What Are The Pros and Cons of Using Big Lights For Real Estate Photography?

April 5th, 2016

N-FlashJennifer recently asked about lights bigger than small flashes. She said:

I’m seeing many FB posts in RE Photography groups where many RE photographers are starting to use more powerful flashes (N-Flash, Profoto B1, Flashpoint Streak Light etc.) I do feel that I could use more power than I’m getting from my speed lights and would love to hear some pros and cons from those who have made the switch or added these big guns to their bag of tricks. I use a Canon 5D Mark III as my main camera for RE.

My take on this subject is that for standard real estate photography the bigger flashes will work but can get by without them. A great demonstration of this is that Wayne Capili uses this kit for real estate shooting and these are the results Wayne gets. It does take some learning to get to the point you can get the results Wayne does with a few small flashes but it’s well worth the effort to learn the technique.

One N-Flash in it’s carrying case (see photo above) without a stand is bigger and weighs more than Wayne Capili’s entire real estate kit. Why would you want to carry around more gear than is required to do the job?

So who uses big lights and what are the pros and cons?

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19 Responses to “What Are The Pros and Cons of Using Big Lights For Real Estate Photography?”

  • A subject much on my mind at present. Having used 3 Yongnuo speedlights plus controller (now down to 1.5) I looked for something better. Three Canon 600 EX’s plus transmitter equals 12 batteries to re-charge- what a pain. I tried the Profoto B1, glorious light and totally on my “I want” list but too heavy for my shooters. If I could get the Canon each with one dedicated battery that is where I would go. Yongnuo is cheap in New Zealand but is “throw-away”, the service is in China three months away, at least Canon service is fast.

  • I too am very interested in using big lights and hearing other photographers experiences…. Profoto B1’s and B2’s, which also allow high speed sync (speeds up to 8000)… this allows the exterior view (through the window) to be perfect… Any helpful info on this would be great. I primarily shoot big properties… where some rooms are 40 feet by 20 feet… big lights could help.

  • I am curious to see where this discussion goes, as I have not seen the trend to go “Big” with lighting. From what I have experienced over the years is that honing your skills to get in and out with the minimal amount of time is one of the keys to success. I can see where this going “Big” might be appropriate for a magazine spread or something above and beyond the standards of RE photography, I still think a visit to http://www.scotthargisphoto.com/ website would be all that anyone need to provide the client.

  • I have 2 profoto B1’s that came with a cool backpack that also fits 6 additional speed lights. I don’t need more than that for most any shoot, let alone real estate.

    The pros of the B1’s:

    Battery system works great.

    Extra power when needed- I don’t need 500 watts 99% of the time but when you have a really big room that has no white walls and want to use a large lighting modifier a speed light won’t work as well. I have bunch of different lighting modifiers from umbrellas to soft boxes that live in my trunk and only the small ones make sense with a speed light. Big 7 foot parabolic umbrellas can throw lots of soft light good distances which can be really helpful both indoors and outdoors. Using bigger modifiers with more powerful light gives you the flexibility of feathering your light across larger spaces.

    I used to work with a 1200 watt 7B as an assistant and can count be number of times we used it at full power on one hand while holding a beer, so 500 watts is a bunch of light.

    Cons-

    Weight, cost, size and bulkyness in the field. Also you need to buy extra modifiers and accessories, the cost adds up.

    The TTL and HSS function has extremely limited usefulness. I rarely use those m, however they work very much as described when needed. More marketing than anything else.

    Overall if you can get past the cost, it’s incredible how fast and efficient you can work with the air remote system. When doing location headshots you can dial in power settings so smooth and quick from the remote on top of the camera, that alone helps the shoot go smoother. As far as for just real estate only I don’t think they are nessecary at all. If you can bring their usefulness over in to other avenues of work then absolutely 100% recommend them.

  • I use the 680w Nicephoto every day. With the handle attatched, its portable (I don’t use the case) and has the equivalent power of about 4 Yongnuo speedlights.

    I’ve had it in the car on 100 degree days, laid it in wet grass, used it in 10 degree unheated houses, and after 3 years and 2,000 homes, it still is working as well as ever, and on its original flash tube and battery.

    The biggest advantage to me is the ability to override natural light, creating a frame for my hdr feed that doesn’t have problems with green walls from reflected sunlight bouncing off of spring grass, etc. Even with the N-Flash, I am in and out of most homes in under an hour.

  • I am with Jerry above. And since I also shoot video as well as stills as often as not, flash packs or multiple stands holding small flashes is not an option since if I need light for the video, then I need continuous light, not flash. But after a lifetime of shooting film commercially, I have a closed full of 2000 watt second strobe packs (Norman) and 8 light heads and a spot. If I actually needed some flash power, I would use those. My feeling is if the small ones don’t do the job, then don’t stop at the next up level but go for broke. Better to have too much power than just barely enough.

