Winchester Gardens: Lighting Review

 Joe Kitchen is a commercial photographer in New York & Philadelphia that photographs architecture & interiors, hotels & resorts, still life and beverage.  Joe regularly travels to Washington DC, Baltimore, Boston and the rest of North America for projects.

A better and older architectural photographer than I once told me, “if people start to think about your lighting, then you failed.”  Ever since then, I always strive to have my lighting appear natural and non-present, to at least the layperson.  However, this often leaves people wondering exactly what I did, if anything, with the lighting.  So for those interested, whether you’re a designer, a fellow photographer, or just a curious bystander, here is a quick lighting overview of a recent project. 

The project was Winchester Gardens, a retirement facility in northern NJ, designed and photographed for KDA.  Overall, we (myself, two assistants, and two designers from the client's office) created 10 interior images in a day, and I will be reviewing 4 of them.  (Just to note, all final images shown have had the highlights layered in from shorter exposures.) 

First image of the day was the 4th floor common area.  The goal here was the show the overall space, give a sense of the layout, and have the finishes come out.  A wider composition a good deal away from the fireplace felt best.  First order of business was to light up the fireplace with a 650w Fresnel.  Since the fireplace is dead center and very dark comparatively, this was necessary to avoid having a black hole in the image.  Next was to imply the hallway/dining area left of the image and between the two pillars.  Adding a bounce and strip box in that area did the trick.  This also added nice shadows to the fireplace wall, bringing out the woodwork.  Last, a 3x4 soft box and another bounce light was incorperated for overall fill. 

Later in the day we moved to the 3rd floor common area, which was actually at grade, for a similar image.  The layout was basically the same and to avoid capturing the same image twice, we moved closer in.  First thing was to light the fireplace again (along with the table), which had a greater effect since the wood was lighter.  We also added another bounce light and 3x4 soft box for fill.  Initially I decided to use the same bounce and strip light combo on the left as before, but felt it was too obvious since the pillars will not being shown.  So I removed them, but doing so made the far wall look a little dead.  I made up for this by placing a strobe with a hard reflector outside illuminating the fireplace. 

Towards the end of the day, we moved into the lobby.  This image was the most complicated since two different rooms were being shown.  In order to have the viewers eye travel through the reception to the far room, I decided to use soft light in the foreground and harsh light in the background.  First, we placed a strobe with the narrow beam reflector outside and hitting the far bookshelf, and added a strip light just right of the shelf to reinforce that look.  A 3x4 soft box was also used in that same room for fill.  For the reception area, we opened the inner door of the vestibule (on the left), allowing sunlight to come in, and placed a strip light there to help break up the room.  A wall bounce was place left of camera to simulate soft window light and add fill.  The right side of the room still looked a little dull, though, and I decided to use a bare bulb strobe, which creates a look similar to a sconce, to brighten it up.  There was also 2 or 3 tungsten Fresnel lamps used in various places too. 

(If I could go back and make one change on this image, I would have gelled the bare bulb strobe to be warmer.  Although I do not feel it is obvious what I did, making the light warmer would certainly feel better.) 

Last, we moved in for a detail of the far bookshelf.  Really, much of the work was already done here from the previous image.  We kept the narrow beam and large soft box where they were, moved the strip box (on the right) a bit and added a ceiling bounce on the left. 

Pro Tip: an issue that came up on this shoot, and others, but probably does not deserve its own blog post, is how to deal with soft box reflections on wooden walls.  Often is the case that I will place a large soft box in just the right spot only to get a glare on a semi-glossy wooden wall.  Most people would choose to just move, which would compromise the lighting.  My solution often is to leave it where it is and gel it to be warmer.  Usually it is the bluer light of the strobe that makes the reflection stand out.  Bringing the color down to 3200K or warmer will make it less noticeable and appear natural, especially if there are windows in the image.