The ubiquitous trend in interior photography recently (since the digital age) is to use little or no lighting and to rely mostly, if not exclusively, on the ambient light (natural existing light) combining the exposures in HDR software or PhotoShop layers. This technique, although popular and easy, results in a flat and uninteresting look that lacks drama and interest, therefore, presenting a very common or even banal appearance. No software technique can replace the beauty of fine lighting in interior photography; interesting lighting can only be achieved through the use of supplemental lights. A good interior photographer doesn’t light just because of technical requirements, because that is seldom the case these days, but rather lights to create beautiful interior photographs with life, style, drama and excitement.
Lighting for interiors is a complicated issue; it is indeed an art in itself. When photographing interiors, the interior photographer must be able to control the effect of the existing light and balance it to the ambient light as well as the other brighter light sources, and for this, a high powered flash lighting system offers the most flexibility and control.
A flash system enables one to balance the exposure range with the existing light, whether it be for residential interior photography, hotel photography, commercial photography or a large industrial facility. For instance, when strong sunlight is pouring into the space, or when there is an exterior view through a window that must be retained in the photograph, the use of a powerful electronic flash will make all the difference in the clarity, contrast and visual interest of the space. Electronic flash will allow one to “over power” or balance to, strong ambient light and this system also allows one to have total control over the ratio, or the effect of the artificial lights to the ambient, which is essential in creating lighting effects and to control the “look and feel” of the space, especially in smaller spaces such as in residential interior photography. For example, if the day was overcast and one wanted the illusion of strong sunlight streaming in through the window, an effective technique would be to shoot a light through a window, or use a strong, direct flash head for a main interior light to create strong shadows and highlights. Conversely, if there was strong sunlight pouring into the room and one didn’t want to “burn out” the area that was illuminated by that direct sunlight, one would use electronic flash to bring the level of the room light up to the level of the sunlight, so there is a pleasing, natural balance. There is an exposure balance when the exposure time (keyed from the brighter light) and the f-stop, (keyed off the flash exposure) are in balance. If the exposure range is too extreme, or If there is an exterior view through a window that is important to capture in the interior photograph, one can expose separately for the brighter areas, including the light sources (wall sconces, chandeliers, etc.) and then blend the layers together using post production Photoshop techniques and layer masking.
Another advantage with electronic flash lighting is that one can put corrective filters over them to balance with the dominate light source, which is invaluable in corporate or industrial interiors, due to the fact that they are frequently lit by fluorescent fixtures or some variation of metal halide which produce a very flat and uninteresting quality of light. In this lighting scenario, a Rosco ½ green correction filter along with varying degrees of warming filtration (Rosco 1/2CTO) over the flash heads will color balance the 5000 – 5500 K of the flash heads to the fluorescents. If the scene is mostly illuminated by tungsten light, the interior photographer would put a Rosco 1/2 CTO over the flash head (or maybe a ¼ CTO filter if it’s a daylight and tungsten mix).
Using these lighting techniques with a flash lighting system, will allow the architectural or interior photographer total control of the lighting effect, thereby having the ability to define his or her own personal style of lighting. Bringing a higher standard of lighting to the shoot will also serve your client better, as it distinguishes the level of their presentation and marketing value of their hotel, interior product or interior project. Fine lighting plays a key compositional role in high quality architectural photography and it should be considered a critical visual element over which one should exercise total control.