Nathan Cool Photo: Blog en-us (C) Nathan Cool (Nathan Cool Photo) Fri, 18 May 2018 20:35:00 GMT Fri, 18 May 2018 20:35:00 GMT Nathan Cool Photo: Blog 120 112 Twilight Shots, Dusk to Day While I offer twilight shoots, another cost-effective alternative is "Day to Dusk" edits where I take footage from a daytime shoot and convert it to a twilight shot. Here are some examples:



Day to Dusk twilight conversions require no extra time on site and are a cost-effective alternative to twilight photoshoots. Want to know more? Give me a shout!

]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate twilight Sun, 30 Jul 2017 22:25:37 GMT
Aerial Stills I provide a low cost, safe alternative to drone photography known as "Aerial Stills", where I hoist high-res cameras up to 25 feet. No FAA license is required, I can shoot on windy days, there's no concern for air traffic clearance, noise, or special liability insurance, so this can be done anywhere, even where drones are not allowed. Here are a few examples, and how it's done:

The setup is shown below: a hefty-duty pod that can support gear up to 25 pounds. This allows me to raise a high-res camera to drone heights and control it remotely.

And here are some more examples:

Drones require special FAA licenses, and many insurance companies won't cover photographers who use drones due to the high incidence of crashes and damage to property. My Aerial Still alternative though is fully covered under my liability insurance, requires no FAA license, creates no noise, can be shot on windy days, and allows me to shoot at high resolution for high quality photos.


If you'd like to learn more about having me take some Aerial Stills for your property, give me a shout and let's talk about the no-drone-zone option.





]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture drone photography property real estate Tue, 02 May 2017 16:56:14 GMT
Shooting Lemon Drops Drop lemon wedges into a tank of water, and what do you get? Lemon Drops! Here are some of my favorites from this new, sour splashy series, with some behind-the-scenes at the bottom of this blog showing how this was shot. Each photo was mirrored to give it a Rorschach kind of feel. Faces often emerge in these images, as do other designs, turning a simple splash into something special. Enjoy, and try not to pucker!


Citrus Waves

Citrus WavesCitrus WavesCitrus Waves



Darth Lemon

Darth LemonDarth Lemon



Pucker Suckers

Pucker SuckersPucker Suckers



The Citrus Wizard

The Citrus WizardThe Citrus Wizard



Laid Back Lemon

Laid Back LemonLaid Back Lemon



The Angry Kings

Angry KingsAngry Kings



The Wide-Eared Cat




Seedy Dive Bomber




Lemon Tailed Butterfly

Lemon Tailed ButterflyLemon Tailed Butterfly







Citrus Yogi

Buddha and the DogBuddha and the Dog



Behind the Scenes

Here's how it's done. First, the setup, and then the drop:

I like to use an old fish tank filled about half way with water. Under the tank is shiny paper with complementary colors. In this case, yellow and green. The rest is fairly self explanatory, although I should mention that I triggered the shutter remotely when I'd see a drop was about the make contact with the water, like so:

I made a cameo appearance in this shot :) Then the rest is all in the post processing. It's just a matter of making duplicate layers in Photoshop, mirror, and then editing to make it pop. This splash shot, btw, is the "Seedy Dive Bomber" image:



And there you have it, Lemon Drops! You can check out these and more splashy shots in my Splash! gallery. Enjoy!



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) macro photography Sat, 24 Sep 2016 17:22:39 GMT
Lightroom Preset for Twilight Shoots Want to process a twilight shot in under 1 minute? I made a preset for Lightroom, and you can download the preset here. Below are the before and after shots, as well as the finished shot (with edits after applying the preset):


Before (RAW)


After Preset


Finished shot, edits after preset


The preset serves as a starting point -- it gets things fairly well adjusted, and in many cases it will get you close enough to a finished shot. This particular preset is similar to my other exterior presets. For this shot, after applying the twilight preset, I cropped it better, warmed up the white balance a tad, and made a few other quick tweaks. And, since the sky was bland, I did a sky replacement as well (you can check out my tutorial for doing that here).


And that's all there is too it! Happy twilighting!

]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Tue, 23 Aug 2016 21:07:57 GMT
Twilight Shoots To add a wow-factor to your real estate listing, you may want to consider adding a twilight shoot, where a few pictures are taken at dusk to showcase a property's exterior. Here are some examples:





Interested in having some twilight shots of your property? Give me a shout.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Tue, 23 Aug 2016 17:08:56 GMT
Sky Replacements Sometimes nature doesn't work in our favor and we have to shoot on overcast days, or on days where the sky won't cooperate. In these cases I do a quick sky replacement. There are many ways to do a sky replacement, but I've found the technique here to be my favorite, since it gives a very natural look, and doesn't require any special plugins or other software besides just Photoshop.


