May 1st, 2008
I want talk about lighting choices for real estate photography. Lighting is probably the biggest challenge for those starting out in real estate photography. There isn’t any one right way to light interiors. I’ve seen beautiful images made with each of these techniques. What I see and hear after talking to hundreds of real estate photographers is a gravitation to one technique or another based on where in the photographic process you’d rather spend your time. If you want to minimize the amount of post processing time you end up using 3 or 4 and if you are OK with more post processing you gravitate towards 6. Frequently, beginning real estate photographers will use 1 or 2 and progress to other techniques as the gain experience:
- Available light: Just a tripod using the lights coming in the windows and interior lights. Pros: simplicity (not much to learn), excellent results if inside and outside brightness close. Cons: only way to control window brightness is by time of day, frequently dark corners and uneven brightness.
- Single on-camera flash in automatic mode: Pros: Works good in small rooms, better than 1, simple (not much to learn). Cons: Reflections, flat look, doesn’t work on large rooms where a single flash doesn’t have enough power.
- Multiple flashes using camera manufacturers automatic mode (e-TTL Canon, CLS- Nikon): Pros: Manufacturer documented, flash power controlled from camera, even lighting possible. Cons: Expensive (need to use all flashes made by camera manufacturer, triggering not reliable in many situations.
- Multiple flashes using manual mode: Flashes radio or optically triggered. Pros: A wide variety of inexpensive flashes can be used, even lighting possible, almost total control of window brightness, minimum amount of post processing required. Cons: Takes a while to learn flash setup techniques.
- Hot lights: The use of studio style continuous (always-on) lighting. Pros: Always on so you can see what final image will look line in viewfinder. Cons: A lot of gear to carry around, amount of gear reduces speed of shooting.
- HDR (High Dynamic Range): Shoot a series of registered images (on a tripod) a few stops apart and combine them with special processing. Pros: Very fast and simple to shoot, inexpensive because lighting equipment not required, Post processing software inexpensive compared to flash equipment, gets good results faster than flash in extreme window light conditions. Cons: Takes some experimentation to learn tone mapping, if tone mapping is a little off, images can look un-real (radio-active or grungy).
How many use each of these techniques? Back in Feb and Mar of this year I did a PFRE reader poll and got the following results:
- Available light: 11% of readers
- Single on-camera: 38% of readers
- Multiple flash: (3 and 4 combined) 39% of readers
- Hot lights: 2% of readers
- HDR: 11% of readers
The use of HDR is probably the fastest growing method because it is relatively new and HDR processing software has been improving rapidly.