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Interior Lighting With Multiple Strobes: By Scott Hargis

Published: 24/07/2007

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First of all I need to point out that this is Scott Hargis's post. Like many of you I've been admiring the way Scott uses a hand full of strobes to light a room to look like an Architectural Digest shoot and still keep the time to shoot a hole home within a few hours. Like the kitchen above. Scott has adapted the lighting techniques that David over at teaches (don't put strobe on camera, use manual flash, use Cactus radio flash triggers, etc) to light interiors. So recently I tried to summarize the lighting explanations that Scott puts on his flickr images into a description of how to approach lighting a room with multiple strobes in a systematic way. I sent it to Scott and he re-wrote it and added a bunch of detail. Here's Scott's description:

  1. Set the ISO to 400 - this gives you much greater latitude with the strobes.
  2. Set the aperture to f/6.3 as a good starting point. With wide-angle lenses, DOF is not really a problem.
  3. Adjust the shutter speed to expose for the windows. Generally, for a "blown-out" window effect, 1/80th or slower will work. To bring in a view completely, dial up to your camera's maximum sync speed (usually 1/250th) and only then start stopping down the aperture. Once the windows are exposed properly…..
  4. Add an off-camera light to one side or other of the camera. Bouncing from a wall or the wall/ceiling joint results in a much larger apparent light source, and thus yields softer shadows. However, watch for hot spots! In particular, reflections in windows, mirrors, and glass cabinets are problematic. Hot spots on the ceiling are also common, but can be fairly easily dodged/burned out if the light can't be re-positioned.
  5. Flash power settings will be highly variable according to the light level in the room, the size of the room, etc.
  6. Most wall colors are fine for bounced light with no noticeable color cast. However, deep, bold colors will result in a tint to the light that bounces off them. In these situations, an umbrella or reflector is very useful.

In my opinion, if you're accustomed to shooting with one on-camera light, the best way to ease into shooting with off-camera lights is to start SMALL. Try a bedroom, turn off your on-camera light and use only the remote one, placed a few feet away and bounced off the wall, to get used to the idea and discover the tricks of "hiding" the light source from the camera. Then, add in the on-camera light with a diffuser for fill.

For more complex rooms, like kitchens and living rooms, start with an ambient-only exposure and then add lights one at a time, chimping every step of the way. Dim lighting in a room might be complex, too. Remember that aiming the strobe directly at the subject will result in harsh light and hard-edged, deep shadows. For me, this is the last resort.

Because flash duration is extremely short (about 1/20,000 of a second), it is not affected by the camera's shutter speed. For most rooms, it is possible to make the strobes the dominant light source, with only the windows truly lit by the ambient. At this point, control is completely in the photographer's hands: shutter speed will control the windows/ambient, and aperture will control the strobes. Once I have the lighting evened out, I often fine-tune a shot by adjusting my aperture to move the histogram up or down as desired.

When I walk into a room, I'm looking at the surfaces and dividing them into two camps: surfaces the camera will see, and those it won't see. The ones that aren't going to be visible are all candidates for bounced lights. Then it's just a matter of taking a few seconds to plan out the lighting. It's amazing how quickly you can gain an intuition for this. Also, many rooms (like bedrooms) are pretty standard - the same setup will work again and again with minor changes.

A note about gear: To learn about ways to remotely trigger strobes, the Strobist blog and Flicker site are invaluable. Nikon CLS and Canon IR are problematic for shooting interiors as the signals will not travel reliably around corners and into distant rooms where I often put my lights. With regard to "hiding" lights in a room, a light stand with a small footprint is very helpful. I use the Slik SVD-20, which can remain upright and stable with a footprint less than 4" across. Most of the time, my lights are about 24" off the floor. I also keep a strobe in my hip pocket with the little "foot" attached so it can stand upright on its own. This light is incredibly useful for tucking into small places, on top of mantles, bookshelves, etc

There you have it. The complete Scott Hargis lighting approach. Thanks Scott for being willing to share all the details with us!

