Join Scott Hargis for an in-depth discussion in this video Finding your base exposure using ambient light, part of Real Estate Photography: Master Bathrooms.
- So, at last. We're actually ready to do what we came here to do and take a picture. I know there's like all this build up that happens before we actually get to the fun part of putting a camera in place and taking a picture but, I'm telling you, that's where it's at. You've got to think through your picture before you start pushing buttons. Every time I get in a rush and start snapping away, before I've thoroughly, thoroughly, pre-visualized the shot and thought through some of the issues, I get it in the weeds. Right away I'm in the weeds. So, take that time.
We're going in an agonizingly slow fashion today because I'm talking through every point but you can do everything that I just did in less than five minutes, right? All of that, all that assessment and scoping it out and thinking about lines and blinds and windows and tissue paper and all the rest of it, that happens so fast when it's just you inside your head. So, know that, but make it deliberate. Make it a deliberate part of your process to go in the room without the camera and think about what the shot's going to look like.
Get as detailed of a picture as you can in your mind and then put the camera in place. Those just two to three to five minutes will really pay off, alright? So, here we are, I'm going to put the camera here in the doorway. Now, I know that I'm shooting in this direction. I got that figured out already. It's going to to be a one point composition. And a one point composition means that the lens is going to be exactly aligned with one axis of the room. We're 90 degrees perpendicular to the wall that we're facing.
So we're not at a slight angle, right? We're right down the middle and the thing about a one point is that you've got to nail it. If you're going to come close to it, you've got to really get it. Eighty-nine degrees doesn't cut it. Eighty- nine degrees feels really awkward and tense and maybe even sloppy, like you were trying to get it and you missed, okay? So, this is going to be a one point, which will take a minute to set up. And it's going to be relatively wide angle. I mean, I'm standing here looking at this and I know I want to get half of that sink on the left and some of that mirror.
And I know I want to get the corner of the shower glass over here, and that's a pretty wide angle of view. This is not a particularly small bathroom. It's not the biggest one I've ever seen but it's not a teeny little closet, either. It's a, I mean, I've shot bedrooms that were smaller than this, for sure. A lot of people think that when they're shooting small rooms they have to get that fish-eye lens out. I read this all the time where people are writing me and they're saying, oh, Scott, you know, I have all these little, tiny rooms to shoot and so I'm forced, they say, I'm forced to go to 15 millimeters and 16 millimeters.
That's a myth! It's a canard, it's not true. I once did an informal study, I went through my archives and I looked for all the smallest rooms I could find. I was looking at little, tiny powder rooms and half-baths, tiny, little bedrooms, nooks and crannies, pantries, and I looked at what focal length I shot them at. The widest angle shot I was able to find was 19 millimeters and most of them fell on the upper 20's and lower 30's. Twenty-nine millimeters, 32 millimeters, I was even out to 40 and 50 millimeters in a couple of places.
You don't have to go wide to tell the story of the room if you compose it smartly and if you're smart about how you place the camera. Case in point, look at the eye and the camera are not in the bathroom. We're out here in the bedroom. I've got one leg of the tripod just maybe inside the door. I want the camera as far away from the scene as I can possibly get it, and, in fact, if I do this right, it's the door frame itself. The left and right edges of the door frame are going to be like that far outside the edge of the picture.
This will define where the camera is. I'm never going to go in to the room and step in really close and like push in wide because that's where you get distortion, your lens doesn't perform well when it's that wide, the barrel, the stretching, all that stuff. The field of view just gets intense. You want to back up and go long. In general, back up and go with the longest focal length you can get away with. We're still going to be pretty wide but I'm going to mitigate that as much as possible.
Now, this is roughly where I'm going to end up, I know that. But what about the height of the camera? And the first thing I think of in this situation is what I'm looking at out the window. And when I look out the window I can see some grass and garden and I know there's trees up higher, but from my height, and I'm six feet tall, I'm actually looking at a lot of deck. There's a swimming pool that's just never, it's out that way, it's never really going to be a part of this shot. That would be super cool if I could make it happen but it's not, it's really not part of this shot.
But I can see a lot of cement of the deck that stretches over this way and it's, cement is just never an attractive thing. It's really bright. So, what I'm thinking is when I drop down lower, and I'm just going to do a deep knee bend here, and as I drop lower and lower, the window sill starts to cover, from your perspective it's like this is the cement and it drops below the window sill and I can't see it anymore. And, I start to see some of the trees that are up on the hill behind this house. So what's in the window really kind of improves as I get down about this low.
And even then, when I look out there, yeah, it's nice but it's not that nice. It's just, it's just not that great. And, of course, the human eye, we really want to see pretty things and so when I look at it just as ordinary guy, I see some flowers and some trees and a yucca plant out there and it's okay. But the camera, when I put my photographer eyes on, the camera suddenly is like, well, there's a stone wall and there's actually like a basketball net and there's a board fence, and there's actually another whole thing of cement and there's a Humvee, this truck thing, parked in the back yard.
