Pix Tricks
April 14, 2009 - 12:00pm

Residential Lighting: What are the basics for photographing retail space filled with lighting?

Ken Rice:
During the day, use daylight film or set the white balance on a digital camera to around 5,300K. Use strobes to lighten up darker areas without overpowering the lights in the store, and you’ll see how decorative fixtures look when illuminated.

At night, use tungsten film, which is balanced at 3,200K, or set your digital camera to around 3,000K. The problem with shooting at night is the camera can’t handle contrast as the eye can. When you shoot the space, you find that the highlights blast out and the dark areas get really dark.

RL: How do you fix that?

I use neutral density filters—either ½-stop or 1-stop filters. They’re gels that you can get at a good photography store. You cut them into 2-inch squares and tape them over MR16s, using larger squares for recessed lights. This cuts the intensity of individual lights, and you won’t see these filters in the


RL: How many lights should be on?

I turn on everything and use the filters to bring down lights that are too bright. If you have fluorescent lighting in the same space as incan-descent lighting, you will have a color crossover.

RL: How would you compose a shot?

Start with a low perspective, maybe 3 feet off the ground. I am more eye-level when I shoot, but that varies if I’m shooting over a service counter or table. For most interiors, you use a wide-angle lens to accentuate the size of elements in the foreground. [In that case], you want to be above eye level, maybe a foot or two, otherwise the counter will look enormous. The best thing is to experiment and compare. Be sure the camera is level. If you don’t, you will have distortion of your verticals. If the walls don’t look straight, the picture won’t look right.

RL: How can we take a great shot of the exterior?

Use daylight film or the daylight setting on your digital camera. Shoot 15 minutes or so before dusk. If you are several feet back, you will get some sky, and your lighting display will have a big, warm glow. The interior lights are at 3,000K and the camera is set at around 5,500K, so you get warmth. Some people like that warm look and others don’t because it’s yellowy-orange. However, if you use tungsten film or set your camera to 3,000K, you will be synched to the display lights and the sky will be royal blue. You have a 10-minute window to pull this off. If you miss it, the blue sky becomes black. It’s a frantic 10 minutes, but it’s worth it.

Tips for Great Shots

  • Use a wide-angle lens, but keep the camera level.
  • Use neutral density filters to tone down highlights.
  • If available, try to add flash or strobe lighting to

    fill in dark areas of your showroom.

Source: Ken Rice

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