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While tons of people obsess over certain Hollywood A-Listers, I find myself weak in the knees for the unsung heroes of glamour — shelter magazine photographers. My obsession is somewhat justified, because, unless you’re going to barge into the home of my latest client, you’re most likely going to see my work (and hire me) through the work of these photographers. And interiors shoots are kinda fascinating. Not in an OMG-look-what-Suri-Cruise-is-wearing-on-the-playground type way. More like in a WOW-that’s-how-the-Egyptians-made-the-Pyramids kinda way. So prepare to be amazed, like one of those TV specials, as I reveal…secrets of shelter magazine photographers.

After this post, when looking at interior photos, you’ll not only appreciate the work it took to create them, you’ll — like I do — notice the curious absence of everyday things like corners. And toilets. And if you do see them, you’ll know that someone either made a major faux pas or deliberately embraced the photographer’s “kiss of death.”

I could keep typing, but, instead, I’m going to let the professionals do the talking since (a) I find myself irritating after two paragraphs (b) this is all about photographers anyway (c) I have a photo shoot in an hour, and if I don’t leave now, someone else will snatch the peonies, and I’ll be left with Alstroemeria.


Foyer: Neely Design Associates, Brian Watford ID | Living Room: Liza Bryan Interiors

BPF: What makes a room easy to photograph?

EJF: Great light! I love finding the natural light in a room, then adding some light to supplement what is already there. This makes for a beautiful photograph; however, gorgeous design and plenty of props make my job easier. Although it photographed beautifully, this foyer was tricky to shoot. In order to capture the wood detail of the millwork, I had to supplement the shot with artificial light, while keeping it in balance with the natural light flowing in through the stairwell window. The classic, airy living room was extremely easy to photograph due to its abundance of natural light, as well as the expertly styled objects.

BPF: What’s the longest you’ve spent on a single shot?

EJF: I suppose the longest I’ve taken to capture one shot would be about three to four hours. Cover shots are tough but very rewarding. Product shots for interior magazines or catalogs often take the longest. For example, shooting in a studio through a hole in the roof that was about 20 feet above the set turned out to be a particularly long day to create three images. It took about 10 minutes just to get from the set to my camera on the roof! We had to shoot straight down on the items in order to show the large repeat in the fabrics. Thank goodness for infrared remotes and fabulous assistants.

MALI AZIMA Photographer

Oetgen Design

BPF: Is there a particular room you find the easiest or the most enjoyable to photograph?

MA: I actually like shooting master bedrooms the best. Bedrooms are difficult to shoot, because beds take up most of the space and styling them is complicated. Moving a California king is tricky too, especially when it’s attached to the wall. All that aside, I like how people arrange art, photographs and collections that hold great meaning for them in their bedrooms and how they dress their beds in ways that are comforting to them. These are personal spaces.

Charles Gandy

BPF: Tell me about your favorite portfolio image that was a nightmare to shoot.

MA: It was a master suite’s lounge space that had an overall dark aesthetic and therefore was challenging to light. Plus the room had parallel and perpendicular lines found in the wall upholstery and millwork that I couldn’t distort without killing the composition. It had a flat panel TV front and center, and since blank TVs often read as black holes, I needed to have the TV on. This added another layer of difficulty, because I had to light and time the exposure so that the screen would not only show up, but also look natural, as if naturally lit by the window. The soap opera Passions had been a guilty pleasure of mine a few years before the shoot. I was excited to catch this scene on the screen as a nod to my personal history, and because I seem to be a fan of unrequited love and the idea that true love never goes away. And also, when I look at the picture, it looks like the art in the room is listening to Teresa plead to Ethan, as if it is a spiritual message!

PATRICK CLINE, Co-Founder and Director of Photography, Lonny Magazine

Brad Ford ID

BPF: What kind of spaces get your creative juices flowing in regards to taking a great shot?

PC: I guess I’m one of those people who gets bored very quickly; I get excited shooting a space when it’s something really different. Since you see so many of the same design styles used again and again, it’s refreshing to stumble upon a really well done, atypical space like this one designed by Brad Ford.

Lee Kleinhelter | Pieces

BPF: Which spaces are the hardest to photograph, and which tend to offer the least amount of creativity stylistically?

PC: Manhattan spaces are the hardest, because people usually have such small spaces. Then again tight spaces, like this bedroom designed by Lee Kleinhelter, force you to focus on personal details with vignette-like compositions rather than wide shots. Hard to answer the second part of your question. I think it goes back to my first answer. I get bored of seeing the same thing, this copying of another style or copying and pasting of layers. I don’t mind seeing the same products around, but some designers have a talent for mixing those styles properly and imaginatively.

