How To Avoid Dark Real Estate Photography

Dec 5, 2018 by Lisa Scarpa
13 MIN

"20 seconds for love at first sight" is the title of the Wall Street Journal's recent study on the behavior of Internet users looking for a property. This title is more than revealing: Internet users spend an average of 20 seconds looking at the first picture on an advert and 40% of them barely even look at the description.

95% of homebuyers do their research on the Internet to buy a home on the Internet (Forbes). The photos online are getting increasingly better, so our expectations are higher too. Beautiful real estate photos are essential to good advertising, because our initial impression is often the best.

As a real estate agent, it is important to have some photography skills. One of the most important things during your photoshoot is the lighting. It’s not always easy to capture volume, clarity or the warmth of a room, which if poorly lit, can give the opposite effect to the one you’re looking for.  

Let me help your clients fall in “love at first sight” with some helpful tips to put in to practice in your photo shoots!

1 - Have the right equipment (if possible a DSLR camera)

It's no surprise that the tools you use for a photoshoot are of the utmost importance! It's best of all to get a reflex camera to get a sharper image. Go for it! The quality is due to the size of the sensor (a larger sensor can capture the entire brightness of an image, without saturating it) and the variety of settings, to adapt to the places photographed.

In order to truly benefit from natural lighting, it is absolutely necessary to use a tripod. Holding your camera steady is much easier said than done, believe me, so don’t take the risk! Using a tripod will eliminate the possibility of any camera shake. In low-light situations, taking pictures with a long exposure, your camera will need proper stability in order for the images to come out crisp. 

Note: your equipment is not everything - what's most important is straight verticals. Respecting them will only help you, especially to photograph the exteriors. It's much easier that way to stop perspective distortion!

DxO house with pllars

Image: DxO

Your goal will play a lot in the rendering of your shoot. A wide-angle or an ultra-wide-angle lens can distort spaces, making them more seem larger, airier. Everyone loves space, but only when it's true! Be careful with your shot: a wide-angle can deform objects in the foreground as if they were stretched towards the lens.

2 - Use natural light

Space and natural light are two qualities that grasp the attention of home buyers first. For both indoor and outdoor, it’s natural light that you will work with most often. If there is any contextual lighting around, use it to your advantage! However, shooting on a sunny day is not always ideal (unless you live in South Florida.) So in order to capture the brightest and best shots, it’s better to photograph at the beginning or end of the day.

But the properties of daylight are constantly changing what with the intensity, color, and direction of the light, etc. Therefore, emphasizing the natural light by using a wide-angle camera lens will capture the essence of the space. After-all, shooting in low-light situations is not only about technical know-how but also about personal creativity to capture the ultimate photograph.

Meero poolside with plants

Image: Meero

Be aware however that it is sometimes good to turn on lamps even in daylight, to create a warm atmosphere and balance the light between the inside and the outside.

Meero living room

Image: Meero

3 - Frame the shot perfectly

A successful photo depends on whether it’s been well framed or not. Try photographing the room from several different angles to get the best framing. To avoid volume distortion, don’t take photos from high-view or low-view angles.

Make sure you keep the photo simple: don't clutter the frame with too many objects at once, and try to keep colors relatively coherent.  Another thing you have to remember is to try to not put furniture in the center of the shot; you're trying to capture the space as a whole, not specific parts of the interior. 

Try to find patterns and themes you can play on in the shot to make the picture look good in itself. This is about photography as well as marketing!

If you're worried about perspective, put your camera on a tripod at mid-height (about 1m50). A low and horizontal shot will accentuate the space in the room.

4 - Set the ISO speed

For those who are unfamiliar with ISO, it is used to determine how sensitive the sensor is to the source of light. In photography, we call this exposure. If a photo is overexposed, the rendering will be too light ("burnt" in photographer lingo). And, of course, an underexposed photo will be too dark.

A photo is accurately exposed when the surface receives the perfect amount of light to obtain a shot that is neither too bright nor too dark. You can use your camera's ISO features to reduce or increase exposure to capture a room with clarity and quality. Experts say to achieve the best results, the ISO level must stay low. They suggest going no higher than 400.

Meero ISO speed exposure

Image: Meero

As far as your device is concerned, the higher the ISO sensitivity, the more sensitive your sensor is to the light and vice versa. By playing on this sensitivity, you can reduce or increase the exposure and capture the light perfectly.

Simply put, the brighter the scene you want to shoot, the lower the sensitivity of your camera.  

Meero living room brightness

Image: Meero

5 - Avoid backlighting photos 

We say a photo is 'backlit' when the light source is directly facing the photographer and illuminates the subject from behind.

