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Three Classic Problems New Real Estate Photographers Need To Deal With

Published: 07/07/2015

REphotoChallengesI got a question from John, a professional photographer wedding and portraiture photographer that asked:

I upgraded my camera from a D-90 to a D7100 and I still get this reddish brown color cast in a lot of interiors. I have tried adjusting color balance to the flash mode or sunlight mode instead of A (auto mode) with llittle success.... I have tried raising the color temperature manually and that sometimes helped in certain rooms, but not too often. It seems the auto mode works the best then I adjust the color balance in photoshop as needed but this a lot of extra time... Do you know of anything I can do to get more accurate exposures on interiors?

After looking at a couple of John's example interior photos and asking more questions it was clear that he was struggling with the three classic problems that are unique to real estate and interior photography. He was aware of the color balance problem but he wasn't even aware of #2 and #3 below. Here are the three classic issues that interior photographers have to deal with that aren't as pronounced in other types of photography:

  1. Color balance: Interiors photographers have to deal with color balance issues more than other photographic situations because of many temperatures of light sources in rooms. Different light bulbs can have different color temperatures. The reddish brown can be old incandescent. John was shooting JPG so when the color balance came out of the camera off he had a hard time changing it. The best way to deal with color problems is to shoot RAW. Shooting RAW makes your life much easier in post-processing. Lightroom is designed to deal with RAW files quickly and easily! You can make color adjustments to a RAW file that you just cannot do to a JPG!
  2. Using flash in interiors: John was shooting with his flash on his camera resulting in a very flat looking lighting. It is much better to keep your flash off your camera when shooting interiors, the results have flat looking light when the the flash is on the same axis as the lens. Put it on a light stand, that doesn't slow you down that much.
  3. Verticals and barrel distortion: John wasn't correcting verticals or removing barrel distortion. When shooting weddings and portraits neither make much difference but in interiors they become a big deal. Learning to use Lightroom is the fastest and easiest way to correct verticals and remove barrel distortion.

So if you are getting started real real estate photography pay careful attention to these areas. I don't believe there is anything wrong with John's D7100 that shooting RAW and adjusting color balance won't fix. I'm sure there are others out there that will have other opinions.

Larry Lohrman

18 comments on “Three Classic Problems New Real Estate Photographers Need To Deal With”

  1. You are absolutely right, RAW is the way to go. I use a Sony A6000, RAW, bounce fill flash and auto white balance. I've used Photoshop for 20 years since version 3 and for me, it's quicker to use than Lightroom. The A6000 auto WB gets it very close and it only requires, at most, a slight adjustment of the slider to get it right. Correcting verticals and lens distortions work the same in PS as it does in LR and just as quickly.

  2. I use my x rite card for color balance - especially for colored walls. It's an expensive option when you can get away with a gray card or even a white object, but useful for getting colors just right for high end clients. Also, feel RAW is imperative.

  3. I would disagree with Lightroom being the fastest way to correct verticals. Photoshop's free transform tool seems to be much faster for me, and not to mention more accurate since you can use rulers to really pin down the vertical you need.
    Just my two cents

  4. When there is window light coming in, and this is combined with the inside lights, as Larry mentions it is all mixing together. Let's say somewhere in the middle of the room you may be able to get close to a neutral color balance with the white balance tool. But then things close to the window may go bluish, and things further in the room may go warm.

    The point is no matter what you do with your white balance, raw or not, the colors are mixing in different ratios across the length of the room (in general, bluer close to the windows, and warmer away from windows).

    What I do is get a tone I am happy with for my white balance. This is usually on the warm side of things. There could still be some blues coming in and you will have to selectively desaturate those blues using a mask.

    If you don't want to deal with all that stuff, which who does, there are solutions. The one I will mention because I am favoring it more recently is to "kill" the ambient lights with a fast shutter speed, and use flash. The key is to use the flash in ways so as to replicate natural light. My philosophy is to make the light look somewhat natural, but I actually want it to look like enhanced natural light. I think "natural" is overrated. So, you are adding light from the window side(s) of the room, and now you have "enhanced natural" light I will call it, and your color problems are nearly gone. The problem is you will still be at the computer for a while.

    I also correct verticals in PS Ivan.

  5. I think archieving a correct white balance is one of the most difficult challenges in RE or interior photography.

    As Andrew mentiones, in most cases you simply will have different color temperatures accros the image. Especially shooting in the direction of windows and with lights on. That's one of the reasons I'm always shooting with lights off.

