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POLL: What Is Your Main Lighting Technique for Real Estate Photography?

Published: 13/09/2018

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A couple of days ago, I ran across Matthew Stallone's great little tutorial on HDR vs. Multiflash real estate photography. It made me think of how much real estate lighting techniques have changed over the past few years and how it may help someone starting out in this field to get a big picture overview of what the main real estate lighting techniques are and which ones are being used the most. We've done polls like this in the past but not since flash compositing (as Matthew explains in his video) has been so popular.

Here is a summary of the major real estate photography lighting techniques:

  1. Bracketing: shooting 3 or more frames and then processing with HDR or Enfuse software
  2. Bracketing/Flash Hybrid: same as #1 but a single flash added to one or more of the brackets to improve colors
  3. Multiple Manual Off-Camera Flashes: This is the technique explained in Scott Hargis's book and video series, Lighting Interiors.
  4. Compositing: With this technique, you blend multiple ambient and flash frames in Photoshop.

#1, #2, and #4 are all explained in Simon Maxwell's book, Enfuse and Hand Blending, and video series.

So which technique do you use the most? Please take the poll below:

[polldaddy poll=10104690]

Larry Lohrman

12 comments on “POLL: What Is Your Main Lighting Technique for Real Estate Photography?”

  1. Idk if it will hold up with more data, but that poll result is amazing. The rapidity of it is what amazes me.

    It was honestly not that long ago at all that those poll results would have been exactly reversed, with blending not even being on the board!

  2. I do not shoot as much as many of you - but I am still all manual flashes off camera. It gives the type of look that I personally like, and differentiates a little from the blended and composited stuff. But I am seeing people in my local market in the last year, year and a half that have gotten extremely good. It's made me take a second look at those methods myself even.

  3. Seens legit so far. I went from shooting brackets to multiple off camera flash. Then, to flash blending. I shoot up to four homes per day, so now I'm back to brackets only. I realize quality is much better with flash. However, 90% of my shoots consist of smaller unfurnished homes. So, brackets are good enough. I save the flash for my high end clients.

  4. I use speedlites and mask the exposures together sometimes with an ambient depending on available light. It is how I shoot every home and my way of standing apart from the rapidly growing number of run and gunners in my area.

    Unfortunately, most of the agents where I live don’t see the value in that and only want something better than what they can get with their cell phone. It’s the nature of the business!

  5. When I selected multiple flashes in the poll, I did so because I'm literally using several flash units in a single image. Not layering several shots. I test the rooms for ambient exposure, then add flash to fill the room. Slave triggers aren't reliable through walls, so I use radio receivers on the flash units and a single trigger on the camera. I have 2 small units near the camera paired through a small translucent umbrella.(a single flash diffused is sometimes inadequate, so a second one with both on low output widens the power adjustment range) The main umbrella light is typically bounced from the ceiling and wall behind me. The soft, lesser light reflecting from the umbrella toward the room actually improves the effect of the reflected ceiling and wall bounce. I have 4 more available flash units with their own feet to place strategically into adjoining rooms to bounce around so the doorway views don't look dark. The light can be more harsh appearing, but adjusting the level to slightly less than the subject room helps. Every room with windows is exposed for outside or slightly higher and balanced to be able to shoot at a constant shutter speed, adjusting the ISO which once set, is pretty much the same as I move room to room. It's a lot of walking to first test shoot the flashes to adjust to an acceptably lit adjoining room, but I much prefer that over manipulating multiple images in PS. Once the adjustment is made, only slight changes are needed and less walking back and forth. The main problem to avoid is reflections of the umbrella in picture frames and furniture with glass doors. Usually that can be resolved by a slight camera or light positioning change or painting it out later if its unavoidable.

    I do spend a lot more time shooting the kitchens especially if they are well appointed. But similar methods are used. Adding small lights with bounce cards behind the island or to fill a dark nook is worth the effort.

    My home assignments are standard 50s ranches to executive style homes with soaring ceilings. The greater size of the larger homes can be lit well using my current lights, but I will make my job easier by adding more flash units soon. Tip,.. buy stock in lithium battery manufacturers.

  6. Interesting poll. And I seem to be bucking the trend and it is working for my market and my business model. If my BM was different such as shooting 3+ houses a day, I might change the way I shoot, but probably I would just outsource my HDR work since I am most comfortable with using HDR either with bracketed exposures or by using AuroraPro and/or Luminar in conjunction with Photoshop.

    But my limit of shoots is 3 per week. I charge enough to make that work. I like to do my own processing since that is my product and style and what my clients like. But my business model is also to shoot video with most of the higher end price bracket properties and flash just does not work with video. Since I shoot video along with the stills, ambient light still works best. If I have to add lighting, I use video style LED panels that use batteries which help speed the shoot rather than lights with wiring.

    But I think how a photographer handles lighting is a very personal choice that has to take into consideration many factors from how their clients like it best, speed of the shoot, speed of post processing, number of shots taken per property, whether to spend time shooting and less in processing or the opposite.

    For new photographers, I think they should try all of the above before settling on what works best for their shoot comfort level and what their clients seem to like best. I reject the idea that there are rules in any field of photography, rather approaches that fit the photographer and their market best. Frankly, who cares about how a photograph is made? It is the final result that counts. How you get there is up to the individual. And all of the approaches above work.

  7. @Jason - There are many options that aren't on this poll. My objective was not to poll every possible option for lighting but to rank the major popular techniques that people are using in 2018. In past polls (e.g. see the lighting poll on the poll page I've put many more options.

    The important message in this poll (as Andrew points out above) is that in the last couple of years there has been a huge change in the industry to compositing ambient and flash in Photoshop.

  8. There was no button for "all of the above". I'm finding that while I use flash on every interior photo, sometimes it's multiple flashes, ambient + flash manual blends and sometimes it's just a single flash. My goal is to use the technique that gets me the image I want with the least effort. A basic bedroom or bathroom is often one bounced flash. Bigger rooms or compositions where several spaces are visible are often multiple small flashes and, if I have to tackle bright sun coming through a window while still needing a good window pull, it can be several ambient exposures with frames for getting the view and flashes in far rooms so they don't appear as caves.

    I very rarely do an HDR/Fusion bracket unless I am really pressed for time on site. I still shoot the brackets, but that's just so I have some choices when it comes to editing.

    I also shoot with the lights off and will capture a frame exposed for the light(s) when there is a unique fixture and blend those in as a "lighten" or "luminosity" layer in PS.

  9. Thank you Larry for sharing this video link. I hope to bring awareness to future photographers or those stuck in their ways of many different options that are available and thanks to this forum I've learned from many other great photographers. The canvas is ours to choose, how we would like to present our work is totally up to us. Looking at others techniques is always wonderful and maybe taking 1 or 2 examples that may help their workflow is always welcomed and that's how we grow as individuals. When you find your style and find what works for you and your client just enjoy that we are able to make a living doing what we love to do. Giving back to fellow colleagues and paving the way for future techniques and workflow for aspiring photographers.

    Thanks again
    Matthew Stallone

  10. @Larry and Jason,

    I think this poll is quite a bit off. It may be accurate to the people who answered the poll and the small sample size compared to the industry as a whole...but off. My market is very active and sophisticated for professional RE photography. Any time I look at my local MLS system, on camera flash and ambient HDR bracketing beats (in volume) all other methods 5 to 1.

    It could be an echo chamber on here with lots of repetition.

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