Why is shoot­ing in the inte­ri­or a sep­a­rate genre? In what way does the space filled with objects help to com­ple­ment our idea of ​​the per­son­al­i­ty of the mod­el?

With the help of artis­tic pho­tog­ra­phy, you can tell a sto­ry, assem­ble a sin­gle pic­ture from a kalei­do­scope of details, find a unique har­mo­ny of a char­ac­ter, show an inter­nal con­flict through exter­nal man­i­fes­ta­tions, cre­ate a mood with the help of pos­es, com­po­si­tion, and light­ing.

The items you include in the frame can set the mood and con­vey the char­ac­ter of the mod­el / Illus­tra­tion: unsplash.com

We have pre­pared tips and life hacks on how to take a por­trait in the envi­ron­ment.

Por­trait in the inte­ri­or. Def­i­n­i­tion and clas­si­fi­ca­tion
Work with the mod­el
Use a tri­pod
Shoot dif­fer­ent shots
Don’t For­get Com­po­si­tion­al Tech­niques
Use dif­fer­ent focal lengths
Exper­i­ment with light
Shoot in RAW

Portrait in the interior. Definition and classification

The world of objects is a con­tin­u­a­tion of a per­son­’s per­son­al­i­ty. He can give an idea about his pro­fes­sion, social sta­tus, hob­bies, about the inner world and expe­ri­enced trau­mas, about the beliefs and expe­ri­ences of a per­son. Inte­ri­or details are impor­tant, they are the com­po­si­tion­al com­po­nent of the over­all pic­ture and deter­mine this type of por­trait as a genre.

A strik­ing exam­ple is the “Com­mu­nal Series” by the St. Peters­burg pho­tog­ra­ph­er and video­g­ra­ph­er Yaroslav Bulavin, filmed in 2018–2019. This is a project about space, about hos­tels and com­mu­nal apart­ments in Moscow and St. Peters­burg, where space and life, along with peo­ple, play an impor­tant seman­tic role.

Snap­shot from the “Com­mu­nal Series” / Pho­to: Yaroslav Bulavin

Let’s go back to the def­i­n­i­tion itself. Por­trait in the inte­ri­or — this is one of the types of por­trait genre, the com­po­si­tion­al com­po­nent of which is the inte­ri­or. A per­son still remains the seman­tic cen­ter of pho­tog­ra­phy, but at the same time he becomes a part of the space sur­round­ing him, one of the ele­ments of the inte­ri­or.

The view­er reads the whole pic­ture com­plete­ly: he cor­re­lates all the details and ele­ments of the envi­ron­ment with the per­son or group of peo­ple in the frame.

It is impor­tant to under­stand that there are no clear bound­aries between the types of inte­ri­or por­trai­ture, just as they do not exist in any oth­er genre of pho­tog­ra­phy. All for­mu­la­tions are rather con­di­tion­al, clas­si­fi­ca­tions can flow from one to anoth­er. They depend, as a rule, on the posi­tion of the view­er and answer the ques­tions “What?”, “Where?”, “When?”. Based on this, we dis­tin­guish the fol­low­ing types of inte­ri­or pho­tog­ra­phy.

  • report­ing;
  • staged;
  • genre;
  • pro­duc­tion por­trait (por­trait of a per­son in a work­ing envi­ron­ment);
  • house por­trait;
  • stu­dio por­trait (pro­vid­ed that the stu­dio is inte­ri­or);
  • pro­to­col shoot­ing (reportage shoot­ing at offi­cial events);
  • cer­e­mo­ni­al or rep­re­sen­ta­tive por­trait (as a rule, shows a per­son­’s high social sta­tus).
A por­trait in an envi­ron­ment is used when it is impor­tant to show what a per­son is doing / Illus­tra­tion: unsplash.com

The main thing to remem­ber is that there are no rules in pho­tog­ra­phy, there are only tips! Exper­i­ment, find your style and in the process of work you will have your own secrets and “chips”. And in this mate­r­i­al we will give basic and use­ful rec­om­men­da­tions for suc­cess­ful inte­ri­or shoot­ing.

Work with the model

A good shot depends not only on the tech­ni­cal skills of the pho­tog­ra­ph­er, but also on com­fort­able con­di­tions for all par­tic­i­pants in the shoot­ing, includ­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal ones.