Helpful Gear Guides for better shooting and lighting:

Update October 2010: This post has been one of the most popular on this blog ever since I first put it up in 2007. Now Scott has finally taken this subject to a whole new level with the release this month of his new eBook, The Essential Guide to: Lighting Interiors, Techniques of lighting with small flash. If you are interested in lighting with small flashes I assure you, you will be interested in Scott's new book. Check it out here.

Update Sept 2013: Another resource you'll appreciate if you are trying to learn Scott's technique for lighting interiors is his Lighting For Real Estate Photography Video Series. This is a wonderful set of video tutorials that gives you almost as much information on this technique as you would get going to one of Scott's work shops. I highly recommend it!

Related Links

Larry Lohrman

57 comments on “Interior Lighting With Multiple Strobes: By Scott Hargis”

  1. Great tutorial. I think it should also be mentioned that different types of rooms can be lit differently. What I mean is for a kitchen like the one shown I think a lot of light is good. But for a "moody" living room or a "romantic" master bedroom it's a different story. The shot on my home page: could not retain it's sense of warmth and "moodiness" by using multiple bounced flash units.

    Anyway, just my 2 cents worth!

    Thanks again for the very helpful discussion!


  2. That is simply a stunning image.
    And, coincidentally, I was experimenting with both my SB800 speedlights this morning in trying to light a large room with some style.

    This afternoon I was meeting with the Principle of an R/E agency (who already uses another photographer, but are willing to try me), and showed me an example photo that the other photographer took.

    The "other guy" took 8 shots of the kitchen area (camera locked off, on tripod, using a remote IR shutter trigger), and for each shot he was pointing the speedlight at a different part of the scene. He would have been standing in the middle of the frame in some shots, but layering and masking each image into photoshop resulted in a magnificently lit end result.

    Why didn't I think of this? !!!

    So, you can get away with only one or two speedlights, providing you have the time to composite multiple images in Photoshop.

    $0.02 🙂

  3. Great guide, I just got my triggers a few weeks ago and have been playing around with couple of older strobes, Tommorow I pick up 3 sb600's to use, so should be interesting, As I was a little confused, this guide has helped a lot, Ill post some of my results.

  4. I'm just curious...with a set-up like this, how much time could you expect to spend post processing? Obviously, Scott's technique is nearly perfected. If I were to spend quite a bit of time on-site to set up lighting, I don't want to spend an almost equal amount of time to do post camera editing. I'm already working 60+ hours a week during the busy selling season. Running at a sleep deficit, I need to know if I could expect to gain some time back if I were to switch over to a lighting system/technique such as this.

    Any thoughts?

  5. It's important to note that if you are going to use several small strobes off camera, they are going to be on manual settings so you DO NOT need the newest TTL iteration flash unit for your camera. Keep one 580EX/SB-800/SB-600 for on camera TTL work and just buy older strobes with a PC socket. You can buy 3 older flash units for the price of a single "modern" one.

  6. If you light the scene correctly you can figure that all you will need to do in post is perspective control and wb/tone adjustment. Lots less time behind the computer

  7. I’d like to know more about strobe lighting. I’ve never used any. As stated in “a note about gear”, I’d like to start with a small one that can “fit in my hip pocket”. Can someone please direct me to where I can find a good one for sale and inform me about how they are triggered? Triggering is a mystery to me. My old but trusty camera is a Sony DSC-F707.

  8. Okay, I'm not that dumb...I know that using multiple lights will reduce post processing time. However, I'd like to know from Scott, or others who use a technique similar to his, about the amount of time they spend in post. I already have a great monopod that keeps my verticals straight due to the retractable legs. So, I don't have to fix converging verticals. Thus, I generally have to lighten up shadows and correct barrel distortion. With ExpoDisc, I rarely have to correct white balance. But, I spend several hours every night editing for the 4+ shoots that I do each day.

    I would prefer to spend my editing time on outdoor photos and resizing. So, I'm looking into adding strobes and purchasing a rectilinear lens. I don't mind spending more time on site in order to cut down on the amount of time I must spend each night editing.

