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How Important Are Twilight Exteriors to Your Photography?

Published: 20/10/2019

Drew in Mackay, Australia writes:

“I'm really interested in doing twilight exterior shots and have just recently started practicing on my own house. My clients haven’t really asked me to do them as part of their listings but I’m thinking that it might be a way of providing an extra service that sets me apart from other photographers here. What do you think?”

Thanks for writing in Drew! Great to have a colleague from Oz write in! It’s good that you’re thinking about shooting twilights because they can be a very important part of a real estate photographer’s tool kit. One of the best testimonials I’ve ever heard about the value of twilight exteriors came from PFRE’s founder, Larry Lohrman. Indeed, Larry has often shared his belief that a twilight exterior shot might just be the most important shot on a listing and that having such a listing photo will increase the number of online visits an agent gets. He’s cited his own personal experience in the real estate field where he and his wife, Levi, have gotten several new listings after homeowners saw a twilight shot on one of their previous listings or flyers.

There is even a recent trend of injecting “virtual twilight photos” into a listing (e.g., where daytime exterior shots are edited to make them appear like twilight shots). Indeed, the value of this type of shot was recently discussed in a lead article on the National Association of Realtors (NAR) website. While I personally feel that there's something terribly wrong about this practice, the fact of the matter is that a seemingly increasing number of offshore editing houses are supplying this service, so there must be a market for it.

The other important consideration, Drew, is that if you have aspirations to shoot for high-end builders, I can also tell you that being able to execute twilight shots will go a long way in satisfying this clientele. I know that in my own business, virtually every builder I work with insists on getting at least one twilight exterior. All things being equal, a good twilight exterior shot is, in my opinion, the most impactful (“sexiest”?) shot we can deliver to a client. So Drew, I would give you a hearty “Yes!” as my answer to your question as to whether you should start taking more of these types of shots. If you’re interested, here is a recent post devoted to those like yourself, who are starting out with shooting twilight exteriors. Good luck!

So, how important are twilight exteriors to your photography business? On average, how many do you do in a month? Any additional tips for Drew?

Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series.

4 comments on “How Important Are Twilight Exteriors to Your Photography?”

  1. Drew, you may need to have and show some twilight images in your portfolio so customers can see the work you do. They aren't for every home. Ideally, you want a home that is facing in a good direction, has the windows for it and isn't a bog standard tract home. You can make twilight images of plain homes, but they just aren't as sexy and take a good eye to get the right composition.

    I don't get asked to make them that frequently as the agents around me are cheap B's. It takes extra time to set up the lighting and wait for the sun to give you the best image. You can cheat a bit by compositing images where you use a high power strobe to light up the inside before continuous light is bright enough to show and you can cut in a sky if needed. I'm not very keen on leaving my camera set up on the tripod outside unless I'm well onto a property where there won't be casual passers-by. That means I'm waiting for all of the lighting to line up to look great. I have both LED worklights and a bunch of speedlights I can use to get the light levels up on the windows. I've never had enough lighting at a home to do a very good job.

    If you are going to be shooting a home early or late that could look really good with a twilight photo, spend the time to make some portfolio shots if you can. The last one I did, I had keys to the house (vacant) and the best daylight exterior was going to be just after sunrise so I got up early and made some twilight images too. Mostly I wanted to keep in practice and try a new technique at the same time. One of the first ones I ever did was when I had a pretty full day booked and was also shooting some "coming soon" images for a broker. The area I would be in most of the day was an hour away. I left a bit early so I could start shooting as soon as I had good sun and started with a home that I was only making a front exterior for. I lucked out and got a really good image that had the house sold long before it was officially listed. I didn't get to go back to make the full gallery, but I did get $40 for that one image which worked out to something like $160/hour.

    Get some advertising out and push them if they're going to be high value for a particular house.

