Last week I photographed a few (occupied) interiors for a real estate firm, which they want so they could show what can be done with their empty spaces. One dark, and awesome, space was Baba Olga's Café in Material Culture, an architectural salvage company.
With interiors like this, often I am told it is "probably too dark to photograph, right?" Well if you showed up with only a camera, yes, and you would get a dark image like to the right. However, using the right exposure and supplemental light, no interior is too dark to photograph, and here's how I tackled this one.
First, I observed the countless hanging lanterns (all with price tags) providing a nice warm overall light, and, to keep my image believable, I needed to preserve this. I set my camera ISO to 200 with an exposure of 1 second at f/10, which did the trick and gave me a base to start from. The window did go over a bit, but that helped break up the room.
Without a window in the rear, my foreground exposed almost black (like above). I did want the foreground to be darker, but I needed to brighten it up a bit. For this, I bounced a strobe off of a wall behind the camera, which worked well.
To further brighten, and help break up the room, I evenly spaced three softboxes on the left, with the first two gridded. I gave the first softbox just enough power to lighten up my foreground and more than double the power to the second. This gave a radiance to the chairs and tables and separated the back of the room from the middle.
The third softbox was the brightest, which made the counter glow and helped draw in the viewer’s eye. Also, by not gridding this softbox, it sent light and shadows far into the café, illuminating the image even more.
For the final touch (and what I knew I wanted from the start), I placed a strobe outside with the Profoto Magnum Reflector, giving a little more punch in the window light. I also gelled it with Lee Medium Amber, producing a yellow sunset feel when shooting at 3600K (all my other strobes were gelled to 3600K), and inviting the eye even more into the image.
So, as you can see, with the right technique, even the darkest interiors can be made to look inviting.
To see the progression of my lighting, here are test captures, and the final image, you can scroll through.