What Are Your Secrets For Getting Great Window Pull?

March 21st, 2016

RobsWindowPullRob Moreno in Boston wants to know if anyone is willing to disclose their secrets for getting great window pull in any room. Rob says:

I can create some half-way decent window pulls, but there are times when I can’t seem to get it spot on. This is particularly challenging when I have a larger room and my speed lights don’t have the power to adequately illuminate a room. Also, for rooms that have windows at a longer distance. I’m curious to know what some of the other photographers do to get that million dollar window pull. Anyone willing to give away trade secrets on window pull? Is there only one sure-fire way to accomplish this? I’d like to get this “in-camera” vs post, but I understand it may not be realistic.

My standard technique is meter for the window then light the room up like the 4th of July! The photo above was done this way.

I’ll start out with my tip for getting “million dollar” window pull. Because window pull in some rooms requires some serious flash power, one way to get more power you can use a studio type flash. One alternative for this type of flash is a battery powered N-flash that can be triggered by most wireless triggers. The N-flash isn’t available in the US but Mark Shapiro, long time PFRE reader in Sydney, AU sells them (at least he did 2 years ago… haven’t talked to him in a while) and many Australian real estate photographers use them. Mark uses the N-flash exclusively and his portfolio on his site has plenty of examples of  “million dollar” window pulls.

Anyone else have any window pull trade secrets they are willing to share?

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17 Responses to “What Are Your Secrets For Getting Great Window Pull?”

  • I have not come across the term “window pull” before. I am assuming it means getting an exposure for the outside where exterior scenery can be detected. When I went to the Art Center College of Design in LA lo these many decades ago, we were taught to always let the outside exposure be 1.5 stops lighter than the interior so it would read as exterior and not a poster plastered on the outside of the Windows. Given that, then I would suggest you work backwards building up your interior exposure using flash, hot lights or HDR.

    My problem with the easiest method which would be to fill the interior with flash is that to do so changes the existing lighting in the room thus telling a different story than actually exists in that room. I know, I am in the minority since it makes a faster work flow to do the exposure balancing in camera rather than in post. I prefer to use HDR to achieve the discernible detail through the windows. And that does take longer in post. On the other hand, HDR is faster on location and the light can change drastically as you lug around light stands, strobe packs and fiddle with getting the right balance. I just point and bracket.

    Which is to say that there is more than one way to skin a, um, Window Pull. Just find the right one that suits your goals, budget and time restraints.

  • I find it a 2 (or 3 part) process. First, expose for the exterior view. Done – no amount of step 2 or 3 will overpower that big ball in the sky lighting (directly or defused) the outside. Step 2 addresses the ambient level and may require two or three exposures to get the right balance, backing off outright flood to building shadows providing definition in the room which can be further micro-adjusted in Lightroom. Step 3 is the hardest – reflections. It seems that the ‘perfect’ lighting setup reflects back in the window, glass door or other reflective surfaces in the room (TV, pictures, stainless steel appliances etc). First start adjusting light positioning attempting to get it right in camera, at worse, a non-lit photo of the window for later masking the glass portion.

  • It’s more natural to let the window view be brighter than the interior. If you need to see the view outside, expose for the view and light for the interior. If the outside view is just the fence between homes, you want to work your balance to let the view outisde blow out a little while retaining a bit of detail in the window itself.

    There are lots of techniques to blend several images into one composite and each has it’s pros and cons. If you can get it in the camera, that will take the least time in post production. Getting close and shooting in RAW format can often leave enough adjustment room for quick work in Lightroom to get an image dialed in.

    I have a JTL Mobilite 300 strobe that I keep with me for situations where I need more light to fill up a large room. It will run on battery (external pack) or AC. It’s not a top of the line unit, but works very well for the price. It uses a common Bowens type mount to attach softboxes and other modifiers and also has a mount for umbrellas. I’m not sure that the N-flash is as versatile.

  • I often use the method of one frame with direct flash on the windows (avoiding reflections) and layering in Photoshop. I use Lightroom to balance the RGB values of the winodow frame so that when I’m layering in Photoshop I can just use a soft brush and be a bit slap happy.

  • @Matt:

    HUGE fan of your work. I’ve seen what you do. I’m just thankful that you are over there and I’m over here! You’d run me out of town! Thanks for sharing! Your window pulls are breathtaking, as is your catalog of work…just amazing, man. (not throwing rocks at anyone else…I come in peace).

    Some of my hiccups are direct flash reflection from a window when I need to capture that view. I sometimes use high speed sync too. HDR and enfuse is my go-to. My photoshop chops are very much in infancy stages, but trying to learn some tricks of the trade via youtube.

    I know Scott Hargis may chime in and say not all photos need a window pull. And I think he’s correct. I’ve read his E-book and I use a lot of his techniques (Thanks Scott!), so a good many of my photos have that “frost” look too (as his book mentions) but just enough to see what’s out the window. I also have read Simon Maxwell’s book (HDR enfusion). I employ some of his technique too. I still get that “dirty” look a bit with HDR, but I think it is more a function of me and my post work than anything else. Something about flash that can “crisp” up a room.

