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Three Wall or Two Wall Composition?

Published: 04/09/2017

In the process of working on a chapter of my e-book covering interior composition I came across a couple of shots of a little condo we sold last year that nicely illustrates the pros and cons of a three wall shot compared to a two wall shot.

The upper shot on the right, is effectively a two wall shot and the bottom photo is a three wall shot of the same room. The two wall shot was one of the photos we used to market this home. I liked it the best of the 4 or 5 shots I took of this little living room and the stager, the agent, and the home owner all agreed with my choice. At the time I didn't think about why we all liked the two wall shot the best.

After seeing a discussion in the PFRE Flickr group on this subject I realized why the two wall shot feels more spacious and is visually more pleasing.

As you shoot interiors it's important to think about composition and how your decisions about where to shoot from affect the end result.

One of these composition decisions is whether to use 2 or 3 wall composition. The two shots of the same room to the right are an example. Here are some key differences between a 3-wall shot and a 2-wall shot:

  • The two wall shot does not show the whole room or give the viewer a reference for the size of the whole room so the size of the room is ambiguous.
  • The three wall shot gives the viewer an absolute reference for the size of the room by showing all three walls. Three wall shots usually make the room feel smaller.
  • Because the ceiling line of the far wall may not be straight, the composition can feel visually uncomfortable.
  • Additionally, since I used a 16mm lens for this shot the three wall version has an exaggerated perspective that gives the image even more of an uncomfortable feel.

As Jeremy Esland explains in the PFRE Flickr discussion on this subject, "as photographers, as long as we are aware of the potential effects, we are, of course, free to ignore them, compensate for them or even make use of them."

So you can use a three wall shot to illustrate how large a room is but if you are not careful there can be some down sides of showing three walls.

Here is a very old discussion (9 years ago) from the PFRE Flickr group that discusses 2-wall vs 3-wall composition. I think this discussion gives a lot of great insights on this subject!

Larry Lohrman

15 comments on “Three Wall or Two Wall Composition?”

  1. Not sure if there can be a 2 or 3 wall rule, but the from the examples given, that room is always going to look like a fun house, no matter where you put the camera!

  2. The three wall comp is much more difficult to light of course. Another way to say that, is the lighting will not look as good.

    I tell people all the time, I go really wide (i.e. Three wall) maybe for one shot of a really important, large space. And that's it, I'm done with the super wide, I hate doing them. After that, I show all the little nooks that were in the super wide "establishing shot" that gives people their bearings. These more detail oriented shots are much easier to light and end up looking much better, with less ceiling, distortion etc. In other words, deliver one or two super wide shots, but try to shoot the rest of your images quite a bit tighter.

  3. Interesting thought concept. It does not matter what I want. The customer is paying. What do they need? If it is small....they need wide! If they need detail...I will give them everything, but always detail photos over 3 wall photos. 3 walls leaves nothing left for the imagination. Our job is to spark prevent a keep the interest going. I personally feel that I need to avoid the 3 wall as much as possible. The 2 wall will always be more intriguing then 3 wall photos. In a very large room I am likely to shoot 2 wall and one detail shot and one of ten photos all together will be a three wall. We need the tap into the buyers mind.....they are looking to disqualify is. 3 wall photos increases the possibilities for disqualification....this parts matters more. They are paying me to not being disqualified. thoughts are simple ...I avoid the 3 wall like the plague!

  4. Admittedly I haven't done that many property videos but what would disqualify a picture or video and why is 3-wall more like to be disqualified?

    I guess I hadn't thought about it in terms of 3-wall versus 2-wall, I went back and watched my most recent property video and I use a surprising number of 3-wall establishing shots.

    The interior shots start at about 55 seconds into this video, interestingly enough opens on a 3-wall.

    Just when I thought I was figuring this out. Apparently, I'm a 3-Waller...

  5. Re: Charles' video. That looks great. I wasn't counting walls, but the overall look of that video is excellent. Super nice shots and color. I am sure the client was happy. Although I did catch the cameraman's reflection in the TV. I can't help it, I always look for that 🙂

    I once went to premiere movie in LA, where half the audience works in film, and right in the middle of the movie, someone in the audience yells, "Cameraman's feet in the mirror! Camerman's feed in the mirror!" Half the audience laughed, the other half didn't know what he was talking about!

  6. i personally don't believe there are rules regarding 2 walls or 3. Every space dictates its approach based on many factors... size, furnishings (some controllable, some not) and built in features. We have to find the shot considering all those in each scene. Then we have to decide where to point based on ability to get the camera in the right place. sometimes it will be a 2 wall or sometimes 3.

    My suggestion is to look and enjoy studying great work... look at pro photos all the time... get Arch Digest and the others and look at the photos... you will see all kinds of comps but at the core is what the photographer wants shown and it has a purpose.

    The examples show two really wide shots... the two wall does not make the room look larger but if tightened up and maybe a different camera position chosen, would get rid of the fun house distortion (as someone labeled it lol) and could possibly provide some enhancement in perception based on the unknown ...

    The three wall shows more room albeit way wide. If the three wall was tightened up it would be the better shot in that case as it gives the viewer more perspective of the overall space and thus feels larger. the "fun house" can be minimized if not gone and look more believable.

