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Which Interiors Photographic Approach is For You? LR/Enfuse Or Small Manual Flash?

January 11th, 2017

Fred in FL asks:

So the big question: I know that you’re high on both Scott Hargis’s and Simon Maxwell’s work. But they have totally different approaches to interior real estate photography. Scott is all about the lighting, whereas Simon is all about using LR/Enfuse to do the heavy lifting and then a little light. So what’s the deal?

Excellent question! This is a classic question and it is key to your understanding of photographing interiors.

The reason I publish and promote e-books and videos on both of these techniques (manual off camera flash and LR/Enfuse) is because these are the two primary techniques used in real estate photography today. See this poll. It’s worth pointing out here that technically HDR is not the same as LR/Enfuse. LR/Enfuse gives a more natural look and is more popular with interior photographers than HDR. But some use the term HDR and Enfuse interchangeably; they are not the same.

Recently many RE photographers are starting to hand blend flash and ambient frames in Photoshop. As we speak Simon is including this technique in his book and video series.

So which technique you use is a personal and aesthetic choice. There is no ONE RIGHT approach. Both work well and result in a particular look. Also, whichever you choose to use depends on a number of things:

  1. Your willingness to spend time doing post-processing. Some people like Scott hate doing post and want to get the image right in the camera and minimize the amount of time spent at a computer after the shoot.
  2. Your fear of learning flash. Some people don’t want to learn to light with flash because there is quite a lot to learn. I know this from first-hand experience. Even though I worked at using flash, I shot real estate for 9 years and never figured out flash until I met Scott in 2009.

What I suggest to beginners is to start out using LR/Enfuse with a single flash. What Simon calls Enfuse/Flash hybrid. This will allow you to shoot most any property with good results. Then, as you get more comfortable with the use of flash transition to using multiple flashes. In the end, you are better off if you know how to use both techniques.

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14 Responses to “Which Interiors Photographic Approach is For You? LR/Enfuse Or Small Manual Flash?”

  • I would agree with Larry above that there is no one right way to light interiors. I would expand that to include just about everything in photography. So much depends on the final results you want to achieve and what look your clients want should also factor into the equation. And clients differ in what they like and want. And RE often is different from commercial clients such as businesses that want photos of the bathroom, kitchen, den that they have designed and installed. That can also direct how you go about your shoot and lighting.

    And few techniques result in predictable and consistent final results. I mean by that that just because you use flash to light an interior that your results would look like Scott’s. So much depends on how you see light and photographers are all created differently.

    As someone who has been using studio flash for over 35 years lighting both product in the studio as well as interiors of houses, businesses and manufacturing plants as well as shooting food on location where I have mixed available light with flash, I think I have a pretty good handle on how to make flash work for me in a large variety of situations. And like Scott most probably, before I set up any lighting, I have worked out almost without conscious thought, what I am going to do using, in the old days Polaroid, but today the earth friendly back of camera screen, I am in a position to choose whether I think flash will solve the problem I face or whether the way I use HDR will work best.

    So just like everyone will achieve different results when they use flash, so too will those whose work flow indicates that their best results will be in the digital darkroom. When I shoot on location, I shoot with the digital darkroom processing in mind so I make sure I capture on camera as RAW material what I will be needing on my computer. Just as I did when I exposed black and white film knowing exactly how I would develop it and then print it in the darkroom.

    But all of this takes training and experience that guides you. You have to do a lot of shooting and testing before you can be confident of the results whether you are lighting with flash to supplement available light, flash for the entire illumination, shooting available light for the LR/Enfuse or HDR or shoot HDR using Photomatix and AuroraPro to get you part way and finish in Photoshop which is my personal preference . (I am addressing those who are considering learning new techniques here of course. Not those who have already established their work flow.)

    And part of the choice should be are you like Scott who hates post processing as he makes clear right up front in his publications and videos or do you like to spend time at the computer close to the fridge and coffee maker (ok that is my preference) and even if you can afford to spend the time post processing requires.

