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What Is The Single Most Valuable Shot You Can Put On A Listing?

Published: 10/05/2012
By: larry

Joanna Michl, who does real estate photography in the Greater Philadelphia Area ask for some feedback on this twilight shot because she says she doesn't do many twilight shots.

First of all, from a marketing point of view, a great twilight exterior shot is the single most valuable photo that you can have on a listing.

Steve Pacinelli argues that a twilight thumbnail on a listing site will increase the online visits a listing will get. I can tell you for sure from direct experience a twilight shot will bring the listing agent more listings. We've gotten several listings solely because the home owner saw our twilight shot on our listing, website or flyer and wanted one for their home.

My feedback for Joanna on her twilight shot (click on the photo above to see a larger size) is that I would work at controlling the exterior lights on the home. This happens to me all the time. The exterior lights on the lower level and the deck level (where the red arrows are pointing) are too bright and distract. The ones on the lower level could easily be just turned off with no loss. The yard light in the foreground is a distraction too. Same for the 5 or 6 big lights along the top of the railing on the deck. Another option would be to take an exposure with just the deck lights (all other lights off) and then bring in the those bright lights into Photoshop on a separate layer so the intensity can be controlled with the layer opacity.

Shooting tethered can help you spot these distractions right on site. It's frequently difficult to notice these kind of distractions in a small LCD screen on your camera.

I think watching Mike Kelley's excellent video tutorial on shooting a layered twilight shot is a great way to start thinking about twilight shots where various areas are on different layers. If you shoot different groups of lights on a separate shot you can then easily control their intensity. Mike's example is much more elaborate where he's lighting with a flash but the same approach could be used here if you wanted to keep the exterior lights on but bring down their intensity. In this case, a quick and easy solution would be to try a shot with the exterior lights off. Some times you can run around and just unscrew some bulbs to save time in finding all the switches. The best solution is of course having the home owner there to run the light switches for you.

Anyone else want to give Joanna feedback on her shot?

20 comments on “What Is The Single Most Valuable Shot You Can Put On A Listing?”

  1. The issue is not to control the exterior lights, but to expose for them properly and then make the shot when the daylight level is appropriate. Joanna was a good 20 minutes late making this shot -- and as a result she had to drag the shutter to get any detail at all on the house, which naturally then over-exposed the house lights. The number one mistake people make is showing up too late for a twilight, and making a night photo instead, which is much less appealing.

  2. I'm with Scott on this. I show up a good 30 minutes before twilight to get setup and be ready to start exposing frames. This is after the earlier "day shoot" in which I had already scoped out the details for the twilight shot. It takes practice to get twilight shots consistently "great". Scott's RE photography videos do a GREAT job of covering this BTW:

    Here in the Seattle area the King County Library System has been building out new libraries. These are really amazing structures and make an easy subject for twilight practicing! Here's a couple images I did of the library in Snoqualmie WA:

    Go find a similar environment to shoot and practice practice practice!

  3. Scott, Well said. you are exactly right. I had a twilight shoot last week for which ugly gray clouds rolled in at sunset. As a result I had to wait 20 min later than normal to start shooting, and it was much more challenging to expose for the lights.

    Here's the photos:

    Btw, reason I had to wait until it got darker is because you can often still get blue out of a gray sky if you wait until it gets dark enough.

  4. I have to be careful with twilight shots as most homes have insufficient landscape lighting to give the proper accents. Of course, one can (and should) paint with light to cover the shortcoming of existing lighting and provide proper accents. Unfortunately, the "misrepresentation police" are making that approach an issue after buyers complained that their new house didn't look like that at night. Now if the "misrepresentation police" would only address 90% of all the photos posted on MLS with the collapsing vertical walls, dark rooms, yellow baseboards and ceilings that are actually white, and blown out window that must be hiding something.

  5. I can't remember where I read it or saw it on a video (I think it was a link from this blog) but the "expert" said that to get people's eye you need a really bright shot in the listing.
    What do you think?

  6. I am casting my lot with Scott and Steve [full disclosure--I traveled from Australia to Colorado for one of Scott's Workshops--but that has nothing to do with why I agree with him 🙂 ].

    I do 3-4 twilights a week and finally learned to shoot earlier rather than later. It's easy to bring the sky down with a grad filter in lightroom and give the "later" blue sky look, especially if you add a little blue to the grad filter.

    Viveza2 (and color control points in Capture NX2) make short work of cooling down the color temp of the tungsten house lights and adding a little local contrast (called structure in Viveza and clarity in lightroom). It also works well for balancing the brightness between the windows of rooms that are unevenly lighted from the inside or to match the color temp where one room has bright-white and another has warm-white bulbs.

    If I have a tricky house, I start shooting 20 minutes early and keep shooting a test shot every 2-3 minutes until I get what I want. I almost always turn off all the bright outside security lights to keep them from blooming if I can't re-aim them to be like accent lights.

    You really can't "control" the house lights or the sun/ambient. All you can do is wait out the sun until the level comes down to what you need, keeping the house as a constant. It's a little like fill flash where you use the f stop for flash control and shutter speed for ambient to get the windows to pop when you are shooting interiors. Instead you use f stop for the house lights and time of day for the ambient fill. At least that's how I conceptualise it.

    One mistake some of the photographers I have worked with make is to think all they have to do is bracket and they'll get it--nope, not if you are to late in the day. The issue is not proper exposure. The issue is the ratio of the brightness of the ambient light vs the house lights.

    If you have an iphone, there is a great spot light meter app that you can use to quickly check the exposure for the sky, the house, and the window light to see how many stops they are apart without having to ruin your tripod setup by using your camera to meter. Most of us no longer carry separate meters anymore. When the lightest to darkest areas are about 3 stops, it's usually shootin' time. I expose for the windows and let the sky go where it wants to. I start a little bright for the sky and shoot through a little dark for the sky, but the windows are always right. The I pick the ambient exposures I like to do my post processing on.