    In my experience (Nikon shooter) shooting in Auto white balance with flash, the image will usually turn out on the warm side. But this can easily be adjusted in Lighroom or Photoshop. The different color temperatures in a image can be adjusted with a brush. Yes, this takes time.

    What I usually do when shooting into windows is take one ambient pic slightly overexposed and one pic with flash underexposed and combine them in Photoshop. This will usually give you a nice balance between ambient and flash and also gives you a nice base color balance.

  6. There are as many ways to overcome these issues as there are real estate photographers, I'm sure.

    I agree number one is shooting RAW - not only is color balance easier to correct, with the dynamic range of the latest cameras you can pull much more detail from the shadows of a RAW file. It is also easier (and quicker with Lightroom) to balance for a more even exposure. I find Lightroom with it's ability to clone settings from one photo to the next (or across an entire project) to be much faster for standard real estate jobs. Photoshop is useful for some tasks, but I only use it for specific things like removing a camera (or myself) from a mirror, replacing an expensive (or butt ugly) piece of art on a wall. A lot of this preference comes from what I started out with. I started using DxO for it's RAW processing before Lightroom caught up, and Photoshop has generally been an expensive, cumbersome tool. For quite some time, Photoshop was not affordable to me - it was $650 or something and Lightroom was $125 - less with a coupon. So I used Lightroom and adapted my workflow to it.

    Ever since the Creative Cloud solution and the ability to "rent" both Photoshop and Lightroom many more photographers can afford to utilize both.

    I use the in-camera level on a sturdy tripod to make sure I start out as straight and level as possible, then I just click the Upright vertical button in Lens Corrections. 99.9% of the time it fixes any errors. Way faster than anything you can do in Photoshop. I will take this moment to complain that the level is not accessible in Live View in the D750 like it is in the D800, making for a slight delay in every move of the camera. (D800 is in the shop - can't wait to get it back!)

    One other thing not mentioned above is to make sure the Remove Chromatic Aberration box is checked in Lens Corrections. I have seen otherwise fine photos ruined by a red or purple fringe on the edges.

    As for ways to color balance, I find my D750 is fairly accurate, better than my D800 and way more accurate than my D7000 was. Of course, it is not perfect, but I am able to get what I need from the color picker and utilizing the HSL sliders in Lightroom. When those blues are streaming in through a window, I desaturate them ever so slightly until I get a satisfactory result.

    I also use off camera flash, sometimes multiple flashes. I found the e-books available from this website imperative for the new real estate photographer. They will help you move forward more quickly than experience and trial and error will.

  7. Bubble levels in- or outside the camera are a MUST just as is shooting RAW. It saves time and frustration in post processing. I shoot 5 shot HDR @ ± ƒ1.3 or ± ƒ1.7, depending on window light. DxO Optics Pro 10 takes care of key stoning, barrel distortion, chroma and more. I created an Action in Photoshop which takes care most lighting issues except for grass and/or UV light coming through the windows. Hue and Saturation can deal with that.

  8. I had a problem yesterday that I remember having before, but which still freaks me out a little. In one set of shots, the sofa near the fireplace looked a little green in real life, but in flash shots (bounced off the ceiling), it always looked blue. I guess in real life, the sofa was picking up some yellow from somewhere, and the yellow ambient yellow was overcome by the flash. I decided to go with the flash color instead of the "real" color. I figure when the owner bought a blue sofa, she had wanted blue, rather than green caused by a yellow tinge from surrounding light. It's freaky when the image from the camera, with flash, does not agree with what you see in the room. (Well as freaky as real estate photograhy gets, anyway.)

  9. How is he determining the colors?

    You changed the camera and the tint is still there? It's probably not the camera but something else in your workflow. Your display screen, your eyes, your editing environment?

    If you are using your eyeballs and an inexpensive non-calibratable display monitor for color adjustments, I guarantee it's wrong. You need a digital process that leaves your subjective observation out of the workflow. Monitor calibration, X-rite card and RAW are essential.

  10. I noticed a big difference in balancing warm and cool when I started using a CTO gel on my speedlights. I finally started noticing if my flashes were getting a little strong, and that part of the room started getting a little blue, gelling smoothed out all of the color cast and I could use a better balance of ambient and flash. Some strange reason this happened about the time I switched from the Nikon SB 80 to the Yongnuo 560.