    So again, as Larry clearly says, there is no one way, no one rule book, but this will be a series of choices you need to make and practice based on what works best for you, your market and your clients. So shoot the hell out of your own house trying all of the above approaches over and over again until you get a handle of each of these approaches and then choose which works best for you and refine your choices to become a master at those.

  • I use a combo of both. People hate on HDR – and that is because they can usually tell it is HDR. If done subtlety, it can be beautiful. It’s a tool I use.
    When I have a high end “designed” house, I pull out the flashes.

  • I have to agree with Scott. I learned years ago in the film days, it’s is always best to try to compose, crop and get the final lighting in camera. But even though I use multiple lighting, I am finding myself doing more multiple exposures (about 1 1/3 stops each way) and processing either in LR/Enfuse, or Photomatix. (Photomatix only because of their batch processing). and because I am not a Photoshop guru as many of the newer photographers, This causes me to have to spend more time at my computer, editing more than I want to. But after seeing Brandon Cooper and Tony Colangelo’s work, which is beautiful, I’d like to get my lighting and images to look more natural.

  • While I may prefer one way over the other, I also have to consider that I am running a full time business that caters to the wishes of clients. Some of the issues to consider are availability, time spent on location, turnaround time and the fee. I would argue that most of these issues are more important to the clients than the subtle differences in the product.

    So, while you may prefer one over the other….what will increase your business success? My approach, offer both and charge accordingly. The result is that over 95% choose one option.

  • When I first started out in RE photography, I was doing single shots for each angle as well as panoramas.

    Right now, I’m using a combination of Enfuse HDR and a single Yongnuo flash. I bounce it off the walls. I have a CamFi, but until I fully integrate it into my work and can do it effectively without adding to my shooting time, I don’t do light painting unless there’s a big room that is too large for a single flash to light at a reasonable ISO setting. I’ve watched videos from Brendon Pinola and Rich Baum detailing the former’s light painting and post-processing techniques and the latter’s editing and masking techniques so that a flashed room looks as naturally-lit as possible. But my workflow is still too long, and I’ve toyed with the idea of just doing HDR in most homes under 2500 square feet without window pulls, and only doing window pulls on higher-end listings where it’s important to show a view. Many photographers have told me that what works best for them is to offer the same level and quality of work regardless of the home, from a $95k, 900sqft, 1-bedroom listing to a $1m luxury home, but I’ve found in my market that realtors lament the standard pricing (which is based on the time it takes to flash, do window pulls, and post-process) and just want quick shots of lower-dollar listings that won’t net them a commission which justifies paying me my standard rate. My own parents, for whom I worked up until recently doing real estate photography on their listings, almost immediately started pushing back on my pricing when I started my own business (I was only allowed, prior to this, to shoot their listings and no one else’s). They indicated they could get a virtual tour and a full photo session on TourFactory for less than what I was charging. I pointed out that I am a new business, and I’m not a big company like TourFactory that can just contract out photographers and not concern itself with charging less. TourFactory doesn’t have a family to support, after all. So with that said, it might be better for me to offer simple Enfuse HDR on homes of a certain size/estimated photo count, and a full flash and window pull package on higher-dollar or larger homes that will produce more photos. Anyway, I haven’t graduated to multiple flashes as I’ve just barely started my own business in Q4 2016 and have to carefully budget until I get more clients, so I have to work with what I’ve got.

  • I light every job, from small condos to the large estates. You have to light.

  • I rather knew to real estate photography but I’m working with multiple small flash and image blends. One of my goals is to develop a set of procedures that will adapt with the shooting situation. That way I can still be flexible but have most of my bases covered. At least that’s the plan at the moment. I’m still learning.

  • Wish there was an edit button.

  • It’s great to get is all done in camera and spend very little time in LightRoom before being able to send the agent a link to download the images. With supplemental lighting, it’s easy to conquer most rooms in a middle class home in jig time. Getting good in Photoshop saves a bunch of time in post when you know that you are going to need to composite flashed frames to get a finished image. Trying to learn PS all in one day is useless, but if you try to learn one technique every few days, it doesn’t take long until you understand how to get around in the program.

