Shooting Interiors

by William Lulow

I have often stressed that when doing almost any type of photographs, the background needs to be lit as well as the main scene. There are times when you don’t want to do this, but most cases really require it.

The eye tends to see a scene in its entirety, but film and digital sensors (although very sensitive to light) do not. So, photographers have to “help” their cameras “see” what they want them to.

Here’s an example:

This shot of a table setting was lit with only one light bounced off the ceiling. It created a nice, soft light in the room, but the room behind it was completely unlit, therefore it appeared dark in the image.

Now, if you are trying to light just the one room, this would be fine because it tends to highlight only what is directly in front of the camera. But, if you wished to see what was in the next room, to provide a good “normal” view of the whole interior, obviously you would need to light the other room as well.

Here is the example of that:

This image was produced with a single light in the back room, also bounced off the ceiling. Again, obviously, there is much more information included about the whole interior. Here’s how the lights were set up. Very simple:

In this case, all that was needed was enough light to help the camera “see” into both rooms. (Note that in the above images, the kitchen was not lit. If I had wanted to show the kitchen, I would have had to place a light there as well.

Another way to do these types of interior shots is by placing the camera on a tripod and shooting with available light, which many photographers do. The problem here comes when you try to include a window. Since, when doing interiors with available light you often have to use very slow shutter speeds, this tends to blow out any outdoor light that may be included in the scene. I’ve even heard of some photographers who use a program called Photomatix, take several exposures of the interior and let the program combine them to produce an acceptable, overall exposure. The proper way to include outdoor light in an interior photograph however is to take a reading of the light coming in the window and then balance your artificial light to give a proper, overall exposure of the scene.

Here, I took a reading with my camera’s meter of the light coming in the window and adjusted my overall exposure to render the image more or less even. This image was lit with only one flash placed off to the left and out of frame, creating the highlights on the furniture. I could have placed another light in the room, but it might have provided too much light. I wanted to keep all the tones muted.

So, if you are doing interior photographs, first measure the light coming in any windows (which can be thought of as “background” light), then balance your flash with that exposure. And, make sure that any background rooms in the scene are lit with that same flash exposure to ensure a total, correct exposure for the shot.