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How Can You Improve the Clarity of the View through the Windows of Homes You Shoot?

April 25th, 2017

Lance asked the question:

I’d like to find a way to improve the views through the windows of houses I shoot and I was wondering what the best way to do that is and if there are some tutorials on how to do it?

This is a classic real estate photography problem: How do you 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 photos that showed her beautiful home interior and also showed the great view of the lake. I couldn’t do it, and at the time I couldn’t find any books that explained how to do it either.

Ok, so now that I’ve had 17 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 and the problem almost disappears. So back in 2000, I used this approach. This is not an effective solution that works for every shoot! You only have 20 to 30 minutes each day where the light is right. Forget about sunrise!
  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.
  3. Shoot RAW and adjust in Lightroom: Nowadays depending on the particular situation you can usually shoot one RAW image and simply use the Highlights and Shadows sliders to get the windows to look like you want. This is possible because of improvements in Lightroom and cameras in the last few years.
  4. Use LR/Enfuse: Shooting brackets and processing with LR/Enfuse software is better than not bracketing but it doesn’t completely solve the problem. Usually, the best you can get is the windows with partial detail. What most want is an unrealistic level of window detail.
  5. Mask the windows in Photoshop: Take one or more shots exposed for the windows and one or more shots exposed for the interior. Then stack them in Photoshop and hand blend them to get the look you want. This approach of masking in perfectly exposed windows makes windows look totally unrealistic, but that’s what most people are looking for. Here are some tutorials on how to do this:

Remember, there is no point in putting a lot of energy into any of these techniques unless there is a great view outside that you want to show off.

There’s no right one, they all work and everyone has their favorite.

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5 Responses to “How Can You Improve the Clarity of the View through the Windows of Homes You Shoot?”

  • Hand-blending is too slow and not worth it unless you have a huge luxury listing where the view is important.

    I’m echoing Larry in that window pulls are not worth it in general, unless you have many luxury listings you shoot, or if they are all you shoot. I shoot a lot of tract homes that are 3/2 or 4/2 and generally, there’s nothing to see outside the windows besides the brick wall of another house or an absurd amount of cars parked outside on the curbs in front of homes with empty driveways.

    The easiest way to do it, though, in my estimation, is to just get the correct window exposure in your brackets (if you shoot this way) and bracket correctly at all, so that Enfuse will fuse the exposures right and show the window at the correct exposure. Everything else takes too much time outside flashing windows frames, which can be difficult at times when you get flash hot spots on the windows or cannot get all windows or even a single window in one shot. I frequently am unable to flash an entire single window in one shot for some reason, and other times the angle at which you’re shooting will cause a hot spot you’ll have to clone out because to flash the window from the correct angle would mean moving your camera and starting your bracket set all over again.

  • I like to light almost every room I photograph, mostly for color correction and consistency. If I’m going to do that, why not get the window pull at the same time? When a window pull is necessary anyway.

  • I’ll bet popping a flash at the ceiling or window itself and then hand blending in post is probably the technique that 90% of the top entrants in the PFRE POTM contest use. With practice it’s quick and yields a very good result. Andrew Pece has what looks to be a great tutorial here: http://www.pecephoto.com/one-light-tutorial/

  • The Lightroom brushes also give plenty of possibilities to change to look of the windows. No need to make a side tour to Photoshop imo

  • The Lr brushes are okay, but not great. They cause a lot of pixelating in the feathered areas that’s visible even when zoomed to fit screen. The Ps brushes are much better, but even they require an incredible amount of precision to hand-brush window exposures in. The biggest problem with brushing window exposures in Ps, is the fact that the blinds or shutters (if any) will match the exposure of the photo–so when you brush the windows in, the shutters will look just as dark. That’s why so many of us would rather flash window frames so the shutters and/or blinds will match the exposure of the rest of the photo.

    The main thing where Lr’s brushes shine is in the masking, where Lr will, somewhat intelligently, only brush over the areas it thinks you want to brush. But to get everything, you have to reduce the size of the brush to make sure no pixellation and other imperfections occur. But the brush in Lr has the same problem as the one in Ps–reducing the exposure on the blinds and making them look dark.

    If you’re going to do window pulls, the flash is the way to go.

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