I think it is important to occasionally revisit the subject of twilight exterior shots because they are so important. From a listing agent or home seller's point of view, they are hugely important because a twilight shot has the capability to add drama to any listing. If there's a view involved, it gets even better. Twilight has the power to hide those mundane details and make any home look magnificent. My wife and I have gotten many listings just because a home seller saw a flyer or listing photo that had a twilight shot. The photo above brought us two listing customers this way.
Here's a summary of how to do a basic exterior twilight shoot:
- Twilight shots require a separate trip: Because of the setup and attention to timing, a twilight exterior shot requires a separate trip, so charge accordingly.
- Plan and schedule the shoot using the Naval Observatory site, LightTrac, or SunSurveyor. SunSurveyor and LightTrac not only show you what time sunset will happen but it shows you exactly which direction the sun will be. You need to be set up and ready about 15 minutes before sunset. The best light will start around 15 minutes after sunset and last for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the latitude, the weather, and clouds. The key to getting a good twilight shot is to shoot earlier that you expect.
- Turn on the interior lights, landscaping lights, and exterior lights, if there are any. It's easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to get all the lights on, especially if the homeowner is not there to show you where all the switches are. I've found that the exterior spots can frequently be too much (too bright). You can selectively turn each bulb off by unscrewing the bulb slightly. A small step ladder is handy for this.
- Some photographers like to hose down the driveway or cement areas that are in the shot so they are wet for a twilight shot.
- Use a tripod and cable release to eliminate camera vibration because exposure times will be several seconds or longer. If you don't have a cable release, use the interval timer to release the shutter. Some people have said, "I can't do a twilight shots because I don't have a DLSR that has a high ISO". Not a problem; with a tripod, you just make long exposures. In fact, better to use a low ISO and long exposure times so you have minimum noise.
- Shoot RAW so you will be able to adjust the white balance and exposure to your taste in post-processing.
- Set your camera to a low ISO (100) to get better color and less noise. This is probably not as important with newer high ISO DSLR bodies.
- Set your camera on manual and use an aperture of around f/8. Lenses are typically sharpest around the mid-point of their aperture range. Adjust the shutter speed to produce a normal exposure. Check the LCD and adjust until the result looks good. A lot of bright lights can fool the camera's light meter.
- Flash or continuous lighting can improve the photo by adding extra light and drama to landscaping or areas of the exterior that are completely dark. This is a whole dimension beyond the basic twilight shot. For details, see Mike Kelly's in- depth video series on how to do this.
Twilight shots can make a very ordinary home look dazzling and hide ugly defects. Everyone loves twilight shots and they look great in your portfolio. The twilight exterior shot is worth its weight in gold for what they do to get attention for the real estate photographer, the listing agent, and the listing online.