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What Is the Best Way to Pull Windows While Shooting Video?

In: 
Published: 13/06/2019
By: Brandon

Pete in Seattle, writes:

I have a Sony A6300 using the 10-18mm lens along with a Flycam stabilizer. I process the video from the camera with Adobe Premiere Pro. I have seen that shooting video at two stops under is recommended however, I still can't get the windows to look like they do in my stills when I process them with Capture One Pro for Sony. I'm looking for what would be a good set up for the camera including picture profiles if needed as well LUT'S or lookup tables so I can get my videos to look more like my stills. Your help would be greatly appreciated.

Hey Pete, I do some videography, but it's not my area of expertise. Based on the time, knowledge, and equipment required to get my videos even close to the same quality as my images, I have developed a video style that is acceptable to my clients while remaining affordable for them and profitable for me. This style however, does not offer nice window pulls. I actually blow the windows out entirely. If my clients wanted high-quality video and were willing to pay for it, I would invest more time and money into the practice, but there isn't enough budget or demand for this sort of thing in my market.

One market that does have the demand (and budget) for high-quality real estate videos is Miami, so I reached out to Zoltan present from LuxHunters who is a multiple-time winner of the PFRE Videographer of the Month contest and specializes in this type of video production to get some feedback on your questions. Here is a summary of his response:

Shooting 2 stops underexposure is nonsense. You should shoot in Log picture profile and overexpose the scene by two stops without actually blowing out the important highlights. Then in post, you can add a LUT or correct the file manually and have a little more control over the dynamic range of the video.

The three best ways to get acceptable window pulls with video are:

  1. Film at dawn when the interior light is similar to the exterior light.
  2. Film at dusk for the same reason.
  3. Film at the time of day (early morning or late afternoon depending on the orientation of the property) when the sun shines indirectly and bounces around the room. At that time, if you are not shooting directly into the sun but at an angle to the sun's direction, then your interior will be illuminated much more than usual and you can capture acceptable details in the windows while also having nice details in the interior.

If you really want to get crazy (and have the budget for it), you can use a motorized slider and repeat each shot twice, one exposed for the interior and one exposed for the exterior, then cut them in post. This is much more difficult, time-consuming, and expensive.

I've seen some stellar videos come out of this group in the past, so if anyone else has suggestions for Pete, please speak up!

11 comments on “What Is the Best Way to Pull Windows While Shooting Video?”

  1. Pete, other than filming at dawn or dusk, there's no quick and easy way to keep the windows from blowing out. Most clients understand that you can't expose for the interior and for the exterior in a video shoot for real estate. Now if you were doing a large commercial architectural shoot and had the time and budget, you could light up the interior to match the exterior but that' not practical for real estate as there's nobody that will pay you what that would be worth.

  2. I agree that shooting log really helps to give a broader dynamic range. Make sure you do some tests though of the various settings of log as there’s a huge difference in performance depending on how you set the picture profile. If you can’t shoot dawn / dusk (which is usually impractical for every room) another thing to consider is the direction of the sun. It’s Zoltan’s point 3 above really about having the sun coming in and bouncing around the room but with the observation that this works best when the view is as dark as possible. So, the nightmare scenario (in the northern hemisphere) is a north facing room with big windows where the view is brightly lit by the sun. It will be pretty much impossible to expose the room and view well. If you wait until the sun comes round into the room and, crucially, the view is in shadow then it will look much better - log or no log.

  3. Any thoughts on how Blackmagic cameras work for these situations? The Blackmagic Micro Cinema on a stabilzer seems like a setup that would work well. They claim 13 stops of dynamic range and RAW recording that can be smoothly digested by Davinci Resolve. That is my dream setup, but I have a lot more to learn before throwing down that kind of money 🙂

  4. I love how everyone has their own way to do this! Good on ya'll! Here's our 2 cents -

    Time management is the key to architectural video. With smart sun planning (and some good apps), we almost NEVER shoot into the sun. The sun is behind us. We LOVE bright & dramatic, so we rarely shoot dawn & dusk interiors. We love to use the overexposure & brightness as an artistic touch when possible.

    When you have to shoot into the sun, blowing things out feels more acceptable to the eye than any kind of window pull (in our opinions). Just as it took everyone a while to accept those horribly saturated Photomatix photos in real-estate...the public has not accepted HDR video as a norm. I guess you could get all artsy and do it for fun...but it usually ends up looking funny. Video is not about a static shot, but all the other shots around it as well. Continuity is king in video...

    In terms of dynamic range & color...we have shot in multiple cine-styles over the years and always color correct professionally in post. We have had professional color grading as part of our workflow since the beginning. It's crucial. We use Davinci Resolve...and work with other professionals so we don't end up with a tainted eye. So we totally understand about getting as much dynamic range out of a shot an saving details in the blacks & highlights. We even still shoot 24p just to get a little extra brightness out of our shots. With all that being said, interior window pulls are usually WAY MORE than a couple of stops. We are talking incredible differences of exposure between the interior of a home and the exterior exposure of the window. The smaller those windows, the greater that difference usually is. There is no camera (that I know of) that can handle these differences in video. Even shooting raw (which we played with a few years back) doesn't do it. Maybe for a huge luxury interior with big windows...but not for a traditional home. Maybe...technically...it's possible in some situations...but we don't think it's practical.

    The other reality of this job is that we already come home with easily 400GB of 4K footage per project (just out of the heavily compressed A7r3s). Between architectural shots, interviews, proxy files, etc, RAW & ProRes start to look impossible. So you have to be realistic as well and find a compression that makes sense for your workflow.

