How to Take Better Pictures of Your Home: 6 Expert Tips

by Last updated Apr 4, 2019 | Published on Jun 1, 2018Photography, Tutorial0 comments

Part 3 of a 3 Part Series

Do you take pictures around your home with your iPhone?

Maybe you’re an Instagrammer (that’s me!), or home decor blogger (me again), or perhaps you just like to chronicle your home projects. Everyone loves a good ‘before-and-after’ set of pictures.

Have you found that sometimes your photos are too yellow, too blue or just blah?

Or, maybe you find that portions of your pictures (windows!) are way too bright.

Without pro gear, there’s no way to solve every possible problem behind these issues, but there are lots of things you can do to improve your photos with the gear you already have.

In this post

I provide 6 expert tips that will explain a little bit about how to work with your iPhone to take better pictures, specifically of your home (both interior and exterior).

In case you haven’t stopped by my About page, this is a good place to mention that I spent 16 years as a professional photographer, so I know a thing or two (gee, that sounds like a Farmer’s Insurance Ad LOL) about taking pictures. And I’ve had a lot of practice in the last few years with my iPhone, which has been my exclusive camera since I retired.

To better understand the principles in this article

You may want to reference Parts 1 & 2 in this series about how your camera works:

In Part 1 of this series, I explain how your camera’s exposure works.
In Part 2 of this series, I explain about the different lighting conditions and How Your Camera’s White Balance works

MY CAMERA: for this tutorial, I’m using an iPhone (7 plus to be specific). The principles I describe here can apply to virtually any camera. But, if I provide specific instructions, they may apply to the iPhone in general or iPhone7 specifically.

DISCLAIMER: I’m not photographing for House & Garden Magazine and I assume that you aren’t, either. The tips here are intended solely for the amateur who wants to take better pictures as cost effectively as possible, with the equipment you already have close at hand. If you’re interested in more serious real estate photography, I’ll happily point you in a few additional directions for more advice – just drop me a note!

First, What Makes a ‘Good’ Picture?

If you want to take better pictures, it’s best to start with what defines a good photograph.

‘Good’ in photography is subjective, we all have different ideas. I see some crazy pictures on Instagram that aren’t my cup of tea but others love them. That’s called artistic license.

However, if you want to take better pictures of your home to show if off, then there are a couple of things that will make your pictures more pleasurable for someone else to view.

Aspects of a technically good photo

  • neutral, eye-pleasing color, and
  • bright, even lighting

In the comparison pictures below, the first picture is too dark. There wasn’t enough light in the room. In the second picture, the windows are too bright, but the last has a good balance of lighting and neutral color. Which would you rather view?

Entire picture is too dark

iphone photography tips dark room

Windows too bright, rest too dark

iphone photography tips windows too bright

Neutral color & consistent brightness

iphone photography tips good lighting

Are you interested in some tips that will help you take better pictures more consistently? Keep reading!

Tip #1: Keep your Camera (Phone) Level & Steady

As much as possible, keep your camera level. If you don’t, you run the risk of taking a picture that is crooked or slanted.

Taking a picture that is creatively on an angle is fine, but when a picture really should be straight but isn’t, that’s distracting.

Some examples

Check out the picture of the china cabinet. The photo on the left was shot with the camera pointing down. The lines on the china cabinet are more skewed than the other picture which was shot from a more level position.

take better pictures of your home
Shooting Position was Level
take better pictures of your home
Shooting Position was Down

In the next set of pictures, the window seat (first picture) is crooked. Actually the whole picture is crooked but the window seat line really stands out. I corrected this in the second picture.

Yes, you can correct these issues in the image file after you take the picture, but it’s always better to prevent the issue from happening in-camera. It just takes a second, and it’s always a good idea to use those almost-transparent lines that you see while you are taking the picture. They do help you align things.

Stay Steady

Keeping your phone as steady as possible will help you avoid blurry photos.

For some photos, a tripod is helpful. I have one and do occasionally use it. However, if a tripod isn’t handy and you’re not feeling really steady, try leaning against a wall or other solid surface.

Tip #2: Find a Good Spot

If you’re taking a picture of an entire room, there’s usually one spot where you can position yourself to get the best possible view. The best angle will (1) give you a good, wide view of the room, and (2) show off the most important elements in the room.

Some factors in picking your spot:

  • It needs to be one that you can get to and occupy. In a small room, that alone can sometimes pick your spot. In a larger room, try to pick a spot where you can photograph at least 2 walls.
  • Be aware of where the windows are. If you can, pick a spot where the windows are angled more than 45 degrees away from you. That will minimize window brightness.
  • Lastly, pick a spot where the photographer doesn’t show up in any mirrors that you may be photographing LOL.

How to find that spot

Sometimes it’s obvious. If it’s not, I shoot a picture from each of the room’s 4 corners (if possible). If none of those results in a picture that pleases me, I move away from the corners a bit and try again.

