Every interior space offers its own unique set of photographic challenges. As an interior architectural photographer in the commercial sector, photographing interiors is usually part and parcel of a architectural brief. Having worked with interior designers, built environment and construction companies and more latterly real estate companies, there's always one room that is more difficult than all the others.
Most interiors are designed to maximise the space available, but some just have more space available than others and its the smaller interior spaces that provide the most difficult challenges for an interior photographer. All good interior photography relies on being able to obtain a free and open angle to compose and showcase the space within the constraints of the frame. Generally small environments include the hinderance of furniture, partitioning walls or doors.
Small interior perspective control
They are a number of options to photographing tight spaces without immediately reaching for the ultra wide lenses, but lets examine the draw-backs associated with the 'grab a wide angle' approach.
Using a wide angle lenses causes barrel distortion, this pulls un-naturally at the image perspective and makes the room appear distant and strange. O.k you say, so sacrifice your optimal position and head into the corners of the room or stand in the entrance to the room? - Sure you can do this, but most rooms don't usually lend themselves to being photographed from these angles. O.k, so head high and shoot down? No. Most interiors look at their most natural when shot from a perspective that the viewer can understand and relate to, so avoid standing on ladders to provide a wide elevated view. It just looks plain weird.
All these choices are definitely not favourable as they'll always compromise the quality and look of the final image. Small interior spaces are of course difficult and given a large open room without restrictions I'm sure most people could come back with a reasonable image. However, being a professional photographer means being able to pull something out of a scene that others would otherwise fail at.
Here's my thought process and approach to interior spaces and a few options for controlling the room. In every room however big or small you need to scope the angles out. Work out the best compositional positions and then mentally pick the objects you want to include in the frame, these are items that will best describe the rooms form and function. As a guide, choose the same level as the viewer would expect to see it from when either entering the room or sitting at furniture. This will immediately make for a more believable angle. Choose a focal length that is close to that of the human eye, something around the 50-90 mm mark, this will avoid un-natural distortion and provide a first person feel. Avoid excessive jaunty angles, this is fine for PR assignments but for interiors, perspective control is important. So keep the symmetry simple, acute angles does not equal more creativity.
Create depth by including objects either as foreground or at the sides of the frame. Much like reading a book, encourage the viewer to use their imagination to add the lost elements back in, to create a larger picture of the room in their mind. Image triggers are useful to provide extra width or height to the image without showing the entire room, for example including an edge of a sofa, or the corner of a table. With known objects most people can imagine the object extending beyond that of the image frame, thus providing the illusion of a wider scene. Using this technique you can easily move away from wide angle lenses and use more natural looking focal lengths. By using longer focal lengths for interior photographs it is also easier to use differential focus to control what the viewer sees. Selectively focussing on a area of detail and using a wide aperture can bring the viewers attention to something that could have been overlooked when using a wider view point.
Example of using selective cropping and differential focus
Lastly, mirrors are great pieces to include into your interior photography, they can provide extra depth to the room or if judiciously positioned, can even provide a glimpse into another room. A note of caution however, watch you don't catch either yourself or your photography equipment in the mirror, otherwise the illusion is broken.
I carry a bunch of lenses that span anything from 15mm through to 200+mm, however for interiors the widest I'll usually goto is 17mm and that's usually only for larger rooms. Typically I use a 24mm shift lens in tighter rooms as the perspective is very sympathetic to interiors and the shift properties are important for perspective control. One last tip, never underestimate the power of a simple 50mm prime lens. I've been amazed at the interior images that produces. These are just a few of the tips that help me to produce good images in confined interior spaces. If you've got any hints or tips that you'd love to share, I'd be pleased to hear about them.
Feel free to share this post or comment below. Next time, perhaps we can look at the various methods of lighting interiors.