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How Can You Determine if Your Interior Images Are Properly Exposed while on Site?

Published: 07/08/2017

Ryan in California asks:

I was wondering how you would suggest I shoot a whole house without editing until I get home.

Currently I have to retake shots after editing on site after making sure they are exposed correctly.

Should I shoot bracketed shots from the dark to light? Like 9 shots total for each photo required by the client?

There are a number of things to do to make sure you get enough good images for post processing:

  1. Be sure to shoot RAW. You'll be amazed at how much adjustment can be done in Lightroom with the Highlights, Shadows, and Exposure sliders. See Simon's video above.
  2. Get used to using the LCD screen on your DSLR or Mirrorless camera to judge exposure and composition.
  3. Bracket images using the histogram on your camera to make sure you get the whole brightness range of the room. See this post for detailsShooting 9 brackets will do it too but usually much fewer will do it.
  4. You could shoot tethered to a laptop or iPad but I think this is more elaborate than you need when you are just getting started. Keep it simple and use 1, 2 or 3 above.

I also suggest that you always use a single flash (like a YN560-IV) when shooting and bracketing. See this post for details.

Once you get some practice you will easily be able to do a whole shoot without having to look at the images on a large screen.

Larry Lohrman

13 comments on “How Can You Determine if Your Interior Images Are Properly Exposed while on Site?”

  1. I would concur with Larry's responce. Whether you shoot using flash as your lighting as per Scott Hargis or go with HDR as I and a few others do, you can use the histogram tool to help you and that will take some online lessons and practice to get good at, and/or just practice.

    In each room and exterior you shoot, you can also go into the settings and adjust the brightness of the viewing screen. You need the white bar to be white and the black to be black. This will look different depending on the amount of ambient light you have around you. So if you are shooting outside in the sun you will need to lighten it or if in a dark room you will need to darken it just as you would when working on a laptop in different environments. Then make sure when looking at your first exposure(s) if the white have detail and if your darks have detail and the blacks are black. Then shoot RAW and bracket by 1.5 or 2 stop increments. That way you will be sure that one of the exposures will be very close to the right one.

    And with digital, as Larry also pointed out, you have quite a bit of latitude. With film I would bracket up to 2.5 stops both ways in 1/2 stop increments since transparency had little latitude but with digital and RAW it is amazing what a wide range it covers. So lots of practice with shooting, looking at the results on the back of your camera, then seeing how that translates on your computer screen will eventually get you there. And happily the learning never stops. I learn on every shoot I do. Nice to be paid for learning.

  2. I know some photographers choose to use a CamRanger to give them a better visualisation and more flexibility when shooting.

    It would come in handy when you are shooting small rooms and don't have enough space to squeeze your head between the camera and the wall. It saves you guessing and recomposing the shot if your composition or bracketing is wrong.

    Having said that, we don't use one and it's only been a minor frustration on a small number of occasions.

    Like mentioned above, if you bracket 7 images in RAW and stack them in post processing, exposure really shouldn't be a concern.

    Just keep at it, with a little practice it will come naturally.

  3. I would learn to read a histogram and/or the blown out blinkies. The question throws me off a little because we're not sure exactly how he's editing. If you're using single exposures (which are very viable in many situations) you'll wanna make sure you absolutely have the most well exposed file as possible. If you're meatgrinding then yeah just shotgun it and take five or more brackets.

  4. Easy answer to that. Buy a Sony DLSR or Mirrorless camera with an EVF (electronic View Finder). Then shoot with DRO (dynamic range optimization) set to the max. The camera will show in the EVF, in real time no less, exactly what a processed JPG will look like as far as exposure goes.

    Then shoot in RAW of course so you have the latitude of making those adjustments yourself. It's right on almost 100% of the time and you never have to take the camera away from your eye. You see the results before you push the button. Using this feature has enabled me to produce consistent results approaching that of using multi images in blending or HDR without the fuss of tripods and post processing of 3 to 5 times the images than needed.

    Now keep in mind Canon and Nikon for years have bad mouthed the EVF. Interestingly they don't have them. I also dreaded using them until I used one for a week. I won't buy another camera without one. It even helps me to get the WB right. Since I can see the results in real time I just use center weighted exposure and look around the room through the viewfinder as soon as the scene looks right (WB and Exposure) I hit the exposure lock, then compose the scene in the EVF and push the release. Eazy Peazy.

    I'm not knocking Canon or Nikon systems. They are great but in this one specific area that makes the biggest difference in my ability to shoot fast without sacrificing quality, the EVF is a must.

    Hope no one in my area is reading this. I've been told on numerous occasions recently that they have used others and "those guys all use tripods and take at least three times as long on site with fewer images and take much longer delivering the images and yours are nicer." Well not really sure if they are better than using multi exposure blending techniques properly executed, but they are good enough and without a doubt three times faster on site. And yes I rarely have a bad exposure that I can't fix in LR by shooting RAW. Rarely means less than 1 in 1,000 exposures.

