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Shooting Lifestyle Interior Images with People in Them

October 7th, 2018

Joshua in Australia said:

I’m looking at an opportunity to expand my work from standard real estate shoots to more lifestyle based images. Ones that include models in different parts of the home. My shooting method is flash-ambient blending. I’m a bit uncertain as to where a model would fit into that process. I don’t think I can reasonably expect a model to stay dead still while I capture my different frames and I don’t want to have to be cutting them out in photoshop to fit them in. Hopefully, others have had some experience with this.

I have not personally done this before but I would let the model blur if need be. Scott Hargis has several of these kinds of images in his portfolio and I’ve always liked the look and feel that those blurred models give, although it may not be appropriate for every situation.

Has anyone else done this?

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4 Responses to “Shooting Lifestyle Interior Images with People in Them”

  • Joshua,

    If you are looking at shooting interiors images where the model is the primary element of the composition, you will need to shoot short exposures, that typically means flash. Depending on the existing lighting, that may work with just fill-flash using a light bank or soft box, but often you’ll need to use multiple flash units to light a larger space. It’s whole different animal that simply shooting real estate.

  • Hi Joshua: as George says, if the model has to be recognisable, then decent amounts of flash lighting is the only really safe option to ensure a short enough shutter speed (eg 1/60th sec) to enable your model to appear spontaneous and also do frustrating things like breathing (!). And to avoid such images looking like they have been lit with a searchlight, large amounts of ideally bounced or softened light will be required, not always an option. The problem is that such largely artificially lit images may look rather obvious alongside your existing flash-ambient blended style. As a suggestion: shoot the room with your usual method and multiple exposures, but without the model. Then, keep your aperture the same but ramp up your ISO to 1250 or beyond, with caution, and see whether that can enable you to use a faster shutter speed (no lower than 1/30th ideally) to obtain a similar result to your lower ISO ambient-only shot. As you are already using flash, you can use some fill flash too to help out with the shadows (one head bounced into an umbrella from behind you is ample): but be prepared to reduce your flash unit’s power as the higher ISO is going to make that flash more powerful/ apparent. Be careful also not to exceed your flash’s sync speed with the shutter speed you set for the ambient (safe zone is 1/125 but others can sync higher). Then invite the “talent” onto the set and take several shots of him/her to give you some choice of expression and pose. So you will wind up with a high ISO flash-filled shot of your model which should be a fairly good match for your main shot, but of course with less tonal range due to the ISO setting: you are not (hopefully!) going to have to lighten this shot so the possible build up of digital noise with a high ISO shot won’t be an issue. Open your low ISO flash frame, low ISO ambient blend and your preferred high ISO model frame as a layered doc in Photoshop (presumably what you do right now) and create a layer mask for the model shot: then brush away the surrounding areas which will remove the inferior high ISO room shot around the model to reveal your properly processed version: this is not a precise cutting out exercise: we are talking about leaving a small area around the model which, if your flash filled high ISO shot has been subtle enough, should blend in quite well with the main composite image. Use an adjustment layer clipped to the model layer to fine tune if it needs to go a little lighter/ darker to blend with the surroundings (this adjustment can be erased on the model’s face). It sounds complicated, but as long as your model shot doesn’t depart too much from your general flash ambient look then you can have the best of both worlds without too much additional processing work.. i.e. natural-looking roomset and spontaneous model! I often have to shoot homeowners indoors for magazine articles and this method can be a big help.

  • I have a little experience with models in interior design shots, and have heard more about it recently in blogs that I follow.
    . My experience is that if the model is prominent, you’ll have to deal with “model issues,” facial expressions, skin editing, flattering light, …
    . If the model is blurred or distant, the model can show “someone using the space,” and need not be a professional model. I’ve even shot myself as a blurred “model.”
    I wonder about the legalities of including people who happen to walk into an exterior shot at a mall or something.

  • Overall, what Simon said is best, except I’m not in agreement about shooting your normal way. When you’re using models in your images, it’s best to light the room, ambient and flash to the best it will look in a single frame, being mindful of umbrella reflections in windows and tv’s since they may be a complicated edit in hair.

    If you shoot your normal way, and edit them in, you have to be careful that the light that falls on them feels natural and make sure the direction of the key light and your models are the same. I’ve tried it Simon’s way, but I’ve found that the models can look like they’re edited in.

    Now, that said, if the camera’s on a tripod and your flashes are set for a single exposure, then, if you have multiple models, you’re able to pick and choose the frames that each one looks good in and switch them out rather easily.

    Remember, generally, when shooting with models, they need to be the focal point of the image, sure the architecture, but if they feel like a prop, then no one’s happy…. so I usually shoot tighter, even when wanting to show the room.

    If it helps, I exclusively shoot lifestyle images for the marketing of apartment communities and student housing, and have done it 100’s of times. If you need any help, you’re more than welcome to reach out.

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