Best time of day for Real Estate / Architectural Photos

For what time should you schedule a Real Estate / Architectural photo shoot?

There are generic rules-of-thumb but that doesn’t mean all problems are solved — basically, every object and situation is different and many factors need to be counted into the decision about WHEN to shoot.

Warm Morning Light for Real Estate Photography
Warm Morning Light (GOLDEN HOUR) for Real Estate Photography

For Exteriors you will likely best know whether it presents nicer during A.M. or P.M. hours.
I like mornings because the light is bright and still warm, but not as orange-ish as shortly before sunset which is not bad, either. Midday sun is giving us the hardest, most neutral light and also the highest contrast (shadows) level — as said, it is neutral light which works for all situations if you do not aim at the very warm tones. For some modern objects in architecture shoots it even can add a interesting touch with the shadows.

For pricing of REAL ESTATE / ARCHITECTURAL photo shoots please see my page: REAL ESTATE / ARCHITECTURE PHOTO SHOOTS

Twilight

About 30 minutes before sunrise or after sunset you don’t have any direct sun light for the scenery but the ambient light of the sky: overall you experience a gradient ranging from warm orange to cool dark blue — I like when there are some clouds present because they make any scene more interesting. That time period is the one for twilight photography because a building or structure with illuminated Interior and Exterior will look pretty warm and inviting.

TWILIGHT can look really good, but people have gotten so used to those photos that they are not considered so amazingly special any more. GOLDEN HOUR shots might convey more inviting energy. All depends on the object and the setting.

2019 Sunset Schedule for Boulder, Colorado (approx. times)

Twilight is the time span approx. 30 minutes AFTER SUNSET or BEFORE SUNRISE.

Most people only consider the evening twilight period but keep in mind that some facade might present great during the morning twilight.

Keep also in mind that the GOLDEN HOUR precedes the SUNSET or respectively follows a SUNRISE. You should also include in your planning which side of the structure you want to choose for some warm Golden Hour shots. During the Golden Hour one side of the structure is illuminated and the opposite sits in the shade.

Time of yearSunriseSunset
1-JAN7:22am4:47pm
1-FEB7:08am5:20pm
1-MAR6:33am5:53pm
DST starts 10-MAR7:19am7:03pm
1-APR6:43am7:25pm
1-MAY5:59am7:56pm
1-JUN5:33am8:24pm
1-JUL5:36am8.33pm
1-AUG6:00am8:14pm
1-SEP6:29am8:00pm
1-OCT6:58am7:09pm
1-NOV7:31am5:58pm
DST ends 3-NOV6:33am4:55pm
1-DEC7:04am5:06pm

When to shoot what

I have listed some more generic rules-of-thumb for determining the best time to shoot Real Estate / Architectural objects further below.

For Interiors there are so many factors that matter, from window sizes, how many windows, orientation, wall colors, furniture, style, etc.

No matter how many rules you would come up with for a perfect shoot, … all those rules will never make a one-fit-all solution.
The short answer to the question ‘What is the best time for a photo shoot?’ is: it depends!

1st rule-of-thumb — choose a sunny day or partly sunny day

No matter if Exterior or Interior: nice sunny or partly sunny weather is always better than rainy days or any cloudy (gray) day because colors in the photo look more energetic and not as dull and flat like on cloudy/rainy days.
Even Photoshop has a hard time to correct that — however, lite overcast days can be treated in Photoshop quite well and although it will never be like a sunny day, but by balancing the mid-tones, dark and shadow areas as well as the highlights and adjusting some more settings it is possible to make the overall appearance bright and warm.

