September 19th, 2016
Susan 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:
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!