition to the ceiling. Hello, architecture!

Life through a lens: How to photograph the great indoors

Life through a lens: How to photograph the great indoors
From toilet seat up and fish-bowl queasy to straight, neutral chic. One bathroom shot improved in five minutes taken low to straighten the verticals and shot from the next room. The colour balance here is deliberately cool and clean

Life through a lens: How to photograph the great indoors

Choose an overcast day 

The gentle diffusion of slight cloud cover will soften shadows and aggressive contrast. We’re aiming to use largely daylight. Artificial lighting and reams of tinfoil used to "fill" shadow and darker areas of the image is difficult for hobbyists. Pull back the curtains. Open doors between rooms. Flood the space with sunlight. Every room has a variety of illumination during the course of a day. Study it and use test shots. Avoid turning windows into balls of featureless fire.

SHOOT RAW 

If you have a proper camera with raw settings shoot all raw or jpeg/raw images. This provides a wealth of detailed, digital information if you’re using image software to manipulate your photos. For everyday shooting, don’t worry about it. Most mobile phones can take extraordinary hand-held shots, and many pro’ photographers rely on their smart-phones as a back-up device.

HAVE FUN

Try out 360-degree imagery or try out a drone (we did this indoors!). For post-edit tools, Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom are popular apps with in-app tutorials starting around €10 per month. Look up the classic rule of thirds to improve your composition. Stumped? Add some food!

BASIC SETTINGS  

ISO (equivalent to old film speeds)? Use 400ISO or less. f-stop? f8 to f11 for most everything in focus, or f4 or less for a blurry background. You can alter the light hitting the cells of the camera to under or over-expose. Bracketing the shot (three shots all at once) will give you a choice on either side of the camera’s automatic settings, which can be fooled by backlighting. Photographers call this stopping-up/stopping-down. It costs nothing.

CONSIDER A TRIPOD  

It’s difficult to successfully handhold real cameras at speeds under 1/60th of a second. Longer shutter speeds of 1/30th second or slower and small apertures, create velvety, high-resolution results, with a deep focal range.

You can ‘crop’ in to isolate an alternative or better picture. A tripod will hold the camera while you shift elements in the composition too. If you don’t have a screw mount, a small bean bag and the self-timer will eliminate hand trembling. Handheld – Stand with your feet slightly apart and take the picture at the bottom of your breath. Shoot low – it’s more dramatic, immersive and inflates space.

CONSIDER A TRIPOD. Crown Blue Gravel, new emulsion for 2020
CONSIDER A TRIPOD. Crown Blue Gravel, new emulsion for 2020

AVOID FLASH

Harsh shadows, fewer options — flash will flatten depth in your picture and often ingests a nasty colour cast to boot. Fill flash is something you might explore with a DSLR or bridge camera — refer to your manual. This will give a little pop to the things closest to your lens and lift some shadow. Recreate what the most sophisticated camera is the World sees — your eye.

STRAIGHT UP  

Wide-angle lenses can deliver a dynamic look that encompasses enormous interiors, but for the average room, lenses under 21mm lead to nauseating distortion. The room bends wildly, furniture turns to rubber and the whole place looks like it’s going down a large drain in the floor. Use a standard focal length (35mm forward) and move around to get the vertical lines, vertical and parallel. The eye is searching for straightness. This may mean kneeling to get the perspective. Straight, pin-sharp pictures — vital for property sales and rentals.

BACK UP OUT THE DOOR

The bathroom picture I’ve given in the online edition shows a tiny bathroom taken from the utility room. I cropped out all evidence when editing it. This not only straightened the shot, but allowed me to set the room up light wise with a lot more leeway without the window or personal detritus. The room may have one or two "perspectives" or vanishing points.

VIGNETTES

The close-up, Gucci little moments — say, the dimple left by your head on a linen pillow of a Sunday morning. The highly personal photos you see on Instagram and Houzz, vignettes are used in magazines like World of Interiors to balance expansive shots.

Vignette example
Vignette example

They can be completely sharp front to back, or use a melting, narrow field-of-view, with only the major components in focus. This is a device that brings you into the picture, examining the wheelcuts in that mid-century vase. Many will succeed, with a phone, hand-held.


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