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Some One Took The Glass Out Of The Windows!

Published: 22/10/2008
By: larry

When you are shooting a home with a view, there's nothing more important to the home owners and listing agent than seeing stunning view through the windows. You want to make the windows look like someone took out the glass!

From a photo editing standpoint what you'd like is have complete control of the interior and the view through the windows independently. Here's how to do that:

  • Start out by creating two exposures. One exposed for the windows, and one exposed for the interior. You can do this by either making two separate exposures on a tripod or open a RAW file twice and adjust the exposure once for the windows and once for the interior.
  • In Photoshop put the two exposures each on their own layer. Put the window exposure below the interior exposure.
  • Now create a selection for the windows. There are a bunch of ways to do this in Photoshop. My favorite is to click on the channels tab in the layer pallet, make a duplicate of the blue channel, and then use curves to increase the contrast of the blue channel. Since we are going to use this blue channel to make a layer mask that will let the outside view show through from below we make the windows white and everything else black. When working with layer masks, "white reveals and black conceals". To make the mask perfect it will require some painting with black and white. How much depends on the particular image and how complicated the window boundary is.
  • Next select all the black pixels and in the layer pallet click on the layer mask button. This will let the windows show through.
  • You can refine the layer mask more by clicking on it in the layers pallet and painting black and white with a small brush to remove imperfections. If you have trouble with this masking procedure, have a look at my "Sky masking with Photoshop" video. It uses exactly the same technique but is masking the sky instead of the windows.
  • Now to fine tune the look further you can put a curves adjustment layer above the window layer and above the interior layer and tinker with the look of each until they have the punch you want.

Why do this instead of using HDR or Enfuse? You'll find that with this technique you can give the windows more punch than with HDR or Enfuse. You can make it look like there's no glass! Just like those view property home owners like. Of course, the trade off is that the making the mask I describe above can take a lot of time. The more plants and objects that are in front of the windows the harder it is. This is probably not something you are going to do on every image in a shoot, just the very best images or the ones to be use on brochures or in high visibility media.

22 comments on “Some One Took The Glass Out Of The Windows!”

  1. The biggest problem with this technique is if there is a plant or something near the window. Trying to mask out something like that takes forever.

    I also think it looks a bit fake. I know others like it, but I'm not sure on it. I've done it in the past but am not convinced.


  2. I try to clean up all of the windows before I take these shots. Move plants! This will save you tons of time in post. I also like the channel, blue technique- but sometimes it's easier just to put the window layer over the interior layer and use the eraser tool.

  3. I have to say this sounds incredibly compicated. I'm not at all familiar with layers and layer masks and channels, so that part is completely Greek to me.
    Seems simpler to just select the windows (in your window exposure) using either the Magic Wand, or the Polygonal Lasso Tool, and then copy/paste into the master exposure. Flatten, and voila! You're done.
    As Joe said, the selection process is next to impossible in most situations, because of plants, window blinds, furniture etc. that is positioned in front of the windows. And as for moving them, Dylan, don't let the I.D. catch you! The rooms are staged the way they are on purpose, not to mention the difficulty of dragging a giant potted tree across a hardwood floor...

  4. Just getting started in RE photography, and I've always had a challenge using layers. Your instructions were to the point and easy to follow; and they WORK! Wow, much better than HDR. Works for me! Thanks Larry.

  5. I would have to agree with Scott Hargis. It does sound really complicated. I'm not real versed in layers either, but the cut & paste or stacking the two images together and using the eraser tool sounds like better options to me also. Or, one could just light the interior!

  6. As several of you have pointed out, this is all about how complex the window line is. If it's rectangular this process is trivial if there are 3 plants in front of the window like my example, window selection becomes more time consuming. So absolutely, if you can simplify the window line before you shoot you save time.

    Using the Polygonal Lasso Tool and magic wand work OK if the selection is not very complex because drawing polygons takes massive amounts of time and it's hard to control what the magic wand selects. I suggest blue channel masking because it is the fastest way to do complicated selections. Blue channel masking is quite simple after stepping through it a few times and getting the steps in your head. There is only a few steps. It's well worth learning if you do windows much.

    The quick selection tool introduced in CS3 is the next easiest way of making complex selections because you can train it which colors to select and not select.

    Chester- As how to cover the time you put into this kind of thing, that's everyone's call. I find view property owners and listing agents just expect this level of photos for view homes. That's why they hire a professional. I'm inclined to charge enough so you can do this kind of work when it's needed instead of having an extra charge.

  7. I do mask in windows if I don't manage to balance the interior lighting sufficiently. But I personally don't like a window view that is too perfect, so I will overexpose the view just a little. If you have the view on its own layer you can clip a curve layer to it and use that to fine tune the brightness of the view.

  8. I agree with Mike that HDR is a viable alternative. Personally, I like having more thatn one tool so this method is great.

    I know that some don't like the HDR look, but I haven't met a client who didn't.

  9. I use this masking technique all the time, and it is dead easy. I can mask two photos together and get everything fixed up in about 2 minutes. Bang them out in Photoshop, and move on to the next one! Simple.

  10. I'm new to Photgraphy for real estate and am exploringing the site. I think it is great that you are sharing your techniques, but could you speak louder when recording. I had my computer sound volume all the way up, but could hardly hear you.
    Anyways, thanks !!

  11. Hi Larry,

    Great post.

    I think it's beneficial to learn all the different techniques, as there are pros and cons to each of them.

    But even using just the Magic Wand, I've done some pretty intricate selection around and between trees and leaves. Granted, you need to adjust the tolerance, contrast, and edge, but you can get some pretty good results.

  12. This is why I'm thrilled I am coming to this via graphic design: that not only made complete sense, but I do it every day for various reasons. Head swapping family photos is a similar technique. It's a common and incredibly useful PS procedure. And in reply to why not just erase, lasso, flatten, etc, from the same people who vaunt using RAW editing as non-destructive techniques, is that masks are completely editable at any time. Flatten a PSD? What?! Now, that said, it is time consuming, and only good for "money" images. And a few minutes in pre will save you an hour in post, so move stuff, light well, tripod multiple exposures, etc. Thanks for the tutorial as usual

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