I'm about to let you in on a little secret that everyone knows but nobody wants to admit: the key to making your home look pretty in pictures is having a few photography tricks up your sleeve. I've seen from experience that even the most beautiful of homes can look lackluster with a bad photo, and a seemingly simple house can be beautiful when shot in the right way.
I want to share a few of my favorite tips and tricks for shooting beautiful home photos that I have learned over the last four or five years of shooting interiors.
Disclaimer: I am NOT a professional photographer. By any means. My sister is a professional photographer, and I know so many others who have spent years and thousands of hours perfecting their craft. They have better equipment than I do, and they have more experience than I do. And they deserve to be paid well for their expertise. It's on my to-do list this year, in fact, to bring in a professional interiors photographer to take photos of our renovation after we check off a few more things.
But while I may not be a pro photographer, I am a professional interior designer, and having good photos of the spaces I'm working in can be a make-or-break marketing tool, so I have learned a few tips, tricks and shortcuts along the way to taking and editing beautiful images. A lot of the learning process is simply trial and error. It takes a lot of time and a lot of photos to learn what works for you. I hope that by sharing a bit of my personal process, however, you can take a way a few tools for your tool belt.
I cover the equipment we use, a few tips and tricks for interior photography, how I edit my photos, and my favorite photo apps!
Part 1: Interior Photography Do's and Don't's
If I'm ever asked to whip out my camera and take photos of moving humans, I feel like a fish out of water. I've taught myself to take pictures of inanimate objects in styled spaces, and that is my wheelhouse.
That said, I have learned a few photography basics that you can implement TODAY to up your photo game.
#1: Turn off all the lights!
Nine times out of ten, your photos will turn out better if you turn off all the artificial light, open the window coverings, and let natural light do its job. Occasionally, this isn't possible in a room without windows or something, but most of the time, the warmth of the lightbulbs casts shadows and affects white balance in a way that simply isn't pleasing. Take a look at your favorite interior Instagram accounts (StudioMcGee is one of my favorite examples), and you will notice that in all of those gorgeous images, none of the light fixtures are turned on.
Instead of relying on lights, learn your way around your camera and fidget with shutter speed, F-stop, and ISO. Then add some brightness in editing later to make those pictures pop (see more on editing below).
#2: Pay attention to camera angle
I generally like to shoot my photos from around four feet off the ground. I hardly ever get my best picture from standing height. Start paying attention to your favorite home photos in Instagram and in magazines, and take a look at where the photographer was standing. Does it look like they're looking down at the room from above or looking straight on? The cleanest lines and shots often are made or broken on camera angles.
#3: The Rule of Thirds
This is possibly one of the most well-known rules of photography. If you're not familiar with it, this article has a lot of useful information.
The basic concept is this: pay attention to where the focal point of your photo lies. Have you ever looked a picture and felt like you don't know where your eyes are supposed to focus? It can take away from the composition of the photo when there isn't a solid focal point.
The rule of thirds says that it is most pleasing to the eye when your focal point sits along one of the lines created by breaking the photo up into 9 parts. Almost every photo editing app will show you that grid when you use the crop function, and it is often a good idea to crop the photo so your focal point sits around the 1/3 mark on one side or another.
Can you see in this photo? My face is one third from the top and one third from the right. This is more aesthetically pleasing than if I was right in the center or some other random spot.
I don't ALWAYS follow the rule of thirds, but the general idea is that it's important to pay attention to the composition of your photos.
#4: Clean Up The Clutter
Another way to say this is that LESS IS MORE. When you're taking a photo of a room, start by taking good inventory of all the stuff in the photo. And you should probably take about a third of it out. For kitchens, take everything off the counter unless it's strategically placed there for the photo. For living rooms, pare down the accessories. For bedside tables, all you need is two or three items.
Even if you live with more stuff on a day-to-day basis, stash some of it away for the photos.
#5: Fresh Flowers For the Win
One of the best things you can bring into your home for a photo shoot is fresh flowers or greens. They breathe life into a space and create organic shapes that are interesting to look at. My favorites are hydrangeas, eucalyptus, olive branches, and tulips.
#6: Play with F-Stop to Focus the Audience
I don't want to get too technical because I don't understand it all myself, but one of my favorite tricks (especially with my 50mm lens. See below) is to pull the F-stop down really low (around 4.0) and blur out the background or foreground to focus on something. See this photo below how the horse becomes the focus because the flowers and chandelier in the foreground are blurry. You can also use portrait mode on your iPhone for this!
#7: If you're using a DSLR camera, shoot your images in RAW format
You will have SO much more control over editing when you shoot in RAW format. See more about this below in editing. You can only use RAW images if you're using a software like Lightroom to edit, but if you are, having the RAW file allows you to do so much more in post.