Experimenting always seems to find the best spot.

Example: This is my sunporch, from 4 different angles. I thought the last picture had the best view of the room and allowed me to show off the most important features of the room. Sometimes it’s purely personal preference.

Tip #3: How to Shoot Exteriors

When photographing outside:

  • If I’m taking pictures of my full house, I’ll try some different angles to see what looks best. The angle may also depend on the surroundings – quite often there are cars parked in front of our house, and my goal is to avoid capturing them in the shot, though I’m obviously not always successful 🙂
  • Most often outside I’m taking pictures of my gardens, always a treat in the summer when everything is in bloom.

Bright sunlight, when you’re outside, bounces off the gardens, houses, and trees and just kinda makes you feel warm.

In the set of pictures below you can see that the image of my house in the bright sun is a little more appealing. The picture I took on an overcast day has a different look, and it’s not displeasing. But, I prefer the brighter one.

take better pictures of your home
Cloudy Day
take better pictures of your home
Sunny Day

Tip #4: Try Portrait Mode for Close-Ups

I love portrait mode!

Using portrait mode on your iPhone will allow you to create depth of field (DOF) in your photos.

My simplified definition of DOF: the main subject is in focus (so that’s where you eye goes) and everything behind it is blurred.

Using Depth of Field is a powerful tool and can radically transform an ordinary photo into one that literally wins hearts.

Best of all, it is super easy to use portrait mode on your iPhone. If you’re too close, too far away or the area is too dark, the camera lets you know.

Here’s what to do:

Using Portrait Mode

  1. Open the default camera app.
  2. Swipe to Portrait Mode.
  3. Focus on the object you wish to photograph.
  4. Take the picture.

You can even remove the portrait effect from a photo you’ve already taken if you want to. Here’s how:

Removing Portrait Mode

  1. In your photo library, Select the photo that you want to change.
  2. Take your finger and tap Edit.
  3. Tap Portrait at the top of your screen.
  4. Then tap Done at the bottom (right) of your screen.

If you change your mind and want to re-add the Portrait mode effect, go back to Edit and tap Portrait, then Done again. Easy Peasy.

Examples of Depth of Field: 2 sets of pictures follow. In each set, the first picture was taken in Portrait mode (with DOF) and the second was not (no DOF). In each picture with DOF, the main subject is in focus and the rest of the picture is not.

This effect is just so darned easy and so effective that it’s one of my very favorites when photographing close-ups.

take better pictures of your home
No DOF
take better pictures of your home
With DOF
take better pictures of your home
No DOF
take better pictures of your home
With DOF

Tip #5: Avoid Color Casts

In photos, especially when you aren’t photographing people, there is a lot of leeway in regards to color. Sometimes you want color to be deeper or bluer or warmer or just different. You could be going for a particular mood in a photo. That’s called artistic license.

But, generally, unless you are exercising your artistic muscles, you want your whites to be white and your blacks to be black.

The best way to tell if you have a color problem is by looking at an object in the picture that is supposed to be white. If the object has a hint of blue, orange/yellow or green, there’s a color cast. This happens when the camera’s white balance is unable to adjust for the lighting conditions.

Conditions that cause this

  • Photographing indoors especially in either low light or if you turn on an incandescent light.
  • Taking a picture outdoors on an overcast day.
  • Using your flash, especially indoors.

I explain how your camera sees and adjusts for color in the How Your Camera White Balances post. That will give you a little more background about color management and white balancing.

But, let’s talk here about how to deal with this issue.

How to deal with a color cast
  1. Change your lighting
    • Indoors? Turn off room lights or add neutral light to the space – I use the Amzdeal light wand (no affiliate link). It’s light, cheap, easy to use and it works
    • Pick a better time to photograph when there is more or less natural light – keep reading for some tips on how to find good light.
    • Outdoors? Pick a better location or a better time or add flash.
  2. Correct the white balance in the camera before you take the picture – see below
  3. Fix the image file(s) after you take the image – look for details on this solution in a future post.
Correct White Balance in the Camera

This is where you correct the white balance before you take the picture so you don’t need to fix it after. Always a win.

A note – this portion of the tutorial looks more complicated than it really is. If correcting white balance is something you are itching to find more about, step slowly through this and I promise, you’ll get it.

The iPhone’s default camera can only Auto White Balance (AWB). This can work pretty well most of the time, but not all the time.

When that is the case, you need to use a third party photo app. Sorry, there’s no choice. But, there are quite a few that will work. Here’s a short list (personally I use Camera +):

How to Use White Balance in the Camera+ App take better pictures of your home

Open the Camera + app. and click on the blue WB circle (bottom right). You have 3 options:

  1. AWB (Auto White Balance)
  2. A Preset or
  3. Custom (the Kelvin wheel)
AWB

Works well in bright, even light and is also available in the iPhone default camera app. If you choose to use it in the Camera + app, just click the WB button on the bottom right of the screen. AWB is the default and is automatically selected.

