Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Real Estate Shoot -- Main house, carriage house, hot tub: all in one shot!

Real estate photography is all about showcasing all the features, the size, and quality of the property.  To do it correctly takes serious technical work and a lot of trial and error.  I was approached to shoot this 7000 sq. ft. home near Beaver Creek, CO last week and was thrilled with the opportunity.  But when I arrived at the house, I immediately realized how hard it would be to capture it in a great way.  The house sits in tight trees, and there are no real vantage points that are further than 45 feet away to shoot the house from.  (One note:  Next time I will bring a ladder which will help a lot with a more direct and higher angle)


Right away I put the widest lens I have on my camera, and looked for a good angle.  The realtors wanted to see the whole back area including main house, carriage house, and hot tub.  The catch?  They wanted it all in ONE shot!

After walking around and taking test shots, it quickly became obvious that there was only one angle to properly do this.  Fortunately, the angle accomplished everything, and looked great!  The angle is key in real estate, as one angle can make a room look small, or awkward, when another one will make it look spectacular and cause more interest in visiting the property.

This house is MASSIVE.  The other issue?  The house goes away from the camera somewhat like a hallway.  My approach was to try and get the flashes in between the main and side house, and light up the house.  I knew right away that if I had all my flashes near me, the light falloff would be way too much and the back of the house would be dark.  A general rule of thumb is that if your flashes are all at full power (and the same kind), they should all be the same distance from the area they are meant to light.  This way the distribution is very even.

I ended up using 6 flashes (excessive I know....).  One AB-1600 was to the left of me and aimed up left to light that far side of the house.  An Alienbees ringflash was held above my camera to light the immediate area.  Another AB-1600 was 25 feet to my left and aimed to light up the main part of the house.  Then I had a Nikon SB-900 just before the stairs past the hot tub aimed at the chimney on the right.  An SB-800 was above the stairs before the next flight aimed to the right to light the back of the side house.  Finally, one more SB-800 was on the ground above the next flight of stairs and aimed up towards the side of the main house to light the rest.  WHEW.... Lots of light!

The flashes were all triggered with Pocket Wizards, with 2 of them in SU-4 mode since I have just 4 PW's.  The advantage to having flashes further away from me was that they lit up the house in a three dimensional way.  This helps accent the chimney, and keeps the house from appearing in 2D.

Unfortunately, the hot tub's LED lights were broken. Problems like this always occur so think quick on your feet!  I did not have a flash light, so I put my SB-800's into repeat mode, and set the camera on a 2 second exposure.  Then I held one as the realtor held another, and we triggered them as many times as we could in the 2 seconds.  This captured the water and made it look soft and smooth, while lighting it up perfectly and accenting it's blue color.  It also made the waterfall appear to sparkle, an effect I didn't know would happen!

I blended the hot tub into the final shot with Photoshop using Layers and am very happy with how that turned out overall.  I should have checked my histogram as I was shooting because the final image was a bit underexposed.  Sometimes at night the screen will make the image look brighter than it actually is.  Check your histograms!!

My camera settings included about a 1/30th shutter to let some of the lights from the house show through, and keep the sky dark.  The aperture was set to f/11 to keep sharpness through the house, and the ISO was at 400 to keep the flashes bright, and capture a bit more ambient.  The final image is one of the best I've ever shot, and I'll be posting it on my personal site soon at

If you've had any real estate shoots you'd like to share, or have any questions, please ask them or share the stories in the comments below.


Brennan Sheremeto said...

i have a friend who does high end real estate stuff, one thing is that he shoot it exclusively with large or medium format cameras, this allows for more movement (similar to a tilt shift lens) which is invaluable. maybe next time you have a chance beg/borrow/rent a medium or large format camera with movements and give it a try

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