Las Vegas Strip

Photographing Interiors: My Revised Approach

Several months ago I shared two photographs of a kitchen to highlight the value of professional real estate photography. I now want to share a third photograph of the same kitchen.

Kitchen photographed using my new techniques for interior design photography

I am working on developing my expertise in architectural and interior design photography. In this photograph I employed my new workflow for this kind of photography. Here is the image I made previously for comparison.

Old photograph

New photograph

It’s not perfect, and there are some things I would still change, but my new photograph is very different from the previous version and is an improvement in several ways. First, I used a longer focal length to avoid some of the wide angle distortion in the old photograph. The longer focal length produces a more realistic feel for the space. Second, I adjusted my perspective to avoid converging horizontal lines. This perspective creates a simpler composition. Next, I used some light to fill in the big, black void outside the kitchen in the old photograph, which had always bothered me. That change gives the image a better flow. Finally, by controlling the light artificially in my new photograph, I created an image that I think has a lighter, cleaner feel to it, and that’s the feel you want from a kitchen. The light in the old photograph felt a little heavy to me, if that makes sense. It was too dramatic for that kind of space. The light in the new photograph is less complex but better suits the space. It also more accurately reproduces the color in the room.

Some spaces do benefit from more dramatic light. For example, check out this photograph of a penthouse room in Las Vegas.

Penthouse room with Las Vegas Strip view

The more dramatic lighting works here. (Look below for a view of the Strip from the balcony outside this room.)

As a fine art landscape photographer, I am trying to transfer a high level of artistry to my architectural and interior design work. I have added some new tools and techniques to my workflow to allow me to do that. I used to approach this type of photography exactly the way I do landscape photography from a technical perspective. Essentially, that means using available light only. That works great for landscape photography, but architectural and interior design photography requires something different.

In my interior design photography, I used to make several exposures to capture the ambient light in the scene at different levels, and then I would blend those exposures together to create an optimum final photograph. Software exists to perform this blending automatically--you may have heard of HDR software, which stands for high dynamic range. I do not use HDR software in any of my work--landscape or architectural--because it can result in unrealistic effects and usually introduces undesirable qualities to the photograph. Instead, I manually blend the photographs together so I have full control over what the final image looks like. That was the technique I used to create the older kitchen photograph.

I am now using off-camera flash to perform as much of this work in camera as possible. Not only do I avoid some of the post-processing work, I also have full control over the quality and direction of the light throughout the scene. Using only ambient light does not afford this level of control. In landscape photography I often wait for the right light to make my photograph--I control the light through patience over time. In architectural and interior design photography, not only do I not have the luxury of waiting for the right light, but it is also completely unnecessary because I can create the light I want artificially.

Fine art landscape photography and architectural photography complement each other well from my perspective, and my interest in architectural and interior design photography provides a way to expand my artistic capabilities. (It can also give me an opportunity to make a photograph of the Strip from a great perspective, as in the photograph below.) I really enjoy this kind of photography, and I’m looking forward to building my portfolio and my business in this area. Stay tuned for more updates on how I’m doing.

The Las Vegas Strip (click to enlarge)

The Las Vegas Strip

This is the view from my bedroom at home. Just kidding--that would be nice, though! Last month I had the opportunity to visit Delano, a hotel at the south end of the Strip in Las Vegas. I took this photograph from a room on the 60th floor.

Las Vegas Strip
Las Vegas Strip

This photograph was a challenge to produce, and I almost threw it away as being unusable. The truth is I’m not sure it really is usable for anything other than this blog article without further work, but I like it enough to share it. The reason it’s such a problem is because I had to shoot through at least two panes of glass. The result was a photograph with triple images of most of the lights.

The camera was capturing these triple images due to the various layers (and/or edges) of the glass. There was nothing I could do about it. The rooms in the Delano do not have balconies, so I was forced to photograph from inside behind the glass. I’ve photographed through glass before without having major issues, but for whatever reason, it was a problem in this case.

