Recently I photographed a rather large and very expensive home for sale in the upscale Mountain Brook area of Birmingham, Alabama for one of the areas elite real estate agents (full post on the home coming soon). This 8,000+ sq ft home is selling for well over a million dollars. The potential pool of buyers for this home is quite small. To capture their attention you must make your listing stand out in a major way. Having a professional photographer, especially one that specializes in architectural photography such as myself, photograph the home is a major step in that direction (see this post on the differences between professional and amateur real estate photography). However, as good as it is to have professional photos done, the impact of the photos can be kicked up a notch significantly. Some of you may have heard of the "magic hour" as a photography term. This is the hour before sunrise and before sunset when you get beautiful warm light. Many photographers will tell you that this is the best light and it's when many concentrate their shooting. I'm not disagreeing with this at all. In fact, I too have scheduled many a shoot to fit these times to get amazing light. When it comes to real estate and architectural photography, however, there's a time that's even better. It's called "blue hour" (this is a bit of a misnomer because it's actually about 15-30 minutes tops). This is the time just after the sun has gone down completely. There's a little orange on the horizon but mostly the sky has become a deep, deep blue. This is the time when a building or home, well-lit with artificial lighting can really shine. Using multiple exposures of many seconds to tenths of seconds composite together you can create an image that's stunning and attention grabbing.
The key to this technique is timing. Shoot too early and the lights of the home or building are washed out by the sunlight. Shoot too late and the sky is black and the powerful colors are lost. The window is narrow. You have to be in position and ready to shoot, then move quickly to get the images. Make a mistake and you may not have enough time to get it corrected. Because of this, and because you usually have to go back out after taking the daylight shots, very few photographers use this technique. However, if you want your listing, advertisement, or professional portfolio to really jump off the page or screen, there's really no better way than a blue hour image.
For this house I did the conventional daylight shots and then came back several hours later to do the blue hour shots. Below you can see the conventional images next to the same scene at blue hour. The daylight shots by themselves are ok but when you see the two side by side the difference is striking! One thing that is critical to point out, when it comes to real estate photography, it's very important to accurately represent the property. There are some photographers that will add "up lighting" with strobes. This is fine for illustrative or editorial images (and something that I do), but when selling a property, the addition of lighting could give a buyer a false representation of how the home actually looks. For that reason all the light you see in the images below was actually present in the scene. No lighting was added by me.