Before and After

Here are shots before and after sky replacement. Click on either picture to see full size. I could possibly deliver the before shot, but it's bland and the sky has excessive glare (photo was taken as fog was burning off behind the house that morning). I could darken the sky in Lightroom or Photoshop, but in this case a quick sky replacement really pumps it up and adds a wow-factor.



Step 1: Select a sky

I keep a folder filled with various skies I've shot in the area, and for this case I'm using the one below. Note the lighting angle also matches the before shot as well (lighter on the right). This sky also looks a bit flat, but that's because it's RAW -- we'll adjust that later -- but starting with RAW on these skies lets me have full control on how it will blend with the original shot.


Step 2: Place sky over photo

I then place the sky photo as a new layer over the original (background layer), and scale/position until I get just the sky where I want it. For example, I show this with a lower opacity, but once placed, turn the opacity of the sky layer back up to 100%.


Step 3: Make Layer Mask

Place a layer mask on the sky. There are tons of ways to do this, I do it with keyboard shortcuts to the menu items Layer->Layer Mask->Hide All.


Step 4: Select Color Range

With the background layer selected, go to Select->Color Range and you will see this pop-up dialog. Click on the sky, then move the Fuzziness slider until the sky is white and the trees and roof are black, and then click OK. Note this works best when the sky is one color, so blown-out skies work best.


Step 5: Feather Selection

Go to Select->Modify->Feather and feather the selection by 2 pixels. Note the marching ants showing the selection.


Step 6: Apply Gradient

The next step may look tricky if you've never done this before, but it really is simple and only takes a few seconds. Select the sky's layer mask, then select the gradient tool, and make sure your colors and the tool settings are the same as shown here. Then just drag/apply the gradient from just below the roof to just above the roof. You may have to play around with the gradient to get the correct blending. Also, the reason for this kind of blending is that skies are lighter the lower they are on the horizon (due to a greater volume of air for sunlight to travel through); thus, this gradient, besides blending nicely with the roof, gives a more natural look.


Step 7: Cleanup & Adjust

The last step is to use a low flow soft eraser to cleanup any of the sky left on other parts of the roof (and in this case the flag also). Make sure the eraser is soft, and that the flow is NOT 100%...flow should be around 10% -- you don't want to cut-out the leftover sky, just blend it away. I then add quick adjustment layers above the sky layer, with a clipping mask applied to each (so they only affect the sky, not the background/original layer). In this particular shot, I used a saturation layer and a levels layer, each with a clipping mask affecting the sky. Do these adjustments until you get the results you want.


Step 8: Done!

That's it. I realize it may seem like a lot of work, but once you get this down it takes only 1 to 2 minutes to process. Here is the final shot:



I suggest taking tons of photos of skies in your area, keeping these in your own sky replacement library (as RAW files). Then, practice practice practice! The more often you try this under various conditions (and roof lines), the more skilled you'll become, and the faster you'll be able to process these kind of shots.


If you want to see more, checkout my sky replacement page for some other examples.





]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Fri, 12 Aug 2016 17:16:10 GMT
Lightroom Presets for Real Estate Photography To help automate the post processing of real estate photos, I have a few Lightroom Presets I've made to quickly get a "base" processed photo, which is usually very close to the finished product. If you're not familiar with how to use Lightroom Presets, you might want to watch this video first.


Bear in mind that these presets are only starting points; apply these presets, then tweak as needed. These also assume that you are shooting in RAW.


Exterior Preset, under exposed.

This works well on a slightly underexposed exterior shot (sky is exposed ok, but house is underexposed). Below are before and after shots, and then the presets used:

Exterior Preset, under exposed


  • Exposure: +0.78
  • Highlights: -25
  • Shadows: +50
  • Whites: +10
  • Blacks: -19
  • Clarity: +17
  • Vibrance: +4
  • Saturation: +5

Tone & Curve:

  • Lights: +5

HSL Luminance:

  • Green: +12
  • Aqua: -4
  • Blue: -26

HSL Saturation:

  • Green: +8
  • Aqua: +5
  • Blue: +51


  • Sharpening: 40
  • Radius: 1.0
  • Detail: 25
  • Mask: 30

Lens Correction:

  • Enable Profile Corrections
  • Remove Chromatic Aberration
  • Vertical



Exterior Preset, over exposed.