    But as Jerry said, setting up flashes especially when you use multiple units to put light into bathrooms and hallways and mezzanines, then balancing them with each other and with available light, takes a long time on site. I try to keep my imposition on a property to the minimum and then spend my time in post. So unless I need some additional lighting for video, I don’t use them at all. If I need more light for video (or the rare occasions for stills) I use quartz bounced with blue gel filters. Heck, you can still get inexpensive movie lights for very little money and if you need them to balance with existing tungsten, daylight LEDs or those horrible fluorescent, you can leave off any gels for the first and then balancing gels for the rest.

    I know that it is far more ideal to not have to drag extension cords around with you in addition to the flash or continuous lights and they can get heavy too, but if you want more power/light that is also a price you have to pay. Again a good reason to shoot for bracketed exposures and use HDR in post. I’ve spent over 30 years dragging around strobe packs, lighting cases and heavy extension cords, so HDR and Digital is a God-send for an aging photographer with a bad back. It also allows me to focus on the best framing rather than having to distract my attention with fussing with lighting equipment. My mind can be occupied with “how do I tell the story of this house” rather than “how do I get rid of my flash reflection in the mirror, windows, shower doors etc. or how do I hid the stand, or cutting the power to balance the window light when the window light is constantly changing let alone the multiple shadows created by the flash of any kind.

  • Good topic. I will be renting big lights for some BIG homes soon and using the big lights will be new to me. The images will be assets for a home builder otherwise I would not bother with these lights for a real estate shoot. My standard kit is 3 speedlights and some umbrellas. The pros and cons seem pretty straight forward for big lights.

    A related topic that would be great to see is “What are the pros and cons of hot lights”. Some photographers blow my mind with their use of these type of lights. I would like to know why they use those particular lights vs flash.

  • I’ve been using two of the Flashpoint Streaklight 360’s since December when I purchased them in kit form from Adorama for $329.00 each which included the battery pack and wireless controllers. The added power of these lights is a real nice step up from just using speedlights without the size and added weight of using monolight style units. The convenience of the built in batteries and 500WS of the Profoto B1 is noteworthy however at $4,148.00 for a 2 light B1 kit vs $658 for what I paid I am very happy.

  • The choice to use studio strobes on location comes down to your priorities on any given image. Some reasons for using them:

    1) Ability to use lower ISO, decreasing overall image noise.

    2) Ability to lower ISO and/or increase f-stop to decrease ambient light (ie, window view)

    3) Ability to increase f-stop for greater DoF.

    However, for residential real estate I feel that all three reasons are a bit of overkill. For (1), most modern digital cameras have pretty low noise as it is. You can typically get away with a higher ISO (maybe even 1600 depending on your model) without incurring enough noise to make even the most eagle-eyed realtor notice. Raw files + basic post production takes care of noise quite nicely.

    For (2), learn some window masking techniques. Unless you’re going for a view on every single shot, it’s likely more convenient to mask a view if your speedlights can’t muster the power.

    For (3), depth of field is pretty forgiving when your largest printed image is probably going to be 10 inches or smaller. f/8 works just fine for nearly every interior space. If you absolutely need more but only have speedlights, there’s always focus stacking.

  • I primarily use monolights in the 500-650ws range for a small number of high end real estate listings, as well as for formal architectural and interior photography, and I am more likely to be working with an assistant for this kind of assignment. For mainstream real estate, I mostly use speedlites, occasionally supplemented by some Quantum-type flashes (300ws mini-pack flashes that are like super speedlites).

    More, and more powerful, lights will give you more options for creative control and overcoming technical challenges. However, this is may not be needed for routine real estate photography, where being able to work very quickly tends to paramount, and having a variety of small flashes that you can spread around the scene may tend to give better results than a single, high-powered flash (unless you are willing to do a lot multiple exposures and extensive Photoshop work).

    As for Wayne’s kit, you need to bear in mind that that goes hand in hand with a particular style to the images, as well as certain specific lighting and digital processing techniques; and you can’t hope to consistently get quality such as Wayne does without knowing these techniques or possessing a well-developed eye (since you will not actually be seeing anything near the end result until you have assembled the necessary multiple exposures in Photoshop).

  • Having an option to use my NiceFoto 680a lights or speed lights depends on the job. Larger spaces need stronger lights. I find for most jobs, having one 680a on hand with three YN-560’s covers me almost always. I use a layer making technique, so I really only set up my N-Flash for shots with open spaces.

  • The perspective I can provide may be limited as I’ve only been consistently using flash in my real estate photos for a few months now, but since I have and use both kinds, I’ll put my two cents in. I have a Canon 580-EX II and a Yongnuo something-or-other, as well as a Profoto B1 (recent acquisition). The color balance of the Yongnuo is unacceptably blue in comparison to the Canon, so until I have a chance to test a 1/4 CTO gel with it, I won’t be using it except as a backup for the Canon.