    Artistically....we use sliders (never motorized...that's where our art is!), multiple shots, and blend in post. We do it with our crane even. If you get your tripod steady and technique down...it takes less than a minute to line up in post. Not to bad. You can also use fun transitions to suck the exposure out the window. Shooting multiple shots is part of our workflow anyway. I shoot 2-3 different focal lengths of every shots we take. That's part of how we get our style...so it's not a big deal to us.

    Anyway...windows pulls in video...meh. Have fun with it...but there are a million other places I would put my energy into considering the complexity of professional architecture video. Find a better time of day to shoot...and use hot lights! Even in bright daylight...we run around with at least 2 hot-light and an umbrella to brighten up some front shadows.

    Well...that's our 2 cents.

    Keep those good video topics coming Brandon! Good luck everyone. Do things your own way...and don't listen to us! Break the molds, and you'll pop out on top.

  5. Pete,

    The closest I have got to creating a decent window pull is shooting with my A7RIII and a Atomos Ninja V external monitor. Camera settings are set to 60fps, PP10 (picture profile) and the Ninja does the recording in HDR, HLG.

    Heres a recent video with those settings: https://vimeo.com/333018944

  6. It's all about dynamic range. If you can't choose the time of day you are shooting or need more time, you will have to add light. The more segmented your scenes, the easy it will be to do. If you are doing walk through videos in just a couple of takes, you're stuck with what you have in terms of lighting. LED worklights are getting very small and very cheap. I use LED warm white worklights for twilight photos. I have 5,600k worklights on my to get list as I gear up for video. The Color Rendering Index (CRI) on cheap LED lights sucks, but you get what you pay for and unless you have money burning a hole in your pocket, the really good lights might be more than your camera/lens and not worth it. I have a stack of old fashioned halogen worklights that I might upgrade with high CRI LED modules, but it always seems that when I start to do those projects I find something far cheaper for sale.

    My initial goal is to add light to tame windows and not necessarily do window pulls so I'm not dealing with a nuclear explosion outside as the view so much as just a really bright day. I'd rather not have a computer heating the house pushing and pulling on shadows and highlights really hard if I can get footage done in camera. There are stories of Hollywood productions where buildings were set on fire as they tried to pump in enough light to compress the dynamic range down to the point where it would work with the film they chose. They don't call them "hot" lights for nothin'.

  7. How clear are you wanting the windows to be? Clear as crystal? There was a big debate about that in one of the photography forums recently.

    I think crystal clear windows is the tone mapped HDR of our 5-year cycle. By 2023 everyone will be looking back wondering why everyone was so hooked on it back before 2020.

    Very few windows need to be clear as crystal. Most point at uninteresting features. Neighbors house. Bushes. Trees. The street out front with caes driving by.

    99% of all windows in existence point at nothing that needs the viewer’s attention. That being the case, it is best to try and “contain” the viewer’s eye within the space of the room. If there is no epic view then you are not selling the view. What then are you selling? The room. The space where the people will be spending their time. So keep their eye there. Don’t actively try to draw the eye to the windows. In photos or video.

    If there IS a view...film close to dawn and dusk. Problem solved.

    As to settings, I shoot slog3 at +2ev. I shoot walk-through videos...so zero time to set up individual shots...much less being in lights. This being the case I shoot in S-Priority and Auto ISO.

    This setup means I am protecting both sides of the histogram dynamically on the fly. If the lens starts pointing at stuff that lacks like (thing dark painted cozy bedroom) then it will open the aperture to f4 and start boosting ISO. If we come into a window filled great room it will bottom out ISO and then start crushing down aperture to protect highlights. The slog3 protects everything in both bright and darker setups.

    The result is a very fast and efficient workflow where I rarely clip highlights and in the one to two seconds per film that I do...nobody notices and it doesn’t matter. The Money Police are not going to show up and dock your pay because you let 2 seconds of zebras exist in your windows looking out at the rickety swingset in the back yard.

    In the end I get translucent windows. Half see through. Perfect for creating the “idea” of window, avoiding the glaring white of overblown windows, and my viewer’s eye contained within the room. Where it belongs. What’s not to love?

  8. A big thank you to all that responded to this post I made. The take away's showed a trend. Forget trying to get the exposure to look like the stills. There simply are too many roadblocks, Video not being a RAW format being a big one and blasting the interior with lights is another.
    To Chibi: I will look into Davinci Resolve and experiment with the Slogs.
    To Rich: I liked the video you sent. It showed how even in major homes it's OK not to have perfect windows and clients don't seem to mind. I will price out the Atomos monitor.
    To Brian: I will try Slog 3 at +2EV to see how that looks.
    One last thing I learned, Advise my client that the windows will not look the same as they do in my stills. It's just the difference in the mediums and cannot be controlled with current technology.
    As usual, this group is quite helpful to my personal growth as a photographer and blooming videographer.

  9. I like the suggestion of only doing video during dusk and dawn so the interior and exterior light match better.

    Q: what part of dusk and dawn AND how long will I have to complete to video capture?

  10. As others have mentioned it’s a mix of dynamic range and time of day. Shooting in a log profile or even better RAW will give you the best chance at making it happen.

    If you have to shoot during the day. This is the best I can pull with hot windows:

    https://vimeo.com/339871445

    Shot using the very affordable Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K. It holds up almost as well as our RED cinema cameras.

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