We have all seen it. Poorly lit photos that not only do nothing to compliment the house and encourage buyers to come by and decide if they want to buy it…but actually REPEL the buyers so that they do NOT want to come and take a look.
Bad lighting in real estate photos can pretty much be broken down into two types of images. Dark-n-dingy and overblown white windows. Here are some examples of both
Now of course real estate agents want their photos to have Balanced Lighting. They want the room in the picture to look the way that it looks to them when they are there in person. The only problem is that the camera sensor (even on the world’s best cameras) does not have the DYNAMIC RANGE capabilities of the human eye. And it is likely that they never will.
What is Dynamic Range?
It’s a fancy term for a sensor’s ability to set the brightest thing in a scene (usually the windows) and the darkest thing in a scene (usually something like a fireplace) and balance out both those extremes and everything in between. The sensor that is your eye is magnificently capable at this task because it uses chemical processes to process light. Cameras, which do not use chemical light processing but use a hardware sensor…are not so good at this task.
How do we get balanced light in a room then? Stick with me to find out.
High Dynamic Range Photography
There are a number of ways to achieve balanced lighting in a scene. You can do things like darken down the shot so that the windows look good but the interior is heavily underexposed and then use powerful off-camera flash to bring up the light level of the interior of the room. But that requires a bunch of gear and more photography techniques.
Instead of going that route I am going to suggest you use an all-ambient-light technique known as High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. What is HDR photography? Very simple…
It is a process whereby you direct the camera to take three nearly identical pictures of a scene – one overly dark with see-through windows, one overly bright with harsh white windows, and one medium lit image that likely still has slightly overexposed windows. Here are examples of how a set of HDR shots look when the camera takes them:
The HDR software will then take these three images and layer them each other on top of each other like a stack of pancakes…and then SMASH them together to create a new “medium” image that has all the values of the three averaged out. Here is the Before-and-After showing what the “Medium” shot looks like if you had only taken that one photo vs what the HDR looks like after having merged three photos together zzz:
The result of this is that the shadowy areas under the cocktail and such are lightened a bit and the overly bright areas – such as the windows – are ducked down a bit so you can see through them. You can also see detail in the softa fabric and throw pillows that was hidden before. And it gets better…
It used the be the case that to do HDR photography you would need to use special computer software and you’d have to get the three images off the camera and onto the computer, into the software, and then create the new HDR shot. You don’t have to do any of that anymore because….
The camera can do the whole process all by itself now.
It can take the three photos and then layer & merge them to create the final balanced shot all within the camera itself. When you do your “set it once and forget it” camera setup process, you’ll enable the Auto HDR function in your camera settings as seen here:
From that point, the a6000 will do this process all on its own. It will both take the three images AND merge them together into the final HDR photo that is ready to upload to the MLS.
Get the Camera Steady
Now in order to do this whole “Hight Dynamic Range Photography” thing properly, you need to be able to hold your camera ABSOLUTELY STILL. After all, if you are taking three pictures (dark, bright, medium) and then layering them on top of each other like pancakes and then SMASHING them together…well…they need to line up. Perfectly.
If the photos are slightly off because the camera was shaking in your hand just a bit, then the final image produced will come out blurry to one degree or another. And if you just drank a bunch of coffee because your seller offered it to you while you were signing listing paperwork…you might be VERY shaky and have very blurry pictures.
The solution to this is to use the footed monopod that I suggested you get in the GEAR section of this guide. The monopod has a little ball joint at the base where the monopod shaft meets the foot section and this ball joint allows you to move the camera around a bit in order to get it perfectly level. (Remember how important a level camera is to getting proper vertical lines?) Once you get it perfectly level, you just let go of the camera and it will hold still while you take the shot. Which leads me to the final detail:
The Infrared Remote Control
You do not want to TOUCH the camera at all when it is taking the picture perched atop the footed monopod. That could re-introduce the camera shake problem all over again. So the solution is to use a remote control. Luckily, the Sony a6000 has an infrared remote control receiver built into the front of the camera just below the trigger button.
So that $10 remote control I told you to get in the GEAR section. You just point it at this receiver port and push the button and it will trigger the camera to begin the process of taking the three pictures back-to-back-to-back and merging them together via the HDR process within the camera.