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What Should Your Lighting Goal Be When Doing Real Estate Photography

Published: 22/09/2016
By: larry

lightingLarry in Philadelphia asks:

I have read material on the Photography for Real Estate site, your publication regarding RE photography for realtors, Scott Hargis'  text on lighting and have seen every video that I can find online.  Nearly all of these educational materials talk about the importance of using "bright" photos when shooting for interior real estate (MLS listings).  I totally agree, as bright RE photos just look best to me.  However, whenever I study the photos listed on Flickr's Photography for RE, I see a fair number of photos that get praised, but to me, they appear much darker than what I like.  Many times the darkness is on one-half of the room as the brighter side of the room is lit by the window light.  When I shoot rooms of this nature I tend to add supplemental light (multiple speedlites) in an attempt to balance the light in the room.  In other words, I want the area of the room away from the window light to be as bright as the side closest to the windows.  Am I incorrect in doing this in my attempt is the make the room as bright as possible, without appearing flashy?

The real estate photography guideline of making interiors look light and bright is relative to the poorly lit interior shots that non-professional photographers produce.

There is no absolute standard for how consistently bright an image is across the whole image. The general standard for most upper-end interiors photographers is to try and make the room look naturally lit while beginning real estate photographers tend to over light and not pay attention to the natural direction of the light. Scott Hargis's video class talks about how flash lighting can complement and be in the same direction as the ambient light.

It all depends on what your clients like and can appreciate. I think many accomplished interiors photographers would say, "light the space so it looks well lit in a way the viewer can't tell you are using artificial light."

10 comments on “What Should Your Lighting Goal Be When Doing Real Estate Photography”

  1. I love this post - it's absolutely my pet rant: Somewhere in that answer Larry you touched on 'what your clients want'... In my mind that's really the *ONLY thing* that's important - IF - you're doing this as a business. OTOH, if you fancy yourself an artist, well, of course that's a different matter all together. of course.

    I love dark moody & provocative, who doesn't? Unfortunately those thumbnails blend in with 80% of what's out there (even though they're better).

    My successful brokers like bright & saturated. They're trying to get attention to increase showings and they want photos that pop. To them a photo is nothing more than a CTA button. And you have under 5 seconds to get a shopper to click your ad open. If that goes well there's another 15 seconds to engage the average online shopper - within the context of those time frames dark moody and 'natural' just doesn't cut it.

  2. @Dave Spencer, I couldn't have said it better myself! Light and bright is what sells real estate! if you're working specifically with an architect, builder, designer, then maybe darker will be the way to go because they'll appreciate it more.

  3. If you light the entire room evenly, what you wind up with is a very two dimensional image (flat) image. Shadows give an image some third dimension so it's best not to wash them all out. Once again, Rich Baum has a couple of videos where he demonstrates adding a little shadow here and there in line with with a natural light source. You will see in Scott Hargis' videos that he will sometimes put a flash/umbrella outside a window just out of view of the camera to throw some additional light in a room from a direction that will look natural. I've used the technique to put "sunlight" through a window on an overcast day and it worked great.

    Bright images are very typical for real estate. They pop off of a page of thumbnails and interiors will appear cleaner. Obviously, if the interior is dark stained wood, trying to go the the "light and bright" look just isn't going to work and you may want to just try to keep areas from going black and do some light painting to highlight features and mimic the lighting (either with multiple pops of flash or in software). I think it's Serge Ramelli that has some videos on YouTube where he does some interior highlighting within Lightroom that works pretty well. I'm not a big fan of Serge's look when it comes to interiors but he has an enormous cache of tricks and techniques using LR and PS that are worth learning.

  4. I would agree with all said above, but add the proviso that you also want to lead the viewer's eye where you want it to go and where to have it end up. Working with light and dark (opening up darker areas and tamping down unimportant bright areas) you can lead the eye through the graphic design of the photo through the room or property along with the graphic design itself. If you stop with batch processing, this is tough to do since each photo and interior is different and needs a custom finishing to achieve this affect. Many photographers cannot afford to take that time.

    Add to that, my clients who are clued into looking at the logs of photos viewed for their listings all say the average number of photos looked at by visitors is around the first 5 to 10. So load up the best of the bunch at the front of the slide show. Although that might make another thread to consider when organizing virtual tour slide shows.

  5. >> ‘what your clients want’… In my mind that’s really the *ONLY thing* that’s important – IF – you’re doing this as a business. <<

    I don't necessarily agree with that. As Scott Hargis is fond of saying - make the photos you want to make and find clients who share your vision/taste.

    Running a business and being artistic are not mutually exclusive. When I look at other photographers' work the most successful ones appear to be the most artistic. When I look at most listings in my market I would say that most estate agents don't have much of a clue about what makes a compelling image, assuming that they're happy with their listings photos.

  6. I see my job as selling the sizzle, not the steak. My focus is to get the consumer to want to visit the property. When I hear “We had WAY more showings than we ever thought that property would have”, I know I did my job. At some point the agent may have to ask for a price reduction. It’s a lot easier for them if they’ve had a lot of showings. When it comes to lighting, make images that ‘pop’. I don’t know if that’s “artistry” or not. I’m an ‘artist’ on my own time, not on the agent that’s paying me time.

    Every shot is different, so there aren’t going to be any ‘rules’ or easy solutions. It’s your job as the photographer to figure out what works best for each shot, and then do it. It looks like this blog is attracting a lot of newcomers to the business that are looking for easy solutions. If it were easy, they don’t need you. Yes, watch the videos/tutorials and learn as much as you can. In the end, a little experience will go a long way. When you’re capturing, think about the software and what it can do. When you’re processing, think about the next shoot and how you’ll handle it differently.

  7. Bottom line it: This is a business...give them what they want....Play on your own time

    As to....
    "">> ‘what your clients want’… In my mind that’s really the *ONLY thing* that’s important – IF – you’re doing this as a business. << I don't necessarily agree with that. As Scott Hargis is fond of saying – make the photos you want to make and find clients who share your vision/taste.""
    This is the exact attitude that restaurants have ...... and why 95% of them go out of business within 2 years....

  8. Jerry, so if they want sub-standard photos that any old Jack could make then that's what we should give them? I'm happy for others to do that if that's what they want but forgive me if I take a different path.

  9. As a real estate broker/investor/photographer I can promise you that properties sell, and I buy properties, with crap for pictures. In the abstract and theoretical pretty pictures matter but not in the real world of selling real estate. I keep a database of listings on my MLS with lousy pictures and they have all sold. I am not saying you should not do your best and be your best, we all should, but as far as MLS photography goes, it is not that important that walls are vertical, colors are correct or windows are not blown out. For newbies trying to break into the genre, realistic expectations are more important than PREP correctness.

  10. Well Rohnn, since you promised 🙂 ... I guess we can disregard what The Wall Street Journal, NAR, Redfin, Zillow and many others have concluded, study after study; that homes with better photos sell faster and for more. What's a 'better' photo? Hard to say - it's all pretty subjective - but those proper verticals and color that you mentioned don't matter, I'd argue; are a pretty basic start.

    And those crappy MLS photos aren't everything btw... here in the Northwest almost 90% of home buyers hit Zillow at one time or another. What they see there doesn't need to off be crap from an IDX feed after the local MLS has ruined them... Some of my most successful brokers load their own -larger- photos to Zillow and a few other sites for better resolution. They swear it makes all the diff - and, since they outsell 95% of their peers I'm inclined to believe.

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