Monday, October 31, 2011

Photographing Interiors for your Blog, Part 2

I've really struggled with this post.  Other than coming to your house and showing you how to adjust your shutter speed, it's been really difficult to think of a way to approach it.  So I hope with a little description and some examples of photos at different shutter speeds, you'll get the idea.  I'm afraid you're going to have to dig out your manual to figure out how to adjust the shutter speed on your own.

This is a photo I took of sister back in the '80s.  It was taken in our basement in complete darkness.  Using my grandfather's old camera, I taped the button down so the camera's shutter (or eye) stayed open.  Just as if you were to sit in a completely dark room with your eyes open you would see nothing, it's the same with a camera.  In TOTAL darkness, a camera could sit with its shutter open for hours and record nothing.

To create this image, I used colored flashlights to illuminate the objects (my sister and glasses on the table).  There is a sheet hanging behind her which I lit with a red flashlight.  And, finally, I used a small penlight to outline her so she looks like a neon sign.

This may have taken two or three minutes to create with the camera shutter sitting open the entire time....and she had to sit completely still.

To take photos with a slow or extended shutter speed you're definitely going to need a tripod.  With your camera's shutter open longer, any movement of the camera will make the photo blurry.  You don't need anything fancy.  Here's a tripod on Amazon that's $17.

In this old photo of the kitchen, I might have used an exposure of (kept the shutter open for) one or two seconds.  As you can see, the cat in the foreground moved (against my strict instructions) and he comes out a little blurry.   I kind of like the effect as it shows action.


There may, in fact, be times when you want blur to show movement.  Here, in this photo of a carnival ride, the blur allows you to see the motion.

So blurry might have it's uses...

...but it's not necessarily something you want in your blog photos.  A tripod will help prevent photos  from looking like this.

Slowing down your shutter speed isn't a matter of more is better.   You can really overdo it.  This image is terribly overexposed.

By adjusting the shutter speed and taking a few test shots, you can find a setting that gives you a nice quality of light, even on a cloudy day.  

Also notice in this photo the placement of the camera.  It's just above the height of the table.  

Here you can see the placement of Michael's camera during the photo shoot.  

By placing the tripod down at the level of the objects, or a dining room table or a bed, it feels more intimate.  It puts the viewer right in the shot.  One of my favorite blogs, The Vintique Object, has done several posts in which she analyzes how wonderful interior photographs have been taken.  Here's an example of one of Camille's posts.

This photograph demonstrates a typical problem.  Your room looks like it has good light but when you take a photo, it comes out very dark.  The reason for this is your automatic camera setting.  Because the camera is faced directly into the light coming from the window, the camera is trying to automatically adjust for that bright light and it leaves the room looking very dark.

By switching to the shutter speed setting, I'm able to slow down the shutter to allow more light into the camera lens.  I don't think this is a great photograph necessarily, because the sun is shining outside and making the light look a little harsh, but it's a tradeoff.  This kind of light can make a photo look very dreamy if that's the look you're going for.  It would be better to take this photo on a cloudy day or at dusk when the light is much less severe.

We'll get to the flower arrangement in a minute.

I thought I would do a little experiment with this scene.  I took these photos a few days after the photo shoot when the flowers were still alive.  The sun has set outside and the house is dark enough to turn lights on.  I would never consider taking photographs in this light.  On an automatic setting, the camera does a pretty good job of capturing the scene but notice the image is very grainy.

I tried taking a photo with the flash and, as you can see, it looks just terrible.  I don't think there's ever a good reason to use a camera mounted flash for an interior shot unless a room has no natural light and you're forced to. 

I put the camera on shutter speed priority and extended the shot to eight seconds.  It's not a fantastic shot but it's essentially dark outside so I think it's pretty good.

I zoom in to take a closeup with a 15-second shot and you'd almost never know it isn't the middle of a sunny day.

When yesterday's forecast predicted a rare October snowstorm, I ran outside and cut the last of everything in the garden.  These are the blue hydrangeas that have aged to green, mauve and burgundy, coleus, new rose growth and Japanese maple.  We were lucky to get only a few inches of snow but this is definitely the last arrangement I'll get from the garden...presented in the style of the Dutch masters. 