Some tips to think about

  • EXTERIORS: All buildings have multiple Exterior sides and you likely want to photograph the Front AND/OR the Back or other Exterior angles. Conclusion: if you need multiple Exterior sides you will face good and not-so-good lighting, depending which side you are photographing. ==> so, .…you should plan for at least a second visit, … or you should decide which Exterior side is the most important one, the chocolate side. That one determines if you go for an A.M. or P.M. photo shoot. Ideal is if you book two appointments, one in the morning, one in the afternoon.
  • EXTERIORS: Shooting after sunset might be an option for some EXTERIORS. It makes homes look luxurious, cozy, warm (because of the house’s lighting fixtures), etc.. ==> however, that should not be overrated — colorful day shoots are equally important because a viewer also wants to see how that home looks during day-time. If you need to decide for either a daylight OR a TWILIGHT (sunset) photo, I would go for DAYLIGHT, but that is subjective.
    Many twilight photos which I see floating around are way to much saturated and look like a movie poster and unreal, also most of them look actually the same. They got a reputation of being that typical marketing brochure twilight picture. I think that is out-dated and we need to get more authenticity back into the pictures. 
  • INTERIORS: it really depends … Every room has a ‘best’ time for taking a photo. I think it is difficult to have the same TOP conditions for all rooms at the same time. May be for condos which face only 1 direction.
    ==> pick a time when most rooms have good lighting, meaning they offer an inviting feel. Or book multiple visits. 
  • INTERIORS: Rooms that are flooded with sunlight can look amazing, way more interesting that equally lit rooms. But  that is subjective, again. I think rooms that show areas of sunlight reaching the floors and walls, especially when it happens partially with a pattern, makes a room so much inviting and distinctive and rememberable.
  • INTERIORS with a VIEW: if the VIEW is important to show off, … pick the time of the day when you think the room with the view looks best, e.g. if you have an ocean view you might want to pick sunrise or sunset. However, KEEP IN MIND that you might want to show the Interior not only with a nice sunrise/sunset but also during sunny ‘normal’ daylight conditions.
  • SUMMER and THUNDER STORM: here in Colorado where summers are dry and hot we often experience AFTERNOON thunder storms.
    Just look at the weather forecast and you might notice that the precipitation likelihood increases for the afternoon hours. A few clouds are great but if they move in too fast and creating a cloud cover the lighting conditions for the photo shoot degrade quickly.  
    When you schedule an appointment with me,… my suggestion would be always to aim at the AM hours if possible and no other considerations (like all the things I mentioned in this article) speak against AM hours.

More rules-of-thumb

  • Exterior photos: Goal for the photographer is to have the sun in the camera’s back. Or high up is still ok, basically any time when the sun is not shining right into the camera.
    • ==> Exteriors facing EAST: A.M. hours to early P.M. / Morning sunlight is bright and warm. Especially during the morning GOLDEN HOUR.
    • ==> Exteriors facing WEST: midday to P.M. hours / the closer to sunset, the warmer the light – even warmer than in the morning.
    • ==> Exterior (after sunset): the sun should set behind the house. The sky will be blue-ish and has a cool character, whereas the house with its lighting will look warm and inviting.
    • ==> Exterior facing SOUTH: midday to P.M. — once the exterior comes out of the shade.
    • ==> Exterior NORTH: check out if there’s an early morning or evening time when the sun hits at least a little bit of the exterior side. If not, May be noon is a good time when there are less shaded areas in the surroundings of the house which lightens up the environment.
  • Exterior photos in general: best lighting conditions are 1+ hours after sunrise and and 1+ hours before sunset. That’s the golden hour.
  • Interiors: any time, but in general on sunny days because all Interiors look better, warmer, more energetic — dark/rainy days produce flat/dull colors. May be you know a specific time when ‘most’ rooms have good light.
  • Interiors with a view: the camera looks from the inside to the outside and therefore it is *not* good if a full bright sun is shining thru the window right into the camera. But there are exceptions: May be the room just looks perfect with sunlight flooding in and creating strong contrasts in the room. Sometimes it can be even nice if you take a photo against / into the sun and sunrays are warming up the photo and are giving it a special touch. So,… again, all depends.
    If the VIEW is WEST: A.M. or around sunset.
    All other views: whenever a full bright sun is not shining directly through the window into the camera lens
  • Interiors: Keep in mind that most windows, even if they were cleaned, can easily look smeary or show streaks in full sunlight conditions.
  • Sunlight literally flooding the Interior: if the picture can be taken in a way that the sun goes full force through the window, flooding the room with warm light, creating some highlights and shadows, and without being in the photo (term is: frame), … that can look pretty nice, energetic, and makes the picture stand-out. I am not sure if you know what I tried to explain but I wanted to point out that there are some scenarios when you cannot strictly apply rules-of-thumb.

De-cluttering the space

Please keep in mind… independent from the lighting conditions: always declutter the space that shall be photographed – Interior and Exterior.
Less stuff is more!

From my experience I mostly find well de-cluttered interiors, however, the exterior gets forgotten pretty often. Examples: old fall leaves, hoses, corners with tools and stuff, and so on. You know what I mean… and exterior photos look so much better when the lawn is moved, chairs and tables are in the right place, and no clutter nowhere.

That’s for Real Estate photography — if you are aiming at Architectural photography you must aim way higher. No clutter at all is just the basis. A well decorated or staged residential home should be the goal. Staged can also mean that you intentionally decorate in a lived-in style which can make a place more natural (vs. artificially perfect).

For commercial architectural photography it is the same just in a commercial business sense. And last but not least: for corporate culture type of photo shoots just have the place the way you want to portrait your culture which can be anything from organized chaos to sterile environment. With people or without people.

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(Article first published 2-oct-2015; last updated: see at the top of the article)

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