One Light, High-End, Real Estate Photography, by Nathan Cool

This video provides a tutorial on how to do high end real estate photography for a room using one light and three frames. It starts by taking an ambient shot to see the existing light conditions which show glare and inconsistent white balance. Then a flash shot is taken with an Explorer 600 monolight bounced off the ceiling to provide consistent 5500K color temperature and eliminate glare. To get the outside view, an overexposed window pull shot is taken. In post production in Photoshop, the ambient shot is layered on top and set to luminosity blending to neutralize color casts. A layer mask is used to brush in some ambient areas like shadows. The flash shot provides the main lighting. The window pull shot is set to darken blending mode to eliminate overexposed areas inside and show the outdoor view. A layer mask isolates the window. Other enhancements like whitening the ceiling and adding TV and fireplace graphics are mentioned. Key benefits of this technique are full control over lighting, direction, color, and shadows compared to HDR. It takes practice but produces higher end results.

Action Items:

  1. Practice taking ambient, flash, and window pull shots for a room.
  2. Try different light positions and bouncing techniques.
  3. Experiment with blending ambient and flash shots in Photoshop using layer masks.
  4. Apply luminosity blending mode to ambient layers to neutralize color casts.
  5. Use darken blending mode on window pull layers to isolate outdoor views.
  6. Watch other tutorials on adding graphics for TVs, fireplaces, etc.
  7. Read recommended books and videos in description for more details.
  8. Refine techniques until able to achieve high quality, consistent results.

Hey there everybody. It’s Nathan Cool with NathanCoolPhoto .com. In this tutorial I’m going to show you how to do a high end real estate photography shoot for a room using one light and three frames.

Now I’ve got an older video on this. It’s a couple years older on my YouTube channel here where I showed how to do one light real estate. And I did that with a speed light. And I’ve got one strapped here to my waist.

And I’ve got that on a little monkey clip. And I’m going to show how we can do it using this. But I’m going to show it also how to use it using the Explorer 600, a bigger light. I’m going to show you some reasons for that as well.

I’m also going to go through the full editing process, what it would take to put this together. So this is everything from start to finish. But get a few things out of the way first. One, I’m shooting in my house so excuse the flip -flops.

If I was on site for one of my clients that obviously be wearing shoes, probably a better shirt also. And most importantly of all I’d be wearing shoe booties to cover myself up. But I explain a lot of that in the business technique book where I talk about you need to differentiate yourself for one, but also it’s for your own protection and not just for the client, but it also portrays very well.

But anyways, a lot of this is going to be covered in my book on interior real estate photography. If you haven’t gotten a copy of that, there’s a link down here in the description for this video where you can pick up a copy of that.

But this will cover most of the basics. One of the things that I’m going to start out with, some of the setup here with the camera, it’s exactly what I show in the interior’s book. I’ve got a trigger here on my side for the shutter release.

I’m not using a cam ranger and I show all the details. There’s a lot of various equipment you could use to make this happen. So anyways, the idea here is that this is the room when we take a look at an ambient shot.

So you can see that just you shoot an ambient shot, we’ve got a lot of glare coming in. White balance is kind of all over the place. So it looks like an ambient shot. This isn’t something that would be deliverable.

But we can see from that shot that there was also a lot of dark colors in the room. And that’s one of the reasons why this comes in handy. Having a more powerful light than a speed light. If there were a lot of light colors in the room, this would work good but I’m going to show some alternatives with that and how you can do it and do it on a budget if you need to also which by the way this light isn’t that expensive and there’s a lot of flexibility with it.

But in any case we’ll go ahead and get started with this. So let’s go ahead first and we’ll compose the shot. Now I’ve already set that up. I know where I want to shoot this. Going to be shooting it very wide just like you saw in that ambient shot.

So I’m going to start out at that sweet spot that I talk about. That’s that ISO 320, F6 .3 and you might be wondering why such a wide aperture. Well, it’s also a matter of how much light’s going to be coming in when we flash and all that.

And when you’re this wide shooting a wide room like this, the depth of field doesn’t matter that much. And some of the tables I show and the examples for that in an interiors book will drill into that more.

But anyway, so that’s our sweet spot of ISO 320 F6 .3. For this room, I’m going to shoot at 1 1 3 of a second. And a lot of times I start at about 1 1 8 of a second, 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 Well, I want to go in here for a moment because it just got so confusing that I came up in The real success!

