Equipment

If you have been following my work for a while you may have wondered what is in my camera bag (or backpack in this case).  So when I had slow day I emptied out my gear to show what I carry to every interior shoot.  Granted, I may not use every single piece of equipment every time, but a lot of it is used in almost every shoot.  Underneath the photo I have explained what each piece of equipment is/how I use it--just follow the corresponding numbers to learn what I use.  The two pieces of major equipment that are not pictured (because they do not fit in my bag) are my tripod and tripod head.  So let's open up the bag and find out what's in it...

1 - The Sony a7 full frame camera is my main camera body.  Attached is a L bracket for mounting onto my tripod.

2 - The Sony a7s camera with Meke battery grip for triggering the camera remotely when it is attached to my painter's pole for elevated shots.

3 - Sony 16-35 wide angle zoom lens.  My primary lens for shooting interiors.

4 - Canon 17mm tilt-shift lens.  It is a specialty lens for architecture and interiors--one of the sharpest lenses I have every owned.

5 - Sony 10-18 wide angle zoom lens.  This lens is only for crop cameras but I use it on my Sony a7s, which I can set to crop mode.  It's compact size and lightness make it ideal for exteriors and elevated shots.

6 - Nicefoto Nflash 680 is the "big gun" for my lighting needs.  Most people joke and tell me it is a megaphone (or some weird looking camera) but it actually is an extremely powerful, portable and cordless studio light.

7 - Yongnuo 560III flash is a small portable flash I use for smaller rooms like bathrooms and bedrooms.

8 - Metabones adapter, which allows me to use any Canon lens on my Sony camera.  The weird thing that looks like two feet coming out of it is it's own L bracket for mounting on the tripod.

9 - Belt loop holder for #6.  I do not use it a lot but it allows me to hang the studio light from my side when I do not want to carry it.

10 and 11 - Wireless receivers for Nflash (#6).  Number 10 is the backup and number 11 is the main one.

12 - Triggers that I use on the camera which communicate with #10 and/or #11 to fire my lights.

13 - SD cards (the digital version of rolls of film).  I carry at least three cards in my bag at all times.

14 - Samsung Pro 8.4 tablet allows me to trigger the camera remotely thanks to the Sony app, and receives the photo from the camera almost immediately after shooting so I can make adjustments.

15 - Rocketblower dust remover.  When dust shows up on the sensor, it is the first thing I reach for!

16 and 17 - Portable 5V batteries that I use to power my camera (and tablet if the battery runs low).

18 - "Smart" battery that allows me to hook up my 5V batteries.  I can shoot hour after hour before needing to switch batteries.

19 - Leveling cube that I can use to level the camera if I do not trust my eyes or the bubble level on the tripod.

20 - My bluetooth speaker--when I need some music I can connect to my phone or smartwatch and listen to my favorite '80s tunes!

 


The Challenges and Rewards of Shooting for Home Builders

The last three months or so I've been lucky enough to shoot some new construction properties for local home builders.  I have been "streaky" in my marketing efforts towards home builders in the past, but it is a market of interior photography I definitely want to do more of.

There are some pros and cons when it comes to photographing for home builders, though I would say there a way more benefits than downsides.

The only "negative", which is actually a good thing when you think about it, is that it takes me longer to both photograph on location and edit at home compared to a normal real estate listing shoot.  One of the reasons it takes longer has to do with the fact that the usage of the photographs is different.  Real estate photos have a relatively short lifespan.  Some properties get offers rather quickly and so photos may only be needed for a few months. 

On the flipside, home builders could be using photos for years to show off the homes they build and market their business.  As a result I am more picky about the images--I end up shooting more exposures to give myself more to work with when I have to edit.  I also spend more time editing to get them just right.  

Lastly, home builders do not have the extreme sense of time urgency that realtors have.  Builders can wait days, or even weeks, before needing their photos.  Realtors need them usually within 24 hours, so editing for builders gives me more time to be picky.

                                                         

Another quite significant difference is composition and cropping.  Home builders are primarily using the images for their website and maybe some prints to display at their office and/or home builds.  This allows me great latitude to shoot verticals and to crop the photographs with more non-traditional dimensions such as square crops.  Unfortunately for realtors, the MLS (multiple listing service) will constrict the dimensions agents can use.

Lastly, shooting for builders gives me a bit more creative license to shoot more detail images.  Closeups of fireplaces, faucets, railings, and light fixtures are common as it shows the detail and customization of home builds.  These are images that realtors rarely need when marketing a home for sale.  It's all about audience and purpose, just like in a piece of writing.

