How to Photograph Large Windows Part II - Real Estate Photography

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Flash ExampleWe discussed the first of three methods on How to Photograph a Room with a Large Window, by using the Select, and Re-Compose method we were able to quickly on the fly capture the interior of a room.  

There are times that a window should be washed out (Completely White), say when a large electric power line shows in your beautiful picture window. Or the neighbors house is only feet away from the window. Still in many cases we would like to be able to show at least some detail out the window.

In This post we will venture in to using a flash balance or fill in the interior light, and keep the window from going completely white. 


It might be ugly for awhile, but it will only get better in time. 

Flash CameraDon’t even consider using the built in flash on your camera.  It simply does not have enough power to fill in an entire room, let alone match the amount of light that is coming in from your window on a bright sunny day. Even on an overcast day, it is of little use due to Flash Fall Off.  Most of your better cameras today will have a hot shoe, that little metal rail thingy on top of your camera. If your camera has one then you’re in luck. If not, you may still be able to use an off camera Slave Flash, that I’ll explain later in this post.  


Color Balance.

220px-Incand-3500-5500-color-temp-comparisonLight from different sources reflects at different Color Temperatures. A cooler temperature will produce a bluer color cast to the photo, where a warmer temperature will produce a more orange/red color cast.  

Day light is measured at about 5500 Kelvin whereas an Incandescent lamp (Your standard light bulb) is around 2700-3300 Kelvin.   This difference in color temperatures plays havoc on your digital camera auto white balance when you have a mixed lighting that many homes today have.  You can have daylight coming in the windows, Fluorescent lights under the counter, and incandescent lamps in the high hats and LED’s in the pendants over the center island in your kitchen.  Just as in the first part of the series, your camera will balance for the majority of your image and leave the other colors go off.  Ever notice how orange your basement photos are? That’s because the camera white balance was set to daylight, and the basement was lit by all or mostly incandescent bulbs. 

A Proper Flash Will Fix It All.

flashWell at least using the proper flash will assist us in filling in the shadows, and also being one of the prominent sources of light it will make your colors truer. I say truer because remember not all computer screens or printers are properly color balanced themselves. 

An external flash like the Vivitar®286 or Yongnuo®560 that uses your camera's internal metering or TTL (Thru The Lense) system are ideal and fairly inexpensive alternatives.  External flashes like these can be found at around $80 to $100 online. Compared to the Canon® or Nikon® Speedlights that can run $300 to over $500.00 online.

It’s important that your flash is using your camera's internal metering system especially for beginners. Trying to estimate the amount of light you'll need is next to impossible as each room will have totally different requirements.

If your camera does not have a hot shoe, you can use an off camera slave flash, like the Vivitar®SF400, that will fire at the same time your cameras flash fires.  This would be a last resort for the beginner.

Point Shoot, Point and Shoot Again. 

Starting out with a flash practice, practice, and practice will be your best asset. 


Each room you photograph will have different requirements. Being this article is about rooms with large windows there are two main ways you will be using the flash in this type of a room, Bounce and Direct.

Direct is just that. Placing the flash on your hot shoe, using the directions that came with your flash and camera to properly set both up to work together.  Remember that your camera will not sync with the flash1 at all shutter speeds. Point both the camera and flash at the scene you wish to capture and fire away. Remember to give the flash the proper amount of time to recycle.

Bounce is a bit more tricky but will give you a much more satisfying result when used properly. With the swivel on your flash, point the flash at the ceiling or white wall behind you and bounce the light back into the room. This will avoid the bright reflections of your flash in the window or mirrors, and also fill the room in softly without the harsh shadows that you can get from using the flash directly on the subject.  

Flash Fall Off.

No, this is not when you forget to tighten the flash to the camera.  Flash Fall Off, It’s a term used to relate to the amount of light that is provided from a flash at a distance.  An object that is twice the distance from a flash head will receive a quarter 1/4 of the illumination or two stops less light. An object that is three times the distance receives one ninth 1/9 the illumination or three stops less light and so on. So remember it may still not be possible to fill a very large room even with the larger flash. There are times that even some average size rooms would require 3,4 even as many as 8 strobes to properly light the room. We are photographing Real Estate and need to keep this in mind. That the photo will most likely not be the next cover shot of Architectural Digest®. Even so, we do wish to get the best image possible with limited resources. 

Flash Shut Off.


A flash in TTL mode or auto mode will shut off once the meter has told it that there is enough light.  All cameras are metered to average a scene to 18% gray.  Although not the best way to determine the amount of light in all photos. If we understand what the camera meter is doing, we can understand how to compensate for it and achieve the final image that we are looking for.

Using the correct flash on your camera can assist in filling in the shadows, and balance not only the light in a room, but also the different light sources. If the area close to you is washed out with light from your flash, try bouncing the flash off a white wall or ceiling by turning the flash head to point to a different position.  If you need to fill in the background point the flash at a 45% angle to the ceiling. By doing this you'll bounce the light over the near objects and into the background off the ceiling. That is as long as you don't have a 20' ceiling, 


Points to ponder:

  • Your flash will not light any combining rooms in the image.
  • You will need more light in a larger room.
  • Bathrooms tend to need less light.
  • Dark rooms need lots of light.
  • Dark furniture will need a lot of Light. 
  • White object close to the camera will shut off the flash faster.
  • Dark objects close to the camera will be lighter.
  • Don't forget about flash reflections in windows pictures and mirrors.

Next time we will conquer HDR photography. 

1 Flash Sync Speed is the fasted shutter speed you can use with a flash. Read More

Vivitar®, Cannon®, Nikon® and Yongnuo® are all registered trademarks of their respective companies. 

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