Photography For Real Estate

Tips and techniques for real estate photography

Photo of The Week – Natural Light Only or Lighting Equipment?

Posted by larrylohrman on August 17, 2006

This last week I’ve been talking to Con Poulos of Sydney, Australia about natural light shooting versus using lighting equipment. Con is a real estate photographer that does both 360 virtual tours and still interior shots. His website is http://www.spinpix.com.au/. Con sent me several recent interior images that he’s shot without using any lighting equipment. The image above and below are the ones I like best. These were created by shooting multiple images, probably one image exposed for the windows and at least one other image exposed for the interior and then combining the images in Photoshop using masking. That is, taking the best parts of each image and combining them into one beautifully exposed image.

Anyone who’s tried to create an image like the one above will appreciate how difficult it is to expose the interior and the view out the window in one image. Con has done a stunning job! But, he’s done it by spending allot of time in Photoshop combining multiple images. I’ve found that sellers of view homes expect shots like this that show both the interior long with the view.

If you are interested in the gory details of combining multiple images I recommend Katrin Eismann’s book Photoshop Masking & Compositing . On pages 225 to 240 she specifically has examples of creating interior and exterior real estate images using multiple images. The rest of the book covers related aspects of combining multiple images with masking.

Con’s question to me was what kind of pro-lighting equipment does he need to use to reduce the amount of time he needs to spend in Photoshop to get this kind of image.

My answer was that lighting equipment will indeed reduce the amount of time you need to spend in Photoshop to get such images as these. Many real estate photographers do work very close to this with external flash units either Canon, Nikon, Metz or Quantum TTL flash systems (typically around 50 watt-seconds). The positive side of these TTL systems is that they are very portable and very automatic. However, there are always going to be rooms that are too big to light. And with artificial lighting systems you will always fight unnatural looking shadows and reflections. The next level of professional lighting systems that have more power (~100 watt-seconds and above) can be fired into transparent umbrellas to get a better quality of light but you must sacrifice portability.

Ultimately you find creating great interior images like these is a balancing act between time spent in Photoshop with the amount of lighting equipment you carry. That is, no lighting equipment means spending allot of time in Photoshop and allot of powerful lighting equipment means almost no time in Photoshop.

Many real estate photographers tell me that they are under time pressure to get in and out of a home in around an hour because the agent they are working for is waiting for them to finish. This is because the agent is personally responsible for the home while you are there. In my state (Washington) an agent can be fined up to $5000 if they leave a contractor unescorted in a home. Other interior photographers that work for builders tell me they take more time per home and spend a half a day to a day shooting a home. If you are going to shoot a home in around an hour, there’s no way you have time to setup much lighting equipment.

I personally take around 2 hours to shoot a home of around 3000 square feet and use a single external Canon 580EX Speedlite that will fit in my pocket. Since I’m a licensed agent I don’t have to be escorted in a home so this removes the time pressure. I also frequently take two or more trips to the home looking for good light or because I forgot some critical shot.

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3 Responses to “Photo of The Week – Natural Light Only or Lighting Equipment?”

  1. Great images.

    On the subject of lighting gear, it is possible to have a small and light but powerful enough kit without having to use studio gear. You can use several small flashes, small stands and umbrellas along wireless transmitters, à la strobist. With good diffusion, it is possible to avoid hard shadows, and to lit a large room with mutiple units.

    Working with wireless triggers is done in manual exposure mode, which is greatly simplified by digital’s little polaroid screen. A side benefit is the ability to balance natural light and artificial light as will: since the flash is very short, less than 1/1000s, it’s easy to choose a long exposure to have more natural, or shorten it to have more artificial. With a really short one, you could almost make the night in a bright day, keeping the flash parts completely lit.

    Here the necessity to have a high synchronisation speed become obvious. Among DSLRs, only the discontinued Nikon D1, discontinued D70 and D50 have a 1/500 sync (and in fact higher if the flash is non-iTTL) thanks to their electronic shutter, pro DSLRs have a 1/250 and amateur ones lower. I think digicams don’t have this problem.

    It was a good surprise to find that out for my D50 when I was exploring thoe possibilites, it wasn’t obvious tome at first it was so important. Here is an example of a flash inside a house, taken from the outside. The 1/320s exposure helps to balance the light. I will made more dramatic examples to show it.

    It takes me one hour to shoot a flat or a small house I pass time only for the main rooms, the others are shot in auto flash. post-processing is minimal. Notice that here in France exclusive selling contracts are the exception, not the norm, and we couldn’t use one day for photographying only one proprety.

  2. here is another example

  3. josh said

    Wow. I really love these photos, and just loves the way the light fills the room. I know that we’re being told that you need to shoot around twilight for these types of shots, but the light isn’t the same. In real estate, I though people wanted light and airy and this is what these pictures deliever. I’d like to know more about how he accomplished this- what time did he shoot these, did he really not use any flashes at all to get this light, etc?

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