How to Take a Dwell Photo

Dwell architecture and interiors photographer Matthew Williams offers his expert opinion on how to frame a shot and the best time of day for a photograph.

Brooklyn-based photographer Matthew Williams is uniquely qualified to weigh in on what it means to take a "Dwell photo": he's shot a whopping 16 features for the magazine. His style is fresh, modern, and shows an honest look at the beauty (and imperfection) in a home—which mirrors the ethos behind the foundation of Dwell magazine.

"There are many different ways to take a good photograph of course, but some general rules apply across the board," says Williams. "I am actually uncomfortable saying that, as rules are meant to be broken, but we have to start somewhere."

The People Shot

"Houses are meant to be lived in, thats what makes them homes. I like to capture people as they might actually be in a given moment. I frame up the shot as I would a normal room or overview image, then have a good think about what people would be doing in the frame. I tend to let people settle into a scene a bit, until they become less conscious of the camera. Just let them do their thing. The ‘in-between’ moments are the money shots since they're the most genuine. Talk to people, make them feel good. Say something weird to get laugh. Kids are great as they relax the adults. And remember: It's easy to slip into cliche! Fight that urge."

In the kitchen, designer Maca Huneeus prepares lunch with her daughters Ema, 12, and Ofelia, 7. The pendants are Jonathan Adler; the island is a custom design, inspired by a 1960s Dansk tray that belonged to Huneeus’s mother. The barstools are from Blu Dot.

"This room really became the heart of the space," Dawn Casale says. "If people are sitting at the dining table or in the living area, you’re able to have a really free-flowing conversation and there’s a nice dynamic happening on the entire floor."

A large metal floating mirror from Restoration Hardware seemingly doubles the 675 square feet of the Schmidt-Friedlander apartment in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn. The family of three dines at an oak table from Canvas Home, with Wishbone chairs by Hans Wegner. Decorators White paint by Benjamin Moore and oiled Hakwood European oak flooring are used throughout.

The Room Shot

"A standard room shot should show the main function of the space. This can be hard as some rooms are not huge, and you have to choose which way to face. You can always shoot both ways, but keep in mind that one of the images has to tell the story best. Here I shot facing the beds as the primary shot, and facing the windows as a secondary shot, which I didn’t like as much. This is the kids' bedroom in the Windsor Terrace apartment. The bunks fold up in the day, but I put them down for this shot and put Finn in the image and waited to see what he did. Climb, Finn, climb! Some other tips:

  • I like to keep the images nice and bright. It cleans up the space and makes it look modern and inviting.
  • Shoot the room with and without people in it.
  • Also shoot in both vertical and horizontal formats, if possible."

The bunk bed, the Lollipop IN model from Resource Furniture, stows away flush to the wall when not in use.

Kirsty’s favorite space in the house is the living room, where she and her girlfriends curl up on the sectional sofa to gossip over a glass of wine.

An Alcova bed from B&B Italia dominates the master bedroom. A niche behind the bed holds Berenice wall lamps by Luceplan, and the walls are painted in Cornforth White and Charleston Gray from Farrow & Ball.

All of the apartment’s fixtures are by Kohler, including the kitchen sink and faucet as well as the Tea-for-Two bathtub, Vox square sink, and Catalan mirror in the bathroom. The Thassos marble subway tile is by Ann Sacks.

In the living room, an Eames lounge chair

is matched with a Richard Conover–designed fiberglass chair in similar proportions. A custom coffee table by Asher Israelow com-plements the industrial lighting by Workstead, affixed to walls painted in Farrow and Ball’s Manor House Gray. The sliding doors leading into the home office were fabricated by Markus Bartenschlager.

The Mid-Range Shot

"This shot is not quite a room shot, but not a detail shot either. The mid-range shot should capture a moment that is unique to the home and show a personal touch or architectural feature. The kitchen of this family home in Brooklyn shows both the creative architectural solutions to a small space, as well as the owners' cool stuff." 

The showstopping material elements are the Borghini honed marble countertop and backsplash by Ann Sacks. Hasami porcelain vessels line the open shelving.

The firm collaborated with Kountry Kraft and its modular manufacturer, Simplex Homes, to expand the palette of materials, including the teak cabinetry used in the kitchen and dining areas. Interior designer David Bentheim suggested the marble backsplash for the bar area. Antique dining chairs, an LED Aurea pendant lamp by FontanaArte, and a Paolo Piva table from B&B Italia complete the room.

The warm material palette extends to Berryman’s bedroom. Like the rest of the apartment, it features work by New York designers, including a custom wood bed by Asher Israelow and a Table Light desk lamp by Lindsey Adelman.

The Detail Shot

"The detail shot is just that. A detail that might be missed in a wider shot, but is beautiful, functional or unique in its own way. Here is one I took of a lamp in the Friedlander apartment—you get the idea."

Custom kitchen cabinetry was designed by Workstead and fabricated by the firm’s go-to woodworker Bartenschlager.

Bruce worried about what to put in the double-height space above the kitchen table—–until he found these Tom Dixon–designed mirror balls. "They were installed at random and when William came over that evening, he said, ‘Fantastic, well done.’ So we left them like that."

The Exterior Shot

"This can be a great shot to take, especially at dawn or dusk where the interior lights are glowing and the sky is a nice dark blue. In the case of this Brooklyn apartment, however, the front of the apartment building was bang up against a four-lane road. The entrance looked great, though. There will always be some thing or other that gets in the way of what you had in mind, but don’t despair, there is always a shot to be had. Just be patient, look around and be creative. It will happen." 

Resolution: 4 Architecture designed a Fishers Island home with warm cedar siding and white windows as a nod to the regional New England vernacular.

Two art studios adjoin a central volume at this work/live residence built from terracreto (sustainable concrete), glass, and painted steel just outside of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Residents Austin and Lida Lowrey, retired design and museum professionals, collaborated with their two daughters—Sheridan, an artist, and Elizabeth, an architect—to design the structure as a place for creative contemplation.

The residence is set back a few feet from the site’s edge, allowing more light to flood into neighbors’ windows and leaving space for trees. "The idea was to make a strong gesture to incorporate ideas of openness," Lynch explains. "It’s not just a box if you look at it closely. It’s a series of planes that fit together."

The Quirky Shot

"These are fun. There is always something that happens that is a moment, and humanizes a home. Keep an open eye and an open mind."

Lawrence, seven, shows off his toy collection on a vintage Cado wall unit in his bedroom,


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