Before the pho­to ses­sion, you can try your­self as a mod­el. Some­times it is impor­tant to be in the place of the per­son being pho­tographed in order to project all the feel­ings of your mod­el onto your­self. Ask your friends (pros, ama­teur pho­tog­ra­phers or just a friend with a DSLR) to take pic­tures of you in the stu­dio or at home. This will help to iden­ti­fy all the nuances of an uncom­fort­able state. In the future, this prac­tice will sim­pli­fy the work with the mod­el.

If you are pho­tograph­ing a stranger, then take a few min­utes to talk, find com­mon ground with the per­son being por­trayed. An impor­tant point for both the pho­tog­ra­ph­er and the mod­el is trust in each oth­er. Also, keep in touch while film­ing. Some­times it is appro­pri­ate to talk about some­thing per­son­al in order to bring a per­son to the right emo­tions. Here, start from the sit­u­a­tion, inter­per­son­al rela­tion­ships, the nature of the mod­el and the type of shoot­ing.

Some­times a per­son in a por­trait may not be vis­i­ble at all / Illus­tra­tion: unsplash.com

A pro­fes­sion­al mod­el always knows her good angle, strengths, advan­ta­geous pos­es. Politi­cians, accus­tomed to dai­ly pho­to and video shoot­ing, also have the skills of pos­ing. If you feel that your mod­el is feel­ing con­strained and inse­cure, then help her. Prompt the cor­rect pos­ture, rec­om­mend inter­ac­tion with the object. This often works recep­tion dur­ing film­ing: you pre­tend to take a pic­ture. And after press­ing the shut­ter-release but­ton, the mod­el usu­al­ly relax­es, at which point you take the pic­ture.

If tech­ni­cal­ly (and not only) the shoot­ing does not go as you planned, nev­er show it. The mod­el will almost always take fail­ures per­son­al­ly, think­ing that it’s her own inex­pe­ri­ence in front of the cam­era. This will lead to even more inse­cu­ri­ty and con­straint. So always keep your face. If you are well pre­pared, you can eas­i­ly deal with tech­ni­cal prob­lems.

Use a tripod

For what? First, it will free your hands. When shoot­ing a por­trait, you often have to cor­rect some­thing or change the lens. Using a tri­pod will allow you to do this with­out los­ing your angle. Sec­ond­ly, and not least, the use of a tri­pod in a staged por­trait gives you anoth­er plus — while you are installing it and set­ting up the cam­era, you can once again eval­u­ate and calm­ly think about whether you are doing every­thing right? A tri­pod teach­es you to keep the process under con­trol, dis­ci­plines, which is espe­cial­ly impor­tant, for exam­ple, in com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­phy.

It is bet­ter to take one good, thought­ful, clear shot than many bad ones that you will delete dur­ing pro­cess­ing. And final­ly, obvi­ous­ly, using a tri­pod will allow you to shoot at a slow­er shut­ter speed if there is not enough light in the inte­ri­or where you are pho­tograph­ing, and your idea does not allow using an open aper­ture, high ISO and the use of arti­fi­cial light sources.

Shoot different shots

To shoot a clas­sic por­trait, we are used to using main­ly close-up (shoul­der por­trait). The cen­tral place is occu­pied by a per­son­’s face, his facial expres­sions, emo­tions, mood. In the inte­ri­or por­trait, some­thing else is impor­tant — you need to show the rela­tion­ship of a per­son with the objec­tive world. For such pur­pos­es, gen­er­al and medi­um plans are bet­ter suit­ed.

On the gen­er­al we see the time and place of shoot­ing. The per­son is still the cen­tral char­ac­ter, but the focus also falls on the envi­ron­ment around the char­ac­ter. The hero is shown in his usu­al envi­ron­ment. Inte­ri­or ele­ments can tell about the work of the hero, his social sta­tus, hob­bies. It is impor­tant that the view­er cor­re­lates every detail in the image with the per­son being por­trayed by default, so be care­ful not to get any­thing super­flu­ous into the frame.

Medi­um plan The por­trait can be divid­ed into the first medi­um and the sec­ond medi­um. The first is cropped in the waist area, the sec­ond — just above the char­ac­ter’s knees. Such a plan shows the inter­ac­tion of man with the envi­ron­ment.