Here's another darker spin on the arrangement just for Halloween.

This last flower arrangement celebrates Jane's last day of smoking.  Join the celebration at this ex-smoker's flower party....and good luck, Jane.  Be strong!

Now get out those camera manuals and tweak your shutter speeds!


  1. No, you'll have to come round, cameras are beyond me.

  2. gorgeous tutorial. Is it wrong that I wasn't listening to everything you said...'cause I was drooling over that little bone handled pewter drinking cup??

    Those flowers are STUNNING. The gifts of an early unanticipated snow storm, eh??!

  3. That was a brilliant lesson. I do think the Manual setting is our best friend, but it does take some getting to know. Thanks for all the tips.

  4. Great tips. I love your photos esp. the flowers.

  5. I enjoyed every informative moment of the entire post but the last one brought tears to my eyes.

    Thank you kind sir.

    Together we're better.

    Happy Halloween.

    xo Jane

  6. Sorry, so teary eyed and nicotind deprived I forgot to say how incredibly beautiful the flower arrangement and setting is.

    You, sir, are a master designer.

    xo J.

  7. Good Morning Steve ~
    This was definately easier to understand than my manual! I love good photography - and cringe everytime I see a photo that is so over photoshopped. Thanks for the hints, hopefully some of these hints will rub off on my picture taking skills. :)

    Happy Halloween!

  8. Photographing interiors can truly be a challenge, to be sure. I always prefer shooting with available natural light whenever possible, but have found that investing in a good speedlight is almost as handy as a tripod at times. It's a steep learning curve some days!

  9. Thanks for these posts on photographing interiors! The dining room examples are super helpful. Now I just need to step up from a regular old point and shoot. I also love the Dutch master arangments! Gorgeous!

  10. Since your first post on this I have had marvelous success by slowing down that shutter. We even got a spooky pumpkin picture last night. Thanks.

  11. I have been doing just that lately Steve, practicing with the Shutter priority and also the Aperture priority. Not sure what you mean when you say you take a 15 second pic while on the shutter priority. Maybe my camera doesn't do that. I can put it on "S" but i don't know how to extend the period of taking the pic. Love the last image~fab!

  12. I suppose this means that I have to take my camera off "lazy" ... I mean automatic ... LOL!!! LOVE this tutorial! Can't wait to experiment with my new CAMERA!!

  13. Amy,
    When you put the camera on shutter priority, there should be another dial that changes the speed. You can speed it up for fast-moving images like sports games or slow it down for interior shots. There's maybe a dial on the back of the camera that changes that?

  14. Oh gosh, how very technical. I am afraid I am a point and squirt sort of photographer, but that's not to say, that I don't appreciate a good photograph when I see one. Thankyou for taking the time and trouble to explain things. I will return in about a year's time when I have suitably advanced!

    Your flower arrangement is wonderful, including all the props, to create the mood. Thankyou for your lovely comments on my wreath. Happy Halloween, love Linda x

  15. The photographs of your flower arrangement look just like a Golden-age Dutch still life!

  16. that last photo is beautiful! love it! i need a fancy camera and some lessons so i can take great pics too! :) happy halloween

  17. Your photo tutorials are all terrific, thank you so much for them. I will have to dig out my camera manual. Or, more likely, invest in a better camera that actually has these options! (I rely way too much on Photoshop to compensate for poor exposure.)

    And the flower arrangement is wonderful. I love hydrangeas, they're on my list to plant next season, and the Japanese maple adds the perfect dark jagged element—another plant that I may have to find room for in my garden next year!

  18. Genius I say.

    Yes...I know you did it first, but I've been content light lately...

  19. If I ever get a tweakable camera in hand again, I will keep the good advice in mind. Lovely last of your garden arrangement.

  20. Great post!!! Thanks so much. I'm bookmarking this and putting it on the blog. It is so generous of you to share what you are obviously so good at.

  21. First, I LOVE your Dutch master's arrangement. And that last dark picture with the light coming from the left is stunning, Steve.

    For someone who has struggled, this really is an excellent post. I was just playing around with my point-and-shoot yesterday and noticed that I have the ability adjust shutter speed and aperture. I imagine it will take me some to figure out how it all works, but with this post as guidance, I'm going to give it a try.

