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How to Deal with Bright Windows and Dark Shiny Floors?

February 20th, 2019

Ken in Georgia asks:

I have been asked by another real estate photographer to retake photos of a condo. The condo has huge windows and dark, shiny floors. I have shot condos like this before and had good luck by setting the WB for the sun, exposing for the windows, and using an HDR 5 shot sequence and combining in LR. Is there a better solution? The image above was the other photographer’s attempt.

The first thing you need to do when you retake this image is to change the composition and remove the shiny table on the left front, out of the photo. It is confusing and doesn’t add to the image. Probably moving the camera forward toward the window would get rid of the confusing table. I would try a variety of compositions to find the best angle.

As for dealing with reflections on the shiny floor, using a circular polarizing filter frequently works well.

As for lighting, an HDR sequence will work if that’s what you are used to using. Another way would be to use flash to get the proper window exposure and then blend with an ambient exposure of the floor and rest of the room.

Any other ideas for Ken?

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8 Responses to “How to Deal with Bright Windows and Dark Shiny Floors?”

  • Rich Baum, Scott Hargis, Nathan Cool tube videos are great for learning how to deal with these problems

    For the windows you can do as Rich Baum suggests – take a direct flash fairly close to the window from the left and one from the right (see his utube videos)
    Expose for outside and set flash power so outside exposure matches interior window frames (and if necessary drapes).
    Put that exposure as a layer under your final image and cut out entire window and window frame in one piece (and drapes if needed) from the top finished
    image layer so the ‘new’ window and frame replaces original. *If there are little things like parts of plants, vases etc in front of window move them away if possible
    so you just have the window and window frame (and in some cases drapes).

    Dark floors with blown out bright areas i’ve used similar technique – with a direct flash exposure if really blown out or bounced if just a bit (if necessary i will close the drapes and or blinds to get rid of
    the blown out areas for one exposure – but sometimes no drapes or blinds to close).
    Cut in the ‘new’ floor on a separate layer
    New floor may look best anywhere from 25% to 100% opacity – ideal natural and not too ‘flashy’ looking.

    Hope i’ve explained clearly

  • *Meant to say direct flash of window and frame from the right or left – or in some cases both sides depending on size of window. I sometimes
    do this with two flashes in my hand to match the exterior on a bright day. It doesn’t matter if you are in the photo as long as not blocking any
    of the window – you will only use the window and window frame (sometimes also drapes) portion of the photo.

    Best to watch utube videos mentioned above!

  • Seriously Reginold, you are dissing a fellow photog and have nothing to show that you know what you are talking about? Hell, your url link comes back as PFRE. What a shmuck move. Shame on you.

    As to the solution here in what we have to work with…I would suggest using a couple of techniques to cover your rear. That is the whole point of knowing what you need to do in these challenging situations.

  • Happy for you to send me a series of unblended dark to light (www.wetransfer.com) and I’ll see what I can do with them. I suspect the table might be a kitchen counter, so a bit difficult to move – but if that’s the case I might be able to get rid of the reflections for you. No charge – happy to help a fellow photographer once in a while. Also, try a series using Auto WB by the way – see how those turn out. Where there are different colour temperatures these can be dealt with in post. The polariser is a good call.

  • You guys are awesome. The polarizer is an awesome call that I surely did not think of. Shane this is the method I suggested for him. John thank you for the offer. Reginold…

  • Many of us recover window detail by 1) exposing for the window and using a flash to intentionally over expose the area around the window; and 2) blending using lighten mode in PS. I believe Rich Baum has a couple of free videos showing this technique.

    I have found that while in blending mode, i can also take paint the reflective surfaces and eliminate or minimize them. You may need to adjust flow to get it right. This simple solution has worked very well for me.

  • This is something I deal with on a regular basis here in the Colorado high country, big dark rooms with bright views (often sunny and snowy) out of big windows. The views are often even more important than the interiors for the realtors so they cannot be blown out. I’ve watched just about every tutorial and read about every digital ebook over the years in an effort to educate myself and it seems the majority of that material takes place in white walled rooms with unimportant views. The darken blend mode window pull method can be great but in these extreme situations it can be tough to pull off for a variety of reasons. The method I’ve settled on is to use two powerfull strobes (I use Flashpoint Explor 600’s) off to one side of the room bounced into large umbrellas to light up the opposite side of the room, taking one shot with properly exposed windows and a second shot with somewhat overexposed windows which allows for more ambient light and a more natural look in the interior. Then moving it all to the other side of the room and repeating. You can sometimes get flare from the flashes so it helps to block them out of the frame with your hand. Sometimes I’ll thrown in some Evolve 200 flashes into the mix. Blend the two darker exposures in photoshop, and then blend in the interior parts of the brighter exposures where needed, or visa-versa. Or if you want to get fancy you can flash pop certain areas and blend those in using lighten mode into the two blended darker exposures. Shooting later in the day when the view is a little less bright can help. A polarizer can be helpfull but if you are shooting with a 17mm tilt shift you’re out of luck. Although there is a new lens adaptor coming out that will allow for filters to be used In-between any regular EF lens and the new mirrorless bodies, which will be great for the really wide canon lens’s without screw on filter ability.

  • Ken, you’ve found the perfect storm of elements that make HDR the least effective method for a good photo. The surfaces are dark and shiny and the installed lighting is very moody. I started with exposure blending and it’s still a valid workflow in certain circumstances, but in this case, you need to add light. I am not seeing a view that needs a dark window pull, so what you have may be fine but getting it has disadvantaged the interior.

    You may want to consider a different composition without the granite counter top in the foreground. A few tighter shots may be better than one wide 1PP image and that would let you get around that counter. A polarizer is worth a try along side heavily desaturating the blues on the floor and upper window arches. Since we can’t see what the ceiling looks like, you may need umbrellas or softboxes on your strobes/flashes to be able to get a consistent color temp. You may need to make a frame for just the lighting fixtures and “layer” them in on a lighten mode layer in PS so you can control the color and brightness. The first step is getting a good lighting set up and then doing what you can to solve the other problems you see either on site or with frames you make that you can use in post production.

    The battle between HDR and flash shooters rages on, but being able to use either methodology or a combination based on the scene will stand you in good stead. It took me a while to learn how to use flashes but I’m glad I did. Many rooms only need one flash/frame. Some rooms need two flashes and fewer and fewer need more than that. When I have all 5 of my flashes deployed, it’s a hero shot of a main space in the home where taking the time to craft the image really pays off. From time to time I still shoot brackets. If I’m in a vacant home that’s all beige and white with no window coverings and good light, I can make many images quickly with good results. Occasionally, I’ll use a bracketed sequence as an ambient base layer. From time to time I arrive at a job and the agent/owner tells me I only have a very short amount of time to capture the images (less than the 2 hours I often spend). If I’m pressed, I can shoot small rooms/baths with one handheld flash and use brackets for larger spaces with some flash frames and use up all of the time I am given. I don’t generally take jobs where I’m told up front that I will only have a very short amount of time to work. The results are usually nowhere near what I like to deliver and the agent isn’t going to take into account that they only gave me a tiny slice of time to make the photos.

    @Whit, I believe there is a polarizer for the 17mm TS. It’s a slip on affair and pricey. The bigger issue is that the lens is so wide that angle of light that gets polarized (I’m not putting that very well) varies a lot from the center to the edge of the frame. It may work ok inside, but outside it could look very strange.

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