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How to Get Rid of Orange Windows in Real Estate Twilight Shots

Published: 09/05/2017
By: larry

Shannon in Bend, Oregon asks:

I was wondering if you or anyone else had any tips on the best way to remove the orange color cast from windows and porch lights during a twilight shoot? I've tried to desaturate them and also turning my white balance to tungsten but I can't get it to look the way I want. Getting true color for this shot has somehow eluded me.

First of all, you need to shoot in RAW. JPGs don't allow as wide a range of adjustments as RAW. When you shoot in RAW it doesn't matter what WB setting you set your camera to. I just leave mine on auto white balance. Then in Lightroom or Photoshop, you just adjust the white balance to the look the way you want. The sky will get much bluer as you move the orange windows towards white. The two versions of a twilight shot I took back in 2005 show what moving the color temperature from 9500 degrees (the bottom one) to 3500 degrees (the top one), You can get way more involved creating twilight shots but this is an example of the simplest form.

The upper twilight version literally made my wife and me around $18,000 (3% of a $600k listing). Here is the story: To my dismay, Mrs seller did not like the shot because it was "too blue." She insisted that I use the daylight version of this shot for her flyer, so I did. However, I used the "too blue" version above on the MLS listing, our just listed postcards and put a large version of it on my wife's website. While this home was on the market, we had a new listing customer call and say, "We want you to list our home and market it with a photo like the one on your website." We listed and sold the callers home for $600,000.

The bottom line is that a dramatic twilight shot can be very valuable for a listing agent though some may think they are too dramatic. Dramatic twilight shots grab viewers attention and get them to look at the rest of the photos. They also get listing agents more listings. Use this fact in your marketing to listing agents.

5 comments on “How to Get Rid of Orange Windows in Real Estate Twilight Shots”

  1. My first reaction is why? I like the look of the cool light on the house and environment and the warm look indoor lighting. But than I had to stop and ask myself that is not your question. Strictly speaking the answer to your question has to start with a question. What white balance do you use for the overall shot that is lit by the sky light which is blue since it comes from the blue sky and not the warm sun. Same for shadows during the day. If you use Auto then the camera is correcting for the blue light from the sky. If you set your color balance in the camera on the sun icon or the Kelvin at around 5500 then the true color of the scene will get that night time blue look and the interior lights would probably get a more yellow look IF they are old fashioned tungsten filament bulbs as they always were in the good old days. Or they are today if the bulbs are warm LED or Quartz.

    The real issue here then becomes what color are the bulbs burning at? The only real way to know is to use a color meter which is like a light meter but measures the color spectrum instead.

    So your technical issue is what color do you want the outside light to be? Do you want to remove the blue cast like an Auto setting for white balance would tend to do as Larry's shot above shows or do you want the real color which is some shade of blue if the sky has no clouds and the blue is providing the color or less so if you have an over cast and the blue is being filtered by the clouds? I would recommend using the Kelvin control to balance the outside light to obtain the color you want, then decide how to control the color of the inside lights. But today that color could be green if the home owner is using florescent bulbs or even bluer if they are using Cool Whilte LED bulbs or all over the place if they are using anything they get off a shelf at the store as their light bulbs die. But if you want to actually control the color of those lights you have to actually control the bulbs that are being used. I would recommend buying a whole bunch of "day light" LED bulbs and replacing the home owner's bulbs with those in all the rooms that display light that you can see. Then when you set your Kelvin for daylight on a sunny day around 6,000 K that light will be close to balanced and the available light will go the color it actually is which is bluish.

    Remember all the older TV Westerns where they filmed and the picture was blue and dark? They were shooting during the day with a heavy blue filter over the lens and several stops under exposed. Film was not fast enought to shoot under moon light so they faked it since we all know that moon light is cool, cold I.e. Bluish.

    All this means you will need to visit the location at the time you intend to shoot and do a color test, check and replace the existing bulbs, then come back the next evening and get your shots. What a pain! And will the client actually cover all this time?

    So alternatively, you can set up flashes in all the rooms which are daylight, put the cool white LED bulbs in the outside lights and shoot that way. Or you could shoot one set of shots with the exterior available light where you want it and a second set that neutralizes the interior lights and in Photoshop or another program that allowed for layering, erase those parts of the top layer to allow the parts with the corrected color to come through which would probably be neutralized window lights. Also a pain in the neck. And very time consuming. Or you could use quartz floods in the house and put blue daylight correction filter gels over them. Studio Specialties in Los Angeles supples heat resistant gels for movie use in 20x30" sheets.

    Or better yet, just do like Larry has done above then convince your client that it looks better that way with the blue and the less intense orange which is approaching yellow as you dial in the blue for the sky light and you are in fact removing some of the yellow/red spectrum.