This works well on a slightly overexposed exterior shot. Below are before and after shots, and then the presets used:

Exterior Preset, over exposed


  • Exposure: 0
  • Contrast: +6
  • Highlights: -35
  • Shadows: +45
  • Whites: +10
  • Blacks: -19
  • Clarity: +17
  • Vibrance: +4
  • Saturation: +5

Tone & Curve:

  • Lights: +5

HSL Luminance:

  • Green: +12
  • Aqua: -4
  • Blue: -42

HSL Saturation:

  • Green: +8
  • Aqua: +5
  • Blue: +35


  • Sharpening: 40
  • Radius: 1.0
  • Detail: 25
  • Mask: 30

Lens Correction:

  • Enable Profile Corrections
  • Remove Chromatic Aberration
  • Vertical



Interior Preset, after PS blending.

This preset is applied after all of the layer blending in Photoshop (blending ambient and flash shots along with window pulls). btw, I have to give a shout out to Rich Baum, who shared the preset I started with to make this one. Below are before and after shots, and then the presets used:

Interior Preset, applied after layer blending in PS


  • Exposure: +0.10
  • Contrast: +15
  • Highlights: -90
  • Shadows: +80
  • Whites: +25
  • Blacks: -45
  • Clarity: +20
  • Vibrance: 0
  • Saturation: 0

Tone & Curve:

  • Lights: +5
  • Blacks: -3

Lens Correction:

  • Enable Profile Corrections
  • Remove Chromatic Aberration
  • Vertical




]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Thu, 11 Aug 2016 19:11:58 GMT
Sky Replacements for Real Estate Packages Most of my real estate packages include sky replacements, where a problematic sky is replaced with a better one. Mother Nature doesn't always cooperate on our schedules, so if I shoot on an overcast day, or on a day with a glaring sun, the sky replacements pump up the wow factor for potential buyers. Here are some examples of before and after:

















After (subtle sky)



After (dramatic clouds)







Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand how a small cost for higher quality photography can result in better listings.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Mon, 01 Aug 2016 21:17:00 GMT
Detail Shots Most of my real estate packages include detail shots, where I shoot artistic close-ups of special features like appliances and lighting that can make a listing standout. These shots help to show high-end appliances and fixtures that can add value to a listing.


Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand how a small cost for higher quality photography can result in better listings.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Sun, 31 Jul 2016 18:07:54 GMT
Showcase Windows Most of my real estate packages include Showcase Window shots, where I use special lighting and editing to bring the view from the outside indoors. This is done at no cost in most of my packages, and here are some examples.


Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to sh ow you first hand how a small cost for higher quality photography can result in better listings.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Sat, 30 Jul 2016 16:46:09 GMT
TV Replacements Most of my real estate packages include TV replacements, where instead of a blank TV screen I edit in a view of the outside of the house or local landscape. This is done at no cost in most of my packages, and here are some examples.

Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand how a small cost for higher quality photography can result in better listings.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Sat, 30 Jul 2016 16:36:50 GMT
The Invisible Camera Shooting bathrooms can sometimes be a pain as it's not always possible to show its features without being caught in the mirror. I fix that problem using what I call "The Invisible Camera" trick. Here are a few examples and some how-to on how it's done.


Here's a finished shot using "The Invisible Camera" technique:

Look Ma! No reflection! The trick is actually super easy. Here's how it's done:


1. Take a picture right at the mirror. You'll notice I'm not in the shot as I'm shooting this remotely (I was outside the door). But you can see my camera and tripod, along with a hefty amount of worries, that'll all get fixed shortly.


2. Turn around, get as close to the sink as possible, and then fire another shot.


3. BAM! You got all the footage. Now just mirror that second shot in Photoshop and blend it into the mirror...TADA!


Here's another example:


1. Straight on shot at the mirror.


2. Turn around and take another shot.


3. Mirror the second shot and blend it in the mirror...TADA!

Extra credit...note that I also fixed the burned out light bulb in this shot.


And here's a more in-depth example:

1. Here's an "ambient" shot of the bathroom. This is used as a basis for lighting (used in post process later). Say hello to my little trusty high res camera and sturdy as heck tripod.


2. Here's a flash shot using my "Human Lightstand" technique. This is used to get the color correctly, and to sharpen the image.


3. And here's the shot turned around (a flash was in the other room to the left bouncing off the ceiling).


4. Blend it all together and what do you have! BAM! No camera!

Extra, extra, credit...note that I fixed the burned out light bulb in this shot too.


