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Does Anyone Have A Great Way For Color Matching A Room While Maintaining Warmth?

Published: 31/12/2014

DesignerBrad wants to know:

We photograph many homes for interior decorators and color matching is a must. The wall color, carpet, pillows and furniture. An interior decorator goes through a great deal trying to color match various components of a room and we as photographers try to recreate the image on paper or digital images. However, things like grey cards do not work as it depends where they are placed in a room. A grey card placed in different areas can create many different hues / colors when trying to eyedropper the grey card for white balancing. The same is true of the expo disc. The only way seems to be to over light the room, but then it takes on a sterile or plastic look and looses the ambiance. Does anyone out there have a great way for color matching the room, maintaining the warmth or ambiance of a scene? In addition, we usually are requested to do different angles of the same room, which of course, creates new problems as the lighting changes....but the colors must all match, from photo to photo. These requirements are different than real estate photography, or, maybe they aren't. Any suggestions?

Shooting for designers and decorators is different in many ways than shooting for real estate agents. You've highlighted one of them. Designers and decorators are going to be much more demanding in this area than real estate agents. Agents are typically not trained in the visual arts and their goals are different. Most agents would not even see of care about the color differences that you refer to.

My advice would be to make extensive use of grey/colorchecker cards and to expect to spend more time at the shoot with the client viewing the results on a tethered laptop. This is one reason why you charge more for a shoot for a designer than for a real estate agent.

Larry Lohrman

17 comments on “Does Anyone Have A Great Way For Color Matching A Room While Maintaining Warmth?”

  1. Ah yes, color balance. A complex issue since interior color is all about the color of the lighting and since most lighting is a combination of different light sources from exterior natural light to the various color casts of artificial illumination it is unlikely that you will ever be able to achieve an even, fully integrated color balance throughout the interior. Add to that that different dye lots on different fabrics from organic to man made will photograph differently under different light sources, and you have a mix almost impossible to match. And what to match it to? Since each of the elements in the shot have to be matched to the out put under exactly the same color balanced light and the light creating the photo. Anyone who has had to match chromes to product knows what I mean. Then since we use computer monitors these days for digital images, each monitor will have a different color balance into the bargain. If the images are to appear in print, then there will be color shifts in the printing process as well.

    So I too recommend using neutral grey cards dotted around the room each in and representing the different light sources. Just remember to remove them for the final exposures. Layer the image and then shift each layer into the same neutral correction until they all correspoind to the same neutral and erase all other parts of the image that are not neutral. Then merge the layers and you will probably have an accurate image but also a very boring one.

    To make this easier, I would recommend replacing all illumination with bulbs of exactly the same color balance and not flouresecent as those bulbs don't have a complete spectrum and tend to broadcast green. Back in the day. if we had a room illuminated with tungsten then we would put large filter gels on the windows of a matching orange color so all the colors from lighting was the same which made adjusting the final image an overall exercise and not a regional one.

    If the resulting image is to be use for print, have printers proofs made from 4 color film and printed onto the same paper being used for the printed piece. You can gang your photos into one montage to see how the color is working and just how much the printer can finesse the color on the presses.

    The difficulty is that some elements in the shot will react with light one way while others are moving in other directions. So somewhere along the line there has to be some compromise. I once shot a poster for a Gerbera grower and each blossom turned a different color on film than the blossom itself. Today digital is much more accurate but there is almost nothing you can do to make all colors of everything in a shot perfect. Especially when it comes to neutrals where the slightest color shift is very noticable. You need, I think, to be up front with your clients in letting them know that cameras are amazing today, but even when you cut down the variables there will still be variables. If you have a computer on hand at the shoot, that helps but only if it has a good monitor. I would definitely have your client approve each shot as it is taken so they can see the difficulities and get their read on what is acceptable to them if color is so very critical.

    An over all sift is one things, but the regional ones can create quite a head ache in post which can get expensive to if you don't want to eat the time, have your client understand in advance just what will be necessary to achieve an image(s) that they want from you and the shoot. A complex issue.

  2. It's a balancing act, which requires a good sense of color. There are several solutions, so pick what works for the given situation. 4500k vs 5000k? 1/4 cto or no gels?