Sometimes I was planning on making my room 1 that was graphics led by Samsung O 4 and Deliverable especially with the ceiling almost all blown out. But this is what we want for what’s going to be known as the flash ambient Blender what I talk a lot about referred to as flambient and I didn’t come up with that term by the way as something from a Facebook group But anyways, that’s going to be important to blend that together So the next thing we want to do is taking a flash shot now one of the things that’s easy It’s kind of a rule of thumb is to go about two full stops higher than what you would if you were shooting your ambient So I’m happy at the ambient at 1 13th of a second now on most cameras One click on your shutter wheel is about a third of a stop So you want to go up six clicks if I went up from the 13th of a second one two three four five six I’d be about one fiftieth of a second and that would probably be okay But since I have a little bit more sun coming in that I like hitting that hardwood floor I’m going to jack it up one more stop and a little bit anyways not full stop Maybe one eight of a second one one hundredth, but we’ll just do this at one eightieth of a second now I’m going to go ahead and set then my trigger here for my for my lights.

So now that’s on and now it’ll trigger my Explorer 600. So when I take now the same shot, now we see something that definitely looks like a flashed shot but we got rid of a lot of that glare. We got rid of the ambient artifacts and here’s something that’s really important.

I really delve into this a lot more in the Interior’s book is the white balance is now more controlled. So when we were doing the ambient shot and using auto white balance in the camera we were really left up to the mercy of whatever light was coming in from outside.

That could also include some green casts from the trees, from the yard, all kinds of stuff going all over the place. But once we’re controlling the light we start knocking out the ambient then this guy here, our light, whatever it is that we end up using is shedding that 5500 Kelvin that gets us better in control of what the true color is for that.

So anyways that was another important point but we still need to get that outside view. So now what we want to do is expose for the outside and usually with a safe sink speed on most cameras go up to about 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 second.

And then the trick is to then over expose the interior and we can do what’s called a window pull using darken mode. I’m going to show you that in the editing process. But right now I’m going to go ahead and shoot that.

I’m going to drop the ISO just a little bit because I’ve got a lot of power here. So I’m going to drop that ISO down to let’s say a two hundredth. And I’m not going to use any flash just to show you an example.

So once I do that now we’ve got this beautiful view outside. But we need to over expose it. So we turn the flash back on. And then this guy, this one thing I love about the Explorer 600 is that I can take this off the stand and it has a handle on it.

So now I can hand hold this. In fact a lot of times when I’m walking around a house I won’t even use a light stand. I’m just holding this and I’m bouncing and I’m shooting. But in this case I want to go ahead and shoot the window pull.

So I just use the same flash power. It’s about a quarter plus point three. I just point it there and just fire. Boom. Now we’ve got this over exposed view of the window. But we’ve got this view outside.

Believe it or not that’s going to look really good once we get into Photoshop and do the darken mode technique on that. So let me just put this back for a second though and talk about something else real quick.

And that was going to be our alternative if we used a speed light. So I’m going to shut my Explorer 600 off. That’s what I’m doing right here. And by the way another thing that I love about using the Explorer 600 is that, and I’ll show you here, is if I turn this to the side you can see what I’m working with.

My display and controls are all on the side of this monolight. So other monolights like the Rove light and whatnot, they have their controls on the bottom. Well when you’re doing bounce lighting like you do most in real estate photography it’s nice to have those controls on the side like that.

That makes it easy. Anyways let’s go back to trying to use a speed light to do this. So I’m going to take the speed light and he’s at about full power. In fact he’s at full power. I’m going to click him on here for a second.

Let’s take a look if we were to do our flash light. So I’m going to go back down to 1 1⁶ of a second and I’m going to go to the ISO 320 and then we’re still at that F6 .3. Now if I try to use this guy to do the flash on that, look at the difference.

I’m going to do the bounce, same place as where the Explorer is. You can see there’s just not enough light that got shed in that. That’s a very dark picture. So there’s a couple things we can do though with that.

If that’s all you have is just a speed light to do that. Well, you could use two speed lights. Put another speed light on a stand, one here. You could also then in post -production when you’re in Lightroom, up it by about a stop in the exposure.

Now it’s not going to be the best result, but you’ll still have that. color that you want out of it because you’re shedding 5500 Kelvin predominantly throughout the frame with enough fast of a shutter speed to then knock out a lot of those ambient artifacts.

And by the way the comparison between this and the X4600 and the speed light and what you can use for various rooms is in another video on my channel. Look for the video called flash settings for real estate photography.

Anyways right now we have all the footage that we need to go ahead and put this together. So now the next step is the editing process. So let’s go to the office and let’s take a look at how to put this all together.

So now we have all the footage that we need to go ahead and put this together. Now it’s really just three shots that are going to be composited together using a flash ambient blend using then that window pull.