That's, you know, cool but it's not attractive. So, that's what the camera's going to see. It's just like, no, dude, this is what's there. All of this is me thinking I'm probably going to overexpose these windows just a little bit. There is no reason to pull in every last bit of detail out there. There's nothing to be gained and a little bit to be lost. So, I'm going to just figure out where is the best spot, which is right about here, and, of course, I've got to pay attention to inside the room, too.
Like, I don't want to drop so low that I get below the counter tops. You know, I need to be able to see into the sink a little bit. And I want to know how much of the tub, how deep into the tub am I seeing, and I don't want to see too deep into the tub. So right in here everything kind of lines up. This is an area where I do spend a little bit of time. I'm just looking at the way all those things in the front and back start to line up with each other and when they click into place, I'm like, that's my spot. And when I get there, which I think is right here, like, I'm like, that's it, right there is where I want my camera.
Right there. So I need to lower this thing a few inches to get to that. So we'll just drop down on the sticks, like that. Take a look. Yep! Yeah. So, again, I've kind of got the best, the best I can do in the window. The rest of the room's looking pretty right.
I'm going to level this camera. It's worth noting that there's tile in the bathroom but I'm out here in the bedroom and this is carpet and it's like super spongy. Like, it's really spongy. When I move, the camera moves. So, when it comes time to shoot, particularly the final beauty shot, I mean, first of all, I'll be using a remote shutter release, and I'm going to like step back and hold still while I'm shooting because if I'm like talking and moving around, the camera's going to be all over the place on this carpet pad. And even leveling it is a little bit of a guessing game because my presence standing next to the camera actually impacts how level it is.
But that'll be a good place to start. And, there we go. So, getting squared up to that wall, there's no shortcut. It's actually just kind of a tedious pain in the butt thing. Your viewfinder should have some grid lines in it. You can use those. Sometimes I zoom, you know, in or out from what I really want my composition to be to put one of those grid lines that are in the viewfinder, you know, right up next to the wall ceiling joint, or some other horizontal line that I want to be sure I'm lined up on.
And then I, once I've got the camera panned until all that stuff is straight, then I can zoom back out. With practice you get pretty good at it but it's always a little bit of a, of a fussy thing to do. Okay, this works. And I'm somewhere just south of 20 millimeters. I'm pretty doggone wide angle here. For me, that's really wide angle. But, it's what I got to do to get this shot.
I'm even seeing a little bit of the skylight. So that's pretty square but now that I've done that I actually think I could probably back up a little bit. I think I'm actually not pushing the envelope quite as far as I could be. Yeah, right there is better. Again, the level, every time I move the camera it's got to be re-leveled and that's just because of the surface we're on. Okay.
That's pretty good. And, yeah, we're still right close to 20 millimeters. Alright, let's do it. We're going to take a picture. Guesstimate on the exposure. I'm going to say, I don't know, 1/60th or 1/80th of a second. There's one way to find out which is to take a picture. Now, ordinarily on a real estate shoot we're moving really fast, we're like bam, bam, bam, five minutes in a room. You work off the back of the camera. Today, I'm tethered up to my laptop so we can really get a clear, clear solid picture of this thing.
There's our shot. I think I'm very square. I'll just throw a grid up on the screen. That's fine. I think I got it, got it nice and square. There's our window. I'm going to zoom in on that and things are kind of blown out over here. There's that crazy vehicle that's parked back there. I've got a little bit of this third window and it's not really enough so I'm probably going to crop it out, is the simplest thing to do.
This window's perfect. If all the windows looked like this, I'd be very satisfied with it. And that's about the right amount of sink over on this side. That's perfect. Like, you just, enough to say, hey, there's a sink. And it, obviously, it's the same as this sink which you can see perfectly well. So, I'm going to go a little darker. We're going to go from 1/60th up to 1/80th. We'll see what that looks like. I'm not being real precious about the camera right now. This is not the final shot. I just want to see. I just want exposure. That's going to work.
I'm also paying attention to the histogram so I know where my highlights and my shadows are because it's fine with me if I need to do a little bit of a shadow boost, a little bit of highlight recovery. I'm cool with it and I'll be able to because we're not massively clipping too much of anything. Okay. I'm going to say that's our ambient exposure. I'm not saying we're not going to tweak it later, it does happen. But we're going to start there. And just for the record, 20 millimeters. So, by pulling back that few inches, you know, I picked up an extra millimeter of focal length and that's actually significant in terms of distortion.
The next step at this point is to light this room because the windows look the way I want them to look but the cabinetry's way too dark. I mean, when I compare what I see there to what I see in real life, there's a lot of color and detail over there. It's lost here. This little hassock is really dark. So we got to, we got to cheer this room up a little bit. That's where we start with the flash.
- Styling a master bathroom
- Using three different approaches to capture the same space
- Finding your base exposure
- Shooting with one light
- Shooting with two lights
- Finalizing a shot
- Editing the final images