How to Take a Dwell Photo
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."
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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."
More interior shot examples:
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."
More Mid-range examples:
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."
More detail shot examples:
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."
More exterior shot examples:
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."