Flambient property photography is a technique that combines flash and ambient photographs in order to produce an image that looks natural with sharp details and faithful colour reproduction. Typically a property photographer will either use long exposures with the camera on a tripod using just ambient light or use a flash to light a room. Both flash and ambient techniques can offer advantages however both can also have a negative effect on the quality of the finished photographs so lets begin by taking a look at each.
Using ambient light to photograph a room involves using the natural light coming through windows as well as artificial light produced by light fixtures in the room. In order to use natural light a camera will typically be placed on a tripod allowing for a fairly long exposure. Whilst ambient photography can produce very pleasing results it does also have some drawbacks.
When light enters through windows it will bounce off surfaces and fixtures in a room and change colour as it does so. For instance the light bouncing off of a wooden floor can cause an orange cast or make white walls look slightly yellow. Likewise the light coming from light fixtures is often more orange than daylight and because of the long exposure time can appear to cast much more light on surrounding surfaces than seems natural.
One of the biggest drawbacks with using ambient photography alone is that any windows and lights will often need to be over-exposed in order to get the correct amount of exposure for the rest of the room. Sometimes this can be corrected in post however the resulting images can often make windows look blown out, blurry or unnatural due to the heavy post processing required.
Have a look at the image above. The overall results with ambient photography are quite nice in this example however notice how the light bouncing off the walls has made the kitchen units on the left look a different colour to the units on the right. The window has almost totally blown out to white making it impossible to see any outside details.
Using a flash can counteract some of the problems associated with ambient photography because the light source is more controlled. Colours in a room will appear more accurate and images will appear sharper and more defined. Using a flash however can result in less natural looking images due to close objects being overly bright and shadows being cast by objects in front of the flash. Ideally shadows in a property photograph should be caused by natural light from the windows so introducing flash often results in more sterile looking images with un-natural shadows.
Notice in the image above that the colours of the units on the left now look more accurate. Also notice how the exposure through the window is better controlled using flash. There are however obvious downsides to flash visible in this example, notice the shadow cast by the cooker hood, work tops, and the tap as well as the uneven lighting on the ceiling.
Flambient Property Photography
Flambient photography is a technique where the photographer will capture both flash and ambient images and combine them in post production to produce an image that includes the benefits of each technique without the drawbacks of either.
The edited flambient images will show natural lighting throughout the room whilst retaining correct colours on surfaces and sharp details. Windows will be better exposed with the light outside being more pleasing and natural.
The final example of this room shows the flambient composition which combines the two previously shown examples. Notice how the image looks sharper whilst colours remain correct throughout the image. Shadows cast by the cooker hood, tap and work surfaces from the flash are no longer visible.
Note that in this example the window is still a little over exposed which is a creative choice that I make when the view outside doesn’t enhance the marketing value of the image.
Timescales & efficiency
Using flambient photography does take a little longer at each property as it requires multiple images to be captured in each room however it can also make the editing process more efficient. When only shooting ambient for example it allows you to shoot faster but then requires more work trying to correct colour casts and blown out windows at the editing stage. In general I find the overall combined timescales to be similar between both approaches.
With the quality of flambient photography being better I’m now using it for the majority of our property photography packages without any additional costs to our clients. If I can deliver higher quality images it helps our clients to market properties faster which also benefits us as a photography supplier.