Top 5 Tips to Better Photographs, Tip #2: Light: What You See is Not Always What You Get

Real Estate Agent with Ebby Halliday, REALTORS


Hello again everyone.  This is Kay's assistant, Joseph.  In today's tip we will look at the next to last of my Top 5 Tips for Better Photographs.  Let's talk about light.

Years ago, when I took a drawing class I remember the instructor constantly reminding us to draw what we saw, not what we thought we saw.  You see (pardon the pun), our eyes and our brain do a very good job of taking visual images and processing them so that objects never seem to change much even though we see them at different angles or in different lighting conditions.

But cameras are very good at recording what is really there, as opposed to just what we see.  Take a look at the two house photos below:


Blue House

April Photo


Now what do you notice about the top house photo when compared to the bottom house photo.  The house photo on the bottom looks brighter and sharper, doesn't it?  Why do you think that is?  The camera in both shots was set on automatic.  I'll give you a hint: look at the shadows.....

Do you also notice that the top house seems to have a bluish tint to it?  Why do you think that is?  Here's another hint:  the top picture was shot in October, the bottom was shot in April.....

Figured it out yet?

1) It's Hard to See With the Sun in Your Eyes:

First, in the top picture the sun was behind the house.  This is called backlighting. Anytime the main source of light is behind the subject it is backlit.  The front of the subject is actually in shadow.  Since we are use to seeing just a house, we likely don't notice it unless we have trained ourselves to look at things and see light and dark, instead of seeing just an object (such as a house, or Uncle Bernie standing on the beach with the sun setting in the background....).

Backlit subjects wreck havoc on the camera's ability to determine the correct exposure.  It can't win.  If it chooses the exposure based on the brightly lit background, our subject will be too dark.  If it chooses an exposure to make the subject lighter, then our background will be too bright, and the colors will appear weak (or washed out as it is know, just like a pair of faded jeans).


The Blue Tint:

As for the blue tint, this is because light has a different quality during the fall and winter than it does in the spring and summer.  The sunlight in winter is cooler and has more blue in it than summer, when the light is warmer has more red in it.  Have you ever wondered what it is that makes you look outside on a sunny winter day and think, "it looks cold out.."  Even though you can't put your finger on it, your eyes sense the bluish change in light that comes with winter. 

This is called the color temperature of light.  It may seem unfamiliar, but it you are familiar with it if you have ever wondered why that picture of you someone snapped under the florescent bulbs makes you look like you're half-dead, or why those shots indoors without the flash when you had that powerful lamp on, and you ended up looking a little pumpkin-skinned. Different light bulbs produce light with different color temperatures.  You don't perceive the difference, but the camera sure does.

As a little trivia for us older folks........Anyone old enough to remember the days of Ektachrome and Kodachrome slide film will also remember that Ektachrome was biased to the blue side, whereas Kodachrome produced warmer those days it really mattered because for magazine photography professionals had to use slide film.

Well, what do I do about this Joseph?


1) If a subject is backlit you have four choices:  a) Get you and your camera into the shadow to take your picture.  If everything (or most everything) you see through the camera is in shadow, then your camera will make the correct exposure.  Look at this picture, where the whole house was backlit, so I moved into the shadow cast by the trees:

Backlit subject

 B) Turn your flash on.  Using your flash on a blacklit subject is called using a fill flash.  Many cameras these days are smart enough to realize that a subject is backlit, and you may even get a warning to turn on the flash.  Usually, if you turn on the flash, it will adjust the power to give you a better shot, like in this photo of a backlit sign (the sun was rising directly behind the sign) that I used a flash on.  Important: Flashes are not usually powerful enough to be a fill flash for the entire front of a house that is backlit!!!: 

Backlit Sign

C) Reposition yourself so the sun is more behind  or to the side of you.  The first picture is no flash, the second picture is no flash, but at a slightly different angle.  Notice the difference it makes: 


Backlit Sign

 D) If you can't do any of the previous three options, then come back and reshoot when the sun is at a better angle!



