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Twilight Exterior Shots – The Most Important Real Estate Marketing Images

October 16th, 2017

WellsExteriorTwilight exterior shots can be super powerful in marketing a property. Here’s why:

  • They make the ordinary look dramatic.
  • They attract the viewer’s attention.
  • In the online real estate search, context viewers are presented with a list of search results with a thumbnail (front exterior shot) and a bit of text. A dramatic thumbnail can encourage the viewer to click to look further.
  • Most real estate sites give special emphasis to the front exterior shot and a dramatic twilight image can motivate the viewer to investigate the property in more detail.

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

  1. Twilight shots require a separate trip: Because of the setup and attention to timing, a twilight exterior shot requires a separate trip so charge accordingly.
  2. 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 set up and ready about 15 minutes before sunset. The best light will start around 15 minutes after sunset and last for 10 to 15 minutes depending on the latitude, the weather, and clouds.
  3. 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.
  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 do twilight shots because I don’t have a DLSR that has high ISOs”. Not a problem; with a tripod, you just use 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 an aperture of around  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 camera’s light meter.
  8. 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. This is a whole dimension beyond the basic twilight shot. For details see Mike Kelly’s in-depth video series on how to do this.

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. The twilight exterior shot is worth its weight in gold for what they do to get attention for the listing agent and the listing online and your portfolio to attract new clients.

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15 Responses to “Twilight Exterior Shots – The Most Important Real Estate Marketing Images”

  • I charge the same amount for a twilight as I do for a normal daylight shoot of the entire interior/exterior. The reason is not only the extra trip, but the time of day. During the summer, it means I often don’t get back to my office until after 9pm, and that is a premium. I love LightTrac and I definitely include a few flash shots to include landscaping that is not otherwise illuminated by landscape lighting.

    I used to dread it, but my few “premium” customers ordering twilights make it worth my while.

  • why separate trip? If sunset is at 6pm for instance, I could start at 4.30pm and finish by 5.30pm and then setup for the exterior. Or am I missing something?

  • @Anton, if it works out that you can make a twilight photo on the same appointment, that’s ideal. Depending on the technique you use to capture a twilight photo, the process can take 30 minutes to a couple of hours between getting the images and post processing. When you make a twilight photo, there is a bunch of set up and waiting around until the lighting is just right so your images/hour figure goes way down which is why the price needs to go up. If you have to return to a home where you have previously made the interior images or will do that session later, you will have travel expenses in addition to your time. Weather, scheduling and agent requirements conspire to make it hard to do everything in one trip.

    I try to start working on a twilight photo at least 45 minutes before sunset. I bring my own hot lights (small tungsten work lights) rather than rely on the lighting in the home so I’m not dealing with having incandescent light in one room, CFL’s in another and LED’s in yet another and who knows what in the garden. If the lights in the home will work, great, but be prepared. I adjust blinds/curtains and make other staging moves if I need to. I shoot my twilights tethered, so there is an extra couple of minutes to set that up and give it a test. I like to have everything set so I can concentrate on the capturing images from a little before to a little after the best light. One thing I do is make images with the exterior lights on and off so I can layer them in separately if I don’t like the balance between them and the light from the windows.

    And then there is all of the fun putting everything away in the dark. Don’t forget to bring a flashlight. I have a small Maglight and a head mounted light in my kit.

  • Is anybody using Virtual Twilight? We offer both and unless there is landscape lighting that would be difficult to locate, it’s a much better option for our clients and us. They can select the images they want to convert (usually they let us decide), it’s ready next day and we charge per image. We also charge nearly the same as the complete shoot for us to come back out, but a client can get a front and back shot for under $50 using Virtual. Here is link to some examples:

  • I usually want to be at a twilight shoot about 1 hr before sunset and I always ask the agent to do a walk through a day or two before the shoot. They need to make sure all the lights are working and the home is staged (where it can be seen from outside.) I also request the home owner and agent to be there to turn on the lights, especially if there is landscape lighting. It can be very tricky to find the light switches, so I don’t want that responsibility. I feel that is the responsibility of the agent or homeowner, who ever requests the twilight shoot. On my last twilight shoot, the agent didn’t know where the switch for the pool light was. when he called the owner, we found that the pool lights had burned out months ago, and the agent didn’t have it ready for the shoot. We ended up using a distant shot and the front shot.
    I also set up strobe lighting, and sometimes use gels if I want to convert to tungsten lighting to match closer to the interior lights.
    Anthony, I’ve never seen virtual twilight, but I can see how it might work on some properties.
    I too normally charge almost the same for an additional twilight shot. I sometimes set up two cameras, one in the back and one in front, so I can go back and forth to capture any image that looks dramatic as the light is changing rapidly.
    I enjoy shooting some twilights as it adds a lot of drama to the tour. But summer time twilight shoots here in Florida, are so demanding on your time as I don’t get home until late at night, which is a reason to justify the cost to the agent.

  • @Anthony, have you ever had any agents (or their clients) complain about using the Virtual Twilight? I have not heard of anyone doing this in my area, but can definitely see where this could give the client the Dramatic look without seriously increasing their cost. My big concern, as my question implies, is since you aren’t “actually capturing twilight on location” you open yourself up to unhappy clients. I have heard of clients getting upset because the light shown in a window wasn’t the actual color it would be in real life (flash was used), and that the sky was “obviously faked” because the shoot was during an overcast day, etc. Just curious if you have had any push back.

  • Another mobile app that I have found to be great is TPE. It provides a very similar interface as LightTrac, but with TPE you can also set the location and date of and upcoming shoot. I believe it’s also free – at least I don’t recall paying for it.

  • @Chip, LightTrac also has the ability to set the date and location of a shoot to identify the direction of the sun, as well as the sunrise/sunset times.

  • …one more mobile app I use is Sun Position. It costs $6.49, but it also provides a map (like LightTrac, TPE), sun direction/elevation, and the times for different twilight phases, golden hour, etc. It’s very useful.

  • I use this photographers ephemeris app. It also shows the Milky Way and the moon. http://photoephemeris.com

  • I also, always try and work out my evening shots to coincide with my scheduled shoot. My agents appreciate it, they see I’m not just trying to find ways to charge them if I don’t need to.

  • Ok, so today I learned that it may be harder than I thought to do a twilight exterior photo. @Ken, thanks for the reply.

  • @ Anton. — it’s really not. People make it really, really hard, but in fact, it’s one of the rare times when you can just point the camera at the house, push the button, and be done. All the apps and all the send-it-out-for-FakePhoto-processing are fine and dandy, but there’s still a place for making (and knowing how to make) a good old-fashioned photograph. The reason photographers call twilight the “golden hour” is that things look good under that light, naturally. The dynamic range is down to 1 or 2 stops, max. No need for all that blending and HDR and software. Bring your old film camera and have fun!

  • Another site that is worth mentioning is SunCalc (free).
    http://www.suncalc.net

    Punch in the address and date and it will show you on a map when sunrise / sunset hits the house. I use this site to ensure that the front side of the house gets sun on the front side on normal shoots.

  • @Mike – You beat me to the punch! All I need is Suncalc.net for position and https://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/grad/solcalc/ for the angle (“solar declination”) if that is important, and I’m home free. I really like Suncalc’s satellite view and zoom ability, too, to see if there are any massive trees to consider.

    That said, I check EVERY listing relative to the Sun regardless — twilight or not — you NEED to know where the Sun is going to be, for all types of sessions during the day.

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