Do You Shoot with Interior Lights on or Off?

May 25th, 2017

Brent in the Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia area asks:

Lately I’ve been shooting with the interior lights off but have noticed the rooms look a bit less inviting. I’m trying the “lightless” method because so many fixtures are missing light bulbs, or they were all different hues, or the color casts were crazy and required extra time to correct. I’m curious to see how many photographers do it with the lights off, and for those that keep them on, what is their reasoning?

Yes, a room looks more inviting with the lights on. I suspect that the reason many photographers turn the interior lights off is the issue of controlling the white balance. But I find that if you use even one small flash, the color balance of the flash dominates the room, minimizing the effect of mixed colors from the room lights.

Carry a few LED lights with you on a shoot to replace missing or burned out bulbs. Also, instruct Realtors to make sure there are no burned out or missing bulbs. An on the ball listing agent will have this issue solved.

Share this

16 Responses to “Do You Shoot with Interior Lights on or Off?”

  • Interesting question and good answer. I find for me the answer is both. For almost all small bathroom shots I shoot both on and off, then decide. I do 5 exposures with flash fill on half of them if the flash can keep up. The rest of the house, depends on the house and the furnishings. I have started towards leaning to no lights for new construction and empty house, but ….

  • I think lighting is beautiful. It adds dimension and warmth to almost any space. I have a multi-mm spec builder client that spends $8.50 per light bulb on his huge homes…. He’s been building luxury specs almost 30 years – I’m guessing there must be something to it.

    Most burned out lights can be clone stamped repaired in seconds. Shooting real estate with the lights off seems silly to me.

  • My first move is to shoot with the lights off and add a single frame with the lights on and exposed so there is detail in the fixture. Showing the fixtures is very important if they are above ordinary. This lets me control color temp and get a good exposure. Sometimes I will shoot with the lights on if it’s a smaller room and I have a good color reference somewhere in the frame. I could use a gray card, but it’s one more thing to do.

    These days I find that many occupied homes have a mix of LED (with 2 or 3 different color temps), CFL and incandescent lamps and I don’t like having to fix color issues in post. Knowing how to get a good exposure with any mix of flash and existing lights is important. I have a box of incandescent bulbs that I have been collecting, but I only bring it when I am doing jobs that require that level of detail. Dragging a ladder through a home and replacing lamps is not something I do for standard RE work. I can clone a burned out light or just work with the lighting off if the home hasn’t been prepped.

  • I shoot with lights on… thats my preference. Visually it seems like they should be on. Just like umbrellas in the pool area… I think they should be opened. Some magazine, specifically Architectural Digest… 99% of the time lights are off.

  • My personal preference is lights off, but it always depends on the individual space and lighting (including ambient) eg. very bright rooms with large windows can make electrical lighting look rather pointless and ineffective. Sometimes the lighting is complex and a key design feature so I would normally shoot light on in these cases.

  • What Matt said! 🙂

  • I shoot with all the lights on. On occasion I turn some off depending on the circumstance like one bedside lamp on and the other burned out. Then there are those awful pesky old fashion fan lights, sometimes on sometimes off, depends on the scene.

    In the end I balance the WB as best I can. With the shades open all the way most of the time close enough is good enough.

    My premise is we are not shooting Architectural Photography and they are not paying for that. If they are willing to pay for that I’ll take the extra time and do everything that has been mentioned here.

    I pause for a few seconds before every shot and gaze at the actual visible spectrum of light washing the walls. Guess what, it’s not white on white walls and it’s never even. I observe what the white surfaces look like and the colors washing the walls and ceiling and the colors of the bulbs as they appear to the eyes.

    I then move the camera around while looking through the live view EVF and lock in the exposure of the scene. Then pick focus point and click. After that I look at the shot on the LCD while looking at the room. If the WB is close that is my reference point for the final image.

    Now during PP I am not concerned with the color of the bulbs in the fixtures but rather the overall image. I adjust the WB and the color channels to get the look that is closest to what I remember. In the end the only thing that sometimes ids off are the bulbs themselves. That is of course an easy fix using LR magic brush if I want to do that.

    Now I will say my results are not as good as those results a few of the pros here get but they are close and they take half the time. That’s my business decision and thus far it has prove the right one for my area.

    What I am saying is there is no right or wrong answer here. Perfection can be achieved at a cost. That cost from what I see either cuts into profits way to deep for me or the cost goes way beyond what the market will bear.

    The other thing I am sayin is to take the time to really observe the natural WB of all the lighting in the room. That’s what you want to duplicate. That’s what will feel and look natural and has the best chance of reproducing the spirit of the home as it actually exists. Many times those perfect AP images look sterile.