    Exposure Fusion has a certain look that I find soft and flat. There are people that can make it work and produce some high quality RE images with the method but it’s not a slam dunk. If you ever hope to move up in the market to the more expensive homes and get jobs shooting for commercial (non-RE) clients, you have to know how to use flash and Photoshop. Starting out it you might do ok using flash in secondary bathrooms and bedrooms while using exposure fusion for larger spaces but, you should be attempting to light the larger spaces to develop the technique. While I was learning flash, I would photograph a room for fusion and make another set with flash. These days I’m not making the fusion set although I will often get a couple of ambient frames to “brush” in some contrast where needed.

  • Sorry to butt in again, but may I recommend to all newcomers to RE photography and photography and processing software as well the superb video tutorials at http://www.lynda.com where Scott recently has lodged many videos but where there have been many photography classes for many years including how to shoot video with DLSR cameras. We have mentioned her site before but new comers to the blog may not have read them. I was lucky enough to take her brick and mortar classes here in Ojai when she was giving them and it is nice to be able to ask questions. But the videos are excellent and you can keep going back over and over again until you really get what is being taught. For $25 a month for all her library of tutorials on far more than photography, it is really cheap at the price.

  • “Some people like Scott hate doing post and want to get the image right in the camera and minimize the amount of time spent at a computer after the shoot.”

    This is a lame reason to choose one option of the other. I don’t care how right you’re getting it in camera, you’re NEVER handing over images from your camera memory card. You still need to spend time in post (as Larry eluded). I’d be willing to bet that both options yield a very similar amount of post production time. LR/Enfuse does not require me to spend hours and hours in front of my monitor. In fact, with a few presets for most situations, I spend the least amount of time working on my images in Lightroom. Photoshop time is mostly spent on exterior stuff… powerlines, green grass, etc… no different than Scott’s method. Don’t get me wrong… the multi flash system that Scott teaches yields beautiful images… just look at his portfolio.

    For me the real issue is time on location. Maybe it’s a East Coast thing vs a slower laid back West Coast thing, but here in the Philadelphia / South Jersey market people have no time. Realtors are rushing you… homeowners are inconvenienced… hurry, hurry, hurry. If I told my clients that I was changing over to a better but slower lighting system that took 2-3 hours per home… I’d most likely lose most of my clients to any number bottom feeders. You know the guys who can do it faster and cheaper. 50+ images for 60 bucks… add a video and get both for $100! (that’s an actual offer going around)

    Remember, we can blow smoke up our own butts and call ourselves “Architectural & Interiors Photographers”… but for the most part we shoot real estate listing photos. When Architectural Digest comes knocking, I’ll be sure to light the rooms… but until then it’s just another house. I need to get in and out an on to the next one.

