Photography For Real Estate

Tips and techniques for real estate photography

Working With A TTL Flash

Posted by larrylohrman on July 19, 2006

If you’ve read some of the reader profiles on this blog you’ve probably noticed that many real estate shooters carry a flash but don’t always use it. Also, many readers that I’ve talked to directly have a tinge of doubt when talking about the use of flash. I admit that for most of my real estate shooting I felt the same way. I always felt that it was a variable and expense that I would manage to avoid.

I’ve changed my mind since I purchased my Canon 580 Ex Speedlite about two years ago. I now believe you can do a much better job in less time as a real estate photographer if you use a flash. When I shoot real estate I still frequently take non-flash shots of exactly the same frame as I shoot flash just for comparison (like the two shots above). However, 99% of the time I like the flash shot best. Before I used flash regularly, I spent allot of time satisfying our selling clients with great view properties that wanted an interior shot that showed the great view and insisted that I come at 2:00 PM on Tuesday. I could always be sure of delivering the goods if I shot at twilight… now I can shoot almost any time and still deliver.

If you’re using a digital SLR a flash that works with your camera body with TTL (through-the-lens) flash metering can make your life easier. The basic principle of TTL metering is simple. The flash fires and the light reflected off the subject is read by the camera, which squelches the flash when sufficient light is recorded on the sensor. The camera’s multi-pattern metering achieves an accurate exposure for the ambient light, while the flash delivers just enough illumination to fill in the shadows. TTL metering combined with the immediate feedback of the camera’s LCD (particularly the histogram mode) can give you confidence you’re getting a well exposed image.

I find there are more than one level of working with a flash. The most basic is with the flash mounted in the hot shoe. This way of working allows you to easily and quickly move about the home without a tripod getting good overall exposures. There are downsides of working with the flash mounted directly behind the lens. There will be reflections off reflective surfaces (see the door frame in the flash photo above). I find these can easily be removed in Photoshop.

A more advanced level of using a flash is to take it off the hotshoe and firing it with a flash trigger that mounts on the hotshoe. This mode of working allows use of multiple flash units. Use of off camera flash and multiple flash units requires more time to setup and think out each shot but results can be controlled to a higher degree and thus have the potential for better results. I’m still working at perfecting this level of shooting. I continually find myself under time pressure that doesn’t allow the time that this approach requires.

The four most popular wireless TTL flash systems are Canon, Nikon, Metz and Quantum. Unlike radio-controlled strobes that can only be turned on and off, these four flash systems deliver TTL functionality and provide the ability to control individual or groups of flashes.

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One Response to “Working With A TTL Flash”

  1. Just as Larry did, I started off shooting without a flash. I got reasonably good results but with a lot of Photoshop work. After reading Larry’s advice on this blog I decided to plunk down the $400 and ordered the Canon 580EX. Since I started shooting with the Canon Speedlite 580EX I have been getting better results. Actually much better. Best $400 I’ve ever spent! I’m still learning how to use the Flash but only rarely do I get a bad unusable image. All of my images shot with the flash require varying degrees of lightening, but they almost always look good, sometimes great, in the end. I still get burned out windows but to a considerably less degree. Sometimes I will mitigate the burnout with Photoshop if it merits it. Extreme burnout? Forget it. It’s part of the ambience of the room now.

    Regarding the use of more than one flash and off flash shooting, I’m in a similar situation regarding time as on most jobs my customer wants me in and out of the house in less than an hour. It’s enough that the realtor at least has the good sense to make the investment in a quality series of images. God forbid that they should have to hang around all day for me to do the job! There are all sorts of things I could do, including the use of an additonal flash which I’m also interested in experimenting, but even here there is a the time consideration. I keep a hot light in the back of my truck just in case I run into a situation where I’m not satisfied with my image and it’s an important one. Haven’t had to use it yet.

    Be careful not to expose off a bright window. You can get an interior that is underexposed beyond the limits of Photoshop of salvaging.

    I always carry my tripod with me as well. If I have shiney cabinetry I sometimes do some available light images as a back up. If you love Photoshop magic you can see how good you are at removing the reflection out of shiney objects.

    I should add that one of the contributors here is doing some fabulous available light photography so it seems to be working quite well for him.

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