Photography For Real Estate

Tips and techniques for real estate photography

Archive for the ‘Flash Technique’ Category

How to use an exernal flash

How To Make 1 Flash Function Like Multiple Flashes

Posted by larrylohrman on November 28, 2007

Marcus Newey has a great tutorial in the flicker discussion group that explains how to shoot multiple shots with a single flash and then combine them in photoshop to create a well lit composite photo. Marcus’s animated GIF above shows the multiple shots and how they are combined into the final image.

This is good technique for real estate photography since it can cut down on your equipment investment if you have the Photoshop skills necessary to do the compositing image.

Thanks Marcus for this tutorial, I’d heard of this technique but have not seen it explained so well before.


Posted in Flash Technique | 3 Comments »

Tutorial On How To Light a Room – By Scott Hargis

Posted by larrylohrman on May 21, 2007

I was about ready to ask Scott to describe his approach at using the “Strobist technique” he uses to light a room. Turns out he’s already done a nice tutorial with examples over on the Strobist discussion group. Scott describes this technique for building up this shot with 4 strobes. I thought the readers here would like to see it. Nice job Scott!

If I haven’t mentioned it before the strobist blog is a great place to pick up a lot of good information and techniques on how to raise your lighting technique to the next level.

Posted in Flash Technique | 13 Comments »

The Importance of Flash Sync Speed

Posted by larrylohrman on August 26, 2006

Marc Lacoste’s comment on my last post refers indirectly to a very significant article on for real estate photographers. The article explains several reasons photographers should care about flash sync speed. The most important reason for real estate photographers is flash range. As Ken’s excellent article explains, faster sync speed means longer flash range. The point of Marc’s comment is that the older Nikon DSLRs (D50 & D70) have a flash sync speed of 1/500 and above… good for real estate photography!

Posted in Flash Technique, Photo Equipment | 8 Comments »

Success With My Slave SB-26 Flash!

Posted by larrylohrman on August 23, 2006

I got some reader suggestions on how to solve the problem of a shadow from the wide-angle converter when using my Nikon SB-26 as a slave to my Coolpix-4300’s built-in flash.

Randy pointed out that if the slave flash was firing at the same time as the built-in flash because of it’s power compared to the built-in flash it should make the shadow from the wide-angle converter go away.

 As Randy said:

“I would think the SB-26 would overpower the wimpy built in flash. Are you sure you were using it in the right mode. Most digital cameras fire a pre-flash to judge exposure prior to taking the actual picture. To the human eye it looks like one flash, but in fact there are actually two(maybe even three if you have red-eye reduction on). Standard optical slaves will fire on this first flash and have no impact on the image…”

He was right on. I tried the “delay” feature on the SB-26 but that only made a slight improvement. The slave was still not firing when the CoolPix-4300’s shutter was open. After trying all the flash modes on the SB-26 I finally got the result above when I put the SB-26 on Multiple-image-flash mode. “Multiple flash mode” fires the flash multiple times and at least one of the times is while the shutter is open.

The moral is when using a slave flash you have to make sure the slave is firing while the shutter is open.

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Problems With Using Slave Flashes on Compact Digital Cameras

Posted by larrylohrman on August 22, 2006

Recently I was rummaging through my old film camera gear and ran across my old Nikon SB-26 flash unit that I used to use with my Nikon 6006 film camera. While thumbing through the manual I noticed that it has a slave mode where light from another flash can be used to trigger it. I decided to set it up and try to trigger it with my CoolPix-4300. I a post back in February of this year I recommended using a slave external flash unit when you are using a compact camera that doesn’t have a hot-shoe for an external flash unit.

It turns out there are serious problems with this technique. Virtually all compact cameras need a wide-angle converter to get a wide enough angle of view (Kodak V570 is the only exception I know of) for interiors and it turns out that wide-angle converters block the built-in flash and make a nasty shadow in the image (see the image above). The built-in flash triggers the slave flash OK but there’s not much you can do about the shadow. The image below is what results when you take off the wide-angle converter- the slave flash illuminates the room beautifully but the angle of view is not wide enough for a pleasing interior shot.

I doubt if this is a problem unique to my CoolPix-4300 and WC-63 wide-angle converter. I believe the conclusion is: Don’t expect to use a built-in flash unit to trigger a slave flash unit when you are using a wide-angle converter. To state it differently, if you’re going to use an external flash unit with a compact camera that requires a wide-angle converter you need to have make sure an external flash can be fired on a hot-shoe or with a PC sync cord without the built-in flash firing. At this point, without doing some research, I’m not sure if there are any compact cameras that work well with external flashes!

