Last Updated on August 12, 2020 by Jose Barrios
Unlike other types of photography, like a wedding or portrait photographers, photographing real estate is very straight forward and does not require that much manipulating of your camera settings.
Our subjects (houses) do not move or vary and tend to be quite uniform in nature, so the same settings tend to stay true for most homes.
# 1 Aperture priority mode
Set your camera to aperture priority. This setting allows your camera to calculate your exposure time. Modern cameras are great at calculating this and take the guesswork out of doing this in manual mode.
The time you save by using AP makes up for any exposure corrections you might have to do in Lightroom. (you can read more on the three essential pieces of editing software you need here: Lightroom, Photoshop, and Luminar)
On a Canon camera, the setting is labeled Av on your main dial. If you own a Nikon or Sony, set the dial to A.
Aperture priority often abbreviated A or Av on a camera mode dial, is a setting on some cameras that allows the user to set a specific aperture value while the camera selects a shutter speed to match it that will result in proper exposure based on the lighting conditions as measured by the camera’s light meter. Source Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aperture_priority
# 2 Set aperture to F7.1 or F9
For interiors or exteriors, any aperture between F7.1 and F9 will do. The main difference between the two comes down to preference and how well your camera performs in low light.
F9 will give you a sharp image but it will also increase your exposure time. Longer exposure times can introduce noise into the image. If you are using a Speedlight, F9 will also require your flash to have more output power.
F7.1 is the preferred setting for Nathan Cool, especially for doing flambients and window pulls with a Speedlight. The lower setting when combined with an ISO of 320 will allow for most cameras to have great exposure with a Speedlight.
“Flambient” is a method for shooting real estate photography that involves combining both flash and ambient light (natural and artificial lights lamps) when photographing a room. The basic idea behind a “Flambient” shot is to use the flash to overpower all other light sources in a room and set a color temperature of 5500K, making all the true colors of the walls, furniture, etc. come thru. This initial shot tends to have an unnatural look and harsh shadows. A second shot is then taken but without the flash, using only the “ambient” light, thus the term Flambient (Flash + Ambient). This second shot is placed above the first one in Photoshop as a separate layer and then has the blending mode changed to Luminance, with the opacity set to a range between 50% and 100%. This combination results in an image with natural colors and shadows to show through.
“Window Pull” is the combination of two shots, one exposed for the interior a second shot exposed for the outside. On the second shot, you aim your flash to the window so the edges are “overexposed”, leaving a white halo all around the window. Set this image above your ambient or Flambient shot layer in Photoshop and change the blending mode to Darken mode. Now create an inverted mask and just paint with a white brush the mask areas above the window. You do not have to be exact and can paint outside the lines, it sounds weird, but once you try it you will see it.
# 3 Set you ISO to 320 or 400 (not always)
This setting is a bit trickier, to high an ISO, you get noise, too low and your speed light will not be as effective. Fortunately, aperture priority will adjust your exposure automatically in order to compensate for your ISO setting.
As camera technology has advanced quite a bit in recent years, you can experiment with your camera using higher ISO settings. Modern cameras, especially high-end ones, can handle very high ISO settings without introducing any noticeable noise to the scene.
In my experience, high ISO settings are unnecessary for real estate photos. Most if not all your photos will be taken from a tripod (read more on why you need a good tripod) and houses usually do not move, this allows us to use very long exposure settings without the risk of introducing motion blur to an image.
# 4 Auto White Balance
This setting is self-explanatory, just set the camera to auto white balance and correct if needed in lightroom.
# 5 Set your camera to capture images in RAW
The importance of shooting in RAW mode cannot be overstated, always shoot in RAW.
A camera raw image file contains minimally processed data from the image sensor of either a digital camera, a motion picture film scanner, or other image scanner. Raw files are named so because they are not yet processed and therefore are not ready to be printed or edited with a bitmap graphics editor. Source Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raw_image_format
JPEG images, the default setting for most cameras, have all the exposure and color information, like color temperature, baked into the photo, making it very difficult to change and tweak in post.
A good example is an underexposed image. If the file that came out of the camera is a JPEG, game over, all you have is a dark image, there is no information in that image that will help you make right.
RAW photos on the hand contain the information that the camera sensor registered, and just like in your camera, you can manipulate the image in Lightroom or Photoshop with great ease.
A word of caution: overexposed images, even RAW ones, will stay overexposed, you will not be able to get anything out of them.
# 6 Metering Mode
Just like the Aperture mode, when choosing a metering mode the easiest one is where the camera decides for you. In Nikon, it’s called Matrix mode and Evaluative in Canon cameras.
All cameras have different methods for automatic metering, but even though they have different names, they all do basically the same thing.
These automatic metering modes are not always perfect, and you should adjust the targeting when necessary, especially when you have a window or any other bright light source.
When you have a window, move your metering target to a dark underexposed side of the room. This more than likely blowout your windows, but the room itself will be properly exposed. To fix the overexposed windows you will need to do a window pull.
Please do note that the ideal way of exposing your image is by using a histogram, with most colors left of center, but that is quite advanced and beyond the scope of this guide, and for your regular run of the mill home photo, I hardly doubt you will need to spend the time or effort to get your exposure “just right”.
There is no one size fits all setting for your camera, your settings can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and even model to model and these settings might not reflect your style of photographing homes.
These recommended settings I have given here are but a starting point for you to try and tweak until you find a combination that is just right for you.
“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.