Understanding Exposure: Listing Interiors (Part 1)


The most difficult part of real estate photography is, without question, the listing interior.  To make matters worse, the average listing requires at least thrice as many interior photos than exteriors.  While some agents see listing interior photography as a frustrating, dreadful process, others see it as an opportunity.  Opportunity lies in the inherent difficulty of shooting listing interiors, and the potential to stand out from the competition by learning to master this difficult process.  Here’s a photo that I feel is similar to the average beginner’s attempt at a listing interior:

Listing Interior: Living RoomIf 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 I see is a room consisting of bright, mid, and dark tones.  In this case, the windows and reflections are very bright, the walls and area rug are mid tone, and the floor and shadows are very dark.  You may find it easier to analyze the scene in gray scale:

Light Intensity - listing interior

Unlike the listing exterior photo, the dynamic range of light in this living room cannot be captured in a single shot.  In other words, if I set my camera to expose in accordance with the average amount of light from the entire frame (i.e. full frame metering), I will overexpose my highlights and underexpose my shadows.  That’s what has happened in the photo above.  It’s true, there are some areas of the photo that are exposed correctly, but not all areas, and that’s really what we want to achieve here.

So, there are two ways that we can tackle this photo:
1) High Dynamic Range (HDR) Processing
– What I would call the software approach – just bracket your exposures and combine them using specialized computer software.  I wrote more about this in a previous post.
2) Use Off-Camera Flashes
– What I would call the hardware approach – increase the amount of light inside the room so that it matches the intensity and color of light coming in through the windows.  Additional photographic equipment is required for this option.  If you’d like to learn about off-camera flash basics, read this post first.

I want to focus on option #2, and add additional light so that a well exposed photo can be obtained in a single shot.  So we’ll need a couple of off-camera flashes, and a few other things, but I’ll get into the exact requirements and processes in my next post.

Also, bonus points go to those who were displeased aesthetically with the photo above: uneven curtains, cushion on floor, throw blanket on couch, messy tablecloth, awkward lamp, etc.  As always, it’s important to run through a checklist to make sure your photos will look their best.


  • Don says:

    Hi Bryan
    Really helpful. Thanks.
    Missed the HDR segment…are past issues of The Point archived.
    Look forwar to the ‘flash’ assist.
    Cheers – Don

  • Spike says:

    Interior pix are VERY important, especially in generic neighborhoods where the outside is…just the outside. Just took a listing where the sellers will never clean up, and taking interiors is gonna be hell. Lighting is important, but the least of my worries on that one!

  • Bryan says:

    Hey Don. I know it’s been a few months since you commented. I was away on some travels ( http://is.gd/bVUYJ ). Nevertheless, I try to respond to all questions… so yes, the HDR article can be found archived on our blog here: http://is.gd/dhMbt I’ll probably readdress HDR in the future as well, so stay tuned!

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