    In Three wall comps i think it's best if at all possible to minimize one of the walks usually closest to camera but furniture will dictate...

    basically it really depends on every scene ... there is no Rule to follow on every shot except in my mind... never shoot waaay wide it's just not up to the client lol! it's up to us as photigraphers how to best present our product and know how to get a great deliverable within the limitations or challenges.

  7. Oh... forgot to mention, the other major consideration in choosing your angle will also include, how the angle your working with plays with the lens your using... as most of us know, wide angles require a bit of fussing or trickery to get things to look right... i.e. minimizing the effects of the distortion... so sometimes the angle will be dictated also on how everything is looking in the lens and if the negative effects can be minimized or eliminated... thats what I love about everyday RE shooting... everything is a puzzle, a little game on how to make my available chosen angles look the best within the challenges that may prevent me from getting the easiest one... and how to get the best defining parts of each space or angle "into" the camera... we don't have to show the entire room and everything in it to document or define a space, its usually what we choose to not show that end up making the shots great!

    Check out Julie Mannell or Karen Baker, or Matt Rosendahl, Ken Davis, Andrew Pece... just off top of my head... many others on here that really know how to compose and you will see a combo of 2 and 3 walls but always a great shot!

  8. There is a 2-wall/3-wall rule. To quote a client "That's what I pay you for." While I have a 2-wall bias and went through the rational explanation of what a 3-wall photo does, it was to no avail. As an experiment, after educating her, supplied both 2-wall and 3-wall versions and she chose the 3-wall versions to publish in MLS. So yes, there is a rule, it is what the client wants.

  9. I use three wall all the time as well as two wall. It depends on how much of that third wall is in the shot as to what I do next. Some shots I want to define the width of the room but not have a long third wall. Others there may be something significant along that long third wall or in the foreground. I ask myself, do I want this to be an intimate shot of a cozy corner or kind of a pano of the room?

    One trick I always use is to throw away that rule that says the image must be 4x6 or 4x3. Most on line display methods now days use a strip of images where all images have the same height but variable width while on the strip.

    Get out of that rut and use everything from 16x9 to 1x1 or even 6hx4w to everything in between. Use the ratio that makes the composition work. In the top image I might have used a 16-9 ratio so your eyes would move across the image instead of tracking up to that large ceiling. I use all ratios including custom ratios all the time and have not had one single complaint. the clients don't notice for the most part they just say "there is just something about you pictures that looks so nice. You have a good eye." My eyes are not that good I just cut away things that don't look pretty around the image and send what's left.

  10. The only times I have had a client specify is when they want 2 wall. They say "I want them to wonder about the size of the room so they will come see the house".

    As a not-so-hard rule, I shoot secondary bedrooms as 2 wall, but the master bedroom varies, according to what I see when I frame the shot.

    The rest of the house also varies, according to framing, but I always keep in mind the comments about leaving something to imagination to spur showings. I haven't counted, but would guess that I do about twice as many 2 walls vs 3 walls.

  11. Since I shoot instinctively rather than intellectually, I just move around until the space looks it's best. Perhaps a lot of experience helps in this. I seldom think my way through a shoot other than to establish what the marketing touch points are that I have worked out in advance with my client. So my only "rule" is make it look it's best and for me that is more of a gut feeling than a mental process. To my mind, establishing other arbitrary rules only restrict options. Especially since each structure and each room in it are always a bit different than any other.

    My reaction to the two photos above is that they are both badly lit. That is their real problem, not the number of walls included. Bright on the outsides of the frame and correspondingly dark down at the end. The eye tends to go to the brightest part of the shot which is why I tend to vignet the outside edges of a shot to help draw the eye further into the room and not linger on the foreground. I then lighten the areas I want the eye to migrate towards. We want to draw the eye to where we want it to go and a combination of lighting and graphic design are our tools.

  12. I agree with PeterD'Aprix. Basic principle of architectural and interiors photography lighting is to light in a way that draws the eye into the scene. The back should be 1/4 or 1/2 a stop brighter than the foreground, while at the same time adding lights to emphasise some of the details/fill shadows. None of these rules are set in stone of course, but as a general point it usually works ok.

  13. There is no such thing as a "3 wall rule". Larry was talking about compositions.

    Moreover, we really aren't dealing with 2 or 3 wall compositions. The walls aren't the problems and the numbers of them don't matter. Forget about walls.

    This is all a matter of perspective: 1 point, 2 point and 3 point perspectives. We've all dealt with spaces that include hundreds of perspective points, too.

    What you're all dealing with is called the "circle of confusion". Not the photography one. The circle of confusion is actually a standard art term used in perspective compositions.

    Study perspective and how it relates to composition. You'll never have issues with walls again, I promise.

  14. I can't say I can ever remember a client mentioning the number of walls. If the room shape and layout suits then I quite like showing 3 walls as it often enables you to zoom in more and still make the room look spacious whilst limiting perspective/distortion issues.

  15. Buyers have already entered their search criteria - they know how big the home is. To get the phone to ring an image that creates interest is more important than one created around a 'trying to make it look big' thought process.

    Something that's helped me with compositions is shooting tethered. Makes all the difference.

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