Play by Play of a Full Day Interior Design Photo Shoot

Saul Zaik is well known architect that’s famous for his Pacific Northwest take on mid-century modern design. He’s been practicing architecture since 1952 and I was lucky enough to photograph a Jessica Helgerson Interior Design remodel of one of his houses in the West Hills of Portland, OR.

For a different take on my typical blog post, I thought I’d do a play by play of each shot I took throughout the day and describe what it takes to pull off a typical one day interior design shoot.


1st Shot – South Elevation
Since my client’s needs were more interior design related, we only took one main exterior shot that showed off the work they did. This angle shows the new home color, new deck, and patio furniture. I debated long and hard about shooting this angle at this time of day. The house is in the shade and typically you want sun on a building. But because of the surrounding trees, the house wouldn’t be in full sun until mid-day and that light would be really bad this time of year (shot mid summer). Late afternoon wouldn’t have worked either because the shadow lines would have created a lot more distracting angles on the architecture.


2nd Shot – Patio Detail

This was a quick pickup that we went for since the light was looking good. Setup was pretty fast as we were all set from the previous shot. Exteriors go quick. The first two shots were done in about 30 minutes.


3rd Shot – Living Room

Though I love the look of mid-century modern, it’s typically a challenge to shoot the interiors. In this house, the wood walls and wood ceiling suck up a lot of light. In order to create the beautiful natural light look, I opened up 2 stops over the ambient light reading. This totally blow out the window frames, so I had my assistant walk around with a solid white reflector on the outside of the windows to cut the light at the window frames. This gave me some darker window frames to work with I photoshopped all the frames together for natural look and then used a separate outside exposure for the view. All told, I used 11 frames in the final composite. This shot took about an hour start to finish and about two hours in post.


4th Shot – Fireplace Detail

This was a simpler shot lighting wise, but the styling took a little longer. Jessica and her designers totally rearranged the bookshelf to create a balanced look. One tip when moving homeowners stuff: Always take a before picture so you know where things go back. This shot took about 45 minutes


5th Shot – Dining Room

This shot went pretty quick. I used available light and added a little fill from a strobe bounced off a white card on the right side of the frame to open up the dining room table and chairs. I always use fill light in interiors; meaning my light is under the main ambient exposure by a stop or two. This opens up the shadows, while not becoming the dominant light source. There’s nothing more unnatural looking than an overpowered strobe in an interior. We knocked this one out in about 30 minutes.


6th Shot – Kitchen

The kitchen area serves as a pass though from the dining room to the family room and bedrooms, which made it hard to find a good angle to shoot it from. We ended up at this spot because it best showed the height of the space and how it related to the dining room. I shot separate exposures for the open door and upper windows and dropped them in later. This shot went quick, maybe 3o minutes. After this shot, we took a lunch break for about 30 minutes. Don’t want to waste too much time when there’s more to shoot!

Saul-Zaik-House_LincolnBarbour-1309 Saul-Zaik-House_LincolnBarbour-1336

7th & 8th Shot – Family Room

I put these up together since we shot them back to back over about an hour period. We shot two angles because one just didn’t explain this cool space well enough. The first is more of vignette and the second is more the room hero. I love both these shots. They feel so peaceful. Pillows and plants take a long time to style to look right. Fortunately, shooting live view speeds up the process because you can see changes in real time.


9th Shot – Master Bath

The hardest part of this shot was that my camera and tripod were being reflected right in the middle of the shower’s glass wall. In post, I went in cloned out the reflection which was a little tricky with all that tile work. It was one of the those shots were post took more time than shooting it. This shot was all natural light. All in all, about 3o minutes to shoot and an hour of post.


10th Shot – Bedroom Vignette

We liked this composition to show off the design elements, but a couple of the clocks on the wall were out of the frame. We wanted to show all the clocks together as a group, but didn’t want to put any new holes in the walls. To make it quick and easy, Jessica and her designers hand held two of the clocks in place and I shot them standing in the middle of the room. I then photoshopped them out with a blank base frame. This is one of those times where it was faster (and less destructive) to do it in Photoshop than in reality. I used a fill light on the left because the room was so much darker than the bright bathroom. About 30 minutes total on this shot.


11th Shot – Carport

Not too much went into this shot. Mainly retouched out some oil stains on the concrete. Sweet car, huh? 15 minutes start to finish.


12th Shot – Office

This is one my favorite office shots. Mainly, because it’s the office of amazingly talented photographer Ty Milford. It’s fun to see another shooters workspace and what they put up for inspiration. The room was shot available light, but I put a strobe in the hallway to brighten that up. 3o Minutes on this one.


13th Shot – Kid’s Room

Small spaces are tricky to shoot. I don’t like to go too wide which distorts everything and looks weird to me. So, I usually get back as far as possible, sometimes with camera pressed up against a wall and shoot just wide enough to get the key elements in place. We didn’t do too much styling on this. Mainly, just tidied up and moved away some clutter. We spent about 3o minutes on this one.


14th Shot – Powder Room Detail

On this shot, we all went back and forth about having the sconces on or not. The sconces were the only real light source and turning them off made it really dark. The only daylight was coming from down the hall and around the corner. When they were on, the sconces were distracting because your eyes went right to them and overpowered everything else. Ultimately, we ended up going with them off and shooting a long exposure (8 secs, f/13, iso 320) to create a brightness that wasn’t there in reality. To the human eye it looked dark, but with a camera you can see a lot more. Quick shot though, maybe 20 minutes.


15th Shot – Hot Tub

Fairly simple styling on this shot. It mostly required some photoshop since the tub area was in shade and that blew out the view and the cool roof detail. I never shoot HDR for this kind of work because you have so much more control if you shoot separate exposures work in layers. HDR gives you a little too much information and can kill a natural look. We took about 20 minutes to shoot this and I did not jump in the hot tub, despite it being so inviting. Still had another shot to do 😉


 16th Shot – Master Bedroom from the Outside

Here’s another shot that I had to deal with reflections. I placed the camera and tripod on the center point of  the door frame, so all I had to photoshop out was one leg being reflected. I had almost wrapped this shot when I went back to review and realized I was standing in reflection of the glass. So, I had to shoot all the brackets once more, but fortunately hadn’t moved the tripod.

And that’s a wrap. The day started 8:30am and we finished up at 6pm. This shoot was pretty typical for an interior design / residential architecture kind of shoot that I do. We were able to get through so many shots because Jessica and her team are awesome at styling and know what they want. We’ve also been working together for over 8 years and have a good rapport. Most of my successful shots come from collaborating and great styling, whether by the client or an professional interior stylist.

Feel free to ask me any questions in the comments below.

6 Responses to “Play by Play of a Full Day Interior Design Photo Shoot”

  1. Very nice. Thanks for sharing this Lincoln.

  2. BHJ van Rees says:

    Beatiful house and photos! (And a nice Porsche 911!!:) ) But I have one question, do you know what kind of lamp is hanging on the wall in the family room? And maby which brand its from. I saw the same lamp in a cafe some time ago.

  3. Steve D says:

    Love. Love. Love.
    As always I’m just a fanboy loving your work.

    Would enjoy seeing more of your process in post with compositing vs hdr. As a real estate photog primarily I don’t get the leeway of more than maybe 90 minutes on site. With that, not looking for an easier process but one that I can get better results in the limited shooting time. Plus, hdr is so hit and miss with the color variations in rooms.

    Cheers! Look forward to more.

  4. BHJ van Rees says:

    Okay, I can understand. But thanks for the reply anyway.

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