The Fundamental Problem with Real Estate and Architectural Photography
The fundamental problem with Real Estate and Architectural Photography is Dynamic Range, or the ratio between the brightest and darkest parts of an image. Real Estate and Architectural Photography are unique from many other forms of photography because of the constant broad spectrum of Dynamic Range. The windows inside of a home are very bright because they are allowing in the brightest source of light, the sun. The inside of a home is much darker and is typically lit with tungsten, florescent or LED light bulbs. A camera has a limited dynamic range compared to the human eye. The human eye can see roughly 24 stops of dynamic range, while the best professional cameras typically have less than half that dynamic range capability. You may have experienced this in the past trying to shoot pictures indoors. If the camera focuses on the inside, the windows get blown out as bright white; however, if you focus on the outside then the view out of the windows is great, but the inside becomes extremely dark with little to no detail. In addition to the exposure, the variances of lighting sources create different color casts depending on the temperature of the light. This can leave interior pictures looking yellow or dingy.
The solution is simple, light. However, the type of light and how that light is used is complex enough to be the topic of conversation of various Professional Real Estate Photography forums around the world. Some photographers bracket exposures at different values and combine them in photo editing software into a single image with a higher dynamic range, called HDR. The inherent problem with HDR Photography for Real Estate, is that photos can get over-saturated, and cartoon like in appearance. In addition, the color casts caused by multiple lighting sources is exaggerated with HDR Photography. If HDR is done right, it can boost the shadow detail to some degree, bring back some highlights and add some contrast to an outdoor image. But HDR should not be used on interiors. Adding new source light is the best way to combat the fundamental problem with interiors. Constant light or Flash Bulbs can be used; but Flash is most common in the professional real estate photography industry. However, the solution is not as simple as attaching an on-camera flash to your DSLR and calling it a day. Adding light creates a multitude of problems, many of which are dealt with on a property by property basis. An on-camera flash produces very unnatural shadows that are quite noticeable, and it flattens the image. When moving the flash off-camera, you need to employ remote triggers, wireless preferably to ensure that wires aren’t strung out throughout the property while shooting. Combatting shadows, window reflections, cabinet and wood reflections, bathroom mirror reflections, and hot spots on ceiling are common issues. In addition, dark paint colors, painted ceilings, wood beams, wood walls and doors can soak up a substantial amount of light. Light modifiers are commonly used to counter many of these issues. Long rooms, or rooms that open up into other spaces in the camera frame will often show darker than the foreground. Additional lights can be used to brighten up darker areas in the image, or taking multiple exposures and blending them using layer masks in Photoshop are common ways to solve these issues. In addition, using too much flash can make photos appear unnatural. Many photographers will blend ambient photos with flash photos to get the natural look they want to showcase the property. Other techniques include pulling windows separately from a different shot, or using layer masks to bring back natural shadows or highlights.
I employ all of the techniques listed above, depending on the circumstances of a particular home. I use my broad range of equipment, and experience shooting hundreds of homes all over California to derive the best techniques for each individual situation. Each home presents its own unique challenges; and overcoming those challenges is what I love best about what I do. However, great photos is not necessarily the finish line. Producing great photos for a reasonable cost is the dilemma I’ve encountered now. After all, every Homeowner deserves professional photos; not just high end listings. That’s why I’ve comprised several packages at different price points to ensure that every listing can be captured by a professional.