Lighting for interior photography
So, you’ve decided to make the jump into lighting for interior photography?
This guide will give you a basic outline on the various different lighting techniques in the interior photographer arsenal and also gives you some little tips to get you started.
Interior photography with natural light
The easiest place to start with lighting your interior architecture photography is just using available natural light.
This comes with a number of benefits, first, and probably most important if you’re just starting out, is that it’s free!
You don’t need any extra equipment to get started and in most cases you can just rock up with your camera, tripod and lens and start to take some amazing interior images.
* SPOILER *
(You probably can’t just rock up and take amazing interior images)
The problem with natural light is that you can’t control it. If you only have a very short window in which to shoot a property and the sun just isn’t shining or is at the wrong side of the property then you will either have to try and make do with the natural light available or go to the dark side.
Lighting interior architecture photography with flash
The quickest way of counteracting the drawbacks of using natural lighting is by introducing some artificial light into your scene.
There are some great portable kits around at the moment that allow you to take the functionality and power of a studio based flash setup out into the field.
Some of the most popular today are:
If you’ve got a bit of money to burn then take a look at the Profoto lineup. Replacing the B1 flash, the B2 now offers TTL and HSS shooting offering shutter speeds of up to 1/15000thof a second!
This kit is also super small so it’s really easy to use if you’re on your own, you can just sling it over your shoulder and away you go.
The downside of this is it only offers around 215 flashes on a full charge, meaning if you’re going to be shooting all day, you either better nail your exposure every time or be prepared to buy a couple more battery packs.
The Elinchrom system offers a bit more power at 424W compared to the Profoto’s 250W and also 350 flashes from a full charge but is 25% heavier and doesn’t offer TTL metering on the basic kit.
If that doesn’t bother you and you want the extra power then you can currently save a fair chunk buying the Elinchrom over the Profoto kit.
Available in two power options -180 and 360W, the Godox system is a cheaper alternative to most mainstream flash systems. Offering 450 flashes on the 360W version for just shy of £400 seems like a great deal, but the drawback comes from the reliability of this flash unit. If you’re working somewhere where colour consistency is important this pack probably isn’t for you.
With a rating of +/- 200 kelvin shift this could be a deal breaker. Pair that with the cheaper plastic construction and you begin to see where the money is being saved. That being said, if you’re looking for a quick and cheap way to get into flash photography they’re definitely worth a look.
When working with any off camera flash with interior photography, it’s a good idea to get your initial composition correct and then lock your tripod and settings in place, if possible using a remote for your camera to ensure it doesn’t move.
Doing this will allow you to take multiple exposures of a scene with your flash lighting different areas of your scene or at different exposures and combining them in Photoshop afterwards to create the image.
Interior architecture photography with speedlights
The place that most people start with lighting interior photography is using your standard speedlight. This is far cheaper than buying any of the dedicated flash units above and it doesn’t have to be anything fancy – as long as it produces a consistent flash then you’re good to go!
If you want to view a quick buying guide on the best speedlights for interior photography then click here.
Triggering your flash wirelessly is so important for interior photography, as you will want to put the light into very specific areas which you just won’t be able to do with it attached to the hotshoe of your camera. Buying a cheap wireless trigger such as this will get the job done but more expensive and reliable options, such as the this from Pocket Wizard are the go-to for the professional interior photographer.
Having your flash wireless allows you to position it wherever you want within a scene in order to add light exactly where you want it. Taking multiple exposures with the flash popped at different points of interest around the room allows you to build the scene back up afterwards in Photoshop exactly how you want it.
A monopod or even just a traditional lighting stand is another great addition to your wireless flash kit. It allows you to position the flash and then go back to your camera to take the picture (or if you’re really fancy you can get a CamRanger so you never have to go back to your camera again). It will also double as a boom arm and if you’re having an issue with high ceilings, for example, you can lift the flash up manually to cover the area you desire.
Interior photography and HDR
If you’re still not sure about using flash for your interior photography, don’t be put off!
There is still one more trick which you can employ – the use of high dynamic range or HDR photography.
In its simplest form, this means taking multiple exposures of the same scene at different exposure and combining them afterwards.
For example, to pick a simple scene, you may be shooting a dining room with gorgeous bi-fold doors leading through to the garden. This may look great to your eyes but to your camera it would be a totally different story. The difference in exposure between the middle of the room and the garden outside would be so great that you wouldn’t have any detail outside of the window, it would appear over exposed.
To counteract this problem, you can take multiple exposures, usually 3-5 depending on how complex the scene is and combine them in post production afterwards. There are specific programs that can do this for you such as Photomatix or Photoshop does have a rather rudimentary option to combine to HDR.
Photmatix offers a wide range of tools for combining HDR images
If you’re feeling really confident though and want true control, using blending layers and masks inside of Photoshop will give you total control of your image. This allows you to literally paint extra light into your scene and create a much more realistic look.
Of course, as with everything, HDR does have its drawbacks and if a scene is already lacking contrast, then using HDR to lighten shadows and control the highlights isn’t going to help one bit. Here is where you should be pulling out that off camera flash, so get practising!
Do you have any hints of tips for lighting interior photography? If so pop them in the comments below and let’s share some of that knowledge!
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