How Do You Shoot Interior Photography Without Lighting Gear?

Unless you’re the type of photographer who always takes their entire kit with them wherever you go, you’ve probably experienced being somewhere where you just didn’t have the ideal tools with you. In this short tutorial, photographer Mark Wallace demonstrates some of his creative lighting problem-solving when presented with a unique opportunity while on the road:

Wallace was traveling when he found himself presented with an opportunity he wasn’t prepared for—taking high-quality shots of interior rooms using only natural lighting. If you weren’t already aware of many of these techniques, you might find them useful next time you find yourself wanting to trade photography for a night’s stay in an exotic place like Ecuador. As can be expected, he ran into a few common challenges that crop up when shooting with minimal gear. He was clearly traveling with a tripod and a few different lenses, but had no external flashes.

Challenges of Shooting Interiors without Flash

Capturing the full range of lighting and tones.

As Wallace points out, the windows provide a bright light, but that light falls off quickly and eventually gets absorbed by the dark, wooden walls of the rooms. His solution for this is fairly predictable: use multiple exposures and combine them into a single high dynamic range (HDR) image. One of the drawbacks to using HDR is that it’s very easy to overdo. To Wallace’s credit, he stays pretty much within the realm of the realistic with his editing techniques. (If you’re not a fan of Photomatrix, there are plenty of other options out there. I tend to use either Nik or Topaz filters for my HDR.)

Of course, for this option to be useful, you will have to be carrying a tripod with you.

(Note: He gets around needing a manual release cable by using the 2-second delay setting on his camera—this prevents camera shake.)

hdr exposures

The five exposures Wallace took of the room, ranging from 3 1/3 stops under to 3 1/3 stops over.

Getting as much of a small room into a shot and making it look spacious.

Lucky for Wallace, he was also traveling with a wide angle lens. Shooting with a wide angle can make interior rooms look far more spacious, as they capture far more of the space available (sometimes up to 180 degrees!). One of the drawbacks to shooting wide, however, is that the distortion can create converging verticals, an effect that can confuse the viewer’s eye (generally considered super bad form in interior photography).

Shooting a hotel room only using natural light

There are, of course, a few other things you’ll have to keep in mind in order to get the best shots in this situation:

  • Composition can make or break your photos. Place your camera where you’ll get as much of the room’s character as possible. If you’re not sure, take multiple angles of each shot.
  • If you have a tripod, shoot at 100 ISO if you’d like to reduce noise. A tripod allows for the long exposures you need to get good 100 ISO shots.
  • When using HDR editing, post process the one picture with correct exposure first and then sync the other four photos. (Do this before merging them.) This allows you to correct for lens distortion in a way that all exposures will share.

In the end, photography without your ideal gear and photography at home have this in common: the most important aspect is to make sure your client is happy with the outcome.

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