So how did I deal with the problem and get something halfway decent out of it? Photoshop, of course! It was very tedious and time-consuming, but with a lot of patience I was able to eliminate the majority of the ghosting. The result is OK, and I wanted to share it. I think it looks pretty good at this size on screen, but I would be concerned about making a large print of it. With additional work, though, it might be a usable photograph. Being able to photograph the Strip from a vantage point such as this is a rare opportunity, and I wanted to make the best of it.

Shooting at the Stratosphere in Las Vegas

I have been living in Las Vegas for over two years, and until a couple weeks ago, I had never gone to the top of the Stratosphere, which by some accounts has the best view of the city. It was worth it, but not just for the view. The view was good, but it was also fun to see exactly what goes on up there.

View of Las Vegas from the Stratosphere
View of Las Vegas from the Stratosphere

There’s the restaurant and bar, and it really seems like having dinner or drinks would be a nice way to enjoy the view. But then there are the other activities--the rides, and the jumping. It’s really amazing watching people experience these amusement park rides over 1100 feet above ground. Then I found the jumpers. These are the people who have decided that the elevator ride to the top was too boring, and they would like to find a more interesting way back down. I have to admit, the elevator was pretty boring. There are no windows or anything, and you have no sense of how high you are climbing or how fast you are getting there. The next thing you know the doors open and you’re there. So I can understand how someone might want to find a more exciting way to get back down.

Well, I imagine strapping yourself into a harness and dropping 1100 feet on a rope towards a bull’s eye painted on the ground below is certainly a more exhilarating way to get down. I witnessed several people make this descent. They just drop and get smaller and smaller, very quickly, until they reach the bottom. They’re attached to a rope and everything is set up for safety, but the bull’s eye at the bottom is a nice touch!

Anyway, I was there mainly to check everything out but also to do some photography. Tripods are not allowed, and so I was not overly optimistic about the prospects. I arrived shortly before sunset and would have liked to take longer exposures, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that without the tripod. My plan was to take as many shots as possible and see if I could make anything out of them. As it turned out, a tripod wouldn’t really have helped because of the way the observation decks are set up.

The Stratosphere has both an indoor and outdoor observation deck at the top. When I arrived, I first went up to the outdoor observation deck. I knew immediately that I would not be able to photograph from there. There are protective bars and no way to shoot through them--they are too far away. So I went down to the indoor observation deck one level below, and that’s where I took the photograph here.

It’s a little difficult because the windows are angled out away from you, and there are also reflections to deal with. I got as close to the glass as I could and set up my camera to take as long an exposure as possible for hand-held operation. I went down to 1/20 of a second for some of my shots. That’s normally too slow for hand-held operation to avoid camera shake blur, but I was able to use the window to help stabilize me. You can’t lean on those windows--there are signs telling you not to do that, and frankly, unless you have a desire to head toward the bull’s eye without the benefit of the harness and rope, it’s probably a good idea to heed that warning! Even so, I was able to rest the camera lens lightly against the window to gain some stability. One other trick I used was that I shot in high speed continuous mode, meaning that as I held down the shutter release, the camera shot off multiple exposures in succession until I released the button. Shooting that way increases the chance that one of the images will be in focus.

The tripod would not have helped because I wouldn’t have been able to get the lens flush with the window, and that would likely have resulted in reflections and a fuzzier image. So I worked with what I had and hoped for the best. I ended up with the image here. I think it’s a decent result considering the shooting conditions. The main road to the right of center is Las Vegas Blvd., and you can see it leading up to the heart of the Strip. The other clearly visible road to the left of center is Paradise Road, which leads directly toward McCarran Airport. The airport is that grey area below the mountains near the horizon.

The trip was worth it, and I would recommend visiting the Stratosphere if you come to Las Vegas. There’s only one way up, but at least a couple of different ways back down. I took the elevator.