Wide Angle Lenses for Real Estate Photography

Guest post from fantastic photographer and friend Steve Scurich

Shooting Real Estate with 24mm Tilt Shift, Canon 11-24 f/4 and Canon 16-35 F/4

So, I’ve recently rented a couple of lenses for some real estate photography jobs and wanted to share some of my thoughts…  To begin with, I am by no means an expert in equipment, settings or technical knowledge on this subject matter.  I am simply a guy who loves photography and makes a living photographing residential and commercial real estate, portraits and corporate events in the greater Santa Barbara, CA area.  Since that’s now out of the way, here are a few thoughts and example images.

"...as a Real Estate Photographer, I reject a lot of client's ideas about “removing” items from a scene, unless they are not permanent..."

For the past couple years, I’ve been using my Canon 24mm TS/E f3.5L lens on almost all my real estate photography assignments.  In fact, I’ve become so comfortable and happy with it, that I even use it on most landscape shoots when on a tripod.  It has awesome optics and I love how easy it is to compose my shots without much tripod adjustment.  I use the shift function all the time, and very minor tilt adjustments to simply straighten lines without losing too much focus above or below.  Also, it’s a fun lens to create the “miniature effect”, especially in large architectural spaces or urban landscapes….not for work, just play.  My work flow with this lens is usually like this: Choose an angle and set up my tripod fully extended (I use an Induro AT114 with RRS BH50 ball head), level the camera using the ball head bubble level, swivel camera to desired composition (this usually involves physically moving forward/backward slightly since the lens is a prime), shift TS/E up or down to frame composition, select focal spot and 10x zoom on Live View to manually focus, zoom out, select meter spot and take 5-7 exposures, usually -2, -1, 0, +1, +2.  Post production is usually a merge in LR with minor PS edits if needed.  It should be noted that as a Real Estate Photographer, I reject a lot of client's ideas about “removing” items from a scene, unless they are not permanent, to avoid any misrepresentation when marketing the property.  Selecting a good angle and processing a quality photograph is much more effective anyway.Having said all that, I can practically do this workflow in my sleep.  It’s what I know and I haven’t felt too pinched by a 24mm lens in most common area rooms.  Now that I live and work in Santa Barbara, CA however, a place where a 3bd/2ba 1300 sq ft home can easily sell for $1-10 Million depending on location;  I have found a need to use a super wide angle lens, especially in smaller bed/bathrooms.  I had been reading some great reviews on Canon’s new 11-24mm f/4L lens, so I rented it for a couple jobs.  First thing I’ll say is that it is HUGE, and heavy.  My gosh, what a beast-of-a-lens! That out of the way, it really is top quality and amazing.  Being a prime user primarily (see what I did there?), I constantly forgot to zoom in/out when using the 11-24mm….it was usually set around 11-13mm and I conducted business as usual (with the exception of TS/E).  If I had it permanently in my bag, the forgetting to zoom certainly wouldn’t have been an issue, but I’m not sure I truly utilized all it was capable of.  What I did notice though, is that I only selected about 50% of the angles I shot on the 11-24mm vs. my 24mm TS/E.  It has world class optics sure, and is totally impressive at the edges considering how wide it is, but it was extremely sensitive to angle distortion if my camera was not perfectly level on the tripod.  If too much ceiling was showing and I needed to “shift” down, the tripod adjustments started.  If too much floor showed and not enough ceiling, up went the center column, and so on.  Angling the lens up/down was just not a good option unless I wanted to spend hours in Manual Profile Lens Corrections - auto corrections are just okay for me.  In other words, it’s a finicky lens and needs to be treated with respect, patience and care (especially the very bulbous front glass).  Which brings me to another disappointment, lens filters.  I’m not sure what options are out there now for the 11-24mm, but I know my 82mm ND 9-stop filter certainly won’t work.  The lens hood is fixed in place and the lens cap covers both the lens and hood ends.  Did I mention it’s a beast-of-a-lens…?  In small spaces, with my tripod lowered to a height I found to be useful in most rooms, this lens was a dream.  Capturing a vast view from a patio, or framing up as much land around a property as possible, the 11-24mm is perfect.  Beyond that, I much prefer my 24mm TS/E.

My job is to entice a feeling of being able to visualize yourself living in a room, not to take your kids to the bending circus mirrors at a local carnival.

