Setting up the Lights

Correct lighting on a property shoot can save a lot of time...

Setting up the Lights - For most rooms I find that just 2 x 500W studio lights with luminescent brollies are more than enough to illuminate sufficiently.

If you can afford the extra, go for 1000W lights to be on the safe side. If you have 500W lights and they prove to be insufficient, you can easily lighten the images with a longer exposure. Or you can adjust this in Photoshop later, which I will cover in that section.

This is the important bit

The lighting will almost definitely make or break a shot.

Once again, look at the room and decide what type of lighting you need or feel that would do the scene the most justice.

Would setting up the lights or lighting to enhance just natural sunlight falling through a kitchen window onto an antique wooden kitchen table (filled with dairy produce) help to enhance the image?

Would a mixture of sunlight and natural light help to "fill in the gaps"? Is the room dark enough to justify powering up both studio lights and letting rip?

Before I explain a bit more about each type of lighting, one very important thing to remember. Turn on all the house lights in the room

By using the correct exposure, even in a bright room, you can and want to include the glow from:

  • Chandeliers
  • Bedside lamps
  • Wall lights
  • Ceiling spotlights
  • Reading lights

This will add a real "charm" to your shot and make it all the more homely and inviting.

White Balance (WB)

I have included white balance in the lighting section as the light source is what justifies each WB setting.

Always keep an eye on which white balance setting you are using on your camera. It will affect the outcome. If you use the wrong setting, you will inevitably end up with a strong red or yellow cast. This is fairly easy to remove in Photoshop, but as always, the better the job you do from the outset, the less work required later on.

Try AUTO and check the results each time. If shooting daylight images, use the daylight setting. However, if you are using studio lights, alternate between tungsten and flash to see which gives the best results.

If you have a grey card handy, take a simple custom reading in each room and use that. The choice really is up to you and what you feel comfortable with.

A little secret here, most if not all of the images used for illustration in this book were taken using auto. In most cases I was shooting 2 properties a day and just didn’t have the time to play around too much. It was easier, for me personally, to adjust the colours later in Photoshop.


A lot of this is down to personal preference and how big the images are going to become. Again, most of the images in this book were shot in JPEG and many have been enlarged to beautiful A1 prints with no problems.

There are many arguments about RAW vs JPEG floating around the internet. RAW is great for property shoots so long as you have time to process them all. You are able to manipulate the images that little bit more adding depth and detail to your pictures.

JPEGS are easier to process and take up less space but you need to get the exposure correct. Otherwise too much Photoshopping may lead to highlights becoming blown out, or increased noise in the shaded areas.

If you DO decide to make bigger prints from JPEGS, use interpolation software such as GF Print Pro (Genuine Fractals). This software is a plug in for Photoshop and allows you to increase the image size to 50MB TIFF files with no visible degradation.

By combining this with a noise reduction program such as Neat Image, you should end up with some pretty hefty yet stunning images.

If you do decide to shoot JPEG, make sure it is always the highest output. However, if you shoot RAW, shoot a high resolution JPEG as well (if your camera allows it). You never know when the images might be needed in a hurry.

Studio Lights

So, where do we place the lights for the best illumination? Well, you want the room to look natural and evenly lit with minimal shadows to distract the eye.

Wherever you have put your camera and tripod, place (carefully) your lights either side. Just behind or just in front of the camera making sure that they are not in view through the viewfinder. Remember that you are firing THROUGH the umbrellas so set up the lights accordingly.

The light to the left of the camera should be angled very slightly to the left and the right light, slightly to the right. In smaller rooms it is best to face both lights forward.

This method will illuminate the entire room and the position of the lights should mean that there are no shadows in the picture as each studio light will "cancel out" the shadows from the other.

Shooting up!

If the room is extremely small but you have to photograph it, a trick that I learned is to turn just one studio light upwards. Aim it at the ceiling and then extend the stand as high as it will go.

The tip of the brolly should be touching the ceiling so that the light will be bounced off the ceiling and diffused enough to illuminate the room nicely. You may have to power down and take some test shots to get the reading right here. You can also use bounced flash from a speedlight on the hotshoe for these smaller rooms and again, I will come to that later.

If you are shooting towards a window, the trick with the lighting and exposure (if possible) is to illuminate the room correctly whilst retaining the details outside. For example, the wrong settings will "blow out" the windows leaving them white and overexposed. When really, you want to include any scenery such as gardens in the shot (see exposure).

If you ARE aiming directly at a window you won’t be able to use just natural light. Your meter reading will expose the bright window correctly leaving the rest of the room "underexposed". This is where the studio lights can counterbalance the natural lighting and give a really stunning image.

Setting up the Lights Fig. 1

I will cover the exact settings later when I describe how to shoot each individual room.

Natural Light

If and where possible, natural daylight is extremely flattering for interior photography but only if done right. As discussed above, the scene has to look right and "natural" and not over or underexposed.

Setting up the Lights Fig. 2

When shooting with your back to any window or natural light source, you are photographing exactly where the light is hitting. You are seeing what the light is seeing. This makes your job a lot easier and you can decide here whether you wish to use the studio lights or not.

In this situation, I tend to keep the camera on a tripod and make the most of the natural lighting. If it is a sunny day, try using a large golden reflector outside to "throw" some sunlight across the bed or living room floor. This always looks great and really adds something special to the image.

You will or should be using a small aperture (minimum F8) and so will have a slow shutter speed. Take a few shots using varying settings (bracketing) to ensure you get one that is spot on.

By simply looking at a room before you photograph it, you will see what light is required:

  • Is the room evenly and uniformly lit by daylight?
  • Are there dark areas that may need some "help" from the studio lights?
  • Is the room completely void of natural light?
  • Are the windows and curtains best open or shut?
  • Should you open the windows?

Flashguns and Speedlites

There may even be dark areas in or leading off the room that your studio lights will not reach, creating a real problem. This is where you Speedlights or flashguns come into play.

If they have "slave" capabilities, try placing them in the dark area, out of view of the camera. However, keep them in the "line of fire" from the studio lights, and bounce or diffuse their power as best you can.

They need to be in view of the main light source as this is what will trigger the units.

The beauty of digital is that you can try this method and take a few test shots until you get it right. Slave units really are quite useful and I recommend that you buy one whatever style of photography you are into.

A quick note here. Never just put a flashgun on your camera’s hot-shoe and fire away using direct flash. If you do use it attached to your camera, always bounce the light from a wall or the ceiling. Direct flash creates the ugliest of shadows that will get you nowhere.

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