At the end I’m going to spice it up a little bit and I’ll direct you to where you can also find some information and put it in that fire into the fireplace and also that TV. I’ve got some videos here on my channel that cover that as well as it’s in the advanced book as well.

You can find out how to do that here on my YouTube channel and it adds a lot of depth to the video. Anyways this is really the basis of it though. What we’re going to start editing right now is how to get that flash and ambient blended real well.

So you also have the correct white balance in there and then putting that window pull in and how to do this very quickly. So you’re ready to get started. Let’s take a look. So here we have the ambient shot and this is going to be one of three shots that we’re going to use.

Then I’m going to use the flash shot here which was the from the Explorer 600. Now a couple things to note here is that there was really a bit of a shadow up here and this is very common when you use ceiling fans but the ambient is going to help take care of that.

And then also we’ve got this bit of a hot spot over here that’s showing up in the mirror. The ambient will take care of that to some degree. There’s some advanced stuff that you can do that I show in the advanced editing book and also on my YouTube channel here you can see some other stuff about working with flash and ambient artifacts.

I think there’s one on removing the orange and gray cast. Anyways we’ve got that. The third shot then that we’ve got is our window pull and I know this may if you’ve never seen it. this done before. This may look awful, but all that we’re interested in is the outside view because the rest of it is going to go away with Photoshop.

It’s a very easy process. So anyways, I’ve already done the geometry corrections on this and the lens corrections, simple lightroom stuff. I talk about that in the interior’s book in great detail. But let’s go ahead and move that together.

So I’m just going to grab all three of those. There’s a couple of ways to do this. You want to edit those as layers in Photoshop. One way is to just right click and then you can go to edit in and then open as layers in Photoshop.

There’s also some keyboard shortcuts to do that as well. But anyways, let’s go ahead and do that. That’s going to load that up into Photoshop and then it gives us a stack order of these layers that then is natural to work with for the flash ambient blend, having the ambient as the layer on top because that was our first shot.

So now that’s loading that up. So the next thing we want to do is this is our ambient on top. There’s our flash underneath of it and then there’s our window pull. So this is good. So what we want to do is take this layer here and it doesn’t have that bad of a white balance but you can see the colors are off.

You see how they are definitely darker in the far corner. There’s some green cast here. There’s orange cast that’s going on the ceiling. So the best way to deal with that is to turn that mode into luminosity.

You can see then a lot of that went away. We’ve got neutral colors. This isn’t how we want to leave it. This is just for the color sake of things. And then what we’ll do is put on a layer mask and go layer mask hide.

Now what we want to do is just paint in certain portions of this. You grab your brush tool and I’m using keystrokes to do this. Make sure that your colors are set to white and black over here. And I’m going to set the brush flow to about 20% to make this fast.

I’m going to increase the size. Now setting the flow for the brush is not the same as the layer. It’s the flow up here. Now I did that with a keyboard shortcut. You can obviously pick that and slide it as much as you want.

But just using shift 2, I selected a flow of 20%. If I did, for instance, shift 3 would go to 30%. Shift 4 is 40%. Anyways, shift 2 gets me 20%. Now what I want to do is start brushing in the ambience.

I’m starting up here and I got rid of pretty much that shadow from the ceiling fan. I’m not putting in all the ambient, but just where I need it. So some over here in the distance. I don’t want to get too much ambient on that hot spot on the floor.

But I want to get some in here. Don’t worry about going over the windows. And when you’re using a kind of a higher flow, like let’s say I went up to shift 3. Now I’m at 30% flow. I can just click in some of this without having to really brush it.

But I like to brush it. So I go to shift 2 and then I’ve got 20%. Now we’ve got something natural. So I’m covering up stuff, putting in. You can see the light direction. Now put it on the little rug down here.

So now it looks like it’s natural. So before we had that ambient shot and some of it blended in, we had our flash shot. like this. So with a little bit of that ambient brushed in it looks like this. If we had all ambient then if I do a shift click on this mask you can see it.

That’s how much ambient we have. So we’re still leaving some light here in the foreground which would be normally completely almost darkened out but we’re adding some naturalness to the room. If you notice too one of the things I did I left the lights off in this room which also helped control the white balance.

They really didn’t add anything since most of the effect of this room is having that natural light come in through that window. And I can see if I’ve added too much. It looks like pretty good I think.

Okay so that’s all that you do to mix the flash and the ambient in there. Now what you want to do is the window pull. That was our last shot. So you move that all the way up to the top and there it is.

Put it into darkened mode. You can see immediately about everything else went away. Now a couple things here I’m going to turn it on and off so you can see the difference. I want you to notice the window, which obviously we can go ahead and put in there, but also notice what happens to other hot spots that were very bright.

