How Can You Improve The Clarity Of The View Through The Windows Of Homes You Shoot?

September 19th, 2016

JLSlivingSusan in Green Bay asked:

I am a RE photographer and still struggling with a few things. I am schooled in photography at the community college and really need to make this my career I struggle because I want to be the very best at what I do, and I know that I am not there yet.

My competition has recently upped his game by offering photos where you can see the outside better than the inside. I recently bought Photomatix in hopes that I could replicate this technique, but I am unable to do so. How can I get better window clarity?

This is a classic real estate photography problem: how to capture the view outside and the room inside when the brightness range is way beyond what your camera can capture. In fact, this very problem lead to my starting this blog! In 2000 my wife listed a $2 million property on Lake Sammamish in Issaquah, WA. Mrs. Seller demanded that I come up with a photo that showed the inside of her beautiful home and also showed the great lake view. I couldn’t do it, and I couldn’t find any books or photography sites that explained how to do it either. Look at the burned out windows on the right side of this living room (west towards the Lake) completely burned out! I’m still embarrassed!

OK so now that I’ve had 16 years to figure this out, how do you do it? There are several ways:

  1. Shoot at Sunset: Shortly after I shot this listing I realized that if you shoot at sunrise or sunset when the brightness levels are the same inside and outside this becomes a piece of cake. The problem is at sunset you only have about 20 to 30 minutes where this works. Forget about sunrise, no one will let you shoot then! Obviously, this is not an effective solution that works for every shoot!
  2. Shoot with flash: I learned from Scott Hargis that the way to do this is to use a few manual flashes. Expose for the window to make it look like you want and then light the room with a couple of manual flashes bounced off walls. Scott would argue that this is the easiest, most effective solution. He’s probably right. Takes the least amount of time overall.
  3. Use Enfuse or HDR: Shooting brackets and processing with Enfuse or HDR software is better than not bracketing but it doesn’t completely solve the problem. Usually, the best you can do is getting the windows with partial detail. What you really need is an unrealistic level of window detail.
  4. Mask the windows in post-processing: This method you take a shot exposed for the windows and then use Photoshop to drop those correctly exposed windows into a photo that is exposed for the interior.

So those are the classic 4 solutions to this classic window problem. There’s no right one, they all work and everyone has their favorite. I just wish I could go back and reshoot this property and give Mrs. Seller what she wanted. But at least you can give your Mrs. Seller what she wants!

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11 Responses to “How Can You Improve The Clarity Of The View Through The Windows Of Homes You Shoot?”

  • View the video about Window Pull for Real Estate Photography using Darken Mode https://youtu.be/NzPXZfP6fV4 Still need an off camera flash.

  • +1 of what Dave Clark linked. Rich has a couple of videos showing the technique of using darken mode for window pull. I’m using it all of the time now if have any doubt about getting the view I want out of a window. I have one more addition and that is to take one frame exposed for the window view with no flash. If you discover when you go to edit that you have a hot spot or strange reflection from the flash, you can use the unflashed frame to do some touch up.

  • I found Photomatix to be useless when I started out. The artifacts just don’t look natural.
    Almost 3 years latter I’ve settled into two techniques.
    I like the look and shorter post production time of using multiple speed lights, but the extra time needed to make adjustments with those lights means I usually reserve this technique for unoccupied listings when I’m left with all the time I need.
    My ‘go to’ technique is LightRoom using the ‘enfuse’ plug in.
    Shooting 5 to 7 images, exposing from the shadows to the windows gives me all I need for natural looking images where seeing outside the windows is no problem. The largest issue with this technique is the various color casts, especially the blue light coming in from those windows. Taking some extra time with the saturation sliders before letting enfuse do it’s work will go a long way to reducing those.
    My suggestion is to forget the Photomatix and use the enfuse plug in.

  • To get max window pull I simply put my shutter speed at max sync (1/160th) for Canon 6D. You need a stronger flash to fill the room and can cheat by upping your ISO to the 400 to 800 range. I don’t do this for every shot, just when needed. Also, time of day has some influence. If the sun is bright into that window, going to have to come back at another time.

  • I tried the darken technique, and it did not work for me at all. While it does darken the outside to the level you want it, it also darkens any white window framing around the outside. Shutters for example. I am obviously doing something wrong so if someone can tell me what… I did love it. Thanks

    I watch the video about four times and did exactly what he said and it made the white shutters so dark that I couldn’t use it

  • Sharon, for the darken technique to work without also darkening the window framing etc, the flashed layer that you take to pull the window really needs to flash the window to where those areas ARE bright and the outside is still exposed properly (dark in the sense that you are exposing for that area out of the window and not the interior.) You can either aim the flash at the window or you can expose for the window and overly flash the room (like use 2 flashes on full power.) If the exposure outside still looks washed out (if it is a REALLY bright day) you may need to lower your ISO.

  • Sharon, post your problem images in the Flickr PFRE group and I’m sure you’ll get some good help.

  • I also adopt a bit of Jason’s technique. I up my ISO and use flash placement. And depending the room size, I sometimes stray from my f11 to f8 for those larger rooms. I also use a little of Simon Maxwell’s technique too….merging multiple images including using my flash.

  • Ok, so while the focus is Lighting, and appropriately so, there is one more item. For customers where this is important to them, get them to–clean their windows!

    It happens so rarely, regardless of the homes’ price point, I’m surprised when I see it. You can get the exposure right, do everything above, but if the scum from the last (ever?) cleaning 5 years ago is still on the window, it’ll have an impact.

    Cheers!

  • One quick question, when you take the overexposed image are you exposing for the window only? I didn’t quite get that part from the tutorial (great tutorial by the way, thanks!)
    I am going to try that tomorrow and see what I get.

  • Joe,
    Actually, you will not be over exposing, you will be “over flashing.” The exposure will be for the window so if, for example, your flashes didn’t flash, the room would actually be really dark. When you expose for what’s outside your shutter speed will likely be as low as it can go while using flash (w/o showing the curtain of the camera.) When you over flash while exposing for the window, you are able to “pull” the window while masking using “darken mode” because in the area around the window that you are “revealing,” the only dark part will be what’s outside, not any of the interior which will be lighter with the “over flash.”

    In Photoshop you’ll have your regularly exposed interior image and your over flashed image with the overflashed one on top. Put an all black mask over the over flashed image. Set the mode to “darken,” then, with a white brush, brush around the window. Only what is seen outside should be revealed.

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