Interior Photography: Equipment and Techniques for the Architectural and Interior Photographer

As with any art form, the quality of light is an essential component in the work, and this is true when it comes to photography as well; especially when it comes to Architectural and Interior photography. Whether it be lighting for hotel photography, residential interiors or larger architectural corporate interiors, light defines the textures, planes and atmosphere of the space, and the professional architectural photographer will use light to extenuate and reveal these characteristics in the space that is being photographed. Light is used to direct the viewer’s eye to areas of interest, to separate spaces and planes and to create the illusion of light flooding the interior. Light defines space! Textures and colors can only be made visible through light and although the trend these days is to shoot “natural light” which is just a euphemism for ambient or available light (with little or no supplemental lighting) in almost every situation, the judicious use of additional lighting makes for a much higher quality interior photograph.

There is no reason to have to buy the “latest and greatest” system. My lights are basic Balcar strobes with 2400 and 5000-watt power packs. They are over 25 years old and they are just fine. I say this because light is just light – what is important is how one uses it.

Lighting Equipment:

Flash system: I usually travel with 25,000 watts of power (approximately 7 power packs and 12 flash heads) and I frequently use it all. This is not necessary, however, to achieve good lighting. Although my style and lighting set-ups are generally complicated, one can still produce a nice effect with a much simpler set up.

The advantages with the strobe system of lighting are:

a) The ability to overpower or balance with the ambient light.

b) The ability to convert the color temperature of the flash head, which is daylight, (5K) to other light sources. i.e. tungsten or fluorescent.

c) The ability to control the shutter speed exposure. This is critical when there is strong interior daylight or wanting to capture the exterior view through a window.

If one was to have only one lighting system, I highly recommend a high-powered flash system with the 4 to 6 flash heads with enough power packs to use them at 1200 WS of power for each head.

Other lighting systems that I work with include:

Professional studio lamps If the primary light source is tungsten I will use “hot lights” or studio lights.

These “hot lights” either spots or floods, are balanced to 3200K so a 1/8 CTO (Rosco #3410) correction is required, otherwise these lights will appear too cool in relation to the rest of the scene where the lighting is tungsten.

Modeling lamps in my flash heads: to supplement the ambient tungsten lighting. These lights don’t require additional color correction because their color temperature is very close to that of tungsten lights – especially when dialed down from full power. I also like the quality of the light from the modeling lights – they are directional but not too powerful.

PAR Bulbs: I also use standard bulbs (Par lights 30 -75 watt in spot and floods) in inexpensive “work lamp” reflectors. These lights are used to spot and open up small areas and are very helpful to help create drama and interest. I also use these lights when lighting building exteriors at night. One can put together a nice lighting system very economically with these bulbs.

Other light control “tools” that I use:

An assortment of umbrellas for “fill lighting.” Large, small, hard, soft, diffused and “shoot through.”

Grid spots: To focus the light for a “spot” affect.

“Black wrap” foil: To put on the reflectors for controlling light spill and direction; also for Gobos – to protect the light from hitting a surface or to prevent light from entering the camera lens and causing flare. The more distance from the light source the more precise the control.

Various diffusion sheets to put over and to diffuse the lights. The more distance from the light source the more diffused the effect.

ND filters for over the lights. ½ stop, 1 stop and 2 stop.

Black Chiffon material: To put over the top 1/3 or 1/2 of the umbrellas to keep light of the ceiling or sides; also effective when stretched out to cut down the light from a window or adjoining room.

“Mathews” flags and scrims: for cutting down the light by flagging it off.

Reflector cards: white and silver, to bounce light for fill or reflection or block or subtract light.

Radio and optical slaves: to set off flash packs remotely.

Rosco (Lee also makes these) Conversion light gels: to go over the flash heads to convert the color temperature:

To color balance flash (5000k) to tungsten (2900k) I use a ½ CTO (Roscosun #3408). (In the film days the full CTO Roscosun #3407) conversion was required but I find that with digital the ½ CTO works well. A ¾ CTO conversion may be required under some situations (½ CTO 3408+ ¼ CTO 3409).

When in a mixed light scene with daylight and tungsten lights a ½ to ¼ CTO works well.

In commercial environments (fluorescent or metal halide) I usually use the Rosco tough ½ plus green which although only a half correction from daylight to cool white fluorescent, is ample for the digital media. A full tough minus green (3304) filter was required in the film days, but it is too much with digital.

I find that most modern lighting in commercial spaces is considerably warmer than the old standard “cool white fluorescents” so I usually use the Rosco ½ tough plus green AND a ¼ CTO (3409) or a ½ CTO (3408) to warm up the color temperature.

Rosco also makes CC filters to go over Studio hot lights – but I don’t use them much anymore:To convert 3200 to daylight: Rosco 3202 Full Blue

To convert 3200 to half day 4100: Rosco 3204 Half Blue

To convert 3200 to 3800 Rosco 3206 Third Blue

Lighting is a critical factor in quality architectural and interior photography and it should be regarded as key component that is no less important than composition, color and contrast. The proper use of light maintains proper color balance, reveals textures and colors vividly and can create a dramatic atmosphere of light that would not be possible if the scene were photographed using ambient light only. Although one could spend a small fortune on lighting equipment, it certainly isn’t necessary. One can be watchful for older equipment on the used market and with patience, a collection of adequate gear can be acquired very affordably.