In Inspiration, Styling

How to Take Better Photos of Your House

As a very new blogger, I spend a fair amount of time in the fun place I call the Cave of Comparison. You can enter the cave a few ways – reading others’ blogs, scrolling through Instagram or just opening Pinterest. No matter how pleased you’re feeling with the last post you wrote or the last shot you styled, just a tap away there’s an endless stream of creators who are more skilful than you and – to add insult to injury – make it look effortless.

And when I’m deep in the Cave of Comparison, doubting everything I’ve ever done (“Why would I paint my room green?? This stylist’s grey bedroom is much better! I’m the worst”), the best way to drag myself out is to go really deep on my own channel.

Narcissism aside, the only comparison worth making is the one between where you are now, and where you started. And it turns out, my early attempts at interiors styling and photography were…not good.

So that’s when I decided to put this post together. Because I realised I actually do know a thing or two about styling and photographing interiors now.

These tips to take better photos of your home are for the amateur snapper, and will work whether you’re on an iPhone, a DSLR or somewhere in between.

1. Straighten Up and Fly Right

Just like the golden rule of landscape photography is to straighten your horizon, so it is in interiors photography. No one tip will improve the visual appeal of your photos as much as straightening your lines.

Look for corners of the room, door frames or sizeable furniture with right angles. Now make sure your camera is straight in all three planes (up-and-down, left-to-right and back-to-front).

The easiest way to do this is to toggle the gridlines on your camera. On an iPhone, open Settings > Photos & Camera > Grid to turn them on.

Realised too late that you’re all askew? Don’t write off the shot – any editing software, from Adobe Lightroom to free apps like Snapseed, will allow you to retroactively tweak your shot and get those lines straight.

In this shot I focused on the side of the chimney breast and the bottom of the coving to keep everything nice and straight

2. Get Low

If your instinct is to hold your camera or phone at eye level then it’s time to, as Dillon Francis would say, get low.

Bringing the camera down to chest level will reduce the amount of ceiling in your frame – rarely a point of interest but feel free to throw this rule out if you live in a Sistene-esque home! – and make it much easier to achieve Tip Number One.

When the camera is too high, any furniture in the foreground (close to the camera) will be foreshortened, skewing its angles and making it close to impossible for you to straighten out your lines.

See how the camera is level with the top of the fireplace? If taken at head height, we’d be looking down onto the top of the mantle itself and perspective would make the rest of the fireplace taper away.

3. Natural Light, Every Time

Want to know how to take better photos of your home in an instant? Flick off the lights. Artificial lights mess with your white balance – that’s what leads to overly blue or yellow photos, depending on the type of light bulb.

It also throws shadows all over the place, which distracts from your beautiful interiors. Whereas natural light from windows will diffuse a soft glow evenly across surfaces. Especially if it’s overcast outside – that’s the best weather for taking photos of your home!

Natural light allows for shadows where they belong (but not where they don’t), and will keep your whites actually white

4. Ok, Fake It Sometimes

When there’s no gorgeous soft light to be had outside, you may have to fake it. And if you don’t have expensive lighting panels to hand, you’ll need to work with what you’ve got. How?

Turn on the single biggest light source in your room – this is usually a ceiling light. Avoid multiple light sources from standing and table lamps – they’ll cause that shadow confusion and different types of bulbs or shades will mess with your white balance.

The key to shooting with lights on is in the editing. If you’re new to editing your photos beyond a filter, start with an easy-to-use app like Snapseed (it’s my favourite smartphone editing app – super powerful and owned by Google so frequently updated and supported).

Set your white balance to ‘auto’, which will offset any blue or yellow tones from your lightbulbs. If the shot still feels dark, increase the brightness. Less is more here! Adjusting brightness usually hits the mid-tones in your shot, leaving the highlights and darkest shadows untouched. It can sometimes leave your shot looking flat, so you’ll usually want to nudge up the contrast at the same time.

