Understanding Exposure: Listing Exteriors


For most people, shooting the listing exterior is one of the easiest shots to achieve.  The sun usually provides ample amounts of light, and most houses can be photographed without the need for any specialty lenses or advanced techniques.  There are a number of possible angles and views that are worth taking, but today I’m going to share a close-cropped, front-view as an example:

Listing Exterior

I took this photo last October without the use of any special lighting, polarizing filters, or advanced editing.  You may or may not agree that it is a suitable listing photo, but despite personal opinions, I think anyone would agree that it is properly exposed as the highlights are not too bright, and dark tones are not too dark.  Although it is an easier photo to achieve from a technical standpoint, there are numerous choices I made to ensure that it turned out the way I wanted, so let’s discuss them:

1) Choosing a Metering Mode
Before I meter my camera, I always survey the scene.  I generally look for heavy contrasts between my lightest and darkest tones, and decide what part of the photo I want to expose to.  Most cameras have three metering options: spot, center-weighted, and full-frame, although they may be titled differently depending on your camera.  Each option is usually accompanied by a symbol:


Each selection will affect how your camera meters light.  Spot metering will only consider light at the very center of the frame, center-weighted will consider light in the central area, and full-frame will consider all of the light and generate an average.  For this photo, I noticed that the sky was a neutral mid-tone, the garage was bright, and the house was dark:

Listing Exterior - Tonal range

Because there was a generous mix between a variety of brightnesses, I chose to use full-frame metering as it would provide me with an average of the entire scene.  Some photographers choose to meter off of a gray card to ensure that the exposure will be accurate.  If the entire house would have been dark, I would likely have chosen center-weighted metering which would have resulted in a brighter sky (midtone).

2) Setting the ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed (More information here)
My camera was set to Manual (M) for this shot, although Aperture Priority (Av) would also work well.  I had great light, so I set my ISO as low as it could possibly go (ISO 200, in this case).  The lower the ISO, the less noisy the picture will be, so set your ISO low whenever possible.  More information on noise can be found here.

Next I set my aperture.  I set my aperture before my shutter speed because for this particular photo, depth of field was more a concern than potential motion blur (if I have moving subjects, I’ll set my shutter speed first).  I wanted to avoid a shallow depth of field to ensure that everything remained sharp.  For listing exteriors, anywhere from f11 to f16 is a safe bet, but you may have to accommodate for different scenarios.  I chose f14.

Light MeterI set my shutter speed in accordance to my light meter.  At 200 ISO and f14, I found that I had to shoot at 1/320 to obtain a perfect exposure.  Just adjust your shutter speed until your light meter is at a perfect “0.0” exposure.  Try to stay above 1/60 if you’re shooting hand held to avoid camera shake.

In summary, here’s the camera settings:
Metering Mode:
Full frame
ISO: 200
Aperture: f14
Shutter Speed: 1/320
Flash: None

Lastly, I just wanted to touch upon a few choices that I made that arguably improved the quality of the photograph.  First, I took the photo at a time where the sun was lower in the sky, and angling down on the front  of the house.  In other words, time of day is very important.  Second, I framed the shot so that not only the horizon line was level, but my vertical angles were square as well:

Listing Exterior with Grid

When grid lines are overlaid, you can see that the house suffers no distortion from perspective, or lens distortion.  For angled shots I would try to create aesthetically pleasing angles, but for the frontal shot I feel that a level and square framing works best.

Next time, I’ll discuss how to expose for some of the more complex interior shots. Until then…


  • Norm Fisher says:


    I love the more basic approach that you’ve taken in this post compared to some of the complex topics you’ve attacked in the past. A really good photographer once told me, “it’s so simple that it’s complicated.” I’ve been playing with a DSLR for a few years and I still find it to be a complicated task but I feel like there’s some hope when you write at this level. Thank you. I’m really looking forward to your stuff on “interior shots.” Thanks for sharing your expertise.

  • Chris Dowell says:

    Love the simple approach. When over 80% of the home buyers surveyed by NAR said that if the front picture is awful or distorted they won’t go further, It is important to take good quality pictures. I like the angled approach because in my area many homes look like all garage. The angled approach highlights the actual home.

  • Understanding Exposure: Listing Interiors (Part 1) | Real Estate Information says:

    […] you read my previous post on shooting listing exteriors, then you will be aware of how I initially analyze a scene before the shoot begins.  What […]

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