Exteriors: Lighting or No Lighting?


It can be difficult to know whether or not lighting is necessary for a shoot. When clients call to discuss a project with us, we try to careful listen and understand the budget, the end use, and the ultimate goal the photos will be trying to achieve. We then try to make a recommendation which best fits the needs of the particular project.

We take pride in every shoot, however adding supplemental lighting to a shoot gives a photographer options and opportunities he/she wouldn’t have otherwise. Adding lighting allows a photographer to add emphasis to areas of a home. When processing an image where we used supplemental lighting, we take multiple exposures and layer them in post-production. Because we light different areas individually, we can carefully control how much additional lighting goes into each area of the photo. In addition, lighting the exterior of a structure helps balance the exposure so that windows are balanced and the interior can be seen from the outside–instead of a blast of light or an unsightly glare. Here we have a competent dusk exposure of a model home we recently shot. We then have a 14-layer composite with sky replacement.


A decent image, shot at dusk of a model home.


A great image, shot after dusk, with lighting at multiple points and a sky replacement from a day with clouds and some dramatic orange and reds in the sky.

Just after dusk, there is a 20-30 minute period when buildings look spectacular and there are radiant blue skies which create a dramatic backdrop. This shopping center was shot at the perfect moment of blue hour. Here is an example of a shot without lighting and an example of the same shot with lighting. The image, shot without lighting, is pretty stunning. Shot at the perfect time of day, this is almost as good as the image produced with supplemental light. But not quite.

ShoopingCenterBlueHour-Not Lit

Not lit, not bad.


Lighting adds emphasis to the signage and removes the murky areas of the frame.

The problem with magic hour is akin to magic in general–it has a tendency to vanish into thin air. The perfect blue light at the end of the day fades quickly, which means you only get a few shots. By adding lighting, you can continue to shoot into the evening as though magic hour was frozen just for our photo shoot. Here are some examples of shopping centers we’ve recently shot when the sun set, but we kept on shooting. The nighttime shots without lighting are bright and sharp and could work great on a tight budget and tight schedule, but the images which were professionally lit and composited in post-production are eye-catching and ready to sell.

Shopping Center 2 - Not Lit

Dark skies, but bright parking lot and visible buildings.


Dramatic skies, and careful lighting to draw eyes to the building, not the parking lot.

Shopping Center 3 -Not-Lit

Not a bad shot for an area with very little lighting.

Shopping Center 3 - Lit

A vibrant shot with detail in signs, windows, and walkways. Plus a sky which conceals the fact that we shot at night altogether.

Supplemental lighting adds time to a shoot. Each shot takes longer both at the time of the shoot and in post-processing. It also involves at least one lighting assistant. So for some projects a run-and-gun approach may be best. But to get the absolute best out of an image, you can’t beat shooting with lights.