              

 


On vacation with my Sony a6000

I recently went on a family vacation to Kanab, Utah.  The trip was mainly a dream of my wife's for a long time as she's always wanted to volunteer at Best Friend's Animal Sanctuary.  Kanab is in a fantastic location as it is near several national parks, a couple beautiful state parks, and numerous hiking trails.  Knowing this I decided to bring my Sony a6000 mirrorless camera along with the wide-angle lens I use for photographing the exteriors of properties I shoot during the week.
I have to say that the a6000 is a fantastic travel camera.  It's really compact and light which made it perfect when hiking.  We visited Bryce Canon National Park (pictured above) which had the steepest trail we walked while on vacation.  I saw lots of people lugging big Canon and Nikon cameras.  I didn't have the heart to tell them my little Sony would take photos just as good, if not better, than the beasts they were carrying.
We also visited Arches National Park (above) and the north rim of The Grand Canyon in Arizona (below).  To the say the scenery on this vacation was breathtaking would be an understatement.  One of the main reasons I switched to Sony for interior photography was the fact their cameras are more compact and lighter, but with fantastic image quality.  I loved using the a6000 while on vacation--if you're looking for a travel camera for landscapes, it's hard to beat this little guy!

 


Contest Entry

Last week I posted an image on my Facebook page that I entered in a monthly real estate photography contest.  The contest runs every month with a different theme, and April's theme was master bedrooms.  Since the contest is open to photographers from around the globe the competition is fierce.  Photographs from Australia, Hawaii, California, Canada, and Europe are regulars in the contest.  I've been entering an image or two the last couple years as many times the jurors leave helpful comments about the images.

I had a good master bedroom photo from a property I shot in Greenville a couple months ago, so I did some extra editing to the photo and entered the contest.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the jurors had awarded the image enough points to tie for fifth out of 36 photos.  It was the first time any image I've entered had garnered any points so I was quite happy (both with the outcome and progress my style has made in the last couple years).

The composition was fairly easy and lighting the image was a two-step process.  The photo above left is lit almost completely by light from the window--I did use a flash to brighten up the shadows on the bed and nightstand on the left side.  The image on the right I darkened the windows by increasing my shutter speed and aiming the flash directly at the window.  I combined the two images in Photoshop so that only the darker window portion of the right photo was combined with the more naturally-lit photo on the left.  I then cropped the photo (to eliminate the distracting furniture on the left and right sides), and did some minor tweaking.  I was left with the image below:

A shot like this is more than adequate for a normal real estate listing, but for the contest I knew it needed more attention.  Jurors are very nit-picky so I tried to put myself in their shoes and dissect the image.  I knew a lot of things need to be cloned out to bring the image together.  So I put on my magician's hat and made the ceiling fan cords "disappear" as well as the ruffling under the bottom of the bed and the digital clock on the nightstand.  Lastly I removed some glare and darkened the window/curtains on the right-hand side.  See the short video below for an example of how I make things disappear.

After all that work, the final contest image was ready:

It took a lot more work than a standard image for a real estate listing, but I enjoyed the challenge of taking the photo to the next level and entering the contest.  I'm hoping to enter more images in the coming years.

 


Switch to Sony

For the first time in over 20 years I am using something besides a Canon camera to photograph professionally.  My epiphany started with fellow real estate photographer Wayne Capili.  Wayne shoots in a hotbed for interior photography--California.  And he has been raving about Sony's mirrorless cameras.  After seeing Wayne's work with his Sony (and being very impressed) I decided to give Sony a try.  With the help of a Metabones adapter I am able to use all my Canon lenses with any Sony mirrorless camera.
I ended up buying a used full frame A7 camera body and started using my trusty 17-40 Canon zoom lens.  I was really impressed at the final images.  The dynamic range was fantastic and the camera had several great features my Canon 6D did not.  Sony's wifi app is very user friendly and connecting the camera to my tablet is a breeze.  The tiltable live view screen makes setting up shots easier and manual focus is also way easier thanks to Sony's "focus peaking" feature.
The camera is also more compact and lighter meaning I have less weight to carry around during the day.  In fact, I picked up an even smaller and lighter Sony camera, the A6000, just for exteriors and pole photography.  On windy days it sure is nice to have a camera much easier to control when it is stuck on a pole 18 feet in the air!
And best of all--Sony's A7 was about half the price of the Canon 6D.  The A6000 was even cheaper.  By now means are these perfect cameras--but for real estate photography they are really impressive.  I must say I was pleasantly shocked at how much I love these Sony mirrorless cameras.  Lighter, more compact, with great features for interior photography--with less impact on the wallet.

 


How Architectural Digest Changed My Style, Part Two

In part one I described how subscribing to Architectural Digest changed how I view interior spaces and how that influences my composition choices.  In this part I will discuss how AD had an influence on how I light spaces.  Starting out shooting interiors I made the assumption that the more light I pumped into a photo the better it was.  Looking back at some of my earlier work, I cringe knowing that I took the lighting too far and therefore killed the mood of the room/space.  The photo at right is a great composition, but I overlit both the far bedroom and especially the bathroom.
As more issues of AD kept arriving I could not help but notice how subtle the lighting was.  There were actual shadows and dark spots (just like in real life)!  Go figure.  I noticed the feeling/mood of the images was much more natural and welcoming.  My outlook on lighting completely changed the more photos I saw.  I observed more control of where lighting was coming from and the shadows it produced.  I realized I did not have to light up every space like Walmart in order to have an attractive image.
Granted, the photographer shooting for AD probably gets to spend hours, maybe even a couple days on location creating maybe 8-10 images of one property.  I am usually at a home no more than 90 minutes, creating a couple dozen images, so it is definitely a different scenario.  However, the AD "look" is something I constantly strive for when shooting interiors.  Bright is not always right--subtle, realistic, but still pleasing images is something AD taught me to work towards.