For instance, down here where we’ve got the sun shining in on the hardwood floor in the wood. So that’s with the darkened mode layer. This is without it. But we don’t want all of it. We only want it in certain places.

So you just add a layer mask, layer mask, hide. Now a quick way to do this for the window is just grab a polygon tool and we’re going to go ahead and do a just selection across here. Now you can do this with a brush with 100% flow, opacity and flow because it doesn’t really matter.

Anything overlap. Like look how much this overlaps. I’m just going to reverse my colors by going X and then I hit the delete key and boom, that’s there. Now, once again, I could have used a brush. I’m going to reverse the colors back again.

Sorry, my Photoshop is acting up on me. But if I used a brush at 100% flow, I could still do the same thing. For instance, let me go ahead and just start over. So I’ll delete that layer mask, layer mask, hide and then zoom in here a little bit.

Brush with 100% flow and I could just go ahead and paint that in. No big deal. Because what it’s doing darkened mode throws away the over exposed areas and it only uses then what it needs to. So this is a great way of by overexposing the interiors, the exterior which is not overexposed then shows up.

So look at that. So this is with the darkened mode window pull and that’s without it. Now I can do the same thing over here for this guy. So there was a lot that came in here. So I could feather him in probably a little bit more using like a 30% flow.

But anyways, now I’ve got that also taken care of. Definitely a natural look. So that’s basically it. There’s a few other things that I would do to this before I’d leave and I can, those are covered in other videos as well.

One thing is whitening up the ceiling to get that correct and actually do that just real quick for you. I can show is to take and draw a polygon around that ceiling. like this, go down, cross up, over, and there we go.

Go to select, modify, feather that by five pixels, and then add a new layer, adjustment layer, hue saturation layer, and that adds that hue saturation layer with that selection. Then just desaturate that a bit.

There we go. Got those colors correct where we need them. Now the other thing too is adding in the TV screen. If we wanted to replace that in the fireplace, I won’t do that in this video. There are plenty of videos that I have online that show that and also in the advanced book.

But anyways, moving on with this example, just go to a layer, and what you want to do is flatten the image. It’s almost the bottom selection down here, so it’s flattened image. And the reason for this is to save some space as we do the next step, which is save it.

I’m just going to do control S. When you save that, it’s And then in Lightroom I’d add some other presets to it. For instance I’ve got one to pump it up a little bit. You’ve seen me use this quite a bit.

I might up the whites for instance on this quite a bit. Might tone down the highlights to make sure this guy goes away. Up the blacks a little bit and darken the colors a little bit much. But anyways those are some of the effects that I might add to it for the finished product.

But anyways once it’s all said and done all the editing was done including the TV swap and the fireplace swap. The final product looked like this. So just to recap this is once again an updated tutorial from the one I did a couple years ago showing the Flash Ambient technique.

It was also the basis for my book on interior photography for real estate. So it’s a matter of really getting two basic pictures. One, you want an ambient shot and you also then want a flash shot and then you blend those together.

A couple ways to blend them. You could use just a normal blending mode on the ambient if you have a decent enough white balance. I like to use luminosity blending as I’m always then sure that I’ve got a better color match when I’m using that flash layer.

Now if you want to add a window pull like I did here because there’s a view outside that’s another thing to add in there so that would be your third layer on top of it. And then there’s all the little niceties of maybe whitening up the ceiling a little bit, adding in the TV swap, the fireplace swap.

And I have videos once again on that and also in the advanced book as well. But anyways, this kind of wraps up the whole process instead of shooting three or five or seven shots of an HDR and trying to put those together and trying to get something that looks white balance matched.

You don’t really have control over where the shadows go. When you’re controlling though where the ambient is, you’re controlling where the light is, where the amount of shadows are, and more importantly the exact color of what you need.

So it gives you a higher end looking product. Some people have said that this type of process may take a little bit longer and the first time you try it, I guarantee you it will. It’s something new. It’s something that just isn’t up to date.

automatic in the camera and takes a little while to get used to especially using lights. Start out if you’ve never done this before just using some speed lights. As you work your way up you can get into mono lights like the Explorer 600.

Anyways, I cover a lot of this in the interiors book and once again that there’s a link for that down in the description for this video. But I hope this video was useful for you and that you can use some of these techniques in your photography as well.

If you did like this video you can subscribe to my YouTube channel. It won’t cost you anything and as soon as one of these videos is posted you’ll be the first to know. Thanks a lot for watching. Until next time, take care, be safe, and get out there and shoot something.