5 tips to light any room with speedlights

Found in: Photo Tips
Feb 01 2015
by Willi Wissler

To capture the perfect interior photograph, whether it's for a real estate listing or for an architectural magazine, some sort of flash is necessary. While you will certainly hear people who prefer to use HDR, this often results in a less realistic image and also takes a lot of time in post-production. As a real estate photographer, it's not practical to be lugging around a full studio light setup or spending too much time in post-production, so speedlights are the obvious choice to get the job done. My primary flash is a Nikon SB-910. Small rooms can be captured with a single flash connected to the camera, but more complicated interiors may require two or more flashes to get the right exposure throughout the frame. So, I also have three inexpensive Yongnuo 560EX flashes that I use when one flash cannot reach all of the spaces in an interior shot. This article gives you my top 5 tips on using speedlights off-camera to light any room.

Real estate photo tips: bedroom example Real estate photo tips: bathroom example

Tip 1: Start with an ambient exposure


Balancing the ambient exposure with speedlights makes the job of getting a nice even exposure much easier.


Set your exposure so that the windows or at least the window frames aren't blown out. Slightly overexposed windows can be recovered in Photoshop, but it's best to retain as much detail as possible in the original photo.

Real estate photo tips: shooting for ambient exposure

Tip 2: Hide the flashes from the camera


Great real estate photography sells the dream of living in the home. So, obvious flash reflections bring us back to reality, making us question how the image would have looked without the flash.


Place the speedlights out of frame or at least hidden from view. Behind the camera is ideal, but if necessary, you can hide them behind walls or amongst the furniture. To make sure hot spots are not visible, it is best to avoid pointing flashes directly at visible surfaces or use low power settings if necessary.

Tip 3: Bounce the flashes


Bouncing flash makes the light source larger and thus softer, giving you better coverage and reducing harsh shadows.

Real estate photo tips: direct flash Real estate photo tips: bounced flash


Find a surface that faces where you need the light to fall, or use the ceiling. If possible, choose a neutrally colored wall to avoid any color cast in the photo. Face the flash at the chosen surface and fire off a test frame. If you are still getting heavy shadows, you may need to change the direction of the speedlight or move it back from the bouncing surface to make the light source even larger.

If you are getting hotspots on the ceiling from bouncing your flash, you may need to aim the flash further out of the frame.

To avoid light spill (or stray light), you may need to use something like Rogue FlashBender, Honl Snoot/Reflector, or even more exotic PRESSlite ECLIPSE Light Shield. These modifiers will help you better control the light direction.

Experiment with pointing the flash at different parts of the walls and ceiling until there are no visible hotspots and the shadows are not too heavy or harsh.

Tip 4: Try to place the flashes above the camera


In most contexts, above is the most natural position for light to come from. Lighting from above minimizes shadows and reflections, making it easier to achieve the even lighting that we need.


Placing on top of doors, door frames, and cabinets is often an obvious choice in any property, but it is always good to have a few light stands/tripods handy. Various types of clamps can also be used (Nasty Clamps, for example, are quite handy and versatile).

Real estate photo tips: placing flash up high

Tip 5: Add one speedlight at a time


The main flash in the foreground is usually the largest and most powerful light source, so it is likely to spill into the background, which would affect the required power for the secondary flashes. You don't want to have to go back and forth adjusting the power of lights as they are added in, so I always start with the foreground.


Complicated rooms that require more than one flash should be lit by adding one flash at a time, from close to far. The first flash will need to be bounced off of a wall or shot through an umbrella so that the light source is large enough to fill the room without creating hotspots or unnatural shadows. Secondary speedlights can be added one at a time to fill in the remaining dark areas.

In the example below, notice how the entrance door on the right is dark in the left image and well-lit in the right one where an additional speedlight is used.

Real estate photo tips: one flash only, the right side is dark Real estate photo tips: second flash added, the right side is properly exposed


When lighting an interior, remember these 5 simple photo tips:

  • Start with an ambient exposure set for the windows.
  • Hide your flashes and hotspots from the camera.
  • Bounce your flash to get softer light.
  • Place your flashes up high to minimize unnatural shadows.
  • Add in your speedlights one at a time lighting from foreground to background.
I hope these tips will help you produce high quality results with interiors looking inviting and naturally lit.

If you have any questions or comments, post them below, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

Guest writer: Willi Wissler

Willi Wissler is a real estate photographer and copywriter working in Brisbane, Australia. Willi’s business provides photography, copywriting and floor plans to vendors and agents alike. He has a passion for modern architecture and design, but also loves to photograph people. In his spare time Willi likes to play soccer, make electronic music and go crab hunting.


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