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Lesson 2 from: Intro to Architectural Interior Photography with Natural Light

Scott Frances

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Lesson Info

2. Theory

Lesson Info


So now we're gonna talk about my approach to shooting a space. First and foremost, I view myself as a storyteller, not a documentarian. So the story is about the person who's in the space, the person who lives here, the person who created the space, why it exists, what the whole idea was. And once you have that, and that really is the starting point, then I want to tell the story of how you walk through a space through a series of shots. So it would be from the front, typically I start at the front door and the entrance and then the great room and then break it down and go to all these spaces and talk about their life. So what is our goal here? Our goal is realism. And is what is realism? Realism isn't a perfect representation of something or as close as we think a perfect representation of something is. Realism is getting that viewer of your photograph to immerse themselves into it. And we do that through creating a volume of space, because that is real. We don't experience space as a...

flat, two-dimensional object, as a chair or as this or as that. We are in it. And so, first and foremost, I try to find a composition, a place to put the lens and camera which is something that's familiar to how we all view the world. So what's familiar is the height of a camera, and when we sit in a chair, or maybe perhaps where we stand in a room. We also wanna think about keeping things that are real rather than eliminating them. For instance, reflections. You don't have to get rid of all the reflections. Reflections are part of the experience of our life. Reflections also have the benefit of adding depth to a photograph, 'cause it's reflecting something far away, another part of the room, perhaps that isn't even in your frame. One of the things that add realism to a photograph is creating an image with great depth, 'cause that will give you more of a three-dimensional experience. Should be moving from where you're sitting, to a middle ground, to a background, and that's what we do in life, we move. We're also gonna think about the effect that our bodies have, or the viewer's body might have, on a space. So whether the pillow is crushed perhaps, or the sheets a little bit wrinkled. Again, if you eliminate all of that, that's not real. That's not how we live. And I encourage all architectural photographers and you as a viewer here to give that some thought. And it may be a hard sell to some of your clients, but if you can explain to them how, if we do all those things, the viewer of the image will buy into it more and will project themselves more into this little story you're tryin' to tell. One thing about storytelling and photography is that you don't want to make it too complicated. You have to tell one story very well. If you don't succeed at that, a viewer will not engage with the photograph. If it's in a magazine, most people are reading magazines like this. They're just flipping through it, and you're lucky if you can get 'em to stop. The only reason they stop is because there's something really compelling. And it could be composition, it could be the light, it could be a combination of the two, but you gotta hit it. And then if you can succeed at that, then the viewer can start to explore the photograph more, and you can tell more stories, more than one story. But if you don't get that one story right, it's not a successful photograph. To move the viewer's eye through a photograph, to tell more than one story, after you've succeeded in telling that one story, a viewer's eye is always gonna go to the lightest area of the photograph. So we have light is relative to dark, so we wanna start in the foreground where it's darker. Then you wanna take the viewer's eye a little further into a photograph, it gets lighter, and then if you can keep moving 'em through the photograph to lighter and lighter areas, and often times that's through a window or through a doorway, then you can get the viewer to really go on a journey through your photograph. Light is obviously how we see the world. Without it we can't see the world. But I want to talk about using the light, natural light that comes into a room, and not supplementing light at all, because we don't see the world with supplemental light. We see the world from daylight that comes in through a window or through a skylight or if you're outdoors, just from the sun. We also experience light coming from lamps. We might experience light coming from a match or a cigarette even, or a fireplace, candlelight. You don't wanna step on that, you wanna enhance that. If you were to supplement light to a scene where, let's say a table that's set and you've got the candles going and what's beautiful, what's real, and how we see the world and light and experience that table as we're gonna sit down to dinner is that table's lit by candlelight. And if you don't bring that across in the photograph, if you supplement light, every little bit of light you supplement that with, kills the candlelight and makes it less and less what the story is about. And that moves us away from realism. We also wanna talk about how we use light to shape a room, shape objects in the room, and also talk about light from the direction it's coming from. And one direction that for me it never comes from is from behind the camera. It's always from the side or from the background, but never behind, and that's because when light comes from behind the camera it flattens objects out. So that might be a great thing for beauty shooting of faces, but it's not what we're doing here. We're not talking about seeing everything, we're talking about experiencing everything. I also want to talk about the senses that we each have. There's sight, there's smell, there's taste, there's hearing, there's touch. There's also the sense of time passing. Some of those are easier than others to communicate in a photograph. In terms of time passing, a curtain blowing, someone blurred walking through a shot, those are techniques. Steam coming off a kettle. Steam coming off a kettle or a fireplace burning or embers or candle flickering. Those all talk about possibly smell. They talk about volume. The steam is going into the air. The fireplace, the candles are giving off heat. The taste might be food. Touch is the texture of things, so you wanna be able to think about, leather is smooth, a blanket is a little coarser, wood is hard. Carpets can be soft. So that's something to keep in mind. It's just something that exists, but we need to acknowledge that it exists. Sure it's gonna be in the room, it's gonna be in the photograph. But if you aren't thinking about it when you set up the camera, if you aren't thinking about it in your approach to the photograph, it's probably not gonna come through in the photograph. So how do we apply what we just talked about to this space that we're gonna shoot today? So this is a beautifully curated space. There's not gonna be a lot of editing or taking things out. There may be some. It doesn't work if you have a lamp shade right in front of the camera, so I would urge you almost always to take that lamp out of the way. One thing I do see as we're looking around this room is that it's used. This is not a museum. This is not, even though these things are beautiful, it's not so precious. That's evidenced by, for example, these cushions are crushed. And I don't think I would correct that. Maybe in some shoots I would, but to me, that this has been sat in tells you not only somebody was here and that somebody left here, so that's time having passed, but it roughly gives you a sense of the shape of the body, the size, and it gives you scale to the photograph. We know how big a person is, roughly speaking. We know, roughly speaking, how big a chair is. We know, roughly speaking, how big, certainly an obvious one is a can of coke. So we need to give scale to these photographs. So familiar objects, that's the only way we can measure unfamiliar objects. So, the time. What time of day? One of the first things I do when I approach, actually the very first thing I do. besides get set up and make the homeowner comfortable, is try to figure out what I'm gonna shoot and when I'm gonna shoot it. So I'm gonna do an extensive walkthrough with the interior designer or the client, depends if it's a hospitality shoot, if it's for a decorative magazine, or if it's for an architect. But the first half hour or hour of the day I'm gonna spend doing a walk through and figure it all out, and figure out the time and figure out the angles. That's gonna make the whole day really efficient. That will not have been an hour wasted. One thing you can't do is go into a shoot and just start shooting willy-nilly, and you'll spend the whole day trying to figure out what your day is gonna be, and everything will be compromised. So one of the great investments of time is that. It could be that there's a special light, a sunrise, a moonrise that if you wait it's gonna be gone. In that case yes, pull out the camera, shoot it. But at some point, you've gotta stop and plan the rest of your day. In this apartment, it faces due west. Right now it's about 11 o'clock in the morning. The light's gonna cross over this plane at about 1 o'clock, 1:30 in the afternoon, and it will start streaming into this room. That's one of the qualities of this room, that it has hard sunshine coming in. And that's something certainly at least one of our shots is gonna talk about. One thing to think about though, is that you're not gonna have that hard sunshine all day long, and you're not gonna not shoot that first half of the day. So we are gonna also shoot in soft light. And the quantity of light doesn't matter. It could be a very dark and stormy day. We're gonna be shooting from a tripod. We're gonna be doing long exposures. For the most part things aren't gonna be moving. We could talk about today, well okay, what if these are long exposures and there is something moving? That's a problem. And we're gonna talk about one way to deal with that. We're gonna get onto that a little bit later when we talk about technique. But the only time I would have a rain-out day, a reschedule shoot, would be if it was a shoot that really involved the sky, or you're shooting in a garden or exterior architecture on a totally overcast day, be very flat. Flat is not something we're looking for in interior or in exterior. Shooting exteriors is very similar to shooting interiors. Again you don't wanna be looking at that house or that building as a thing. You wanna be looking at it as where does it sit? It sits in the landscape, it sits in the city, and you wanna give it context. So what surrounds it, what's in front of it, again some foreground, background, middle ground, probably that building's gonna be in the middle ground, and a very careful decision about what time of day we're gonna do it. In terms I highly recommend, I keep a program, an app on my phone. It tells me exactly the arc of the sun during that day. This room here, this is a one-window room. It's either gonna be soft light coming in the first half of the day or it's gonna be very hard light coming in the second half of the day. One thing that's tough, so the light's always coming from this side. These two walls are gonna be scraped with light all day long. And that's great, that's what we want. We want light coming from the side, so either here. What's a good example of the light? This is a great example of it. The depth and shape, she's light here, shadow here, light here, shadow here. This is a perfectly lit object. And this is a totally soft light. So it's an example of what direction the light's going in, and again direction of light gives us a sense of something that's off camera perhaps. So that gives you much more depth and it gives you much more of a feeling. The tactile feeling of being in a room. The tactile feeling of time passing. The heat of a room. The season of the year. The time of day.