SARAH DORIO Photographer

Naomi Mann | Mann-Made

BPF: What are the rooms you consider the trickiest to photograph?

SD: Usually, although not always, bathrooms and kitchens are the toughest rooms to shoot. Bathrooms for several reasons. First, they’re typically very small spaces, which makes physically standing and shooting inside them challenging. I always try to avoid shooting toilets, which makes composition difficult. Kitchens are next in line, mostly because they depend on the right styling.

Naomi Mann | Mann-Made

BPF: What are the easiest rooms to shoot?

SD: An easy interior to shoot is one with an abundance of natural light, lots of space, perfectly straight walls/ceilings, layers like artwork, correctly proportioned furniture and accessories, as well as uncluttered surfaces.

BPF: What’s a no-no that photographers stay away from?

SD: Shooting into corners. Many times, compositionally, it can be the kiss of death.


Smith Hanes

BPF: What are the elements that make a space terribly difficult to shoot?

LR: Sometimes it’s Mother Nature, even in interiors. The day I shot this kitchen, there was what seemed like a monsoon outside, and the lighting was really dark. Every time we would get the exposure right on, the sun would pop up between the bands of the hurricane and decide to shine into my shot…not really welcome after getting it all just right. The end result was some beautiful soft light that was 100% natural.

BPF: I understand you recently shot a bathroom that required you to squish yourself into a tiny ball up in the corner of a vanity in order the get the shot.

LR: It is super hard when the space is small. Small just means you know you are in for a struggle, and you know you will have very limited angles to choose from. I’m usually bent like a pretzel or smooshed up against a wall trying to get the shot. My assistant and I have started a photo album of just photos of me in very funny places. At the end of the day, it’s just fun to have won the struggle! Spaces that are small and have mirrors tend to be my biggest enemy. You always end up seeing a piece of equipment, a shoe or the top of someone’s head in the shot. This means Photoshop!

Southern Accents

BPF: Do walls painted a dark color take a ton more time to shoot? What about white walls, super easy or tricky because of shadows?

LR: Dark walls do tend to absorb light and a lot of it! But this can also give  a really beautiful, moody vibe to a room. But you have to be careful with plain old white walls too, because they can lose definition and disappear. You need to make sure the lighting has a bit of a shadow in it to give the corners enough definition to be seen. Open spaces like this reading nook, with its architectural details, layers of texture and ample natural light, often guarantee a beautiful image and a quicker shoot day.

BPF: How important is prop styling in creating a perfect shelter photo?

LR: Prop styling is important because even the most amazing homes need a little TLC for the camera. The way the naked eye sees a space and the way the camera sees a space is very different. I normally have a stylist in tow on shoots, but, I have to say, I am not too bad myself.


Design Inspiration

8 Responses

  1. CookeFurniture.com says:

    the sculpture on the clear table makes it look like a fire pit table!

  2. lights10 says:

    impressive work. Impressive flexibility too, squished like a ball in that bathroom. Nice work.

  3. MARY ORR says:


  4. gaileileen says:

    House Hunters USED to be my favorite show on HGTV. The reason it insn't anymore? Simple: You STOPPED showing regular people looking for regular homes and now ONLY focus on the really rich! I'm disgusted watching spoiled, snobby couples who think a bent window blind, in a otherwise pristine mansion, makes it a "fixer-upper"!!! I would like to see a healthy MIX of home-buyers! The whole FUN of the show is putting yourself in the buyer's shoes, and that can't be done when you just don't relate to half/million dollar homes! PLEASE, HGTV…bring BACK the normal, $100,000 and UNDER homes!! Anyone else out there feel the same? I'd like to feel a PART of the show again! Thanks for listening!

  5. good photography is essential to getting published and winning design competitions. Styling is also critical. I style most of my own shoots and am pretty good too but the pros are amazing! Since i do primarily kitchens and baths, the tight factor is well known! We also take off the door to a small bath often and are able to get better shots!

  6. I'm convinced photographers/producers carry around suitcases full of picture books so that in every shoot we see dozens of large and beautiful picture books stacked all over the house. Really, do real people own that many books or do you bring them all with you?

  7. @ChicModern says:

    It is the photographer that makes everything look good one film, but you still have to have great decor.

  8. [...] spaces are the toughest to shoot?  And what elements make a dream shelter photograph? Find out here in Flynn’s interview with five interior design photographers. This entry was posted in News [...]

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