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Interior Architectural Photography

The tip or lesson coming up is a big one that will remove some of the stress for newcomers and seasoned pros to interior architectural photography.

It simplifies and streamlines the shooting experience and allows for more attention to creating a great image and finding the best angles and viewpoints in the composed photographs.

So is this real estate photography?  Yes it is.  

From photos to help in selling a house to photos illustrating the work of interior designers, builders and architects.  It would also include the marketing of all the components of homes and commercial spaces.

So real estate photography? Yes, and architectural photography….all the same.

Let’s shoot

Interior Architectural Photography Rocks!

My truck was loaded with my lighting case and camera backpack, not the camera case.  Much had been planned and decisions were made about equipment and gear.  Traveling light, no assistant and the designer will not be on set.  Somewhat disappointed, because the lady in charge of design has a personality to match her confidence.  She has strong opinions and working with her is very team-like.  Two light stands – 13-foot Manfrottos and a Medium Umbrella round out the gear.  Oh, almost forgot my tripod.  It too is a Manfrotto and it was a gift.

Preplanning Visit

Snaps were made showing the whole room as I did a walkthrough with the designer.  Somewhat busy in appearance but a classic beauty.  The chosen angle shows off the room without showing too much.

Working the corners of the room for camera position makes parallel lines, that I work to never use in composition, change in the composition.  I work hard to never use the parallel lines found in shooting square into a wall or window.

The lines become a stronger design element as they appear more effective as converging lines.  (Converging Lines – The Second Most Important Rule of Composition) It adds depth and drama to the photograph in interior architectural photography.

Working the angles and positioning the camera in the corners of a room says with a very inviting voice “come on in and stay awhile”.

Picture, if you will, the photo that I’ve included.  But think of it from a point 30 feet directly in front of the fireplace.  The fireplace centered in the frame.  So,mentally, shooting square into the fireplace and the beautiful wall.  See how it just stops, BAM, and there is no more.  Now look at the angle shot composed here.  It flows left to right.  The viewers eye is attracted to the chairs or fileplace the is taken but the lightness in highlights on the wood and outdoors.  It makes for a mini journey for the viewer.

That’s why, I can say with meaning, “shoot from the corners”.

Set Up My Camera.

Nikon D750 (full-frame) with the 20mm lens positioned on my massive Manfrotto tripod.  I leveled the camera with the onboard camera level/virtual horizon.  Adjust camera height as low as possible.  Not too low.  With the camera high and level you are destined to show more ceilings in the shots.

So that the wide angle lens doesn’t show too much ceiling (try leveling your camera in a room standing up and see how the ceiling is dominating) but not so low that we duplicate the viewpoint of a small dog.  There’s a place in between and we need that position.  Lock down the camera.

You may say “what’s the big deal?”  The challenge is that the camera once level is only moved for composing in a pan (right and left) and subtle changes to camera height once you’ve leveled the camera.

It needs to be in exactly the same spot for numerous exposures.  First, make an HDR bracket of 5 images.  When Nikon added the ability to their cameras for 2 stops between the bracketed shots I was excited.  But when I started doing self-combined HDR I realized that spreads for combining are more useful when one stop apart.  I make 5 exposures one stop apart.  My predetermined f-stop is 7.1.  I shoot Aperture-Priority for this interior architectural photography.

Basic Exposure as Result of HDR

HDR adds a range not acheivable with single exposures. This is the “before”. The start point for post-production that included adding numerous highlights to enhance the details of the design work. Post-production will be the topic of a future post.

Wood Cabinet

A Super long window with soft light can give quality woodwork a bad dose of BORING. A long wall of quality woodwork seems to show off its intricate detail with some highlights strategically placed……..variances in the wood.  To make it happen I’ll paint in some highlights by way of a separate exposure.   So that will be done with my Paul Buff X-800.  I expose and check to tweak that exposure so the aperture stays at f7.1.  Aperture must stay at the same for all exposures.

Set Focus

There’s an app for that.  The cry of the marketing, there’s an app for that, in the first years of the iPhone was an exciting thing.  The depth of field scales and ways to get critical with focus could easily be an app and I found a number of them.

“Depth of Field Calc”by Focal is the best.  It deals with camera’s by name and the free version is all you need for today’s calculations.  Buy it ($00.00) through your appropriate store, Apple or Android, so you’ll get an update whenever new cameras are introduced or improvements are made.

Hyperfocal Distance

So the theory is for each f-stop on each lens there is a focus distance that when set on the lens a distance closer than that distance through infinity will be acceptably sharp.  So if I set my distance to 6.2 feet on my 20mm lens on my full-frame camera.  F7.1 will produce acceptably sharp focus from 3.09 feet to infinity.  See illustration

Depth Of Field Calc App

Enter the Camera and Focal Length of the Lens. The aperture is added and the focus distance. The graphic will show the distance to close focus and the distance to distant focus. Our example shows how this focus connecting to infinity. The hyperfocal distance is also shown for our purposes in this project.

Acceptably Sharp

That seems like a shaky variable to allow your business to rely upon.  Acceptably is like being good enough.  Yes, it is quite shakey without solving for the specific answers the new app will supply.