Include inte­ri­or details and things impor­tant to the mod­el in your pho­to series / Illus­tra­tion: unsplash.com

Close-up pho­tog­ra­phy does not imply the absence of the inte­ri­or in the frame. For exam­ple, you can always shoot through detailsbring­ing them to the fore. If you are film­ing a series, even shots with a com­plete absence of a per­son on them are not exclud­ed. It can be just inte­ri­or ele­ments. But here it is impor­tant that they cor­re­late with the per­son being por­trayed.

Try to take pic­tures using dif­fer­ent angles. Diver­si­ty helps to most wide­ly show the world and the social envi­ron­ment of the hero.

Don’t Forget Compositional Techniques

Com­po­si­tion is how the objects in your pho­to fit togeth­er and with­in the frame. It is a means of con­trol­ling the view­er’s atten­tion. It is impor­tant that the pho­to reads the way you intend­ed. Arrange objects in the frame so that the pic­ture is per­ceived by the view­er eas­i­ly and pleas­ing to the eye.

There are sim­ple basic com­po­si­tion­al tech­niques that every pho­tog­ra­ph­er should know.

The rule of thirds. Men­tal­ly divide the space of the frame into nine equal parts. Posi­tion the main sub­ject at one of the inter­sec­tion points of the imag­i­nary lines, bal­anc­ing the frame.

per­spec­tive. Use focal length dis­tor­tion to give your image depth and dimen­sion.

Sym­me­try. Posi­tion the main object in the cen­ter of the com­po­si­tion, bal­anc­ing it with sym­met­ri­cal ele­ments on the sides of it. Or place the seman­tic cen­ter on one side of the pho­to, and arrange a sim­i­lar ele­ment as if in a mir­ror pro­jec­tion.

Use aper­ture. Set it to the max­i­mum open posi­tion so that the depth of field (depth of field) is min­i­mal. Focus on the main sub­ject to blur the back­ground.

All these com­po­si­tion rules are not dog­mas, but only rec­om­men­da­tions that will help make your shoot­ing more dynam­ic and expres­sive.

Use different focal lengths

Ide­al­ly, you should have a suf­fi­cient num­ber of lens­es with dif­fer­ent focal lengths. Both stan­dard optics with a fixed focus and zoomed “glass­es” are per­fect. The Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM is an excel­lent wide-angle lens for wide shots, per­spec­tive and vol­ume. The Canon EF‑S 10–18mm f/4.5–5.6 IS STM will also allow you to put more details into the frame. Com­pact and light­weight ultra-wide-angle zoom lens suit­able for shoot­ing not only por­traits but also archi­tec­ture.

Nikon’s most ver­sa­tile wide-angle lens is the Nikon 24–120mm f/4G ED VR AF‑S Nikkor. The lens has a con­stant f/4 aper­ture and a stan­dard focal length of 24–120. The optics notice­ably changes the effect of ghost­ing and bright reflec­tions. And the silent motor ensures qui­et focus­ing.

One of the basic and most afford­able options in terms of bud­get is the Nikon 10–20mm f / 4.5–5.6G VR AF‑P DX Nikkor. The lens is easy to use and com­fort­able to use, allows you to take clear pic­tures in low light con­di­tions.

The Sony FE 12–24mm f/2.8 GM lens can boast of its tech­ni­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics and func­tions. It is a wide-angle full-frame lens with a con­stant aper­ture, fast and accu­rate aut­o­fo­cus. With this lens, you can cre­ate dynam­ic per­spec­tives and three-dimen­sion­al images.

In small spaces, it is bet­ter to shoot with a wide-angle lens. This will fit more details into the frame / Illus­tra­tion: unsplash.com

Lens The Sony E 10–18mm f/4 OSS lens is equipped with a ver­sa­tile sev­en blade aper­ture. It will serve as an excel­lent option for both por­trait and land­scape shots.

Fuji­film GF 45mm F2.8 R WR guar­an­tees high image qual­i­ty. This lens fea­tures high aper­ture and weath­er pro­tec­tion. An unri­valed com­bi­na­tion of light­weight design and pic­ture qual­i­ty.

Cheap­er and faster — only Fuji­film GF 45mm F2.8 R WR. With auto focus and sta­bi­liza­tion func­tion. A motor­ized zoom will be a nice bonus.

