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What Is Good Interior Photography Suppose To Look Like?

Published: 06/10/2016
By: larry

styleLarry in Pennsylvania asked:

Nearly all the nice photos I see on the Flickr site are constructed by "brushing in ambient (blending layers). Rick Baum has a number of YouTube videos which show the "process" of him brushing in the ambient to his flash layer in order to get rid of unwanted shadows or to put shadows in to stress the natural direction of light entering a room. However, in his video, he states that his shots are not very good, but instead he is just showing the "process" of how to brush in the ambient. My question is, Now that I have learned how to perform this process in PS, "What are the goals of a good ambient shot and its accompanying good flash shot?

First of all,  yes, the process of blending flash and ambient layers together is very popular with real estate photographers. It allows you to make an interior image look natural and remove any harsh effects from flash. I would say looking bright natural is the main overall goal.

But your question goes to the root of interior photography. That is, what is the result supposed to look like? I think the best way of getting the answer to that question is to look the work of the best interiors photographers in our business. There is no one answer. There are many answers and styles to do interiors photography.

The PFRE Flickr group generally illustrates a high level of interiors photography. But another group of interiors photographers you should look at and study is the work and portfolios of past winners of the PFRE photographer of the month contest. These are interior photographers chosen by the PFRE community as the best of the best. Their work is a good example of what your end result can look like.

And if you'd like to get personal coaching, many of photographers that are contest winners are PFRE coaches that can help you raise the level or your work. Also, both Scott Hargis's and Simon Maxwell's books cover this subject.


12 comments on “What Is Good Interior Photography Suppose To Look Like?”

  1. What is art?

    My goals when shooting interiors is to compose a relevant and compelling views of the space to start. A technically perfect image of a water heater isn't relevant or compelling nor is a hallway in a typical home. I try to get a good exposure of the room and any view (that isn't a block wall 4 feet from the side of the house) along with perfect geometry (verticals are vertical) and accurate colors (plus a little warming up).

    While the goal of professional photography for the agent is to get the next contract, there is still the matter of selling the home photographed. The images need to be useful in getting a potential buyer to ask to see the home in person or get more information. As a homeowner myself, I've gone through the shopping process and have analyzed what images were useful and what images I just skipped over quickly. If you have the imagination, spend an evening shopping for a new home and try to figure out what images you always want to see, what was left out that might have really made you want to pick up the phone and what images were throw aways.

  2. The goal of my interior photos is to make them look as natural as possible. This sounds simple, but it is much harder to master. Good composition, bright light, minimal shadows, straight vertical lines, natural color, a nice window exposure. That is a tall order. Most of the high end real estate photographers in my state shoot interiors after the sun has already set. They are using the available light from lamps and fixtures and very slow shutter speeds. The room appears very warm and the windows very blue. Not the natural look that I am after. It is an uphill battle to show realtors the difference. I am not willing to compromise to others tastes. This is the way I want to get it done.

  3. The real issue (to me) is 'images look different on different types of screens'.

    Laptop/computer screens come in two main types: IPS (In-plane switching) & TFT (thin-film-transistor).
    IPS is the most expensive and standard equipment on above average machines, but there's plenty of TFT's out there. [I'm not sure what type phones have, but my images tend to look slightly darker on my Galaxy S6]
    Add to that, there are several different types of IPS. (Super IPS, Advanced Super IPS, IPS-Provectus, IPS alpha, IPS alpha next gen)
    Screens are anything but standardized and images tend to look different on each one, with the biggest difference being between IPS and TFT.

    Both my laptops have IPS alpha screen technology.
    When I send images to clients, they look natural, with good contrast, but still bright enough to show shadow areas well. However, depending on what others are using to VIEW those same images, they might not look near as good. Usually looking darker.

    In (what I assume to be) an effort to combat this this, 90% of the real estate photographers in the Portland OR. area producing images that are overly bright with very low contrast.

    I always explain this (in simple terms) to new clients and impress upon them that I can make any changes if they feel it's needed.

  4. @Susan - Yes, I agree, it's a bother to have to get a Yahoo account to be able to use Flickr but if you don't use Yahoo for email or fill out your Yahoo profile or anything else and use a big ugly long password it's not that big a deal.

  5. I have mixed feelings regarding this question. Nearly all the RE professional photographers that I see on numberous sites appear to like tighter shots. I must agree that they are easier to light and very beautiful to the eye. However, as someone looking to purchase a home, I tend to appreciate, on average, the wider shot. Yes, I know that several tighter shots may be able to convey to jest of the space but seeing the entire space, to me, gives me a more realistic feel for the space. Perhaps the compromise is to shoot the wider angle to show the space followed by tighter shots to convey a better mood? Of course, if time and number of photos permit this.
    The other issue is brightness. I must admit that many of the professional photos do a great job in conveying directional lighting which oftentimes result in very dark areas in spaces further from ambient (usually window) light. Great photos and I am sure photos which convey exactly what the room looks like. However, for real estate listings I still believe it best to error on the brighter side. Even if the photo becomes a little flat because of a lack of natural and directional light (little shadows). Of course this is all compared to the horrible, nearly dark photos we so often see from nonprofessional on MLS sites. Such photos are an embarrassment to their profession.