 


How One Magazine Subscription Changed My Style

Always wanting to improve my craft I started subscribing to Architectural Digest about 18 months ago because I knew it contained top-notch interior photography.  As the first couple issues arrived I noticed a couple things that really changed how I approach interior photography.  This blog will deal with one of those areas (part two comes at a later date).  
When I first started shooting interiors I always put the camera in the corner of a room.  I figured it showed the most space and allowed me to show other spaces connected to the room I was in.  But the more AD photos I saw the more I realized how powerful the one-point composition could be (technically speaking, a one-point composition is when the back plane of the camera is parallel to the wall facing it).  I especially love shooting one points when I am showing how different rooms/spaces relate to each other.  I still shoot from corners (especially bedrooms) because sometimes that is the best angle to show a space, but AD opened my eyes to another (and sometimes better) possibility.  
 
  I also realized that an attractive interior photo has very little to do with how wide it is (ie how much space it shows).  This is a common mistake among real estate agents--the "wider is better" philosophy. Thanks to AD I've really changed my attitude from "I have to show how big this home is" to a more effective attitude of "I have to show how attractive this home is".  One way I notice this philosophy in the pages of AD is that many of their photographs show very little ceiling.  And when there is a lot of ceiling showing it is usually because the composition is vertical and/or the photographer wanted to highlight a beautiful light fixture.
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Stay tuned for part two when I discuss the second major impact AD has had on my approach to interiors...

 


Anatomy of a Photo

Recently I photographed a beautiful home in Oneida that had a nice open concept and high ceilings in the living room.  I found a composition that really showed a lot of different spaces in one photo so I thought I'd post the "method behind my madness" so to speak when making a photograph.  The first photo below is straight out of the camera with no editing.  After looking at it on my tablet (connected wirelessly to my camera), I then began the task of identifying areas that needed extra attention (ie lighting).
I definitely wanted to draw attention to the kitchen, the far room with the french door, the hallway, the upper sitting area, and the staircase.  The two living room chairs in front I lit standing next to the camera, but I then proceeded to take my flash and "walk into the photo" to light other areas separately.  I labeled the finished photo below with numbers so you can see exactly where I lit.  The kitchen was such a big area that I decided to light the left-side cabinets, then the ones facing the camera (marked #1 and #2).  Area #3 was easy (far room) and so was the hallway (#6).  The area at the top of the stairs was a bit trickier.  I decided to light the hallway just a bit so it did not look like a cave (#4), then I bounced a light off the ceiling to add some highlights to the bookcase and chair (#5).  The last area was the entryway and staircase (#7) which a bounced flash off a wall at full power took care of.  Lighting done!
After looking at the photos on my tablet, I was fairly confident I could piece together something really good with Photoshop.  After combining all the different photos all I had left to do was straighten the verticals and do some minor tweaking and presto!  Finished photo delivered to agent!

 


See the difference!

  I recently did some photos for Iris Place here in Appleton and the director, Karen Iverson Riggers, was kind enough to send her original photos to me that she was using to market Iris Place.  I think there is no better marketing strategy for photographers than to show people how different the quality of photographs can be.  Many believe photographing empty spaces is easy and all it takes is a really expensive camera.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  You could hand me a 1968 Stratocaster guitar, but don't expect me to sound like Jimi Hendrix!  A simple comparison of the photos below illustrate the major difference that can take place with interior photography.  I encourage any business or person who has to market themselves with interior photography to make sure they hire a photographer who specializes in interiors--as you can see, it can make a big difference!

 


Why I Love Character Homes

I photograph a lot of different types of homes across a wide range of price ranges and some of my favorites are older character homes.  I've seen plenty of fancy homes, but sometimes the layouts are just too predictable and uninspiring.  When I'm driving to an older neighborhood I often think to myself, "I wonder what kind of cool compositions this one will have?"
One of my favorite things about character homes are the entryways--many times they are individual little spaces all by themselves.  Showing staircases as part of the entry are one of my favorite types of photos, as well as putting the entryway in context with a living room or other area.
And of course, character homes lead me to my favorite type of interior composition--a straight on one point!
Maybe it's the fact that I've been shooting a lot of these older homes lately that inspired this post, but it's the variety of properties that makes my job interesting and well-staged character homes will always be some of my favorites to photograph!

 

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