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How Do You Use a Flash to Light Interiors?

June 18th, 2017

ScottHargisLightingJan in Florida asked:

Can you tell me what the most popular settings for shooting interiors are?

Shooting interiors I usually shoot at f5.6 and white balance in Auto and set my SB-700 to TTL.

Your question is a classic one and the answer to it is: The best way to use flash to shoot interiors is not to use your flash in TTL mode. It is best to use it in manual mode and use the basic process explained in this post by Scott Hargis. Most real estate photographers who use small flashes to light interiors use some variation of this technique. Here are some resources that go into more detail on this technique:

  1. The Essential Guide to Lighting Interiors – An ebook by Scott Hargis that explains this technique.
  2. Lighting For Real Estate Photography – A series of video tutorials by Scott Hargis that teaches this technique.
  3. Here is an interior lighting class by Scott Hargis at Lynda.com.
  4. Kelbyone.com has a video class by Thomas Grubba titled Getting Started in Real Estate Photography.
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5 Responses to “How Do You Use a Flash to Light Interiors?”

  • I would also add to the reading list by suggesting:
    “Enfuse and Hand Blending In Photoshop For Real Estate Photography” – by Simon Maxwell

    I would also YouTube Rich Baum.

    I think your f-stop is a little shy – I typically shoot at f11 – or at least that’s what I found with my Canon 16-35 “L” Lens sweet spot to be.

  • Jan : as Larry says, manual is the way to go and Scott’s book is the place to find out how (though many thanks for the mention, Rob!). But if you want to go on using your gun on TTL, can I suggest setting the flash compensation dial to (for starters) minus One stop: Right now, by shooting with full TTL , the flash is going to try to fully illuminate the scene, at the risk of delivering too much light; the idea behind using flash for interiors is to illuminate the shadows just enough to render them readable without overdoing the flash effect. By working with your flash set to manual you can check images as you go (CHIMPing) and adjust the power of the unit(s) as necessary. But with TTL you sometimes need to basically “fool” the flash into thinking it has a smaller job to do and to slightly under-expose: so by setting minus One on the auto compensation for the gun, it will usually deliver a nicer, more natural-looking level of fill in flash with less tell-tale signs that flash has been used (think shadows from table legs extending towards a window rather than away from it, for example). Sometimes you may find the TTL at full setting works well: just be aware that your flash may well be firing at full power without your knowing it (because the meter is suggesting to use plenty of illumination) and it is still under-exposing the scene anyway because of insufficient power. It can be useful to adjust the level of fill on a shot by shot basis by using finer clicks on the auto compensation dial. With manual power flash-fill you can set your flash to full power and see whether that is delivering enough: if not you will need to increase your ISO or open your aperture a bit. If using flash, I would also set your white balance to daylight rather than auto: that will render all your images with a more consistent look: you might want to adjust this slightly in Lightroom : check out how to sync adjustments from one RAW file to another to speed up your workflow. As Rob mentions, a smaller aperture (like f11) on many wide angle lenses can result in better edge detail, but that will make your flash have to work quite hard: just increase the sensor speed a bit. There is a slight increase in shadow noise with this method if you need to brighten those areas in post (not an issue if your shadows are nicely flash-filled!) but I think it is better to shoot at a higher ISO and smaller aperture rather than low ISO and a very wide aperture: even if you have sufficient depth of field on an ultrawide at f5.6, the edge quality can suffer. Your Nikon gun should help to fill an average sized room even when bounced off a wall/ ceiling with settings of f11 at 200ISO : on 400 ISO, for real estate work at least, that may be all you need for many situations.

  • I’ll wager that most RE photographers (including the majority of PFREPOTMC winners and top finishers) are blending ambient and flashed exposures in Photoshop. For tutorials on this technique you want to look at Rich Baum’s youtube site and Andrew Pece’s One Light Tutorial.

  • I would strongly advise learning to rely solely on supplementary lighting to begin with, and not on any advanced Photoshop techniques, in order to fully learn how to light. Then you can move on to techniques incorporating Photoshop and multiple exposures if you want to expand your capabilities.

  • I use the lighting technique that is going to yield the best exposure in the least amount of total time (on-site and post). This could be fully lit, “Flambient” or other composite. I prefer to fully light when I can. I can get the exposure that I want as well as an even color temperature. The best part is that it will take the least amount of time in post to finish the images. I still capture a bracket of exposures for each composition to give me options in post if the LCD was lying to me or I didn’t see an issue until I was back in the office. Cheap insurance.

    The technique I use the least now is exposure fusion. It gives the least control in post and many images can be lit in seconds with just one flash (basic bedroom, small bath/powder, etc).

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