  6. @Russell boy what you said is so true. I have complained to my local MLS about the quality of the software of they use on their listing service. It often seems to degrade my images when they are uploaded. I try to tell my clients that what they see on their screen and what I use to edit are not the same. But it happens a lot. Some agents/clients want to desaturate the images, and others want them "brightened up" because they appear dull. I've become very flexible and thick skinned and just focus on trying to deliver what the client demands. The bottom line is the images DO look different on different screens and when they are run through different formats used by the local MLS and FMLS.

  7. @Russell, @Terry The only thing you can do is make sure you are working from a calibrated monitor and you are delivering images that look correct to you. There is no way to account for every type of display in the wild, nor the settings the user might have played with.

    @Larry, Agents typically love the wide shots. They make the rooms look so much bigger. The problem is when they go to show the house and the buyer is put off since the size they were expecting was an illusion. I will make a wide establishing image and follow it up with tighter shots on open-plan homes. I try to stay away from getting the third wall and will often compose to just miss including it with as long of a focal length as I can. A big problem with wide shots is they don't work well on small screens. Wide images on phones and small tablets turn into a visual mess and require the viewer to zoom in to see any detail. That might be ok for one or two photos, but unless they are very interested, they won't put in the effort to zoom in on a bulk if the photos.

    I don't like interior image galleries that are made at night. The only time it works for me is if there is a spectacular cityscape of lights or an entertainer's backyard and then only for a couple of images. I see agent shot homes that were done at night with a cell phone and it's always a dog's breakfast of motion blur, colorcast and artifacts from lights on a smudged lens.

  8. @kenbrown why in 2016 do I continue to see this UWA debate. There are so many; PS CC et al... that allow you to change the perspective, using not only wide angle adjustments, but also DX0 viewpoint to combat this, heck I even drop back to PTlens some times. Yup, as demanded by agents, I shoot wide down to the 12-15mm at times, but always ....repeat .... always compensate in post for the diff.
    In fact I go so far as to tell the client if they are there, that that is exactly what I do, and if they are looking at photos online to buy their next home...then for goodness sake make sure there are no elliptical clocks or elongated oranges or apples in the shot. (other than the extra long TV....usually almost the perfect giveaways)

    So what I am sayin' is even if you shoot extra wide...MAKE SURE you the post so that it still looks real...then no one has any issues at all.

    Sorry Ken, nothing 'bout what you said in particular...just wanted to get this off my chest for once.

  9. Let's not overthink this. The images we deliver to agents really only need to pass 4 criteria...

    1. In focus
    2. Proper Resolution
    3. Correct Color Balance
    4. Properly Exposed

    The first two are easily taken care of with all modern cameras.

    The following two are really the two that we deal with. And will take practice and at time some skill.

    For me proper exposure means.

    The main subject of a space is properly exposed.
    Windows don't have bloom...which is different than blown out. There is a point that a blown out window simply causes the window frames to lose detail.

    If a light source looks like it would burn you if you touch it, that's too bright.

    Dark far rooms should be considered in proper exposure of a space.

    As far as color balance, this will separate you from others doing the same work. At times it can be hard, but it's something that has to be worked thru.

  10. @Davo, UFWA is necessary at times, but it needs to be used with caution. You can correct some distortion in software, but some things can't be corrected. I often see refrigerators that look 8 feet wide and arms on sofas that a Bengal tiger could stretch out on. I also see bedrooms that look 40 feet deep. If you could get back far enough to use a 200mm lens, it might look 10 feet deep with barely enough space to walk around the front of the bed. I don't know why buyers think they are going to see a palatial estate when the listing has the square footage as 1,200, but they do based on images or an entire gallery made with a very wide lens.

    I have a Sigma 10-20mm that I use on my Canon 50D (1.6x crop) but I rarely open out to 10mm. I will use my 17-40mm more often if the home isn't too small. The closer you can get to a "normal" focal length, the better spatial relations look (about 32mm on my camera based on 50mm being normal for a full frame sensor). Slightly wide (24mm on FF) is often touted as a very pleasing focal length for interiors.

    Another good reason to not shoot super wide is that many buyers are (stupidly) using their phone or a small tablet to view images. Wide images lose detail on small screens forcing the viewer to zoom in. Somebody has to already be very interested to zoom in on 20+ images. With many new bodies coming with Wi-Fi built in, it's easier to preview compositions on your own phone while working to see how well it will play.

    I don't see it as a UWFA debate. It's generally a problem with agents insisting on getting everything they can on each photo and good photographers trying to make images that accurately portray the room.

  11. @Wayne, Nailing the technical part is very important, but it's also important to compose well too if a photographer really wants to set themselves apart. I'm a technical person and understand the physics of light and how the camera's sensor works, but I have to work really hard on stuff that uses the other hemisphere of the brain. I do know enough to not make pictures of the pool support equipment and the natural gas meter. With many agents, one has to wonder if they use either side of the brain when they take a photo.

    The aesthetics of interiors goes all the way back before photography. It's a probably a good idea to look at paintings of interiors and see how verticals are vertical, items in the scene are "lit", how far rooms are treated to draw the eye through the images and all of the other things that make a good photograph today. An artist would have also put a color cast into their paintings to evoke certain emotions or create the illusion of a certain time of day. It's easy to screw up all of the above items with a camera in a way that an artist working on a canvas wouldn't think of doing if they were after a realistic or semi-realistic image.

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