  9. I probably spend an average of 5 minutes on each image but I fix converging angles all the time so you may be even faster. I never really worry about that while I'm shooting, I just set up the angle that I want and fix it in post. I may use the band aid tool on ceilings where I need to get rid of hot spots but really not that much.

    Cherie, just out of curiosity, how long do you take per image?

  10. It really depends on how dark the original image is. I try to spend just a couple minutes. I can tell you that I can go through about 45 images in about an hour and a half. I photograph a lot of really large properties...easily 4,000+ Sq Ft homes on a daily basis. And, as you can guess, properties of that size require more photos than the average 3 or 4 bedroom home. I would say that I average about 45 final images per shoot. The thing is, I don't think that I can add an extra hour's work to each property if it won't cut my post processing time in half.

    I tried the technique referenced above (adjusting aperture and shutter speed based on the recommendation)...except that I only had one on camera speedlite...Anyway, my point is that it improved my in-camera images tremendously.

    In my area, I can't get away with charging what a lot of other photographers that contribute to this blog charge. So, I really have to limit the amount of time that I spend to make it profitable for me. Based on the purpose of my work, and the low fees that I charge, I'm not striving for perfection. "Good", is sufficient enough to bring in constant referrals and my clients keep coming back. But I'm always looking for ways to to improve and to get back precious time w/ my family.

  11. I'm not really sure how much time you'll save overall. The way it seems to me is that you either spend the time on the front end or on the back end. Right now I'm spending 2 1/2 to three hours on a 4000 sq ft home but I'm not as fast as Scott yet so you have to take that into account. The time I spend on the back end seems very short, I guess it was about an hour the other day on about 30 images so it seems the same but that seems very fast if you have to stop and do dodge and burning or the like. If your not making corrections though it seems to me that all you'll have to do is shoot them as Jpegs and then load them on your computer and make them the size you want. Whats that take, 30 mins tops and you can set up your comp to do most of that automatically.

  12. What do you all charge for shooting a typical house (pretend there is such thing as a "typical" house). I have not read all the blogs here yet so maybe pricing has been covered - if so point me to the entry please!

    I see pricing all over the map from $8 per image to $1000 or more per home.

    I charge anywhere from $150 - $500 per home depending on what the client wants/needs. Post is included in this unless they want major surgery on the image then charge $75/hour for retouching. I deliver photos on a CD - one folder for printing up to 9x12 in and another folder for Web use. Agents seem to like this. Less work in converting images for Web use for them.



  13. What about outdoor pictures do you still use flash ? Like the picture of the whole house from outside...

  14. Photography For Real Estate » Top 10 Photography For Real Estate Posts In 2007 says:

    [...] Interior Lighting With Multiple Strobes By Scott Hargis [...]

  15. SCOTT IS GOD!!

    But.... when he refers to strobes, does he mean a bare naked strobe or a strobe reflected from a satin or silver umbrella???

    Is my cameras meter going to freak out when I half-press the shutter release with no strobes on because it doesnt realize it will be setting them off when the shutter goes? I know it needs to be in "M" mode.

    Please help me! Thanks fellas.
    Louisville, KY

  16. This is terrific. I come from a hard news back round and for the last 2+ years I've been looking after my kids and shooting a book while publishing another. I currently live in Manhattan but I'm moving back to Europe in July. In order to adapt to my young children's schedules of school and what not, I'm seriously thinking to switching to real estate shooting. I think, rather I hope, I'll have a little more control over my time that way. I'll use a motor cycle to cut through traffic easily and multiple strobes to light. This is a major change in direction and the relocation should make that a little easier in terms of re-invention. At least I hope so.
    Thanks for all the information here. I'll be back.

  17. I have a D200 system currently. Would love a D3 for the 35mm frame. What lenses are crucial? My widest is 18mm which equates to 27mm or thereabouts. I tend to use old prime lenses as I spend a lot of time on the street, as you'll see from my site, but I have the standard pro zooms too.