    Anyway, thanks everyone for advice!
    Rob

  • @ Larry – CowboyStudio now sells both the N-Flash 480A and the 680A. http://www.cowboystudio.com/product_p/nicefoto-flash.htm

  • I bought an nFlash 680A with HSS almost exactly 2 years ago from Mark Shapiro (I don’t think Mark has much to do with nFlash these days because recently-sent emails to him have not been answered after many weeks). I haven’t used it much during that time but tried it again recently and the results are good. However, there are a couple of issues and annoyances:

    1. There are only 6 levels of power output. I know the Profoto B1 is many times more expensive but it has up to 90 levels (9 stops in either 1/10th of a stop or 1 stop increments).

    2. There are relatively small differences between levels 1 to 5 then a huge leap between 5 and 6. In some situations, 5 isn’t enough and 6 is too much.

    3. The levels have no detents (clicks) so it’s easy to move the dial and change the output unintentionally. If the dial is halfway between levels, it’s impossible to know which of the two levels you’ve set.

    4. When reducing the power level, you’re forced to discharge the flash capacitor by clicking the Test button otherwise the next shot’s power level is still the same as the old one (i.e. too powerful). Most flashes use circuitry that limits the output charge from the capacitor depending on the setting chosen AT THE TIME IT’S FIRED whereas the 680A appears to simply charge the capacitor to the required level then discharge the whole lot of that level, regardless of whether the setting has been reduced.

    5. Unlike the Canon 600EX-RT and ST-E3-RT combination, you can’t remotely fire the flash from the 680A (which is very handy when you take a second shot with the flash in a different position so you can erase one of them in PS).

    Is there a newer version that fixes these issues? If not, I’d recommend against buying an nFlash.

  • I use the direct flash like Matt, sooooo much easier than making a selection, and you don’t need a big light like the nflash, most of the time my speedlights do the trick.

  • You can also try the adorama rovelight 600, its $400 for the Bowen’s mount option.

  • Rob,

    I checked out your website and work, congrats on being a 3rd generation photographer!

    As you already know… the only camera setting that doesn’t affect the perceived power of your flash/strobe at full output is shutter speed (HSS, modifiers, etc. is another topic).

    Keeping that in mind, might I suggest you run a little experiment.

    Let’s say you normally shoot at iso 100, 200 or 400. Go ahead and crank it up, even if that takes you up to iso 800 or higher. Then run through your normal f stops and speeds until you find a balance between the ambient room exposure and that window view.

    Now stand back, because those flashes have been turned into little light bombs. Just be careful where you point them. Power them down as needed.

    And of course, this allows you to decrease your shutter speed for those perfect window views. This isn’t to say that these are recommended settings, but it may give you an idea of what you can achieve in a pinch or where you may need to supplement your flashes/strobes.

    I know exactly how you feel, but thankfully, I’m no longer chasing window pulls. I’m more concerned with pushing my Nordic look.

  • Use a leaf shutter camera.

  • Leaf shutter? All due respect, Jim, but this isn’t a speed issue requiring the use of a leaf shutter due to flash/shutter sync, x sync or high speed sync above 1/200 or 1/250. Where are you getting your information from?

  • I often do my ambient brackets in Aperture Priority and use Manual settings for flash. I find that Manual gives me better overall light. To control windows (in Manual), if I want to see the view, I max out my shutter speed on my 6D which is 1/160, bump up the iso for the interior flash and I’m good to go.

  • Rich Baum has a quick ‘n easy procedure (assuming you have some photoshop chops) that I use quite often. To briefly describe the method you first shoot a normal room exposure, then shoot a second (darker) exposure for the outside – only on that second exposure you hit the window frame (and shutters) with a pretty strong flash. Then you apply that second layer in photoshop using the “darken” blend mode – which makes the flashed window frame and shutters disappear. I don’t do it on every window – because as someone mentioned in an earlier post – if it’s just a fence or swingset out the window I’m letting that window blow out a little.

    Here is a link to Rich Baum’s video: https://youtu.be/NzPXZfP6fV4

  • JD Armistead Photography, thanks for a link!!!

    To theme:
    I use 3 way to see outside^

    1. Enfuse.
    2. Pen tool with darken shoot.
    3. Wait a needed moment, when we got the same light like in interior ))

  • I have recently started do Real Estate Photography tutorials on my Youtube Channel..
    If you look you will find 2 that deal specifically how to edit your window exposure using Darken Mode.
    Check it out, I think it will really help.

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4rFPm3P2KLxqgbNoN6DXyA

  • Rich thanks so much for the technique, I have subscribed to your You Tube channel. I work for a company that does the listing photographs for new properties and sometimes trying to get the view of the city through the windows in some of these high rises in Chicago can be such a pain! Sometimes I’m on point other days can be a struggle. Thanks to everyone else who offered tips as well!

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