Presets

These are all guessing at what the camera thinks the color will be under that lighting condition but they can be effective. To select a preset,

  1. Click the WB button.
  2. You’ll see the presets with little icons next to them (see image below). The presets are: Shade, Cloudy, Flash, Daylight, Fluorescent, Incandescent, Sunrise/Sunset and Candlelight.
  3. Select the preset that best fits your lighting situation (you’ll have to swipe left to see them all).
  4. You’ll see the color change in your viewfinder. If it doesn’t look right to your naked eye, change to another preset.
  5. Take the picture.
Custom

This is the last icon in the preset list. Again, you need to swipe left to get to it.

  1. Click the WB button.
  2. Swipe the presets all the way to the left until you see the + (custom) icon.
  3. Select it. You’ll be presented with a scale (see the last image below).
  4. Move the scale from left to right until you find the color in your viewfinder that best matches what you see with your naked eye.
  5. Take the picture.

Tip #6: Find Good Light

The Case for Natural Light

There’s just something about natural light. It’s pretty and generally darned effective if there’s enough of it. Natural light is always my first choice, I almost never use my on-camera flash.

Examples: Here are a couple of pictures I took with and without on-camera flash.

Natural Light
take better pictures of your home
With Flash
In this case, the image lit by the flash is not only off-color but has really harsh shadows. The image lit by natural light (right) is more pleasing to the eye.

How to Find Good Natural Light

Take better pictures with your iPhone Time of Day

Honestly, the best time for you is going to be an experiment.

It took trial and error, but I have managed to find the best times to photograph each area of my home. Because some areas are more south or north facing than others, the best times are different depending on the room.

Take better pictures with your iPhoneWeather

Weather can have a bearing on your indoor and outdoor pictures. An overcast day can sometimes give you more time to photograph in a brighter room, since diffused light is not as bright. But, it can also create a situation where there is just not enough light. In that case, you may need to try again on a sunnier day.

 

Sticky Situations

 

When there isn’t enough natural light
  • Wait for a time when the natural lighting is better
  • Indoors? Add lighting – turn on room lights (which may cause color issues, so beware) or add neutral light to the space.  I use the Amzdeal light wand (no affiliate link). It’s light, cheap, easy to use and it works.
  • Outdoors? Pick a better location or a better time or add flash.
When there is too much natural light
  • Wait for a time when the natural lighting is better
  • Indoors? Turn off room lights
  • Outdoors? Pick a better location
When there isn’t a good balance of light

You’ll usually see this indoors when the windows are too bright and the rest of the room too dark. I go over this in more detail in the article How Your Camera’s White Balance Works. 

For purposes of this tutorial you have these alternatives:

  • Pick a time when the windows are not so bright and light the rest of the room with neutral light. Again, I use the Amzdeal light wand (no affiliate link) in this type of situation.
  • Fix the image in post processing. The best way to do this is to take multiple pictures and blend them together. Watch for an upcoming post on photo editing where I go into this in more detail.

BONUS TIPS!

Interior lights – when to leave them on

We know that interior (incandescent) lights can leave you with a color cast problem. But, are there circumstances when they are best left on?

Sometimes a light fixture is of particular importance in a room. In that case, it’s important to show it off by lighting it. Except in those cases, most of the time I leave the interior lights off. But it is a personal preference. Often I’ll take a picture with them on, then without and decide which I like best.

In the example below, I prefer the picture with the lights on (the right). Not only does it show off the light, which is an important feature, it warms the room a little. It doesn’t warm it enough to create a color cast, which is important.

take better pictures of your home
Room lights on
take better pictures of your home
Room lights off

Remove clutter

A clean space is a happy space. If you’re going go through the effort of taking a picture of your space, be sure to de-clutter a bit. Here’s a quick set of pictures where I took a picture ‘as is’ then took a few minutes (seriously it was all of 3 minutes) to clean things up a bit. It made a difference!

take better pictures of your home
Clean
take better pictures of your home
Cluttered

Shoot in Landscape Mode

The human eye sees the world in a landscape ratio, so our brain finds the horizontal/landscape view more pleasing than the vertical. It’s probably easier to take vertical pictures because that’s how we naturally hold our phones, but horizontal is better most of the time when photographing interiors, architecture or landscapes.

SUMMARY

I hope these tips help you take better pictures with the equipment you already carry around with you every day.

Photo editing is, I know, a hot topic! As I mentioned, I will address editing photos in a future blog post (because, truthfully, editing is where the magic happens, it’s how you can take your photos from meh to fabulous). Want to be the first to hear about new additions? Join my e-letter if you’d like to be notified. I won’t spam you, I wouldn’t sell your email for any price and you can unsubscribe at any time. Plus you’ll get access to my awesome FREE resource library.

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How about you?

Do you have any great photo tips? I’d love to hear about it. Please share in the comments below!

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