I don’t know about you, but the internet makes me feel inadequate. (Incisive and original thought, I know.) Before Naomi and I started Plaster & Disaster, I’d been blogging sporadically for a few years, and avidly following a lot of interior design blogs. Even though I loved what I had done with my home, it never looked as good as the amazing homes on pinterest and my favorite blogs.
Then one day something revolutionary happened: I bought a DSLR camera. Here’s a photo I snapped with my cell phone in my low-lit, messy living room at 7am, pretty par for the course in my experience with low-lit interior photography:
And here’s the first photo I took with my DSLR:
It looks like a totally different room, and I swear the second photo could be in a shelter magazine. Okay that might be an exaggeration. But what I realized in that moment is that photography plays a much bigger role than I ever realized — sure I will never have 15-foot ceilings (who wants to pay that heating bill, anyway?), high end furniture, and the help of a professional decorator, but it turns out that good photography is a big part of allowing me to share the best version of my house. In DIY/design blogland, the way we represent our homes through photos has become as crucial a design element as the physical realities of our space.
Does that mean that everyone should rush out and buy a nice camera immediately? Not at all. But if you’re feeling like your home doesn’t stack up against all the “pinspiration” out there, it’s just helpful to remember that it might be as much about photography than the underlying space. High quality photography equipment makes other people’s spaces look their very best (sometimes better than real life!), and meanwhile camera phones and regular point-and-shoots don’t bring out the best in your home when you’re working inside with low light and difficult angles.
This post isn’t just meant to be a pep talk, though — we thought it would be fun to share some photo comparisons showing just how drastic a difference a nice camera can make, and even working with a nice camera how important things like getting the right exposure are.
So you saw the cell phone vs. DSLR comparison above. Ready to see my living room shot with my old point-and-shoot vs. my new DSLR?
Yeah, it’s shocking. Now you might be thinking, “that looks really bad for a point-and-shoot.” You’re right, and that camera is able to capture better shots outside and in some rooms of my house — still not as good as the DSLR, but better than the above photos. But in my living room, the lighting situation is really tricky. Most of the light comes from that big picture window opposite the couch, and that makes getting evenly-lit shots very hard. With my DSLR, I can pop it on a tripod and adjust the shutter speed to let in exactly how much light I want — not what the camera thinks is right. Being able to reliably take good photos of every room in my house regardless of the lighting situation is crucial for blogging — I can’t just say, “well, my living room gets weird light so I guess I won’t photograph it.”
The basement is another space that benefits tremendously from the magical DSLR:
Of course, shooting with a DSLR doesn’t guarantee good photos. Having the power to control the amount of light is essential, but with great power comes great responsibility. That’s right, owning a DSLR is essentially like being Spiderman. Here are two photos both taken with my DSLR within 3 minutes of each other:
In the first one, I have the overhead lights on and a pretty short shutter speed, meaning not much light coming in. (There’s also a cat.) In the second, I turned off the lights in the hall and all adjoining rooms to eliminate the yellow tint, and decreased the shutter speed to thirty seconds, meaning that for thirty seconds the shutter was open and letting light in. Obviously this requires a tripod, or the photo would be super blurry. What a difference! As they say in interior photography, “Here’s to long life and long exposures!” (Okay, I made that up. But maybe it will be my new catch phrase.)
Usually when I set up a shot, I take a lot of test photos adjusting the shutter speed until I get the right exposure:
We still have a lot to learn about our cameras and how to get the best photos in the various lighting situations in our homes (I HIGHLY recommend Shoot Fly Shoot’s online photography classes, which are super helpful and detailed). And we’ve only begun to brush the surface of photo editing. But investing in nice cameras and learning the basics of shooting in manual has already made a world of difference. I have a Nikon D3200 (affiliate link — read our policies), and Naomi has a Pentax K-50 (affiliate link — read our policies), both of which are really reasonably-priced for DSLRs.
In sum, here the easy things you should absolutely be doing even if you don’t consider yourself a master photographer (yet):
- Use a tripod so that you have maximum flexibility in setting the shutter speed that gives you the best exposure
- Turn off all the lights in the room you’re in, and also in adjacent rooms — you don’t want any artificial light tinting any portion of the shot
- Take lots of test shots at various shutter speeds until you get the exposure you like. The “right” exposure is somewhat a matter of preference, but you’ll learn to see when something is objectively over- or under-exposed and develop your own exposure preferences
- Utilize the many online resources out there to learn more about how your camera works in manual mode, and the three primary mechanisms of adjustment: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. And then just practice, practice, practice!
On the broader philosophical questions, I’d love to hear what you think. Do you find the photography side of DIY and blogging fun, or have our expectations for photo quality gone too far?