  11. John, this might help a bit if you are using a Nikon TTL flash:
    A big issue I have always had with all my digital Nikon bodies (Pro or not), is that their auto whit balance changes when a Nikon TTL flash is attached to the camera body hot shoe. even if your flash is at low power and not even pointing at the subject, the color temp goes to the warm side. The color temp changes even when you use their preset white balance. None of the tech people at Nikon have been able to answer this.
    But, Once you take your flash off camera, and fire it either with a radio, or through the PC synch (which are no longer available except on only the pro models) you will see the color temperature goes back to a more normal look. if you must mount a Nikon flash onto your camera body, for a fill flash, then use a "NON_TTL" hot shoe adaptor (about $25) which allows you to mount your flash and has a built in PC socket. The Non-TTL adaptor fools the Nikon into thinking it has no flash attached. your auto white balance should now be more accurate. I'm not saying this will solve your issue, but it might be contributing to it.

    I've also done a custom white balance on an 18% gray card or used an Expo disc, which helps balance your images, but it is not always accurate, time consuming and sometimes easier to fix in post. I've learned that balancing on an 18% gray card is more accurate than a white card. There are many shades and hues of white, but 18% white card is a photographic standard. B&H might still Cary the Kodak 18% gray card.

  12. @HEV - Your answer is here: [removed] this is a fairly recent poll on what lighting techniques PFRE readers use.

  13. Great point Andrew! It's nearly impossible to avoid color casts in most homes.

    Just as a counter perspective, sometimes they enhance the photos though. Orange vs blue can help when the elements in the composition are a bit boring. The downside is that it gets hard to match these naturally lit images with the flashed ones. With enough dodge and burn and a bit of color correction, the natural light becomes truly enhanced natural lighting. Can't think of a better 'flash' in my toolbox 😉

    The biggest problem I have with exposing for the windows and flashing interiors is that it kills most shadows. Everything becomes relatively flatly lit and turns into angel food cake. I can see why most prefer this neutrality, but I personally feel it neglects the emotional potential of the image.

    My ideal is somewhere in-between. I try to shoot as naturally as possible and add assistance where needed. The flashes are definitely easier to detect this way, so a bit more time/experience is needed to get the lighting right.

  14. As stated earlier RAW, X-Rite card, and a calibrated monitor are essential. However, and X-Rite card and typical RE work is not cost effective, increasing both the shooting and post time. It is best reserved for commercial or very high end RE that commands the premium pricing. For all others, I found a trick that started as a critical analysis discussion with Realtors as they were touting some photograph. I would simpy ask the question...what color are the baseboards? Then they would reply "white" (which they typically are) would ask why they are yellow (or orange) in the picture, which of course lead into a discussion of color balance education in terms they could visualize. Granted it is not an 18% gray card, but virtually every interior picture has "known" white baseboards, doors, electrical outlet covers etc. I found using color balance eyedropper on one of the white objects gets it close, particurally if done after adjusting out excessive blacks and highlights. If necessary, minor tweaking of the temp slider to fine tune. Where it is most amazing is where the bounced flash picks up certain wall colors such as purple, pink, and blue and it bleeds all over the room. Adjusting the whiteness of the baseboards brings the entire room around.

  15. I've been using a light straw gel on my flashes and I like it better than using CTO unless I in a room that is lit with tungsten lights. The light straw blends in nicely with CFLs and warm white LED lamps. It's not a perfect match, but it's not as distracting as the white/blue cast of an ungelled flash.

    @HEV - I use flash and exposure fusion. Wide open vacant homes with a fresh coat of beige paint are very straight forward to do by bracketing. I will still use a flash in windowless bathrooms. I find that the furniture in occupied homes makes using flash preferable. I try practice both methods to learn what will work best. I still shoot brackets when I light a room. If I would start trusting myself more, I almost always guess correctly what technique is going to give me the best results.

  16. I have found, if after using the White Balance filter does not remove a color cast, I go to the Selective Color filter in Photoshop. I don't know if Lightroom has it. This filter is amazing in what it can do, try it, you'll like it!

  17. I hardly find time to edit photos nowadays, tried to set up a editing team but the related costs are too high. When I'm in the mood, I like to do basic edits but in general I send the images to , they do a very good job and are economical too.

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