A guide to interior real estate photography lighting

Real estate is now more competitive than ever and, if you’re selling or renting out your property, good photography is essential.  They say a picture paints a thousand words, but it can translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars in cold hard cash when it comes to property.

Ideally, you should appoint a skilled real estate photographer to take professional shots of your property, but if you really want to do it yourself the steps below will point you in the right direction. 

The basic equipment 

The basics will always be a camera, lens, and tripod.  However, if you want quality shots, supplemental lighting and Photoshop skills will come in handy.

Ideally, the camera you choose should allow you to add the following:

  • a cable release
  • a flash
  • different lenses (including wide angle and tilt-shift)
  • wireless triggers.

If you go for a cropped sensor camera, use a lens around 10-22mm/12-24mm. If your choice is a full frame sensor camera, then a lens around 16-35mm will work best.

You’ll need tilt-shift lenses because they prevent convergence of vertical lines eg – door frames and the edges of walls. Canon and Nikon have a good range of quality lenses for this purpose. Note that although very effective, these lenses are fixed focal length. For those times when you need a different perspective eg – between 19 and 27mm – you can opt for a 16-35mm zoom lens which complements the tilt-shift lenses well.

You may also want to invest in a speedlight. This is an on-camera flash that provides additional light for those times when conditions are darker and you’re unable to comfortably hold the camera. With this your shots will have more balanced exposures in daylight and you’ll be able to control or trigger other flash light sources.

Lastly, you can use bounce and shoot-through umbrellas to direct your artificial lighting.

Creating great real estate shots (in a nutshell)

The general rule of thumb, albeit a basic one, seems to be expose for the brighter areas and light up the darker areas. This is true, but there is obviously more to it. Knowing how to position your camera and use supplementary equipment to bounce light effectively will do wonders for your shots too.

The first step is to work out where the brightest item is in the room; think window or light fittings, and aim to retain the detail. You can then start lighting.

For the most effective shots it would help to use speed lights, and make sure you have some shoot-through and bounce umbrellas to hand. Use a large bounce umbrella to bounce light off the walls or ceiling, creating a soft fill light throughout the room. You might also want to supplement some directional light in order to coordinate the shadows and highlights with any natural light present.

Bounced light is also great for lighting up furniture and other attractive features. Shooting this way leads to soft and ambient shots that really capture attention, whereas lighting them directly simply isn’t the best tactic.

Tips on using artificial light and natural light

Artificial light

Daylight can make for some great shots, but it can sometimes be the case that natural light coming into a space creates more challenges in getting the perfect shot. It’s all about angles and time of day, which you may not have much control over.

With artificial light you will have many more options than if you were to rely on natural light. No matter where the window is, you can position a light to produce far more dramatic lighting. This will give you greater control over the perspective of the floor, ceiling and walls too.  For instance, you can move the light to a lower position to change the intensity of separation between walls and ceiling. You can also make the floor appear flatter by holding the light lower.

Natural light

Sunlight can do wonders for real estate photographs. There is something very welcoming about sunlight and it tends to give viewers a realistic idea of what the property will feel like when they view it in person. Sunlight can do a lot of the hard work for you, as it creates natural shadows when it hits various objects, and this gives a feeling of depth. It can save you a lot of hard work and time, depending on where the sunlight is falling in the room.

When using natural light, your best shots will happen when the room is big enough to allow you to shoot from more than one position. Windows without shades or blinds will be helpful, and you should always aim to choose a shooting spot with very bright windows angled over 45 degrees away from the centre of the field of view of your lens. This means you can avoid high-contrast shooting situations and eliminate lens flare, saving editing time later.

Positioning the light source makes all the difference

As mentioned above, the natural light is not always advantageous, and sometimes the window in a room can actually be a bit of a pain. When the light isn’t falling where you want it to, you can simply change your camera position.

By changing your perspective and (if possible) the angle of the lighting, you are better able to define lines and create a little more separation between the ceiling and walls. When working with artificial light, adjust the height of your camera to highlight either the ceiling or the floor.

Primarily, avoid using a light source coming from directly behind the camera. This will result in a basic looking image – something flat and boxy. The room might also end up looking smaller than it really is, which is no selling point in real estate. To add more dimension to the room, simply move the camera more to the left or right of the light source.

Ultimately, good real estate photography requires a certain amount of experimentation due to the myriad factors you’ll be working with. You will need to change camera angles according to different types of lighting, the dimensions of the room you are shooting, the position of the windows, and even the colour scheme present.

There is no one-size-fits-all here, but with a little practice your shots will be looking great in no time.  Of course, there’s always the back up of getting the professionals in.

Author Bio: Lisa Wetherell runs the blog Lighting House – where she writes about her knowledge gained from 10 years of industry experience in the lighting and interior design field. To learn more about how lighting can improve your space, you can follow her blog.





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