Photographing Interiors

Relaxing in a cozy room on a cold winter day, with a cup of hot coffee and a good book to keep you company. Now that is my idea of time well spent. But, what kind of photographs can get me longing to spend time like that?

Interiors of houses and buildings can convey a slew of feelings, just by the way they are photographed. A simple room can be an uninviting and cold place or a warm and welcoming one. It all depends on how the interiors are photographed. Natural light photographs can add a touch of openness whereas indoor photographs with warm lights can give a cozy feeling on a cold winter night.

Attic Bedroom at Maini's Hill Cottages

(An attic bedroom – Captured with a 25mm lens at f/11, ISO 100, mounted on a tripod)


A modest wideangle is the minimum that is required for most interiors photography in houses. Wideangle lenses tend to give a sense of space due to the perspective (Perspective). For large buildings or spacious interiors, a normal lens will also do.

My favorite is a 25mm lens mounted on a 35mm film camera or an equivalent digital one. A tripod is a must! Sometimes the corners do not permit place for a tripod, I still recommend using a tripod in such occasions with just one small tweak – use two legs of the tripod and treat the room corner as the third leg. Just be careful. Don’t let the camera fall down.

Live-view can be useful when it is difficult to peep through the viewfinder in tight locations.

Use aperture priority and keep the ISO at the lowest value. As long as the camera is stable on the tripod, shutter speed can be varied (to get the right exposure or for bracketing the shots)

Speedlights can be helpful in covering up some of the really dark nooks and corners. Carry along two or more of these. Use gel filters when you have to use speedlights.

(My ideal equipment for interiors photography would be a large format view-camera but that can be cumbersome and expensive)

Set-Up the Scene

First and foremost is to set up the scene to its best. The curtains should be ideally hung, the window panes – spotless, bedsheets should be neat with well made-up beds. Even the floor should be clean.

When everything is set to ideal, add a touch of disarray. A slight flaw of bedsheets looks better than a well-made up bed without any bumps or creases. A stray magazine or two in the living room improves the feeling of being lived in. A couple of fresh fruits on the dining table can make the drab scene come alive.

Master Bedroom at Maini's Hill Cottages

(Notice how the bed is fluffy in the center and an alarm clock on the side-table gives a lived-in feeling. Photographed with a 25mm lens on a full-frame camera and then cropped. f/11 aperture at ISO 100 and EV +2, camera mounted on a tripod. Raw file developed in Affinity Photo)

The importance of colors

Here is a must-read article on colors, that I wrote some time back – Using colors effectively.

Warm colors convey a welcome and cozy feeling. For interiors of homes, hotels, guest-houses, and for even some of the restaurants, use warm white to yellow lights for the ambient lighting. This looks inviting and comfortable. Is it a wonder that hotel rooms on most travel sites are lit up in warm shades? In fact, some travel agencies insist on tying up with only those hotels that have warm-colored lighting installed.

If the photography is to be done in the daytime, still switch on all the lights that have a warm tone. Do not use flash without any filters. If you do have to fire a flash, use warm color filters on the flash… and no, it is not the same thing as using a warm filter on the lens or in post-processing.

Natural light with just a bit of warmth looks the best to me. Even when I capture natural light photographs of home interiors, I prefer to have a couple of warm lights switched on.

Cool colors convey a feeling of cleanliness when used correctly. A hospital or clinic will look better when photographed in a slight cyan-blue color overcast. Once again, it does not mean using filters on the lens or in post-processing but using the correct ambient light temperature. Similarly, an office or a factory also looks nice in cool colors.

What to do in a hospital reception setting? Should it be welcoming warm or cool and clinically clean? I recommend using your own decision. The last photograph that I took of such a place had mixed lighting. The ambient light from the windows during the daytime highlighted the sparkling tiled floor and a warm spotlight from the top added a touch of warmth to the reception desk.

In the end, it is what you want to convey that matters. Use the ambient light to the maximum but remember to color-correct it.

Coffee Table and Chairs

(Coffee Table and Chairs – It was photographed from a very difficult angle while trying to keep the chairs and table in the center. The photograph looks nice but not all that inviting. Maybe a coffee-cup and a book on the table would have done the job. I’ll have to photograph it again. Another thing to try is HDR with this composition. The wonderful view from the window is lost in this photograph)

Contrast and Brightness

There are just two simple rules to this – High contrast gives an attractive feeling to the interiors. Brightness is mood-lifting and makes the place jolly.

The rules are simple but there are a few major pitfalls to avoid. High contrast reduces the details in extremely bright and dark areas. The contrast should not lose out on the shadow details. The shadows provide a realistic feel to the place. Similarly, overblown areas lose out their textures and end up making the place look artificial. Blown out sources of light like windows or lamps are fine. The stress is in the shadow areas. These have a higher importance in preserving textures than the bright ones.

The second component, brightness, should not make the dark areas unnaturally bright. Overall low contrast with brightness in dark parts of the photograph gives a feeling of dusty atmosphere.

Strike a balance. Light up the dark nooks and corners using hidden speedlights but don’t make them too powerful. I set the speed lights to TTL mode and use a -3 flash compensation. The dark places should exist in the photograph but with some information available to the viewer.

Kitchenette - Dinning

(Kitchenette – Dining. The focus here was the design on the chairs with a little bit of stress on rustic look and yet modern in use. The lonely kettle with the connected wire gives a lived-in feeling, another way of adding this touch without adding anything on the table. Though I would have preferred a few more articles of daily use. Notice the open windows, natural light and glow from the overhead light)

Tips to go one more step further-

  • Switch off the lights (opposite to what I usually recommend) and open all the curtains. Interiors can look fabulous in natural light. One of the attractions of using natural light is to make the place look lively and open. This also does away with troublesome color balance. A word of advice – switch off the lights and use natural light when you are sure of how things will appear. If the interiors look too drab or have extensive dark nooks and corners, by all means, switch on the lights.
  • Bracket your shots when on a tripod and play around with HDR. I have found bracketing of +2 to -2 EV useful for HDRs of interiors.
  • Shoot at eye level. For small rooms, try to do two shots – one from a corner and one from a sidewall. The corner shot will give an idea of space, the one from the side should include two corners. It doesn’t matter how the room corners are placed in the frame.
  • Add a pet or a kid in the composition if you want to show the place as a pet or kid-friendly.
  • Avoid clutter. Remove as many distractions as you can from the interiors without making the place look deserted. In the above photograph, I cleared out a whole stack of boxes from the kitchen counter.
  • When in doubt, place a flower-vase with a bunch of flowers, on a table or side-table. Use bright colored flowers for otherwise colorless interiors or use plain white/cream-colored flowers in a room that looks like a splash of oil-paints.
  • Use secondary elements to add meaning to a place. Food items in a kitchen or dining room, a diary, and a pen on an office table, alarm clock or books on bedsides, and so on…
  • Composition is the key to beautiful interior photographs. Let the elements in the photograph interact with each other, and with the right lighting, you’ll always capture a keeper.

Living Room in Maini's Hill Cottages

(I personally prefer this image with wine glasses, a book, some cushions, and book-shelf which is not empty)

All the house/cottage pictures are from Maini’s Hill Cottages

Further Reading:
Prevent buildings from falling
Using Wide-Angle Lenses

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