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Do Use A Diffuser For Real Estate Photography? Which One?

Published: 17/04/2013

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In the last year or so I've had several readers tell me how much they liked the Graslon Prodigy Dome Diffuser for real estate photography. I must admit that I'm not a big user of diffusers that attach to your flashes. Probably because I learned everything I know about small flashes from Scott Hargis so I use a Sto-Fen diffuser and umbrellas like Scott, but I always try to use walls, doors etc. to bounce flashes off to get the big diffuse light.

Today Mark Miranda told me he was really impressed with the Graslon Prodigy Dome Diffuser that he started to use recently. Mark says:

This is just a plug for a new product I picked up.  I've been using the Gary Fong Universal Light Sphere for a couple of years now with great success.  The Graslon Prodigy peaked my interest several months ago, and I finally decided to give it a shot. Fantastic!  Nice, even, soft light that fills up a room.  The downside to the Fong is that it tends to blast a lot of light to the sides, washing out walls.  The Graslon is square, and mirrored inside.  Very little spill to the sides and you don't waste a lot of lot behind you, so you can tone your flash down a bit.  It comes with either a flat diffuser or a dome.  I'm using the dome which allows you to spread the light out more, taking advantage of bounce from ceilings and walls.

Certainly, this kind of diffuser would be very useful in non-real estate type photography where you can't depend on walls and doors and ceilings to bounce off but I'm wondering how many out there use diffusers on their small flashes when shooting real estate?

Larry Lohrman

19 comments on “Do Use A Diffuser For Real Estate Photography? Which One?”

  1. In Atlanta, where deep earth tones seem to be the norm, it's hard to bounce sometimes. Chestnut red is a huge dining room color in my region and bouncing off walls or ceilings still doesn't produce a good result. I just photographed a bedroom that was chocolate brown. I've started carrying a large reflector to make my own "mini" white wall. This piece of giz might just be what I'm looking for. Thanks for sharing Mark!

  2. $90! For that, you can buy at least three stands with shoot-thru umbrellas, or half a dozen 5-in-1 reflectors. I'll take the 40" light source over the 8" light source. 🙂

  3. Jeff, I've been shooting 4 homes a day. I don't have time or the patience to lug all that crap around. Sure, I'd love to have the ability and the time to bring in all the supplemental lighting I would need. When you've got to get in and out in 30-45 minutes, this thing is does a great job of lighting up a room. It's made editing much easier as well. The other thing I've found is that there are no obvious color shifts when flash intensity is changed as there were with the Fong.

  4. We have a set of two (for 580ex2) for sale. Used once on a job where as second shooter we were required to have same equipment. Better than excellent condition. $125 for set plus shipping anywhere in continental us. You can contact us through the contact form on our website

  5. Hmmm...not likely to be much better than direct flash. Or, at best, a very expensive stofen (which can be had for $20, unless you make your own for $1.39).
    This looks to be about 6" x 8", which means it's going to produce hard shadows. Meaningful diffusion is a function of the apparent size of the light vs. the size of the subject. With a subject that's 12 feet or more across (as in a typical residential room), a light source that's only 8" across is essentially a "point" light, which is going to look predictably crappy except in very specific situations.

    Far better to invest the $90 in a couple of shoot-through umbrellas that are large enough to create actual diffuse light. Even a single on-camera flash (the worst of all possible light sources) can be directed to bounce off of the adjacent wall or ceiling, which would be TEN TIMES better than the light from a little gadget like this. If there are no suitable bounce surfaces, then a good 5-in-1 reflector kit would be a better bet.

  6. My good friend, a PPA Master Photographer in Little Rock, Ron Jackson, has for many years used sheets of white plastic spongy 8x10 packing sheets for a reflector. He uses a rubber band to wrap in around the flash unit that points up. The light hits the plastic and a very soft bounce light fill the air. By using his hand he can control the shape of the fan. It's very cheap, 0 cost and it works great! Ron does all kinds of photography but specializes in photographing hotels and condos brochures.

  7. I'm sorry Scott, but you are wrong. It does not create harsh shadows and it is better than direct flash or the Stofen. Examples provided. I totally respect your talent, and I'm sure your expertise in this field far outweighs mine. You have to understand, there are many of us out here that don't have the luxury of spending time in these homes to photograph them with the complex lighting set ups. I must get in, create the best exposures that I can in a short amount of time, get out, and move on to the next home. Doing this four times a day does not allow time for multiple flashes, umbrellas, etc. If I had the time, I certainly would suplemental lighting and umbrellas. For those of you out here that realize were not shooting for Architectural Digest, and must work quickly, using one flash, this is a great product and well worth the $90. Examples below.

