The before and after: taking a photograph of a kitchen from typical to high quality.
This photograph demonstrates a typical real estate listing photograph for interior real estate photography that anyone with a DSLR camera, wide angle lens and camera-mounted flash unit can produce. Sure, it's better than what you'd see coming from a mobile phone camera but there are still a number of issues with this image. The most obvious being the crazy amount of distortion coming from the incorrect usage of a wide angle lens. In this example none of the cabinets are straight, and I think we all know as humans that kitchen cabinets are not built with these wild angles.
So how do I make this into a better image? First I correct some other problems that contribute to distracting the viewer and take away from what is otherwise a very nicely put together space: this kitchen needs to be tidied up. I've used some crude arrows to point out the clutter on the counter, the towel hanging from the oven handle and the chairs pulled up to the meal area. Let's get them out of the way.
Next we need to move on to correcting the distortion of the wide angle lens. In this image, the lens I'm using is set to it's widest setting: 14mm. It's so tempting when photographing interior spaces to make use of wide angle lenses at their wide settings because they let you stand in a room and show the whole thing. The result of this is that it makes for images that are not pleasing and frankly are misleading by exaggerating how large a space is. As some producing interior real estate photography, my job is to present spaces as they are and not mislead a potential buyer, and also to help my clients demonstrate all the features and benefits that spaces offer to buyers. Here I have highlighted a few spots where distortion is most obvious, but really every single line in this image is incorrect:
So how do I fix the distortion and still take advantage of my wide angle lens to show off the features of a space? In the previous image, the photograph was taken in a typical position: standing up with the camera up to the eye, just as any normal person would take a photo. Since it's a wide angle lens, I need to aim the camera down to capture the entire space, and that is what causes the distortion.
The distortion is corrected very easily by just lowering the camera height! In the following image, the camera is now positioned just above waist height and is levelled. I often like to place the camera even closer to the floor than this, but when photographing a kitchen it is important to show the counter space so here the camera is positioned above the counter height.
Something else that is happening in this image is that the flash that was mounted on the camera in the previous images is no longer there. Using a camera mounted flash is a very fast way to produce an image, but it leads to unpleasant or unrealistic shadows in spaces. I am going to take control of the lighting in this space by moving the light source away from the camera and operating everything in fully manual mode so I can make sure that the image tells a proper story. The first step is to establish a base exposure setting that allows the viewer to see what's going on outside the window as well as to highlight the interior light in the cabinet.
And here we go. In this image two off camera flash units are active to fill the space with light. The arrows are intended to demonstrate which direction the light is coming from: one flash is to the right of the camera lighting up the cabinets, and the other is hidden behind the refrigerator putting more light into the space inside the counter tops. This image is better, but still needs improvement. The most obvious issues are the shadow on the very left of the image, the shadow under the overhanging countertop, and the dark edge of the counter (see the question marks).
I corrected this by adding another flash at a low power setting off to camera left. You can see in the next image that the odd shadows are gone and the edge of the counter has been lit up. All that needs to be fixed now to arrive at a final image are some extra details: repositioning the kitchen faucet so that it is centred above the sinks, add a bit more light on the front of the cabinets under the sink to remove that shadow, and turning on the stove lights to help brighten up that area and add a bit more warmth to the stovetop.
And that's it, here is the final image for interior real estate photography. Time to produce this image? About five minutes on site and no photoshop whatsoever, resulting in what I consider to be a pleasing image that shows the bright kitchen space in a way that we would naturally perceive it to be if we were there.
I'd like to add that the image serves it's purpose well, but I wouldn't consider it something for use in a magazine or to highlight the abilities of an interior designer. In those cases I would spend much more time creating this image in a different way that would also fix the other problems I see, but don't consider important for this use.
Lastly, here is a photo of what the setup looks like for this image. You see the camera mounted on a tripod with a geared tripod head (to achieve accurate level), with the wide angle lens set to 24mm. To the right of the camera is the main fill light that brightens up the cabinets, the arrow that is in the middle is showing where I placed a small light hidden from view that removed the shadow on the cabinets under the sink. On the left by the window is where the light is placed that put most of the light into the kitchen space, and on the far left is the light that removed the shadow on the side of the fridge, the one under the counter overhang and brightened up the edge of the counter.