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Lane, from Topeka, KS writes:
It doesn’t seem to matter how hard I try to get it right, my kitchen shots get killed by bright reflections and glare coming off of stainless steel appliances. This gets really bad with the fridge, which ends up looking like a circus mirror! What can I do?
There’s no doubt about it, Lane; stainless steel appliances can be a challenge, to put it politely! Even black stainless steel can have a dazzling light and of course, it needs regular cleaning just like any other material. More often than not in real estate photography, we can rely on quick fixes for certain reflections. For example, if you’ve got a reflection on the glass of a framed print, then use the trick that many of us have learned from Scott Hargis' book and video: roll-up a little bit of paper towel and place it behind the frame, so as to change the angle of the glass and thus, the reflection. However, stainless steel is a completely different animal!
Most metals that people have some level of familiarity with--like cast iron, aluminum, copper, etc.--tend to have oxide coatings that are great at absorbing light and thus have what metallurgists refer to as “low solar reflectivity.” Stainless steel, on the other hand, doesn’t behave like these common metals, in that it has a very high solar reflectivity. To make things worse, there’s something about the finish of stainless steel fridges that makes it seem like reflections come off them with no rhyme-or-reason. So much so, that even if you place a flash at an oblique angle to the appliance, it may bounce at a very sharp angle back at your camera. This often results in those long, vertical, bright white streaks of light that draw the viewer’s attention to the appliance, rather than to the rest of the scene. And don’t get me started about what happens when there’s a large window in the vicinity!
The most effective way to deal with bright reflections off of stainless steel is to take advantage of as much ambient light as possible. If more light is needed, then a ceiling bounce with the flash angled slightly away from the appliance(s) will help. Regardless, the odds are that the appliance(s) will still require some time in post. There are a number of ways to do this. One of my favorite ways is to make a really thorough selection around the appliance and, using a paintbrush tool that's set to Darken mode, I sample a shade of gray that is situated very close to the bright reflection. I then paint in the entire appliance. From there, I simply reduce the opacity slider for that layer to taste (for my eye, this usually ends up in the 20-35% range.) Personally, I don't like the idea of completely taking away the bright reflection because in an odd way, that brightness adds some dimensionality that just "looks real." Keep in mind that whenever you paint, in Photoshop, it’s wise to add some "noise" to make the appliance look just a bit more realistic (i.e., Edit > Noise > Add Noise… then add 0.5-2.0% to taste.) If you'd rather deal with it on site, you can use a scrim of some sort to block the light source that is causing the offensive "light streak" on the appliance. Setting your camera to a 10-second delay will allow you the time to get to your camera and position the scrim appropriately, before the camera trigger is released. When you get home, simply use the fridge in that scrimmed capture to just brush in to your base exposure.
I’d imagine that there are many more ways to address bright, hot-spots coming off of stainless steel. So if you’ve got ‘em, I’m sure Lane would welcome your ideas in the comments section!