  • I haven’t seen where anyone mentioned what the agent wants. I did a shoot in a 10 million dollar house and most of the light bulbs were missing. It was my first shoot for this agent and he didn’t stay. Later he called to tell me that lamps on were a requirement of his shoots. He has never called since. I’ve been turning on all lights and lamps in every shoot since then.

  • Lights on, Lights off – Yes. Flash is the king.

  • Well it depends doesn’t it? If the color of the lights are consistent, then I will often leave them on especially if they seem to be part of the interior design and the effect of the interiors. But if they are a mix of fluorescent of different colors, tungsten, different colors of LED and who knows what else, then the over all effect will be hideous. And it also depends on the room itself. If the color scheme is neutral, then the mix of colors between the various colors of the bulbs mixed with the color of the light coming through the windows will be magnified. But if the room is full of wood paneling and other deep and absorbing colors then much of the color will be lessened. If the window light is strong, then it will tend to overwhelm the warm or green or blue colors of the bulbs. But if the window light is minimal then I will correct for the dominant color of the artificial lights and then expect to fix more in post.

    As a last resort I will use flash but since I find it tends to change the lighting effect in the room, I use this as a last resort.

    If I have any doubts about how best to shoot the room I shoot with lights on and then with lights off and make the choice in post. Sometimes I put the “lights on” under the “lights off” in Photoshop and erase the lights off over the lights in the lights on to let them through once I have corrected the color balance of the lights of course.

    But if I am shooting video, it is almost always with lights on so I tend to shoot the video first, then shoot stills with lights on and then off. Yes it adds to the shoot time but I always want to make sure I have the RAW material to get the final results where I want them on my computer.

    Sorry to be so brief. But I do like to distill complex questions down to simple answers.

  • The easiest way to keep the lights on but fix color cast is to shoot a flash-bounced exposure that keep color neutral. That layer can be duplicated and put on top of all the layers and set to blend mode: color. Then set opacity to taste, or mask it and paint it in as necessary. Very simple.

  • As most of my interiors seem to be shot at night lights on is a must.
    For day scenes, particularly with rooms with large windows I prefer lights off.

    However, my motto is “Beauty is in the eye of the checkbook holder”.
    If the client wants lights on then the lights are on.

    I recently discovered a technique of shooting a room with flash lighting and then layering ambient exposures in luminosity mode. This solves the WB imbalances found with the wretched mishmash of light sources today. It also helps the accuracy of color representation in the final image.

  • Lights on. I’m photographing a home for somebody, I want pictures to look like, feel like home. I move lights from one room to another if need be – lets me have some control over light colors. I also clone if i

  • Easy. Lights on, gel the speed lights to roughly equivalent to the colour temp of the room lights (usually orange/yellow but can occasionally be vomit green (florescent) or blue (LED)). Global colour correct later in lightroom – grey card or your preferred method.

    2 complications you can run into:

    a, Variable colour temperature due to mixture of room lights and window lights (or other combinations). Easiest way to correct is to use the brush tool in light room (soft edge) and do a localised colour correction. (you could change change the bulbs in the room to daylight balanced, but this is estate agent photography and time is limited).

    b, Burn out in the lights. More difficult to deal with but 2 options.

    Best one of you have access to the light switch is to use a 1 or 2 second exposure (whatever is needed) and turn out the room lights immediately after the shutter is tripped (but before the exposure is completed). This generally works best, but only works if the light switch is behind your shooting position, which is not always the case. A certain amount of trial and error is required.

    The other options are to slightly open the aperture and raise the iso to enable a faster shutter speed thereby controlling the ambient room lights relative to the fill flash. This can be difficult to achieve depending on the level of contrast, but works sometimes. If it does not work, the final option is photoshop, but this wouldn’t be my preferred option due to time.

  • Failures in light bulbs is EASILY the NUMBER ONE problem I encounter. The most frequent issue, by far.

    Over the years, I have come to INSIST that the agents and their sellers check EVERY lightbulb in the home — inside and outside, ceilings, bedside tables, stove top, porch lights…you name it. It is a wonderful thing to allow a home to look as good and inviting as possible, and such a shame in a nice home when perhaps a chandelier with 12 bulbs has 5 missing or burned out. Our time is valuable, so I literally charge extra to “photoshop” those inexcusable omissions — it is not that easy when you also include the gentle ceiling cast, for example. Nothing burns my hindparts more than, “Oh, you can just photoshop that, right”? Like it was nothing.

    Such a shame, especially in otherwise nice homes. When are agents going to fully understand the actual importance of the images they purchase from us???? Hit-and-miss lighting makes both THEM and US look unprofessional…and doesn’t help the home to get sold either.

    Sorry for the rant.

  • @Phil – you are right on! When my wife and I were listing agents one of our rules for sellers to get the property “parade ready” was to replace all the burnt out bulbs… it’s much more than a photographic issue! It’s a marketing issue.

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply