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Does Virtual Twilight Processing Make Sense For Real Estate Photographers?

Published: 18/07/2016
By: larry

DaylightTwilightLast week a reader asked an interesting question:

I recently found a service some companies are providing Realtors called 'Virtual Twilight' Photography. Instead of going out and shooting at dusk they post process the daylight photos for the Twilight effect. I've looked all over the Internet and the PFRE blog but can't seem to find any Virtual Twilight post-processing tutorials. Do you know where I might be able to find such information?

First of all, here's an example of the kind of service she is referring to. Dave below uses this processor and says virtual twilights cost $25.

Her real question is how to I convert daylight to twilight myself? How do I take a daylight shot and turn it into a twilight shot? This is an interesting possibility and the examples at imotophoto.com illustrate that it's clearly possible. The basic question is how hard is it and it is worth it?

Here is a YouTube tutorial by Glyn Dewis that shows you the Photoshop basics of how to turn daylight into a nightlight which is effectively the same approach to creating a twilight shot from a daylight shot.

In order to get a feel for the difficulty of this process I played around for several hours with Glyn's approach on the daylight shot above that I shot a number of years ago of a home my wife and I listed a number of years ago in Bellevue, WA just above Lake Sammamish. The bottom shot above is the actual twilight shot I took at the time that we used to market this home. My conclusions from this tinkering are as follows:

  1. Yes, I can take the daylight shot (top photo above) and make it sort of look like a twilight shot but I can't come close to the real twilight shot (bottom photo above). In the actual twilight shot, the light in the sky and on the lake in the distance is way better than anything I can create in photoshop.
  2. Selecting and brightening the windows so they look convincing is the most difficult part. This particular image isn't bad because the windows are all rectangular and the light from the exterior lights is fairly easy. But I found many of my old exterior shots that would be way more difficult.
  3. Doing convincing twilight skies is difficult. Twilight skies are amazing and frequently unexpected. It is challenging to get the same effect with Photoshop.
  4. To do this well you have to be very accomplished at Photoshop.
  5. Even though you have to make a special trip to shoot a twilight shot and change $150 or more for just that one twilight shot it is well worth the cost to the listing agent. As a result of our marketing of this home, with the twilight shot above we had 3 home sellers come to us and explicitly ask that we list their home and do a twilight shot of their home like the one we did for this home. So this twilight shot got is 3 more $800,000+ listings. Well worth, a $150 investment for a listing agent!

Conclusion: So despite the fact that if you are really good at photoshop it's possible to create a convincing virtual twilight shot but with the right marketing, you can easily sell $150+ real twilight shots.

Has anyone tried creating virtual twilight shots?

10 comments on “Does Virtual Twilight Processing Make Sense For Real Estate Photographers?”

  1. In the Northwest this time of year shooting a twilight means getting home close to midnight. Ugh. So, I outsource 'virtual sunsets' to the Photoshop gurus - see link above/ scroll to bottom of page - for $25. Brokers love it.

  2. Again, so much is personal and so much based on best practices. If a best practice is not established by an organization, then it can only be looked at as it relates to a specific industry. With photography it is a creative science. Would I do artificial twilight - no, would I say it is unacceptable - no, but qualified with its not just about the sky - its about the colors and light on the rest of the image. Its almost as if there needed to be a plug in that you can graduate a look from top to bottom or left to right where the added twilight did its magic in that magic moment you were capturing. I don't believe its simple to do, and if I were going to do it - lots of dollars and I would higher someone to do it for me. And don't forget - a while back Larry was talking about what if the twilight were coming from the wrong direction with the house and a buyer expected to lay on their porch and watch the sunset! This is a definite No-No in my opinion.

  3. For me, good RE photography is about the photography, not the photoshop-ography. Anything is possible in photoshop. I'm here to improve my RE photography skills. Do I blend exposures? Sure and I use off camera flash to enhance a scene. But I'm the one taking each shot and adjusting my settings and setting up my lights and honing my post processing skills. I rarely do sky or grass replacements etc. and would never put those shots in my portfolio. If you are sending the work out to be photoshopped then you aren't even the one creating the image anymore. I don't want to rant about this topic and I know lots of folks will disagree but I think it's diluting what we do... which is to photograph architecture and interiors. I guess it's a "mad skill" if you can fake it that well but I'd rather practice my twilight skills and get those where they need to be. It's about presenting a property in the best possible light, just not the fake kind. Ok, I'm sure I've said too much 🙂

  4. I'm with Suzanne and Terry on this one.

    Just about anything can be done and created in Photoshop, but I am a photographer and make my photographs onsite. Minor adjustments in post, yes, but if a photograph is unusable out of the camera, unless its completely "fixed" in post, I've failed.

    It's easy to start relying on Photoshop to fix everything we do wrong onsite. I just don't ever want to become so dependent on my computer skills in order to deliver a solid photograph to a client. Then again, when I started, we all shot film so you had to get it right in camera.

  5. From what I can see from the examples on the imoto page (which are pretty impressive for the dollars they are charging) is that they have made life a bit easier on themselves by choosing what look like North facing facades: these share something in common with twilight shots in that the light illuminating the building is very indirect, there are few hard shadows and building textures are not so emphasised. Try making a pseudo-twilight shot from an image of a house in hard sunlight and the result I think would look a bit false (unless the moon was pretty full that night!) . In addition, twilight shots "score" due to their ability to see into the interior spaces as exterior reflections are subdued. You can presumably shoot a very dark daytime exposure and brighten up the windows with the interior lights on but I feel that that with such a shot, reflections would still be an issue and not much interior detail would be revealed. The "magic hour" is called that for a reason: you get this beautiful soft cool blue light on the building and a largely reflection-free transparency to the windows. The online fix might be something to offer to lower end agencies but budgets seem to be so constrained at that level I wonder whether adding $30 or so on top (factor in your time uploading the RAW files and dealing with the transaction) is even going to be an option. Clients willing to pay a bit more for twilight shots perhaps should expect (and probably deserve!) the real deal....

  6. "It’s easy to start relying on Photoshop to fix everything we do wrong onsite. I just don’t ever want to become so dependent on my computer skills in order to deliver a solid photograph to a client."

    Unfortunately, much real estate photography is done under severe time and budget constraints that often do not allow photographers to shoot with optimum lighting and property conditions, leading some photographers to search for software solutions. However, severe time and budget constraints often compromise the ability to do remedial retouching as well.

  7. If your sole criteria in real estate photography is to make money I suppose I don't see anything wrong with looking into this.

    Other than that though, you can put all the lipstick you want on a pig, but......

  8. This conversation reminds me of when I had a trade show exhibit company before vinyl cutters had been invented. At that time we used an artist who hand cut all our vinyl logos and lettering. We silkscreened or handpainted the stuff too detailed or small to cut out. Along came vinyl printers and wow, the difference in speed of that which we could produce was irresistible. We bought a vinyl cutter and the $$ started rolling in even faster and the results were excellent and our reputation and business grew. The artist we had been using to hand cut and paint the lettering was very snobbish about it and said we were not authentic because we were now relying on machinery vs true skills. I could appreciate that his services were being seriously impacted, but we were liberated and no longer subjected to just one man's schedule and price structure. He did not appreciate that even with the machinery, a lot of creative design and skills were used. Fast forward to today. As a photographer who has not relied on outsourcing as of yet, I can see where I probably will here and there in the future. My sole criteria in real estate photography is not to make money, but neither is it to pass on jobs simply because I can't be on site at the right time or am still honing my skills. To the purists... great for you! Keep it up. But since you can't fill all the needs of every client that exists, others will do the best they can with what is available to them.

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