    Over lighting can be effective in exposing properly and beating down less than stellar ambient shifts due to lights and interior design hues. And, yes, it can be overdone. Keep it in check and use over lighting creatively. You can under light, too 🙂

  3. Brad : colour-critical work such as yours, as Larry says, pushes one into interesting (and in comparison with much RE work) potentially more remunerative territory. Such shoots have become my staple diet: multiple shots and angles of the same room showing off products which need to tie in with studio-lit catalogue versions. I could bang on for hours about the importance of white balance in such shoots but perhaps I could throw in a few pointers :

    For daytime shoots, switch off all tungsten, fluorescent, LED : and I mean everything. Go 100 per cent with the daylight: take a reading from a gray card by the main window (windows often give a green cast to the light so your WB correction will involve some magenta). Don't worry about creating custom WB in the field : but if you have a laptop with you use LR dropper to read what the correction is: e.g. plus 10 magenta to neutralise.

    Having switched off all the tungsten/ ornamental illumination and taken your first shot with daylight alone you will see that you will need some fill. Either use fill flash correctly matched to the daylight: remember you are matching to the daylight coming through the windows: so you may need some plus green gels over your flashes (See Lee colour correcting gels): I often need plus 1/8 th green. Then the plus magenta WB correction is going to "work" for both daylight and flash. Or if not using flash, try an exposure blending method (keep it natural and use Enfuse or Photomatix in blend rather than full HDR mode). The latter of course is quicker to carry out in the field but involves more post: but you can at least know that you are working with one light source only.

    For night-time shots or interior rooms like shower rooms without windows by day: switch off all lights and then switch each on, one by one, shooting an exposure with a grey card in shot for each : check the WB correction in Lightroom and you will see according to the correction by how much each light source needs to be adjusted to achieve a neutral grey. Decide on your main source (e.g. overhead down lighters) and leave fluorescents or LEDS out of the equation (or exposure separately and then blend: tricky!) Again : gel fill flashes to match the light source or use Enfuse software etc. Note that ornamental lamps may well be warmer in colour temperature than overheads and need additional "blue" to cool in terms of adjustment: again : expose separately. Beginning to wonder why most magazine shoots are carried out in the hours of daylight and with ALL artificial light switched off?!

    Ensure your monitor is properly colour calibrated to 6500 K : my published work for the various magazines/ catalogues I supply to is an excellent match for my monitor version. I don't regard this as a problematic variable if you and your production house are using calibrated gear and there are no really outlandish colours at work in your room shot.

    This was supposed to be brief! Best tip is to re-emphasise: you will never get faithful colour repro with mixed illumination : that means switching off all artificial light and working with the daylight alone. Rooms with windows on both sides of a building will introduce differently "tinted" daylight: pull curtains on the secondary window to ensure your source is constant.

    Hope that helps.

  4. “…The only way seems to be to over light the room…”

    I'm guessing he means using a high ratio of flash to ambient to ensure accurate color? And I would agree that this technique could suck the life out of the scene depending on your ambient light situation. If you're just competing with sunlight, it should be easy enough to match the color of your strobe output to that of the ambient light. But if the light quality and color are constantly changing throughout the shoot, or if your client insists on having all the lights on (mix of tungsten, CFL, FL, LED, etc) maybe it's best to shoot a flash-heavy frame, then a more "balanced" frame and hand composite the two in post where you have more time to play with the mix for a consistent look across multiple images.

    Sometimes if I have a tricky color situation and no time for fine tuning in the field, I'll shoot one flash-heavy frame and use that as a color layer to blend in later as necessary.

  5. I just read these post, and there seems to be something missing. "Gray cards" are for EXPOSURE, Not color or "white" balance. For shooting these color balance situations use a White balance card such as the "Whi-Bal that is designed and calibrated specifically for white balance. Check out this video tutorial from Whi-Bal, . Next, use a color checker card. These are available from two manufactures; and Both can be purchased from B&H or Adorama as well as Amazon.
    All three manufactures have tutorials on how to use them.
    For critical color balancing of your light source on the subject, you are going to have to "invest" in a color light meter. has these. Here you read the color of the light source and then balance using gels. This is typically the method used on movie sets. Time consuming and more expensive, but probably the most accurate.
    As talked about above you will want to shoot several shots of the scene. No lights on, then one with each light source on alone as independent shots. You then would color balance each and blend them using enfuse or photoshop. Simon Maxwell has good information on this in his book. Also check out YouTube for other blending methods using photoshop or other programs.
    Good luck,
    New Mexico Real Estate Photography

  6. Wow, lots of "professional" comments! just one question: How much you guys charge for a listing? I guess it must be more than $300! Othewise it doesn't worth your time, both shooting and editing. I agree with Larry, who said (photographers )charge more for a shoot for a designer than for a real estate agent.

  7. Lot of good tips here and very professional.

    But if you dont have lot of time shooting you must fight with these lights, how do ? more speed beat casts and fill with flash then, lights cast will dissapear as well ambiance enviroment but colors will pop as natural even vibrant,

    To ensure capture ambiance shot a extra photo if do you like and simple blend with mask and do work these mask a bit with brush.

