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Room Show Off (Photographing an interior)
By Kenneth C. Hoffman
Why don't the pictures of your new living room, basement, kitchen or bedroom look as nice as the pictures in the catalogs? After all the money you spent on furniture, drapes, carpet and accessories, it should look beautiful. The human eye sees an angle of view of almost one hundred eighty degrees and at the same time can resolve sharp detail. In order to come close to this feat of magic, the camera's abilities must be stretched to the limit.
A twenty-four millimeter wide angle lens sees an angle of eighty-four degrees, sufficiently wide for our purposes. A wider angle lens starts to show too much distortion through foreshortening and a less wide lens will make the room seem smaller. A second choice of a twenty-eight millimeter lens with an angle of view of seventy-five degrees is acceptable. A trick I have used to increase the width of view is to shoot through a doorway, just missing the sides of the opening. Unless you own an expensive perspective correcting lens, a distance of four feet from the floor is ideal to prevent convergence (when the walls appear to tilt in). If you own a digital camera with a 28mm lens, perspective can be corrected digitally with software from Adobe Image Ready or the equivalent. Most wide angle lenses share the fault of barrel distortion. This can be corrected with software from radcor.com.
Walk around the room and choose a view that includes the best look for most of the furniture. Two different views may be necessary to tell the whole story. For a spacious look, shoot into a corner, slightly to the right or left of dead center. Pictures taken at right angles to a wall look constricted and less spacious. Interesting table tops will look better from a higher angle. Be sure to light all lamps in the rooom.
Another method of presenting a whole room in one picture is to use the stitch method. First find the center of the lens node. This is a point halfway between the front element and the sensor chip. Place the camera on a tripod, attached at the node point. Level the camera, set the lens on 50mm* (equivilant) and take several slightly overlapping pictures. The images may be stitched manually or helped with software for that purpose. Be sure to smooth any indications of joining.
While flash on the camera is safe and will render the whole scene in accurate color, too much is lost in the way of depth, highlight and shadow detail and in attaining an interesting look. Flash on the camera flattens the scene, reflects unnaturally off flat surfaces and introduces a dark shadow around every object in the room. A better lighting includes a single bright light in a large reflector and a second light bounced off the back wall not appearing in the picture. Items of a dark nature like a dark stained cabinets need an additional spotlight in order to balance the tones in the picture. Night time pictures avoid the problem of overly lit windows, but if the window treatment only looks good with light coming through the window, time your photos at dawn or at dusk. The bluish light entering the window at these times while not matching in color temperature is quite dramatic and attractive. This blue light can be corrected later in the computer.
For sharpest results, use manual camera settings. The best f stop to use is F11 or F16. These stops provide the most depth of field and the sharpest detail. Wider f stops might produce a softening of focus near the camera and a more narrow f stop (F22 or F32) will bring in less detail due to the diffraction effect. Take a meter reading at the recommended f stop for the appropriate shutter speed. Animals or people may be included in the composition, but remember to make sure they don't move for the duration of the exposure which may take several seconds. These photographs are great for your album, insurance records and an aid to decorating. Good luck!
*A wider lens setting will introduce too much foreshortening for stitching successfully.
I'm happy when you're happy.
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