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Hello! I'm Suzannah, a serious DIYer. Follow along with my DIY fixer upper house renovations, sewing and crafty projects, real food recipes, and de-stressing goals.
I co-host the Your Home Story podcast and believe you can love your home just the way it is, AND have the power to design and make big changes to make it better.
I'm also the author of DIY Wardrobe Makeovers!
New mom to baby Otto born April 2018!

Interior photography and editing tips for beginners

Whether or not you're a blogger, don't we all want to have visual reminders of our homes looking their best?? Clean, things put away, styled for the season...? Oh, how I wish I had photos of my grad school apartments and better pics of the first places Jason and I lived together. Even once I started taking photos of our homes and blogging about them, it took me way too long to get good at it and capture images I was proud of. (One of my biggest regrets about our first fixer upper, the Stanley 90's Reno, is I never took the time and money to buy a lens that would capture whole rooms and even when it looked PERFECT for the listing photos or our Apartment Therapy shoot, I didn't feel confident walking around with a tripod shooting the images I wanted.)

So over the past year or so, I've done my homework and spent a little money and time to up the quality of my images. While I'm totally still learning, I am already so proud of some of my work and the skills I've gained.

It is really NOT that hard and anyone can do it! So I'd love to de-mystify it and share my top tips here!

Interior photography and editing tips for beginners




The equipment


I'll share what I use for photography equipment. I have an ancient Canon 5D (pre-Mark II), which is a full-frame camera (rather than cropped sensor, which some [lower-priced] DSLRs are). (The 6D is the most similar you can still buy easily.) I know you could make either type of DLSR work for interior photography, and the full-frame ones are more expensive, but I bought mine used and chose to get an older body with more capabilities rather than something new at a similar price. I've been using my 5D for years, with a 50mm 1.8 portrait lens (a favorite of bloggers and super affordable).

Note that the lens recommendation I have is for a full-frame camera and if you have a cropped sensor body, you will not capture as much of a room as I can with any of my lenses. (Here is an explanation of the difference between cropped sensor and full-frame.)

You'll see that my first tip below involves a tripod--you NEED one for interior photography. I use a tripod like this one. Really basic, nothing fancy, 100% worth the $23.

My top 4 tips for interior photography and editing


1. Use a tripod. I get lazy sometimes and try to shoot freehand, but when you're indoors, you will almost always end up with blurry photos because you need a low ISO and slow shutter speed to get in all the light you have. You can shoot close-ups freehand if needed, with a wider aperture (F-stop). But for full room shots, I usually shoot ISO 100, F-stop 5ish, and I overexpose a little so my shutter speed is slooow.

I've heard this rule many times! Tripod, set camera ISO 100. In order to make this work you'll need tip 2 below, but also--open ALL the curtains and even the front door if needed to get enough light in.

Shoot in Manual mode, if that wasn't clear already.

ALL LIGHTS OFF. That's a side note of this tip #1. You want all the natural light you can get, and none of the artificial (unless you are shooting for real estate photography, which is a different style of photos and different topic.)

The exception is when you're shooting in a subject or shot in front of a large window. In that case you may need semi-sheer white curtains or to bracket (shoot two images, one under-exposed and one over-exposed) and do some Photoshop magic like this. I haven't gotten there yet.

Here's a shot I took with a tripod, F-stop 5 and I probably could have gone wider for even better focus on the edges.

I do sometimes shift to a wider aperture (smaller F-stop number)--this closer-up shot was at F of 3.2. You can have a faster shutter speed when you do that as the camera is letting more light in, so you may not need a tripod for vignettes and closer shots... but if you can fit one in the room and still get the shot, might as well.
From this room reveal

2. Shoot in RAW. Despite having my full frame camera for YEARS, I only just started shooting in RAW--what a shame! Even when I shot the step-by-step photos for my book I foolishly shot in JPG only, I guess to save disc space? So dumb. Here's an article/comparison on RAW vs. JPG. Basically, RAW images aren't compressed so they take up more space and have more information about the image. It's much easier to brighten (usually my goal), bring out blacks or whites, etc.