But anywhoooo...that's how it's done. Super simple, ho holds barred, and camera reflections be damned! It's just another of many techniques I like to do for my clients to help showcase their listings and wow their buyers. Besides, I get a kick out of doing this stuff :)


Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand how a small cost for higher quality photography can result in better listings.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate reflections Fri, 22 Jul 2016 20:43:02 GMT
Real Estate Shots, Before and After This video shows examples of professionally shot photos from some of my recent work, and how they compared before from basic shots.




This high-impact photography is designed to "WOW" buyers and bring them to your listing. All of my work uses these techniques, and at affordable prices.




Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand how a small cost for higher quality photography can result in better listings.





]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Sat, 18 Jun 2016 19:16:02 GMT
Two seconds to correct colors Getting accurate colors, especially when shooting the interiors of homes, can be tricky, but there is a simple, two-second technique to get it right every time. At the root of the problem is something known as "White Balance". If you're using automatic modes on your camera then you're leaving it to your camera to guess what this balance should be, which won't always be accurate. For instance, I'm sure you've seen before colors of interior shots that are too orange or just don't look right. The problem is white balance, but with a couple simple steps and a cheap piece of gear, you can fix this issue in seconds.


First I'll cut to the chase and show you how I do it, and then I'll discuss some of the technical nitty-gritty so you can delve in deeper.


Step 1, take a shot with a cheap gray card, like the one I'm holding in this picture, which costs 8 bucks, and take the same shot without you and the gray card in the picture.

Yuck! Notice how orange this shot is? No worries, we'll correct it in two seconds, and then I'll explain what happened.


Step 2, open this picture in Lightroom and using the White Balance dropper (shown in the diagram below) click on the gray card:


When you click on the gray card, the picture changes like so:




Step 3, take those white balance settings and apply them to your shot that doesn't have you and the card in it (either adjust them manually, or copy and paste the development settings). The final shot using the new white balance settings is below:


So what happened here? Basically, white balance is the balance of color, and it changes depending on what light (or balance of light) is available. Each kind of light has a different color; for instance, direct sunlight has one color, indoor lights have other colors, and flash strobes have another color. This is why your camera has presets for sunny, cloudy, shade, flash etc. So to "balance" the color from all these lights, you can tell software (like Lightroom) what the neutral color is in the picture. From there, the software can figure out the rest.


NOTE: Lightroom's white balance dropper tool is NOT looking for white; instead, it wants to know what neutral gray is. Do not click on white, make sure you click on neutral gray (like a gray card).


The color of light is measured as color temperature in degrees of Kelvin. In this previous example, we had outside light coming in from a semi-cloudy day (about 6500 Kelvin), incandescent lights (about 3000 Kelvin), and flash strobes (about 5500 Kelvin). Using the gray card in this example, Lightroom figured out that the light, where the gray card was, measured at 3850 Kelvin, and adjusted the tint to -5. Note that I said "where the gray card was"; even though we were able to get a good white balance, the perfect balance that I wanted was at the card -- the chandelier still has a warm, incandescent color, and the outdoors is higher. I wanted, in this case, to make sure I got the colors of the walls correct, so that's where I placed my gray card -- that was the critical area to get right.


Here's another example:


And here is a more subtle example. Note how the first shot has red on the ceiling and how my skin tone is off; both signs of a bad color balance, but easily corrected:


I know many photogs like to use the auto white balance settings in their cameras, but that is not as reliable as this method -- auto white balance is letting your camera sample areas of the shot, and try and figure out what white balance should be used. But when you have a variety of different light sources, each with a different color temperature, I find it best to say what balance I'd like to use, based on what my shot is concentrating on.


To do this quickly, I always shoot in RAW, which allows me to have a great range of flexibility with editing, such as setting the white balance correctly. I also set my camera's color temperature to 5500 Kelvin, so I always have a great starting point when using flash strobes, and, most importantly, it gives me consistency from shot to shot. Sometimes I need to blend multiple shots together, and if you leave your camera on auto white balance, then there is a chance that each shot will have slightly different colors. By forcing my white balance to one Kelvin setting (5500) I know that each shot I take is consistent. This also allows me to batch process photos using the same white balance if I need to; for instance, if I'm shooting a series of exterior shots (especially if I'm going to use HDR or exposure fusion on exteriors) and the day was between sunny and partly cloudy, I can adjust one white balance setting and copy that to all other shots -- I'll know each shot will then have the same white balance.


I don't use a gray card on all shots, but when color is critical, I always make sure to get at least one shot of a room with the gray card, this way I can compare other shots nearby that may have the same colored walls, floors, etc.


And that's all there is too it. A cheap piece of gear and a few extra seconds turns into photos with accurate colors each and every time!


Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand how a small cost for higher quality photography can result in better listings.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate white balance Thu, 09 Jun 2016 01:26:41 GMT
Do Better Pictures Sell Homes Quicker?

It's hard to justify cost unless you can show a return. Real estate photography is one such case. We know that paying more for photography can result in better photos, but will it benefit an agent?


I decided to tackle that question by analyzing a dozen similar homes in my working area. All homes are in the Rancho Conejo community, selling in the last year. All homes in this community are similar: all are built in the past 15 years, are in high demand with low inventory, there is a strict HOA to ensure upkeep, and all are priced mostly between $700k to $900k. Having an apples-to-apples sampling, I analyzed three different things:


1. Time on market. A comparison on a scale of 1-10 on how quickly each property sold. The quicker the home sold, the lower the number (10 took the longest to sell, and 1 sold the fastest).

2. Photo quality on the MLS. This is subjective, so I used simple things like if photos were tilted, had a fish-eye effect, were blurry, dark, or overexposed. A higher number means higher quality photos.

3. Price point: How well this home was priced for the market. A home priced below market value got a higher score, and those priced above the market got a lower score.


The data was then sorted by time-on-market to show how photo-quality and price-point compared to how quickly homes sold.


The graph at the top of the page shows the results from all 3 of these factors, but the "trend" is what tells the story. Below is a trend, for instance, of time-on-market versus how well the house was priced (its price-point):

As you'd expect, houses that were priced better sold more quickly (higher price-point means "priced better than market" ...priced to sell).


The next graph is where we start to get into the meat of the photography issue, comparing time-on-market versus photo-quality:

At first glance, it looks like higher quality photos sell homes more quickly. However, one could argue that photo quality is just a side-effect since it follows a similar line as price-point, as shown in this next graph when comparing the trends of all 3:

But there is more to this graph than meets the eye:


First, since both price-point and photo-quality follow a similar trend, they both seem to have an effect on selling homes quicker. If photo-quality was more erratic than price-point, then photo-quality would be a non-factor. But that's not the case; instead, there is some correlation to higher photo-quality and reduced time-on-market.


Second, there is a slightly more rapid increase in photo-quality compared to price-point, providing also a quicker break-even point on time-on-market. And, although both price-point and photo-quality level off at some point, photo-quality continues to increase, suggesting that photo-quality is more of a factor than price-point.


Thirdly, although this data shows it took both price-point AND photo-quality to sell homes more quickly, there were cases where higher photo-quality was the key factor, not price-point. For instance, look at properties G and I in the original graph below:

In the case of properties G and I, price-point was low yet photo-quality was high. Since the time-on-market was declining, this suggests that photo-quality was critical: even though some properties were not priced to sell, their photo quality was high, and they did sell quickly. This could be the case, for instance, of high quality photos bringing in more prospective buyers, giving the property a better chance of being sold to someone.


More important to this though is that photo-quality has a vastly lower cost to an agent than price-point. For instance, increasing photo-quality is in the hundreds of dollars (sometimes less), but reducing the price-point can result in many thousands of dollars lost in commissions. For example, if an agent gets 1% of the commission from selling a $700,000 home ($7000), and if that agent can sell one more home a year (due to their listings having less time-on-market), then that agent can net an additional $7000 per year. So if that agent sells one home a month, and for each home they list they spend an extra $100 for higher quality photos, then that agent only spent $1200 to get an extra $7000 in commissions. That comes out to an extra profit of $5800 for that agent, and for just 1% commission, and for just selling one extra home. If that agent were selling more homes per month, that agent's profits become exponentially higher, especially if that agent nets more than 1% on the commission...then we're talking magnitudes of profit for that agent.


Many factors determine how fast a house can sell, and a dozen homes may not be enough to prove it. However, with an obvious trend showing how quickly homes sell compared to a known factor (how well a house is priced) to an unknown factor (photo quality), it's safe to say that there is a benefit in paying a little more for real estate photography to get much higher return on home sales. It shouldn't come as a surprise when you think about it: all high-priced commodities have high quality marketing material, which includes high quality photographs. If you were going to buy a $100,000 car, you'd expect to see top-notch photos of the car, so why expect to spend less in advertising for something that sells for five to ten times as much?


Bottom Line: Quality counts. Will homes with bad photos sell? Sure. Will they sell for as much or as quickly as those with higher quality photos? According to this data, not likely. Higher quality photos can turn houses faster, resulting in higher profits for agents.


Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand how a small cost for higher quality photography can result in higher returns.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Tue, 24 May 2016 17:32:49 GMT
From Gray to Yay!

