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Starting In Real Estate Photography Without Using Flash

Published: 17/11/2016
By: larry

enfuse2Fred in Florida asks:

I am at the very early stages of studying RE photography as a second career. My plan is to start off by shooting lower end homes while I study to acquire the knowledge and skill  for shooting higher end homes. So how important it is to start off using strobes and flashes or can I just get away with using HDR in the beginning?

It's not essential to start off using small flashes. The method I recommend is to shoot brackets (3 to 5 frames separated by a stop or so) and then process the brackets with LR/Enfuse. It's a donationware Lightroom plugin that works on Mac or PC. It creates a good natural looking result. Technically this is called Enfuse rather than HDR but many call it HDR. The point is that LR/Enfuse works better for real estate than Photomatix which is a plugin that does HDR (tone mapping).

A great way to learn the whole process is Simon Maxwell's book: Enfuse and Hand Blending in Photoshop For Real Estate Photography. As Simon goes into in the book, there are benefits to using a single bounce flash when shooting brackets but it is not essential.

Using the LR/Enfuse plugin assumes you have Lightroom. Lightroom is a basic tool that all real estate photographers should have. It is the ideal tool for doing post-processing quickly. Simon describes in the book how to process a whole shoot in batch mode from Lightroom and do the final touch up that is needed.

8 comments on “Starting In Real Estate Photography Without Using Flash”

  1. Completely concur with Larry's view. That said, I would also invest in and study Scott Hargis's e-book and video series on using small, inexpensive flash units to light your properties as well. Why, because you would then be able to offer different levels of service for those agents that are looking for that particular look in their products. That way when your agents ask what you can provide, you just have to ask, what do they have as a budget. Don't turn away business, just charge accordingly.

    Using the method described above, no flash, has netted over 100k for the last several years, but even so, I still offer the option to go in and use the flash method for those that want it even though that is a fraction of the requests.

  2. @Jerry,

    What % price difference do you charge to give them the options of lighting? Also, do you provide samples to them of what the same unlit/enfuse vs off camera lighting would be?

  3. Hi Fred,

    I live in the Orlando area. There are a lot of real estate photographers and a bunch of agents who shoot their own photos. HDR or whatever you want to call them all have a certain look. The limitation you'll run into is getting good window pulls and exposing the outside. Lots of blinds and paned windows to deal with. You'll have to learn to use flash. Then, the problem you'll run into here is that nearly every room in every house has ceiling fans. Flash shadows are a big problem.

    So, always be learning. Try to shoot as much as possible, even if it's your own house over and over again. There are a lot of good photographers here with whom you'll be competing.

  4. I've been shooting RE for over 5 years now and have never once used a flash on a listing. Could it have benefited me in certain situations? Of course. But it's just not part of my game plan at the moment. I've been using LREnfuse for a little over a year now and couldn't be happier.

  5. @ Peggy,

    I double the fee. Although I do offer a slight discount for some of my regular agents that may just want certain properties shot that way. As stated above, window pulls for view shots are much better when you spend the time and effort using artificial lighting.

    Take the time to shoot a property both ways and then send the side by side samples to your prospective client who is interested. I will also speak up if I see a property where it would benefit from the process.

  6. I get great results using HDR, but it can have its drawbacks. HDR is wonderful when the light sources are all the same temp. But when you have multiple sources, then HDR tends to need local color correction - You can spend a LOT of time in Lightroom/Photoshop correcting the temps.

    Using a flash tends to be much better at evening out the temps. You still get nice ambient lighting if your camera is set correctly, But the flash tends to even out out the colors.

    You can indeed get great window pulls using HDR, depending on the home's windows and time of day. You will find that you will be doing window replacements in HDR, but not when using flash.

    In general, HDR is easier to shoot, and Flash is easier to process. You can get good results both ways.

  7. Hi, Fred - I'd strongly recommend you DO get yourself a low cost "speedlight" type flash to experiment with (e.g., $40 Neewer TT560 is excellent). The reasons are really simple.

    First, if you go ahead and expose for your windows and simply adjust the flash power until you are pleased with the results, you are going to much happier/less frustrated with the results (assuming the neighbors do not have a rusty 51 Chevy on cinder blocks outside the windows). Just play with it, and have the flash ALMOST ALWAYS pointed upward between 60° and 90° to reflect diffuse light off the ceilings. Since you are experimenting, you will soon discover a range of preferred camera settings that work really well.

    Second, creating an HDR photo CAN easily consume more time in the editing process than you might like to invest, especially if you are trying to output 35-60 nice photos for your client; Your time is worth money, and the flash will pay for itself almost instantly.

    Third, most agents do not use a flash (and when they do, they generally do so improperly and get those harsh shadows), and they will see the differences between their photos and yours instantly.

    Summary: Assuming your camera - whether point and shoot or dslr - has a hot shoe, get yourself a speedlight type flash. You will not regret it.

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