    If dont have hurries so can do these lot of Master things.

    Happy New Year to all!


  8. @ Julian -- the question was specific to interior design/decorator photography. But honestly, color casts are not that difficult to deal with. I never had any problem with them, even when I was shooting real estate and working fast. Good camera technique coupled with good lighting technique -- and lots of practice. Set your camera's white balance for the dominant light source, whether that's daylight, or tungsten, or whatever, and then gel anything else that bothers you. Color casts are real, natural phenomenon, and removing them completely is a dumb idea - that looks very fake. A tungsten lamp ought to have a nice warm glow, or it doesn't look believable. Even a large, bare, white wall is in reality a very complex mixture of tonal and color gradients, however slight. Simply running a desaturation brush across it will immediately look weird.

  9. First, I would like to thank everyone for their input. Clearly there are many options out there.

    I should have mentioned that these images are used for a contest whereby over 300 decorators enter boards with both the photos as well as the actual swatches of fabric, paint samples, etc. All on the same board.

    We always use an ipad or laptop via a cam ranger and have the decorator review as we go along. Typically, we shoot 50 to 75 photos before we settle on the right arrangement of all the furniture and accessories. A typical room shoot is 2 to 4 hours. The decorators get many of their ideas from a site called Houzz which has over 5 million photos on the site. Many use tungsten lights on.

    We have learned that using an actual Benjamin Moore paint sample either on screen or an actual paint swatch and comparing it next to the print helps us determine the right color.

    Keep in mind, a decorator, works for months or longer, with the home owner selecting the right combination of colors and these colors along with the furniture and accessories are used to determine the contest winners.

    We have tried all types of grey cards and x-rite color cards, but it's where you put them in the room that determines how accurate they are.....closer to a window, cooler, ....closer to a lamp, warmer.

    Our challenge is to represent the room as it really is, and others seem to do it. Houzz has many great examples (and some not so good). These decorators are paying us good money to produce photography that accurately represents their work, as they use it for additional advertising.

    Our best results so far have been by using Einsteins strobe heads with strip lights with louvers and 1/4 power, then, creating many layers in photoshop the make the various paints and fabrics match. Bounce lighting off the walls tends to create a colorcast hue on everything in the picture which we can remove in photoshop.

    We have been doing professional photography for over 50 years and the challenges continue. We love some of your ideas. Thank you for your input.

  10. Lots of great ideas, some of which require a lot of editing time
    I shoot with all the lights off unless i want to highlight a fixture such as the dinning room and hope it is on a dimmer
    then in the raw editor i set a white balance temperature on one photo and match across all the shots of that room

  11. While this won't solve all the original posters problems, one of the best things I have EVER done in Light Room post processing was on the right panel go into camera calibration and in the profile setup change it to Adobe Standard, then (and here is the magic part) in the same panel, grab the blue primary "saturation" slider and go to the left. On almost EVERY photo I shoot, that one change has made me feel like I have a new camera. It is amazing how it changes the colors to what they were (my opinion) . I got this tip from either Fstoppers or PetaPixel, I can't remember which but this one tip has helped my photo's look more realistic and I am very grateful for whom ever it was that posted that tip in a video.

  12. Another tip I have to remove color cast is take the photo into Photoshop, duplicate layer, select the desaturate brush, select white in the colors palette, paints out the areas that have a color cast, change opacity of that layer until it suits you. Flatten and repeat. I may do this several times to different parts of the image until it looks the way my mind eye remembers the scene.

  13. Hi Brad,
    Scott's answer is the simplest, but when I need really good results, here's what I have done:
    1. Invested in the X-rite color calibration system. This way you calibrate your cameras, computers, printers and monitors to standard colors used by the Pantone. This does involve an investment in their software and their color monitor ( I use the Color Munki and Passport). This gets all your equipment on the same standard that is used industry wide.
    2. Assess the different types of light that illuminates the subject and its intensity. Sometimes, when there are several different types of light - say, incandescent, fluorescent. and skylight - I will use the passport target and make a separate exposure for each, adjust them in Lightroom and then blend them in PS.
    In simpler cases you can use the individual color sliders in Lightroom.
    If you are looking for colors for back grounds or accents, check out Kuler that is available with Adobe Creative Cloud.
    Before I was using X-rite and my equipment was not calibrated I was frustrated because what my monitor showed me was entirely different than what was seen on print or others screens. We cannot control others systems but at least, if we start with something good, most likely it will look better everyplace

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