    What are you guys shooting for wide shots in terms of focal length and prime v. zoom?

    Also, I need to develop my portfolio on this subject. Any suggestions as to where to shoot? I have some friends with nice interiors. Perhaps I start there after I shoot my own place which has just gone on the market, funnily enough. Perhaps this is what got me thinking seriously about a change of direction.

    Paul Treacy

  18. > wide shots in terms of focal length
    below 24mm equivalent (below 16mm on a D200)
    preferably aroud 18mm (90° horizontal) (12mm on a D200)

    > prime v. zoom?
    you don't really have the choice: the only serious option are the recent digital-only ultra wide zooms. see

    note that tokina have launched a 11-16mm/2.8|en&hl=en&ie=UTF-8
    and Tamron a 10-24mm/3.5-4.5

  19. Photography For Real Estate » Seattle PFRE Workshop: Featuring Scott Hargis Lighting Session says:

    [...] Hargis has agreed to fly up to Seattle and present the first ever Scott Hargis Lighting with Multiple Strobe session. For those not familiar with Scott’s work, Scott has adapted the Strobist style (off camera, [...]

  20. i really only use 1 on-camera 580EX mostly now. on oaccasion I use Canon IR with a 420EX off-camera. results have been mostly uninspiring. To use Scott's advice and start small with off-cam flash, he says to start with 1 flash off-camera. seems to me that 1 flash off-camera would be hard to properly place to achieve even, balanced lighting. two off-camera would seem more simple to balance. but I won't know til I try...

  21. So do you ever have use any gels on your strobes to balance tungsten light in the photos?

  22. Photography For Real Estate » The Seattle Photography For Real Estate Is A Go! says:

    [...] registered to announce that the workshop is a go for sure! Scott Hargis’s session on lighting with multiple strobes is a popular attraction and drawing people from all over. So far have attendees registered from WA, [...]

  23. Photography For Real Estate » Basic Real Estate Photography Shooting and Workflow says:

    [...] See the post on the Beginners Guide to Lighting. Also see Scott Hargis’s discussion of Interior Lighting with Multiple Strobes. Lighting technique is somewhat personal, there is no one right way to light. I recommend that [...]

  24. Photography For Real Estate » Announcing Lighting Workshops in Chicago says:

    [...] Scott and Thomas’s lighting workshops focus on how to light interiors with off camera strobes using manual mode. It’s Strobist techniques applied to interiors. For more details on this technique see Scott’s post on multiple off camera lighting. [...]

  25. Photography For Real Estate » Alternatives For Controlling Window Brightness says:

    [...] or more strobes) to raise the brightness level inside to be close to the brightness level outside. Here is a post that describes how to do this in more [...]

  26. Can anyone tell me what would be a good LOW-PROFILE wireless flash transmitter? I use an 90 deg "angle-C" viewfinder when I shoot (a real neck saver) and unless the transmitter is fairly flat it will interfere with my ability to use the viewfinder. Thanks in advance.

  27. Does anyone have experience using a Nikon d200 with 3-4 sb 80's?
    The d200 is all I have right now and I was thinking about using the
    sb 80's to do some interior work. I spoke with nikon and they said
    I couldn't fire them with the d200.
    I thought I might be able manually or getting a pocket wizard.

    Appreciate any advice .

  28. Hi Kris- Sure you can use SB--80dx's with D200! The D200 has a little built-in popup flash that can be used to optically trigger the SB-80dx's. The SB-80dx has a fantastically sensitive optical slave built-in to them! I've not personally used a D200 to fire SB-80dx's but any on camera flash can be used to trigger SB-80s optically.

    I'm sure what the person at Nikon that answered meant was, they won't work in CLS mode... the automatic Nikon mode. When you trigger SB-80dx's with a popup flash you will be using manual mode. That's what Scott is recommending in this post.

  29. @Rosa, It says "(don’t put strobe on camera, use manual flash, use Cactus radio flash triggers, etc)" This means put the flash in manual and the camera in manual.

