Saturday, October 15, 2011

Photographing Interiors for your Blog, Part 1

For nearly 150 years, bloggers have tried to capture beautiful interior photographs to share their homes and DIY projects with the world.

via Minerva's Salon

As an example, I've borrowed a photograph from the Victorian blog Minerva's Salon in which she talks about her new gallery-style installation of paintings.  Notice the reflection of extremely bright light being reflected in the mirror.  If Minerva, had controlled the light coming from the windows, we might have a clearer view of her salon wall.  We can learn a lot about photographing our homes from Minerva's mistakes.


Back in July when I took the photos that I knew I'd be submitting to Better Homes and Gardens, I shot the photos over the course of three days when the light was best.  In the morning, the sun shines directly in to the garden side of the house; in the afternoon, it shines in from the driveway side. I found the rooms looked brightest during the few hours when the sun was directly overhead and the light was bouncing off each of neighbors' houses.

This photo of the dining room was done about noon when the sunlight was bouncing off my neighbor's house.  It does make for a nice bright room which was really necessary to capture the dark background of the shelves but you'll also notice that the window mullions and tops of the pillows are overexposed.

Around the same time, I also started playing with my shutter speed.  Whenever there wasn't enough sunlight to capture the photo I wanted, I would try slowing my shutter speed to get a brighter photo.

So fast forward to the day of the photo shoot.  It was a dark, gray day and when the photographer and his assistant arrived, I mentioned that I was bummed that the day was so gray.  No, they said, this is the perfect day for a photo shoot.  The object to good photos is controlling the light.  A sunny day makes that much more difficult.  If the room is dark, the camera lens is left open longer to get the quality of light they're looking for.

On the second day, in fact, the sun came out and made the dining room shots problematic.  To cure this,  two different gels (I think that's what they're called) we placed over the outside of the window.  The first layer was similar to wax paper.  It blocked the direct sunlight but dispersed the light more generally around the room.  The second layer was a clear, dark gray film (similar to tinting you might put on your car windows) that reduced the amount of light coming in to the room.

I wish I had a photograph of the gels over the dining room window on the outside of the house but you can see the light in the dining room is much dimmer than the light coming in through the door in the kitchen.  Even though the sun is shining directly in to the dining room, the gels are controlling how much is coming in.  You can see in Trina's Country Living shoot how they controlled the light coming in to her house...even when the window was under the porch.

In my next post, I'll put some of this knowledge to the test.  I doubt anyone is going to buy light filters to hang outside their windows but with a tripod and few camera adjustments, you can put away the flash and take still create a little sunshine on the cloudy day.


  1. How interesting. Our wreck has quite a few photo shoots and usually is filled with vast white or silver reflectors etc. For the last, the day was very grey and desolate and, like you, I expressed disappointment to the photographer about the quality of light. And like you, I was told it was the best possible day for photographing the house.

    I am possibly the world's least inspired photographer. I have an eye for other things, but photography? Nossumuch. When my daughter was eight, she produced better pics than I could. I have one of those tiny-lensed things and I like to blame my shortcomings on that, postponing the day when I'll have to change my camera and thus be left alone with my lack of photographic talent.

    I always find your photographs to be good. I'll look forward to this series of posts - who knows, I may actually learn something to jolt me out of my point-and-shoot-laziness!

  2. Hi Steve, great information! Just the other day I said to my husband that I wish I'd had my camera to snap some photos and he suggested that we come back when it was sunny, I told him that the best photos are taken when it's a grey day! Thanks for confirming my comments! Looking forward to seeing your next post!

  3. What a fabulous post! Gels, who knew? Until I moved last year I lived in a house that was so shaded by the mature trees that it never had enough light to photo correctly, at least with my skills. Now, in my light filled house I get great shots of small items but that pesky sun (just kidding love you Sun) makes things more difficult. I'll have to try hanging sheers for midday shots.

  4. GAWD, anything to improve my photos! I need shades on the oblique windows to cut the hideous glare from the houses across the street in the afternoon. My photographer Andy Ryan loves cloudy days too. I also need a color screen for a background. Today I put a wine box on top of a stool to photograph an arrangement against a white background. Isn't this called machination?

  5. Hi Steve,

    That's a lot of info...and sounds like a lot of time and work. But, you have some of the best shots already, can't wait to see what you come up with now that you have so many insiders tips. For some reason, I thought Minerva was a New England gal. Maybe she's southern. I didn't think New England women got "the vapors". Thought it was a totally southern thing. Every time I say it in my head, there's a southern accent. I could be wrong though.


