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How To Do Twilight Exterior Real Estate Shots

July 11th, 2011

I had a discussion today about twilight shots and why to do them so I thought I’d recap the fundamentals.

First of all, doing a twilight shoot is almost always a special trip so most real estate photographers list a separate price for doing a twilight shoot. Here is the collective wisdom from the PFRE flickr group on what to charge for a twilight exterior shoot.

My experience is that sellers love twilight shots and so do agents. A twilight shot has the capability to transform a really ugly property into something dazzling and dramatic. If there’s a view involved it gets even better. Twilight has the power to hide those mundane details and make any home look magnificent. My wife and I have gotten several listing simply because a home seller saw a flyer of ours with a twilight shot or saw one of our listings on the web that had a twilight shot.

Here’s a summary of how to do an exterior twilight shoot:

  1. Plan and schedule the shoot using the naval observatory site or the LightTrac app. I love the LightTrac app it not only shows you what time sunset will happen but it shows you exactly which direction the sun will be. You need to be setup and ready about 15 min before sunset and the best light will start around 15 min after sunset and last for 10 to 15 minutes depending on the latitude, the weather and clouds.
  2. Turn on ALL the interior lights, landscaping lights and exterior lights if there are any. It’s easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to get all the lights on, especially if the homeowner is not there to show you where all the switches are. I’ve found that the exterior spots can frequently be too much (too bright). You can selectively turn each bulb off by unscrewing the bulb slightly. A small step ladder is handy for this.
  3. Some photographers like to hose down the driveway or cement areas that are in the shot so they are wet for a twilight shot.
  4. Use a tripod and cable release to eliminate camera vibration because exposure times will be several seconds or longer. If you don’t have a cable release use the interval timer to release the shutter. Some people have said, “I can’t to twilight shots because I don’t have a DLSR that has high ISOs”. Not a problem, with a tripod you just make long exposures. In fact, better to use a low ISO and long exposure times so you have minimum noise.
  5. Shoot raw so you will be able to adjust the white balance and exposure to your taste in post processing.
  6. Set your camera to a low ISO (100) to get better color and less noise. This is probably not as important with newer high ISO DSLR bodies.
  7. Set your camera on manual and use a aperture around f/5.6 or f/8. Lenses are typically sharpest around the mid-point of their aperture range. Adjust the shutter speed to produce a normal exposure. Check the LCD and adjust until the result looks good. A lot of bright lights can fool the light meter.
  8. I’ve been asked what to meter on. The biggest problem I’ve had with twilight shots is exterior spot lights. The only way to deal with these is trial and error. Every case will be different. Do a lot of bracketing and if you are shooting RAW you will be fine.
  9. Flash or continuous lighting can improve the photo by adding extra light and drama to landscaping or areas of the exterior that are completely dark. See Vince Destefano’s (the master of twilight shoots) examples of how to use rechargeable spots for lighting accents.

Twilight shots can make a very ordinary home look dazzling and hide ugly defects. Everyone loves twilight shots and they look great in your portfolio.

Everyone feel free to add to this list if  you think I’ve missed anything

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7 Responses to “How To Do Twilight Exterior Real Estate Shots”

  • I actually made a youtube video that shows how I put together a twilight shot. My video editing skills are laughably bad (unlike my twilight shot skills) so you’ll have to bare with me, but I think it gets the point across. It’s a time laps of one of my shots from creation to final editing. Here’s a link:

  • I did my first twilight shot last weekend.. Note to self.. don’t forget the bug spray! I was eaten alive.

  • With the “expectation” for a twilight shot, how does one handle where the house just isn’t set correctly for a twilight shot. Obviousl, and easter front shooting west provides a nice twilight backlighting, but reverse it with the sun setting to your back, lighting the front of the house. Probably the most difficult (at least in the norther hemisphere) is a north facing home shooting south as the sun, particurally in the winter, has a low southern arch blowing out highlights any time of day. Those twilight shots I have seen have the sky along whe right edge notably over exposed with weird colors..

  • I had a chance to do my first twilight shoot a few weeks back. I ended up getting the best results about 45 minutes past sunset (I live just north of Nanaimo, BC in Qualicum Beach so we were getting some long days and I was shooting at 10:30pm). I used two SB600 speed-lights (w/ Full CTO gels), a SU-800, a tripod and my D300. I set the white balance to “clouds”, shot in RAW, matrix metering, and manual exposure. Exposures were around 20 to 30 seconds.

    Here are the results: http://youtu.be/DRI_hdF_aeA

    The client was thrilled with the results and the house sold in 5 weeks.

  • @Michael- to me you twilight shoot looks great, except for the spots. Spots are usually overkill for twilight shots… they tend to be too bright.

  • @Larry – you are absolutely right. That is definitely one thing I would turn off next time – or somehow unplug/unscrew.

  • So to deal with those super bright spots, I simply take a few boxes of 60-75w bulbs with me, and replace the spots for the shoot.:)

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