Shooting Twilight Exteriors For Real Estate

September 29th, 2015


Andy asked the following question:

I did some shots for free a few weeks ago and I wanted to do “twilight” shots so I went to the house at night. The street lights turned on and the whole picture pretty much turned yellow because I was doing a slow exposure (the color of the street lights). How do I avoid it? Do I have to use flash?

It’s hard to tell for sure without seeing the specific photo you are talking about. A couple of approaches come to mind:

  1. You may be able to correct the problem in Lightroom or Photoshop depending on how bad it is. This would be done with the Temp and Tint sliders in Lightroom. Of course, these are global adjustments that affect the whole image. You also can also do a similar thing in areas that are worse than others with the Adjustment brush.
  2. If the street lights are coming on, you many be shooting when it’s too dark. The ideal time to a twilight shoot about 15 to 20 minutes after sunset. Since this may vary due to the cloud cover etc., it’s a good idea to be ready to shoot at sunset and then take a series of shots as it gets darker and darker. That way you can decide later which is the best.

Using flash in a twilight shot is not going to change the color balance of the whole image. Usually, the way flash is used in twilight shots it to go around flashing many different areas to highlight them and then combine all the flashed areas in Photoshop as layers, this isn’t a solution to the problem you describe.

The photo above by Iran Watson, is in the PFRE Flickr group and Iran describes how he added supplemental lighting to this twilight shot. Notice from the sky in Iran’s photo, it’s not all that dark. My guess it that you are waiting to shoot your twilight until it gets too dark.

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11 Responses to “Shooting Twilight Exteriors For Real Estate”

  • I have one agent who loves it when I make a twilight photo, she finds buyers notice the houses stand out in the listings and she gets much quicker sales because of them. Most of the ones I do are made about 15 minutes or so after sunset. Other agents say they can’t see any difference in the way the house looks so they don’t spend the little bit extra for them.

  • How many shots do you provide for one twilight photo shoot? I feel that costumers expect more than 1 or 2 shots, but in that way there isn’t much time for blending multiple photos.

  • I would agree with Larry. The light can change so quickly that more than one or two positions (unless you have two cameras and tripods) is difficult. I also shoot over a period of time to capture those darker areas of the house with light still illuminating it and then to capture a decent exposure for the windows and then the sky. Then layer them. The optimum is to get a nice balance between light in the sky and light on the house as well as not having the lights in the house burning out the windows. I generally find that by the time street lights come on, it is too dark for a twilight shot. It then becomes a night shot which is a different creature.

    I often set my lighting balance in the camera for tungsten if there is exterior lighting that is tungsten. That cuts down on the orange cast from tungsten. But these days with LED lighting and florescent bulbs as well, often mixed, its best to do a color test. My experience is that its easier and more successful to warm cool colors than it is to cool orange colors when working with digital images. Theoretically this should not be the case, but I have found this to be the case anyway. If you are using Photoshop, you can use the Image > Adjust > Photo Filter which has standard Film photo filters as we would have used in film shooting. Although you can use to the slider to adjust for intensity. These will work for most situations. These might help you with the images you already created but are too yellow.

  • There is a definite short window where the light is perfect for a twilight photo depending on which way the home faces. Getting more than 1 or 2 photos durning that time is nearly impossible. Again, depending on which way the home faces, the best results might be from one frame taken while there is still a lot of light for the best lighting on the home and another frame taken a little while later for the best exposure of the sky. The camera needs to stay rooted where it is to make compositing straight forward. The multi flash-pop method absolutely requires that the camera sits undisturbed. If you can’t move the camera, you aren’t going to get any additional compositions. You may be able to get a front photo of a east facing home and then run around and get a photo of the back yard with decent results, but you will need to plan your compositions well before the sun starts to set so you know where you need to be. You may also have to run inside and out fiddling with interior lighting to get good window glow. A camera with wi-fi/camranger is awesome for this sort of tweeking.

    I don’t do many twilight photos as most of the homes I shoot don’t lend themselves to twilight photos that would add that much value. Twilights can take nearly as much time to execute as an entire modest sized home gallery. Post processing a two image composite takes less time, but a 60 frame multi-flash might take a couple of hours. Don’t be fooled by Mike Kelly’s videos. Mike has mastered Photoshop inside and out and makes it look like a cake walk, but I’ve tried some 30 layer work and it’s no mean feat. So, given the amount of time it takes and maybe a return trip to the home, a twilight session has to be close to the same price as a basic home package. The pressure is on too. If you are going to deliver one or two images at the prices that need to be charged, you have to nail them and deliver really good work.

