How Do You Light a Long Deep Interior Space?

June 29th, 2017

Roy in Los Angeles says:

This has been plaguing me for a long time now and I guess I have just been editing my way around this sometimes blending multiple brackets: How does one shoot a long, deep interior space (condo or apt) that has an outside view at the far end (large window, terrace, or balcony) with nowhere to hide lighting at the sides and a kitchen behind you with nothing really to bounce flash off of? Is bracketing the only way? If I shot a flash toward the far end, I get shadows. I always set up my flash close to my camera and bounce where ever I can but the foreground ends up on the bright side and deeper in toward the outside view, the walls and ceiling are dark.

Not only the above scenario but usually shooting kitchens, the same problem– nothing behind me to bounce flash off of!!!

Great question! In Scott’s Lighting Interiors e-book in Chapter 7 – Larger Rooms there is an example of the scenario you described.  A long room with windows at the far end. Most of the chapter is spent walking you through how to deal with this situation. The way Scott Hargis deals with the specific questions you ask is:

  • The issue of where to put the lights: He angles the composition, keeps the angle of view narrow and does a two wall composition so that you can’t see the wall to the right and puts the lights on the right-hand side of the room.
  • In situations where you don’t have a wall to bounce the light off of you use an umbrella. He uses a shoot through umbrella in this example.

Some PFRE readers will suggest that the way to solve the problem you describe is to shoot a series of flash shots and ambient shots and blend them all together in Photoshop in post-processing. That is certainly an alternative but the emphasis in Lighting Interiors is to do the whole job in the camera.

Here is a quote from the book that summarizes the issue nicely:

Even for real estate photography, which tends to favor ultra-wide lenses and three-wall compositions. In my view, by creating too wide a composition not only are you diluting the essence of the photo, you’re also making it increasingly harder to light! Every square foot of space you include in your photo is another square foot of space unavailable to you for lighting it. So, keep in mind that the super-wide compositions are going to come with a price tag.


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7 Responses to “How Do You Light a Long Deep Interior Space?”

  • I drank that Hargis Koolaid; “…creating too wide a composition not only are you diluting the essence of the photo…” and that’s why my window view shots usually make the clients happy.

    The shot you described makes me cringe when I think of how small those windows are going to look… I usually try to avoid “long shots’ with view windows at the far end – but if you have to, 2 walls are definitely better than 3.

  • Indeed, if you shoot the way Scott likes to shoot this does indeed presents a problem. However, his way of shooting has a lot of merit but is not the only way to shoot. Personally I don’t have a problem with this scenario since I do what Scott scoffs at – I bracket like hell and pull the exposure into an HDR single image which gets me half way there. Then I work on it in Photoshop adjusting the lighting with additional layers of different contrasts and color. (I bump up the contrast in the soft shade areas and tone it down in the hot contrasty areas; if outside, I also warm up the shadows which are lit by sky light which tends to be flat and blue). Finally I use the burn and dodge tools to draw the eye to where I want it to go and away from where I don’t want it to linger, just as I would if I had been able to use lights. And just as I would if I were printing in the old paper and chemical darkroom. Yes, this takes time and experience in using these tools and does not fit those business models that require a lot of time setting up lighting but as little time in post as possible. But it does answer the question of how to light the set up; you don’t.

    If you positively have to light it or die, as mentioned above, go for the 2 wall solution and put your lights along the wall that is out of sight. The problem with lights is often that the feet of the lighting stands extend out into the room. You can make simple stand using a gallon paint bucket with a tent pole set in the can in cement so the base is sturdy but small. Heavy yes but useful in this situation. Then if you have neutral walls or a white or neutral ceiling, bounce the lights off those surfaces. Umbrellas also make the stand encroach into the room.

    If the room is not especially interesting, then who wants to see all of a dreary room anyway. Catch the essence rather than the entirety as also mentioned above. But if the room is interesting with a lot of interior design, lighting and architectural detail that is part of the marketing of the room and house, then I try to get it all in, or as much as will satisfy my clients and if this means not using extra lighting, then so be it. I think you have to be flexible and use whatever tools you have to to reach the visual requirements. If that’s added lighting flash or continuous lighting or HDR and layering, then do it. The only rule I observe is “if it works, do it.” Nothing else matters.

  • I’m with Peter on this. When I started doing this type of photography I studied the Scott Hargis method and learned a ton. I’m really grateful for his books and videos. However, I think the obsession with getting a shot completely in-camera is somewhat misguided.

    In the scenario described by the original poster (which I dread, too) I would take multiple exposures while walking around the room with a flash. I would also do some ambient. Then I would blend those all together in Photoshop. It may take more time in post, but it saves time on-site over fretting about where to put lights when it’s just an impractical situation to do so. Why get locked in with some idealistic concept of “only in camera” when we can achieve a good shot with some other, more efficient method? That said, if the situation does present itself for a good in-camera shot, I definitely go for it!

  • Because my lights have a very small footprint (see yesterdays post on alternates to flash on door), on a shot like described above, I can leave the lights right in plain view of the camera, pointed at the ceiling for bounce. Not only can you see them, they completely FRY out the ceiling…. but this is a good thing. It lights up everything below the ceiling perfectly, so all you have to do is paint over the ceiling with an ambient shot, and then use the content aware feature in PS to take out the lightstands. You can even line up the stands so they all fall in the same place on the frame. You could literally light up a corridor a mile long like that. The trick is to place the stands so that whatever is behind them has very little detail for content aware to contend with. A blank wall and flooring for instance. But if the room is busy, my stands will go down to around 3 ft, so they can easily hide behind chairs or sofas… they are small enough that they can be easily hidden behind a table lamp.

  • Easy. Expose for window view. Two flashes on stands, one at far end and one closer, bounce them off left wall to light right side, then do the other side. If walls are colored or wood I use bounce umbrellas. Sometimes I use a third flash handheld bounced on wall ceiling behind me to the side. In photoshop you can combine the two exposures with a quick mask and gradient or brush that takes less than 45 seconds from open to save (just timed myself). Been using the new then new Flashpoint evolv 200’s and they are great, sold all 5 of my Canon 600 EX RT’s. They have enough power for this method for most rooms at iso 100. Sometimes two Flashpoint xplor 600’s for the big rooms. Here in Colorado this is a common scenario, big rooms, lots of wood, 300 days of sunshine at high altitude, wood ceilings, realtors that want wide shots, and views out windows of very bright snow capped peaks are a must.

  • Peter and Jesse:

    Yep. You need many different tools you know how to use.

  • Flash blending is one to do it. Very time consuming, but can lead to higher paying jobs.

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