Part 2: Equipment
Of course you can take photos with your iPhone, and a lot of people do (more on that later). But I find that my best photos are always with a DSLR camera. We have had our camera for about 6 years, so it is not top of the line by any means. We will likely update cameras this year to something without a crop sensor, but our Canon Rebel t2i has served us very well! I am really familiar with Canon products, so I will probably always be a Canon user, but you can swap out the specifics of this kit for whatever brand DSLR you are used to using.
The Canon Rebel series is user friendly for photography newbies, but it also has all the features that I need to get the photos I want.
The biggest step forward I have taken in equipment is investing in two lenses in addition to the basic lens that comes with the camera body. I now have a wide angle and 50mm lens in my arsenal, and these have been the biggest game changers for me! If you are unfamiliar with lingo, the basic idea is that a wide angle will allow you to shoot entire rooms in one shot and get the big picture, and a 50mm lens is great for detail shots and sharp focus shots.
Here is what is in our camera bag...
1. Canon EF 50mm Lens. This little lens is so great. You can't beat the price. It's versatile and creates beautiful up close, detail shots.
2. Canon Rebel DSLR camera. As I mentioned, you can get something much nicer and newer than what we have, but it has served us well and is a great starter DSLR!
3. This nifty camera bag is compact and simple, but we love it for travel!
4. The Sigma 10-20mm Wide Angle Lens is responsible for about 80% of my room shots! I love that I can capture the big picture of a room even when it's a small space.
5. This little SD card reader is a MUST HAVE for everyone in my opinion. I do a lot of editing on my iPad, but it's equally awesome for iPhone users. You can take the SD card straight from your camera, plug it into your phone, and boom bam pow, you have all of your photos directly on your phone. One thing to note: I bought a knock-off version on Amazon and it broke within a couple of days. I recommend springing for the Apple version on this thing.
6. A sturdy tripod. This tripod is less than $20, and it does the trick well! A tripod is absolutely essential for getting crisp, well-lit images!
Part 3: It's All in the Edit
One of the reasons paying for a photographer is expensive is because their value not only lies in their ability to snap a good shot but also in their editing skill. Even the best photographers have to edit their photos. Editing is an art, and it's so important to learn to edit your photos well.
I could write paragraphs on editing and still there would be SO many things I wouldn't be able to cover (and even more that I don't even know about!), but I will give you a basic overview.
My primary editing tools are
1. Adobe Lightroom (for which I pay a monthly subscription)
2. Retouch App ($1.99 in the App Store. Worth every penny. I will show you that magic later)
3. Color Story App (which is free! I use this when I don't have time to edit in Lightroom)
The primary things I mess with when editing are brightness, the curves tool, highlights and shadows, white balance, and sharpness. I personally hardly ever use filters. I really like the colors to appear as natural as possible. But I find that white balance is extremely important.
Just take a look at a few examples of what a HUGE difference editing makes.
Here is a bathroom that was really hard to shoot because there was almost no natural light. I did my best, but I knew that I was going to have to work some magic later. This is an example, like I mentioned above, of leaving the lights off even though it seemed like just flipping the lights on would be the easiest fix.
Here is what we started with...
And after a little Adobe Lightroom magic. I used the Curves Tool, adjusted exposure, contrast, highlights, and shadows, used the "Auto White balance" setting, and upped the sharpness a little bit. I also straightened the photo in the crop tool by making sure the ceiling trim was straight.
Here is a slightly less dramatic example, but I wanted to show you the steps that I take...
I started with this photo. It's okay, but I didn't like how cool the light was coming in, the shadows are dark, and it just feels like it doesn't "pop."
First I uploaded it to my iPad via my handy SD card reader (see equipment section above), and I pulled it up in Lightroom.
I start by using the "auto" settings in both the "Light" and "Color" sections. Then I usually adjust from there.
After I had it edited to my liking, I decided I wanted to remove my cell phone from the kitchen counter. This is where the Retouch app comes in. This app is AMAZING for a quick way to delete things from your photos that accidentally made their way in.
A little highlight and a press of a button and VOILA! No more iPhone on the counter!
Check out the magic I worked in this photo to get rid of the cables and white electrical outlets underneath the TV.
Now you see them...
Now you don't...
Whether you're trying to grow your Instagram or you just want to share pretty photos with friends and family, you are capable of taking beautiful photos of your home! I hope these tips and tricks that I've learned have been helpful. But the most important thing is just to snap as many photos as you can. You'll learn by doing!
Are there any other tips you have that I missed here? Apps you love? I would love to hear it!