May-Gray and June-Gloom in California can seem like awful days to shoot a property, but actually, these can be fantastic times for real estate photography.


After all, I have to work on clients' schedules, which don't always align with nature. If a property needs to be shot, there's no waiting weeks until the overcast skies clear. Instead, I like to take advantage of the cloudy days, and work in a couple techniques.



Let me show you some examples. The house below was actually shot on an overcast day. But, this is the AFTER shot, the before shot is below it:






Thank you Photoshop! This technique is known as "Sky Replacement". It's a way to accurately replace grey sky with something better. I've shot tons of sky footage and I break them out on cloudy days. The clouds also provide a soft look to the picture, something known as "diffusion" in photo speak, which means more details will show up in the shot.


Here's another example:







Of all the photo processing I do, sky replacements are one of my favorites. I even use it sometimes on non-cloudy days. Take this next shot for example:








The "before" shot wasn't bad, but the "after" shot has a more dramatic appeal to it. It's a simple edit, and one that helps make a property standout even more.


Would you like to see your gray skies turn blue? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand the difference a few clouds can make.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Fri, 20 May 2016 14:45:36 GMT
Real Estate or Fake Estate

The camera lies. It's true! Although a camera has a lens, which like our pupils can widen in response to light, our brain is what "sees" the world around us. It affects how pictures are taken, and is something crucial to real estate photography.


We only think that our eyes capture the whole picture, but they never do. You've probably seen this when you take a picture of a room, and the window is so bright it looks like the sun's corona. But when you were looking at the room the light seemed balanced: you could see the inside and the outside just fine, but the camera could not.


For professional real estate photos, you want to show both the interior and exterior of a home in a single shot. This requires balancing the light, and there are two ways to make this happen:


  • HDR: Typically lower cost where no flash is used.
  • Supplemental Lighting: Can cost slightly more, where flashes are used to light the room.


So which of these will draw in buyers, and which one is the most cost-effective? Before answering those questions, let's take a quick test. Which of the following pictures looks best, #1 or #2:

Which of these looks best?


And for extra credit, which one do you think cost the least and took the least amount of time to shoot?

Answer: picture #2 was HDR, but the cost and time may surprise you.


HDR pictures are a blend of multiple exposures, in this case, these three:

Three exposures for HDR


Combined, these three shots provide some light balance that your brain may use to see the room naturally; however, your brain is way smarter than a camera and you'd need hundreds (if not thousands) of exposures to make a more accurate blend of light. The camera and HDR software only attempt to recreate what your eyes would naturally see. For instance, look at the third picture and notice how the colors became garish on the walls, which carried over when processed into HDR. There's a reason why lights have been used since the dawn of photography; it wasn't just to add light, it was to provide "natural" light.


But can HDR work in some cases? Let's take another test real quick: Which looks better, "A" or "B":

Which looks better, A or B?


In this case, "A" was shot using HDR, and "B" was shot with supplemental lighting. At first glance, "A" may look better: "A" has more punch and the colors look more vibrant. But let's take a closer look:


When you look closely you can see some obvious flaws with the HDR shot. In particular, note the "dirty" shadows on the sliding door's frame, the odd glare on the floor (magenta and harsh), the harsh shadows above the cabinets in the corner, and how the front of the island is dull and grayish yet the cabinets have a surreal, unnatural look in the wood-grain.


From a photographer's artistic point of view, supplemental lighting wins once again. But photographers don't sell houses, agents do. So two questions remain:

  1. Which picture do you think would help an agent sell this property?
  2. Is it worth the cost?


Shooting HDR is fast. In the photog world we call it runnin' and gunnin'. A photographer carries very little gear and whips through a property, and then automates the shots later. This keeps the cost low, but can lower the quality. If you're having your pictures displayed in Architectural Digest, it's a no-brainer: avoid HDR. But for an MLS listing, is it worth it? I'd say yes, and here's why:

  • It's more than MLS: While MLS listings use smaller photos, agents print material like fliers, post cards, and other marketing material. HDR flaws carry over and become more noticeable in print material.
  • The competitive effect: As buyers browse numerous properties on sites like and Zillow, they see hundreds if not thousands of photos of homes. High quality photos are representative of the house they want to buy, and the agent listing it.
  • Syndication degradation: As MLS photos are syndicated from an MLS to other sites like and Zillow, each "copy" step degrades the picture. If you start out with a garish HDR, it can lose even more quality once it shows up on other home buying search sites.
  • Higher returns: It may cost a bit more to have a property shot with supplemental lighting, but it's really not that much more than using a run-and-gun method. Better pictures can help sell a property faster, so the small added cost is worth it in the end.
  • Reputation: Agents want a reputation of being top-notch. When buyers see high quality pictures, they can associate this to a high quality agent, someone they trust, would refer to, and likely use in the future.