Yes, an app can do that.  Some are not aware that DOF is figured based on what the human eye perceives as sharp.  The optics of a lens can only make one distance point focused.  That’s right.  If one focuses at 20 feet, only 20 feet is focused.  The area in front and behind (DOF) appear sharp because the eye has some range of forgiveness.  Things almost sharp will appear sharp to the human eye.  That sharpness and lack thereof is the basis of DOF calculations.

Yes, From 3.09 feet to infinity is acceptably sharp.  Set it and forget it!

“Depth of Field Calc”, the app.  Have you ever looked at the photo apps?  You’d find a collection of apps that add to the camera in the questions that they answer.  “Depth of Field Calc” is my choice for the shoot today.  It’s clear and concise.  It has a graphic that is very understandable.  The info is laid out well and easy to enter variables and get the answer I need.  When you get it loaded on your phone, step one is to select your camera.

Move on to the DOF section.  You’ll find three blanks for the DOF calculating in the app.  Based on something from your shooting world enter some numbers and see what you get.  You may find in a given situation that the DOF is much less than you thought it’d be or the facts could show more DOF.  Take some time and get familiar with the use of the app.

For fun, let’s check out the specifics of shooting the fairly new Nikon lens, 105mm f1.4, and see how much DOF we have for a tight headshot.  So at 6 feet for our shooting distance and f1.4, we have a one-inch depth of field.  Wow, that’s tight!  The subject could grin big and move too much.

Back to today.  We have a 20mm lens and we need a photograph with everything sharp.  So let’s work the numbers. Could we shoot at f16 or 22?  No way.

We can use a small monolight at f5.6 to 8.  F16 would require a large light with a power supply and major watt-seconds of power to get adequate light.  Translation: assistant, heavy lighting gear, and chiropractor appointment.  I enjoy doing these as a solo act.

Traveling as light as possible to get the best shot.  So, f7.1 with my 20mm and 6.2 feet focusing distance has sharpness from 3.09 feet to infinity.  In interior architectural photography, I rarely would be closer than 3 feet so this has become a default for me.  Exceptionally sharp.

Why Not Sooner

Personally, architecture photography grew on me as a 4×5 film adventure.  The love affair for me was because each property or product brought with it a completely new set of challenges.  Before the final film was exposed Polaroids were exposed and they included a black and white negative polaroid that could be checked for focus and DOF with a strong lupe and tweaked if necessary.

By the way, there is no DOF scale on large format large cameras either.  Like our modern lenses.  That’s one of the very few things it has in common with modern digital cameras.

So the workflow of shooting with film was to pick a point about one third into the photo to focus, compose and shoot the polaroid, check to be sure the f-stop has kept the distant background sharp and the foreground also sharp.

If it’s good then shoot the transparencies.  If it’s not good then make an educated adjustment and test again.  So the workflow and the level of precision that we are able to gather from our technology is quite welcome.  Yeah to the technology.


Non-Zoom 20mm Lens?

Business for me has always been about helping others to get the image they need for their purposes.  Many clients talk about my input as visual decisions are developing.  So the final image has a heavy dose of ME in it.

But, I have always got in mind that I need to be able to change rapidly to answer a “can you do this” question.  Zoom lenses are a part of that.  Can we back up a bit? And there is no room to back up.  Zoom lenses are the answer.

ALTHOUGH, this type shooting where the interior designer left the look and angles to me.  I’m choosing my choice, fixed 20mm lens.  And with my DOF app I know I can also pick one f-stop for the whole shoot.  Also, fixed lenses have a strong reputation for sharpness and less distortion.  These images are exceptionally sharp.

Umbrellas or Softboxes?

Many times the choice between these two light softening techniques is the reflection or specular highlights they will create.  Umbrellas make distracting reflections on highly reflective surfaces. Something that I’ve noticed in my experience is that boxes are best utilized very close to my subject. An example would be portraits and most table-top photography.  Here we’re throwing light more of a distance and for me, that is an umbrella situation.

Once that’s covered another plus is the added portability of the umbrella.  Finish a shot….shrink the umbrella….move on the next.  It’s less likely to bump something and make one wish they had stayed snuggled with a pillow that morning.


Multi-Layer Photoshop files with Post Production masking are an answer to prayer.  The result of the light shows on the subject when shooting.  The light sources can be visible in the original photograph.    By using the painting-with-light technique and modern digital photography we can place the light close to the surfaces that need lit.

Then by using masking techniques in PhotoShop to only show the result of our lighting and leaving the light source, stands and whatever else hidden behind a layer mask.  We have an awesome opportunity to enhance rooms and cars and whatever else would be enhanced in commercial photography.  It’s  opening the door to having lights wherever they need to be and leaving all the sources hidden with our mask technique while the results show off the room, products or a feature in its best light. haha.  I’ll cover the mask technique in an upcoming article.

Images shot in addition to the main shot and HDR sequence to later add in the created image showing enhanced lighting.  Yes that’s me shooting from wireless remote.

You may be wondering Why

Was there something I did not cover about my interior architectural photography project.  Jot me a note below and I’ll answer your “why” question or explain further.

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