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How To: Take Great Indoor Travel Photos

by October 2010 - last edited January 2013 by Moderator

Being a great travel photographer isn't just about basking in the sun in the great outdoors. Whether it's a museum, a church, a palace or even the odd bar or two, you'll sometimes find yourself shooting in often gloomy interiors.

 

Detail of Notre Dame Cathedral. Shot at an angle, to allow the rest of the tomb to be shown.

Detail of Notre Dame Cathedral. Shot at an angle, to allow the rest of the tomb to be shown.

 

The biggest issue you'll encounter when shooting interiors is the light levels. As there's generally not so much light around, you won't be able to use such a fast shutter speed as outdoors, and you'll run the risk of camera-shake, when the camera moves during the exposure blurring the picture.

There are a few solutions to this. If it's permitted, you can use a tripod to keep the camera still during a long shutter-speed. The advantage of this is that you can use a narrow aperture, which gives a wide depth of field so that much of your picture can be sharp and in focus. The drawback of using a tripod and a slow speed is that anything moving in the picture will show motion blur.

 

Parisien Bar. Shooting with the camera on a tripod with a wide lens and a slow shutter speed has allowed a narrow aperture and a broad depth of field. A few of the people have blurred though.

Parisien Bar. Shooting with the camera on a tripod with a wide lens and a slow shutter speed has allowed a narrow aperture and a broad depth of field. A few of the people have blurred though.

 

If you're shooting digital you can increase the sensitivity (ISO), meaning the camera needs less light to make the exposure. This can allow you to use a shutter-speed fast enough to let you handhold the camera. Higher sensitivities tend to give more noise – random speckling and coloured pixels – although with modern cameras this is much less of an issue.

You'll still have to use a relatively wide aperture to handhold, so you won't have as much depth of field as if you'd used a tripod and a small aperture, but the shutter speed should stop all but fast-moving subjects from blurring.

A camera-mounted flash is pretty useless for shooting interiors, as it is unlikely to be powerful enough, and often use of flash is banned.

 

Chinese Temple, Hong Kong. Using a high sensitivity has allowed this shot to be handheld in low light levels.

Chinese Temple, Hong Kong. Using a high sensitivity has allowed this shot to be handheld in low light levels.

 

Most of the time you'll be shooting in some sort of artificial light. This can cause colour casts on your pictures. Tungsten lightbulbs render as orange; fluorescent lights can be a green colour. The good news is that almost all digital cameras have an Auto White Balance (AWB) facility that seeks to neutralise these unpleasant colours.

If you're shooting using the JPEG format, then AWB is often a bad idea, as it doesn't just get rid of unwanted colour casts; it will also take the colour out of sunsets and seeks to create neutral, bland images. However, AWB is often pretty successful at cancelling out casts. If this doesn't work, then you can try using one of the preset artificial light settings. If you're shooting the higher quality RAW format, then you'll be able to adjust the white balance with no loss of quality on a computer.

 

Prince of Wales Pub, Clapham, London. Placing an object in the foreground gives this shot more depth.

Prince of Wales Pub, Clapham, London. Placing an object in the foreground gives this shot more depth.

 

Stylistically, if you shoot the interior using a wideangle lens, you can show as much of it as possible. This will convey the size of the interior, and a wide lens has the advantage of giving a lot of depth of field and minimising the effect of camera-shake.

Remember to look for details as well though, as these will often be more characteristic and atmospheric. Don't just shoot things face on: try shooting from an angle with the subject in the foreground and the rest of the interior in the background. This will create a more interesting shot – even if the background is out of focus because of the depth of field.

Main header image: Interior of the Felix Bar, Hong Kong. Shot with a super-wide fisheye lens, this has taken in all of the small interior of a wine pod and accentuated the curved lines.

To learn more about travel photography, why not join Steve on one of his exclusive travel photography tours. Destinations include Laos & Cambdia, Ladakh and Morocco. More details on http://www.bettertravelphotography.com/phototours


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Steve Davey