How to Photograph Interiors

Segrada Familia 3

Interior photography can be challenging, much more than outdoor photography. The first challenge is the light. In most cases you have to deal with low light, especially inside of churches, museums, etc. But don’t be discouraged; with a little practice, you will capture great shots.

Here are a few tips to improve your interior photography skills.

Be aware of the light. Light is your best friend, but in this case can be your biggest enemy. Interiors tend to be poorly lit and most of the time you cannot add adequate lighting. When you are traveling, often you will not have any lighting equipment with you. In the best case scenario, you might bring a flash; but this will not help with a large interior like a cathedral. Most places don’t even allow flash photography. You have to work with the available light. If you have a tripod, that’s great. Use it. But just like flashes, tripods may also be prohibited, especially in small places.

Dark bedroom

No flash, no tripod, now what? Don’t panic. Hear’s what you can do when you photograph interiors in low light:

  • Put your camera in speed priority mode. In this mode you choose the shutter speed and the camera chooses the aperture for the correct exposure. You can also use aperture priority mode but watch the speed so it doesn’t get too low. The rule of thumb for shutter speed is not to set it lower than 1/focal length. For example, if your focal length is 24mm, your shutter speed shouldn’t be lower than 1/24 sec. If your lens has image stabilization like Canon EF 24-70mm f/4.0L IS, you can go 3 or 4 stops lower. This example is for full frame cameras only. Be careful if you have a cropped sensor, you have to multiply the focal length by the crop factor (1.6x for Canon ASPC sensors).
  • Increase your ISO. My camera is very good in low light and I can increase my ISO to 3200 without worrying much about the quality of the photo. I recommend an ISO of at least 1000 but go even higher if your camera allows it.
  • Shoot raw. Raw files have more information than JPEG. A raw image contains all the data captured by the sensor that is uncompressed and with a higher dynamic range (highlights and shadows) than JPEG.  Not sure how to covert raw file to JPEG? Check out this post .
  • Try to stabilize the camera as best as you can. Lean against a wall, set the camera on something or hold your breath for a few seconds if shooting hand held.

One more thing. Sometimes you may have different light sources (daylight, tungsten or incandescent). In this case the easiest fix is in post-production. The brush or the gradient filter in Lightroom are great tools to selectively adjust the temperature.

Be careful with vertical lines. I love wide and ultra-wide angle lenses and I recommend using them when shooting interiors. The downside is that they can distort the image. This becomes even more of an issue when shooting architecture. Take a look at the image below and you will notice how the building appears to fall over. You can try to shoot at a straight angle or zoom in; whatever it takes to have straight vertical lines. For the image below I zoomed in from 18 mm to 31mm (on a cropped sensor camera). Not perfectly straight lines, but much better.

Notre-Dame Basilica Montreal-2Notre-Dame Basilica Montreal

You can also correct this in post-processing. I use Lightroom and it is easy to fix using the lens correction function.

Include people. I like including people in my shots whenever I can. People make photos more interesting not only by adding life, but also adding a sense of scale. In the image below, I purposely waited for someone to walk by and enter the frame to emphasize the grandness of the staircase and add life to it.

Stair case Paris

Look for staircases. Take a look at the photo below. You can barely tell that it’s a staircase. I took it at the Pilgrim Monument in Provincetown, MA. Staircases create interesting shapes and can sometimes make abstract photos.

Staircase Monument Provincetown

Remember to look up. This is pretty easy. Just look up. Most of time you’ll be pleasantly  surprised. Just like I was with the ceiling of the beautiful Music Hall in Barcelona.

Music Hall Barcelona-2

Shoot from above (or below). Try a different perspective. Climb up to a balcony, get down on your knees, the idea is to mix eye level pictures with more interesting angles. Check out an older blog on this topic.

Italy aboveCathedral Barcelona

Now it’s your turn to photograph interiors. Go take some great photos and share them with the Balcony.

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