The Color of Lights

The Color of Lights

How many times have you, as a real estate agent, gotten photographs from your photographer (hopefully, not me) and the colors were all off? There can be quite a few reasons for this so let me start with a short lesson on the color of light.

Light comes in many colors. Our eyes see it but our brain does its own color correction. Light is measured in degrees Kelvin. Daylight is around 5600K. So when you look at a piece of white paper in sunlight, well, it looks white. A tungsten lightbulb is a very warm color (typically around 2800 K). This is why the light from lamps often looks orange. If you hold a piece of paper under a tungsten bulb, it will look orange. Now here’s the deal, to your eye, the paper will look white because your brain does the color correction for you. However, a camera sees it as what it is, which is orange light. A cloudy day can be a cool tone or, to the camera, bluish.

As a photographer, I have to look at the light source and set the white balance in my camera to correct for true colors.  Cameras have auto white balance and they can be quite accurate.   We can also do quite a bit of color correction in post processing so that the photos we deliver have as accurate a color pallet as possible.  If your kitchen cabinets are white, they need to look white in the photos.  How many times, though, have you, as a real estate agent gotten photos back and the beige painted walls look orange or the white bathroom tile looks yellow?

So here’s the challenge to us real estate photographers.  Often times, we are dealing with many different light sources (lamps, canned lighting, under cabinet LED lighting, window light from the outdoors, etc.).  Guess what?  Every one of these sources emit a different temperature of light on the Kelvin scale.  One room may have cool, bluish light coming from the windows, orange light coming from a lamp and greenish, LED light coming from the ceiling.  Color correcting in these circumstances can be difficult at best.  This is why, when you hire me for a shoot, I almost always bring in large flashes.  These large flashes can overpower the ambient light and, thus, give me a consistent color balance throughout the home.  Beige walls are beige, not orange.  The issue with using lights, though, is that it can cause unnatural shadows and look “flashy”.  To offset this, I take a series of shots without lights and then in post production, I blend the images together, ie. paint back in some of the ambient to give the flash shots a natural look.  This takes longer to shoot and process, but the results are color accurate, pleasing images.  This is why it takes time for me to deliver your photos.

I’m tell you all this so that you understand some of the challenges I face when I come into a home to photograph it.  So what’s the best way to combat this to ensure that your photos look crisp and color correct? 

Here are a few things:

  • Have me shoot your home without the lights on.  What???  Most real estate agents feel like having the lights on is a given.  Well, yes and no.  Yes, a home can look more inviting if the lights are on.  But, do we really need all of them on?  If we have the lamps on in a room, do we also need to have the can ceiling lights on as well?  What about rooms that are flooded with natural light?  My argument would be no, all the lights do not need to be on.   Take a look at Architectural Digest or other home decorating magazines and you will see that the lights are virtually never turned on.  Because most, if not all, of my clients have always had the lights on, that’s the way I shoot their listings because that’s what they expect.  But, maybe try to be open about the idea of leaving some, or all, of the lights off and see what you think.
  • Make sure your seller, and/or especially, your STAGER, replaces all the bulbs in the house with the same color temperature bulbs.  Most light bulbs list the degrees Kelvin on the box.  Buy a case of 5300 K light bulbs and make sure all the lamps and lights have them.  This way, there’s a uniform color balance throughout the house.
  • Hire me to shoot your photos because by bringing in lighting and knowing how to process away the color cast from the photos, is key to having accurate color.   Which steps above you choose to do is your choice but this step should always be top priority!  ; >)


Color Of Light


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