property photography

Interior Design Photography Tips by Neil Alexander

About 12 months ago, I wrote "Top 10 tips for better property photography" for the Right Move blog, and whilst it's still totally relevant, working for interior designers where the emphasis is often much more about details than overview is often a vastly different game altogether. So I thought I'd share a few more insights into my world.

  • Light - First and last light are always the best, but not always the most practical. More often than not, when working with an interior designer, there is a short window of opportunity - the property owner has to grant access, the designer has to be available, all the necessary details and accoutrements, which are often arriving from far flung places, have to be in place and the property has to be looking at it's absolute optimum. All these factors inevitably mean that the photography has to take place at the least ideal time - slap bang in the middle of the day which can and often does lead to exposure problems.
  • Composition - In the case of photographing a home in order to sell it or rent it, details are generally irrelevant. The goal of the photography there is to show wider views and encourage the potential purchaser to make an appointment to physically view the property. It's then the agents job to point out the details and sell the property. Or at least that's how it should be. Many agents these days in the UK are about as pro-active as a goldfish with a hangover.
    When showcasing interior design work, the key is to demonstrate that their work is of a such a high standard that prospective clients will pick up the phone and call after viewing their portfolio, and so details here are the key. It's the minutiae in interior design that pulls the whole room and property together. The sum of all the fabrics, colours and trinkets when put together are greater than the whole but you have to show the parts in detail as they almost always get lost in a wider shot.
  • Staging - Once a designer has completed a job, especially a residential contract, the occupier, who in the end has to live with the fruits of the designer's labour, will more often than not "tweak" the rooms to their taste; moving items around and supplementing with their own trinkets. But this is not how the designer intended it to be, so it's always helpful to have the designer on hand to arrange things the way they see best and how their original vision intended. They didn't supply the 6 foot cuddly bear in the Newcastle United football strip and it wasn't part of their vision - so take it out before making the photographs. They can also help to point out what they feel to be the key details. Items that are integral to the overall design aesthetic that I, as an uncultured bloke, would have ordinarily walked right past.
  • Exposure - This can be where it gets tricky. The most recent interior design commission I received was to shoot two properties several miles apart on the same day, both of which had several rooms which were to be photographed and many many details. I could have used supplemental lighting for this but it would have taken me far longer than the allocated day and necessitated me hiring in some additional gear (there were some very large rooms). However my go-to technique for this kind of environment is to shoot several bracketed frames. Depending on the difference between the external ambient and the internal, this can be as many as 9 or even 11 stops. A range that even a bunch of SB900s would struggle to even out. I then stack all the brackets in Lightroom, pick the ones I want to use and leave  LR/Enfuse to crunch through them. I could use one of the standard HDR programs, but I don't like the "HDR look" for this work. These images need to look as natural as possible and this is where LR/Enfuse's strength lies. It allows me to blend multiple exposures together to create a natural looking image with a much greater dynamic range than would normally be possible. In other words, I can avoid blowing out the windows and the view outside and still get definition in the shadows of the rooms. It's brilliant. And it can even batch process. So I can perform an initial run through, stacking all the brackets, pick my initial selections and then just leave my computer for an hour or so (depending on how many stacks there are to blend) whilst I go off and do other things. It's a major time saver, which in my book is all good.

Anatomy of an interior shoot by Neil Alexander

The Pyroclassic IV - a clean green highly efficient heating machine.

Several weeks ago I was asked to shoot a range of fires for a New Zealand based manufacturer, PyroClassic, for a UK marketing campaign they were looking to launch and as it was something a little out of the ordinary for me I thought I'd write up a post on it.

However before launching  into that, a little housekeeping. You're going to see some changes around here shortly. I'm really struggling to keep up with weekly posting at the moment due to business commitments, so I'm looking to scale back blog posts to fortnightly, and revert to releasing these on a Friday. I'm also going to change the URL that my RSS feed is on to something a little less misleading. It will be http://feeds.feedburner.com/NeilAlexander so go ahead and add it to your RSS reader now to avoid missing new posts when they come out.

Finally my Image of the Week newsletter that I send out on a Friday is going to cease in it's current format. I'm changing it to an Image of the Month. As I'm going to keep the Monthly Desktop Wallpapers going (which currently seem to be some of my most popular posts), I'm thinking that I'll release the newsletter around the middle of each month. With a little more time to prepare, it's going to have more in it every month - each one will have a coupon for a discount on prints and will only be available to newsletter subscribers. And to mark the relaunch, there'll be a chance of winning a prize or two......

If you're already a newsletter subscriber, then don't worry - you're still on the list. If not? Why not? Head over here to subscribe right now!

The Pyroclassic IV Fire - photograph of the unlit fire placed in the room

Now that that's out of the way, back on topic.

The Pyroclassic fires are manufactured with a range of different flues to cover all the differing global regulations. We wanted to cover as many bases as possible and as the fires also come in a plethora of different coloured panels, we had a combination of around 60 different parameters to photograph. The property in which we shot the fires had a large atrium in the middle of the room and it was one of those days when the sun was forever going in and out of the clouds, which made lighting somewhat problematic. Normally I'd work a shoot like this in manual so I know that once I'm dialled in, nothing's going to change. But the levels were dancing all over the place. I took a base exposure with the camera in aperture priority and then set the strobes (SB900s) to remote TTL. This saved me constantly having to change lighting levels. In order to get through all the various parameters (I'd prepared a little printed matrix in advance to make sure we didn't miss anything out), we had to shoot a completely disconnected, stand-alone fire. Then I made a bunch of measurements for the distance and angle that the camera was from the front of the fire so that a couple days later I could go and photograph a lit stove replicating the positioning. Then with some careful Photoshop work, layer the flames into all of the base shots.

We worked a couple of different set-ups. In the first setup  (kitchen layout - immediately above) the sunlight works quite well when it came in through the atrium. However the second set up, shooting into the living room (top most image), the sunlight began to cause no end of problems with reflections off the windows and the glittery wallpaper. It was so problematic that we ended up having to get someone up on the roof to place are a large sheet over the atrium window.

For the second part of the shoot, the lit fire, we typically ended up doing this on one of the hottest days of the year. It was quite a small kitchen and the client wanted an image of the fire going full tilt. Even though it was just a case of setting up the camera on a tripod using the measurements from the previous day, it was still very hot and sweaty work.

A lit Pyroclassic fire shot on a different day

With hindsight there are probably a couple of things I'd do differently next time. The first would have been to get hold of another light or two so that I could control the light coming through the atrium myself - this would have made things a lot easier in the long run. The second one probably would have been to start earlier  - we tried to pack an awful lot into one day and it did all begin to get a little rushed towards the end.

Real flame set up shot

So there you have it. Both myself and the client are extremely pleased with the final images and I look forward to sharing their ad campaign with you.

Finally,  I have to say a huge thank you to Diane from Amelia interior design for her expertise onset, without which my photographs wouldn't have looked anything like as good!

Lowry Hotel, Manchester by Neil Alexander

The Lowry Hotel, Manchester at dusk by Neil Alexander

 A couple of weeks or so ago, I was extremely fortunate to get the opportunity to produce some new images for the Rocco Forte Lowry Hotel in Manchester.  Award winning and arguably the city's trendiest, Manchester's first five star hotel is a bold architectural statement with it's sweeping curved glass facade. The interior is just as bold, and to get to photograph it was great. Having shot a suite, the restaurant, the bar and the lobby, I made a return trip to shoot the exterior around civil twilight on a lovely blue sky evening.

The lobby at the Lowry Hotel, Manchester by Neil Alexander

A suite at the Lowry Hotel, Manchester by Neil Alexander

A suite at the Lowry Hotel, Manchester by Neil Alexander

A suite at the Lowry Hotel, Manchester by Neil Alexander

A suite at the Lowry Hotel, Manchester by Neil Alexander

A suite at the Lowry Hotel, Manchester by Neil Alexander

The restaurant at the Lowry Hotel, Manchester by Neil Alexander

The restaurant at the Lowry Hotel, Manchester by Neil Alexander

The bar at the Lowry Hotel, Manchester by Neil Alexander

Just before I sign off, I've also got a guest post up over on the Right Move blog, titled "Ten top tips for better property photographs". Swing by and check it out if you're interested.

TTFN...