By Melinda Ortley As told to Brian McManus Images by Melinda Ortley
I took my first photography class in high school. The assignment was to teach a skill using only images, so I grabbed my Dad’s old Pentax and took eight images describing how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. After a clumsy dark room session, I think maybe four of the photos actually turned out. But I loved the medium anyway, and spoiler alert: I still shoot film alongside digital.
Now, years later, I’m a professional photographer who specializes, among other things, in shooting interiors.
During an interior shoot there’s, at a minimum, one inspiring take-away, be it a color palette, layering of textures or beautiful furniture form. Interior design, architecture, and construction is functional art and I’m invited to capture a creation they’ve poured themselves into. What an honor!
The first task when taking any photo of a room or space is to assess the light. You want to stay away from light harshly streaming in through windows and doors and plan your photos when the light is softly diffused throughout the room.
Line up your image so the lines are straight. Depending on the angle, your vertical or horizontal lines of a room (corners, floorboards, silhouettes of furniture need to be straight. Digital cameras have grids to help with this task and even our phones have the option to turn on a photo app grid. (Speaking of phones, download a photo editing program like Lightroom for editing everything from exposure to erasing distracting light cords.)
Decluttering is essential. However, we don’t want a room to be devoid of personality or feel overly staged. When photographing a space I suggest taking all soft furnishings and decor out and then layer these items slowly back into the room. You can’t imagine how many hands it takes to make a throw look like it’s been ever-so-casually cast over the back of a chair.
Don’t be afraid to move a distracting sculpture or lamp from a table or move small furnishings around entirely to showcase the true wow moment of a room.
Less is more here.
Turn off all artificial lights and notice when the natural light comes through. If the room is especially dark, or small, you may need to play with turning some lights on or moving in a lamp for purposeful moody lighting. Experiment with different times of day. A primary bedroom may look its best when the light is gently falling away, highlighting its moody coziness. Grids help here as well. There’s a technical rule called the Rule of Thirds which divides an image into thirds both horizontally and vertically, and lining important aspects of a room along the intersection points creates a pleasing composition.
But what are rules unless they’re made to be broken every now and then? Sometimes it makes sense to throw out the grids and think of your room as a story with a few main characters, a varied supporting cast, an unexpected moment and an overarching theme. When capturing the overall essence of a room, you’ll want to include a little bit of all elements to tell the entire story. If you have an unexpected piece of artwork in a living room, you’ll want to shoot the room from an angle that really shows that off.
Practice composing an image by moving around a room and seeing how varying views make you feel. Your eye will naturally fall to the anchoring design elements and an interesting composition will become clear.
Once you find your angle and composition, experiment with varying heights from ground to eye level.
Start a Pinterest board or dog-ear pages of magazines that contain interior images that feel good to you. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and there are a slew of amazing interior photographers published every day. Any skill can be learned by practicing, composing, comparing and experimenting. And thankfully, photographing a room isn’t as stressful as photographing a wedding. You can always reset, move around and try again.