Photographs can say a lot about a place. Done well, they can capture its atmosphere, tell its story, spark emotion, and transport the viewer there.
Whether it’s a multi-million dollar hotel, a cosily styled home or an atmospheric ruin, there's lots to consider when photographing properties and spaces. The gear you choose, how you frame each shot, and the lighting on location can all have a big impact on your results.
If you’re looking to get started in interiors or real estate photography, this guide will help teach you how to get pro results.
Here are our essential tips on how to photograph interiors and exteriors in their best light.
Real estate photography is traditionally more commercial in nature (showing off a property and lifestyle to appeal to property buyers). Interior photography is more design or documentary oriented (showcasing the selection and arrangement of style elements, or capturing a place at a moment in time) and offers more creative licence. However, the two often overlap and there are common approaches to both – as detailed below.
Camera with manual settings – Unless you need to print your images super large (e.g. on a billboard), you don’t necessarily need lots of megapixels. What really matters to image quality is sensor size. Compared to cropped sensor cameras, a full frame camera will provide superior low light performance, a wider angle of view, and greater editing flexibility.
Laptop for tethered shooting – Allows you to instantly preview shots on a large screen, making it easier to spot issues
Photo by Francesca Tosolini
Before You Start
Make sure your lenses are properly cleaned and in-camera or in-lens image stabilisation is turned off.
Chances are you’ll be limited for time on location. So before you start taking shots, spend a little time scoping out the property or space.
Note the rooms or areas you want to focus on, and the best angles from which to capture them. (Elevated positions work well for exteriors.) A few photos on your smartphone can be a handy reminder.
For commercial property photography, it’s a good idea to devote more time to whichever shots will provide the most value – e.g. the front exterior, kitchen, main living area, and master bedroom.
Tidy the areas to be photographed as much as is practical.
Photo by Orlova Maria
Where will your images be used? This will help decide which aspect ratio to use (e.g. portrait orientation for magazine covers, square or portrait orientation for Instagram, horizontal for most real estate listings).
Avoid shooting at super wide angles, which can introduce hard-to-correct distortion and unnaturally exaggerate the size and appearance of elements around the edges. Aim for around 20-24mm equivalent, where possible. It’s always better to back away and zoom in than to stay put and zoom out.
Rule of Thirds
While you might be tempted to cram as much of the space into the shot as possible, that’s not always the best approach.
Try applying the Rule of Thirds to key elements in your scene, be they structural features or furnishings. This often results in a more aesthetically and emotionally inviting image, as opposed to a mere visual document of a space.
The Rule of Thirds
If you divide your camera’s frame into three equal sections both horizontally and vertically (or switch on your camera's gridlines), a main element or focal point should line up with one of these dividing lines or intersections.
Framing: Height, Verticals and Perspective
Most people’s natural instinct is to shoot from eye level, but this can make interior photos look bottom-heavy. Try shooting somewhere around 40-50cm above the room’s predominant surface (benchtop, bed, etc).
When photographing interiors it’s critically important to get your verticals straight. Your camera’s gridlines can be used as a guide. Fixing wonky angles in Photoshop requires a lot of time and, usually, cropping out of valuable detail.
1- or 2-point perspectives work well. A 1-point perspective photo shows a wall parallel to the plane of your camera’s sensor. This is popular for interior photography, and can create a sense of depth if you incorporate an open door, window or walkway in the image. On the other hand, 2-point perspective involves shooting towards a corner.
If there happens to be a mirror that you can’t avoid photographing yourself or your equipment in, you could edit unwanted details out in Photoshop or shoot using a remote shutter release.
Once you’re happy with your composition, it’s time to tweak your camera’s exposure settings (using Aperture Priority (AV) or Manual (M) shooting mode):
ISO – As low as possible to minimise digital noise
Aperture – To get both foreground and background in focus, use a narrower aperture. (Try f7.1 or higher for interiors, and f11 or higher for exteriors.) To blur the background, use a wider aperture. (Try f4 or lower for vignettes or detail shots.)
Shutter Speed – Your required shutter speed will depend on the light (and be calculated for you if you’re in AV mode). If you’re only using natural light, indoor shots will generally require slower shutter speeds, which can pick up movement blur if your camera isn’t perfectly still. That’s why it’s crucial to use a tripod and timer or cabled shutter release.
Photo by Hutomo Abrianto
Other Settings to Consider
RAW File Format – If you plan to edit your photos in any way (e.g. to brighten shadows, straighten angles, correct lens distortions or clone out unwanted elements), save your files as RAWs. Unlike JPEGs, RAW files need editing but can be significantly altered without loss of image quality.
White Balance (WB) – For best results avoid Auto WB, which can affect colour accuracy/consistency and make editing your interior and real estate photos more difficult. Opt for a WB setting that suits the conditions (e.g. ‘Daylight’ for natural ambient light).
