I’ve been photographing homes for real estate and commercial use for well over 10 years.
When I first started out, my most difficult challenge was shooting the interiors of homes. Even today’s best camera sensors are not great at balancing the extreme bright light coming in from windows and dark interiors. If you expose for the window your interior is underexposed and if you expose for the interior your exterior is overexposed with flaring around window edges.
Over the years, with the help of Photoshop and a 680w wireless strobe I can now successfully manage just about any interior lighting situation.
Unfortunately, exterior lighting is something that none of us can control, no matter what.
I am often asked, “When is the best time of the day to photograph the exterior of a home?” My answer is “Who knows?” Every home is different; and without scouting out the property during various times of the day and year observing shadows and sun position, I often will not know until I arrive on the day of the shoot.
The general rule among photographers is to shoot when the sun is low in the sky. That's usually early mornings or late afternoons/evenings right around sunset. Photographing homes for real estate listings during those hours is usually not practical, for all involved.
How do I do it? For one I try not to schedule a shoot when the sun is coming up directly behind the home. Shooting directly into bright sunlight causes lens flare, dark shadows on the face of the home, and an overall unimpressive view of the property. If there are dark shadows being cast by trees I will usually wait to see if I can grab a shot when the sun goes behind the clouds for a second or two.
Unfortunately, there are times when I don’t have either of those options.
Being a professional requires one to be able to produce great results all of the time, no matter what conditions you encounter.
CLEAR BRIGHT SUNNY DAYS ARE NOT ALWAYS A PHOTOGRAPHER'S BEST FRIEND
The other day I arrived at a job and the sun was coming up directly behind the home. It was 11:30 am in November and there was not a cloud in the sky. According to my app the home faced north, and the sun would be low in the sky behind the home for the entire day. I knew immediately this would be a challenge.
Due to the high dynamic range of this situation I set my camera to auto exposure bracketing (AEB) and captured 3 different exposures. One normal exposure, one two steps higher and one two steps below. I used a scrim (sometimes an umbrella) to block the sun which helps prevent as much lens flare as possible.
Here are the unedited RAW bracketed shots out of camera. As you can see, I don't think any buyer would look at this and say, "Oh my what a beautiful home!"
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For a real estate shoot, the most important shot is the one everyone sees first and that’s usually the exterior front. Therefore, it must be good!
So, how do you deal with harsh direct lighting situations that you have no control over? Some photographers use HDR blending for this. However I've found HDR to be an inferior process especially when images are displayed in large format such as in slideshows/virtual tours. All of the imperfections of HDR (hazy, discolored, and an overall overprocessed, unnatural look) are magnified when displayed on a large screen monitor.
Fig 4 is the final image using luminosity masking, sky replacement and NO HDR processing.
Below is a screen capture of the entire editing process I used to produce the final image displayed above.
As you can see, professional photo editing is a very important part in making a home look it's very best; especially when lighting conditions are poor. You will also notice some images may look great on small mobile devices but look very unprofessional on a large screen monitor or print. Using the proper capture and editing processes can help give you that clean professional look no matter how the images are viewed. So, to answer the question, "when is the best time to photograph a home?" I say let a pro figure it out.