  8. Mark, the examples you posted are exhibiting exactly the symptoms I'm describing -- harsh shadows and flat, overlit foregrounds. Look behind the foreground armchair in the first photo, behind the hanging light fixtures in the other photos, under the cabinets in the first kitchen photo, and on the ceiling in photos 1, 2, 4, and 7.
    Look -- I'm not here to knock your photography, or attack you personally - you clearly have a business model that works for you - but you would be better off in nearly every example you posted using your on-camera light in a different way, which would not impact your time on location at all. The reason it's important to focus on better images is because if you don't, eventually someone like me will come along and take your clients away. A run-and-gun style that ignores basic principals of photography (small light source = hard shadows, on-axis light = flat photos) is at risk from competing photographers who apply a few simple techniques. In general, being focused on making really good images is a good thing for a photography business. Pretending otherwise is perilous.

    When I was shooting 4 listings a day, which I did for about three years, I was using multiple lights, umbrellas, and reflectors. It can be done. I've worked side by side with real estate photographers all over the world (literally) who are shooting in exactly the same conditions. So, yeah, I think I know what I'm talking about when it comes to making good photos in very tight time constraints. On-camera flash is NOT the best way to go, and in my opinion, a small diffusion device like this is less useful than a simple stofen cap, which in turn is less useful than an umbrella or a simple wall/ceiling bounce.
    Not saying this thing is 100% completely useless, but a real estate photographer has much better options out there.

  9. Scott, didn't mean to offend you, as it seems I did. There are some shadows but I would hardly call them harsh. My point is this. You see a shadow in an image and you immediately attribute it to inferior lighting skills because with your years of experience you know how the shot was lit. Shadows are going to occur in most images, whether they be caused by natural light or flash. The untrained eye, my clients, the folks perusing real estate listings are not going to know whether that shadow was created by my flash or the lamp in the corner out of frame. I've followed you and have seen hundreds of your images. I see shadows in your images and I know they're not created by flash, but they are there. Does it matter how it was created?

    I understand your skills are light years (no pun intended) beyond mine. I've either got real big stones or I'm an idiot for even replying. It's my understanding that this is a forum from which people like myself can learn and share ideas. Real estate photographers. I, and many like me, understand what we're shooting and how it's going to be used. I made a recommendation to others who may be in the same boat as me, probably quite a few, and you crapped all over it. And, that's okay. But, when I disagreed with you, you did exactly what you said you weren't trying to do. You attacked my work. I realize you could do better, and if I had your years of experience, I could too. I'm doing the best with what I've got. I'm sorry it's not up to your standards, but everyone's got their own standards.

  10. Mark, apology accepted, although there was no offense taken.
    You stated (above) that this dome diffuser "...does not create harsh shadows....examples provided.."
    Yet the examples you provided are showing obvious photographer-induced shadows, which I think is a contradiction worth pointing out. I'm glad your clients aren't noticing this stuff, but I do think I can speak with authority when I say that most real estate photographers want to avoid issues like this. And, depending on the geographic area and the market segment being serviced, the clients can recognize the problems and will complain, loudly. That may not be the case for you, your market, and your clients, but it is for most.
    Having tried many small gadget-y devices like this one, I am just submitting my opinion that a real estate photographer would be much better off using flash in a different way.

  11. After trying all sorts of devices and techniques to get the best lighting possible, I'm currently using a single 3 foot shoot-through umbrella attached to a flash bracket with the flash on top (a Canon 600EX-RT controlled by an ST-E3-RT tranmitter on the camera). I place the umbrella just above the lens with the flash upside-down so that the light source is as close to the light entering the lens as possible. This results in even white light (often a problem when bouncing off coloured walls) with very little shadows. It also means a very quick, easy and portable set-up that gets me in and out of a shoot fast and results in less editing later. The only improvement I can see is by using an enclosed umbrella with a black backing and a hole for the flash head to peek through to reduce bounce off whatever's behind me.

  12. Mark and guys! You both have valid points in my opinion. Mark I agree with Scott that your shots are over lit with flash and also a bit warm for my liking and that's not a slam believe me. What Scott is saying is that your foreground subjects are clearly "hot" with flash ultimately creating flash shadows. I also completely agree with you that lugging a bunch of lighting equipment around is not cost effective for time in this business. To make money shooting real estate these days with so many "professional photographers" out there is very difficult so there has to be a balance and any flash photography is better than HDR in my opinion (calm down HDRERS). I use a Gary Fong diffuser when shooting with my Canon 600EX-RT Flash on camera and with that and a combination of the right angles and post production work do a pretty bang up job. I try to avoid shooting from angles that are going to create those harsh shadows (require lots of supplemental light) and if that's not possible I drag my shutter a bit longer and use less flash and find a balance that works. I too know how to use multiple light sources and know that the result is much better, but I am not being paid the big bucks to shoot hotels etc and also I provide 20+ indoor shots to my clients and couldn't imagine setting up all those shots. I don't think Scott was insulting your work though. Just giving constructive criticism. I know it's tough to hear negative feedback when you feel positive and excited about your work but ultimately I would take what he's said and start working on correcting the problems as he is right, someone else will probably come along....

