Photographing the Living Room

The heart of the house is normally the biggest room, extra light may be needed

Photographing the Living Room

Photographing the Living Room

I have found that the living room is the one room that changes most drastically from house to house. Therefore, I can give guidelines here but the combinations are vast. It all depends on:

  • The layout
  • The amount or lack of furniture
  • Windows
  • Features and lighting from outside and within

This is what I suggest you do before you set up any lights anywhere. Take your camera off the tripod and walk to one corner of the room. Stand as far back as you can and take a look through the viewfinder. Remember to look all around and at all four corners of the view making a note of clutter, furniture, features and lighting.

Rinse and repeat

Do this for each corner until you find the best one (or two) viewpoints. Once you have set up the camera where you want to be, again

  • What is the light doing?
  • Are you aiming directly at the windows?
  • Do you need to incorporate the views?

If so, remember to set your camera and lights accordingly to record both inside and out. Start at 60th/sec with F11 and adjust accordingly. If the outside appears too bright, increase the shutter speed slightly to record less light. If it is too dark, slow it down to record more light.

Then, if the interior is too bright, close the aperture. Either that or "power down" the lights, and if it is too dark, open the aperture (but not too much…remember depth of field) or "power up" the lights.

Time of day?

Is it daylight or dark outside? If daylight, use the above method. If it is dark, you will need a relatively slow shutter speed, maybe even "seconds" to record the dusk skies or lights outside. When you get this right it looks amazing and dusk/early evening is a good time to shoot the living room. It makes it look all the more "cosy".

Is there a fireplace? Will the owner light it for you? If yes, try asking about 20 minutes before you photograph the room so that it is roaring by the time you photograph it. If it is dusk outside and you have a roaring fire, well, need I say more? This would look amazing and is well worth all the effort.

If the owners “huffs and puffs” remember to show him the final image, he will love it. The slow shutter speed should give the effect of "dancing" flames…very effective. TIP: Once you have an image like this, incorporate it in your portfolio and take it on every job you do. It is good practice to show a client what it will look like before you start on any lengthy shots.


What are the views like outside? Are there cranes or other items that will not "always" be there? If so you can either adjust your angle of view to "lose" them or Photoshop them out later. If there is a terrace, add or move some flowers into view, do the same with any terrace or garden furniture. Make sure that the curtains are neat and tidy and the lawn is clear of junk.

  • Are you shooting "into" the room, away from the windows?
  • Do you need the lights or can you get away with daylight and/or the house lights?

Natural and/or house-lights are better here if you can, they tend to give a more pleasing image. You may need to turn on any light in the adjacent or adjoining rooms to remove shadows from any nooks or crannies. Take a good look at the scene before you start to shoot. Shadows? Doors open or closed, which looks best?

Does the furniture need moving about to get the best image? Ask first and if it is alright, move the furniture within reason. Don't call the removal men and shove everything into the garden. Simply re-adjust what is there to make the most of it.

Many times when I have shot a living room, there is normally a 3-piece-suite. This is usually one or 2 chairs too many so either turn them slightly so you are not looking at the backs, or remove from your view altogether.

Lights on?

Have you turned on all the lights? Remember to always put the lights on, day or night. For one, their glow adds to the charm of the image and secondly there are time when you need all the lighting help you can get.

What shadows will your lighting set-up create? Take a test shot and take time to replay and view on your camera, zooming in to all areas of possible or potential trouble. Look for dark areas that are not lit. Do you need to place your slave flash unit anywhere to help out?

Do you have an assistant that could use the reflector to "throw" some light into the area? Also, look for reflections and adjust accordingly. The introduction of Digital SLR's with instant preview has helped enormously in this field and has saved much money on Polaroid's and time.

Is there any clutter or personal items lying around? Move the owner's personal belongings out of view (remember to put them back later), and add either your own props or use some from elsewhere in the house. A vase of flowers on the coffee table or a tray with a china teapot, cups, saucers and cutlery.

A classy magazine or good looking book on a side table. Use your imagination and do what is necessary to make the image/room look inviting. Please explain to the owners what you are doing prior to doing it as they may see you messing about with his/her belongings and become offended.

Flowers anywhere? If you have seen some elsewhere in the house, don't be afraid to shift them about. Like I said, make use of the "house props".

Large rooms?

Is the room large? Would a panoramic or stitched shot do it justice? Take two or three pictures in the way that you have practiced, either portrait or landscape style. Do this two or three times, so that you end up with a set that will "stitch" correctly to give a stunning image.

Remember to keep the camera on manual everything, including white balance, all of the camera's setting must stay constant for the set otherwise there will be differences in each image, making it impossible to stitch convincingly.

As the lounge is the main room in most properties, I would suggest that you take your time photographing the living room. Shoot from two or three different angles. This is where people like to relax and spend "quality" time so try and get it right.

Photographing the Living Room
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