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Tips for Shooting a Log House Great Room

July 25th, 2017

Brad in Idaho says:

I would love some specific advice on one room of a house. It’s a gigantic “great room” and very very dark. There is also a large emphasis on the view. I shot it last year before I knew how to use multiple flashes and was still doing HDR. I was very disappointed and it has bugged me ever since. The house is for sale again and I am lucky enough to get another chance.

I am using my Sony A6000 with 12mm lens and two YN560 IV Flashes. I’ve included a photo from last year’s shoot so you can get an idea of the room and how horrible my first try was.

I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit, the shot from last time is pretty good, especially considering how difficult the room is.

Here is what I’d recommend:

  • Shoot a little tighter, I know you need to show the scale of the space but there’s room to crop in your current image without sacrificing the grand feeling of this room.
  • Get 4 to 5 RAW ambient brackets of the room (lights off!)
    (This is what you’ll use to blend a nice base layer for post-processing.)
  • Turn lights on and expose for the lights you want in your final image and take another shot (if you can do this at f/16, the lights will have that nice star shape).
  • Turn lights off again.
  • Bouncing light in this room is pointless, you need a shoot through umbrella.
  • Expose for the view and grab a few brackets (if possible I would grab an umbrella and blast the window frames when you shoot for the views so that you don’t get any blooming (Streaks or halos come into view around bright areas of an image that are caused by gross overexposure) around the window when you pull the view in post-processing).
  • Now set your exposure just dark enough to kill any highlights or over exposed areas in the room.
  • I would then walk around with your umbrella and light each area individually (seating area, kitchen, stairs etc.). Be sure to light off-axis (nothing from directly behind the camera) this will give you some nice frames to gently blend in some flash when post-processing. You’ll be surprised how much depth you get by just adding a touch of flash to each area.

Lots of work but a great opportunity to build your portfolio and wow your client.

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11 Responses to “Tips for Shooting a Log House Great Room”

  • I shoot a lot of log homes (Oregon). Leave it alone, it looks great.

  • Check out Rich Baum’s tutorials on “Darken Mode Window Pull” on YouTube. There are also some great tutorials from Nathan Cool to clean up the view and minimize the light bloom around the windows. The example image is very wide which can be fine to establish the room, but be sure to capture tighter images around the different areas of the room. Wide shots don’t work very well on small screens.

  • I tried a single image HDR in Photomatix on your image and it lightened up the darker areas and opened up the details. It depends on what you’re attempting to portray and the style you’re after. But, if it’s mainly definition of the interior and windows this works very well.

  • Great post. This giant rooms always kill me. I hope Brad shows us the final results 🙂

  • I do a lot of great rooms with views. They are difficult, but honing up your lightroom/photoshop skills can be a real time saver. Doing multiple lights, or taking multiple shots with different areas lit and blending is a real time investment. It is worthwhile on a commercial shoot, but too much time on a real estate shoot.

    Here is your original jpg with approx 5 minutes (or less) of editing.

    https://www.flickr.com/gp/135923451@N05/W4974v

  • I too think the shot looks great. Like almost any photograph, there are always things you can improve on the next go around. Frankly the thing I see that is a problem is the burned out flooring. Perhaps after shooting for a wood flooring company for many years I am over sensitive to this since I faced dealing with this issue on almost every shot.

    If you want to get the whole room in this is tricky to do with additional lighting. But with today’s HDR tools, I would suggest shooting the room for the rest of the room lit with tungsten then do a separate series for the Windows and their reflection in the flooring which is interesting flooring. Process the sets separately but without using any lens correction. Once you have the detail in the flooring that is currently being burned out I would personally warm up the color to match more closely the floor color of the rest of the room. The put it on a layer under the main exposure and gently erase the bluish burned out part of the main image to let the corrects flooring come through until it looks believable.

  • This is certainly a challenging shot and I don’t think there’s any technique where you can apply 5 minutes of post that will do this shot justice. I’m not a big fan of HDR.

    I think the suggestions of using a shoot through umbrella and blending multiple exposures is the right coarse of action, although shadows and reflections might be tricky.

    Curious if this would help but would it be better to wait for it to get a bit darker outside and really push the exposure time or would the sunlight be too blue? This is kind of a reverse twilight shot…

    I also agree that such a wide POV doesn’t look right. Such a wide shot exacerbates the look that everything is gathered around the window and fireplace. Did you flash the fireplace?

    This might be a bit much but you might want to consider renting a Canon 5Ds or a Sony a7RII. Shooting with a 40+ MP camera makes everything look better…

  • Thanks for the feedback everyone, I appreciate it. There are a couple things I wanted to clear up. Last years example photo was shot with a Canon 40D & 10-18mm Lens with one flash on the camera. Tomorrow I will be using my Sony A6000 with 12mm lens and two YN560 IV Flashes. I will also be using the 16mm-50mm for some shots. The client wants a few large shots of the whole room along with smaller/tighter shots (which I don’t have a problem with). I am stoked for all the feedback and very excited for tomorrow’s shoot (instead of being hesitant and intimidated like last year). I will post the results in a couple days 🙂

  • I try to do what was recommended here. Most of these shots were done with multiple exposures lit with two flashes. In some cases I may have pulled a third flash out. There is one shot with a large room like yours. I divided the room in approx 5 parts, lit the interior (kitchen, dining table, fire place, living area) separately, exposed for and lit the windows, and combined in photo shop. In this case I wanted to showcase the entire room, but that does take a bit of extra work. Some of the other shots two flashes were just barely enough to light adequately with umbrellas because of all the wood. I spend a lot of time making these but my wife owns a real estate brokerage and I get some good benefits. If this were not the case, I would need to learn a faster way to shoot real estate.

    https://flic.kr/s/aHskZewii9

  • @les – Nice job! Yes, when you get to participate in the commission you can justify more time on the shoot!

  • I probably shoot an all wood cabin-like home once a month. They were the bane of my existence for a long time until I figured out flash compositing. In these situations I recommend using big lights first of all (I’m using flashpoint AD-600 & AD-360’s) along with shoot thru umbrellas or bounce umbrellas.

    Here’s a couple that I’ve done:
    https://flic.kr/p/W116RP
    https://flic.kr/p/N5ZP7W

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