  2. I agree with Ken. With everything actually he says. Sometimes it is also necessary to water down the driveway or pathways so you can get reflections of the lit home that liven up the foreground. But you need at least one energetic assistant to run in and rewet the surfaces then race back out of the shot with the hose. The right twilight I have found only lasts about 10 minutes. So more than one or two views are tough, certainly getting front and back is tricky although I have set up two cameras and managed to get acceptable results as long as I don't have too far to run.

    But then you need double the amount of lights so you have that nice warm lighting oozing out of the front windows as well as the back and on all floors. So I use everything in my lighting arsenal from old quartz movie lights to new quarts 600 watt lights as well, an old movie spot light, then a whole passel of cheap clamp on lights from the hardware store with 150 watt bulbs in them to fill in for smaller rooms. If the house does not have working out door lights (amazing how many people put their homes on the market without outdoor lights and floods with working bulbs). So I also take along a box of matching bulbs for any outside light I can get to that is burned out.

    One shot that is a winner is with the pool lit in the foreground and the house in the back and the fire pit flickering away faithfully somewhere casting its light around a collection of outside furniture. It's a bitch when one of the pool lights is burned out, which is why I bring the old movie spot light to fake a pool light.

    Having the powerful lights on in the house, as Ken says, allows you to shoot earlier in the evening thus giving yourself more time to shoot. But if you are also trying to shoot with a drone and a still camera (I had to shoot the back of a house a few months ago where the stager had placed endless votive candles on all the back yard furniture, lined the pool and spa with more so to get the more interesting shot it had to be shot from about 20') it can get hairy since drones don't like to co-operate when there is little time to get the shot. Always having a compass that needs calibrating or fails to synch with the controller. So the more time you can give yourself the better. Also, if you have this situation with candles, shoot the stills first. The prop downwash will blow most of them out as you fly over which you will be doing if you are shooting video as well. Lots of fun and games but get the still photo skill set down first so you can do it without much thought. Give yourself a few hours before sunset to get all the lighting in position, get people out of the house (amazing how many agents and owners don't think they can be seen if they are in the house), test all the interior and exterior lights, have a short ladder to replace dead bulbs and/or try to find cleverly hidden switches. And to make sure someone is around who can show you where the pool and spa light switches are as well. Leave nothing to the last minutes or it will try to trip you up. No luxury of time with twilight shots. The best glow in the sky is when the sun set behind the house but you can manipulate the image in post to make it look like it is setting there with stills. Not so much with video. But when you get it right, its a joy and makes a much more compelling shot that almost anything taken during the day except perhaps sun rise shots. There is something built into us to respond to that safety and warmth that a glowing house or even a glowing fire place exerts developed over tens of thousands of years that appeals to the human race. And it works.

  3. I usually agree with Ken, but differ this time in that I absolutely think twilight shots are for every home, and even more so for the "bog standard" tract home, as those ones need all the help they can get.

    I shoot ~10 twilight sessions per month, most of those on tract homes and they are often the best looking photo(s) delivered. Every now and then a big fish will get in there (developer, house on a hill...ect), but to date I have never shot a twilight on a condo or mobile.

    @peter, I also bring my entire lighting arsenal, sometimes. I can typically get a good feel for if I'll need any additional lights as I'm shooting the interiors earlier in the day. Most of the time I don't need to bring lights, but when I do I'm glad to have packed them.

  4. Well, as per my observation, I feel, Twilight Exteriors are really important for photography. They not only highlight a property's aura but marks a 'feel-good' impression on the onlookers.
    It is an integral part of real estate photography. It truly has the capability to showcase the best features of a home. It helps in making an ordinary fireplace, swimming pools, gardens, porch or any other element, the center of attraction of the whole property.
    Also, people get easily fascinated by the warmth of the photographs captured at dusk and in the natural evening sunlight. And not to forget, there is a huge difference between the images captured during the day and at the dusk. Twilight Photography helps in capturing the glow of night-lights of the house and makes it look even more appealing. People get easily attracted to such photographs which have a sunlit-touch to it. And this is possible only with the help of Twilight Photography.

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