  6. AM,
    I think Minerva grew up in the south but was educated in the north where she met her husband. That's a pretty astute observation though.

  7. What a fun tidbit! I am having such fun playing around with my new camera and have found sometimes when I get a glare for indoor lighting, shut them off and play around with the camera. So much for turning on every light in the house. Guess it depends what you are shooting.

  8. i remember from high school that cloudy bright days were the best for photos. i think this is all great info. BUT it helps that what you are shooting is gorgeous, like your house. xo

  9. ohhhh, I wish someday to have a good camera. Then I can use your tips and learn what shutter speed actually is. I'm stuck with my point and shoot with packaging tape holding it together!
    My main concern has been to make sure there's not a stray dog toy in the shot or dog hair on the subject!
    But I do love seeing behind the scenes and I must say that I have ALWAYS thought your photos were top-notch!
    Thanks for a little blog history too! Who knew! :)
    :D - Cindi

  10. Excellent info. I'll be interested to read your tutorials on shutter speed since my camera my have some of those digital functions.
    Minerva might have a bit more trouble with this, I imagine.

  11. I am sorry to say that this is the very reason I post so seldom perhaps
    I will gain so much needed knowledge
    thanks for sharing

  12. Hi Steve,
    All the photos you've taken of your house are just gorgeous. I just love, love, love that dining room shot with the fern and the shelves - and your beautiful chair!
    It is so fascinating to see the professionals work their magic. We too had grey skies when our crew arrived and they said the same thing about it being the best kind of light.
    I've been surprised at how much more light comes in to a room just by opening a window. Like in our kitchen, if I crank open the casements, so much more light comes into the room and the open shelves. This is something I only realized a few months ago!
    ; ) Trina

  13. love this post. your funny and interesting!
    I'll be back for more.
    thank you for this post - seriously - I leaarned a lot.
    cheryl xox.

  14. Great stuff. I remember when my great grandmother handed my father their old camera. They used to take very important pictures because it cost them much.

  15. This is like reading a really good book.

    Leaves me wanting more.

    Does the fact that my windows haven't been washed outside forever count as a gel effect?

    If so I've got it made in the shade.

    xo jane

  16. This is a great post. Your dining room photo is gorgeous. I knew a cloudy day was always better but wasn't sure why!

  17. The dining room shot is lovely. I am so looking forward to the book your home will be featured in the Spring 2012!

  18. I need to start using my tripod. No. Actually, I should begin worrying about great images when I go back to blogging again! Lol. Great info. Always. . Envious of the images. As usual. :)

  19. It is so generous of you to share your knowledge and experience from this photo shoot with us. How many people get to have their house photographed and watch it happening in person? You are so lucky and yet so graciously willing to let us all in on the process. The world could use more people such as yourself.

  20. Minerva! Why, it is a wonder you can take pix with that camera so well...what with your poor waist being cinched up to an inch of it's life. Vapor's indeed!!

    But you,Sir Steve take amazing pics of your abode. Light or not.

    So gorgeous!

  21. Professionals certainly know their business. I have a hard time with light when I take pictures of my rooms, that's why I usually don't post interiors. Love all your photos Steve!!

  22. How exciting for you. My husband is a photographer. If the day is not over cast than try taking them right before sunset.

  23. I suppose if I read the instruction book to my camera, my pics might be a little better. I don't capture big pictures well, that's why I tend to stick with cropped and close ups.
    This is interesting...hope you have more tips to share.

  24. ha, Jane made me laugh (um, I know something about dirty windows!)

    Steve, do you use a tripod? I was wondering, cos you're trying out shutter speeds...


  25. Interesting. So they cover the windows to dim the lights and add their own lighting inside. The windows always seem so bright in magazine photos that I often wondered if they put a light outside the house shining in. Now I know.

  26. Very cool Steve, thanks for sharing.

  27. Love this post, Steve. I'm inspired!

  28. I am in desperate need of a "real" where shutter speed can be controlled. Your dining room is knocking my socks off BTW.


  29. This is a really terrific post. Our Seattle cottage was published several times & I have done print work... I know what goes into a good shoot, but I can't seem to take even C+ photos of my house.
    My Husband does better, but not in a league with yours.

  30. Minerva and I have the same problem...she was probably impatient and wanted to get the dang pictures shot because she had other things to accomplish that day.....on another note....I am loving your house...and styling.