Leading international interiors photographer Andreas Von Einsiedel has shot everything from hotels to heritage buildings. Andreas describes what's needed to achieve a successful shoot – and explains how to make your pictures pay.
If you're a sports photographer, you've got to capture that decisive moment; if you shoot landscapes, you've got the weather to contend with. Interior photography seems much easier by comparison, but that isn't the case, says Andreas Von Einseidel. “People assume that interior photography means working in a controlled environment, but it's often the opposite. Light is often a challenge.”
Andreas should know, because he has been photographing interiors for more than thirty years, becoming one of the leading practitioners in his field. His work has been published in many major publications, from Country Life to House & Garden, and his clients have included architects, developers, book publishers and The National Trust.
Andreas was born in Heidelberg, Germany, and developed an interest in photography in his teens. “When I was about 17, I decided that I wanted to do photography, full stop,” he says. In the 1970s, Andreas left Germany to study photography at the Polytechnic of Central London (now the University of Westminster).
After taking a three-year degree course in photographic arts, he returned to Germany and took an assistant's job with a leading commercial photographer in Hamburg. “My photography course wasn't vocational, and becoming an assistant enabled me to learn about the commercial aspects of photography,” says Andreas. He returned to England, got married, and for a brief period, became a sheep farmer (his wife had inherited a farm in Scotland). “I realised it wasn't for me, so we moved back to London and I got an assistant's job with a car photographer.”
In 1981, Andreas set-up his own business. “It was very tough. I rang up advertising agencies, PR companies, design agencies, magazines, trying to get work,” he recalls, “My first assignment was photographing an electric typewriter. The client said, ‘There's no money, the budget has been spent,' but I took it, because it was a way into the business.” Soon, Andreas was getting still life commissions and shooting in large format. He fell into interior photography by chance.
“In the early 1980s, World of Interiors [magazine] appeared and it was a sign that interiors was growing into its own market, like food and fashion,” says Andreas, “I was struggling with large format and I liked looking at interiors. I had a few friends with nice houses and I took pictures of them for myself.” He took the pictures to House & Garden, which published them. “I was soon doing still photography and interiors in parallel, and in the mid-1990s, focused solely on interiors.” Andreas set-up a studio in Farringdon, London, where he still works today.
Many skills are required to be a successful interiors photographer. “You need a good eye, but that's true for all types of photography,” says Andreas, “You also need a sensitivity to light.” But not all the skills are technical. “You are going into other people's spaces, and you usually meet them for one day only,” notes Andreas, “you need social skills. You need to be respectful, and you need to be able to get on with people. Some people like to be entertained; others want you to talk to them. Many of the interiors I shoot contain precious objects, so the person has to feel comfortable with you.”
Difficult owners are rare, adds Andreas, but occasionally, your patience can be tested. “One assignment involved flying to France to photograph the home of a highly successful interior designer. When I arrived at the house, the designer was just leaving. ‘I'm going out,' she said, ‘here are the house keys.' When I entered the house I was shocked. There had been a party the night before, and the rooms were full of empty wine bottles and dirty ashtrays. The bed hadn't been made. It took an assistant and me more than two hours to tidy the place before we could begin the shoot.”
Light is often challenging, “Sometimes you're shooting in a black hole. You can be photographing a Jacobean house in the middle of winter. Of course, you can use lights, but I prefer shooting in natural light. The good news is that digital cameras can see things that your eyes can't see and you can get amazing results,” says Andreas.
Andreas shoots with a DSLR and says his most useful accessory is the iPad. “I use the CamRanger app to operate the camera wirelessly from the iPad. It's great for shooting into mirrors and taking multiple exposures that are exact, because you're not touching the camera. The iPad is easy to carry around and you can hand it to an art director or an assistant.”
Interior photography is not about making rooms look pretty, says Andreas, “I'm not interested in prettiness. What I'm trying to achieve is that, when someone sees one of my pictures they think, ‘I'd like to be there right now.' I'm looking for an instinctive reaction.”
Some of Andreas' work is creating interiors packages on spec working with a writer and approaching home owners - as opposed to working on commission. The material is then marketed. “The process has become more difficult with the decline of print media,” says Andreas, “and there's an over-supply of interiors material. Plus, the industry has gone global, so you've got too many people working in a shrinking market.”
Andreas feels that many photographers don't spend enough time on the commercial aspect of photography. “You can make a living from photography, but few people make money from it,” he says, “a lot of people don't seem to realise that taking a good picture is only the start; you need to spend a lot of time managing your media and making it marketable. I've digitised and key-worded my entire archive; that's a very expensive process.”
He is disappointed to see so many photographers giving up copyright on their images. “I know it's very easy to be pressured into doing this, but remember, if you don't own the picture, you've got nothing to fall back on. A lot of my revenue comes from picture libraries.” He adds that even if you're commissioned, you should ask for copyright – and get any agreement in writing. “You don't have to give the client copyright. You can give them a licence to use the image as they wish, while retaining the copyright for yourself,” adds Andreas.
And what advice would he give to an interiors photographer starting out today? “It's a difficult market, but then, I was told the same thing when I started. I would say: be vigilant; take the business side very seriously, and be strong – be prepared to say no to commissions that don't pay a realistic fee. And take lots of pictures, because you need lots of them to get a good return on your work.”www.einsiedel.com