  • I am greatful for all the alternate views that are expressed on this site. It’s great to see everyone contributing to make this site worthwhile place for learning. I’ve been visiting for years but never commenting. But this time I think I have experience that may benefit my fellow photographers. I have been shooting Realestate for the last 11 years and about 5 yrs ago I settled on a shooting process (in my experience) that minimizes my time on location and time in postproduction.
    I don’t have the time to list all of what I do but one of the main indispensable part of my process begins with the use of small flashes exclusively in TTL mode. That’s right, full TTL. I learned this one day attending a class in NYC taught by Joe McNally who advised us to take advantage of all in camera tech that we pay for (i.e. TTL).
    He proceeded to show that TTL was very accurate and that it’s a quick way to get your results dialed in and if needed manual adjustments could be made to fine tune. McNally doesn’t do Realestate but I took the information he gave and applied it to Realestate with dismal results until I figured I had to set my metering mode set exclusively to ‘spot’ metering. And that’s when my shoots began to fly. It was such a dramatic turn-around. I wasn’t necessarily looking to speed things up but my shooting time has been reduced by up to 40%. After I acquire my composition I then meter a wall or furniture (do not meter bright lights or windows) to get my exposure locked down (meter from 160 to 200@f8 or 11) it’s simply a matter of placing my multiple Nissin di700a units throughout the location to get my results. Exposure tweaking is done using the nissin flash commander for individual groups or flashes while the flash ev button on my Nikon makes global adjustments. What this does is allow me to concentrate on my composition and allows for experimentation without slowing things down. I also don’t have to run back and foward making adjustments on individual adjustments on flash units. Anytime I shoot I have no less than 6 flash units. 4 units on stands and two at my waist. I hope this is beneficial particularly to those who have believed that using small flash units to be to difficult of a challenge or not worth the time to setup. To the contrary. I shoot for a small clientele of faithful top producers in my area, with this technique that I have honed in, I service them all with great results. And although I am more expensive than most Realestate photographers in my area my clients love the consistency of my images, image detail, the effects of my lighting and turn around time. My suggestion is to start with two flashes (one in the immediate room and the other in an adjacent room) in full TTL mode and then add more as you hone in the use of TTL in your lighting setup. The most difficult challenge won’t be using TTL but the placement of your flash. Once you discover how easy your exposures can be acquired you’ll want to put flashes everywhere. But that’s for another thread.
    I hope this helps and contribute positively.

  • I started shooting Real Estate back in 2009 using single frame no flash, Enfuse or HDR. I spent the next three years learning how to compose and merchandise my shots. In 2012 to 2014 I used bracked HDR. I spent 45-60 minutes on-site and 60-90 post processing. I did have the computer batching my merges; however, that would finish at midnight then the human part of the post would start. In 2015 I switched over to using multiple off-camera flashes. I can get though a 2,500 sq/ft house in 45 minutes on site time and delivery with 36 images. Now it take about 15 minutes on the computer from post to out the door to the agent. I have had all my deliveries to my clients by 8:00am next morning. Yes I have had moments that I wanted to throw the flash across the room to wow nailed it! I am a Real Estate Photographer shooting over 1,200 properties last year. Houses from 900 to 12,000 Sq/Ft (yes the 12,000 took me 3 hours ). In my market all the big photography houses shoot without flash making my flash images standout.

    My price per sale is up. My work hours are down. I’m a happy Real Estate photographer. The best business decision I ever made was to start using flash. It was difficult and frustrating at first, but after a few months of resisting the temptation to revert to my HDR comfort zone my work product gets noticed.

  • George, I’m on the West coast, but I don’t think that it’s a “laid back, west coast” issue to spend more time on site. I’m working at a steady pace the whole time on-site and working up a sweat sometimes. I think I might be in trouble if I was only spending a 1/2 hour on site. Agents would start questioning why my rates are what they are and start shopping Craigslist for that 50 photos for $50, here today, gone tomorrow photographer.

    I started out with using fusion exclusively and have transitioned to using supplemental lighting nearly all of the time and I find that it still takes about the same amount of time from start to finish for either method. I don’t gain the time to add more appointments per day and still deliver next day (I have a 48 hour stated delivery) using one method over the other. One benefit from using flash is that I can see a nearly complete image right away and know if I have any problems areas that need more attention.

    I don’t deliver images straight out of the camera (I’m shooting RAW for starters) but my aim is that they take less than a minute to finish using only Lightroom as much as possible. If I know I have to composite, I aim to have the frames I need (and the fewest possible) to achieve the finished image I have in mind. I still find that sometimes it makes more sense to use fusion so it’s not a skill that can be skipped. Some open-plan layouts can be a chore to light using flash.

    All of my clients know that it takes an average of 1-1/2 to 2 hours for me to photograph a middle class home. If the home has lots of dark shiny surfaces, they know it takes longer. None of this is a problem. We schedule a time when they or the homeowner are available to be at the home. I work weekends to help this along. For vacant homes, I’m usually give a code or key by my regular clients. A couple of agents will let me in and leave me to lock up or return later so they aren’t sitting around. BTW, I don’t let the agent leave me alone in an occupied home but I have had owners leave to run errands leaving me alone in the home.

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