  • I see agents that try to provide “twilight” photos and wait too long and wind up with night photos illuminated with the wimpy little flash on their phone. I should have seen enough agent photography to not be surprised that they went ahead and posted the image, but I am. The reflectors from the 3 cars in the driveway kick out some interesting patterns.

    David Hobby stated in one of his travel tutorials that when a twilight shot looks good to your eye, it’s far too dark for a good image with your camera. The practical advice is to start shooting earlier than you think is good and shoot all the way to when it’s way too dark. With some practice reading the histogram on you camera or better yet, your tethered laptop, you will get a feel for where the best lighting is and snap the shutter more frequently during that interval. No money is saved by leaving 90% of your memory card’s capacity unused.

  • I am in complete accord with Ken above. I might just add to my own above that I often have to boost the interior lighting with some stronger lighting of my own. I often use up to 10 650 watt quartz lights supplemented with the good old cheap clamp on’s from the hardware store with 150 watt bulbs. Some interior lighting is so dim, at least from the outside, that it does not give that warm interior glow emanating from within. And too, often I find that the exterior house lighting needs some help in the same way. I am in two minds about exterior lighting as it can suggest that the house is always lit this way. But I often get a lot of pressure from clients for that “WOW!!” shot to reach out and grab house browsers so often I succumb to the temptation. But it takes a couple of hours longer to add these lights and you have to have a pretty good idea in advance exactly what they are going to do to the shot since once the light is right, you don’t have time to fiddle with them. Sometimes I have had to bring a 1,000 watt spot when a pool or spa light is out.

  • Answer to Andy

    Cameras are very limited and stupid tools compared to the human eye.

    Good on ya for going out of your way to go to the house at night.

    What is it you would like to achieve?

    Conceive, Believe, Achieve.

    Too yellow? what’s the opposite of yellow? how do you achieve / counteract that in photoshop?

  • Tried only once so far. Turned out to be more of a night exterior than a twilight exterior. Got lots of views on my Flickr, but overall I think it was too hot with flash. I love Iran’s work in general and his twilight exterior example is no exception. I love how he made the inside white rather than the orange we’re used to seeing.

  • I can usually pull off at the minimum 3 exterior twilights but have successfully gotten up to 7. But, I don’t do any exterior light painting. Not only would my clients never pay for that kind of work, but I feel it is extremely deceptive for real estate work. If a house doesn’t have landscaping and outside lights illuminating the exterior of the house, doing so creates a false perception to buyers IMO.

    With that said, I can usually capture at least 3 shots within 10 minutes at twilight. Of couse it does depend on the quality of light that evening and direction the home faces. I plan the shots ahead of time early, in order of capture depending on lighting, and mark the spots so its easy to setup the various shots quickly. I set the camera to f9, iso 800, cloudy white balance, 9 shot bracket. On the editing side I first correct white balance, then run them through photomatix. Bring back into lightroom and do local adjustments with the brush. Take a brush to windows to cool off the orange cast, take a magenta and blue brush to enhance sky. I also dodge the house a bit to brighten it up and make it more as my eye sees it.

    I also don’t charge a crazy amount extra for twilights. I am usually already there at dusk doing interior video, so popping outside to take exterior photos is no big deal. My twilights might not be perfect but I strive to provide the best balance between quality and price for my clients!

  • I have done just two twilight shoots, I showed up early (too early). Even wetted the drive on one, but both started shooting brackets about 10 minutes (wasted a lot of shutter) before sunset. Like everyone has stated 15 minutes after sunset is ideal. I also brought 4 halogen work lights, sort of really put a glow on the interior front rooms. Even did the Mike Kelly (flashing items) on one. I had to replace the sky on one and enhance the sky (reds) on the other. I say the twilight shoot is an extra $100, not worth doing in my opinion. I offered a 75% discount ($25 shoot) for the two I did, not pushing them in the future.

  • With a bit of photographic technique and extra lighting it isn’t that difficult to get between 10 and 20 twilight shots.

    Most customers in my area would be disappointed to only receive one or two shots of a house shot at twilight.

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