Home photography ideas: learning how to light interiors

Home photography ideas: learning how to light interiors
(Image credit: Digital Photographer Magazine)

One of the biggest challenges of interior photography is balancing exposure with outside lighting conditions. When shooting buildings for commercial clients, whether the subject is a house, office or other business property, images of the inside almost always look more impactful when the view outside of a window is visible. 

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However, since light levels are significantly lower inside, the required exposure will often render windows large blocks of burned out white highlights. One potential solution is to bracket exposures and use HDR software to blend multiple frames, for a wider dynamic range. The disadvantage of this approach is that, without care, the tone mapping procedure can introduce an unrealistic effect, enhance noise and produce blending artifacts and edge halos. 

An attractive alternative is to use off camera flashes for added interior illumination. By precisely calculating exposure settings for outside light and strategically placing flashguns inside, shadows can be lifted, whilst holding exterior highlights. The position of the flashes and how the emitted light blends with the natural window light both contribute greatly to the success of your images. 

Read more: Photography tips

Before: Underexposed foreground By exposing for outside daylight the interior of this room suffers from unattractive, extreme underexposure, while compensating creates lost highlights in the external landscape scene. (Image credit: Future)

After: Full tonal range Exposing for the outside and adding artificial illumination through off-camera speedlights produces a balanced exposure throughout the frame, revealing exceptional depth. A far more effective commercial shot. (Image credit: Peter Fenech)

Here we explore how to work with multiple light sources for images with exceptional depth, but free from identifiable processing technique signatures, which may otherwise detract from the impact of the subject.  

1. Set up wireless system

(Image credit: Future)

In order to light the scene correctly we’ll need the freedom to move the flashes at will. Attach radio triggers to your flash units as these will prove more reliable than line-of-sight triggering.   

f3The best wireless flash triggers

2. Test your flashes 

(Image credit: Future)

To ensure all of your wireless flash units are set up correctly use the test button to check each unit has been assigned the same channel and group. If one does not fire, reset these parameters using the flash’s menu or the controls on the triggers themselves.

The best flashguns

3. Position your lights

(Image credit: Future)

Place one flash at either end of a room, with the head aiming up at 45°, to bounce light across the space. If you have another flash, place this out of frame, aiming towards the window to fill in shadows.

4. Set base exposure (for outside)

(Image credit: Future)

Take a meter reading from the scene outside the window, then push this to just before highlights lose detail. This maximises the possible interior brightness to reduce native contrast as much as possible.

 5. Assess balance

(Image credit: Future)

Take a test shot and determine if the balance of natural light and flash is optimal. If the interior space is still too dark increase the flash power in ⅓ stop increments until contrast is desirable. 

6. Alter light spread

(Image credit: Future)

Finally, try varying the zoom of the flashes and the addition or removal of diffusers or wide panels, to experiment with light spread. A tighter beam can highlight important areas but appear less natural. 

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Peter Fenech

As the Editor for  Digital Photographer magazine, Peter is a specialist in camera tutorials and creative projects to help you get the most out of your camera, lens, tripod, filters, gimbal, lighting and other imaging equipment.

After cutting his teeth working in retail for camera specialists like Jessops, he has spent 11 years as a photography journalist and freelance writer – and he is a Getty Images-registered photographer, to boot.

No matter what you want to shoot, Peter can help you sharpen your skills and elevate your ability, whether it’s taking portraits, capturing landscapes, shooting architecture, creating macro and still life, photographing action… he can help you learn and improve.