If you have a contrast between dark furniture and bright sunlight the room looks gloomy and unventilated.

Bad example of against daylight photo

Image: Le Bon Coin

Sometimes it's really fun to play around with colors and the lens and highlighting shades and shades, not the details. But not here. In real estate photography, that's industry rule number one: focus on bringing out details and the natural contours of the space. 

If you have a photo like this with daylight glare and a bent perspective the space and brightness of the room are totally lost.

Bad example of against daylight dining room photo

Image: Le Bon Coin


6 - Mastering the use of flash

Using the flash on your device is not always a good idea! It can give you excellent results if you know how to use it. But, it can also completely ruin your photo! The light should be evenly distributed or the flash can create unwanted shadows. Many beginners think that using it in automatic mode is a good solution for lighting a dark room. Most of the time, that'll be wrong. The flash is a secondary light source, and more powerful than ambient light. You must know how to control it, and switch to manual mode. It's not rocket science - there are just a few things to know:

  • The distance between the flash and the subject means you can control the intensity of the light arriving on the subject (the further you are, the weaker the light).

  • The aperture also allows you to control the amount of light you pick up in the camera, depending on the flash-subject distance. Most recent flashes allow you to manually select either the distance or the aperture to use.

  • The speed allows you to define the time the ambient light will be visible in the photo. The slower the speed you choose, the longer the ambient light will be.

Be careful though: if your ISO value is high, it will increase the power of your flash, and the exposure of your image. The smart thing to do is to take your flash photo with a low ISO value (100 or 200)

7 - Manage the HDR

High Dynamic Range is not the easiest to use, but once you've got it covered it gives you genuinely beautiful shots. The Dynamic Range of a photograph, or rather of the camera that evaluates it, is the gap between the brightest lights and the darkest shadows. The human eye, for example, has a very large dynamic range, able to detect many shades between light areas and shadows.

The HDR technique consists of taking several pictures of the same scene under different exposures.  They're then combined to the dynamic range, and obtain the best rendering. The dark photos are combined with the overexposed photos to obtain a picture enhancing the brightness of the room.

Managing HDR dark room

Managing HDR dark room

Managing HDR dark room

Managing HDR dark room

Managing HDR dark room brightened

Images: Meero

Final Result:

Managing HDR well exposed living room natural light

Image: Meero

This technique can, however, give pretty ‘surreal’ results, kind of like a drawing, with a dynamic side much higher than that of the human eye. Be careful not to distort the places you shoot.

8 - Home staging and attention to detail

Don’t overlook the last 6 tips… This could be your final touch (and an important one of course.)

Home staging really makes the difference during your shoot. A clean and tidy room seems more neutral and much more pleasant for the client to imagine living in, of course.

The light will have a huge impact on the overall look of your room, and several elements can darken a photo: dark wood flooring, dark paint, small windows, etc. Open the doors to ventilate the space. Opening a window can sometimes also give a certain atmosphere to the photo! Especially when the property in question gives a beautiful view of the ocean, a mountain, a skyline, etc.

It's ideal here to use light-colored materials; white has the unique advantage of absorbing and reflecting light and thus making the room brighter. Definitely more appealing to the eye.

Meero bedroom photo, correct exposure, good example

Image: Meero

Mirrors can also reflect light coming from outside via windows, bay windows or the room's skylights. They're great for making a space look much larger.

As a real estate agent, you probably know that it's essential to put photography at the forefront of your work if you want to increase the number of viewers of your site that go on to purchase a property.

A site called "Terrible Real Estate Agent Photographs" is also a real pleasure to visit. It's a list of the worst photos in real estate ads: it's hilarious and gives some insights as to what you shouldn't be doing in your work.

9 - Why not consider Meero for your real estate photography?

Meero has the answer to all your real estate photography needs. Wherever you are in the world, we can guarantee a photographer will come to your property to photograph it for you in no time. We also offer cutting-edge technologies currently changing the real estate game, like aerial drone video and VR 360 virtual tours.

We have a tried and tested international network of highly professional, experienced photographers. If you can’t afford the camera, equipment, and practice time, we can organize a photoshoot of the highest quality for you.

You just have to choose the time, date and place, and Meero takes care of all the rest:

  1. Finds a professionally vetted cameraman for you wherever you are

  2. Organizes the shoot, which is cleared with you

  3. Takes a wide range of photos as you asked

  4. Edits the photos manually, and using our one-of-a-kind AI algorithm

  5. And delivers the content back to you within 24 hours using our secure platform.

Meero takes care of all the planning and coordination of your shot, and whether it’ll be on your website or social networks, we guarantee the images will match your brand image and be fine-tuned to the format you need. All you have to do is explain what you need and we adapt to your ideas.

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