How to Improve Lighting of Poorly Lit Real Estate Exteriors?

January 28th, 2019

Phil in South Carolina asks:

I have a constant issue with north-facing homes. This must be a big challenge for every real estate photographer. It takes a perfectly partly cloudy day to get the natural diffusion to look good naturally. Sure, there are ways to artistically blend multiple exposures in post-processing, but I want to find a reasonably-priced flash with a very wide broadcast of diffuse light; and one that is very easy to set up and remove in a timely manner. So, my question is this: What company offers an inexpensive and reliable but very powerful flash with a broad angle of illumination?

I seriously doubt that you will find a large powerful broad angle flash that will light the exterior of a property without you having to composite multiple shots. Here are some large powerful flashes that are easy to move around and hand-hold that have been recommended by readers:

  1. Godox AD200 200Ws
  2. N-Flash
  3. Rovelight 600 WS

All of these are a few hundred dollars and easy to handle but for the whole exterior of a home, I think you will need to walk around and light various sections of the exterior of the home and then blend the multiple exposures together in a Mike Kelley style technique.

Actually, the Mike Kelley style would probably look very nice but it will take extra time both on-site and in post-processing. I doubt there’s a quick and easy answer for what you want to do other than spending some time in Lightroom pulling out a brighter image of a RAW file.

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7 Responses to “How to Improve Lighting of Poorly Lit Real Estate Exteriors?”

  • A perfect candidate for a twilight shot. But you might consider a couple of studio flash packs about 2000 w/s and five or so heads depending on the size of the house.
    Personally, I use HDR (I can hear the groans from way over here) and bracket way up and down. Then warm the shadows on a separate layer in Photoshop and erase the bluish top exposure letting the warm tones come through. I find it looks more natural that way as does a twilight shot.

  • Nathan Cool just recently did a tutorial on this very thing. Check out his YouTube channel. No flash and very fast in Photoshop. Even with a 1200WS strobe, you are still going to wind up with issues. Peter’s suggestion of a twilight image is a good one. Lining up 5 studio heads is going to take ages and cost a bunch of money.

    I often shoot a bracket ±2 stops, but most of the time I can take the middle exposure, twiddle the sliders in Lightroom and end up with an acceptable image from a RAW file. If I have a deep set entry that is too dark for that, I’ll use the +2 image and brush in some exposure since pushing a really dark patch can be noisy. Adding a gradient to the sky and lowering the luminance in the blues can often recover some skies if they aren’t completely blown.

  • Probably nothing is quicker than not using a flash. But compositing flash is actually pretty efficient time-wise once you get the hang of it, and I love the look you can get. A big powerful light like N-Flash with a wide diffuse beam works very well.

  • I’m not sure the question is in regard to twilight photography. BUT, I have this same issue during winter days, when the sun is lower in the sky. Every north facing home I shoot is back-lit during the day and it’s impossible to throw enough light on the front of the home to make a difference. Bracketing and composting is the best solution.

  • It isn’t going to make an award winning image, but I always have my Nikon set on manual exposure, with a single focus spot determining both focus and exposure. So it doesn’t matter if I am shooting a north facing house, as long as I find a focus spot somewhere between the shadows and highlights on the structure, I am good.

    Low sun in January is a pain. Honestly, my finger is usually in the image, covering the sun, and I take it out in Photoshop. If the sky is completely overexposed, I add blue sky.

  • I’ve used HDR with success but the best solution that I’ve found is to wait for a cloudy day and add a blue or blue with puffy clouds sky using sky replacement in Photoshop. With the “Select Similar” feature to mask the sky, you are able to do an excellent mask in a few minutes. I have over 200 photos of skies that I use for sky replacement.

  • Honestly, the quickest solution would be to skip the flash, as Randall, Scott, and Chip mentioned above. But for an inexpensive flash, with plenty of output, the White Lightning 3200 really packs a punch for a reasonable price. (made in the USA, parts and service in the USA)

    Do a couple of well-placed pops, and you’ll have the whole face of the house bathed in light and balanced with the backlighting. Granted, you’re going to need to use a few layers in Photoshop, but if you’ll be in this situation often, a workflow will develop that will be like muscle memory.

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