Understanding Exposure: Listing Interiors (Part 3)


I found the perfect dining area for a demo interior shoot.  The room had bare windows, stainless steel appliances, reflective cupboards, and shadowy nooks – in other words, lots of obstacles.  I even let the two dogs stay in the house, despite having to periodically call them over to me to get them out of frame.  I limited myself to a DSLR camera with a wide angle lens, two strobes, two light stands, two umbrellas, and a tripod (more on gear choices here) – and here’s what I ended up with:

Listing Interior - Final Shot

Listing Interior (Final Shot) - Two-flash setup

It’s not a perfect interior photo, but I think it’s pretty decent based on the difficulty of the area and the limited number of flashes.  The image is well exposed except for a couple of dark areas and a few blown-out highlights.  If I could, I’d add in one or two more strobes to better illuminate the cupboards, minimize shadows, and try to prevent light falloff.  Most importantly though, I managed to balance the interior and exterior light.  If you remember from Part 1 of this series, a common problem is when the interior and exterior light cannot be balanced, which was the case with this room.  Here’s a shot taken without a flash, using full-frame metering:

Listing Interior - Without Flash

Listing Interior - Without Flash

According to the camera’s metering system, the photo above is perfectly exposed.  However, we can clearly see that the shot suffers from both over and under exposure that has rendered most of the visible areas useless.  In order to compensate for this problem, we need to add light to the interior – which is exactly what I did.

So, here’s how I did it:

1) Select a Metering Mode
As usual, I started by observing the scene and determining the areas that were both brightest and darkest.  There was nothing I could do about the sunlight/window, so I decided to use it as my principle level of exposure.  I set my camera to Spot Metering, which we discussed a while back, so that I could target the bright window area.

Spot Metering

I spot metered my camera to the window and manually configured the settings to f8 for my aperture and 1/200 second for my shutter speed to allow for a decent depth of field.  I metered the shot at 200 ISO.  Here’s what I ended up with:

Interior Photo using Spot Metering - No Flash

Listing Interior - Spot metered to windows.

Now, this photo may look absolutely terrible, but it’s exactly what I wanted/expected.  The exterior light is no longer overexposed, and it gives me a point of reference for my interior light requirements.

2) Add Strobe/Flash #1
Now that we have a reference point, it’s time to add the first light.  I set up the first flash to the left of the camera, and I bounced the light in an umbrella.  Bouncing the light softens it, and makes for less distinct shadows.  The light stand was erected as high as I could get it, and angled down on the dining area.  I initially set the flash to 1/2 power, but increased the strength after a couple of test shots.  A light meter would eliminate the need for trial and error, but we’ll get into that another day.  Here’s one of the test shots:

Test shot with a single flash

Listing Interior - One-flash test shot.

On the positive side, the interior and exterior light are closer to being balanced, but there are a few reflections, and dark areas that require attention. Sometimes you just have to tweak the placement of lights and continue doing test shots to get it just right.

3) Add Strobe/Flash #2
Once you get the first light in a good location, it’s time to add the second into the mix.  I didn’t have a lot of room to maneuver, but I found a good spot at the end of the room to the right of the camera.  Here’s the basic floor plan with camera and flash placement:

Setup for Listing Interior Photo

With a bit of tweaking, I was able to get a shot I was happy with.  Flash #2 was erected to about 5-6 feet, also bounced off an umbrella, and set at 1/2 power.

I had to perform some minor color correction to the final image in Adobe Photoshop, as I chose not to use color correcting gels.  The image was shot in RAW which allowed for some added flexibility in both exposure and color temperature.  You can use this method with any number of lights, just keep adding them in until you have enough.  It’s a bit more time consuming, but it is a great way to stand out from the crowd – and we all know that in real estate, standing out from the crowd is a very good thing.


  • Norm Fisher says:


    These are great tutorials. Thanks for doing them.

    If I may, I’m curious to know where you’d have placed the third and fourth flash. I’m guessing that those two units would actually be in the frame, but hidden out of view somewhere?

    Thanks again.

  • Bryan Larson says:

    My pleasure Norm. If I had used two additional flashes, I’d put one behind the island, and likely bounce it off a reflector to better illuminate the stove and cabinets. The other, I would either set up in front of the camera on the floor to brighten the front of the island, or near flash #2 but angled differently. A little trial and error would be in order if I tried to get them perfect of course…

  • Bob Fowler says:

    You’re talking about a lot of expensive equipment and talent that most real estate agents just don’t possess. How would you take this picture with a DSLR with just a pop up flash like most of us have?

    • Chris says:

      Hi Bob, thanks for the great question.

      Since our photo expert Bryan is literally on the other side of the world at the moment – Nepal to be exact – I thought I’d try answer to the best of my abilities.

      In the absence of a light setup such as the one described in the post, I would recommend to simply light the room with as many sources as you can so to eliminate to eliminate shadows (open windows, turn on extra lights, etc). Once this is done, I would put my camera on a tripod in a corner of the room to maximize the space you photograph and then shoot the room without flash and a regular shutter speed – this should give you a shot that is pretty well lit.

      Hope that helps!

  • Hi Norm, Thanks from all of us new to this. Hope to see many more !

  • I like the exposure work you’ve done… that’s a lot of equipment to bring with you on a shoot. The first thing I notice about the photo is that the walls are slanted. I appreciate that with the tall island you had to take the photo from a high angle and tilt the camera downwards, which makes the walls angle inwards. A simple “distort” in Photoshop completely corrects the problem. I edited your photo and posted it here – http://www.edmontonrealestateblog.com/images/point2.jpg.

    • Chris says:

      Wow, thanks for that great photo tip Sarah!

      I showed your edited version to others around the office, and they all agree that eliminating the vertical distortion really improves the shot.

  • This is excellent and similar to what I do. I always use Manual mode and TLAR to expose for the windows starting with ISO 400, F5.6 and 1/125 to start. Then I bring up the lights as I need them.

    You can get away with ISO 400 for web photos. What’s TLAR? That Looks About Right.

  • Absolutely critical to me to keep those vertical lines straight as Sara pointed out. I really like to get as much as possible correct while shooting to save time later and what I do is start from a lower viewpoint and keep the camera level instead of tilting it down.

    If you are mid way between floor and ceiling then you will have to bend to see the screen or viewfinder which is why I like the swivel on the Olympus DSLRS.

  • Colin Perry says:

    Since there’s almost nothing to see in the window, I’d have let it go and overexposing it.. just barely showing the exteriors without completely white out. That way you can use more natural light coming from the sun to light up the kitchen mixed with flash to give it a smooth and natural look.

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