Taking property photography can be difficult, particularly getting the exposure right for different environments.
This blog explains the necessary steps required to create professional property photography which stands out. It covers planning your photoshoot to avoid time-consuming revisions and capturing your photographs at different times of the day.
Once you have taken the photographs there is advice about which software to use and the techniques to get the exposure just right.
Read on to discover how to capture a property and show it in its best light.
Plan Your Property Photography
Start by planning your photography in advance as changing your mind about the composition after you have stitched together the multiple exposures is time-consuming. Take more angles than needed – it’s easier to spend a little extra time on location than re-visit to get photos you missed.
The multiple exposures can be captured manually by adjusting settings for each photo. The safest way to photograph without the risk of knocking the camera is with bracketed exposures. The camera can be programmed to automatically take a sequence of three photos with one under, one average and one over-exposed. To activate bracketed exposures refer to your camera’s operating manual. To avoid knocking the camera off-angle use a remote release trigger.
Capturing Your Property Photography
Property photography taken in bright sunlight, early morning or late at night, can be problematic to capture a nicely exposed image of the whole scene.
Harsh shadows do not usually complement the property and unlit windows can look dark and uninviting. One option is to shoot in RAW format and pull details back out of the shadows or reign in the bright highlights. There is usually insufficient dynamic range in a single photograph to create a polished final image. The solution is simple but technical – take more than one exposure of the same scene and blend them together. To achieve multiple photographs layered over one another the camera must stay perfectly still, this will require a sturdy tripod.
A sturdy tripod is essential
Optionally, you can turn all the lights on inside the property. Otherwise you can just use the natural available light, either way one of your photographs should be exposed for the interior of the building.
Which Software Should I Use?
Adobe Photoshop can be used to stitch your photographs together using a number of techniques. One popular option is to automatically merge photographs into one HDR file which will require further manipulation. Alternatively, manually blend the images together using multiple layers and digital masking.
Open your RAW files in Photoshop, without applying any special effects, to retain as much detail for the areas you need as possible. Carefully turn highlights down and shadows up, which reduces contrast. For the best results, ideally, you want three exposures.
Three differently exposed images – under, average and over exposure
An under exposed photograph to get the brightest parts (skies, bright artificial light, lit fireplaces etc); average exposure for the whole scene and over exposed for the very darkest parts (around furniture, gloomy corners of a garden, shady side of a building).
Adobe Camera RAW Settings
While in Photoshop Camera RAW, check Enable Profile Corrections (Photoshop will detect your lens) to reduce vignetting and distortion; increase sharpening and increase the Clarity slider slightly (to increase mid-tone contrast). The rest of the sliders will depend on the image you are using, use the following images as a guide.
Get the Photographs Straight
It can still be necessary to finish straightening up the scene in Photoshop. Using single point perspective (Fig 1. photos taken straight on to a subject) or two-point perspective (Fig 2. photos without horizontal lines), all vertical lines should be properly vertical. This is the mark of a professional interior or exterior photograph (unless you are deliberately using angles for creative effect). Within the Camera RAW editor, select the Transform Tool option and select ‘Full’ for single point perspective photos or ‘Vertical’ for two-point perspective images.
Fig.1 – Single Point perspective – horizontal and vertical lines to correct – use Full
Fig.2 – Double Point perspective – only vertical lines to correct – use Vertical
Bring the open images into one canvas. Automate this by clicking File > Scripts > Load Files Into Stack > Add Open Files. The open files must be saved for this step to work.
Ensure the images are aligned correctly. Automate this by selecting all your layers and click Edit > Auto-Align Layers. Leave Projection set to Automatic and ignore the Lens Correction options as we have already done this in Camera RAW.
Get the Photograph Blend Right
Now comes the creative part of the process. You need to decide which bits of each photograph you want to use. Work with the average exposure at the bottom of the stack and add elements of the brighter or darker exposures as needed using a layer mask.
To do this accurately you may need to create precise selections of certain areas – for example, the roof line. Select around the simple structures manually with the Polygonal Lasso Tool or get Photoshop to help speed the process up using the Quick Selection Tool. This can be surprisingly accurate but make sure to amend the selection using the ‘Select and Mask…’ options.
If you don’t make any adjustments here, the Quick Selection tool generates a grainy, low-quality edge that you should avoid. Apply a Radius of 3px to Edge Detection, a value of 2 to Smooth (under Global Refinements) and finally increase the contrast to 30%.
It is best to brush the under and over exposed layers back in slowly and carefully. Set the brush to 20% opacity at a large size, with minimum hardness and Flow at 20%. This keeps the effect controllable and subtle. As you practice you will see how you can quickly change brush opacity to bring the layers in more quickly or more subtly. Below are examples from the above photograph that show the different layers being brushed in.
The different elements kept from the under and over exposed images revealed against a black background
The end result will leave you with a high dynamic range Photoshop file, with a lot of control over the layers.
Retouching includes removing unwanted artefacts from the image, for example reflections, switches or thermostats, cat flaps or any other mess that can spoil the overall look of the image that you were unable to remove on the day. The easiest way to create a copy of the image as it currently looks is to click Select > All followed by Edit > Copy Merged and then paste the result at the top of the image
The retouching required to bring the image up to standard. This mainly included adding a lot of grass.
To complete the image it may be necessary to add a Curves adjustment layer and use it to increase the contrast. Mimic the S curve in the screenshot below to gradually add contrast. Move the points further from the middle line to increase the effect.
All of which comes together to create the final image
See examples of property photography here
+ Optimise your images
Once you have finished your multiple exposure photography, you are ready to share. If you are sharing your images online then read our blog post here about Optimising Images for the web.