Another thing worth mentioning is that when I did use the 11-24mm in smaller spaces, it was a bit challenging framing up 3 walls vs. 2 as I usually do.  This could very well be due to my being a novice with super wide angle lenses, but I was just not happy with the distortion of angles on most shots.  All ceilings became “vaulted” and floors became sloped.  The images kind of screamed out, “Hey, the photographer obviously used a wide angle lens to try and make the room look bigger than it is!”  My job is to entice a feeling of being able to visualize yourself living in a room, not to take your kids to the bending circus mirrors at a local carnival.  Many of my 11mm shots were cropped down to 2 walls, probably about 16-20mm….and this brings me to my conclusion.If I had tons of money and could afford an array of pro lenses in my bag, I’d definitely buy the 11-24mm, no question.  My write up may seem a bit negative, but it’s an amazing lens and with more time and practice, I know I’d fall in love with it.  It is temperamental and requires a new way of composition framing, for me anyway, that can be really good down the road, but a headache when a client is moving from room-to-room, staying out of frame and waiting for me to finish photographing his/her property.  I am, however, not made of money so I need to consider my alternatives that can help in the small spaces or vast landscapes, and not cost more than an international photography safari with McKay Photography Academy - besides, I’d rather put my hard earned money there anyway…  So what do I do?  For me, it’s simple.  Canon 16-35mm f/4L IS.  I’ve played around with this lens recently and for a 1/3 of the cost of the 11-24mm, my wallet is wide open Canon.  Sure, the 11-24mm can possibly differentiate yourself from the competition as a professional real estate photographer, but let’s face it….if you’re splitting those hairs, you’re probably able to afford it.  The optics of the 16-35mm are great, it’s plenty wide enough for what I like to accomplish, it’s light and easy to carry, and my 77mm (or 82mm with step-down ring) filters fit right out the gates.  I’m still in a love affair with my 24mm TS/E, but for wider angle shots, I’m using the 16-35mm f/4L IS.Oh, I should probably mention that I’ve spent good time with Canon’s 17mm TS/E f/4L too, but with some of the problems I had with the 11-24mm (bulbous lens front, no filters, expense, etc.) while also being very disappointed in the clarity.  It’s getting a little long in the tooth, similar to the 17-40mm or 16-35 f/2.8 lenses.  The combination of my Canon 24mm TS/E f/3.5L and 16-35mm f/4L IS is just what the real estate photography doctor ordered.

Gear Mentioned

Canon 11-24 f/4 Lens- Buy from B&H Photo $2,999.00Canon 16-35 f/4 Lens- Buy from B&H Photo $999.00Canon 24mm f/3.5 TS/E - Buy from B&H Photo $1,899.00 (Watch a hands-on with Steve's tilt shift in Iceland)Canon’s 17mm f/4 TS/E - Buy from B&H Photo $2,189.00Induro Tripod - Buy from B&H Photo $129.00  Really Right Stuff Head $400.00

Fantastic Flower Photos - Interview and Technique

A chat with Susan Michal on her fantastic flower photos- getting all the setup, detail and tips for beginning flower photographers and the excellent charity her work is supporting. https://youtu.be/o9DKZLjB2wASupport the Operation Smile and Receive a beautiful limited edition flower print: http://www.susanmichalfineart.com/giving-back/See more of Susan's work 

Steve's Iceland Gear

I am not the only photographer headed to Iceland. Steve Scurich from Steve Scurich Photography will also be on the trip. I came across his gear list on Facebook and thought I should take a moment to share with you all.Steve Scurich Photography www.stevescurich.comWorking from left to right-

  • 2 Beats headphones,
  • 15" Apple Retina laptop
  • lightweight North Face gloves
  • Induro A114 tripod with a Really Right Stuff B-55 ball head
  • Canon 600EX-RT Speedlite
  • Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II L lens
  • Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens
  • Canon 24mm f/3.5 TS/E L lens
  • Canon 5D Mark III body
  • Canon 60D body
  • Peak Designs versatile strapsMed Rocket Blaster
  • Gary Fong v5 flash diffuser
  • 500GB LaCie Rugged back up drive
  • 1TB LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt back up drive
  • filter adapter ring 82-77
  • 3 Canon LP-E6 batteries
  • US to Euro plug adapter
  • Canon wireless flash trigger
  • 3 sets of Eneloop AA rechargeable batteries with Panasonic charger
  • 2 Canon LP-E6 battery chargers
  • extra Canon 5D Mark III eye-cup
  • various cables
  • business cards
  • Hoya Pro-ND 82mm 9-Stop filter
  • 4 Lexar CF 16GB memory cards
  • 2 Lexar SD 16GB memory cards
  • 3 SanDisk SD 16GB memory cards
  • Canon cable trigger for 60D
  • 64GB flash drive
  • LowePro memory card case
  • 3 microfiber cleaning cloths
  • various allen wrenches,
  • 2 accessory bags
  • lens cleaning solution
  • lens cleaning wipes
  • small flashlight
  • pen+highlighter
  • lens brush with blower
  • Swiss Army case for point/shoot camera
  • Think Tank TurnStyle 20 Sling Bag
  • Lexar memory card reader
  • Canon G9 point/shoot camera
  • G9 battery charger
  • Oakley Holbrook sunglasses
  • 2 passports

