Monday, January 24, 2011

Interiors II

Tulips in Winter, 2011

You can do this photography thing for a long time and begin to think you’re getting the gist of it and then take a picture like the one below and realize you don’t know anything.

Yesterday we drove a couple hours down into North Carolina to celebrate the seventieth birthday of my wife’s aunt. The affair was held at The Inn at Gray’s Landing , a circa 1790 residence-turned-B&B in the town of Windsor. The Inn is one of those places working hard to capture Ye Olde Gracious Southern Charm. Its owners and staff are gracious. On a summer day the spacious screened porch would be a most welcoming place to talk, read a book or have a cool drink.

Yesterday, though, the temperature was hovering in the low twenties. A home built in the 1790s, even a grand one, isn’t likely to have much in the way of insulation. The Inn’s owners have installed storm windows and doors. But the place is still drafty and one of the determinants of how much you enjoy a meal in the Inn’s dining room is how close you’re seated to a fireplace.

But that’s not what I started to tell you about. The birthday girl chose the location for her luncheon. The food was wonderful. We had a good time. (Our table of seven was so boisterous that we apparently offended the local rector who was dining across the room with one of his parishioners.) And truth be told, I’ve always enjoyed visiting and photographing old places like this.

What I’m finally realizing, though, is that I’m not very good at is photographing their interiors. I do well with close-ups. I can even get away with purposely distorted wide-angle shots from time to time. But making good photographs of an interior space can be tricky.

The gist of it is this: if you’re not careful about what you’re doing, your lines go all over the place or take on unnatural shapes. In The Library Suite, below, my eye was drawn initially to the curves of the settee and the shades of red in the settee, the rocking chair and the rug. Though there may be a half dozen other sins in just those portions of the photograph, the real sin is in the lines of bookcases.

The Library Suite, 2011

I didn’t even realize it at first. I was worrying about how to get the reds right. Then my eye pulled back and I realized that the warped proportions in the bookcases were making this scene look as if it was shot on a boat rather than in a room that has surprisingly sharp right angle corners and a level floor.

These errors demonstrate a couple of things. For one, I was using a cheap lens with more inherent distortion than I’d realized. It does pay to use good lenses.

Second, and more important, I was not holding the camera level—that is, keeping the plane of the photo sensor exactly parallel to the opposite wall of the room—therein increasing the distortion. I was making a mistake beginners make all too often; namely, holding the camera where my eyes are, looking down and expecting the camera to make the same proportion corrections in the photograph that our brain makes for our eyes so that we don’t walk around in the world seeing every straight line as a curve.

There might be other problems in this photograph. But these are the ones I can at least work on for now. Until I get better at this, I don’t expect House & Garden’s going to be calling me to photograph interiors. (Actually, they won’t be called anyone since they ceased publication a couple of years ago.)

Tulips in Winter, by the way, was shot in the guest lounge at the Inn. I got to like the tulips a lot because a fireplace is just to the right out of the camera’s view.


  1. Love these interior shots! Eric's always freaking that "the lines are off" in photos of his, and until he mentions them, I never see them at all. I would never have noticed those bookshelves being "off" until you called my attention to them. I saw a rich, inviting room. Love those shutters, too!

  2. Oh, dear, I never pay any attention to the sorts of things you're pointing out. I'm satisfied if I can just (sort of) capture the feeling of a place or a scene. I have a professional photographer son, Studio H (Chris) on Flickr and I should be embarrassed even to be using a camera in my own amateurish manner. But I don't plan to stop.

  3. oh yes, it is quite a surprise to see what the camera sees, after our brain has told us something very different. I am doing more of these, and learning to get the camera front plane parallel to what i am seeing, with the help of a tripod. ( Shaky hands + low light mean I am wedded to my tripod!) As another after-cure, I will straighten the picture to one line, and crop off the offending one! In yours, I still first noticed the lovely light and arrangment of things, and never noticed the lines!