How Do Real Estate Photographers Deal with Challenging Lighting Situations?

September 28th, 2017

Brady in the Seattle area asked:

Any suggestions for photographing, or more accurately, lighting galley kitchens evenly? I have a similar challenge with long hallways. Lately, I’ve been experimenting with a remote flash with a Stoffen diffuser mounted on a small stand. Taking two shots and moving it enough between shots that I can photoshop the flash out of the shot seems promising, but I’ve still got big hot spots on the ceiling to deal with. Just wondering what others do with these challenging lighting scenarios.

There are several ways to deal with interior lighting challenges. Which you choose depends on how much experience you have hiding small flashes and how comfortable you are in Lightroom and Photoshop. Here are the three classic approaches:

  1. Place manual flashes to get the job done. Scott Hargis’s, Lighting Interiors book and video go into this approach in detail. For large complex rooms, it may take 3 or more flashes.
  2. Shoot a combination of ambient and flash frames and layer them together in Photoshop to get the result you want. Rich Baum’s tutorial above illustrates how to do this.
  3. Shoot a series of brackets and process the brackets in LR/Enfuse (a Lightroom plugin). Simon Maxwell’s Enfuse book and video go into detail on this approach.

Each of these approaches can deal with complex lighting challenges nicely.

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5 Responses to “How Do Real Estate Photographers Deal with Challenging Lighting Situations?”

  • I was just editing a similar scenario of a one of kind basement kitchen. Suggested Method #2

  • I rarely use a Stofen diffuser. They tend to “waste” more light by directing it where you don’t need it. It’s always good to be thinking “bounce” when you are using flash. Ceilings, walls and corners opposite of the area you want to add light can give the best quality of light. If you are working in a home that isn’t painted in neutral colors, a collapsable 5 in 1 reflector can work as a bounce surface. I carry 3 from small to very large. The 42″ middle size is the one I use the most, but the 60×40 works really really well for interior kitchens. Sometimes I bounce and sometimes I remove the outer cover and shoot thru. Umbrellas can sometimes still be too directional, but if you need a big source, you can point one straight up with several flashes inside. (assuming a shoot-thru umbrella).

    Shadows are your friend. Eliminating all of the shadows flattens an image. For a natural look, you want to have downstream shadows that match with the light source. If there isn’t a window visible in the frame, you can make up your own natural light source to suit the image. Lighting from behind nearly always looks bad. Done correctly, using both light and shadow gives an image a much more 3 dimensional look.

    There can be differences between lighting for RE (natural) and lighting for a client such as a builder or architect. A vaulted ceiling with dark beams will look dark in real life. For RE, that can be fine. For an architect, the beams may require lots of lighting work to highlight that aspect. A builder might want a very clean, high key look to show off their style. This is one of the reasons why RE images are invoiced at a lower price. They are generally easier to create. The other reason is value which is a more involved concept.

  • When I run into that situation I just make a couple of quick adjustments in camera while taking the photos (this is with single bounced/diffused flash). I raise the iso to let in more light at the far end of the room, raise the aperture to keep down the glare on the close end, lower the shutter speed as much as possible to gather as much light as possible overall and bump up the auto Wb more to the blue to compensate for the extra light coming in from the bulbs. It only takes a few seconds and in my experience I get at least a 20 to 30 % better picture than without it. The rest Lightroom can usually fix. You can also try pointing the flash back behind you slightly.

  • @ David Corey — you’ll want to look into the “Exposure Triangle” (it Googles pretty well) and refresh your basics. What you’re describing makes no sense.

  • Anyone use LED lights so that you can see how everything looks before shooting (aka not relying on the flash).

    Regardless, definitely shooting a series of brackets is a good idea. I mean, why not since you’re already there.

    I just wish some people would watch out for use of additional light because I see some images where the shadows are crazy and the mind feels something is wrong with the image.

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