For the last two weeks I’ve been Photographing Home Interiors for a Michigan based audio/video company that specializes in super custom design, engineering and installation. My primary job has been to travel to numerous homes and capture how they are able to integrate their systems into the unique lifestyles of their clients. For this blog post I’ll be sharing some of the images and giving a few thoughts about this kind of photography.
A Home Theater
When people think of audio/video companies they usually think of “home entertainment”. And nothing says “home entertainment” like a custom home theater. My client took me to one of the nicest theater rooms I’ve seen (and I’ve seen plenty) and I captured a number of images for use on their updated website.
This home theater was connected to a pretty complete game room (lots of cool things in there) and it featured tiered theater seating, a large screen projection system, a killer audio system and fibre optic lighting on the ceiling. Even the paint on the walls was unique.
But everything that makes the theater room really awesome to watch movies made it super difficult to photograph. I ended up using a 39″x39″ silk panel on a frame as a shoot through diffuser for a main light and I scattered small flashes around the room for fill.
Here’s a closer look at the equipment rack that is installed in the back of the room.
For ease of service the rack pulls out to give technicians access to all the wiring. Upgrading components doesn’t get much easier than that.
A Great Room
While home theaters get lots of attention in the articles they’re not the entertainment systems that are used the most. Integration of an A/V system into a customers lifestyle is super important. That’s why I spent so much time photographing common rooms like the great room shown above.
The fireplace was visible both in the great room and the kitchen on the other side. The TV and all of the speakers were integrated into a custom built cabinet built above the fireplace and the rest of the equipment is located in the basement (it’s controlled by a really cool touch screen remote control).
Photographing this room presented challenges due to the windows (which consumed an entire two story wall) and the kitchen (which was visible in the background). To get the shot I used a single flash with a 45″ white umbrella in the great room and a single flash in the kitchen with a 30″ white umbrella. To make decisions about how the shots were looking my camera was tethered to my 15″ MacBook Pro.
Normally I don’t like using umbrellas because the light goes everywhere. But photographing interiors is a perfect place to use an umbrella (and the bigger the better). I set my camera to manual mode and dialed in an exposure that let me see some of the neighborhood outside (this left the great room looking pretty dark). The flashes did a great job of filling the room back in.
I took the shot above from the kitchen you could see in the background of the great room shot. This is a look at the sitting area between the great room and the kitchen. Above the common fireplace is a big screen TV and the speakers are hidden in the kitchen ceiling (letting the home owner enjoy the system from anywhere in the kitchen, the sitting area or the nearby breakfast nook). Lighting this room was also a bit of a challenge. The single flash used in the great room shot was used again but the light that was placed in the kitchen had to be moved. The kitchen flash was moved to better illuminate the sitting area and a third flash was placed in the bathroom in the far back of the shot. The bathroom flash was important because it was super dark back there and adding the flash really helped to add depth.
A Master Bedroom
Photographing rooms like master bedrooms may be easy but when your assignment is to highlight the audio/video system you need to change your thinking a bit. Instead of a shot that shows the bed, for example, you need to photograph what the view from the bed looks like. And that’s what I did in these shots. The master bedroom was very spacious and it featured a big screen TV that was hidden in a cabinet at the foot of the bed. With a touch of a button on a remote control (or one of the specially programmed wall switches) the TV would rise up from the cabinet for the ultimate in bed TV experience.
Geting this shot was less about lighting the room up and more about dealing with shadows caused by the ceiling can lights (especially the ones near the tall bed posts). You can’t see them in the final image but large black collapsable reflectors were placed between the can lights and the bed posts to get the bedding looking well lit and free of shadows. A flash was bounced off the ceiling near the camera position and an additional flash was placed behind the TV cabinet to help fill in the room. We closed the shades to keep the outdoor light from distracting from the interior of the bedroom.
Here’s another kitchen I photographed on this assignment. This one had a considerably brighter look than the previous one I showed. This room had plenty of windows and the cabinets and walls were pure white. That may seem easy to photograph but it was actually more of a challenge than it sounds.
White rooms really show shadows and can make it obvious you used flashes. I had to spend plenty of time making little moves to my lights to get the most even illumination and softest shadows possible. My camera was set to manual mode and I dialed in an exposure to minimize the effect of window light in the final shot. I used a main light up high and I directed it to bounce light back into the ceiling and back down into the room. This turned out to be the best way to simulate real ceiling lights.
Once my main light was in position I added a light to open up the back of the room. This was done because the ceiling changed heights and the main light wasn’t illuminating the back of the kitchen. A final flash was added behind the island to light up the stove (which was hidden in a big shadow). Here’s a look at two of the three lights I used:
And here’s a look at the placement of the third flash that I used to light up the stove (It was super dark there before the flash was added.
Unlike shooting home interiors for real estate companies or home and garden magazines, this kind of assignment isn’t about the entire living space. It’s about specific items within that space. This can complicate a shoot because a client may want you to capture something as small as a light switch but also show the area where it’s located. That’s when you have to get creative because you don’t want the small switch to be lost in a busy image. I’ll use a 6 button switch near an entrance to show you what I mean.
First here’s a look at the large entry door and the a/v system switch. This shot shows the entire room where the switch is installed.
The shot looks fine technically. Unfortunately this shot is supposed to be about the switch next to the door and because it’s so small in this shot you don’t even notice it’s there. My solution was to change my perspective and use some selective blurring in Photoshop to create a shot where the switch was the center of attention but also include enough of the room to give it context. Here’s how my final shot looks:
I think this is a much better shot for how my client intends to use the image. I’ll talk more about the selective blurring I used in a future blog article.
More Detail Shots
Here are a few more shots I took of other small items that were integrated into some of the homes I photographed.
Some Final Thoughts
This kind of shooting is all about your client and their needs. It’s easy to take big sweeping shots of a really cool interior space, but it’s difficult to showcase something specific when a shot has too much to absorb. By using flashes and placing your camera in places to get unique points of view you can tell a story and direct a viewer where you want them to look.
It’s important to bring plenty of lights and light controllers to shoots like these because every room has different problems you need to solve (especially glare and shadows). I bring a ton of gear with me in the hopes that I’ll have just what I need to deal with an issue.
Shooting tethered is a huge advantage with this kind of photography. It’s much easier to see a stray electrical cord on a 15″ laptop screen than it is on your camera LCD. Seeing where problem areas are (glare, lighting being out of balance, nasty shadows and unwanted distractions) is an important part of this kind of shooting and if you can get it right in camera you’ll spend considerably less time post processing your shots.
Also, the shots I shared in this blog were all landscape orientation. I will shoot portrait orientation shots while I’m on site because you never know how a client will use your images. Most images shown online will be landscape orientation and it’s likely they’ll get cropped to look even wider then you shot them. Print ads may need taller shots to fit a design teams needs so it’s a good idea to cover all your bases while you’re still on site.