By David Jeffries

Exposing Interiors for Real Estate Video

Whether you are shooting real estate photography or video, properly exposing your image is crucial. Some of the luxuries we have in photography are unavailable or unrealistic when you are capturing a home for real estate video. Knowing the tools at your disposal and adjusting your expectations will allow you to produce your best video productions.

A Starting Point: Your Histogram

We first need to have a working knowledge of the histogram. You may be familiar with shooting off of a histogram, but if not, let’s take a look. Your camera’s histogram is a simple graph that represents the grayscale version of the brightness of your image – the graph ranges from pure black to pure white. The concentration of pixels at that brightness is shown vertically for any of the values from pure black to pure white. An underexposed image will have large concentrations of pixels on the left of the histogram, whereas over exposed imaged will have large concentrations of pixels represented on the right side of the histogram. A properly exposed image for most interior video will have pixels within the middle of the histogram without pushing to either extreme.

It should be noted that there are many other tools to check exposure in video. The histogram is just one of the fastest and most readily available. Other tools your camera or monitor may have for setting and checking proper exposure would be zebras, false color, and waveform. Histograms provide a quick and easy way to check and judge overall exposure.

Exposing Interior Video: Think Single Exposure

If you’re transitioning from photography into video, it’s best to think about exposing most interiors in the same terms as if you were shooting photos and had to take a single ambient exposure. As a real estate videographer, you will most likely be shooting at a constant aperture, constant shutter speed (dictated by your frame rate), and a single ISO setting. You may change these room to room, to properly expose the new room, but the latitude we enjoy from photography in compositing multiple images is unrealistic in video. When setting exposure for a room you want to properly expose the room while trying to avoid overexposing the highlights or underexposing the shadows (crushing the blacks or crushing the highlights).

Take a look at the following histograms. Our first example shows a room that has been underexposed. While we have great information in our windows but most of the room is underexposed to the point of being unusable. Being real estate videographers we will have to showcase the room. To recover the darker areas of the image we might try to raise the exposure in post or adjust the curves, this will introduce noise and we will still lose the windows. Overall, our image quality will suffer.

Underexposed photography

Contrast that with our second image where we have overexposed the scene and have extremely overexposed windows. This is a problem for real estate video as we have lost a lot of data for the blacks in our image and even if we are shooting log or raw, we will not be able to recover all of the information from those overexposed highlights.

Overexposured photography

Finally, a properly exposed histogram can have data across the entire histogram without clipping the extremes. When you clip your blacks or your whites, you are almost always losing data that can’t be recovered. Watch the extremes of your histogram.


Properly exposed image

Window Exposures in Video

In almost all of the real estate video we shoot, our windows are overexposed to a point. This is due to the simple fact that we are shooting with ambient light only. There isn’t a practical way to control the sun. Bringing in a powerful enough lighting set up to compete with the sun would be cost and time prohibitive. Bringing a giant roll of ND to knock down the windows would also be out the picture. So we do our best to maximize our dynamic range by shooting in a log profile and we focus on the exposure of the room.

If a room has a spectacular view, we will capture dedicated shots exposed for outside. In these cases, we will pick up dedicated shots where we have either dropped the ISO or tightened up the aperture. These dedicated shots can be a great addition to your edit.

When working with an agent that is new to video, go out of your way to show them examples of your work and make sure to discuss how the final video will look. My company goes as far as discussing window exposures beforehand as we found many agents expect the same views as our photography. Setting proper expectations and using many types of shots goes a long way to keeping an informed and happy client.

Is there any other way you like use to check your exposure? What tool is your favorite?

Don’t crush your highlights and keep showing off the properties you get to capture!