Posted in Flash Technique, Photo Equipment | 5 Comments »

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.

Posted in Flash Technique | 1 Comment »

Strobist – Helping You Use of Your Flash

Posted by larrylohrman on June 15, 2006

I just discovered a the strobist blog that is of interest to Real Estate Photographers. It’s written by Baltimore Sun Photojournalist David Hobby. He has a Lighting 101 article , and a Boot Camp exercise that uses to allow you to get practical experience and feedback on your work. Hobby also has an Assignment section that gives detail information on how he handled specific assignments. Take a look if you want to improve your flash technique.

Posted in Flash Technique | 2 Comments »

Get an External Flash

Posted by larrylohrman on March 24, 2006

I got a reader comment today on my May 15, 2005 post about the challenge of bright windows that I can't help commenting on. The reader said, “1) you could 'bracket' exposures in a couple of three shots for every scene… one exposure in the middle range, one exposure to capture the bright windows, and one to capture the darker interior. then… 2) use Photoshop to merge the three layers to achieve the overall exposure you desire… the technique is called "high Dynamic range"

Yes, taking multiple exposures is a workable way to deal with bright windows and I used to use this technique. But what I’ve found is that when I’m shooting from 15 to 30 shots of a home the time it takes to deal with the bright window problem by photo editing is excessive compared to using an external flash unit. It takes me from 15 to 30 minutes per image to blend multiple images in Photoshop with either of the two techniques I described in my Bright Windows and Bright Windows II post so you are talking several extra hours photo editing time if you assume in 30 shots from a shoot there are just 4 shots that have bright windows. On the other hand for around $200 one time cost you could purchase an external flash and never have to spend time photo editing bright windows again!

With an external flash you not only eliminate having to fool around photo editing bright windows but the colors in your shots look better. Whites look white instead of tan or grey and other colors look better. I know many photographers resist using flash because they think it is tricky or complicated. It’s not difficult! And it is well worth the investment. If you get an external flash that is designed to work with your camera it’s as easy as setting the flash on TTL mode and taking the shot. If you use a slave flash that is triggered by a built-in flash on a compact camera there is a little trial and error but it’s not difficult. Get an external flash unit. You'll be glad you did.

Posted in Flash Technique | 3 Comments »

Bright Windows Part IV

Posted by larrylohrman on March 10, 2006

The last way you can deal with bright windows is to use an external flash unit to increase the internal brightness level to the same level as outside so the same exposure will work for the inside as the outside. In actual practice this is not difficult. Just use the TTL or E-TTL automatic feature of your flash. The above photo is done automatic flash. If you shoot without flash the photo will need photo editing so the interior is properly exposed. This means using one of the first two photo editing alternatives or letting the windows “blow-out” (go over exposed).

It’s all a matter of trading photo editing time for the extra money that an external flash costs. As a reader recently told me after he got his flash “… it’s much less stressful using an external flash” because he was putting in a lot of time using photo editing to fix bright windows and he couldn’t always be sure he could fix every photo.

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Bright Windows

Posted by larrylohrman on March 7, 2006

Have you ever tried to photograph a room with very bright windows? If you are not using any lighting equipment (like flash) you will usually find it’s nearly impossible to get an exposure that gets detail in the bright windows and detail in the darkest corner of the room. This is because the brightness range is too wide for any camera to record. You can expose for the windows or you can expose for the dark corner, not both. What you’d like to do is combine two different photos. One that you’ve exposed for the windows with one you’ve exposed for the dark corner into one image that covers the whole brightness range.

You’re in luck; there is a way to combine two such photos into a single image. You use a Photoshop Elements plug-in called DRI Pro from . DRI stands for Dynamic Range Increase. This $20 plug-in makes blending to interior shots a breeze. You’ll need to use a tripod so the two images (one exposed for the windows and the other exposed for the darker interior) are exactly registered. Or if you are shooting with camera that records in RAW mode you can shoot one photo in Raw mode and open it twice setting the exposure on one for the windows and the other for the interior.

Every home seller with a view home wants you to create a photograph that shows their beautiful interior and the great view. Unless you have some tricks like DRI Pro up your sleeve you won’t be able to deliver the photo that your client expects.

Posted in Flash Technique, Photo Editing, Photo Technique | Leave a Comment »

Direct Flash?

Posted by larrylohrman on March 2, 2006

I recently photographed a home of the fiancé of a professional photographer and teacher. While shooting we discussed the fact that I was shooting direct flash with a diffuser instead of bouncing the flash off the ceiling. He suggested that I use a wireless controller to trigger the flash unit off the camera. I would have tried some off camera flash but I’d foolishly left my Canon ST-E2 Speedlite Transmitter at home.

