Saturday, January 8, 2011

How come the snow is gray on your real estate listing photos?

Taking real estate photographs and video in the winter present many unique challenges.

1) High contrast scenes and bright snow throw off auto exposure and turn the snow gray.
2) Cold weather and condensation can fog up your equipment and batteries will drain much faster.
3) The sun seems like it's always in your eyes.
4) There are no leaves on the trees to cut the sunlight.

At this time of year, the sun is very low on the horizon. That presents unique problems when the sun is directly behind the house and low in the sky as you're trying to shoot the front. Before choosing a time to take photographs of a new listing, pay particular attention to when the sun is either facing directly on the front of the house, or at least at a 90 degree angle to the front of the house so you're not shooting directly into the bright sun.

It also can present problems inside if that low sun is shooting directly through a large window, effectively washing out all of the colors and detail inside. It's especially difficult in new construction with no window treatments are available to cut the bright sun.

Since the sun is never directly overhead at this time of year, this presents problems throughout the day as the sun will be blowing right through various windows, depending on the time of day.

One of the easiest and most effective ways of dealing with this low, extremely bright sun reflecting off the white snow is to shoot on an overcast day, or when the sun is out of the sky. The "Golden Hour" or "Magic Hour" - the time before and after the sunrise and sunset is now a bit longer - maybe an hour an a half! This is always a magical time of the day to shoot homes, but with the low sun issues in the winter, sometimes this can be the only real solution.

Winter scenes often have a tremendous dynamic range which exceeds the capabilities of your camera. The bright white snow sometimes will confuse your cameras automatic exposure modes. Newer digital cameras are generally very "intelligent", but a camera is only as good as the person behind it. The light meter will evaluate the light reflected from the entire scene and try and make it an average brightness. The result is your beautiful, snowy landscapes turn gray. The easiest way to compensate is to use your cameras exposure compensation to "overexpose the photo" a bit to get that bright snow actually white!

We deal with the sun and snow issues in several ways - using polarizing filters to remove the glare off the snow and to darken the sky to bring in more color into the (generally) colorless scene and shooting  multiple exposures. We also have a special program that will precisely show the position and angle of the sun at any given location, helping us to determine the correct time of day to take the best photos and video of your listing. You can usually avoid problems by planning ahead!

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