Thornberry Custom Builders, Inc – Punta Gorda, Florida

One of the really neat side effects of being a photographer is that your camera can open doors that would otherwise be locked. I have talked about this before on the blog, having a DSLR sometimes draws attention, and one can be profiled either in a good way or the reverse. However, it seems even if you just have the camera, you are considered a professional. You don’t even know how to use it, just put the biggest lens that you have on and it will get you into all of the A-List parties. As I drive around Southwest Florida and see these monster homes, it amazes me what money, I mean real money can buy.

Over the years, I have honed my architecture photography. This can be a really challenging type of photography to deal with. There are harsh highlights and shadows, multiple rooms to light and most of all, it’s best if the walls and windows stay straight. With my camera acting as the key, I have been in some amazing homes and met some great folks. I’m very fortunate to have these builders and agents allow me to photograph their homes, otherwise I would have to admire them from the curb.

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by a marketing firm to photograph one of their client’s homes. This home is located near downtown Punta Gorda, Florida. Most of the homes that I have photographed have been in this area. Punta Gorda has many upscale homes that range in size. I was asked if I would be able to preserve the details in the home as the homeowner is a master woodworker and owns a woodworking business. The homeowner put in his own cabinets, staircase and other features throughout the home. The answer is always, “YES!” even if after you hang up the phone, you’re saying to yourself, what did I just do? This is always the photographer’s mantra! Everyone has to start somewhere. However, when you are starting to embark on these kinds of jobs, you better have a clue. A company is paying you to showcase their work in the best light. Most of the homes that I have photographed sell for $500K and up.

The home that I was asked to photograph a few weeks ago was a brand new home that was modeled after a 1920’s craftsman style. This house is immaculate to say the least. The attention to detail was truly amazing.

 Spencer Pullen photographed the exterior of this home, built by Thornberry Custom Builders, Inc in Punta Gorda, Florida.Exterior – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

One of the challenges in this type of photography is that part of the home is in bright daylight and other parts are in deep shade. Traditionally, you would expose for the highlights and fill in the shadows with some kind of supplemental lighting such as hot lights or flash. This can create some new problems such as how to trigger the flashes off the camera that are 50 feet away? I have been using a technique called Fusion. This only requires a tripod, camera and shutter release. Some of you may be thinking, “I know where he’s going with this, he talking about HDR.” I can say this ISN’T HDR.

 This is a beautiful dining room that was built by Thornberry Custom Builders, Inc in Punta Gorda, Florida. Photo by Spencer Pullen.Dining Room – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Fusion is a different process, however the capture starts the same. When I have showed up in the past at some of these shoots with my minimal gear, I get some strange looks. They are expecting a tractor-trailer to pull up with 15 people to unpack my photography gear. This is one of those times that you have to reassure the client that all is going to end well and they are going to have to “trust you”. Not only is your name and reputation on the line, so is the person that hired you. Before anyone hires me, I always send photos of past projects and tell them that I use minimal equipment so they aren’t shocked on site. I was in luck as my contact person was someone that I knew and we work well together. Also, homeowners don’t want you in their home for days. This system allows the marketing person and myself to move from room to room in an efficient fashion and not inconveniencing the homeowner.

 Spencer Pullen photogaphed this kitchen that was built by Thornberry Custom Builders, Inc in Punta Gorda, FloridaKitchen – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

To set up for a project like this, I fit my Nikon 12mm-24mm wide-angle lens on the camera. Builders and real estate folks love wide angle lenses as they want to show as much as the space as possible. This also gives the home a feeling that it’s open and warm, I mean who want to live in a small cardboard box? I place the camera on the tripod and attach the shutter release. In the hot shoe of the camera I slide in a double spirit level. This is more important than you may think. This is going to ensure that the lines of the house stay straight. This little gizmo has a permanent home in my bag.

 This living room was built by Thornberry Custom Builders, Inc in Punta Gorda, Florida. Photographed by Spencer Pullen.Living Room – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

I use the camera’s bracketing system to capture all of the light in the scene. It’s not uncommon that the camera’s auto bracking system won’t shoot enough frames, so I have to use manual mode to shoot the extra frames required. Once all of the light has been captured, this allows the computer to have the appropriate info to do the light calculations.

Most of the homes that I photograph, the company wants multiple angles of the kitchen, living room and master bedroom and bath. However, it’s usually the kitchen that sells the home. This is where folks visualize themselves most of the time.

 Thornberry Custom Builders, Inc in Punta Gorda built this guest bath in a 1920's craftman style home. Photo by Spencer Pullen.Guest Bath – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Sometimes you have to get in strange positions so that you don’t show up in the photos. In the guest bath above, I had to crouch in a weird downward dog Pilate’s position in the tub as not to show up in the mirror. The tub got rather small  by the time the tripod and I were inside. In this case, I also shot portrait orientation as to show that the cabinet was floating. I checked the level to make sure that all the lines were straight and took the bracked sequence.

Spencer Pullen photographed this outdoor living area for Thornberry Custom Builders, Inc in Punta Gorda, Florida Outdoor Living Space – Spencer Pullen © 2013 All Rights Reserved

The best part about this process is that it works great outside and inside. Once the photos are captured, I take them into the computer and use a program to fuse the bracketed frames together. There are multiple programs out there such as Photomatix, Nik HDR Efex Pro and Unified Color just to name a few. They all process photos differently and over the years I have tried most of them. However, most work on the “tone mapping” program and this can lead to HDR problems such as halos and painterly effects. This is where using a fusing program works much better and give you realistic results.

Once you have a composite out of one of the programs, this is really just a starting point. Then I take the image into Camera RAW and do a few tweaks and pass the file to Photoshop for final polishing. This is a labor of love for sure. A typical home takes about 10 hours to complete. I usually figure about two hours on location for shooting and the rest is figured for travel and post. The result is natural and the builders and agents seem to really be happy with the results. I have even passed interior photos of restaurants to magazines and they have no idea that the images were fused.

At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how you get the job done, just so it’s to the clients liking. As they say, you’re only as good as your last job. The camera did its initial job, not taking the photo, but unlocking the doors to these amazing homes.

If you are interested in building a home like this for yourself call TJ Thornberry at Thornberry Custom Builders, Inc. Phone: 941- 629-3165 • 20020 Veteran’s Blvd. Unit 2, Port Charlotte, Florida 33954. Website:

Until next time…

Keep Your Glass Clean


  1. I think I’ve found my dream home. I’ve always admired homes built in the early 1900’s, but never wanted to deal with the maintenance and upkeep, but a new home built to look like a historical home is perfect! Love the welcoming big porches and custom work! I haven’t learned about Fusion yet so thanks for sharing something new to learn!

  2. Terrific stuff! I always learn something even if I am not ready to use it! Keep on clicking…

  3. Spencer, great post. Would Light Room 5 accomplish the same thing without having to use two separate software programs?

    • Spencer

      In this case, I’m afraid not. The programs that I listed specialize in merging bracketed frames together. Lightroom is a photo organizer and RAW converter. You could use Lightroom to polish your fused result that comes out of Photomatix, HDR Efex Pro or Unified Color. Hope this makes sense. Thanks…


  4. Your pictures truly show off this house – beautiful!

  5. Wonderful commercial photography. The clients should be well satisfied. Nice job once again.

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