After a fulfilling career in PR and publishing, Karyn Millet picked up a camera in 2002 and never looked back. Her work has since appeared in House Beautiful, Traditional Home, Interiors, Coastal Living, Luxe, The Los Angeles Times and Condé Nast Traveler … just to name a few.
She also photographed The Well-Dressed Home (Clarkson Potter), and published her fourth title, The Accidental Photographer: Dare to Do Something Different in 2013.
We recently had the opportunity to pick her brain about photography fundamentals and what makes a truly great photo. Check out our insightful interview with her below!
Living Spaces: What inspired you to become a photographer?
Karyn Millet: After 14 years in publishing and public relations, I hit the wall and needed a change but didn’t know what that looked like. I was 30-something with no clue. That’s when photography found me.
I was helping a fellow photographer and mentor edit through one of her shoots on a cold, rainy December day, and I checked my voicemail only to hear the most incredible message. The Design Editor from House Beautiful wanted to publish a house I had taken pictures of, and the Art Director wanted me to photograph it for them. That’s when my life changed.
That first house turned into several more feature stories and some covers. It was my official break.
LS: Are there golden rules you believe aspiring interior photographers should know and follow?
KM: Interior photography is all about telling the story of a room, its purpose and who lives there. To do that successfully, here are a few fundamentals to keep in mind:
- Make sure the room is picked up and styled how you ultimately envision it. You wouldn’t have someone take your portrait without brushing your hair first, right? Treat your room the same way and make sure things are tidied up and looking sharp. Even add some fresh flowers. There are plenty of unique containers that make for interesting vases!
- Keep your camera level. When you shoot a sunset over the ocean, you want your horizon line to be straight. The same concept applies to the walls, floor and ceiling of your room. Those should all appear vertical and horizontal without much tilt, unless you’re going for a tight vignette “moment” where a fun angle makes sense.
- Even, natural light will show off the room and its decor best. Turn off lamps that cast yellow light up and down from their shades. While it may look wonderful in real life, it can be distracting in a room shot and give the space an inaccurate color. With less light, be sure to keep your camera steady, as the exposure will be longer.
- Avoid harsh, bright light streaming in through the windows. Expose your camera for the interior of the room, not the window light. If the window blows out, that’s perfectly fine and can be a great look!
LS: Should the items in your photo be centered?
KM: There is a rule in photography that photos should be weighted two-thirds in composition to please the eye. Meaning, you should leave some breathing room in one-third of your photo.
However, shooting a room centered can look very dynamic, but you must keep the symmetry balanced. Below are two examples of some outdoor rooms I photographed recently on my honeymoon to Mustique! The photos are of the beautiful Cotton House Hotel, where we stayed.
LS: What elements should be taken into consideration when photographing outdoor spaces?
KM: When shooting outdoors, always make sure the sun is behind you and not directed at the camera lens.
The same rules of composition for indoor rooms apply to outdoor entertaining spaces.
Also, don’t hesitate to add a bit of “life” to an outside shot, whether it’s your dog relaxing in the space, a pitcher of lemonade and a plate of cookies, wine and cheese…you get the idea!
LS: What qualifies as a great photo?
KM: To me, a great photo is one that engages me in some way. A photo that invites me in and causes me to linger there awhile. Every picture tells a story, and you are its author.
LS: What do you pay attention to in a photo?
KM: Color and contrast play an important role in good photography, however personal preference is a key ingredient, as well. When setting up a shot for the catalog or on my magazine shoots, we might add pillows, a throw, artwork, flowers, etc. that will make the shot pop. Keep your eyes open for color options to accent your image and your room!
LS: How do you decide whether a scene is worthy of capturing in a photo?
KM: When it comes to my photo canvas artwork for Living Spaces, each image truly has its own unique back story. Take for instance a street scene I recently shot in Cuba.
Unlike an interior shoot, I couldn’t control what was within the composition, only my point of view. I saw the blue car and was drawn towards it as I walked down the street. I went with my gut when capturing this first shot.
The other captures were OK, but I’ve found that the first impulse is often the best. When looking at this photo with the Living Spaces team, I then noticed how the blue car played against the warm building. And just beyond it, the red car played against an opposing cool building. This explains some of the frame’s natural drama, which I was lucky enough to capture!
LS: Why do you think the first shot is often the best one?
KM: Once you know the rules and guidelines for photography, there can be a tendency to overthink things. Remember to explore your first impulses, as those are what initially intrigued you to take the shot.
As you take more pictures, photography rules will become second nature and always be in your quiver, ready to be drawn upon as you take aim!
Eager to learn more about Karyn Millet? You can visit KarynMillet.com and follow her on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. And don’t forget: You can also find her exclusive photo canvas artwork collection at a Living Spaces near you!