Professional Interior and Architectural Photographer Shares Useful Lighting Techniques

The expectations and demands for high quality architectural photography has changed throughout the years and the architectural photographer must adjust his techniques, especially with respect to interior photography. Architecture is always evolving; to quote the great architect Louis Sullivan; "form follows function" and as new building materials, such as energy efficient UV glass, become more available, they can make more practical, the form and function of the architecture. Many architects, especially in the scenic Southwest, are now designing homes with expansive windows to visually bring the outside views of the landscape into the home, which although is very photographic, can also be challenging for an architectural photographer. This is especially true for architectural photography in very scenic areas where many high-end residences and buildings are being built amongst the natural environment. An architectural photographer and an interior photographer will have many situations which will demand, as a compositional element, the ability to capture both a well lit interior, along with the beautiful desert exterior view.

The best lighting technique for solving this problem is for the architectural photographer to use high-powered strobe lights to balance the exposure of the bright exterior to the interior; otherwise the outside landscape scene would be over exposed beyond recognition. The f-stop for the exposure is based off the strobe output and the shudder speed is determined by the proper exterior exposure; there is a point where one can keep just the right amount of ambient light and still maintain the exterior view by subtly finessing the shudder speed; it is usually more natural looking to keep as much interior ambient light as possible. It is also important to keep the exterior view lighter (1/2 - 1 stop over the inferior) so that it doesn't look unrealistic. If time or budget makes a full lighting set up impractical, fairly good results can also be achieved by using a few lower powered lights and more ambient, exposing for the interior and exterior separately, then masking and combining exposures in Photoshop. Try setting up only a few lights and light only part of the room, then move them around to light another part, until you get the lighting effect you are after - then combine the exposures in Photoshop. In any case, it is preferable to get the exterior view exposure as close as possible by balancing with strobe in order to simplify the masking process.

Another way to balance the interior exposure to the exterior light, is to photograph at a time of day when the exterior is relatively dark, or at least within the range of the exposure of the interior light. Depending on the situation, this may be when most of the exterior is in deep shadow, on a day that is overcast, or either very early or late in the day when the light is not too harsh. When photographing in the Southwest, it may be possible to achieve this balance in the afternoon during the monsoon season, when typically it clouds up for a few hours; plan your views accordingly. Many years ago, an interior photography lighting system, may have been comprised of continuous light sources; blue 250 -500 watt "daylight" flood lamps (which were rated at 4200K when new). These were put in lamps, recessed ceiling fixtures and simple reflectors. This technique produces a soft interior light that balanced fairly close to the color temperature of the daylight; however, one would have to utilize the proceeding exposure technique of shooting under the right conditions or time of day when the exterior light wasn't to bright if "blowing out" the exterior view was not acceptable.