Last Updated on February 6, 2021 by Jose Barrios
A “flambient” shot is a method used in real estate photography that combines two or more shots that combine flash and ambient shots (flash + ambient = flambient).
The flash shot is used to overpower all other light sources in the room and set a perfect daylight-balanced 5500K, allowing the true colors to show. A second shot is taken without flash, only using the ambient light.
QUICK SECTION LINKS:
- The equipment you need
- Set your camera on a sturdy tripod
- Use a remote trigger
- The flash shot
- The ambient shot
- The window pull
- Bringing images into Lightroom
- My method of editing
- Export to Photoshop
- Apply any additional corrections in Lightroom
- Adapt and evolve
In order to do a flambient shot with a window pull you will need the following equipment in addition to your camera:
I use a Manfrotto 055 with a geared head, a Nikon IR remote, Godox Xpro-N 2.4G X System TTL Wireless Flash Trigger Transmitter, and a Godox AD200Pro Pocket Flash 2.4G TTL Speedlite.
You can substitute the Godox (it’s not cheap) for an aftermarket Speedlight and a cheaper trigger, but I will warn you, once you try the large Godox Speedlight, you will never go back to the smaller flashes.
Set your camera on a sturdy tripod
This first step is crucial. Your camera must not move because you will be compositing these images in Photoshop.
Cheap flimsy tripods will cost you time and money. You can read more about my tripods for real estate photography here.
Use a remote trigger
The less you touch your camera the better your results will be. For these shots to work you need to use a remote trigger for your camera. You can read my guide on remote triggers here: Camera wireless remote buying guide.
Remote triggers are especially useful when taking photos in poor lighting conditions where you require a long exposure time.
The Flambient flash shot
The flash shot is base for your Flambient. This shot sets all the colors in the room to their correct color temperature and in sync with any natural light coming through the windows.
You must set your camera to manual mode or AP (aperture priority) with an f stop between 7.1 and 9 and ISO set to 320. Make sure you are shooting in RAW mode.
ISO 320 is a sweet spot that was discovered by Nathan Cool that allows a small Speedlight to light up more of the room with less power.
This can vary from one camera model to another, your flash also plays a big part in this setting, so you have to experiment with what you have, but in my experience, the 320 ISO has worked for me.
Do not use TTL (Through The Lens) for your flash, you want to use manual mode. The power settings for your flash really depend on your flash make and model, some are more potent than others, so your mileage may vary. You need to practice and find your own sweet spot.
I set my color balance to auto, I can always correct it in Lightroom.
Dumb Standard Hot Shoe Adapter
Here is a great tip I learned from Nathan Cool on YouTube, use a “dumb” hot shoe adapter between your camera and your remote trigger.
This will allow your camera to be oblivious to the fact that a flash is connected to it, effectively killing off all TTL communication.
I use this $10 adapter I found on Amazon. It prevents my camera from communicating with the flash and vise versa.
Aftermarket flashes can sometimes give the wrong color temperature information to the camera, because they are emulating an OEM flash from Nikon, Canon, or other manufacturers.
This adapter will let you use any trigger or flash on any camera that has a hot shoe, regardless of manufacturer, at the expense of killing off TTL support. Since your flash will always be used in manual mode while photographing real estate, this is something you want to happen.
Hold the flash in a “statue of liberty” pose, aiming the flash at the ceiling, you are creating a giant diffuser that will help eliminate harsh shadows and evenly light the room.
You should end up with a slightly overexposed photo of the room. Your flash should overpower lamps and ceiling lights, eliminating color problems that originate by having a room lit with two competing color temperatures (natural window light vs lamps).
The Flambient ambient shot
This is your second shot for your Flambient. It is meant to capture where the natural shadows fall on all objects in the room. Color temperature and color accuracy are irrelevant for this shot, all that matters is the lighting.
Unlike the flash shot, this one is very straight forward, take a second shot without the flash, same settings as before, f 7.1 to 9, ISO 320, AP mode.
Make sure to target a medium lit area of the room, do pay to much attention to the windows if they are overexposed and blown out. You can fix this in the next step.
The Flambient window pull
This step requires a whole tutorial dedicated to it, but I will cover the basics. A window pull refers to a technique where you take a photo that is metered for the outside of the window and combines a flash to overexpose the window borders.
Once again Nathan Cool comes to the rescue with a complete tutorial on how to do this, you can see it here: Nathan Cool Window Pulls.
The short version is you set your camera to manual: f 7.1, ISO 320, exposure 1/80. Your exposure time can vary depending on how bright it is outside, so check your histogram, or take a photo and check the on-screen preview.