Several days later we discussed one of the resulting shoots above. He pointed out that the brightness of the white couch in the foreground was distracting and that bouncing the flash off the ceiling would get rid of this problem. I pointed out that when ever I use ceiling bounce flash with a wide-angle (16-35 zoom) I find it creates a very distracting “hot” ceiling. He then suggested that this many be a situation in which Flash was not essential since there was plenty of natural light and the two incandescent lamps would add warmth.

I was already aware that shooting with direct flash had downsides but I’ve kept coming back to that technique because when pressed for time, like I usually am when shooting, I tend to come way with the highest percentage of usable shoots in the shortest time when using on camera, direct, diffused flash.

What I took away from this learning experience is that in the future I’m going to take more time and shoot more varied shoots done with different lighting so I have more choices when I get the editing stage.

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Importance of External flash

Posted by larrylohrman on February 22, 2006

I’ve noticed from flyers, postcards and interacting with readers of this blog that the majority of photographers shooting interiors for real estate don’t understand the importance of an external flash unit. One of the telltale signs of an interior photo that someone was not using a flash is the predominance of red-orange from the incandescent lights. As in my example above from before I started to use a external flash whites are more yellow-orange than white (the countertops and ceiling in this home is white). Some of these color balance problems can be removed with photo editing but its hard work compared to the clean whites and accurate colors you get when shooting with an external flash.

The other telltale sign in interior photos done without an external flash is “burned-out” windows. Home sellers with wonderful views are always very disappointed when interior photos don’t show the view. Again there are ways to work around “burned-out” windows but they either involve hard work photo editing or carefully controlling the time of day you shoot.

To quote a recent comment from a reader: “…I just received the Speedlite 430ex from B&H a few days ago and after practicing on my own place I used it on a shoot today. Well, I'm sold! What a difference it makes. It really simplifies the image editing considerably and is a lot less stressful…”

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Flash Diffusers

Posted by larrylohrman on February 21, 2006

When using an external flash to shoot interiors I always use the built-in diffuser on my Canon 580ex Speedlite. The diffuser swings down over the flash and diffuses the light out so it covers the same field of view as a 14mm lens. The diffuser also reduces many of the strong harsh shadows that normally result from using a flash. A reader recently asked if there was a way to get the same effect if the flash unit you are doesn’t have a built-in diffuser.

The answer is, yes there is. Sto-Fen Products make diffusers that fit over the head of most flash units. I’ve tried a Sto-Fen diffuser on my 580ex and it creates very nearly the same effect as the built-in diffuser.

I like the results from flash diffusers better than bouncing the flash off the ceiling. I find that when using a wide-angle lens much of the ceiling is visible and comes out too “hot” if you bounce the flash off the ceiling.

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An Example Slave Fash Unit

Posted by larrylohrman on February 10, 2006

A couple of days ago I mentioned slave flash units. This is an item of interest to interior photographers using digital compact cameras that have built-in flashes but have no facility to control a bigger more powerful external flash unit required to adequately light interiors. I have a little CoolPix-4300 that falls in this category.

I found a great example of a slave flash unit that would be appropriate for using for shooting interior shots with a digital compact camera. It's the Metz 28 CS-2. It has a built-in bracket to attach your camera and it will work with a 24mm wide-angle lens. Just mount your camera with a built-in flash on it and the light from the built-in flash will trigger this flash. Thanks to Gordon in Salt Lake for bringing up the subject of slave flash units.

Posted in Flash Technique, Photo Equipment | 1 Comment »

External Flash Unit Questions

Posted by larrylohrman on February 7, 2006

In the last few days I've had a couple of great comments from readers regarding the use of of external flash units. In my previous post regarding "6 steps to shooting great interior photos" I claim you need and external flash.

The first question is can't you just get by with a tripod? Yes, you can as I did for years but as I will show with examples in my up coming book, most of the time interior shots look better when using a external flash. Built-in flashes just don't have the power to brighten a whole room. Also, an external flash helps with the pesky problem of burnt-out windows because a flash unit boosts the interior brightness level to closer to the outside brightness.

Second comment is that if your camera doesn't have a "hotshoe" for mounting and syncronizing a flash, you can use what is called a "slave" flash. Slave flashes are fired by the light from a built-in flash units but are more powerful. Some come with a bracket to mount your camera on or you can just set the slave close to your camera. Either way the light from your built-in flash triggers the slave flash. Slave flash units can be purchased online at places like for as little as $49. Typically the more expensive slave flashes are more powerful.

Posted in Flash Technique, Photo Technique | 2 Comments »