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Bringing Film and TV Production Lighting Techniques to Real Estate Photography

Published: 23/03/2011
By: larry

Yesterday I was talking to Sandy Hegyi who shoots real estate on the British Columbia Sunshine Coast. Sandy's background is 25 years lighting interiors for big budget film and television productions. Sandy was a Chief Lighting Technician and is used to working with 5 assistants, a ten ton truck of lighting gear with 200,000 watts of light and a 1200 amp generator! Not your average real estate gig!

Sandy has scaled down his Hollywood lighting technique so he can shoot 3000 SF homes in about 4 hours. He showed me a series of her photos and I've posted two of my favorites. Click on the photos to see a larger version. I love the warm sunshiny glow feeling these shots have. The top bedroom shot Sandy took a rainy, dreary day and created this warm sunshine lighting effect by putting a White Lightning Ultra Zap 1600 with ¼ CTO on it outside the french doors and 2-SB 600’s (no gels) firing up into the ceiling and onto the back wall for fill. Sandy says, "I like to mix up my color temperatures to give a sense of depth. The colors pop from the white light and are more saturated in the warm."

Here is a second example from the series Sandy sent me:

I've heard about  this technique of but never seen the results quite like this. Sandy characterizes his style as follows:

"In most of the main rooms I'll bring in light through windows, warm it up with 1/4 CTO and then balance it with white light to the outside.  It's the way I did it in film production and it looks great.  It just takes longer and you need a proper strobe.  Also, if you are not dealing with a view home it's always an nice sunny day."

Thanks Sandy for letting me share your lighting technique. I hope your customers appreciate what they are getting for their money!

17 comments on “Bringing Film and TV Production Lighting Techniques to Real Estate Photography”

  1. Wow, these are amazing. Highlights the huge amount of work that I need to do on my own technique, and highlights my need for additional equipment too. I'm a little curious about the cost that must be incurred to the client agent for a four hour shoot, and how large your client base is. I am assuming that there is plenty of opportunity in the marketplace for this level of production on the coast though, because this is super high quality stuff and it shows.


  2. These really look high end and love the colors. As Sandy was/is a
    Chief Lighting Technician ,which sound s amazing. A question if I may, will Sandy be extending her/your services into video as many of us are trying figure the power ratios between strobes and Constant lighting. Meaning to get the same effect when your shutter speed needs to needs to be fixed at 60 fps F 5 ISO 640 as an example. Thanks in advance . Any how , for myself, I can see 10,000 hours of practice to get the same result. A superb and unique look

  3. Definitely a good "Hollywood" look. This is the same technique that "set" shooters have used as well. Did you ever see that sunny glow coming through the windows or doors on what you knew was a stage or warehouse set? Very effective mood lighting. Nicely done Sandy! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Great shots Sandy! Scaled down to 4 hours, whoa and my clients fuss if they are there for an hour. Any tips on shooting shots like these with just 1 person on a tight budget of time and $$$?

  5. Those photos are beautiful! I'd love to shadow Sandy for a day just to see his exact placements and learn from him. Beautiful work!

  6. "For anything over 2500 feet I charge $285 and for under $185. I figure that I usually take 8 hours to shoot and edit a job and I feel that $35 an hour for my retirement job is pretty good."

  7. I'm curious as to how one becomes a lighting technician. Are there schools for that? And what's the pay like?

  8. @ Sandy, this is great work and more important a great idea to use "film" style lighting techniques into the still world. To practice up on our video skills, we have been working on the Hollywood sets every week, added grips as "camera "B" & "C", sounds cool, but we are the other view with different lens, not as glamours as it sounds, but many TV shows are now shooting with DSLR, gives us great practice plus a little money and access to the catering truck !

    The point I wish to make is I have seen a lot of Lighting methods, to get a shot, for Hollywood, many Directory of Photography [DP], make minor changes that create the special mood,,, it is great learning. I am glad to see someone actual use methods this for creating an Architectural Photography. You have given me an idea's, we shall give it a try, Sandy thanks for sharing !!

    Rusty @ mi6 films dot com

  9. This can be done with speedlights, but it's MUCH better with a strobe.......the watt-seconds really help. One note: it's best to back the light up as far as possible (and/or zoom the speedlight as tight as it goes) so that the light is as parallel as possible. Real sunlight doesn't splay out in a radial pattern; that's a dead give-away that it's artificial.

  10. Sorry everyone but I really do not like the colour balance on these. They look like an agent took them with no knowledge of colour balance.

    The side of the wardrobe in the bedroom picture is distracting and unevenly lit. The room would look better with the wardrobe side not showing.

