If your interior photos of buildings often turn out blurry and just a bit bland, don’t worry: you’re not alone. The insides of buildings might seem like an easy subject to shoot because of their static nature, but mixed lighting, dimensions, distracting backgrounds and a whole host of other obstacles can get in the way.
Nevertheless, armed with whatever camera you have and a humble standard zoom lens you should be able to get some amazing interior shots with a bit of patience and diligence. In this tutorial we reveal 10 quick interior photography tips you can use to make some instant improvements to your pictures of buildings, even your own home.
01 Increase your ISO if shooting handheld
Perhaps the biggest obstacle with shooting interiors is that you more often than not have to shoot them handheld. Whether it’s a museum or a period property or just about anywhere else besides your own living room at Christmas, bringing a tripod with you is not only realistic, but typically not allowed.
But when you are shooting interior photography there is a lot less light to work with than when shooting outside. This means you have slower shutter speeds to work with, and when holding your camera at these speeds you’re liable to experience the dreaded camera shake.
The best action you can take in these situations is to increase your ISO setting as high as you need to in order to shoot at a fast enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake.
Most cameras handle noise at higher sensitivities very well these days, but also: a noisy image is better than a blurry image.
02 Wait for an overcast day
It might sound ridiculous given that you’re photographing inside, but the weather outside can make a big difference on your interior photography. Harsh sunlight streaming through windows can create overly strong contrast between the light and dark areas in your scene. And this will make getting an even exposure all the more difficult.
For the best results, wait for an overcast day. The softer light, as diffused by the clouds, will distribute a more even light across your room and is ideal for shooting indoors during the day.
03 Shoot a room at night
Anyone who has tried their hand at night photography knows the landscape takes on a magical quality at these hours. The same goes for interiors.
Whether it’s period property or a modern architectural design, the saturated colours and tones of nighttime shooting can help you capture a location in a way that viewers might not have seen before.
For the best results, use the room’s ambient lighting rather than resorting to flash.
04 Ditch your auto white balance
Your camera’s Auto White Balance mode is a powerful tool and accurate in most instances during the daytime. But the artificial lighting you find in most buildings, even homes, often falls outside the range of colour temperatures covered by this setting.
If you switch your camera to its Tungsten or Fluorescent white balance
presets to suit the dominant light source, you’ll find the colours in your resulting images will be much more accurate and need less work in post-production.
05 Stabilise your camera
For interiors, you can’t beat using a tripod where possible, but as we stated in No. 1, most locations you’re likely to visit won’t let you set up a tripod for obvious reasons. Can you imagine 300 tripods set up in the Sistine Chapel?
That said, there are other ways to give some stability to your camera. Look for walls or rails and other solid foundations – that aren’t part of the display! – on which you can rest your camera.
A small bean bag in your camera bag also won’t go amiss here. Propped under your lens barrel, your camera should be pretty stable and capable of shooting at slower shutter speeds if jacking up your ISO is just something you don’t want to do. Don’t forget to set your Drive mode to the self-timer to help minimise the risk of camera shake from pressing the shutter button.
You might also consider something like Manfrotto’s PIXI tripod. This small, compact tripod nearly fits in your pocket and is surprisingly rigid. You can set it up on a tabletop or even a step!
There are also some things you can do if none of the above is possible. Leaning against a wall or pillar will provide some stability to your camera, which is better than nothing!
06 Use your grid display
Compositional balance is one of the keys to pleasing interior photography, so before you press the shutter button, take a look at your scene in live view and enable your grid display.
Do all the elements line up nicely? Is the composition heavy to one side of the frame? Are there any unwanted elements you hadn’t noticed when composing? These are the things to look for here.
It’s also worth enabling your camera’s virtual horizon, if it has one, to help check that things are straight.
07 Use a small aperture
Unless you’re singling out a single object or going for another creative effect, you’ll probably find that you want to maximise your depth of field when shooting interior photography.
We have an in-depth tutorial on what depth of field is and how it works. But for now, let’s just say that you’ll probably want to shoot with a small aperture (your higher f numbers). Shooting at f/22, for instance, is a good starting point for maximising your depth of field.
Setting your camera to its Aperture Priority exposure mode will enable you to set the aperture value you want to shoot at, and your camera will adjust the shutter speed accordingly.
Now, you might struggle to get a shutter speed fast enough to shoot at these apertures, as they allow less light into your camera. This is when you’ll either need to increase your ISO setting or use one of those techniques we mentioned in No. 5.
However, if you can stabilise your camera, you might want to use these longer exposures for…
08 Blurring people
One benefit of shooting at the smaller apertures we mentioned above is that the resulting longer exposures can produce some nice creative effects. As well as saturating tones, a longer exposure of several seconds can help thin the crowd if you’re shooting in a busy public space.
Because people don’t tend to stand in one place for very long, someone walking through your frame during a several second exposure simply won’t appear in the resulting image.
If you’re lucky – or if you direct them – someone might stand in one place while others walk slow enough past to create motion blur and a sense of crowd movement.
09 Try black and white
Effective interior photography is often more about form and structure than it is the colours in a scene. You can emphasise this very well simply by converting your images to black and white.
But do think with monochrome in mind before you shoot. Scenes with contrast work well, as well as those with textures or a strong graphical nature.
10 Try an unusual angle
Most photos are taken from head height because that’s how we see the world. Try experimenting with different angles and show people a different view of something they may see every day.
It’s a simple thing that can add lots of impact to an interior shot and make people stop and take notice. Even moving your camera just a few inches can sometimes make a big difference.