Spending your money in the right place is our next tip for the Orange County real estate photographers out there. We're going to talk about the necessary gear for taking very high quality photographs, teasing out what you need, and perhaps more importantly, what you don't need. 

I really do commend anyone who is willing to spend the money to make better imagery. But the trick is, what are the most cost effective things to spend your money on? Let's focus on one aspect of good photography specifically — light. 

Contrary to popular belief, you just can’t fake light. You can’t fake light with photoshop, you can't fake light with a good camera, and you can’t fake it with HDR either. Walk into a well regarded product photography studio and you will see nothing but lights specifically made for photography. This is not an accident, they have these lights because they give them more creative options, more control, and more color accuracy. These guys can't just shoot under the incandescent bulbs that happen to be in their studio. One has to wonder why shooting the interior of a house would be any different. Don't get me wrong, great photographs can be taken without artificial, photographic lights. But, there is no substitute to adding artificial light to a scene in so many instances, and you are afforded a vastly superior suite of creative options to choose from when you have these lights at your disposal. 

You just can't fake light. Here, a speedlight was shot directly at this Hi-Fi console from off camera to the right. The point wasn't to make a good photo, or to say flash is better than HDR, but to convince you that no matter what you do, no matter how fancy your camera or HDR software, you are never going to get the same amount of options unless you are adding your own light. I could have toned down my speedlight using a more subtle effect, I could have added a color gel to it, I could have lit only one area of this antique Hi-Fi. Not to mention what is going on with the colors in the HDR image below. Pulling out detail in the areas you want them will always be an option if you have a speedlight in your back-pocket. 

This is the HDR image. It's a very difficult lighting situation where there is low intensity ceiling lamp casting light onto the Hi-Fi, and a very bright lamp in the background. The more darker layers I added to the HDR image, the darker the Hi-Fi got. The light box in the middle was an attempt to dodge with a soft light blend mode layer to try to simulate "adding more light". The effect is simply nowhere near the effect you get when adding light from a flash, and your options are limited to the light that just so happens to be on the scene. 

A Speedlight

This leaves my recommendation of what to buy rather obvious. Buy a flash. A flash (aka speedlights) that you can mount on top of your hotshot and spin around so as to bounce it off different points of the walls or ceiling. You don't even need a TTL flash, you could easily get away with one that you can control manually. But, having at least one portable light source in your back-pocket is an absolute necessity if you are serious about taking the best photographs possible. This way, you are not showing up places and limited 100% to the light that just so happens to be on the scene. You have quite a large degree of control if you have only a single speedlight! The 2000 dollar dSLR body really isn't that important, but the clean, daylight balanced light that will be coming out of that flash is

A Tripod

Next up on our budget route to the best possible photographs is a tripod. Walk into any Best Buy and there are so many options there, in anybody's price range. And once again, what are we getting out of the tripod? Light. We just got to the house we need to shoot, the sun just set behind us, producing a huge golden light source right above the horizon, but we don't have quite enough light to handhold the camera. The tripod makes this possible as the camera is able to sit still while soaking in that beautiful, natural, warm light.

A Cheap body

The camera body really seems to be the most misunderstood when it comes to its role in creating better images. For the average realtor trying to take better photos, they need nothing more than a base level dSLR with a crop sensor (DX format). If you had the time and inclination, your images could reach a world class level with a simple body like this. Spending 3 to 500 dollars on the body, and saving the extra cash to spend on a flash unit and a tripod is the best decision you could make. Nikon makes some small, lightweight camera bodies such as the D5200 that will be amazing for your purposes, and you'll be more apt to use it and bring it with you places because it is so easy to carry. If you want to go all out and get a great body, way more than you will ever need, I'd recommend something like a Nikon D7000. Remember, the light is really going to be the important part of an interior (or exterior) photograph. And since we almost always have available white walls and/or ceilings to bounce flash light off of, this light is the path to better images, not the body. 

The lens

On a crop (DX) sensor, you are going to need a focal length on the short end of about 12mm, give or take a tad. You really don't want to go too much wider than this, for reasons we won't go into. Something like a 12-30mm wide angle zoom lens would be great. Tokina lens company makes a 12-28mm. Sigma makes a 10-20mm lens that people rave about. My advice is that it would behoove you to spend more money on the lens than the body. If you are going to splurge somewhere, splurge on the lens. Just keep that 12 (ish) to 20 or 30 (ish) focal range in mind while shopping. 

THE conclusion

A low end dSLR, a tripod, and start off with a single flash and a decent wide angle zoom lens, and you are immediately at a place where it is possible to take your photographs to the next stratosphere. You will have to practice, and put some time into learning how to bounce that flash around, but in no time I think you will find that this simple equipment you have is capable of amazing things.