Plus, JPGs from my camera in my home usually look like crap. I was used to shooting in JPG for such a long time but now when I compare my images (when you shoot in RAW you also get a JPG of each image) I am always floored. I always edit the RAW file instead of the JPG.

Here's a comparison of the same image, out of the camera, RAW and JPG. No editing at all on these.
JPG on left, RAW (.CR2) on right

You can see the RAW image is a little brighter already, but the JPG has some green tone to it as well as being darker. You do need to mind your camera settings even if shooting in RAW--white balance, exposure, etc., but it doesn't have to be 100% perfect as shot.

Here's the RAW image, edited.


3. Edit with Lightroom. That brings me to my next tip, and something I should have been doing for years... I've used a free Google download editor called Picasa, which I still like and use for collages and organizing photos, but it is SO LIMITED with what it can do. You can only edit fill light, highlighs, and shadows, but you can't turn them down lower than what the image started as, and you can't see what your edits were if you go back.

Lightroom is an Adobe product and what professional photographers use for most of their editing (not Photoshop, which is more for graphics and tweaks to the content of the image). It used to cost $250 or whatever but now is a subscription product; you pay $9.99/month and can access your photos on your phone as well.

This has made it SO much easier for me to get photos from my computer to post to Instagram from my phone, too--I can access my Lightroom library from my phone and download directly.

Lightroom and Photoshop Fix are also both free apps you can download to your phone even if you don't pay for the monthly subscription. Highly recommend. Photoshop Fix helps you blur out a stray pillow feather or spec of dirt in an image, and lighten or change saturation on specific areas of the photo.

Also, Lightroom can read RAW images whereas Picasa converts them all to JPG. Don't Save changes to images in Picasa even if you open files there to delete blurry ones, etc. You can Export from Lightroom to your computer and open in Picasa if you want to add simple text, make a collage, whatever.

Here's a comparison of what you see editing in Lightroom, including all the edits I made to this photo...

Vs. Picasa, which doesn't show you previous edits. Not that I made any for this image in Picasa since I edited it in Lightroom! But that's how it always looks when you open a photo. See way fewer options.

I'll be totally honest, I am still learning Lightroom and would like to get more efficient with my workflow (adding photos, organizing, favoriting, etc.). It's on my to-do list to watch some tutorials. But for now I've found how to add and delete photos from my Adobe Creative Cloud storage which shows in Lightroom, plus how to do simple edits. Which brings me to my favorites...

4. Down Highlights, up Shadows; then play with exposure and contrast. I have heard this tip many times before about interior photos--turn DOWN highlights! Otherwise the photo can be washed out. Particularly true around windows. However, since I was used to a limited photo editor, and I always want my photos to look light and bright, I was used to turning up the brightness and highlights, anything I could do to make it lighter. Nope. Wrong.

My process generally now is I use Lightroom's automatic straightening, then edits, then I tweak. So I go from this (RAW out of the camera)...

To this, auto-straightened and edited by Lightroom. It's better; the dark parts in front of the couch and fireplace are lighter and the window is less washed out, but it's still not right.

Then I made these edits--major areas I changed in rectangles. I like to up the exposure and the Whites, not Highlights ("the whites help you to define the true white in an image and the highlights help to recover lost detail in the highlights of an image"--this article). I also turn down the Vibrance and Saturation, as Lightroom likes to up those and I don't like to call out the red of my original wood trim any more than it is in real life.

I also cropped some of that massive ceiling out. I would crop it even more if I was sharing this to Instagram, which has a more cropped ratio than this (4x6). So here's the finished image as I would use on my blog.

I am not a professional photographer but I have come a LONG way since shooting my last two houses (embarrassed monkey emoji), and I see common issues around that these tips could help. Don't worry about perfection, just play around with your camera settings and room setups (open those curtains!) and see what you can do with some practice!

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