  11. I guess I should answer a few questions.
    I started this whole thing after taking a graphic arts program and taking a job as a photo stripper where I made plates for 4 colour printing presses. By a fluke I landed a job as a production assistant for an industrial video company and became a camera operator/editor as well as producing my own music videos. It was there that while cutting a demo reel for a commercial director of photography I was told that if I really wanted to learn about light I should become a gaffer. I joined a union and worked my way up until I became the head of the lighting department on a few low budget movies and then made the jump into commercial production where instead of working for 2 or 3 DOPs a year I would work for 25 or so. Tony and Ridley Scott, Russell Carpenter, Chuck Schumann, Tony Balderama, Paul Cameron and Gary Manske were some of the people I worked for. The commercial business dried up in Vancouver and I then went back to long format film and television and finally ended up as a graphics coordinator for the Stargate franchises where I received drawings from the art department modified them to fit production and material constraints and produced machine code for two CNC routers that then cut out spaceship parts. My wife has been a realtor for a number of years and as I had always shot her listings for her when Stargate Universe was cancelled I started this up full time.

    With the resources I have and knowing my clients budgets I don't feel I can offer video in the quality that my clients expect from me. I find that with the equipment I have access to I could only properly light an area that is less than what I am shooting now and I think panning and zooming photos is adequate . In a house, short of tying into a dryer or stove plug, you are limited to 1000 watt tungsten fixtures or 575 watt HMI instruments, 1200 watt HMI's will more often than not will trip a breaker especially if you use square wave ballasts. I get the same stop out of my strobe as a 2500 W HMI and the 3 speedlights are about the equivalent of 575 HMI lamps. To rent a lighting package this size would be in the $1000 a day range including a few c-stands, flags and nets etc. Plus this amount of gear is a little too much for one person to handle and you'll have to hire an assistant. Then comes the camera, at least a skateboard dolly and a fluid head tripod. Most high end DSLRs shoot great video but you still have to light. I've seen some great real estate video but for the most part they are professionally produced. I think that people are conditioned to expect a certain level of production value in the video that they watch and especially when they are paying for it. That's not to say that if someone came up with the budget I wouldn't jump at the chance to do it.

    I don't think that there is a faster way to work other than to have an assistant. Have a look at the project triangle here

    There are film schools but very few cater to the more technical lighting and grip departments. The best way to get into the craft is to go to your local lighting rental house and volunteer your services and as these places have a high turnaround and notoriously low pay if you do a good job they'll soon offer you one. The advantage to this is that you will get to learn the lights and how they work. You will also be in an environment where gaffers and key grips can see your work can recommend you to a union or to a non union show. It's also a good idea to take a set etiquette course at a local college. The pay can be good but the hours are long and slogging a lighting package through the bush at night in the rain is not as glamorous as it sounds.

    Thanks Scott for the tip about the radiating light. In my defense I was backed up to a fence. I could use a fresnel lens though. Being new to strobes I'm wondering if such a thing is available or commonly used?

    Colour balance is subjective. When a night scene is shot the over all light is usually a large HMI commonly filtered through a 1/2 CTO. The camera is loaded with tungsten balanced film and as we go into the scene we find it is lit with tungsten fixtures. We all know that the light from the moon is not blue but we accept it. The only reason that they go with the blue light is because of cost. The one 18K HMI is doing the work of 2 1/2 20K tungsten lamps and we as consumers of film accept the blue moonlight. The light that I pushed into the room was only 600 degrees K warmer than the fill and much cooler than the incandescent fixtures at 2900 degrees K. I use colour balance as I use contrast.
    As far composition goes moving the camera to the left would have given me too much of the couch in the foreground, widened the french doors and distorted the lamp on the camera right table much more than it is. I feel that your eye is drawn right past the wardrobe and into the room.

  12. Sorry, I pushed send before thanking everyone for the great encouragement and for the wealth of information that is found here. Thanks again.


  13. Sandy Hegyi
    Thank you for your detailed reply about lighting for video for real estate. You have answered a burning question that no amount of searching for the answer has until now materialized. With your permission, may I paste this into the PRE video for Real Estate or better still you could join the discussion

    Headed under the post of auxiliary lighting. Pointing out that unless you’re a production company with external power there is no choice but to shoot around twilight! Would that be correct

    In the same post I did put a link to the 12k Arri light but they cost 33,500 Dollars each and way 154 lb /70 Kilos each. So for a one man/woman team with sliders ,cranes , Jibs , dolly , c ,stands a flurry of lighting. One needs to be in great condition and very fit to start hauling all this kit about and think the extra time. I didn’t mention lighting costs as I could not begin to add this all up.

    The jump high end Real estate photography to high end video production seems to have got a whole lot bigger. Will the agents pay for the view in video ?

    I sure you could put together a workshop on how to light for video production for Real estate. To include the agents interview with sound. You never no, is would be most valuable to learn for a hands on pro

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