  5. Like always, timing cannot be better on this. Just yesterday I was thinking that I'm taking too many images at all possible settings out of scare of not having enough material to make the final product. Which makes me spend to much time on site and also too much time weeding through all of them later, deciding which one is good.
    Bracketing and histogram is on my list now!
    Thanks !

  6. Another Sony shooter and a lot of what Frank said. I do find that I have to turn Live View off with manual shooting, the preview is too dark for framing, but post shot with histogram confirms the exposure, and shooting in RAW, the dynamic range to pull dark is phenomenal. Error on darkness than over exposure as blown highlights are gone. A lot depends on shooting style, but on interiors, once determining correct window/exterior exposure and raised light level for the interior, the exposure doesn't change that much from room to room with certain exception such as entire glass wall or light absorbing dark and/or bleeding colors absorbing and coloring light. The dynamic range capability is my friend. I pay less attention to exposure with repeat shots due to reflections/shadows as I need to adjust the light placement or take a set for blending layers in PS.

  7. Your histogram is the best way to know that you have maximized your dynamic range. The LCD on the camera can be very misleading. If you have "blinkies" turned on, that should help you determine how close you are. A few blinking spots aren't that big of a deal and are likely going to be recoverable in post. A slightly blown out window can be just fine if there isn't a view that would be a key selling point. A 9-shot bracket on every composition is overkill and just wearing out your shutter and taking up more time transferring files that you aren't going to use.

    Always look at which images your are using for your final renderings. If you bracket exposures and always seem to be using the the middle frame, you don't need to bracket as much. When you do, it should be because you know you are going to need a lighter or darker frame to create the image you have in mind. You want to get away from "spray and pray" and to the point where what you are bringing back are images that you will wind up delivering. It's hard to be perfect on site when you are presented with a difficult room and little time to work it out. That's the time to buffer yourself with extra exposures. A basic bedroom or bathroom you should be able to get close enough in just a couple of frames.

  8. As you can tell from the responses above, there are about as many ways to do it as there are real estate photographers.

    My advice would be to get those five e-books above left and work through all of them. By the time you do that you will have a method, a workflow and likely a particular style that works for yourself.

    There are so many excellent tips and processes outlined in them - I would venture to state that all of us use one or a combination of those processes. I have used three or four processes since I started and I tend to go back and forth depending upon the property.

  9. I have learned a lot from the post, thank you Larry, and I've learn some new things from the comments as well. Thank you everyone!

    Andrew, my process up till this new information was to take bracketed shots with my camera (Canon T6i) and then immediately upload them (merge in HDR) into Photomatix, then upload them into Adobe Lightroom CC and finish editing them to make sure I got the exposure the way I wanted it before I left the house so I didn't have to return.

    The only reason I was able to do this was the agents were old friends and the houses were vacant.

    Before this post I was just going to take three separate bracketed shots starting on the low end and work my my way to the high end, taking 9 shots in total to make sure I had enough shots that I would at least have something that was correctly exposed.

    Now I will be using this advice to save a boat load of time money and heartache.

    Thank you again for the help!

  10. Ryan
    Wow. I've debated whether to reply or not as I don't want to seem condescending. Use a light meter. Take a reading. Expose correctly.
    As a photographer, you should be able to determine the exposures and balance your scene for the desired effect.
    Go grab a film camera and practice old school style. You'll never "chimp" again. And your scenes will be perfectly exposed. You'll never have to take 9 exposures again. It's a basic rudiment of photography.
    Sorry if that sounds harsh, but by even asking that question you have revealed that you need to do some homework for the basic understanding of light and shade, tonal range, exposure triangle.
    Relying on RAW and histogram means you're relying on your tools to do the work as opposed to your skills. If you are selling g yourself as a photographer, and asking people to pay you money to do this as a professional, then you really should be long past this stage.
    Ok. I know that sounds harsh so I will end by saying that if you are just an amateur and experimenting with architecture or real estate then all the advice above about how to do it with digital cameras is all relevant. But you should also learn the why, not just the how.
    Best of luck. Keep on trucking.

  11. Des,

    Congratulations on reaching troll level 1000!

    I will make sure next time and ask you if it's okay to try and learn something new so I can put food on the table for my family.

  12. Knowing one's camera intimately is helpful. Understanding the dynamic range of your particular camera helps you operate to the very fringes of its capability. But even after years I chimp occasionally and I don't see anything wrong with that. In particularly difficult and critical environments I'll pull up the histogram and I always have my "blinkies" accessible. Lastly, knowing what is acceptable to blow out or under-expose to achieve the shot or it's approximation is helpful.

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