    HDR and layering is fine, but it is a whole lot more work than shooting when the light is just right and doing a little software tweaking (1-2 minutes in post is all I need). And, I know before I leave the house that I have what I need in the camera.

    I'll try and post some before and after shots in the PFRE group over the weekend and add a new comment here with a link when they are up.

    Cheers JD

  7. I agree that twilight shots are really great. And, thanks to all those who have shared their techniques on how to shoot and process them. The one exception to this shot being the most important shot of a listing is with waterfront properties. In that case the key shot is a pole shot from the front of the house that shows the house AND the water. These are better done in broad daylight so you can best see the water behind the house. In this case, the second picture on MLS would be the twilight shot--either of the front or the back of the house. For waterfront houses the back of the house typically has more and larger windows than the front of the house. Follow the website link to see my example.

  8. I'd have to agree with Scott H on the timing thing. Now Mike's video is great but that sure is a lot of work. But yes, twilight shots are money. Like John says above, show up 20 early and just take your time. Yes, I almost got frostbite waiting for this shot but I'd rather spend 2 minutes in post and get the timing right then more time in front of my computer.

  9. Thanks for all the feedback!
    I'm still reworking the photo and all these helpful tips will definitely come in handy for future twilight shots - in particular the ratio of the brightness of the ambient light vs the house lights, thanks John, this is very important.
    I also want to thank Larry L. for posting this and stressing the importance of twilight shots in a listing. My client knew she needed a twilight shot to draw attention this property which was previously listed but did not sell. We're also planning to shoot a property video for this listing - any tips for shooting twilight video will also be welcome!

  10. Slightly off-topic, but still regarding evening shoots...

    Does anyone have a tutorial on shooting interior twilights? I'm thinking "downtown loft with a view" sort of thing. Is it as simple as layering two exposures, or is there a way to accomplish this in a single exposure?

  11. John, Scot - you guys are so right (and not just because I took Scott's class - we shoot several twilights a week as well). My comment is real estate photography at the high end or low end, if you are shooting twilight - you should go all out. First charge the per shot the price the shot is worth - $275, $375, $475, etc. You will be working for one shot over several hours to do it correctly and you will be putting in substantial post processing time as well. This is called the money shot for a reason and you should treat it with the respect it deserves.

    Jeff, here is an interior shot Brad took from the outside - hopefully the link works.

  12. I shoot my twilights using HDR about 30 minutes after sunset... there's a twilight calendar I use ( that tells me what time twilight falls as it changes daily. And then I process the HDR using Photoshop and manipulate the image to the way I like it using Lightroom 4. FOR ME, Joanna's image is a bit too dark in the foreground and the lights are over-exposed. My favorite shot of all time (that I took) is on my Introduction Tour on my website... it's a twilight... shows the pool, house and mountain range.

  13. Jeff,

    For this shoot an exposure for the exterior view with all interior lights and your strobes turned off. This will eliminate many nasty reflections in the glass and give you a clear view, then merge in Photoshop.

  14. I was just thinking - in addition to Nik Software I use On-One perfect suite for the effects - but it also includes layers and mask pro. I'm thinking if I did a twilight with multiple flashes and exposures - I could bring it into Perfect MaskPro and use that to mask out the areas on each layer and let the perfect light shine through on the layer that shows the lighting. Much easier than photoshop. When I get this done - I will post it to this site along with making a video for distribution with instructions - however if it bombs out - then you won't be hearing from me on this subject again! (LOL)

  15. For me to do one HDR shot... it takes about 15 to 20 minutes... couple minutes to shoot it... couple minutes to process it to HDR... and about 15 minutes with Lightroom 4 and Photoshop for color, tone, brightness, etc corrections... and I think the results are pretty nice. On Twilights I don't layer anything... if shot property, you shouldn't need to... click on my name and that will take you to the Introduction Tour showing the twilight... it's the 1st/2nd image in the tour.

  16. I shoot lots of twilights and *earlier is most certainly better*. I'll scout for a good hour before the 10-minute window of shooting and bracket 5 to 9 exposures, depending on the property. Tou can expose for the window and adjust the WB and hand layer in post. Never mind the sky - it's the odd mismatched 300 watt flood / lamp / bulbs you have to mind - here is an example

    Another thing to bear in mind is that not all properties shoot well at twilight.

  17. Hi guys more great advise as usual. I'm new to this and i'm also trying to master twilights by taking Scott's, Dale's and others advice to shoot earlier but i'm not sure i'm getting it yet. What do you think?

    Twilight Image:

    Secondly, a very basic question but when metering for the exterior lights how close to the light source should you go? Fill the frame? And are i-phone apps accurate enough?
    I tried using an iphone app to gauge the shutter speed required for this shot (close up) but as the evening progressed the values changes. Is that due to the light source not totally filling the frame?

    Any comment or advise would be appreciated.


  18. As I am just getting started with RE photography, I am holding off on offering twilight shots. Just getting some good clients going is my initial goal. I have seen many twilight shots where the home and property wasn't right for the picture. It's like using HDR to get good detail out of a window during the day only to capture a fence 4 feet away. I like the house pictured in this article.

    Does it make sense to shoot exposure brackets every few minutes through sunset to get a good shot? I learned to select pictures very quickly doing photojournalism. With some experience it should get easier to judge the balance better. I have seen tutorials on using strobes and hotlights to add some fill on the front of a house and layering it all in with Photoshop, but I don't get the impression that the time it would take would be worth what a RE agent would pay with an average house.

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