The Importance of Lighting For Exterior Images

As some of you have already found out (or are currently finding out), it can be difficult to take interior photos of a house with your phone because the rooms can appear dark or the windows are too bright with the details “blown out”.

So you might give a big sigh of relief when it comes time to take exterior shots because, honestly, how can it go wrong?! You have a brilliant overhead light (the sun) and no windows to overexpose…. but sometimes those images can still look a little lack luster. 

For this blog, I’m going to use a past session of a cedar house set in the woods. This session was at 10am and the mid-morning sun was beautifully diffused by the trees. The interior images only required a blend of my camera settings and flash unit to balance the light . When it came time to move to the exterior just an hour later, the lighting was what I would call ‘ok’ for a normal brick/siding/stone house, but horrible for this wooden house.

Bad lighting for exterior listing photo.

This image is bad (yes, bad) because of two reasons. First, the sun is not reflecting from the dark house to the grass, its vice versa; so the grass is actually casting a green hue onto the house, which makes it look unappealing. Second, is the sun’s position. At around 11:20 (when the photo was taken) the sun is on its way up, high into sky and is producing almost direct overhead light. Two things happen with direct overhead light:

1-The shadows are being cast down the house not behind it (see diagram)

2-The sky is washed out

How directional lighting effects listing photos.

 To understand this better, I want you to do a little exercise… its simple, yet eye opening… On a sunny day (a couple clouds are ok too)  around 8-10am or 4-7pm I want you to stand facing the sun *don’t look directly at it! Take notice of the sky’s color around the sun and if there is any real contrast between the blue sky and the white clouds. Then do a 180-degree turn and face the sun-less part of the sky, notice the difference? The blue will be deeper and more vivid, the clouds will be brighter and more predominent. This is one simple tidbit of info to keep in mind for your next exterior shot, but…. sometimes you can’t help what time you are at a property and need to make due with what is there. Which is the case, more often than not…  

If this house were made of brick, stone, or siding I would not have had any issues with the exterior image. Those houses are able to reflect more of the sun’s light and therefore are easier to brighten in post-processing. Yes, the sun’s position would have still washed out the sky, but if the house is bright, welcoming, and cheery I would just edit in a blue sky to complete the photo.  

I knew I wanted to return to the house later when the sun was in a better position and luckily this house was just 5 miles down road. Whew! 

I returned around 3:30 and the lighting was astoundingly better! The house is warm and welcoming, the flowers are bright, and the sky is a rich blue. This house had a “prime-time” for sun position. Any later and the sun would have dropped below the tall trees and all would be lost in the dark shadows once more.

Proper exterior lighting for listing photos.

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