Interior and Architectural Photography Basics

The following post is by Virginia-based photographer, Mike Miriello, who explains some basic concepts of interior and architectural photography. Learn more about Mike at the end of this post.

Interior and architectural photography is still-life photography at its finest. Your mission is to capture a living, breathing space in a single frame, and somehow preserve the feeling the space projects.

It’s Portrait Photography, But For Spaces

When you take photos of people, you try to capture them when they’re looking their best. You have them smile, you modify light, maybe you tilt their head or angle their shoulders a bit, you might even ask them to hold a prop. Each of those additions assists in making the photo a little bit better, a little more interesting. The same exercise must be done for spaces. Candles, window dressings, flowers, decorations and place settings are all great objects that bring spaces to life. Without staging the space, the photo below is just a bunch of steps.

Composition Viewed as a Percentage

There’s an expression in photography that goes something like, ‘the more you see, the less you know’, and that’s ever so true in interior and architectural photography. Sure, the widest end of a wide-angle lens shows you the space, but it fails to let you know the space. When there’s too much of a space being shown, our eyes don’t know where to look, so as a result, we look everywhere. Viewers can’t grasp a space by looking at it in its entirety, they need to learn about a space in small sections.

If you look at the first two images, each of those are calculated compositions. Each element is specifically chosen to be included. This is where I start to think in terms of percentages.

In the first photo, I don’t need to show 100% of the refrigerator, 75% will let us know what it is and where it fits into the room. I do need to show 100% of the island and bar stools – that’s the feature of the room – we can’t cut that off at the waist. Lastly, about 60% of the cabinets on the right are needed to convey their purpose and place – we don’t need to see the entire right side of them, it doesn’t add anything to the photo. The second photo is 40/60 – 40% stairs, 60% not stairs. That photo isn’t really about the staircase, it’s about the space the staircase does and doesn’t own.

Maximize Your Light

I photograph a great deal of real estate in any given week and it wouldn’t be possible without making the best use of available light. In order to be efficient, I utilize a post-production method known as ‘exposure fusion’. Plainly stated, I use my camera to capture every bit of light in the space via bracketing, then I sort it out in the digital darkroom.

This process is very conducive to capturing the dynamic range our eyes actually see. Scientifically speaking, our eyes can view and process approximately 24 stops of light at any given moment while our current cameras can only view between 12-13. Combining multiple exposures of a single image allows us to manually construct what our eyes can do on their own. One of the main drawbacks of this method is the time-factor – while it makes shooting a scene speedy, post-production tends to move a bit slower. Another drawback is the way the image looks, or should I say, how it can be made to look…

I’m talking about HDR. High-Dynamic-Range images are getting all sorts of attention these days, and its not always for the positive. Tone-mapped, surreal, painting-like images have become the face of HDR. They’re great – I like them and I dig the way they look – the only problem is that people have come to equate an HDR image with that edgy effect, which happens to be only one of the many ways of processing an HDR image. Unlike tone-mapping, exposure fusion works to create an even and realistic blend of the exposures – nearing the way our eyes actually view the space.

Exposure Fusion Isn’t Just For Interiors

Our eyes can see every level of luminance in a space like this, but our camera can’t. It attempts to even-out the luminance levels of the scene, hoping to make everything just the way we want it to – unfortunately, it’s tricked by the highlights in the sky, making everything darker than it should be. Even if we spot-metered a point in the mid-level luminance range, it would over-expose the sky. If we’re forced to take a single exposure, we won’t be able to capture the organic nature of the space. By bracketing and fusing the exposures, we’re able to retain the highlights, shadows, and everything in-between.

Same thing with this one…


A common theme in this post is ‘space’. Regardless of whether we’re photographing a beautiful kitchen, a unique staircase, an amazing infinity-edge pool, or a master-planned community – we’re photographing spaces. These spaces have unique qualities that seem more like personalities. Some spaces are alive with smooth edges while others have natural light – some feature split-tone paint colors while others highlight the setting sun. The first step it to identify what your space is showing the world – the next is letting it be seen.

Mike Miriello is a professional photographer specializing in interiors, architecture, weddings, and photojournalism and is located in Harrisonburg, Virginia.  Mike runs the Real Estate Photography Podcast as well as his own website, Miriello Photography.