This Is How a Theme Room Is Done!

I photograph a lot of vacation homes and many feature theme rooms that might appeal the children in the families who are visiting. They can range from Disney themes to Harry Potter. Sometimes, it’s stuffed animals or wall murals or even the bedding. Often times, it seems like an afterthought and the room isn’t really tied together.

Just before Christmas, I shot a home where the designer clearly put a lot of thought into the theme rooms. Check out this Lego room where everything is awesome!

Lego Theme Room

Lego Theme Room


Then there’s the Frozen room:

Frozen Theme Room

Frozen Theme Room


I don’t know if you can tell in the second picture, but the carpet actually glistens with a glitter like material adding to the “snowy” effect.

Check out the entrance to the theater room:

Movie Room

Movie Room


Now that’s how a theme room should be done! It was a lot of fun to photograph this home. You can see the full gallery here:


Using Black Flags for Interior Photography

In case you don’t know, a black flag is used in photography to absorb light and keep it from reaching your subject. It is the opposite of a reflector which bounces light onto your subject.

Interior photography is not unlike other types of photography in which you have a main subject, must compose carefully and place lights in the correct location. But it can present challenges too. Take a look at his picture:


See that window? Sunlight is streaming in and bouncing off the floor which then reflects up into the bathroom. It’s typically bad practice to light a portrait of a person from underneath. It gives them that scary camp-fire-ghost-story look. Well, the same applies here. Look carefully at the shadows and you can tell the light source is coming from underneath. Even with flash, I could not make it looked balanced or pleasing. Here’s another look:

iPhone bathroom shot

You can see the sun bouncing off the floor and wall. I did not want to leave it as is and have people think that I lit the bathroom from underneath. I was stumped until I remembered that I always bring my 5-in-1 reflector with me. One of the sides is black. So I draped that over the spot where the sun was hitting:


The black helped absorb the light and let me balance the ambient with flash for a more pleasing look. Here’s the final image:Final Bathroom Image

Notice the shadows cast by the bathtub faucet and light fixtures are less noticeable. The glare on the cabinet is reduced as is the brightness of the tile on the bathtub.

Most people may not think of using a 5-in-1 reflector for interior and real estate photography, but it’s just another photographic tool which helps to control the light.

Translating an Interior Scene from Camera to Screen

I was discussing my style and photographic vision with a homeowner recently. He complimented my work and I explained my goal is to translate what I see with my eye. That process is not easy. Behold what the camera saw in this scene:

Living Area
That’s about 1-to-2 stops overexposed. In other words, I had to disagree with what the camera thought was a “correct” exposure. That’s nowhere close to what I saw with my eyes. Here is the editing process I went through to get it to look natural:

Photoshop Screenshot


You can see it took 6 different layers to massage the image and get it to look like this:

Living Area


The room has a lot of dynamic range; from the brightness outside the sliding glass door to the dark furniture. As they say, when you get lemons, make lemonade.

Review: RODE Smart Lav

RODE Smart Lav


For some of my video projects, the client wants a talent or host; so I have the wire them for sound. In the past, I’ve used the Sennheiser wireless mics and they are great. But at more than $600 a bit pricey for my needs. So I was looking for a low-cost alternative and came across the RODE Smart Lav. At $60 bucks, it fit the bill.

The Smart Lav plugs into your smart phone and records into the RODE Rec app. The app is free but the $5.99 upgrade offers many more settings and functions including the ability to upload the audio files to Dropbox. In the field, instead of worrying about running out of memory or somehow losing the file, I just sent it to Dropbox. This allowed me to have two copies of each file. Here’s a video from the company showing some of the features of the app:


So how did it work? Check out this video comparing the on-board mic on my Canon 5D MKIII DSLR and the RODE Smart Lav:


You can hear the obvious difference. Not bad for something that is a tenth of the cost! I also like that the Smart Lav comes with a windscreen. This helps when shooting outdoors and to minimize “popping p’s” from the speaker.

There was one problem though. Out of about 11 files, 2 were not useable. One came out very low and I could not recover it in post. Another sounded very muffled. The muffled sound may have been caused by the mic slipping and being covered by clothing. But I cannot explain the low sound on the other file. I am a little worried about the inconsistencies but the other audio files sounded fine. I haven’t decided whether to try it again or to back to renting the Sennheiser.

The other consideration is syncing the audio to the video in post. This takes a little work but was easier than I expected. With the Sennheiser the audio records straight into the camera so the audio and video file are already synced.

Still, if you need a low-cost option to getting good sound, the RODE Smart Lav might be your best bet.

Recent Acquisitions

Vide gear


In a recent blog post I mentioned that I recently invested in quite a bit of gear to start doing more real estate videos. I really want to increase the production value and make the videos cinematic. Here is some of the equipment I’ll be using:


1.) Westcott Spiderlite TD 6 Continuous Lighting Kit

2.)Manfrotto  535 Carbon Fiber Tripod with 502 Video Head

3.) Tether Tools Wallee iPad Connect

4.) Cinevate Atlas FLT 26 inch slider with vertical kit and counterbalance

5.) Manfrotto 494 mini ball head

6.) Rode Smart Lav

7.) Canon TC-80N3 Timer Remote

I plan to review each piece to let you know how it works and why I use it. So stay tuned for that.

My First Time Lapse

I’m starting to do more real estate videos. Not satisfied with run-of-the-mill videos, I recently invested quite a bit of money into equipment that will step up the production value. One of those items is an intervalometer to help me do time lapse.

I did the short clip above by hand; meaning I did not have an intervalometer. I simply used the timer on my iPhone and a cable release to take the necessary exposures. After trying that, I knew I needed a remote timer to make it easier on me, so I went ahead and bought it.

There are a ton of tutorials on the web about time lapse so I won’t rehash here. Just know there is some math involved to figure out how many frames you need. I knew I wanted a 4-second clip and I’m recording at 24 frames per second. So I need 96 pictures to cover 4 seconds (4 x 24=96). I want to take a picture every 3 seconds to show the movement of the clouds. So I multiply 96 x 3=288. That’s how many seconds I have to shoot with a 3-second interval to get 96 frames. 288 divided by 60=4.8 or about 5 minutes. So for five minutes, I took a picture every 3 seconds and got 96 frames to cover 4 seconds of footage. In other words, you just saw five minutes fly by in 4 seconds.

Soon, I’ll post reviews on all the pieces of equipment I acquired including the intervalometer, so stay tuned for that.

My 2013 Blog In Review

I think it’s Zack Arias who says “less noise, more signal.” David Hobby’s interpretation of the phrase is “less frequency, more amplitude.” Basically it boils down to quality over quantity. That’s how I would describe my blog in 2013. I decided that instead of reposting or re-purposing interesting photography-related articles, I would focus my blog on my photo shoots or topic related to interior photography. I still post the interesting articles on my Facebook page which gets posted on my Twitter feed. So if you want to see those, please follow me there. But I figure other photographers are not my customer base or potential clients so I want to focus my blog to help attract new business.

In 2011 my blog had 14,793 visits which just blew my mind. In 2012 that number was 18,159. Considering I blog only occasionally and make no money from my blog, I think that’s pretty good. The total number for 2013 was “just” 13,303. But I only wrote 15 new posts for the year. Less frequency. More amplitude.

I’ll really try to blog more in 2014 and I hope you continue to find value in what I have to say. You can always search the archive for helpful and interesting posts.

Anyway, take a look at the report WordPress put together and if you commented on my blog in 2013 you might see your name.

Thanks for reading…

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 13,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.