While working as a contract photographer for AirBNB.com, I saw many examples of excellent interior photography. Conversely, I also saw the dark side!
Shooting quality photos of the interior of your home or rental property can be challenging, due to mixed light sources, small spaces and reflective surfaces.
Here are some techniques and tips that I've learned. Hopefully these will help you out.
First, make sure the space is prepared. Clean everything. Dust really stands out, whether it's under a bed or on small objects on your shelves. Declutter the space. If there are dish cloths on counters or garbage visible in garbage cans remove them. Make all the beds. Preferably, use bedspreads or comforters that compliment the colors in the room. Try not to use complex geometric patterns anywhere, like on throw pillows. These can cause aberrations in the final photos from moire patterns. Put some bright flowers on end tables, coffee tables and the dining table. Bright colors draw the eye – flowers are perfect for focusing your customer's attention on a specific area of the photo, or, to lead the eye into the photo. Turn on all the lights, and open all the curtains. Get as much natural light into the space as possible. If any lightbulbs are burned out, replace them. It's very helpful if all of your light sources have the same color temperature. Shop for bulbs that are marked “soft daylight” or something similar. Pure daylight bulbs are very cool and can look odd. Try not to mix and match incandescent bulbs with the Compact Flourescent bulbs – they may have very different light temperatures.
Clean the windows, mirrors, reflective counter, stove top and other surfaces. Nothing ruins a picture faster than some grease or grime. In bathrooms, open the shower curtain, remove shampoos and soaps from the shower/tub area, and hang colorful towels. Also, close the toilet lid, like your wife/girlfriend has been nagging you about for years! Remove any wastebaskets as well. They just look funky and tend to draw the eye away from the important bathroom features you want to show off.
Be sure to check for anything that would violate your privacy. It would not be fun to get 600 Facebook comments for all the wrong reasons! If you are shooting in an office, make sure no company secrets are on display on bulletin or chalk boards, and be sure no client information is visible. Check any computer screens for inappropriate information or images.
It sometimes helps to take some fast snapshots then blow them up on your computer monitor to see how different areas will look.
Try to avoid using flash. Flash will create starkly bright areas in the space that are very hard to match in software. It's far better to use the available room lighting and natural light from the windows. If the room is still a little dark, be sure to use a tripod and use longer exposures to brighten up the photos. Do not crank your ISO way up to compensate. That adds noise and destroys detail. Also, do not use the funky creative modes on your camera, light “handheld twilight” or “candlelight”, and so on. Just use manual mode, set your aperture around f11 and slow down the shutter.
Shoot from corner to corner when shooting wide spaces. Be careful to keep the camera level and shoot from a high-enough position that the vertical shapes don't tilt. Don't zoom in or out – try to keep your lens between 35 and 50 millimeters, or you'll need to deal with distortion in your final pictures.
Do take a few photos of important details in each space, when applicable. If you have built-in shelves, feel free to show them off. If you have a gorgeous fireplace mantle with intricate detail, get a nice closeup shot and show it off as well.
Inspect each photo after you take it. Check for anything that seems out of place, or that draws your eyes to the wrong place in the photo. Wrinkled bed sheets, pillows that are crooked, and curtains and blinds that are messy or crooked are a good place to check.
Most software that comes with your camera is perfectly fine for enhancing your photos. If your camera software has an “auto fix” function, try it. The thing you want the most is a clear photo with balanced colors and lighting. Be sure to crop any photos to need it. You want to remove distractions from the edges of your photo, so it clearly shows the primary area of the space. There's no need to show a one-inch strip of wall down the side of your photo, unless you need it there to clearly delineate your space. You can also use some careful cropping to draw the eye into the main space, as well as trim off some lens distortion.
When you have an open window that is so bright you can not see any detail, see if you can bring the light down a little, but don't overdo it. If it starts to turn grey, stop and back off a little. Unless the window is huge, some blown-out highlights in windows are absolutely OK for this style of photography.
If you do have huge windows and an amazing view, you'll need to plan and spend a little more time setting up your shots. That's out of the scope of this article, and I promise to add another that will show you exactly how to capture outside scenes while keeping your interior looking sharp and clear.