  13. Hi Dave (Williamson)

    I'm trying to visualize your setup. You have the flash on a lightstand next to the camera with the centre of the flash/umbrella almost on a line with the camera lens?

    You don't bounce any light then, just use the umbrella for diffusion?

    Sorry, I'm just trying to see this with my mind. (You get slower when you reach my age!)

  14. @Michael: I rarely bounce the light off anything. The flash and umbrella are attached to a flash bracket and the whole thing is held just above (and very close to) the lens and it results in very diffuse lighting with very little shadows (and less editing). I don't use a lightstand as that just slows things down going from room to room and because it doesn't allow me to get the umbrella/flash close enough to the lens.

  15. @ Dave W: Could you provide an image of this setup and possibly the flash bracket you're using? I've been looking around for a flash bracket that will mount an umbrella and I'm having a hard time finding one. I'm starting to shoot more and more real estate photography and will be looking to purchase either light modifiers and lighting equipment. This set up sounds fairly compact and I would like to give it a try.

    Thank you.

  16. Do a search for "light stand umbrella" in Google Images. If you remove the umbrella, flash and bracket from the stand so you can hand-hold it as a single device, that's what I use for many of my interior shots.

    The reasons I use this set-up are:

    1. Greater speed. You can complete a shoot more quickly using a single hand-held light source than using multiple strobes mounted on light stands because you can get around faster when you don't have a stand to move. Stands are awkward and often can't be placed where you want them (e.g. because furniture is in the way). Of course this may compromise quality to a certain extent - you probably should use multiple lighting sources when you are being paid huge amounts of money to take a lot of time when shooting things like mansions or resorts. However, I find the quality doesn't suffer much at all when shooting small houses.

    2. Less shadows. Shadows occur when the light source is not in line with the focal plane. The closer you can hand-hold the rig to the lens, the less shadowing results. Bouncing off ceilings is problematic because the bounced light travels parallel to the ceiling surface, often resulting in imperfections being visible. Using multiple light sources far away from the camera can produce shadows but those shadows tend to be filled in by each other.

    3. More diffuse light. The larger the apparent light source, the more diffuse the shadows, especially the edges. My 3 foot diameter umbrella has over 150 times the surface area of my 600EX-RT's head, so assuming the flash illuminates the entire inside of the umbrella, it provides a much softer light.

    4. Less colour casts. Bouncing off walls, especially wooden or coloured ones, affects the light used to illuminate the room. The problem is exacerbated in larger rooms because the lighting quality, intensity and white balance from other sources starts to take over from that of your flash.

    As I said, this is a compromise solution that works well for me in smaller houses. It's designed to provide a good balance between time and effort on the one hand and quality on the other. I think it's far better than direct flash (definitely), bouncing off walls and ceilings (especially where they're not white) and multiple flash setups (where time is important). I imagine I'll cop some flak from purists but photography is very much about compromise.

  17. Along with real estate I shoot candids at weddings. The Graslon works really well without firing the hard flash. I also bought a stand for it just in case the situation arises to use it in a wireless situation. I might not bring everything I own in the house but the car can hold a lot of backup equipment. At 61 if I don't have time to walk to the car I'm overbooked.

  18. Wow, you guys have all added some great information. I have been using Scott Hargis's setup for the last two months and I have seen an improvement in my work. I am much better with his techniques than I was before I went through his course. I will say it has added a lot of time to my shoots. I have almost doubled my time at a property. It still feels new and I am learning and getting a feel for what to do in what situation. I have noticed in very large rooms I have not been able to light it correctly using three off camera flashes. I am talking about a room that might be 25 x 35' with a bank of bright windows. I will bounce a light behind me, have another light down half way bouncing off of the wall and try to use another flash in another corner across the room. I probably have you confused as I have been on these giant rooms with open ceilings. So I ended up taking out my trusty umbrella and loosing the half way wall bounce. I am better at bouncing in small rooms than the large ones. I found the in the large rooms the umbrella is the best choice. I have used the umbrella and then stuck a flash in the next room to give it ligtht as it might be just partially in the picture. All this said, there is more than one way to skin a cat as my dad would say. I am happy to say when I go into my RAW file I am a whole lot happier now than I was a few months ago. I do not use HDR nearly as much as I did because I am getting the shot. Once in a while when I am just stuck, I will make a couple fo HDR shots work for me. Shoot in RAW and my buddy dodge make a good pair!

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