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Interior photography, with bright sunlight coming in through windows

Nancy Bueler , Sep 27, 2004; 10:29 a.m.

I recently took some interior shots of a friend's home, as a favour, as she is trying to become a professional interior decorator. Most of the shots turned out beautifully, but I was disappointed with the shots where I was facing into the room, with the windows directly ahead of me, behind the furniture. I bracketed, but they still came out too dark, with the windows too bright. I know I should meter for somewhere in the middle, but how do I expose properly for the room, without making the windows look like big bright streaks of white? She had shear curtains hanging in the windows, and I would like them to look as nice as possible, while making sure the furniture is properly exposed. Do I shine light into the room, towards the windows, to counteract the sunlight? Do I simply use reflectors to bounce the light back onto the furniture? I used Fuji NPH 160, which I've never used before, and I was extremely happy with the grain and texture of most of the shots. I know I should be using a 4X5 for architectural photography, but right now the equipment is out of my reach financially. I'm hoping to do more interior work, hopefully professionally, so any help would be appreciated.

Responses

Brooks Short - Tampa, Florida , Sep 27, 2004; 12:38 p.m.

Nancy,

You have to balance the lighting inside the room with the light outside the windows. The best way to do this is to use strobe off camera. Either a bounce into a neutral colored ceiling or wall or a softbox placed to one side. I'm referring here to powerpack or monolight strobes, not on-camera flashes.

You can then use an f-stop for the strobe and the appropriate shutter speed for the outside light.

A more involved method, which is popular with cinema crews is to gel the windows with neutral density material. You can use regular ND material which is available in rolls or you can use warm ND material to color balance the daylight to interior tungsten light.

Finally, the simplest method is to wait until sunset, near evening, when the sun has just set and the sky is still blue. Often architectural shooters will wait until this time and use tungsten film and tungsten lights which renders the outside daylight as a deep bluer.

Bill Cornett , Sep 27, 2004; 07:52 p.m.

Nancy-- Situations like this are why architectural photographers are known to tote around hundreds of pounds of lighting equipment. Sometimes the space is can be very easy to light, and sometimes it requires amazing amounts of artificial fill to achieve what looks like a simple effect.

To give you an example, this shot has five strobe heads in it, three coming from heads plugged into a Comet 2,400 watt-second power pack and two more coming from Alien Bees. Two Comet heads were bounced into the ceiling above the entryway to the living room, and one was bounced into an umbrella from camera left. The Bees bounced up from the far right corner and the entryway to the sitting room on the left.

Exposure was 1/60 @ f22 on a 4x5 view camera with a 65mm lens. Numerous digital test shots were done to get a good general balance on the lights, and then two or three Polaroids were shot through the 4x5 to get a final read on the balance. Then the real film was shot.

The trick is to fill in the shadows with light that is powerful yet soft, so that the strobe effect is not directly evident. Trust me, if the strobes hadn't been there for fill, most of the room would have looked like a black void.

If I need to soften the light from a window--either by making less direct lighting or just cutting down the amount of light coming through--I have black mesh and/or translucent plastic attached to lath boards that I can have my assistant clamp to the outside of a window in just a few moments.

At any rate, this is how I coped with a similar situation to the one you are describing. Hope some of the approach is germain to your inquiry. -BC-


Attachment: frontroom1B.jpg

Stephen H , Sep 27, 2004; 09:28 p.m.

"Finally, the simplest method is to wait until sunset, near evening, when the sun has just set and the sky is still blue."

This is the easiest way to do exterior shots with the windows lit up, too.

With the right camera, you can shoot the tungsten-lit shots at night with the appropriate filter, leave the camera there, wait until daylight, turn the lights off, and expose for the windows without the filter.

Nancy Bueler , Sep 28, 2004; 09:57 a.m.

Bill - The room you show is almost exactly the same shape and set-up as the room I shot, and you captured the furniture and the windows beautifully. Like you said would happen without the strobes, all I got was a black void. If I do go back to try this shot again, I will take your advice, as well as what you and Brooks suggested, to try softening the light coming through the window. Thanks so much for the help everyone - I'm determined to master this problem!!

Brooks Short - Tampa, Florida , Sep 28, 2004; 11:06 a.m.

Nancy,

It usually takes more than just softenig the light coming in the window. You have to actually add light of your own to the interior of the room.

This shot was done with 2 medium softboxes, one on camera right and the other close to the camera on the left for fill.

This room hads several lighting challenges. First the room was very small. The ceiling was dark wood so bouncing light into the ceiling was not an option. In fact, the client wanted to show detail on the ceiling so it had to be lit as well as the rest of the room. And the view outside the window was of a parking lot so the window exposure had to be blown out to obscure outside detail.

There are a couple of other things to keep in mind when shooting interiors.

It's better to shoot into a corner of the room rather then show 3 walls. Showing 3 walls limits the options for hiding your lights and makes the space look like the inside of a boxcar.

The rear of the room should be brighter than the forground to draw the viewer's eye into the shot.

If you're going to show other rooms through a doorway off to the side or rear of the space then you should light those rooms also. Or close the door to those areas.

Finally, place your camera close to the height of a person's head when they are sitting in the furniture. In other words, a lower camera height is more effective than a higher camera height. A higher camera height can make the furniture look small almost as if it were 3/4 scale like children's furniture.

Hope this helps.


Small room interior

Nancy Bueler , Sep 28, 2004; 02:03 p.m.

Brooks; I really had no idea before I started this that there was so much to interior photography, since I mostly shot exteriors and nature scenes. I do agree that shooting 3 walls makes the space look a boxcar, but until now I couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me about one of my shots! But, if that's what the client wants ... I like how you have the window exposed, while keeping the light right in the room; I'll have to try that. The camera placement advice is also very welcome, as I wasn't always sure how high or low to position the camera for each room or subject. I looked at decorating magazines before the shoot, to try to get an idea, but your trick helps. Will all the help from you and others, I'm sure my next shots will turn out better, though I guess I'll have to look into renting lights for any future interior shoots.

Brooks Short - Tampa, Florida , Sep 28, 2004; 02:27 p.m.

Nancy,

"If that's what the client wants..."

Whenever I run into a situation where the client wants something that's not ideal, like showing 3 walls of an interior, I try to educate them as to a better choice. If they are present at the shoot I'll pop a polaroid or digital capture or let them look through the lens to illustrate my point. If the client is not there I'll shoot the scene their way and my way. Let them choose later.

The reason a lower camera angle looks better in most cases is because people spend more time sitting in the furniture in a room than they do standing.

Keep looking at magazines which feature interior photography and try to determine camera height and deconstruct the lighting. Look for different light sources in the scene. Some architectural photographers will actually do double and triple exposures with different color correction filters, turning lights on and off, in an effort to balance daylight, tungsten and fluorescent light.

It's very interesting stuff.

Nancy Bueler , Oct 08, 2004; 02:13 p.m.

Hello all. I've finally gotten around to posting a photo from the shoot. Please let me know what you think, and any constructive criticism would be greatly appreciated.

Nancy

Runno Allikivi , Mar 16, 2011; 06:17 p.m.

This is a really old thread, but still very informative.
I just rented 2 photogenic monolights for a weekend shoot and hoping to apply some of tips I learned here. The hero of all my interior shots is the floor and I am always struggling to get the right angle and lighting that fills both the room and brings out the floor.
I'd appreciate, if you shared some pointers in case you have some experience with taking incredible floor shots?
Thanks

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