Here the options are more limited:

A) Make sure indoors under florescent of incandescent bulbs to use your flash!  The flash neutralizes these lights:

Indoor with a flash


B) Outdoors in winter, you will need to adjust your camera settings or use Photoshop or other photo editing software (I use Paint Shop Pro Photo IX) to adjust the color temperature of the picture.  Let's take a look at the earlier picture:

Blue House


First, in Paint Shop Pro Photo IX I choose "Smart Photo Fix" from the "Enhance Photo" button.  I then adjust the overall brightness down, increase the darkness of shadows, darken highlights, increase the color saturation a touch, then increase sharpness:

I then choose "Color Blalance" from the "Adjust" Menu, then slide the Temperature scale towards the warmer side until it is something I can live with.  A final touch I sometimes use is to finish by using "High Pass Sharpen" from the "Enhance Photo" Button.  I have seen many photos where it is obvious the originals have been enhanced....I look for something that improves the photo but still is a natural look.  Here is the final result:

Final picture version

I don't consider it perfect, and anytime you use software to try to correct a picture rather than using software to enhance a basically good initial picture, your final results will always be a compromise.  But considering this was a backlit, blue tinted photo, I think this result is much better, and would be okay for flyers or use on the web.

Now maybe you think "I can't possibly learn to do all of that!"  Remember:  If you say you can't, you never will.

In my final Tip I will look at My #1 Tip to Improve Your Photographs....

Till then,



This entry hasn't been re-blogged:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
Real Estate Technology & Tools

Spam prevention
Show All Comments
Keisha Hosea-
KASI Homes - Chino Hills, CA
Real Estate Solutions For Real People

Great tips. I usually just resort to picasa or something.

Nov 24, 2008 03:47 PM #1
Patty Luther
RE/MAX Rock-n-Roll Realty - Lewiston, ID
Lewiston ID Real Estate, Idaho-Washington

thanks for the good information! I am also happy to be able to EDIT some photos...

Nov 24, 2008 03:52 PM #2
Jon Zolsky, Daytona Beach, FL
Daytona Condo Realty, 386-405-4408 - Daytona Beach, FL
Buy Daytona condos for heavenly good prices

Very good post. I actually know that but it still was very interesting to look at the photos and read your comments. Thanks

Nov 24, 2008 04:00 PM #3
Karen Anne Stone
New Home Hunters of Fort Worth and Tarrant County - Fort Worth, TX
Fort Worth Real Estate

Hi Joseph:  Great information... and well explained, too.  Now, I might give you a tip.  At the end of your post there is a whole bunch of white space.  That often comes when you have either hit the "enter" button too many times when you are finished with your post... of you accidentally allowed an over abundance of space for your photos.  To fix it... hit the edit button on the post... and then move your mouse to the very bottom... scroll down... and then back-space from there.  That will eat up the extra white space at the bottom.  Make sense ?  If not, ask.  Take care... and thanks for sharing.

Nov 24, 2008 04:15 PM #4
Vickie Nagy
Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate - Palm Springs, CA
Vickie Jean the Palm Springs Condo Queen

I am most appreciative about this great tutorial about proper lighting with photography. Thanks for the post.

Nov 24, 2008 04:19 PM #5
Michael A. Caruso
Surterre Properties - Laguna Niguel, CA

I have trouble getting ocean view shots when the sun is over the water.

Nov 24, 2008 04:41 PM #6
Carol Swain
Keller Williams Real Estate - Langhorne, PA
Realtor, Bucks County, Pa

Thanks for the tips.  Thankfully they invented digital cameras and photo editing software so you can fix some of these issues. 

Nov 24, 2008 08:56 PM #7
Christopher Johnston
The Johnston Team - Metairie, LA

I think that this should be required reading before someone post photos on our MLS. There are many Realtors who post the most awful photos of properties they are representing. These are often the same people who won't put an address on the listing allowing a potential buyer to drive by. With most buyers today starting their home search online it is imperative that we give them the best photos of the property we can so that they will call us to see it. 

Nov 28, 2008 12:32 AM #8
Lou Farris
Your Castle Real Estate, Inc! - Highlands Ranch, CO

Sometimes, it is the optics of the camera that produce these traits, and on SLR cameras a good filter (I prefer Cokin for my Nikons) I can correct for this. Sometimes I like to use vignette filters for effect, which product a special cover for difficult to sell listings.

I prefer Nikon cameras (I have 8 or 9) for the optics. I know there are a lot of you who use something else. I hav both film and digital cameras, and find that sometimes a simple thing, like reviewing the manual, or going to the manufacturer's web site will straighten out some of the things that cause me trouble, without all the grief of retouching things. Most of the time, I only have to crop an image to get what I need in the frame, or make it more interesting.


Dec 22, 2008 11:16 PM #9
Christopher Johnston
The Johnston Team - Metairie, LA

The new merge to HDR pro feature in Photoshop CS5 could be a great fix for something like this. HDR is much too difficult to explain in a blog comment but go to and look at some of the photos there to see what is possible with it.

Nov 18, 2010 05:39 AM #10
Show All Comments

What's the reason you're reporting this blog entry?

Are you sure you want to report this blog entry as spam?


Kay Carlson

Ask me a question