Focus – Using spot focus mode, set your focus point to the furthest object that you want to appear sharp.
Photo by Taylor Simpson
Always test shoot. Zoom in to 100% to make sure your focus is sharp where it needs to be. There’s no software that can fix blurry photos.
Check that there’s nothing in frame that shouldn’t be. Don’t be afraid to move things (within reason), especially if they’re ugly or distracting. It’s much, much easier to do that than Photoshop things out of your images later.
How well exposed is the image? i.e. Are any areas unacceptably bright or dark? Rather than relying on your camera’s or laptop’s screen, which can mislead, it’s best to check your histogram. If a real estate photo is too dark or bright, the peaks in its histogram will be skewed to either the left or right. Adjust your exposure settings accordingly or, if necessary, address your lighting.
Photo by Sanibell
Interior and Real Estate Photography Lighting Tips
One of the greatest challenges with interiors, architecture and real estate photography is the dramatic variation between the dark and bright parts of a space (dynamic range).
Cameras don’t see light the way that we can. Compared to our eyes, most cameras just aren't as good at seeing detail in both darkness and light at the same time. For example, if you’re photographing an unlit room towards a bright window, the camera will generally tend to favour (‘expose for’) the window, capturing what’s outside in detail while making the rest of the room dark. Alternatively, your camera will favour (‘expose for’) the room, capturing the interior details well but making the window far too bright.
One tip to even out highlights and shadows is to photograph bracketed exposures. You can then use photo editing software to merge them into a single, relatively natural-looking HDR (high dynamic range) image.
When set to exposure bracketing mode, your camera will photograph a succession of photos at slightly different exposures (depending on which parameters you’ve set). The process varies slightly from camera to camera, so for full instructions take a look at your camera’s manual.
Keeping your camera perfectly still is crucial to getting a good result. Make sure it’s securely locked on a tripod, and use a wired shutter releaseor your camera’s inbuilt timer to activate the shutter without touching it.
Another solution is to balance the levels of light in a scene (i.e. darken the bright areas and/or brighten the dark areas). These generally produce more natural-looking results, and require less editing, than bracketing.
Ways to Balance Light Outdoors
Shoot at a different time of day – Shooting when the sun is in a different spot, or at dusk (when the outdoor light is dimmer and closer in brightness to the indoor light) can make a significant difference. However, this isn’t always practical.
Use a graduated neutral density (ND) filter– When you take photos outdoors, you’ll often find that the sky is much brighter than everything below it. A graduated ND filter will darken just the top portion of your image to create a more even exposure without editing. For more info, see Filters Explained.
Ways to Balance Light Indoors
Shoot at a different time of day – Shooting when the sun is in a different spot, or at dusk (when the outdoor light is dimmer and closer in brightness to the indoor light) can make a significant difference in balancing light indoors. However, this too isn’t always practical.
Close the curtains, sheers or blinds – While quick and simple, this tends not to show an interior at its best.
Add supplementary light – Switching on the ceiling light or a nearby lamp is obviously the easiest thing to do. However, this can produce all kinds of unsightly shadows.
The answer? Start just with natural light (or if it’s night time, one main light), set your camera’s WB setting to match, then add extra lights one by one. This will prevent problems with colour balance, keeping colours in your photos accurate and greatly reducing the need to edit your images.
Photo by Sidekix Media
Match your white balance (WB) to the main light before adding lights of different colour temperatures
Speedlights (portable flash units) are ideal solutions for supplementary light. As well as being neutral in colour temperature, speedlights are considerably powerful (meaning you can use faster shutter speeds, and therefore save time). They can also be easily positioned off-camera where needed and angled towards a white door, wall or ceiling to produce soft, reflected light that illuminates and flatters the space.
Tip: Avoid using your camera’s built-in flash, which is too harsh and concentrated to make most subjects look good.
To use speedlights off-camera you’ll need a remote flash trigger, which signals each flash to fire the moment your camera’s shutter is pressed. Lightweight light stands are handy for supporting off-camera speedlights.
To brighten your ambient light, use a slower shutter speed.
To brighten both your ambient light and flash, use a wider aperture.
Photo by Brian Babb
Scope out the space before you shoot so you know the best areas and angles to target.
Don’t be afraid to tidy or reposition things.
Use a solid tripodand wired shutter release or timer to prevent camera movement and blur.
Choose the right aspect ratio for wherever your images will be used.
Keep verticals straight and don’t shoot too wide or too high. Use the Rule of Thirds as a guide.
Shoot RAW files in Aperture Priority (AV) or Manual mode. Use a low ISO setting and narrower aperture (f7.1-16) for interiors and exteriors, or a wider aperture (up to f4) for detail shots.
Always test and preview! Check your focus and exposure and for any distracting details.
Balance exposures by bracketing, shooting at a different time of day, making too-bright areas darker (with curtains or filters) or too-dark areas brighter (with off-camera flash).
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