  30. Larry et. al.,
    I am getting prepared to learn how to use multiple manual strobes. I have a question regarding exposure settings. Does Scott use any type of Exposure Fusion with his method, or does he just use a single exposure at no more than 1/250 sec to sync with flash units? I understand that the starting point is to set exposure for window view. Thanks for any input on this !

  31. I use portable studio lights (sometimes just sb-800 flash units), shot through softboxes, and triggered by a few pocketwizards. Set exposure to outside windows, then dial up the lighting to expose the interior properly.

  32. wow... it all looks so different over there! we go for a different look over here (UK), and the very bright/HDR/no dark corners look that you US photographers like would be a 'no-go' here. We have to shoot more atmosphere, less obvious lighting here. Still, the techniques and tips are still relevant, maybe less dramatically used! Mark

  33. I have been shooting R.E. for exactly 2 years now. I currently use the HDR process which yields great results when done correctly. However I am to the point now where I despise sitting behind the computer to do editing. I have to do the HDR process and then go into PS and color correct and sharpen and all the other tweaks that I use.

    This is a great write up by the way. I have the following light kit along with an SB800 flash. I shoot with a nikon d300s. I am really considering using the strobes for small homes and save the HDR for my high end homes.

    Any advice? Is this light kit that I have sufficient to get the job done?

  34. [...] for Cactus V5s and Yongnuo YN-560s for lower cost to see if you like it. See these webpages: Photography For Real Estate Interior Lighting With Multiple Strobes: By Scott Hargis Strobist: Working Around the House Strobist: One-Light Real Estate Photography [...]

  35. [...] Your thinking to hard... Just drag the shutter. However if you really want to do it right read. Photography For Real Estate Interior Lighting With Multiple Strobes: By Scott Hargis __________________ Cameras: Canon 60D, Canon 20D, 35mm Nikon FM2n Canon EF lens used : 50mm [...]

  36. I've build a small collection of SB-80DX flashes and want to try to test some of Scott's techniques. I'm struggling to find out how to set the flashes (exactly what buttons to push) to get them to work as slaves. How to I know what flash levels to set them at, how do I do that and how do I set my camera settings? I don't have radio triggers get and was trying to trigger them optically with the 430DX on my T2i. Seems one of the three flashes may have gone off but not the others. Seems they kept falling asleep. I have bought Scott's e-book on lighting interiors but it doesn't get in to specific flash/camera settings for me. Any references or ideas on where to look to get some base line instruction on this?


  37. Link using Scott's technique everything is up to you to decide. You shoot in manual, camera and flash. Start small say a bedroom. Set the camera for f6.5 and the speed at say 125th. Take an image a chimp the back of the camera. Get the proper exposure that you want from the window by adjusting the speed. Turn on the flash that you set to one side or other of the camera on a stand. Set that power to full. If you need to trigger your OCF with an on camera flash set the on camera flash as a fill for about 3/4s and point it at the ceiling. Take another image and look at the back of the camera. Like it it great move on. Otherwise adjust to taste. Try bouncing the light off the wall in the upper corner or flat into the ceiling. Try using the flash straight into the scene. Test as much as you can. You have a great advantage over those of us who started with film it cost us a great deal of money to learn what you can learn in a very short period of time. Don't be afraid to try stuff. If you live in a dwelling you have a built in subject. Write down what you do and see what your results are and then build on what works. The camera settings and light settings will start to make sense fairly quickly but you need to test. Good luck.


  38. Scott's class on was one of the first places I turned to start learning how to shoot real estate. I still use his method but also use a bit of enfusing too. Thanks Scott for all the help! I have to admit it was pretty cool to find this site a while after watching your class and see that a rock star like him was hanging here with the rest of us.

  39. @Link, Turn the standby mode off on the flashes and just carry an extra set of batteries so they don't keep shutting down. It's in the manual that Larry posted. I've found it very annoying to have to wake all my flashes (Yongnuo) if I've spent some time staging a scene or turned aside to chat with the agent or home owner for a minute or two. They are often out of easy reach or up/down stairs.

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