But more often than not, the use of lens­es with a vari­able focal length soon­er or lat­er leads to the biggest mis­take of a novice pho­tog­ra­ph­er. Instead of chang­ing lens­es and find­ing the best angle for the shot, the solu­tion comes to mind: “I’ll zoom in and stay put.” Which ulti­mate­ly leads to the fact that after shoot­ing you don’t have a full-fledged pho­to shoot with a lot of dif­fer­ent shots, but a bunch of sim­i­lar shots, dif­fer­ing only in close-up / medi­um / wide shots tak­en from one point.

Experiment with light

Secret num­ber six, which is not a secret at all.

Light is the most impor­tant thing a pho­tog­ra­ph­er should keep in mind when shoot­ing. The term “pho­tog­ra­phy” itself lit­er­al­ly means “light paint­ing”. If you use nat­ur­al light for shoot­ing, care­ful­ly con­sid­er where and how you will posi­tion the sub­ject in the frame, from what point you will shoot, what the expo­sure set­tings will be in order to make a good, high-qual­i­ty shot.

Remem­ber that light con­di­tions can change very quick­ly in a few min­utes, some­times in just a few sec­onds, keep an eye on the expo­sure. You can also change them your­self. For exam­ple, by clos­ing the tulle on the win­dows, you can turn bright sun­light into soft dif­fused light if you are shoot­ing, for exam­ple, a female por­trait and want to smooth out facial fea­tures. Or, pass­ing a ray of sun between the cur­tains, high­light the object of shoot­ing or the desired detail in the inte­ri­or, and there­by achieve a bet­ter com­po­si­tion in the frame.

You can exper­i­ment not only with light, but also with a pro­jec­tor / Illus­tra­tion: unsplash.com

And in order to illu­mi­nate the details that are in the shad­ows, or just even out the light­ing, use a reflec­tor. For por­trait shoot­ing, the Ray­lab RF-01 2in1 reflec­tor is well suit­ed. The kit includes a dou­ble-sided gold and sil­ver reflec­tor. The sil­ver side gives a cold­er light, the gold side warmer.

If you want more con­trol over the process, use arti­fi­cial light sources. The best option for a begin­ner pho­tog­ra­ph­er would be to use one or two light sources (con­stant or pulsed) with light-shap­ing attach­ments. For exam­ple, using the Ray­lab SPG6060 soft­box will give you many options for cre­at­ing a light­ing scene: you can move the source, adjust the bright­ness, direc­tion­al­i­ty and type of light­ing, there­by sim­u­lat­ing the light­ing scheme you need.

One of the sim­plest and most pop­u­lar schemes is the clas­sic or “Hol­ly­wood” one. The light you mod­el should be as nat­ur­al as pos­si­ble. To do this, we place the source of the main (draw­ing) light a lit­tle high­er and away from the sub­ject. This arrange­ment of the source helps to achieve good illu­mi­na­tion of the face.

At the same time, do not set your­self the task of “illu­mi­nat­ing every­thing so that it can be seen nor­mal­ly.” Remem­ber, you are the light writer, not the spot­light.

Shoot in RAW

The RAW for­mat stores all pos­si­ble infor­ma­tion about the pic­ture tak­en. Each pix­el con­tains the max­i­mum infor­ma­tion about the col­or and bright­ness of the cap­tured object, all the light that hit the matrix of your cam­era. It will help you with the post-pro­cess­ing of the frame.

With the help of a graph­ic edi­tor you will improve your pic­ture in just a few min­utes. After plac­ing the file in the pro­gram, sequen­tial­ly cor­rect the expo­sure flaws using the “bright­ness”, “con­trast” tools and the accom­pa­ny­ing “shad­ows” and “lights”. You can also cor­rect the white bal­ance or change the col­or tone of the pho­to with the Hue and Sat­u­ra­tion tools.

Dur­ing pro­cess­ing, the RAW file itself does not change, all edits will be saved to a sep­a­rate file, and you can save the processed frame in any for­mat you need. You can use ready-made cor­rec­tion set­tings (the so-called “pre­sets”) from rec­og­nized mas­ters of pho­tog­ra­phy, but it’s bet­ter not to get car­ried away with this. You will get a much more valu­able expe­ri­ence if you your­self improve your pic­tures, cre­at­ing your own style.