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Creating Digital images of Interiors   

We continually get questions from our visitors and customers on how we get such good-looking interior images in our virtual tour (real estate) demos.  The typical question asked is how many mega pixels do I need to get good looking images and what kind of wide angle lenses and cameras are required to create the panoramas.  Here is a case where size is not the issue.

The images on demos look good because they where correctly lighted.  Exposure (lighting issues) is the number one consideration and obstacle to professional looking interior shots.  Panoramas are created from multiple shots taken with average wide-angle lenses.  The panoramas are created with stitching software that is included with most paint software and is usually included with most new digital cameras.

We are not going to attempt to give a complete photography course here, only to provide you with some suggestions that will help you create better interior digital images and to select the right digital camera to get the job done.

What do you need?

Here are the tools you will need to take good digital interior shots for creating interior virtual tours:

  • A digital camera with:
    • Three mega pixels or more of image capture
    • The ability to manually adjust the exposure settings (critical)
    • A good wide angle flash or ability to use external flash
  • A tripod
  • A level (sometimes built in the tripod)
  • A good light meter that does flash and available light (optional but a great help)

Why do I need these?

Take your digital camera, go into a room with a window(s) and light colored walls, your most common situation.  Set your camera for automatic and take a flash shot.  What do you get.. a very gray dark looking image with no snap.

You got this because the reflections from the white walls fooled your light meter.  This caused your camera to underexpose.  This will happen every time! 

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Fig .1 Result of Cameras normal exposure

Fig 2 Exposing for the window  view

Fig 3 Exposure set for +2 (stops)

virtual tour digital photography


Fig 4 Composite of images 2 and 3 above


The fix is to override your cameras automatic settings and compensate for the reflections.  More advanced cameras have exposure compensation controls, which let you control how much you want to change your exposure relative to what the light meter reads.

The normal setting for this on your camera will be “0”. However, for white walls (bright colors in general)  set it to “+2”, or in camera speak, over expose two full stops.

Your digital camera will give you the images immediately so compare and see what you get If it is too bright lower the exposure compensation.  Better cameras offer 1/3 or ½ stop adjustments for this setting.

If you have a laptop down load the images right after you take them and compare the exposures, experiment until you get an image with the walls and furniture looking good. For now ignore the view out the window.  After you have done this a couple of times you may not want to or need to take your lap top with you.  Its less hassle to lug the laptop then it is to have to go back and re shoot!  (Consider these words of wisdom!) 

Experienced photographers can use a flash exposure meter to get quick precise results.  These are expensive and should be considered a luxury item.

You will need the tripod and level so you can create images that can be “stitched” together to produce panoramas. 

TIP: Turn on all the lights in the room! (it looks much better)

Lets not forget the view out the window

It is rare when a single exposure setting will give you good interior lighting and show outside detail.  So here is the first reason you brought that tripod.

Don't forget to level the camera as best you can because this will affect all your results.

Take your first room shots to get the exposure for the interior.  Save the good shot. Important! In order to maintain the same aspect ratio of the window for your interior shot you must leave your tripod in the exact same position! Now without flash take images from the same fixed position on the tripod adjusting your exposure until the image through the window looks properly exposed, the rest of the image doesn't matter.

You may have guessed what we are doing here, you will use your image editing software to cut and paste the properly exposed window(s) into your properly exposed room.  What you get is a great looking image that could not be captured with a single exposure! 

Summary – Practice Makes Perfect

The good thing about learning to shoot interiors is that you almost always have one handy.  Practice exposure and stitching images from your home and office.  You will build confidence and acquire the skills before you do it for real.

And Finally..

Exposure control and lighting are the key to good interior shooting (and all photography as well).   Selecting a digital camera that gives you manual control of your exposure and practice should be your first consideration in a purchase.  Without exposure control there is little chance of repeatable success in interior digital photography.

<Click here for a tutorial on creating panoramic images>
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