“It's all in the details.”
Pyx Interior design photographer, Manish Saxena shares his insider tips on shooting perfectly imperfect rooms.
With close to two decades of professional interior photography experience, Manish knows what it takes to produce a great photo. In his words, “it’s all about telling a beautiful story”.
It's common for people to say, "’Oh, you shoot interiors. That’s easy!’ But you can’t just put a camera in the corner of a room and start shooting. Whenever I photograph a room, I ask myself, ‘What is the story that this room tells, and how can I best illustrate that with a photograph?’ ’’ Sometimes, that means that I need to cover the whole room in the shot, other times it’s just about covering a small corner of the room.”
Interior photography is challenging as there is no celebrity or well-known subject to draw attention to. It's important to pay attention to details and highlight what's important. Having said that, here are a few tips on how you can take stunning interior photos.
It is always a good idea to ask the architect or designer what their vision is for the room. You can learn a lot about how to structure your shot. It is also possible for a designer or architect to be too close to the project to be able to see the room holistically. The feedback they provide needs to be balanced with your own.
You might find it helpful to take a few reference photos of the space and discuss them with the designer or architect to see which angles work best to illustrate your story.
It also helps to have a shoot reference guide prepared up-front with the architect/designer’s inputs so that you have a good idea before the shoot itself (this is something we at Pyx Photography pride ourselves on).
Wide-angle lenses can distort the image, disrupting the harmony of the image and giving the impression that the space being photographed is different. Instead, you can try getting up close to statement pieces of furniture or art to give another dimension to your portfolio.
Architecture requires straight lines without distortions. Generally, Manish avoids anything wider than 35mm on a full-frame camera.
When shooting multiple rooms, walk through the home in advance and plan your shoot based on when the natural light is optimal in each room. Consult the designer or architect about the best time to shoot.
“Designers & architects pay a lot of attention to windows and how light interacts with the interiors. Hence, we as photographers must pay attention to that as well," says Manish.
“Even when you add artificial lights, it's important to consider how natural light works in the space so the light you're adding makes sense. For example, you never want to have light coming from opposite directions casting double shadows.”
A lamp is unnecessary if enough light is already coming in through the window. Lights and candles should only be used if you are shooting at night or trying to create a certain mood with them.
Blurring elements of a photo can add depth, change the mood, and draw the viewer's attention to certain elements.
A good example is shooting a library or a bar where you have multiple items in the background and a small table with a book/ drink in the foreground to focus on. A blurred background will draw the viewer's attention to your foreground and give the photo a pleasant, soft appearance, making it more attractive.
While every space is different, highlighting a few details can help tell a better story even when you aim for minimalism. A skilled stylist can ensure that your rooms tell a consistent story.
Stylists help you keep an eye out for all the little things that can ruin a photo – dust in a corner, crooked curtains, or fabrics that aren't smoothed out, or create a deliberate, lived-in look.
Managing the issue head-on before you shoot is more cost-effective and faster than retouching. Remove dirty linen or dust in the corner rather than waiting until post-processing to do it.
Some things cannot be changed during the shoot, such as the location of an inconvenient power outlet. If possible, however, prepare the room before shooting by tidying up and paying attention to small details. In the long run, this will save you time and money.
Rooms are meant to be lived in, so avoid keeping them too pristine or they may appear cold. “Sometimes I tell the stylist, let's make this perfect. Then let’s mess it up a bit”, says Manish.
It’s easy to make some adjustments to a pristine scene – place a large pillow or cushion on the floor next to the couch, or put a cup of tea and some snacks on the table. Sometimes sprinkling some crumbs on the table can make the photo come to life.
Plants and flowers (not artificial ones) add warmth and color to any shoot. They are a great way of adding personality to any room.
Whenever possible, stop by a nursery or flower shop before the shoot to get some plants. Avoid using the same plants across rooms.
When you shoot a portrait with a person or pet in it, make sure they add to the story you are trying to tell. When shooting a kid's room, would it tell the story better to just capture the room or have the kid sitting at the study table while you take the photograph?
After more than 17 years in the business, Manish says he's still learning something new every day. Between shoots, he studies interior design magazines and researches online to keep his eye sharp.
He says he's his own worst critic and prints out pictures and marks out things he could have done better using a marker. Things that either got missed during the shot (like undesirable shadows) or missed adding (like décor pieces or lighting).
“Remember that photography is a lifelong journey and you are ever a student”, says Manish. “You’re not going to just pick up a camera and be the next big thing right away. It’s a process and you have to grind hard each day to make it to the top.”