Were All The Winning Photos In The July Contest Shot With Only Natural Light?

July 26th, 2015

TonyColangeloFrancesca asked a great question about the 5 winners in the July PFRE photo contest:

I enjoyed looking at the beautiful pictures of the 5 winners and noticed that none of the photos was taken using artificial light. I always heard that you need to turn all the lights on before taking a photo. As a beginner now I wonder: how does a photographer decide when to use natural light versus artificial light to shoot an interior?

My immediate reaction to Francesca’s question was, “Yes, they all look like they are only natural light, and they all appear to have the room lights off, probably to control the White Balance, but my guess is that there is some flash being used on several of them.” So I checked with the winners and Tony was the first to respond to my question so I’ll use his photo to answer Francesca’s question.

Tony said:

  1. On leaving the room lights off: My default is to leave them off, so as to avoid the associated colour casts. That said, sometimes a client might choose to leave the lights on because it’s a design choice that was made to augment the look-and-feel of the room. If so, then I’ll usually take a set of shots with the lights on, and then my usual bracketed shots with the lights off. I’ll then hand blend some of the light into the fixtures within the lights-off shot.
  2. On using flash: I always use flash! My preferred approach is to manually blend? ambient and flash exposures. For me, the first consideration when using flash is to try to find a placement(s) that will allow the flash to mimic/augment the direction of the natural light entering the room. That’s what I did in my contest entry this month, where I stood in the shower stall off of far camera right, so as to leverage the natural light coming in from that far window. I hand-held my flash and used various flash placements and power levels. If I recall, I also used a flash on a fully extended monopod from behind the camera, reaching into the room as far as I could get it, with the flash set at very low power, and bounced into the ceiling. The goal was to retain the look/feel of ambient light while getting enough light into the space to better show off the cabinetry for the millworker, who was my client? in that instance.

Tony has done a great job of making this shot look totally natural, but I think it’s that low powered flash that gives the cabinets in this bathroom that crispy, sharp sparkling look! Great job Tony and thanks for your explanation of your lighting for this shot! Great job!

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11 Responses to “Were All The Winning Photos In The July Contest Shot With Only Natural Light?”

  • Great question, great post, and great to learn about Tony’s process.

  • Regarding the room lights….If you want to blend in a version of the photo with the room lights turned on, here is a method that sometimes works well for me…

    In Photoshop, start with your base image with the room lights turned off. Then add a layer with the room lights turned on and use “luminosity” blend mode and adjust the opacity of the layer to your liking. This will turn the lights on without contaminating colors. Then make another copy this layer room-lights-on layer, and use blend mode “normal” and adjust opacity to bring some realism to the color of the room lights. Adjust the opacity of both room-lights-on layers until you get the blend/combination you want.

    Tungsten light bulbs are orange in color and are easy to deal with compared to the new high efficiency compact fluorescent bulbs. When I’m dealing with CFLs, I shoot the scene with lights on and off.

  • My shot was a combination of an ambient and several flashed frames. Like Tony, I use flash in every single shot I take.

  • @Virginia – thanks for the tips. I’ve used luminosity masks to do that job but didn’t think to use blend modes.

  • I too always use flash and ambient mix for most of my work. Sometimes you just get lucky when conditions are perfect for a “Great light day” as my wife and I call it.

  • It was in the late afternoon when I took the shot so I didn’t use any artificial light. Usually bathrooms are relatively small and have a lot of reflective material. If I have choice to determine the time to shoot bathrooms, I would shoot in the late afternoon or early morning so I don’t need to find a place to set the flashes and deal with the unpleasant reflection.
    I use multiple flashes for most of the shots. I personally like to turn on the light fixture. It’s more about intimacy then just a cold structure.

  • Andy, could you elaborate on why you prefer the sun closer to the horizon for interiors?

  • My shot was also lit with flash. Most of my work is, although bathrooms are probably the rooms that are most commonly not. Often I shoot bathrooms without windows and tend to just use the room lights in here without any flash. Very occasionally I’ll get a bathroom that has great ambient natural light and I’ll just shoot it as is, but that’s not very common.

    In terms of the lights on lights off debate. I do both. I’ll generally have side and table lamps on and the main lights off but not always. I make the conscious decision whether or not to use the artificial lights and which ones shot by shot (or house by house). I just do whatever gives the best photograph.

    I tend to find vendors prefer the lights off. They always tell me that when they look at photographs of a house if all the lights are on they think the house must be really dark.

  • @George. The purpose of shooting in early morning or late afternoon is to get the gentle sunlight from the windows. It is a whole different situation if the low angle sunlight come directly from the windows.

  • Thanks for the response. It is interesting that you use the word gentle, as I often associate low angle sunlight with hard shadows. In some magical moments these shadows work but often I find them more distracting than not. Could you care to explain why you feel the light is gentle?

  • @George. Another word to describe the light is “soft”. It could be indirect sunlight coming from the east side window in the afternoon. The timing is about an hour before sundown.

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