Photographing interiors is both a time commitment and an expense. As decorators and designers though, it’s so important that our portfolio represents our best work and that means having great photos. No matter how beautiful the room design, if the photos fall short, the room will as well. So whether you are planning to photograph a project on your own or hire a professional there are steps you can take that will guarantee the best possible outcome. My guide for photographing interiors has evolved from both my experience as a photographer and also from working alongside the architectural photographer for a home magazine I work for.
Before the shoot:
Pre-planning is just as important for getting good photos as the shoot itself.
1. schedule the best time of day for photos.
One of the first things I notice when I start a new project is what the natural light looks like in the room. Does the sun stream in early morning or maybe not at all being a north exposure room? The first question my photographer asks me when we book a shoot is “what is the best time of day for the shoot”? What she is asking me is when is the light the best? If possible, it’s best to schedule the shoot when the natural light coming through the windows is the most even. In other words, harsh sunlight streaming across the furniture will make “hot spots” that will be challenging (and expensive) to correct after the shoot in Photoshop. The more even the light outside the better the photos will show off the furniture and decor. I’m not saying that every interior has to be shot with flat light. Sometimes it’s beautiful to have sun streaking across a wood floor or coming through a window. It does however take a skilled photographer to pull it off and you never want blown out hot spots on furniture or carpet.
Besides lighting, it goes without saying, it is best to schedule the shoot when the homeowner and especially little children are not around. Nothing eats up time faster than a curious homeowner asking a slew of questions while her kids run around.
2. Make a shot list:
I learned this trick from working at the magazine. Time is money and you want to be prepared for when your photographer shows up as to what angles you would like and what features of the room are important. Sometimes in the excitement of the shoot things can be missed.If you plan ahead of time it’s on the list and you will not forget. Your list should include how many rooms, number of shots per room and what angle or vignette you want of the room. Also, think ahead to possible blog posts and social media postings. Are there architectural features or custom pieces that you might want to blog about in the future? Is there a vignette that might be perfect for Instagram? Remember, you only get one go around so be sure to photograph everything that you might need both for present and future.
3. Do a walk through:
A few days before the shoot it is a good idea to do a room by room walk through. Look at the room with a critical eye. Take photos on your cell phone and see what needs to be styled and determine what you will need to bring. Do you need extra books? flowers for more than one room? or maybe something unique that will add to the photo that the homeowner doesn’t have. Perhaps the room needs a statement piece of art work that you could bring in for the shoot. A while back I was photographing a beach house deck and I wanted flip flops and a yellow sand pail for the deck. The home owner had neither and if I hadn’t done my walk through I would not have been able to style the deck the way I wanted.
4. Make a shopping list for each room:
Once you plan out how you want to style the shot give yourself plenty of time to gather everything. Flowers are usually a given and my favorite places to buy flowers are at either Trader Joe’s, or Whole Foods. Both of these grocery stores are good for basic flowers. When something more exotic is desired then head to either your local florist or wholesale flower market if there is one in your area. When I had my photo shoot for my recent One Room Challenge I wanted deep purple flowers. I found these purple orchids at the Boston Flower Market.
5. Styling Props:
My tip for props is to always bring more styling props than you think you’ll need. Experience has taught me that nine times out of ten you will find yourself wishing you had brought more. The worst that can happen is that you don’t use everything. I would much rather have that scenario then be left wanting for things I forgot to bring. Need some inspiration as to what to bring besides the standard flowers, fruit, candles and books? You can follow my Pinterest board called Photo Styling that has lot’s of great styling ideas. I also have a Pinterest board dedicated just to bookcase styling as I find bookcase styling can be challenging for many designers. What looks good while standing in the room doesn’t always look good in the photo.
The Day of the shoot
Arrive before the photographer and get organized:
Again, this tip goes back to time is money. Don’t make the photographer wait around while you carry in items from the car. Plan accordingly and leave yourself plenty of time to style and get ready. If your photo shoot includes multiple rooms you might want to ask the homeowner if you can unload the day before.
Have a pre-determined staging area:
Ask the homeowner if there is a safe place such as a spare bedroom or a room that will not be photographed where you can set up and store all your props. That way, you won’t be running back and forth to the car if you decide you need additional items. The more organized you are, the more smoothly the shoot will go.
Bring food and water:
Staying well hydrated is very important on a labor intensive day such as photo shoot day so bring plenty of bottled water. Sometimes the homeowner will offer something to drink but often they are not home so come prepared. If the shoot will go longer than a few hours then plan to bring food as well. The morning will usually fly by and before you know it, it’s lunch time. You don’t want to have to go off site for food and waste valuable shooting time. I usually bring nuts, fruit, cheese and even easy to eat wraps or finger foods (non drippy). Keeping everyone on set happy always produces the best final results.
Schedule the photo shoot as soon as possible:
I know this doesn’t always work out but the day you leave that beautiful finished room life starts to happen. Things get moved around and new items get brought in. One of my funniest stories is from my first year in business. I was so proud of this tiny living room I had decorated. It was (I thought at the time) beautiful. Several months later I asked to photograph it. The day I arrived to shoot, I discovered the home owner had filled the room with about fifty porcelain dolls. It was like walking onto the set of a horror movie. Creepy looking dolls were everywhere and I was so freaked out I didn’t want to touch them. She had also hung “questionable” art work on the walls. Even though the owner moved the dolls, I never used the images.I also never forgot that lesson. I have also heard stories of homes being put on the market without warning before the designer had a chance to get in and get photos of their design. Bottom line, if you plan on getting photos do your best to get them while the room and design is still “fresh”.
Leave something as a thank you gift for the homeowner:
Taking over someone’s home can be a huge inconvenience for them; especially if they have pets and children. Be sure to tell your client how grateful you are by leaving a small thank you gift. On my last few shoots I had a custom flower arrangement made that was specific for the space. I leave that special arrangement for my clients along with a thank you note.
I also have some big news!! After many requests (and some gentle nagging) I have finally started working on an iphone photography class for designers. I know there are many photography classes out there but I have found that they don’t address the specific challenges that designers have. There will be modules on everything from using the cellphone to train your creative eye to the nuts and bolts of proper exposure, composition and editing. My plan is to have everything done by late Fall. I’m still working on the content outline so let me know in the comments if there is something you are struggling with and would like me to address in an upcoming blog or in the class.