Photography For Real Estate

Tips and techniques for real estate photography

Archive for the ‘Lighting’ Category

HDR Images For Real Estate Photography

Posted by larrylohrman on November 27, 2007

Some discussions I’ve had in the last week about HDR processing of real estate photos and some articles I’ve run across have got me thinking about how HDR fits into real estate photography.

Anyone that has shot 360 panoramas will immediately appreciate the importance of HDR as a technique to control brightness in a situation where you must lock your exposure for all shots yet in one of the shots you have to shoot into the sun and another you have to shoot away from the sun. HDR is an clearly and important technique for panographers. As shown by the recent addition of HDR processing into PTgui PRO, the grand old 360 stitching application.

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Posted in Lighting | 13 Comments »

HDR Software Overview

Posted by larrylohrman on September 18, 2007

I recently noticed a nice overview of HDR software that is in the Panotools Wiki. I thought that this was one of the best HDR software overviews I’ve seen. This link on the Panotools NG forum which is a forum of panographers that discuss PanoTools, panoramic imaging, and related technologies and techniques, front-ends such as PTGui, PTMac, hugin or PTAssembler, or companion apps such as Pano2QTVR.

HDR is routinely used in panoramic imaging because when shooting panos frequently you find yourself shooting both into the sun and away from the sun in the same image… HDR becomes essential in these situations.

Posted in Lighting, Photo Editing | Leave a Comment »

The Hargis Portable Wall by Malcolm Waring

Posted by larrylohrman on September 10, 2007

It turns out that there IS wireless internet access here at the Skamokawa kayaking center here on the lower Columbia river! So I’m not off the “grid”.

Consequently, I was looking through the PFRE flicker discussions and noticed this one that is particularly interesting on some work that Malcolm Waring is doing. This looks like an important lighting tool so I thought that I’d highlight it.

The background on this concept is, if you’ve read these discussions before you will have seen Scott Hargis and others talk about bouncing strobes off of walls to turn the small light of a strobe into a BIG light source (big light sources are softer). Yet frequently you run into situations that don’t have a nice white large walls to bounce your strobe off of. So… here’s a great idea for a portable wall you can take with you.

I expect you’ll see more developments on this as readers experiment with this concept. Thanks Malcolm for getting this idea started.

Posted in Lighting | 8 Comments »

Interior Lighting With Multiple Strobes: By Scott Hargis

Posted by larrylohrman on July 23, 2007

First of all I need to point out that this is Scott Hargis’s post. Like many of you I’ve been admiring the way Scott uses a hand full of strobes to light a room to look like an Architectural Digest shoot and still keep the time to shoot a hole home within a few hours. Like the kitchen above. Scott has adapted the lighting techniques that David over at teaches (don’t put strobe on camera, use manual flash, use Cactus radio flash triggers, etc) to light interiors. So recently I tried to summarize the lighting explanations that Scott puts on his flickr images into a description of how to approach lighting a room with multiple strobes in a systematic way. I sent it to Scott and he re-wrote it and added a bunch of detail. Here’s Scott’s description:

  1. Set the ISO to 400 – this gives you much greater latitude with the strobes.
  2. Set the aperture to f/6.3 as a good starting point. With wide-angle lenses, DOF is not really a problem.
  3. Adjust the shutter speed to expose for the windows. Generally, for a “blown-out” window effect, 1/80th or slower will work. To bring in a view completely, dial up to your camera’s maximum sync speed (usually 1/250th) and only then start stopping down the aperture. Once the windows are exposed properly…..
  4. Add an off-camera light to one side or other of the camera. Bouncing from a wall or the wall/ceiling joint results in a much larger apparent light source, and thus yields softer shadows. However, watch for hot spots! In particular, reflections in windows, mirrors, and glass cabinets are problematic. Hot spots on the ceiling are also common, but can be fairly easily dodged/burned out if the light can’t be re-positioned.
  5. Flash power settings will be highly variable according to the light level in the room, the size of the room, etc.
  6. Most wall colors are fine for bounced light with no noticeable color cast. However, deep, bold colors will result in a tint to the light that bounces off them. In these situations, an umbrella or reflector is very useful.