Here it is all packed in his ClikElite Pro Expressimage1 (1)Quite the list!  You can see more of Steve's work at Steve Scurich Photography in Santa Barbara, CA.

How it was Made - Instagram Winner

Last week's Instagram Challenge was "EARTH." One of my winners was this beautiful photo from Sky Neary.http://instagram.com/p/5Ndm6yHRet/Sky reached out to let me know exactly how he captured/created this image-I was on a last minute backpacking trip to Nevada, Utah, and Arizona area with a friend and traveling for a week. This photograph was created on the last day of our trip right outside Las Vegas. This landscape is in Red Rock Canyon National Park.Sky NearyAfter taking the image I edited it in photoshop to turn day into night

Turn photograph from day to night:

First you want to desaturate.  A good starting point is half-way with the desaturate (example -50) and adjust from there.  This example works both in Lightroom and Photoshop.
Next you need to adjust Exposure or Brightness depending on if you are in photoshop or lightroom and you want to bring them down (slide left).  Now you want to slide your contrast far to the right typically all the way for photoshop and lightroom.
Once you adjust exposure/brightness and contrast. You want to double check your colors due to the contrast slider being adjusted you might want to desaturate specific colors more.
Remember every photograph is different so you might want to go back and adjust to improve the overall look of the photograph.

and then blended a Milky Way photograph I took on the same tripBX0A9758 1I ended with this.BX0A9811-Edit-EditI like to think that this is what it looks like if you were here at night.-Sky You can see more of Sky's work at http://www.skynearyphotography.com/Thanks Sky!  Have you made and or captured a photo you are particularly proud of? I'd be happy to share it here with a write-up of your method.  Just use the contact form to reach out to me.  

Yongnuo 50mm f/1.8 Lens aka the Nifty-Fifty Knock-off

Screenshot 2014-12-17 11.41.00Yongnuo, the company that makes some of my favorite flashes for Canon and Nikon, has recently released their own version of Canon's 50mm f/1.8.  Costing just $30, less than a 1/3 the price of  Canon's already cheap 50mm intrigued reader John Witkowski. Here are his thoughts and some comparisons versus the Canon 40mm f/2.8. YONGNUO 50mm f/1.8 lens for Canon cameras. Initial thoughts so far; it seems to be built just a tad bit better than canons 50mm 1.8, not by much. Mount uses screws instead of canons plastic lock tabs. Quick test shots seem to have accurate color and contrast. Not as sharp as the 40mm 2.8 it is very soft at 1.8 and gets better around f4 - f5. Ok bokeh. Motor noise is similar to the canon 50 1.8. Focusing is ok not to bad to get locked in. With that said It does not work in liveview with my t5i. It has trouble focusing and when it finally does come in focus the camera will not shoot. I noticed if it is in live view with the lens on AF it will not fire. If I change the lens to MF in live view it works. Using the viewfinder the lens works fine. So far for $30 bucks its not bad but not great.  See John's Flickr Photos at https://www.flickr.com/photos/limesaresweet/sets/72157649727835016

Here are the test shots. I started with canons 40mm stm at 2.8 and the Yongnuo 50mm at 1.8

Canon 40mm f/2.8 at f/2.8https://www.flickr.com/photos/limesaresweet/15414584774/in/set-72157649727835016Yongnuo 50mm f/1.8 at f/1.8https://www.flickr.com/photos/limesaresweet/16036156502/in/set-72157649727835016/Yongnuo 50mm f/1.8 at f/2.8https://www.flickr.com/photos/limesaresweet/15849416238/in/set-72157649727835016/100% comp 40mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8 vs Yongnuo 50mm f/1.8 @ f/2.8Yongnuo40vs50 More samples on his Flickr Page -https://www.flickr.com/photos/limesaresweet/sets/72157649727835016You can order the lens via Ebay (price seems to have gone up slightly) Yongnuo 50mm f/1.8 Canon Lens or Amazon (price is higher) My quick thoughts - at $30-$40 if offers a workable alternative to Canon's own prime but you are probably better off saving a little more and grabbing the Canon version, especially when you consider the focusing issues John mentioned along with the serious softness at f/1.8.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Film vs Digital