This shot was taken on a dark wintry evening by a warm-yellow ceiling light. I neutralised the yellow by adjusting the white balance, then brought the brightness up until those tones went from grey to white, while keeping the contrast in line.

5 Windows of Opportunity

Photographing a room with windows in is tricky. A camera’s automatic settings will balance light for the majority of your shot – ie the room itself. But if it’s much brighter outside, your windows will look blown out and over-exposed.

Most DSLR or mirrorless cameras today offer the option of Automatic Exposure Bracketing. This will take multiple shots of the space at different exposures – some bright for the inside space, some darker for the windows – and automatically combine them for an evenly lit final product.

On an iPhone, simply enable ‘HDR’ and your phone will create a similar effect.

6. Plumb Your Home’s Depths

Interiors spaces can be boring subject matter, if you’re not careful. It’s easy for it to turn into lots of same-y photos of square spaces.

To avoid this, think about your foreground, mid-ground and background. Usually, your mid-ground will be the focal point. It will be in the sharpest focus, with the most interesting styling.

A good foreground draws the eye towards the mid-ground, creates framing and establishes an intimacy with the subject matter. The background is just that – a backdrop to your shot that allows your focal point to stand out and sing.

Ready for some pretentiousness? The doors here provide an intriguing foreground, framing the ‘glimpse’ of the deck beyond. The mid-ground is the furniture set-up while the backdrop is greenery and foliage.

7. Style Simply, Stupid

I’m sorry for calling you stupid, it was all for the alliteration.

In practice, simple styling means removing about half the things that live in that space most of the time. Hide the TV remotes, move the piles of unopened post and simplify as much as you ran.

Remember that the camera adds clutter. Our brains judge photos of spaces as ‘busier’ than spaces in real life because we process photos and environments in different ways. We rapidly try to read and understand photos in a way that causes us to mentally trip up over unnecessary details.

If you’re new to photographing your home, go as simple as possible. Add in more styling details later.

Want to know what I moved out of this shot? A phone charger, a phone, a pile of books from the floor and an orthopaedic pillow. #goals

8. Get the Bigger Picture…And the Smaller One

Wide open shots are undeniably excellent for communicating the overall feel of a space. But squeezing into the corner behind the sofa so that you can capture your whole living room won’t show off the expert way you styled that occasional table, the parquet floor you reclaimed from an old school or the retro clock you inherited and love more than anything else in your home.

To truly show off your home to the world (or just for yourself), mix up the wide open shots with vignettes.

Vignettes have a special place in my heart because they tell a tiny story about your home – the space where you make a coffee in the morning, your bedside table before you turn in for the night.

9. Crop with Extreme Prejudice

Every home has ugly corners. Mine is full of them, so I don’t show them in photos.

Dishonest? Perhaps, but I don’t live in the ugly corners, I live in the spaces that I spent time designing to be exactly how I want them. Those are the spaces I’m proud of and want to share.

How does this help your photography? Simply remember that you can crop out absolutely anything you aren’t happy with. So you don’t need whole rooms to be picture-perfect, in order to take a perfect picture.

Just to the left of this shot is a laundry basket, and to the right is a pile of laundry my other half left on the floor because of that apparently insurmountable distance…

10. Add Life Whenever You Can

The criticism levelled most often at interiors photography is that it’s boring. And those critics are right, it often is.

So I’m working on bringing a touch of life back into my interiors photography. I’m naturally a touch perfectionist, so I won’t be going fully un-styled anytime soon.

Rather, I’ve found my happy place is ‘someone just stepped out of shot, but they were living here right before it was taken’.

I’m starting to think about including the book propped open, the coffee cup left on the kitchen side about to be drunk, the rumpled bed linen where someone just sat down…

…Or the asshole cat who refuses to move from your shot, no matter how sweetly you sing his name.

No matter what anyone tells you, there are no hard and fast rules to any kind of photography – including interiors.

But these tips may make it easier to get the basics right so that you can choose when – and how – to throw out the rule book.

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