Robert asked the question:
I'm a real estate photographer who uses Enfuse and Lightroom to process my images. I'd like to find a way to improve the views through the windows of houses I shoot and I was wondering if Photoshop Elements 13 might be a good solution. From what I understand, I need to be able to create layers and merge the layer with the correct window exposure with the layer for the correct interior exposure. I don't know that I need the full power of Photoshop (along with its steep learning curve) so I thought Elements might be a simpler way to get the result I need without the expense or learning curve with PS.
This is a classic real estate photography problem: how to capture the view outside and the room inside when the brightness range is way beyond what your camera can capture. In fact this very problem lead to my starting this blog! In 2000 my wife listed a $2 million property on Lake Sammamish in Issaquah, WA. Mrs Seller demanded that I come up with a photos that showed her beautiful home that also showed the great lake view. I couldn't do it, and I couldn't find any books that explained how to do it either. Look at the burned out windows on the right side of this living room (west towards the Lake) completely burned out! I'm still embarrassed!
OK so now that I've had 15 years to figure this out, how do you do it? There are several ways:
- Shoot at Sunset: Shortly after I shot this listing I realized that if you shoot at sunrise or sunset when the brightness levels are the same inside and outside this becomes a piece of cake. Problem is at sunset you only have about 20 to 30 minutes where this works. Forget about sunrise, no one will let you shoot then! This is not an effective solution that works for every shoot!
- Shoot with flash: I learned from Scott Hargis that the way to do this is to use a few manual flashes. Expose for the window to make it look like you want and then light the room with a couple of manual flashes bounced off walls. Scott would argue that this is the easiest, most effective solution. He's probably right. Takes the least amount of time.
- Use Enfuse or HDR: Shooting brackets and processing with Enfuse or HDR software is better than not bracketing but it doesn't completely solve the problem. Usually the best you can do is getting the windows with partial detail. What you really need is an unrealistic level of window detail.
- Mask the windows in post: This is the method Robert is referring to. Take a shot exposed for the windows and then use Photoshop to drop those correctly exposed windows into a photo that is exposed for the interior. To answer Robert's question, yes you can do this with Photoshop Elements (PSE) as well as Photoshop CC but PSE doesn't have as many sophisticated ways to select the windows. Also, these days I'm liking OnOne Perfect Photo Suite 9 for doing layering and masking. It's a little more expensive than PSE but very intuitive. As many point out in the flickr forum, this approach of masking in perfectly exposed windows makes windows look totally unrealistic, but that's what most people are looking for.
So those are the classic 4 solutions to this classic window problem. There's no right one, they all work and everyone has their favorite. I just wish I could go back and reshoot this property and give Mrs Seller what she wanted. But at least you can give your Mrs Seller what she wants!