Hey everyone, in this post we are going to get into the fundamental principles of the flambient (or flash) method for shooting real estate photography including the gear you’ll need, camera and flash settings and how to shoot and edit your images.
So as you may already know, the two most popular methods for shooting real estate photography are HDR and a method that most people call “flambient”. The term “flambient” is just the words flash and ambient put together and the name simply refers to the process of taking a flash frame and an ambient (or non flash) frame and blending them together to create the final image. So in this post we are going to be diving into this flambient method and talking about incorporating the use of a light into your real estate photography as opposed to the HDR method which relies solely on the available light. I’ve outlined the HDR method already in another post titled “Real Estate Photography Basics”. I would actually recommend looking at that post first if you are new to real estate photography and haven’t already seen it as it covers essential things such as shot composition and other basic principles of real estate photography in general that I will not be getting into in this post.
So let’s talk about the gear you will need to shoot flash real estate photography in addition to your basic setup of camera, lens, tripod and a remote shutter trigger. If you are interested in hearing more about what I recommend for that basic photography setup, again that is something that I cover in the “Real Estate Photography Basics” post so please have a look at that if you haven’t already. So in addition to your basic setup, what you will need for shooting flambient is a light (preferably something stronger than just a speedlight), a flash trigger, a light stand and a reflector. I will link to all of this gear down in the description.
First let’s talk about lights. Could you get away with using a speedlight? Yes, you could but the problem is that it’s really not going to be powerful enough for a sizable room or a room with a lot of ambient light coming in. It would work just fine in a small bathroom or a small bedroom but once you get into a bigger room like a living room it’s going to struggle even on full power. You could of course do multiple flash pops with it around the room and composite them together later to get the desired result but it just makes more work for you and more time on site shooting and more time editing.
My light of choice is the Godox AD200 Pro but the AD200 non pro version works great as well and it's not all that expensive. It’s significantly more powerful than a speedlight and is still somewhat compact and works great in most situations. Even with this I sometimes end up doing multiple flash pops in larger rooms. I am personally using this round head for it (which is an additional expense) instead of the typical rectangular fresnel head. The fresnel head does do the job but I just don’t prefer the way it bounces and spreads the light off of the ceiling. The round head has a nicer and more pleasing quality in my opinion. I also attached a pistol grip to it and I use this sling strap to sling it over my shoulder so I can carry it around hands free and move my tripod around from shot to shot with ease.
Now let’s talk about the flash trigger. The trigger mounts onto the hot shoe of your camera and allows your camera to communicate and remotely trigger your light. It also allows you to control the power or intensity of your light which you will need to do depending on the size of the room you are shooting. I am using the Godox X-Pro-S trigger for Sony Cameras. Now something that I want to point out is that these Godox triggers are known to cause white balance issues when in manual mode which is how we will using them. You will get an overly warm temperature image at times. Long story short, there are pins on the bottom of the trigger that communicate information to the camera which are really there for your flash’s TTL mode but it screws the white balance up in manual mode for whatever reason. This is a known issue with these and I personally deal with it by just correcting any color issues in editing as you can see demonstrated in the video posted above. From what I’ve heard, a lot of people found a work around by getting the Godox trigger for a different brand of camera (for instance if you have a Sony camera then buy the canon trigger) so that way the only pin that will line up on the trigger is the one that tells the flash to fire so you won’t get any interference with your white balance. This may save you some time in editing by getting your white balance cleaner in camera but I have not tried this out myself.
Next, let’s discuss the light stand and the reflector. 98% of the time you will not need these but just keep them in the trunk of your car so you can pull them out whenever you might need them. As I mentioned, I typically carry around my AD200 on a sling strap on my body and I don’t put it on a stand. This just makes things quicker and easier not having to move a stand around the house and I always aim to be as efficient and stripped down with my gear as possible. The only times I would put my light on a stand is when I go into a house and there are rooms that have ceilings that are wood or painted a dark color or basically any color but white. Reason being is that we are typically bouncing our flash off of the white ceiling and using it as a giant reflector to fill the room with light. We can’t do that if the ceiling isn’t white because a dark ceiling will absorb the light and if we do get any sort of bounce it will have a color cast to it which we definitely don’t want. So in those situations I would just put the light on the light stand and hold up the white side of the reflector and aim the light toward it and bounce it off of there. You don’t need anything special or expensive as far as a light stand and reflector go. As with all the gear being mentioned, I will link to these in the description.
So now that we have all of our gear in order, let’s talk about how we are going to set up our camera and flash to shoot flambient real estate photography. First, let’s do our camera settings.
First, I’m going to put my camera into manual mode because we want to control every parameter of exposure independently. Next, I’m going to set my aperture to f/7.1. You can really get away with anything between f/5.6 and f/8. Shooting with a wide angle lens you will be fine with anything in that range. You may have to adjust your aperture from time to time but I find keeping it on f/7.1 is usually sufficient. Reason for choosing an aperture in that range is because we want to keep our shutter speed in the appropriate area for the flash. Next, I’m going to set my ISO to 400. As far as shutter speed goes, that is the parameter that we will be adjusting on site from shot to shot to get our exposure where we want it.
Now we are going to go into the camera menu and set a few more things. First, I am going to set my camera to shoot RAW. Next, I’m going to go to drive mode and set my camera to shoot just one single frame. We aren’t bracketing any shots for this type of photography like we are when doing HDR. Now I’m going to set my white balance to “auto white balance” and finally my auto focus setting to “wide”.
Ok so now that our camera is set up, let’s set up our light and remote trigger. First we want to make sure our flash and trigger are on the same channel. Now whatever group our flash is set on, we want to go to that corresponding group on our trigger and make sure we set that to manual because we want to manually control our flash power.
Great, so now that all of our settings squared away, please have a look at the video posted above for a visual demonstration on how to shoot and edit a flambient image for real estate photography.