Understanding Exposure: Listing Interiors (Part 2)


In Part 1 of this series, we observed a listing interior from a photographer’s perspective only to discover that a perfect exposure could not be obtained in a single shot.  There was just too much contrast between the light entering through the window and the dimness of the interior.  So, today we’re going to start looking at how to tackle these two conflicting exposures.

Real Estate - Natural Interior Light

If you choose to shoot in the direction of an uncovered window, which is often unavoidable, you’ll have to concede to the brightness of the sun.  You can minimize the intensity of light by shooting at a different time of day (dusk/dawn), during overcast, or by blocking the window with curtains, but it’s not always easy to reschedule shoots, and some windows are best left wide open.  If you find yourself shooting in this kind of scenario, there are a few gear options to choose from (and each will vary from person to person):

Option #1 – Full Control
A full setup involves three or four strobes (flashes), a DSLR camera body, wide angle lens, some Pocket Wizards, light stands, reflectors/umbrellas, a metering device, gels, and a tripod.  The advantage here is that you can really control where you add light, the amount of light, and the softness of the light.  Furthermore, Pocket Wizards will allow you to set up wireless so you can position lighting where you want with minimal clutter.  Proper light metering and color correction will allow for all-around consistency in exposure which provides maximum detail with minimal noise.

Camera and Lighting Equipment

The downside to having full control is that the gear is pricey – I’d estimate about $4,500 minimum for everything, unless you were able to find some used items or opt for lower quality gear.  The other thing is that all of the gear can be a bit cumbersome to lug around.  A decent-size lighting bag and another camera/lens bag should be expected.  Batteries, memory cards, clamps, filters, adapters, editing software and other random gadgets/gizmos can add up too.

Option #2 – Basic Control
A basic setup involves two or three strobes, a DSLR camera body, wide angle lens, light stands, and a tripod.  Gels are optional, but you might have to do a slight color correction afterwards if you choose not to use them.  Instead of reflectors, light can be bounced off of ceilings, walls, or even sheets of paper.  Pocket Wizards are best, but new flashes have built-in, infrared communication, so for simple setups that works fine.  You may choose to pick up a commander unit if you want to avoid using on-camera flash.  Also, a little trial and error will allow you to eliminate the light meter if you have to.  It’s important to note that the quality of the photo will suffer after cutting out equipment, but sometimes it’s better to learn using the essentials, then add equipment as required.

Essential Photographic Equipment

The basic setup still allows us to get a nice wide view of the room, and target our light at dim areas in an attempt to balance the intensity of interior and exterior light.  You might have a hard time getting perfectly balanced light in all areas of the room, but it will still be far better than using no lighting at all.

Option #3 – HDR (High Dynamic Range) Processing
HDR for interior listing photos requires a camera with a wide-angle lens (not necessarily a DSLR), editing software, and a sturdy tripod.  It is by far the least expensive of the options, but not always the easiest.  HDR images require practice, and may suffer from noise, color inaccuracy, and/or tone issues.

Photographic Gear for HDRThere are some HDR real estate photos out there that are stunning, and others that look like quaint little homes from M83.  I highly suggest tackling HDR photography only if you have a good eye for realistic color and tone.

Next, we’ll discuss setup and some issues to watch for while shooting.


  • Susan Barlow says:

    Thanks but I’ll leave this up to the professional photographers. My beef is Realtors that don’t post ANY photos.

    • Chris says:

      Thanks makes two of us Susan 🙂

      Speaking as a consumer, there is nothing more irritating then coming across a genuinely interesting listing, only to find there are not any photos, or only 1-2 tiny thumbnails.

      People are visual – give them stuff they want (photos, video, virtual tours) and you can guarantee more interest in the listing.

  • Myriam Nader says:

    Wow!Thanks for the tips:) This is really an art! I wish one day soon, I will be able to take my listing pictures as such a pro. It really makes a great impact!
    Myriam Nader, GLAZER REALTY, Spring Valley, NY

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