    Thanks for the shout-out!


  22. Hi Steve. What a fantastic post. I loooovve it! I took so much photography in college and have forgotten so much -- this really makes me want to shake the dust off the tripod! I just love reading your blog. And not because we're friends. It's because your talent inspires me in my bones. Thanks.

  23. Yes, that last photo is a winner. How'd you shoot that one?
    This was all done on your G10? Impressive. Thanks for the lesson!

  24. That is amazing how the shutter speed changes where is that manual? - I love that last shot, Happy Halloween to you too!

  25. The flower arrangement still lifes are STUNNING. My favorite colors. And I love the silver boned handled cup and your pretty green bowls. : )

  26. How kind you are Steve to take the time and give such an in-depth post on photographing interiors. I can't wait to get reading my camera manual. I hope I can remember where I put it. Thanks you, you are very generous.

  27. Great information and beautiful flowers. I hope you are staying safe and warm.

  28. i've taken a dozen photography classes (i used to do all my own darkroom work) but nothing in the world is as important as good composition. all the perfect light and gear in the world can't help if you have a shitty eye. i have a friend who has a billion dollars worth of equipment and he takes awful photos. just has no style, no eye. it is painful. and i am doing wonders with my little point and shoot. your photos are always great. you have an eye. you know, the idea of getting a dSLR is really growing on me lately. i am missing photography, really having a camera you can do all this stuff with. even though my little P&S is amazing, i do have to rely more on great light and it limits me. great post!

    xo t.

  29. Two things:

    1. I've had that over-exposed thing happen to me when I was playing with shutterspeed. Totally annoying, and

    2. You're welcome to come take pictures of my house anytime! You're a pro! :)


  30. thanks for sharing all your photo tips with us. you are a genius with the camera. and not to shabby in the flower arrangement business either. v beautiful steve.


  31. thanks for the great useful tips. oh, how i have lots to learn!

  32. I'm looking at my little P&S and it has some settings that sort of adjust the shutter speed but....
    Last night I tried to take some photos outside in the dark and they didn't turn out very well. The situation wasn't right for a tripod and I was in a hurry so none of that helped. Maybe Santa will bring me a "real" camera for Christmas. :D
    Unfortunately I might not be on his "nice" list this year. Oh well!
    LOVE this post anyway.
    Thanks! - Cindi

  33. Great, informative post -- and you made me giggle a time or two! thanks for your words of support regarding blog content theft. I have submitted multiple complaints, and have informed other bloggers who are submitting complaints, so hopefully this guy will be shut down soon.

  34. Learning to take better pictures has been on my list for a while, and you have been really helpful in breaking down something that seemed complex (light, shutter speed, exposure...) into something I can understand. Thank you! The pre-storm flower arrangement is stunning!

  35. That photo of your flowers at the end is A-MA-ZING! Great tips. Natural daylight is always best, I agree. Actually for ME, a profesional photographer is best. I'm such a klutz with gadgets and don't have the patience. Sooo, I have to work really hard to make money to pay for a pro!

    My daughter is majoring in photography in college, so I guess I'll have my OWN photographer someday!

  36. Hey Steve - Thank you for coming by and checkin' out the photoshoot post. Boy was I exhausted. After 5 hours - I can't believe how you felt after 2 DAYS!?!?!?

    Starting with the CDLV tour tomorrow - I think the sunroom.

    Talk soon,

  37. Excellent tutorial. I am still learning all the settings on my camera a year later.

    That dark interior, bright window shot? I have a million of them! Definitely need a tripod.

    Cute shot of the kitties.

  38. Oh...that last photo is fabulous. Thanks for all these tips...I must play around with my shutter speed. I just have been lazy.

  39. WTH is a shutter....not really but after a while when I am getting instructions I feel like the person speaking or writing starts out speaking english and then it turns to tongue....I guess that was why I was such a poor student.....I really want to take better pictures...for real....but dang I will have to pop a ritalin to be able to concentrate and focus on this post.
    Your pictures are pretty....mine suck....we can't be good at everything right?

  40. Look at my photo next to this comment....ha! kind of like Barbara Walters...