You are going to set your flash to anywhere from a ¼ to 1/16 power. This again depends on how powerful your flash is, you have to try this yourself so you can find your own sweet spot, there is no magic number you can just punch in.
Now aim your flash at the window and take the shot, it should look like this:
Nathan Cool also takes a fourth shot that does not use a flash. He refers to this as the “repair” shot. When you aim your flash at the window you can create hot spots on the glass because of the flash reflection. This “flashless” photo allows you to “repair” that hot spot by layering in and masking this shot. More on this later.
Bring all images into Lightroom
Import your photos into Lightroom and apply lens corrections to all your images, do not adjust the size or straighten any of them yet.
Here is where it gets a bit tricky, and there are hundreds of ways of achieving this, I will just focus and the way I do it, your way might be better, so you have to experiment and find out what works best for the look you are trying to achieve.
My method for editing a Flambient
We start with the images in Lightroom where we will apply minimal adjustments to them. Remember that we will export them to Photoshop where they will have to align with each other in a stack.
Any correction that you do to one photo that involves any lens corrections or transforms like leveling has to be applied to all the photos or they will not align in Photoshop. Do not sync color adjustments!
1.- The ambient layer
I apply the “auto” basic setting to the ambient shot. I’m not trying to go for any color correction in this photo, I don’t care about any color or temperature adjustments, I am only concerned with the light.
I adjust for exposure, highlights, and shadows, nothing else.
2.- The window pull
Here I’m only concerned with the colors and brightness of what is outside the window. You should have a perfectly exposed outside with a bright overexposed halo around the window with a very dark room like in the image below.
If you have a repair shot, apply the same exact corrections that you used in the window pull photo to the repair shot.
3.- The flash shot
This shot is slightly overexposed, this is OK, do not correct it too much. Your goal here is to bring out the colors.
Apply color temperature corrections, vibrance, saturation, and any other setting that is part of your style here, just don’t try to lower the exposure to much, remember that this photo is supposed to be a bit overexposed. See the image below.
Export to Photoshop
Select all images and export them into Photoshop as layers. Once in Photoshop select all layers and auto-align them. Disregard the borders for the moment, those will be corrected in Lightroom.
Order your layers
Individually reorder your layers if necessary, in the following order, and set their layer properties as follows:
- Repair photo – Inverted mask
- Window pull photo – Inverted mask – Darken mode
- Ambient photo – Luminosity mode at 50% opacity
- Flash photo – As is
Paint in your window pull
Select your Window pull layer and select the mask, now set your brush to white and paint over the window.
Do not worry about the borders, if you did this correctly you should be able to paint over the borders without it affecting the layer below.
Sometimes it is easier to just use the polygonal lasso tool and just cut out the mask by hand, window pulls do always come as planned.
If you decide to go the manual route, remember to feather your selection about 5 pixels to make a smooth transition between the two layers.
Use the repair layer if needed
If you have a hot spot on the window because of your flash, just select the repair layer and paint over the masked hot spot with white.
This technique can be used with other flash and non-flash images in order to delete hot spots created objects such as cabinets and such, but that is for another tutorial.
Set your opacity in the ambient photo
Set this layer to “luminosity“, we are only interested in the luminosity values of the image, not the colors.
Set your opacity, I always start at 50% and will increase or decrease the opacity until it looks the way I want it to. Your goal here is to make the shadows look as natural as possible.
Flatten and save your Flambient
Now you can flatten your layers and save the image back into Lightroom. If you wish to come back later and do adjustments to the image, then don’t flatten it and save as-is.
Do keep in mind that this will increase significantly the file size since you are saving a layered PSD file.
Apply any additional corrections in Lightroom
Now that your photo is back in Lightroom, you can apply any final corrections to the image. Here is where I apply any transformations like verticals, crop, and lever the image.
Your photo is now ready.
Adapt and evolve
This is but a guide on how to do a Flambient, I have done hundreds of variations with this technique. In some photos, you might have to composite multiple flash shots in order to achieve the correct illumination, in others you might have to mask and desaturate ceilings to make them white.
The combinations are endless and the only limit is your imagination, there is no right or wrong way of doing this.
Flambients are not that hard to master and will produce an image that will make your customers happy. You will also stand out from your competition that is relying on techniques like HDR to produce an image they can sell.
If you want to get top dollar for your photos, you not only have to learn to take them but also how to use advanced editing techniques to make them pop.
As always, I hope this guide helps you become a better real estate photographer.
“What can I say? I love taking photos of houses.”
Based in Orlando Florida, Jose is a real estate photographer specializing in vacation homes, working for realtors and property managers to make their properties look great. You can visit his site at JoseBarriosPhoto.com.