In short, quality counts, and it's why I'm a fan of supplemental lighting. In fact, I take it one step further and use a technique that blends lighting angles to more naturally match that of the human eye. From flash and non-flash shots (called ambient) I can manipulate the lighting angles so that you have a natural, high quality image. Let's take the original eye test on the dining room as an example. For this photo the final product used one shot with supplemental lighting, blended with the "light" (luminosity in photog speak) from one of the non-flash shots. Here are those two shots:

Flash Lighting with Ambient Light Direction

Flash shot

Ambient shot for light direction


And here is the final image:


Did this process take longer? Just a few minutes to move a lightstand into place and take a couple readings. But the post processing was simple and fairly quick, arguably faster than HDR since I didn't have to try to edit out all the imperfections. Moreover though, I was in control of how this image would look, instead of leaving it (mostly) in the hands of a computer algorithm.


Would you like to see the difference for yourself? Give me a shout and I'd be happy to show you first hand the difference a little lighting can make.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture photography property real estate Wed, 18 May 2016 19:12:57 GMT
MLS Photo Optimization

When you upload a photo to your MLS service, that service may do a number of things to your photos including adding a logo, resizing, etc. And then, although it may seem convenient, the MLS service will syndicate your photos from the MLS to other websites like Zillow and Each one of these steps degrades the quality of your photos, but it's easy enough to fix.


Fortunately, you can change the photos on Zillow and Realtor (and other sites) yourself. By uploading your photos and not relying on the copies of copies of copies that are syndicated by your MLS service, you can be assured your photos will be displayed with the highest quality on the popular real estate search engine sites. On each site, realtors have the ability to manage their listings. Below are some links to manage your photos (and listings) on Zillow and Realtor:


Zillow Photo Management Links Photo Management Links


A couple easy steps in managing your photos can make the difference between buyers passing on your listing or falling in love with it. Quality photos get quality results.


If you need any help with this or have other questions, give me a holler any time.


]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) architecture estate photography property real Sat, 07 May 2016 00:45:35 GMT
Fabric Dancing, Take 2 Since my last blog on Fabric Dancing I've been trying some new techniques, in particular, using masculine poses and actions. It may seem like an impossibility, since fabric dancing has traditionally always been associated with female photoshoots. But when you think about it, fabric dancing is much like ballet, which is dominated not by women, but men and women equally.


I've gotten great feedback and I'm now scheduling fitness and dance-inspired shoots using fabric to accentuate the motion of men and women in the balletto form. Below are some of the latest from a shoot with Zach Castro, Sarah Parker, and myself as well.


In all cases, there are three themes that are working very well:


1. Balletto: Combining dance, especially ballet type movements, while turning or waving the fabric mid motion.


2. Freedom: To show how one can be freed from the lightest of bonds. Jumps work well with this.


3. Wings: Flapping the fabric gives great likeness to wings, alluding to flight and freedom


The light setup has been the same, shown here. It's a very simple setup shot in my home studio using a continuous roll of backdrop paper, one softbox with a high-speed Einstein light up high, and opposite that a large silver reflector.


Here's a raw, behind-the-scenes test shot. Note how high the softbox is on the right, which makes for the nice shadowy effect, softened by the reflector on the left.


And here is the collection so far. Click on any picture to view full screen:


















Look like something you'd like to try? I'm offering this at no extra cost, so give me a holler if you want to schedule a shoot using this new technique.


To see more of these and other stuff I've been working on, you can follow me on Facebook where you can also stay updated on offers, tips, tricks, and other fun photo stuff.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) Fabric ballet dancing fantasy fitness lighting maternity photography photoshop portrait processing Tue, 01 Mar 2016 01:13:55 GMT
Shooting High Res Panoramas Painted ValleyPainted ValleyA view from the trail heading up to Montcleff Ridge, but facing Thousand Oaks. Taken 2 hours before rain came through the area.

I love shooting panoramas! In fact, I have an entire gallery (here) of nothing but high res panoramas. Although you can use a smart phone to capture a pano, it won't be high-res, and can't be enlarged very much. At home, I have some of these mounted and hung at 4' wide, and if I had room I'd print them bigger since most of these super wide photos are up to 8' wide. These panos are not one photo, but instead are composites of multiple images, in many cases 3 to 4 frames wide. The detail is from light HDR processing as well, so when I have a pano of 3 frames wide, it actually consists of 9 images (3 exposures for each photo). It's something that you can do with most modern DSLRs, provided you have the usual Adobe software complement these days (Lightroom and Photoshop). I've been refining the process of capturing and developing these panos over the past few years, and here I'd like to show you an example of the primary steps involved with making one of these monster photos.


