Property Photography Exposure Settings

Correct Camera Exposure Saves Processing Time

Aperture and Shutter Speed Settings - It is important to get the exposure and camera settings right first go so that it complements the room and shows it off exactly how it is. You can adjust the lighting to flatter a room but to do this effectively you must use the right exposure settings.

If you are using full studio lights for a shot, the shutter speed is fairly irrelevant. You can use 250th/sec or 5 seconds if the room is fairly dark and is reliant 100% on the studio set up. It doesn't matter. But there is a handy hint coming up here;

What if there's no natural light and you are using full studio lights. However, you DO want to include the "house" lights?

You will need a longish exposure. A shutter speed of 60th/sec or faster and you will not record the "glow" from these lights. A longer exposure allows the sensor to pick up these dimmer lights including the pleasant "warm" glow they throw out around them.

How does this work?

Well, the studio lights only fire for an "instant". This means that even if you had a shutter speed of 1 minute, the lights only fired for something like 10,000th of a second. Therefore, they were only RECORDED for that amount of time. By using a small aperture and slow shutter speed, BAM, the studio lights take care of the room illumination. Whilst the slow shutter speed allows the room's lights to slowly "cook" onto the sensor. Lovely.

This will add a real "homely" look to your pictures and reduce the appearance of studio lighting. Thus making it all the more natural and inviting.

Property Photography Exposure

Property Photography Exposure - Fig. 1

Another handy hint is this. When you want to expose the room correctly using the studio lights whilst retaining the detail outside, you have 2 ways of doing this;

  • 1
    Property Photography Exposure - 1. Using the Cameras Settings

Firstly, the correct exposure INSIDE is determined by the studio lights and APERTURE. The correct exposure OUTSIDE is determined by the sun and SHUTTER SPEED.

Property Photography Exposure - Shutter Speeds

You need to start outside with your camera before you set it up in the room on your tripod.

Go to the window with the camera and set it to Av (Aperture Priority) mode. Set the aperture to about F8 (remember, nothing larger or you will lose depth of field). Aim the camera directly through the window and make a note of the shutter speed. Now set the camera to manual and set the shutter speed to whatever it read.

As I mentioned before, the light outside will determine the shutter speed. This reading will firstly ensure that the outside is exposed correctly.


Now you should set the camera and studio lights up where you think is the best angle to record the room and views. Leave the camera on manual and power up the studio lights to full.

If you take one shot at F8 and another at F16, you will notice that the outside exposure normally stays the same. It only fluctuates slightly, whereas the room lighting will change more dramatically. Find the best aperture that illuminates the room perfectly. Make minor adjustments to the shutter speed to get it spot on.

The average reading I have found works best on a sunny day is 60th/sec at F11 or F16 for an average sized room. Start with this and adjust until you have it right. If it looks slightly dark outside, increase the shutter speed to 30th/sec. Note: You can also try increasing the ISO at this point to see if that helps.

If the room looks a little bright, close the aperture some more or decrease the power in the lights.

Rinse and Repeat

Once you have done the first room, it is easier to get it right in all the others. Then when you have done a few properties, you will have stored in your memory all the basic settings based on room sizes and lighting situations. It almost becomes second nature to expose the room correctly.

Once you get to this level, you will find that you "breeze" through the house in an hour or so. Whereas the first may have taken you 3-4 hours.

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    Property Photography Exposure - 2. Cheating a little

After I had been shooting a huge villa for the best part of a day once, I had cleared all my gear away. Then the owner then asked if I could do just one more room. Rather than lug all the equipment upstairs again and set it all up, I took a look at the room and took a chance using no lights whatsoever.

I set the camera on the tripod with the best view and made sure I did not budge it one inch. Then I took a meter reading to expose outside correctly and took a shot. Lastly, I took a reading to expose the interior correctly and took another shot.

Two shots in one

This meant I ended up with one image showing a very dark room interior but perfectly exposed views. The other showed a nicely lit room with completely over-exposed and blown out views. Using Photoshop it is possible to merge these in one of two ways;

  • Using the Paths tool, you can carefully "cut out" the areas you wish to replace, erase them, and slide in the second image underneath to replace the over/under-exposed part of the image. Make sure that you feather the selection to make it appear more realistic.
  • Simply place one image on top of the other by clicking and dragging in Photoshop. Once they "click" into place and are aligned exactly you can just use the eraser tool to "rub out" the bits you don’t want from one image, leaving the well-exposed image underneath showing in its place!

Did you ever make those pictures at junior school where you made a multi-coloured base picture and then completely drew over the picture with black wax crayon? You would then use a pin to gradually draw an image by finely removing the layer of black wax to reveal the colours underneath. This is a very similar technique, only digital.

Of course, many DSLR's these days have pretty good HDR (high dynamic range) features. It is worth experimenting with this feature to try and recreate the above effect. Could save even more time when shooting properties for a living.

Sample images

Click the images below for larger versions of the before and after shots of this technique.

Property Photography Exposure
Property Photography Exposure
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