Ratings and Reviews

chris cooper

This class was great! I think some of the reviewers are too inexperienced to realize the value of the information that was presented here. This is not an overly technical course but instead a course that helps you create a vision as an architectural photographer and that is priceless information. You can learn the techie stuff elsewhere but here you are getting into the mind of how one of the best interior photographer thinks. His years of experience are distilled into a great course. I have taken week long courses $$ with other architectural photographers and they were great too, but at $39 this was the best investment I have made into my career. To me as a working architectural and interior photographer with 15 years experience I was able to review my workflow and create a better and clearer vision for my work. It was inspiring. Thank you Scott!!


I really enjoyed watching the Great Master give some of the insight of his craft. Scott's thoughtful commentary and relaxed but very professional presence made this course captivating from start to finish and inspired me to continue a great deal. I saw a couple of glitches here and there and a few seconds of blacked out screen where Scott was talking about a 10 hour shoot day in order to capture a program of images. It would have been great to see what was meant to be showed instead of black frame. I wish there was a little bit more and Nicole would expand on correcting Selective Perspective as this is very interesting to me. Other than these minor points I thought it was a great course and well worth it to me.

Melissa Lind

Phenomenal class. This answers so many questions that I've had for years. I feel like I've been working in a vacuum and this reassures me about the perfection I seek in a shot. I could feel the minute adjustments with styling bringing each picture's refinement to the level of fine art that many people may be able to appreciate but are unable to achieve on their own. A well honed skill set. So thankful for the unveiling of industry secrets that have been developed over a lifetime career. Stunning work Scott, the human element that you craft is inspiring; your eloquence is inspiring.

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