1020026_25 mm1-40 sec at f - 1.8ISO 200One of my viewers shared his thoughts on film vs digital and did a nice cost benefit analysis. I asked if I could share it as a post and he agreed.  Thanks to Norbert from Belgium for sharing. I'd like to talk to you a little about (spoiler alert )...old-fashioned analog photography. One and a half years back I became seriously interested in photography after my purchase of my first DSLR (Rebel T3 with the 17-50 f/2.8 Tamron. I rather wanted the fixed aperture instead of a more expensive body with a flippy touchscreen) and purchased my first prime lens last spring (the new Sigma 30mm f/1.4). Since then I've spend a good $1300,- worth of camera equipment. That amount of money is a lot for a just graduated vet with photography as (just) a hobby. After being inspired last summer by a friend owning a Canon AE-1 Program, I began calculating the cost of analog photography. I did a little search on eBay and estimated that with a budget of around $130,-, I could buy myself a professional level SLR. I made a little Excel sheet to calculate the price per photo if I would bring the film rolls to a local lab to get it developed and scanned on a CD (that way I avoid printing costs).View the spreadsheet in own windowI came to a price of $0,32 cents per photo (Calculated the prices roughly to dollars, but maybe real American prices differ a bit). Eventually I bought an Olympus OM-2 (because of it's compact size and huge viewfinder) with a 50mm f/1.8, 35mm f/2.8, a little flash and batteries for both the camera and the little flash for a total of $120,-. So far, I'm really happy with it for four reasons:

  1. It really feels like a machine that will last. It's sturdy, solid and older than me.
  2. In your shows and reviews, camera size is always a big issue and I agree. I think the motto "The best camera is the camera you have with you" is absolutely true.
  3. The smaller and lighter a camera is, the bigger the likelihood of bringing it with you. The size of my DSLR sometimes hold me back to bring it to, let say, a simple night out at a restaurant. Old pro-level SLR's are significantly smaller and lighter, and so are the lenses. It's a full frame SLR in the shape and size of a modern compact camera.
  4. It's full frame. Shooting at f/1.8 on a crop or FF sensor (or film ;)) definitely makes a difference.

You have to think about your exposure settings and the photos you take. On a DSLR you can cheat. Great, but it doesn't learn you much. A SLR pushes you to 'read' the light and to be fully in charge of the composition of a photo (and not waste a few shots to check your composition afterwards). You really have to "think before you click" .Returning to the financial side of things, I wanted to compare my digital versus my analog equipment. I had a bias towards digital (like most people probably) that digital has the big advantage that you can shoot for free. I calculated that I would have to shoot 70 rolls of film before the costs of my analog equipment would equal the costs of my digital equipment. Assuming that I shoot four 36-rolls a month (one per week), that would take me 2.25 years. I think for the average amateur photographer, that's not much shorter than the period after people tend to upgrade their gear. Additionally, upgrading your analog equipment, by for example buying that extra lens, is also much cheaper and with the difference in money you can buy some film again.Editors Note: Here in the US MPIX.COM will develop negatives for  0.19/exposure extending the time to 2.56 years.And yes, there are drawbacks to analog photography of course. Mainly two big ones, I feel.

  1. You're fixed with the same ISO during one roll of film. It’s a huge drawback when combining outdoor with indoor shooting. A small note along the side is that analog noise is prettier than digital noise, but still, it's a handicap.
  2. No RAW files. I'm not developing my own photos (yet, maybe), but RAW is a definite miss. Nothing will beat RAW when it comes to equalizing the exposure over the whole picture (think highlights and shadows).

Of course, analog photography would be impossible harder for the modern professional photographer. But I think it's a good 'instrument' for the amateur level photographer,  I thought it might be a good idea to share this idea with you. Analog photography is often regarded as a bit romantic and hipster (think Lomography). I would like to point out that analog photograph can also be a good alternative for the rationally thinking amateur photographer.I added two of my favorite images from my last film roll .Screenshot 2014-12-16 14.29.42 Screenshot 2014-12-16 14.29.57All the best from Ghent, Belgium,Norbert