First, below is a pano that I'll use as an example, it's just a simple pano of Thousand Oaks, taken in terrible lighting, but saved to an acceptable version thanks to the processing involved. You can also download the full size image so you can zoom in to see the detail.

T.O. Mall to Tarantula HillT.O. Mall to Tarantula Hill

And, here's a picture of me taking a shot like this (it wasn't this shot, but it gives you an idea of the gear). My brother took this of me one day while out on a pano hike, if I knew he was going to take this I wouldn't have posed so dorkily. Anywho...I find it easiest to use a monopod instead of a tripod: it's lighter weight to pack, and I get quick control of my movement. I tend to always shoot during the day, so I use a fast enough shutter speed not to worry about a little movement from the pod.


I also use a prime lens, in most cases either Nikon's 28mm or 50mm prime f/1.4. Then, set all your adjustments manually: set white balance to 5600 Kelvin (or at least something consistent), ISO 100, and then shutter and aperture to your liking. Set your camera to shoot in brackets of 3 at 1-stop each, and to shoot in continuous mode. And, most importantly, make sure you are shooting in'll thank yourself later in post processing.


Next, focus on a distance object and lock your focus. Then pan to your first frame, and click off 3 continuous shots. Pan enough to overlap the last shot by 30%, and then click off the next 3 shots, etc., until you've completed your pan.


Once you download your photos, you'll see why we shot in brackets of 3. Here is a screen shot of two of those 3-shot brackets. Shooting this bracket at 1-stop each has the original exposure, then a darker exposure, and a lighter exposure. This allows you to now blend a perfectly lit exposure that compensates for both the sky and the ground: something you can't do in broad daylight.


Note that I only bracket at 1-stop, although I could do 2 stops or more. This has worked as a sweet spot for me to get a nice even tone of exposures for daylight, even on cloudy days.


Next, I use Lightroom to process my RAWs to TIFFs. You can click on the image to the right to see the settings. All I do is check a couple of boxes under "Lens Correction", and also sharpen things up to right under 50, with a slight mask (if you don't know about using the sharpening mask in Lightroom, you may want to Google's an invaluable way to sharpen only the ground, not the sky).


Then, in Library mode in Lightroom, I copy the develop settings for this one picture, select all the photos, and paste those settings. Lastly, I export all of these photos as 16-bit TIFFs.


Now that I have all of my TIFFs, I then use Photomatix to blend my brackets into HDRs. A copy of Photomatix Essentials runs about $40 and is WELL worth it for making HDRs. You can though use Photoshop's HDR feature if you so desire, but I've found Photomatix to ROCK!


The picture on the right shows the settings I used. You can tweak as you like, but I want to merely blend the exposures and not get surreal halos that many photogs do with HDR effects. In the hold days, we'd have to use split neutral density filters on a lens to make an even exposure. But shooting digitally now, this method of blending brackets via HDR is much, much more accurate (simpler, and lower cost). The important thing here, just like in the camera settings and Lightroom as well, is to processes each 3-bracket HDR the same. So after making these adjustments on the first HDR you'll process, leave them that way for the remaining HDRs. When you save them, save them as TIFFs also.


Now you should have a collection of the HDR TIFFs. This is where it gets really easy. All you need to do is open Photoshop, then Files, Automate, Photomerge, which will give you this dialog. There are tons of tutorials on-line on how to use this Photomerge feature, so I won't get into it in too much detail here. I will though note that I use the "Cylindrical" Layout, which just seems to work best on most everything I shoot. 


After Photoshop's Photomerge is done, it's just a matter of cropping, content filling, and then adding adjustment layers to enhance colors, tone, saturation, levels, filters, etc. This is all left to your artistic license, so Photoshop away!


The key in putting together a pano is to use Photoshop's Photomerge feature. The key to getting consistent photos to work with is to shoot and process everything consistently. And to get optimal exposure, shoot in brackets and consistently process lightly-blended HDRs. It takes a heck of a lot longer than shooting a pano with a smart phone, but the results will be stunning, with massive pictures you'll be proud to hang on your walls.


To see more articles like this you can follow me on Facebook where you can also stay updated on offers, tips, tricks, and other fun photo stuff.



]]> (Nathan Cool Photo) Panorama lightroom nature photoshop Fri, 05 Feb 2016 02:31:14 GMT