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Should the Lights Be on or off For Architectural Photos?

A photo for a blog about lighting techniques for architectural photos, taught by Jay Ashcroft of four32 Media, a professional videographer, photographer and marketing specialist who works with businesses in barrie, orillia, muskoka and toronto and the rest of North America

So, you’re a real estate agent or an architectural designer, or maybe an interior designer. Maybe you’re a contractor or a developer of some kind and you’re done another home.


You’re about to embark on having it photographed, and you enter the age old debate “should the lights be on or off for architectural photos?” 


The answer is…


Off if you’re inside, and on if you’re outside.


What a doozie! What a bombshell.


There you go, it’s settled. I suppose that’s all I really need to say, but I’m sure you won’t just take my word for it, so let’s dive in.


For years I had been taking interior home photos wrong. I would walk around to every room and turn every single light on. And while this looks good enough for many, to the trained eye you can really begin to understand why turning all of the lights off actually makes a lot of sense.


Throughout my career, I would endlessly run into issues with editing architectural photos in post. When all of the lights are on, there are just so many different colour temperatures happening all at once.


You see, the camera takes light in a lot different than our eyes do, so when the image pops up, we’re seeing a lot of intense blues, greens, magentas and oranges. We’re then needing to go through and sculpt these colours. It can feel impossible, and the end result is always just a little lack luster – there’s always something that’s just a little bit off.


So, how did I come to this conclusion? Well, a couple of years ago, a construction client had just finished up a job. The interior designer on the project had decided that she wanted to piggy back off of our photographs.


She only had one request. “Please take all of the photos with the lights off,” I read in an email. As I read it, I feel myself growing confused and kind of ornery over the situation. My ego gets involved and I wonder what makes her so sure that this is how to do it – I’m the photographer after all.


Well – Laurie was right. She was right, big time. Those photos became some of my best architectural work, and the editing process was so enjoyable I just kept doing it like this.


You see, when you have all of the lights off, you can set your colour temperature and all of the colours and exposures remain consistent. It makes everything pop and just look good – in a way that you almost can’t comprehend.


Now, there are a few stipulations here. You won’t be able to do this on your cell phone. You’ll have to have a professional photographer who understands the importance of using a tripod and creating HDR photos. Lock one down! And make sure they understand these terms. If they do, then you’re in good hands.


So that’s all fine and dandy on rooms where the sun is lighting them, but what about basements or other rooms where there isn’t enough natural light?


In those instances, you’re going to close any curtains that you can and turn on all of the lights. Doing this is going to give you the best possible outcome, and you can thank me later – just like I’ve thanked Laurie later.


Lastly, if you’re taking exterior photos – try to do it at dawn or dusk. Turn on every single interior and exterior light and have at ‘er. In this instance, you should still be shooting on a tripod, but HDR photos aren’t as necessary. Just so you understand the terminology as well – HDR stands for high dynamic range.


When a photographer is shooting in HDR, we’re simply locking the camera off on a tripod and taking the same photo 5 or so times – in varying exposures from darkest to lightest.


Then, in Lightroom – we’re able to merge all of these photos into one HDR image, allowing the darkest darks (usually couches or other dark spaces) and the lightest lights (windows) to be exposed as close to the way our eye sees it as possible.


Now here’s one more stipulation – for interior video, all of the lights should be on. But, that’s a topic for another day.


And that’s about it! Make sure you look for a professional photographer who understands these concepts if you want your work documented in its best light. If you’re in the market, give me a call!


To Your Success,

Jay Ashcroft

four32 MEDIA   


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