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An Introduction to Lighting Interiors

The technique for lighting interiors is different than lighting most other photographic subjects. Interiors need an entirely different approach.  The fundamental difference between interiors and other subjects is that when lighting interiors we are not trying to light the entire scene but rather help camera capture the mood and atmosphere already present there; created by way of light from available sources and the shadows created by them.

Every interiors have their own lighting which gives character to the place. This might  be a combination of daylight streaming in from windows, doors or ceiling panels and supplemental artificial lighting from decorative lamps, light panels in the ceiling, table lamps etc.

Take a look at the scene given below

Interior Photography Lighting Tutorial
Interior Photography Lighting Tutorial

To the human eye, which has a much greater dynamic range than the most advanced digital camera ever made; the scene looks pretty well lit? But as far the digital camera’s sensor is concerned the contrast difference between the light areas and the shadow areas are beyond its capabilities to capture in a single frame. As a result if we expose for the light areas we will lose details in the shadows (shadow clipping) and if we expose for the shadow areas we will lose details in highlights (highlight clipping).

Here's a shot of the same scene exposed for highlights, you can clearly see that we are now losing lots of detail in the shadow areas.

interior photography lighting lessons
interior photography lighting lessons

And here's the same scene exposed for shadows.

Interior Photography Lighting Tips
Interior Photography Lighting Tips

Thus it is clear that with the given conditions the camera is not able to handle the dynamic range present in the scene. The secret to capturing such a scene with a high dynamic range is to reduce contrast between highlights and shadows by subtly filling in the shadows with just the right amount of light. This will bring the contrast levels down to the sensors recordable levels. The key here is to find the right balance between available light and photographic fill light. The aim is to reduce the contrast in the scene without destroying the mood and atmosphere present. In the next article we will discuss about the technique of fill lighting in detail.

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