Tips to Photograph Real Estate Interiors

Photographing a dark room with a sunny view outside the window is challenging. You have to deal with huge brightness differences between the window and inside the room, not to mention the challenge of deciding how to make the room look its best.

A simple solution to the light difference problem is to take multiple exposures. You take overexposed photos to capture the room interior, and underexposed ones for the window using the Automatic Exposure Bracketing function that is available on almost all DSLR or mirrorless cameras. The solution avoids having to buy heavy and expensive lighting equipment, and learn how to use them.

Here are 12 tips to help you take better real estate interior photographs. The first five tips deal with HDR techniques using multiple exposures, while the second seven are more general tips for interior photography.

5 Tips for taking a dark interior with bright windows

Tip 1. Switch on all lights in the room

Turning the lights on will make the room brighter, reducing the light differences between inside and out.

Include table lamps, overhead lights, and don't forget concealed lighting, especially if you're photographing a kitchen. Be consistent. If you have lights on in one room of the property, remember to also have lights on in the other rooms.

Tip 2. Set the ISO to 400

Choosing ISO settings for interior shots is something of a compromise.

A low ISO needs a longer shutter speed to get the correct exposure, but this may introduce blur if the camera accidentally moves. This will almost certainly happen if you shoot hand-held, but may still happen even when using a sturdy tripod.

On the other hand, a high ISO setting may produce more noise than you'd like, so choosing something in the middle reduces the likelihood of both problems.

ISO 400 is a happy medium. If you normally use auto ISO, allowing the camera to choose, you need to disable this first.

Tip 3. Point at the interior, not the window, to set the shutter speed

The bright sunlight coming through the window will skew your camera's auto exposure towards the light, which will result in a photo that is too dark. If you let the camera choose the shutter speed of the bracketed exposures, you will therefore get shots that are under or middle exposed, but none that are sufficiently overexposed to show the room well.

To get a bright, well-lit image, set your camera to Aperture Priority first. Then, point your camera at an area of the interior that is away from the windows or any other source of lighting.

Notice and remember the shutter speed the camera shows you. This will be the shutter speed you choose to set the normal exposure (the 0EV photo) for your bracketed sequence. See the HDR Tutorial for real estate interior for more details.

Tip 4. Set the camera to manual mode

Manual mode allows you to choose the shutter speed for the normal exposure of your bracketed sequence. It also ensures that the aperture and ISO remain the same in all the bracketed shots.

The only setting that should change across the bracketed shots is the shutter speed. This will give you a range of photos between under and over exposed, ready for HDR merging.

Tip 5. Choose a camera with a good exposure bracketing range

You will get the best results when your bracketed exposures properly account for the bright window views and the darkest parts of the interior. This will often require taking at least 5 bracketed photos in two-EV steps or 9 bracketed photos in one-EV steps.

If your camera cannot bracket exposures in more than one-EV steps, make sure to set your camera to take the maximum number of bracketed shots that it can. Some cameras can take only three shots, while others will go to five or more.

General Tips for Shooting Real Estate Interiors

Tip 6. Set the Stage

You may need to tidy up the room, or move furnishings around to improve the use of space. You may also need to return things to their original position afterwards. What sounds like a quick photo shoot may turn into a longer session depending on how prepared the interior is when you get there.

You also can't control the weather, and the lighting may not be ideal. Simply waiting a while may do the trick. If you normally photograph the exterior before moving indoors, try shooting inside first to see if the light outside improves.

Tip 7. Emphasise Natural Light and Space

It's unlikely you'll be able to fit everything in the room into a single photo. Compose shots that emphasise the best features, such as how natural light falls into the room, how spacious it is, or an unusual design that arouses viewers' curiosity.

Use landscape mode rather than portrait when shooting the whole room. Vertical interior shots look cramped, and are not how we see with our eyes. If shots of smaller details will form part of your shoot, choose the best orientation for your subject.

Tip 8. Point Your Camera Straight Ahead

Keep your camera at a level angle rather than pointing up or down. This can help minimise the distortion that's often present in vertical lines.

As well as shooting directly ahead of the lens, take care not to shoot from a position that's either too high or low. Too low and you may show too much floor, while too high will show more ceiling. Both will give an unbalanced look to the scene.

Tip 9. Keep Your Camera Level

As well as making sure you're not shooting either up or down, check that your camera isn't tilted. You can avoid the sloping room syndrome by using the bubble level on your tripod (if it has one), or your camera's virtual horizon.

Tip 10. Use a Tripod

Using a tripod for real estate interior photography will steady the camera (helping with the two previous tips), but that's not all. It will also force you to slow down and consider your shots.

As you adjust the height, make sure everything is level, and check your focus and settings, you'll also take a second look at your composition and have the opportunity to make small changes that add up to big improvements.

Tip 11. Use a Wide-angle Lens - mostly

The aim is to show as much of the interior as possible so viewers want to go and see it in person. Using a wide-angle lens allows you to capture more of the scene, so giving a better overall impression of the interior and its layout.

However, If you're including shots of details in the room, switching to a lens with a longer focal length (say around 50mm) will let you to get closer. If you try to take a close-up photo with a wide-angle lens you're likely to introduce distortions.

Tip 12. Focus Manually

Using manual focus, you can use the camera's internal zoom feature to magnify what you're focusing on and double check your focus is placed where you want it. Your camera can help, with functions such as focus peaking that show you exactly where your focus and depth of field falls.