Secrets of Real Estate Interior Photography

2. The Room Looks Small - Solutions

14mm Wide Angle, Lots of Light

Solution A: Go Wide

Wide angle, that is. Generally, the smaller the room, the wider you'll want your lens field of view. I shoot small rooms (especially bathrooms) with a 14mm which captures nearly the entire room when I set up in a corner or doorway. This can make a cramped room look spacious, and show more of the attractive space in a palatial bathroom (right).

Tethered Camera Operation

Tethered camera operation is wonderful for real estate, since you (and the client) can review the shots in full detail before moving to the next one. Often I'll see things on the laptop full screen that I don't notice through the viewfinder or digital camera LCD. And you can position the camera in places where you couldn't see through the viewfinder: very high, very low, or against a wall or corner. Tethered operation is quite easy -- and typically free, if you already own a laptop computer: Canon always has provided free software for computer remote control with their digital SLR cameras.

14mm in the President's Stateroom
The President's Stateroom at left is quite small, and the existing photos at the time did not show the full room. Obviously such a small room called for ultra-wide-angle. But if I set up a tripod as normal, half of the room (and most of the bed) would be out of the field of view. First, I lowered the tripod well below eyelevel to take in more of the bed and carpet and less of the ceiling. Don't get too low or the point of view gets uncomfortable, and the tops of taller furniture will be out of view.

Next I propped the camera against the wall using only two legs of the tripod. Of course, that meant the viewfinder was inaccessible. So I tethered the camera to my laptop and composed the shot using trial and error on the laptop. (This was in 2003; now you can compose and focus in real time using Live View on a computer). To keep myself out of the shot, I crouched on the floor and operated the laptop from there. Be sure to check that mirrors and picture glass don't show you at work!

Keep the focal plane vertical (plumb your camera) to avoid warping vertical lines. There is some distortion with such a lens (objects in the corners are stretched), so I switch to 20mm or a wide-to-normal zoom for larger rooms. Those shooting with "cropping" digital bodies are likely to find small rooms a tough challenge. Consider doing composite panoramas -- stitching is easy with digital and you avoid the cost of an expensive wide-angle lens.

Careful with Angles

Pitfalls of Wide Angle

Be aware there are pitfalls with using wide angle. First of all, if you go wide for every shot you might ignore interesting details: the unique character of some interiors can be found in smaller areas or objects, or even close-ups. And viewing a portfolio with 100% wide angle (and no variety of perspective) can be rather tiresome.

Also, the distortion of very wide angle lenses can be painfully obvious - though you might not notice until later. Watch out for slight angles, as with the room above right. Although the camera was exactly plumb (note the left and right edges are true vertical), the room seems to be running downhill from the upper left to the lower right.

Stretching the Beds
Instead, try to be either on a strong diagonal or perfectly straight on to the room and furniture. The shot on the right illustrates a strong diagonal. Beds can easily exhibit distortion from wide angle lenses: shot from the side, a twin bed can look like a king due to perspective distortion. From the foot of a king bed, it recedes into the distance with wide angle and might appear to be only a full size or twin. Even the strong diagonal view in the photo at right has stretched the closer twin bed to look like a full size bed. By the way, note the effectiveness of shooting inside/outside on an overcast day... the view outside the window is not blown out due to overexposure.

Solution B: Move Furniture

Don't be afraid to rearrange in order to show a room to best effect... if you have time and the necessary help. Small rooms sometimes open up and look larger if some furniture items are removed. You may also want to move furniture to emphasize positive features, cover up utilities, hide defects, or to make room for your camera to set up in the best vantage spot.

Solution C: Add Light

See The Room Looks Dark for solutions. Often having plenty of light makes a small room look larger, whereas poor light can shrink a large room.

Updated 19-aug-11   Contents copyright © 2001 - 2011 PhotoCentric.Net, All Rights Reserved