How to Avoid Dark Real Estate Photographs

"20 seconds for love at first sight" is the title that the Wall Street Journal gave to its study on the behavior of Internet users when looking for a property. This title is more than revealing, since they spend an average of 20 seconds looking at the first picture of an ad and 40% of them barely even take a glance at the description.

Since 90% of real estate research starts on the web, today we find the houses of our dreams as we do love on the Internet. Essential to a good advertisement are photographs that must be irreproachable, because the initial impression is often the best.

As a real estate agent, it is important to have some photography skills. And one of the most important things during your photoshoot, is the light. It’s not always easy to capture volumes, clarity or the warm side of a room; which if poorly lit, can give the opposite result you’re looking for.

Let me help your clients fall in “love at first sight” with some helpful tips to implement during your shootings!

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

The material used during a photoshoot is essential and that doesn’t come as a surprise! It is best to get a reflex to get a sharper image. Do 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 variation of settings, to adapt to the places photographed. In order to truly benefit from the 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: the material is not everything and straight verticals are essential. Respecting them, will only help you, especially to photograph the exteriors. You will avoid deformations!


old building meero photo

Image Credit: DxO

Your goal will play a lot on the rendering of your shoot. A wide angle or an ultra wide angle makes spaces more spacious, more airy. Everyone loves space, but only when its true! Be careful with your shot: the wide angle deforms objects in the foreground, as if they were stretched towards the lens.


2 - Using natural light (ideally)

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

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


home meero swimming pool

Image Credit: 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.


house photo living room

Image Credit: Meero

3 - 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 language). Conversely, 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. For example, to capture all the clarity in the room and reduce or increase the exposure, using your ISO features will do just that. Experts say to achieve that level of clarity, the ISO level must stay low. They  going no higher than 400.


dark shade photo

Image Credit: 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 ideally.

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

house photo real estate

Image Credit: Meero


4 - Avoid photos against daylight (or “contre-jour”)

It is said that a photo is taken against the light when the light source is facing the photographer and illuminates the subject from behind.  

  • Against daylight and dark furniture: the room looks dark and unventilated

dark living room

Image Credit: Le Bon Coin


In some cases, it can be used voluntarily, to play with color tasks appearing according to the angle and the lens used, or to highlight the shapes, not the details. But as for real estate, it is the number one enemy of a good photo: the dimensions and brightness of the room are not well represented!

  • Against daylight and vertical bend: the space and brightness of the room are not highlighted

dark living room

Image Credit: Le Bon Coin

Guillaume Lestrade, co-founder of Meero, explains how to avoid backlighting:

"Position yourself three-quarters facing the window and focus your device on the inside of the room, not on the light from the window."


5 - Mastering the use of flash

Using the flash of your device is not always a good idea! It’s able to give you excellent results when you know when and how to use it. However, it can also completely taint 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. That is wrong in most cases. The flash is a secondary light source, but more powerful than ambient. 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 makes it possible to control the intensity of the light which arrives on the subject (the more distance, the more the power of the light decreases).

  • The aperture also allows you to control the amount of light that will illuminate the object, 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 duration during which 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 but also all the exposure of your image. The smart thing is to take your flash photo with a low ISO value (100 or 200)


6 - Manage the HDR

The technique high dynamic range is not the easiest to use, but once correctly used, it allows for beautiful shots. The dynamic range of a photograph, or rather the camera that evaluates it, is the gap between the highest 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.  Combining them to increase its 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.

dark living room

beautiful living room

beautiful living room

light living room
Images Credit: Meero


Final Result:


best living room meero

Image Credit: Meero

This technique can, however, give ‘surreal’ outcomes, 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.


hdr fail real estate

HDR photo surrealist. Image: Bastien JANNOT-JEROME


7 - Home staging and attention to detail

Don’t be scared of the last 6 tips… This could be your last resort 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. Obviously.

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...

It is therefore ideal to use light-colored materials; white has the particularity of absorbing and reflecting light and thus making the room brighter. Definitely more appealing to the eye.


real estate photo

Image Credit: Meero

Mirrors can also reflect light coming from outside via windows, bay windows or the room's skylights. They also have the particularity of enlarging spaces.

As you well understood, as a real estate agent, it is essential to put photography in the foreground, to increase the number of potential customers that will decide to go further in the discovery of the property. A site called "Terrible real estate agent photographs" is also a pleasure to look at a list of the worst photos of real estate ads: it's funny, and it is a must to perfect your real estate photos. Ready to hire a professional photographer? Here's a few tips to find and select them.


08 Feb 2018 by Lisa Scarpa

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