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How To Add Flash Lighting To A Twilight Exterior Shot

Published: 30/08/2011

Mike Kelley sent me this tutorial video that illustrates his compositing technique for adding extra drama to twilight shots. Mike describes his technique as follows:

The technique is pretty simple but gives great results. I have my camera set up on a tripod with a remote, and Pocketwizards connecting the camera to the flash in my hand. I walk around popping off the flash in areas that I think need it, usually to highlight certain features or bring up shadows where necessary. Try to make it believable - for instance, there wouldn't be light on the roof. Since I've been working at this technique for a long time now, I pretty much know what flash settings to use depending on the environmental conditions, e.g. ambient light, what color the house is, what type of surface I'm lighting, and so on. Usually I use a gel to give it a little more believability. After I'm happy with what I've lit (lots of chimping - in my case I shoot tethered so I can see the results up close) I mask them all together in Photoshop using layer masks. This takes some trial and error, but after a few attempts it's not that hard to get the hang of. After that it's a matter of sky replacement, curves adjustments, and color balancing. In some cases I will wait around until it's completely dark out and take an exposure of the inside light without any reflections for masking in later.

This compositing is a common technique in upper end Architectural photography. It probably doesn't make sense to spend time doing this for shoots of low end properties. This is the same technique that Andy Frame describes in the post we did on his shot of the motor 281' motor yacht Cakewalk. Mike's tutorial video gives some insight into exactly how this technique works. Thanks Mike!

Larry Lohrman

8 comments on “How To Add Flash Lighting To A Twilight Exterior Shot”

  1. This is a great topic and honing our skills for twilight shoots is becoming increasingly more important for luxury properties. I love hearing about all the different techniques to light homes at twilight. I have been working on a technique that is working well for larger 5000-10,000SF homes but it requires a little extra equipment and I bring an assistant. With the camera either on a tripod or the top of a 6 foot ladder i set the 10 sec timer so that the camera is still by the time the shutter opens. It is usually a 10-20 sec exposure and the best time I have found is 5 minutes past "civil twilight". When the shutter opens it is "go" time and we start walking around with 2 to 4 different halogen work lights painting the house with light in places that the landscape lights do not touch. I repeat the shot about 10 times until the light is even on the front of the house and there aren't too many hotspots. It takes about 20 minutes before twilight to plug the lights into long extension cords. Realtors and homeowners love to watch the magic and also help turn on inside lights. I have virtually no time processing in Photoshop except to clone out a small streak of light or our feet if we stand in one place too long. I have put a few examples of my attempts with this technique on my website.

  2. I've begun to develop a similar technique. This video is great in that it shows me how much further I have to go.

  3. This is an excellent video to whet the appetite of those interested in doing luxury twilight shots. The video shows a high-level overview of a lot of patience, and skill needed to do this work successfully. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Thanks Larry for this post. I always enjoy seeing how others are doing things like this. I've used similar techniques, but have modified the method for ease and speed in order to give my clients several different shots at twilight. That is, front and back views and perhaps a couple different elevations. This means I have to move very fast to get my best exposures in the limited window of best light. I arrive early and take my test shots and determine my locations and compositions. Where the sun goes down determines which side of the home I concentrate on first in those first few minutes of magic light. Instead of using a flash to highlight the needed areas, I rely on a high power Surefire flashlight to "paint with light" during the 10 to 15 second (typically) exposure. In post I do spend a lot of time in Photoshop to tailor the final product. The results might not be quite as good as Mike's, but my clients have really like the results; especially when I can offer them 4 to 6 completely different views of the property from a single visit.

  5. Great process. I like the layering. I use layering for twilights, interior, and exterior shots. Its easy once you learn the process. I've never light painted as much as the video shows, but I'll try in on a home soon.

  6. Truly outstanding work. The amount of post makes my head spin and I certainly hope Mike is getting paid handsomely for his efforts. Very inspiring.

  7. Awesome job - I would love to see the look on any of the agents whose properties I shoot if I asked them to factor in the cost of a crane to the shoot.

    I understand light harvesting now a lot better - I still think multiple exposures shooting in RAW could offer the same effect at a fraction of the time and effort

  8. That was great, well done and thanks for sharing this.

    Its doubtful that an HDR image would yield as good a result, that's not to say that HDR wouldn't work.

    I guess it depends on how much you can charge for this type of shoot. At least its nice to know that the finished shot is as impressive as the amount of work that went into it.

    That's not always the case...

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