    Personally I like that orange/yellow which draws you to the warms of the home and the cooler ambient light. You can always copy the layer and warm up the foreground leading up to the house which is the largest part of the image on the bottom layer, then erase the cooler top layer with your eraser tool set at around 30% until you get that part of the photo which tends to be in your face more where you or your client likes it and let the sides and background go bluer.

    Many ways to skin this cat but all time consuming and finicky. So again, I think Larry's suggestion is both more attractive and at the same time more practical. But if you absolutely have to get inside and outside the same basic color, then change out the light bulbs to cool and test out the set up the evening before or at least under the same light color conditions under which you plan on shooting. And yes, I have done all of the above at one time or another but not since I switched from film to digital.

    And for those that are looking for such supplies, Hollywood is full of suppliers for the movie industry but Studio Specialties are a good place to start LA, Chicago and Montreal at my last check. A lot of my studio lighting and stands came from Mole Richardson in Los Angels. Both companies I am sure would give referrals. B&H Photo in New York has daylight balanced tungsten bulbs (coated blue), daylight balanced photo quality flourscent and LED bulbs. When I need more fill light with interiors, I use these in a photo flood reflector on a stand bounced off a wall behind camera position instead of flash so I can see what I am getting as I compose. Those blue coated tungsten that cost under $4 each are 250 watts and make a bright light that is close to daylight balanced. So you have to have a high rated photo socket to hold them that won't melt. Not such a problem with the Flourescent or LEDs. Good shooting.

  2. My solution doesn't call for as much technical consideration. I think you might be shooting in jpg. Try shooting in RAW - you have much more control of white balance in post. I can generally mitigate the orange from twilight shots by using the Graduated filter or Adjustment brush (or a combination of the two) in Lightroom. You can also take two photos, metering first on the windows (in auto white balance) and next meter on the sky. You will need to set your exposure to manual, of course, for the exposures to be equal and the white balance to be different in each. Then layer in the sky in Photoshop.

    I don't know about everyone else, but I find that most homes have a combination of bulbs and lighting temperatures and never is it more obvious than when you try to shoot a twilight photo. I recommend to realtors that all bulbs in the house are matched to daylight, but most homeowners don't want to spend the money and time it takes to match all their lighting. Some do, though, so I continue to suggest it.

    I edit in the evening, so doing twilight photos is a serious pain for me, taking time away from my editing process. I don't advertise twilight photos and when asked I charge $100 per image, which is actually way too cheap for what it costs me to do it, especially in the summer.

  3. My answer is "Why?" Why is it desirable to eliminate all color casts in architectural or RE photos? Not all light is white. It seems to be a trend here to eliminate or process out the effects of tungsten lighting, sunlight on interior walls, and even gradations of color resulting from natural and artificial light.

    This is related to the topic: "Is There a Trend in Real Estate Photography Toward an architectural Look?" and Ron Rosenzweig's reply. The "stylish" photos with no color cast can appear "flat". Many could almost be B&W shots -- no color at all -- especially, the all-white kitchens.

    I prefer the lower, 9500 degree example above. It is more "natural", "realistic", and has a warm, inviting feel. The 3500 degree example seems un-natural, cold and blue -- not inviting. I would layer in only the sky and water from the top image to the lower one.

    What am I missing? Should all light be white?

  4. @Michael Allen

    White balance is really only a problem when many bulbs in the same house are all different light temperatures so you have multiple color of light competing with each other and casting across an entire room. It becomes really obvious unless you can correct in some way, and many of us don't like that. To remove certain color casts to normalize the WB of the photo means you may also be removing important colors, as from walls or decorative pieces like paintaings, vases, etc. This is usually what most of us are talking about when complaining about color temperature.

    I'm fine with warmer light temperatures, but typically auto-WB can't correct for it, or over-corrects. This is especially glaring in bathrooms, where correcting a very yellow bathroom photo due to warm lights ruins the colors of the other things affected by the color cast. The biggest problem is the time taken to spot-correct areas--sure you can use a graduated filter or the adjustment brush to handle this, but it takes more time and even then may affect the colors you don't want it to.

    You could use a grey card, but if you use flash, grey cards just normalize the ambient frames whilst the flash frames get corrected to overly cool temperatures due to the white light. This is okay for my workflow, though, given that I color code my flash frames, filter to them, and correct one with auto-syncing to the rest of them so they all have a similar color temperature to the ambient frames.

    Spending enough time on a single twilight photo is warranted, though. That's when one should be doing spot-corrections on color and light temperature; as one poster above said, different light temperatures are never more apparent than in a twilight photo, when you will sometimes have different windows with different light colors. Adjustment brushes can take care of it, as can masking in a photo with a different WB.

  5. Easiest and cleanest way:

    First: shoot RAW if you're not so you can edit things.
    Second: The first stop should be to go to LRs "Color" panel (it's in the "Develop module" and lower the orange saturation until it's where you want it.
    Third: If removing or lowering the orange saturation adversely effects something else, you will need to use the adjustment brush but the result will probably be a little clunkier looking.

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