In my opinion, if you’re accustomed to shooting with one on-camera light, the best way to ease into shooting with off-camera lights is to start SMALL. Try a bedroom, turn off your on-camera light and use only the remote one, placed a few feet away and bounced off the wall, to get used to the idea and discover the tricks of “hiding” the light source from the camera. Then, add in the on-camera light with a diffuser for fill.
For more complex rooms, like kitchens and living rooms, start with an ambient-only exposure and then add lights one at a time, chimping every step of the way. Remember that aiming the strobe directly at the subject will result in harsh light and hard-edged, deep shadows. For me, this is the last resort.

Because flash duration is extremely short (about 1/20,000 of a second), it is not affected by the camera’s shutter speed. For most rooms, it is possible to make the strobes the dominant light source, with only the windows truly lit by the ambient. At this point, control is completely in the photographer’s hands: shutter speed will control the windows/ambient, and aperture will control the strobes. Once I have the lighting evened out, I often fine-tune a shot by adjusting my aperture to move the histogram up or down as desired.

When I walk into a room, I’m looking at the surfaces and dividing them into two camps: surfaces the camera will see, and those it won’t see. The ones that aren’t going to be visible are all candidates for bounced lights. Then it’s just a matter of taking a few seconds to plan out the lighting. It’s amazing how quickly you can gain an intuition for this. Also, many rooms (like bedrooms) are pretty standard – the same setup will work again and again with minor changes.

A note about gear: To learn about ways to remotely trigger strobes, the Strobist blog and Flicker site are invaluable. Nikon CLS and Canon IR are problematic for shooting interiors as the signals will not travel reliably around corners and into distant rooms where we often put our lights. With regard to “hiding” lights in a room, a light stand with a small footprint is very helpful. I use the Slik SVD-20, which can remain upright and stable with a footprint less than 4″ across. Most of the time, my lights are about 24″ off the floor. I also keep a strobe in my hip pocket with the little “foot” attached so it can stand upright on its own. This light is incredibly useful for tucking into small places, on top of mantles, bookshelves, etc.

There you have it. The complete Scott Hargis lighting approach. Thanks Scott for being willing to share all the details with us!

Posted in Lighting | 19 Comments »

Lighting Alternatives for Real Estate Photography

Posted by larrylohrman on July 2, 2007

In the flicker discussion group Gary Weinheimer gives us a great example of the difference between using a single strobe (the photo above) and using 3 strobes (the photo below).

Pretty dramatic difference!

The point I want to raise is that after you master the basics like straight walls, correcting lens distortion and getting white balance correct, the single most important factor that contributes to the quality of an interior image is what approach you use for lighting.

There seems to be a natural progression in real estate photographers approach to lighting:

  • No lighting equipment – just using a tripod
  • No lighting equipment and use photo-editing and/or HDR techniques
  • A single on camera strobe used in automatic mode
  • A single on camera strobe used in manual mode
  • Multiple strobes

Each one of these lighting approaches give successively better results. An to my eye multiple strobes give the best results. I was satisfied with a single on-camera strobe until I saw the results that Gary, Scott, Aaron and M. James were getting with multiple strobes.

Make no mistake this technique is more difficult to master. There is more equipment to carry but to me carrying a little more equipment and learning these techniques is worth the effort.

I know that some will argue that one can get good results by using HDR techniques via software like Photomatix. But I see very few interior shots processed with Photomatix that do not have strange and noticeable artifacts.

So to summarize, all of these lighting approaches work well in many situations but I believe that being able to take complete control of the interior lighting by using multiple strobes gives the best results in the widest number of situations.

7/6/07 Update: I just noticed that David Hobby over at the Strobist has a better description than I’ve done of this lighting progression. David calls it “The Lighting Journey” and describes seven levels that photographers pass through as they strive to improve their lighting technique. David describes this phenomena beautifully.

Posted in Lighting | 17 Comments »

Scott Hargis Images on

Posted by larrylohrman on May 9, 2007

I just noticed the photostream by Scott Hargis a San Francisco area real estate photographer. Scott has added some commentary to each of his interior shots about his lighting setup. Scott uses multiple (3 or 4) strobes for his lighting. I believe he works with a 20D and 14mm lens. Great example of what can be done with multiple strobes.

Scott’s website has a nice gallery (made with Lightroom Slideshow feature) of his new work.

Posted in Lighting, Photo Technique, Real Estate Photo of the Week | 5 Comments »