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Behind The Scenes at an Interior Design Photo Shoot

Karen Chernick interviews photographer Tom Crane and interior designer Barbara Eberlein

By Karen Chernick

Interior design is a long process, but at the end of all the planning, custom work, and installation, the client reaps the reward of living in a transformed and transformative space. But how does the design retain a lasting engagement/relationship/memory to its creative product? -Through inspired photography.

Barbara Eberlein and Tom Crane together have been photographing Eberlein Design Consultant Ltd interiors for over three decades. Here’s a peek at a recent residential photo shoot that reveals the moments of magic.

Barbara and Tom previewing images
Barbara and Tom previewing images

How does the process begin? Do you decide what angles work best, or does the designer indicate what he/she would like to highlight?

Tom Crane – Barbara shows me the area she would like to feature and I suggest a composition. We study that view on the laptop and make refinements until everything seems right. It could take 4 or 5 more photos to reach that point.

Barbara Eberlein – When we’re deciding what to shoot, I find we always want to show more, more, more but there’s a huge difference between what our eyes can take in when standing in a space compared to what is visually intelligible in a 2D photograph. We have to be realistic about producing images that are “readable”. We want photography to have the same “wow” factor as the room itself.

Jeff rearranging objects on the shelf
Jeff, Tom Crane’s assistant making endless adjustments

Barbara sets the table
Barbara sets the table

Does the design style affect the way you photograph a space in any way?

TC – No, I am more affected by the quality of light and picking the best time of day to photograph that room… with or without sun can be an important decision that has a large effect on the sequence of the photos taken during that day.

BE – Tom’s right as usual. I may be eager to tackle the large, complex shots first but I’ve learned to do an early morning walk-thought with Tom first to determine how the sun will fall during the day and how we can capture dramatic shifts and highlights.

Jeff cleans the refrigerator
Jeff makes the refrigerator photo-ready

How long does it take to prepare a shot?

TC – With digital capture it usually doesn’t take more than an hour per shot.

BE – Ha! That’s what he thinks! What’s astonishing to anyone who observes this process is that nothing is in its original place. Every object needs to shift, tilt, advance, retreat, have compositions edited or concentrated so that the 2D image looks like the 3D reality. With heavily accessorized rooms, it could take 2 people an hour just to set up. The actual photography doesn’t take more than an hour.

Barbara repositions a metal sculpture
Barbara repositions a metal sculpture

Tom, you often photograph buildings with both architects and designers; how are the experiences different?

TC – Architects put a high priority on the viewer being able to understand the structure of the space. Designers are more focused on the mood and the materials used in the interior design. Frequently, better photos come from the influence of the whole design team rather than the architects alone.

BE – I love the creative exploration of composing a photograph as much as composing an interior. Sometimes it’s not the sweeping views that make the most compelling images but it’s the tight focus on unexpected juxtapositions… like an extreme close up of a butterfly’s wings.

Jeff positions a light reflector bouncing light into darker spaces
Jeff positions a light reflector bouncing light into darker spaces

Is it helpful for you to have background information about a property owner when photographing his or her home?

TC – It is helpful to know in advance if the home owner is easy going about the adjusting of furniture necessary to make the photos work. Home owners who feel very protective of their space can need some hand holding to get through the process.

BE – That’s my job. As much as the client has to trust in the interactive collaboration that produced the special interior they must trust that “re-composition” will produce expressive photographs.

Barbara wipes down the mirror in the bathroom
No wayward streaks in the bathroom mirror; everything shows!

Learn more about this colorful project and see the spectacular final images for this photo shoot here.


Tom Crane’s love of architectural photography began when he was a Peace Corps volunteer fascinated by the designs embedded into mud buildings in northern Nigerian villages. Upon returning to the United States he apprenticed with Ezra Stoller, the “grandfather of architectural photography”. Crane has been based in Philadelphia since 1971, and his independent architectural and interior photography practice has documented several regional projects. His studio has been located in a restored barn in Bryn Mawr for the past 30 years. Crane is currently a board member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art.

Visit Tom Crane’s website: www.tomcranephotography.com

Based in Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse neighborhood, Barbara Eberlein has been creating beautiful interiors for more than 30 years. Barbara was formally educated in the classics, history and art, an education that has served her enduring passion for design. A rigorous concentration in classical archaeology and antiquities paved the way for future exploration of the history of decorative arts and architecture. With an influential voice in today’s dynamic design community, she has built a national reputation for expertise in the restoration of significant historic structures of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. She is president emeritus of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA) Philadelphia Chapter, as well as the coordinating President of all chapters nationwide; holds leadership roles at The Philadelphia Museum of Art on both curatorial and development committees; serves on the board of the Royal Oak Foundation; is a contributing member of The Philadelphia Antique Show, The Franklin Institute and The Union League of Philadelphia; and holds an advisory position with The Athenaeum of Philadelphia.

Visit Eberlein Design’s website: www.eberlein.com

Karen Chernick is an art historian, museum professional, researcher and writer who recently moved to Philadelphia from Tel Aviv. She is a contributing writer for Hidden City Philadelphia, and serves as Educational Programs and Events Manager for the Philadelphia Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art.

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