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Lighting solution for real estate videography

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Chris Wai
Lighting solution for real estate videography
on Mar 8, 2012 at 5:27:46 am

Hi everybody!

I'm a videographer based in Sydney, Australia, and I currently do a lot of video tours and agent walkthroughs for Sydney properties. I currently shoot on DSLR and work without lighting my setups, using only daylight and the practical lights that exist in each particular room.

One of the problems I have been encountering is the high contrast in rooms with windows or glass doors. The interior is exposed well, however, the exterior is obviously blown out.

What I'm looking for is a lighting solution that will allow me to achieve a well exposed interior while maintaining some detail in windows and doorways. The lights would have to cast a fairly soft light in order to not cast hard shadows, yet powerful enough to bring an entire room up by 1 or 2 stops. It would also have to be portable, battery powered, and EASY to set up. We can not spend too long shooting any particular property, so TIME is of the essence.

What would you suggest?

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Todd Terry
Re: Lighting solution for real estate videography
on Mar 8, 2012 at 3:45:46 pm

Hi Chris...

I think most of us in here like to think of ourselves as problem-solvers... but sometimes people want or need things that are a lot more challenging than others.

So... to light interiors and combat full-sun exterior windows and doors, you need 1) lighting instruments that are powerful enough to combat the sun, 2) lighting instruments that are still very soft, 3) portable fast and easy to set up, and 4) battery powered.

Tall order. Very tall.

Unless someone I don't know about has created such a thing (which would make them an instant bazillionaire), that simply doesn't exist.

To battle full exterior daylight, a frequent first step is to gel or scrim all of the exterior windows (although this may be only part of the solution). This can be a little bit of a time consuming process, and I get the distinct impression that you come into these houses, shoot as fast as you can, and blow out in a hurry. It might not be practical time-wise to gel/scrim all the windows, unless you come up with a system that allows you to do it very quickly.

Secondly, the go-to instruments to battle bright daylight out of windows are HMIs. Easily powerful enough to bring up interior light levels (although you still want them a stop or two under what's outside). In the case of lighting a fairly large space, you're probably looking at at least a couple of 12OOw HMIs, if it's a big room with lots of windows. A couple of challenges with that though... they don't take too long to set up, but will give a fairly hard/harsh light unless bounced, or you take the additional time to set up diffusion for them... silks in Hollywood frames, or whatever. The biggest issue will be power. They're not battery powered, nowhere near it. In fact, you could probably put only one of them on a single household circuit. If you wanted more than one, you'd have to string enough cable to reach another circuit. Also, the one thing you didn't mention was budget, and these would be pretty expensive.

As for small/light/easy HMIs, a couple of Joker-Bug800s would be small/light/easy and fast to set up. With Chimera heads on them, they would have a very soft light. Those might be powerful enough to work as long as you weren't in too big of a space and weren't battling lots of full-sunlight windows. But again, they're not battery powered... they'll need AC. Expensive, as well... as Joker-Bug 800s are about $6,000 a piece.

The closest thing I've seen that fits your criteria are the LED instruments from AAdynTech, although I've never used them. They haven't been released yet, but they have coming out LED instruments that they claim will have the punch of a Joker-Bug 400 HMI, yet ae still battery powered. That would fit most of your criteria... and would probably work in some of your smaller spaced if the windows and doors were not too overpowering.

I think you might benefit from re-visiting your criteria... and deciding which of your items are really the "must haves."


Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.

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Rick Wise
Re: Lighting solution for real estate videography
on Mar 8, 2012 at 6:04:50 pm

One thing to keep in mind: you do NOT need or even want to match the intensity of the light outside. If you were to do so, the show shots would look fake, a stage setting improperly lit. It looks more "real" for the outside to be around 2 stops hotter than the inside. That leaves some detail out the windows.

I don't see why you need battery power, unless the juice has been cut off to these houses.

If there are white ceilings, you could bounce a joker or two into them to bring up the ambient light enough for a more acceptable balance. Any other solution, such as chimeras or umbrellas, is likely to prove too directional. There are also other tricks, such as putting shower curtain on an off-screen window through which sunlight pours -- works best early or late in the day when the angle of the sun is low. If there are off-screen windows you can also blast your jokers through shower curtain (I'm a big fan of Vinylite, which may no longer be available) from an off-screen doorway or window. 1000H (tracing paper) is a beautiful diffuser, but does chew up a lot of light.

The more dramatic solutions such as a hard HMI through a window or door don't work so well for what you need here.

If you don't move the camera, you could take one shot exposed for the interior, then another with a heavy ND filter to expose for the outside, and marry the pixs in post -- a lot of work. (Don't change the iris as that will effect depth of field and make cutting out the windows more difficult.) But in any case, these video tours want movement. Your competition is no doubt using stills and then in post doing pans and zooms for a really bad "video" tour.

Likely you will find no single solution to your shots.

Rick Wise
San Francisco Bay Area

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Tom Nelson
Re: Lighting solution for real estate videography
on Mar 15, 2012 at 4:22:42 pm

Are you willing to change the way you operate to make things work? As I am a problem solver, I would approach this working backwards, and try to shoot the tour in a way that doesn't show windows in the shot unless they're the focal point of the shot. Unless you're in a room with more than 2 walls of windows, you can always shoot the room away from the windows. If you want to show just the windows, you can stop down.

The other, clearly more practical solution, is to simply plan your shoot according to ambient light. You'd have to work pretty fast, but just get to your location an hour or so before dusk, bang out your exteriors when there's still plenty of light, then do your interior walk-throughs when the ambient light outside falls to a manageable level. You could even get away with bouncing a Tota off the ceiling off-camera to bring the levels inside the room up, and keep your practicals on for ambiance. The window light will be daylight balanced and quite blue, but it looks pretty nice.

Try it in your own property before venturing out and see if you like the results.

Tom Nelson
Essex Television Group

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