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How to Light a ‘Big Budget’ Photo with $5 Lights

I have a client who builds amazing luxury apartment complexes all over California, and I’m their pool guy. I know it sounds funny, but they call me whenever they need exterior images and pool images (they call another photog to do the interiors of the model apartments).

This is one of the delivered photos of the pool at 11:43AM. The client likes their pools to look big so the lower angle really emphasizes the water (and on the low photos we don’t have to wet the deck). Photo © Stephen Schafer Schafphoto.com

Their projects and their brief are always similar: I have unlimited access to the buildings the day before the tenants move in, the pool chairs all get rolled white towels, I need to make the pool look “big,” and they always want the pool deck wet and shiny (even when it’s 100˚ outside). Oh, and they want the main view of the pool to be a ‘HERO’ photo, I have taught them my slang for the master twilight photo, the ‘magazine cover’ if you will.

This is one of the delivered detail photos of the pool at 11:34AM. It just goes to prove that you can take a worthwhile photo even at noon. Photo © Stephen Schafer Schafphoto.com

This is one of the delivered architectural photos of the pool from above. Taken from a balcony while we were plugging lights into all the apartments. Photo © Stephen Schafer Schafphoto.com

On this project my client was hiring me to create marketing images, these were used as website splash pages, glossy brochures, ads in local rental magazines, submissions to award shows, and a web-gallery they can email to prospective tenants. The photos all needed to be horizontal (I usually deliver 16:9) and they generally are used smaller than 11 inches wide at 300 dpi (8MP).

Occasionally they get a spread in a magazine or blow up their favorite HERO photos as 30×40 inch aluminum wall prints and sometimes they produce 80-inch-wide trade show graphics from the photos, so the final delivered files obviously need to be more than 8MP. This image was captured on a 32-megapixel Nikon D800e. (I put the delivered 26MP cropped image on my Flickr Photostream in case you want to pixel peep.)

On this February day in 2016, I set up a time-lapse on a lark. Video is not my thing, I stick to stills mostly. The timelapse video came about because I had bought a Nikon D5300 and 10-24mm lens as a backup camera. I set up the D5300 on my backup tripod behind the main camera and set the intervalometer to take a photo on Program mode every 10 seconds. The following video compresses about three hours of photography into 1.5 minutes (It’s still boring at 1.5 minutes, you can imagine how boring it is in real-time).



February 2020
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