    For most real estate shoots, I find that my Canon with the Gary Fong diffuser attached is more than adequate when bouncing light (I still use other modifiers with the speedlight in other situations). I subscribe to Scott’s video tutorial and have purchased Mike Kelley’s Fstoppers tutorial as well, so my chosen technique is somewhere in between the two. My budget recently permitted the purchase of either 3-4 additional Canon flashes, or one used B1. I opted for the B1, which means that for every shot requiring more than one light, I still have to take multiple exposures with the flash in various places, regardless of whether it’s the speedlight or the B1 used. This takes time at each shoot and more time in post. So unless you’re prepared to buy multiple high-power strobes such as the B1, aside from the additional challenge of hiding those in the shot, you will spend time in post assembling the final image. On the other hand, on Tuesday I pulled up to what I thought was going to be a modest lease listing, which turned out to be a soaring multi-million-dollar modern compound with 180-degree views. I pulled out the B1 on close to full power, and easily out-powered the southern California sun at 1pm to preserve the view with no post needed.

    Overall, I do feel that the quality of light I get from the B1 is much softer than the speedlights, even when bounced. Having all the additional power has gotten me out of some tough spots, and it helps me take beautiful agent headshots, even outdoors with the sun as a back-light. If you have the budget, I’d at least look into it as the power and portability has opened up a lot of creative possibilities, at least for me.

  • Any more all I use is the N-Flash. I do carry with me 4 YN-560IIIs but they are for backup anymore. I find that I am quicker on-site using one flash and taking multiple exposures popping the flash in various places. Sure, it’s more time in post, but a lot less time on-site and overall less time with shooting and post. Plus, at my age, when I go to pack up to leave the home I find it’s a lot easier than using several flashes. I can’t tell you how many times when I was using multiple flashes and when I went to pack up I discovered I was missing a flash. I usually had to walk back through the entire home to find it and that’s when I usually bumped a door and the flash crashed to the floor.

  • Most of the time I use my collection of Yougnuo and Neewer flashes and they work just fine. I have Canon 580EX flashes, but leave those at home as they are overkill and more expensive to replace. I also don’t use the eTTL functionality for RE work. The QC on the Yougnuo’s leave a lot to be desired, but they’re so inexpensive that it’s cheaper to throw a few away rather than invest in a Canon 600 series set up. Fortunately, I can repair a lot of what goes wrong on the YN560’s or use one’s I can’t fix for spare parts to fix other units.

    I pack a JTL Mobilight 300 (300 W/s) battery/Mains strobe for use when I need to light up larger spaces or I want to put a strobe outside to simulate sunlight coming through a window on an overcast day. It’s nice to have it available for the times when it is useful and not a big deal to leave in the car when I don’t. I’d love to have a Profoto or Hensel pack and head system, but just the cost of a replacement xenon bulb is more money than my cost on the JTL strobe.

    Ideally, the best way to work would be with one lens on the camera and no supplemental lighting at all. Until it’s possible to get a clean 20 stops or more of dynamic range, some additional lighting will be needed. The goal is to accomplish a job with as little gear as possible to save capital investment and time on-site.

  • I started off by using the Yonganu flashes. Basically there’re so cheap they can be considered as “disposable”.
    I changed last year to PixAPRO Li-ion 580’s. The Li-ion batteries last a week of constant use before needing recharging.
    In the search for a bit more power I’ve just purchased a PixAPRO Hybrid 360. This provides about twice the power so helps a lot in very bright window situations. So far the battery has lasted for 2weeks and only a 1/4 down. This is a great compromise between the flexibility of speed light and the bulk of studio lights.
    https://www.essentialphoto.co.uk/category/speedlites-and-macro-flash/

  • In addition to many Yangnuo, Nikon and Flashpoint speed lights, I always have an Alien Bees 1600 (640 ws) in the bag. I use it regularly in large great rooms etc. It has the same power as 4 combined speed lights which is very helpful to bring up the overall light in a larger space.

    Alienbees are fairly small, light and affordable. I’ve had no issues with it for 5 years (other than the weird name).

    https://www.paulcbuff.com/alienbees.php

  • I like my 285hv with quantum battery back for accent lighting and small rooms. Lumedyne 400ws with a 400ws booster giving me 1/160 sync speed at that power. Its great having that kind of power especially on north face shadowy houses. Having the power to Balance lighting makes it easier later in post.

  • I have a mix of speedlgihts plus a Profoto B1 and B2 kit. Speed lights are obviously the easiest due to their size and ability to hide them. The B1 is cool but its heavy and hard to hide, although great outdoors with the zoom reflector. Given the right room its power and zoom reflector do a good job indoors as well. The B2 kit is lighter but having the two lights all wired to the same pack is a pain and a separate battery back is a much as a one light kit! Its also takes a little time to setup.

    I’ve watched Scott Hargis video as well as Michael Kellys. I have no issue light painting but my main issue is that many homes don’t warrant the extra effort or agents want to be in and out in an hour. In our area the housing market is so hot you could take a photo with your phone and the house will sell over asking so again makes me question the extra effort involved.

  • Thank you all for the responses! I still feel that I need that extra boost of power, especially in listings that I shoot with 2 story foyers and family rooms (all the rage in the big McMansions over here.) Oddly, I’d never even thought of using my flashes to help when the house front was in shadow. I never thought I’d come close to having that power or be able to light it evenly enough. I’ll have to try that.

    I recently acquired the flashpoint streaklight 360. I’ll report back as I start using it.

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