This is part 3 of my Photographing Interiors and Products series. This series is designed to help you get your DSLR camera off automatic mode and start taking beautiful photos! Part 3 focuses on the essential photography tools for photographing interiors and products. This post contains affiliate links, which helps me provide great free content for you all! You can read more about that here. Thank you!
Photographing Interiors and Products Part 3:
Essential Photography Tools
If you’re just joining me, this is part 3 of my Photographing Interiors and Products series designed to help you take control of your DSLR. The first two posts covered exposure basics and aperture, as well as shutter speed and ISO. I left off in part two, shutter speed and ISO, talking about how you can use the three elements of exposure to get great images, but that there’s no magic formula. Experimenting is part of the creative fun, though. And sometimes you may need some external help to achieve whatever creative look you’re going for (or to just add more light).
There are many photography tools out there. And different people find different tools valuable. Today I’ll focus on the tools I find the most valuable—especially in more challenging lighting conditions. And they are all relatively inexpensive or well worth the investment.
(Want to make sure you’re notified when the next part in this series comes out? Sign up for my mailing list at the end of the post and I’ll drop you a note in my weekly-ish newsletter!)
My 7 Favorite Tools to Get the Perfect Shot
I only recently invested in a higher quality tripod. For a long time, I only had a small travel tripod. Or I would just find a stable surface and rest my camera on that. But that’s annoying, and if I could tell my past self anything, it’s that investing in a tripod is worth its weight in gold.
This is my go-to tripod. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s also not the most expensive. I can tell you with 100% confidence, though, that it gets the job done and more. It is stable and has about a zillion different options to adjust it for the perfect height or angle. I also like that it can shoot overhead without weighting the tripod down (if the legs are fully extended), which is perfect for overhead product photography or shooting flat lays.
This tripod helps me get super crisp shots of rooms, projects, flat lays, and more by giving me the option to shoot on a high f-stop, a slow shutter speed, and a low ISO. (Refer back to part 1 and part 2 if those words sound foreign!) Here are some photos of the awesome functionality the tripod has. I highly recommend it as an essential member of your photography tool kit!
A cheap and life-changing investment. I shoot on a Nikon d7100 but bought an Amazon Basics remote for Nikon DSLR cameras. Huge help when I need to grab multiple shots, shoot something with me in it, shoot something with my hand in it (like an overhead craft), or shoot something with a long exposure on my tripod. Sometimes even clicking the button on your camera to take the photo can cause a blurry images. It’s very easy to set up remote capture mode in your camera’s settings, too.
3. Wide-Angle Lens
A wide-angle lens falls between 14mm and 35mm. The wide angle allows you to capture more of a scene from where you’re standing. If your DSLR came with a lens, it is probably an 18-55mm lens. (Note that when I bought my Nikon d7100, I bought the body only and selected an 18-140mm lens instead.) 18mm is excellent for shooting rooms and overhead shots. I personally have never needed anything else, but there are a variety of 10mm, 14mm, etc., lenses you can browse. I’d love to invest in one in the future but can’t justify it now.
Here are a few examples of rooms shot at 18mm with me standing in the corner:
Note: When we’re talking lenses, we need to touch on how full-frame (FX) vs. cropped-frame (DX) cameras affect what your camera and lens captures. I’m not going to get too in to that because I shoot on a cropped-frame Nikon d7100 and do not feel as if I currently need a full-frame camera. (Though they are expensive and I would love one, Rich Internet Friend, if you’re giving them out like Oprah.) If you’re just getting your first DSLR, chances are you don’t need one, either. You can read more about full-frame and cropped-frame here.
4. Portrait Lens
For the details and some product photography, I like using my fixed 50mm portrait lens. I sometimes just zoom in using my 18-140mm lens, but the 50mm portrait lens has the ability to drop the f-stop 1.8, which can make for some nice shots. Note that portrait lenses generally aren’t great for photographing interiors when you want to get a shot of an entire room, as it crops the image a bit, and the lens is fixed, meaning it can’t zoom in and out.
I’ve talked about using a reflector before in my post about taking great pics of your baby. This thing is perhaps my favorite go-to accessory when shooting projects, products, flat lays, and portraits. I typically position the reflector facing my main light source (usually a window) to even out the light and decrease shadows in my images.
Here’s an example of a reflector at work. The first photo has a natural light source to the right of the plant and from behind the plant:
Next I added a reflector on the left of the plant to even out the shadows. The difference is subtle, but it makes such an impact to the final image!
Reflectors come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and even colors. I almost always use the silver option on my large reflector as I tend to favor cooler images (the gold option can create very warm images). I have used this size for years, but I’ll be adding a cheap smaller one to my gear soon just so I don’t have to manipulate a huge reflector for smaller product shots.
6. Light kit
I like to avoid using artificial light whenever possible. But sometimes I do need the extra help, and this umbrella light kit is a lifesaver. I used it when shooting Tootie’s dollhouse bookshelf build. I needed to get the photos done by a certain date since this was a sponsored project, but the light was TERRIBLE the one day I could do it. It poured rain all day.
And since I wanted Tootie in the shots, I couldn’t just compensate by using a slow shutter speed (remember from part 2—slow shutter speed can lead to blurs when objects move, and babies move a lot!). So I grabbed my umbrella light kit to help me out, and I think the shots turned out great! For this shoot, not only put the umbrella lights to work—I also enlisted my reflector, tripod, and remote to get the shot.
I also used my umbrella lights to grab this lovely shot of some DIY rose petal bath salts. (This is shot a few years ago with my old smaller travel tripod. It isn’t meant to shoot overhead and I’d rigged it up to the chair leg…which I do not recommend!)
Let me let you in on a little secret: you don’t need expensive backdrops to create professional photos. For overhead shots, I use scrapbook paper or poster board a lot.
I also shoot on our Ikea dining table because it’s a light, neutral background in an area of the house with great light. It’s also the perfect area to prop up a reflector on using the dining chairs.
I have one or two spots in the house with a light, airy feel or nice dark feel that I shoot a lot of my bigger projects in. All of my walls are painted in gray scale colors, so they make for easy backdrops.
Bottom line? You just need a clean, neutral space. For overhead shots, switch up the backdrop by using scrapbook paper or poster board. You can even make a backdrop using peel-and-stick vinyl flooring on a piece of plywood. So many options.
Photographing Interiors and Products Part 4:
Focus, Composition, and Cropping
Next we’re going to start tackling some fun stuff: focus, composition, and cropping when photographing interiors and products. Small changes in an image can have a huge impact, so you’ll definitely want to check out this post.