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What Can Be Done To Prevent Black Windows In Daylight Exterior Shots?

Published: 08/09/2016
By: larry

DarkWindowsLast week William in Florida asked the following:

I wanted to share a picture (photo to the right) and ask your opinion on it. Lately I have noticed that when I'm taking outside pictures during the day, my windows are very dark, even with the lights on inside, it does not seem to help or do much to brighten them up or look more natural since there is such a difference in the brightness outside vs what the interior lighting is able to provide.

Beyond getting a wireless flash and sitting it inside each window sill on the inside, any ideas or suggestions on setup to help minimize this effect?

Great question. This is another aspect of the classic challenge that real estate photographers have to deal with: the large difference between the brightness level inside and outside. It's worth noting that the theme for the August PFRE still contest was daylight exteriors shots and most of them (even the winner to some extent) have mostly black windows or the sky reflecting off the windows. While it looks better to see the interior lights for general real estate photography black windows are not a disaster.

There are a number of approaches to reducing and removing this effect:

  1. Shoot at a time of day when it is not as bright outside (not always possible). Twilight shots show off the property better.
  2. Put a wireless flash in each room that has a window (time consuming).
  3. Get away from the property so that the windows are smaller so the black windows don't stand out so much.
  4.  Use a Mike Kelly approach and walk into each room with a flash to shoot a flash shot and then layer all the shots together with the ambient shot in Photoshop.
  5. Take a shot that exposes for the interior brightness (with the interior lights on) of the rooms and then blend the interior shot with the exterior shot together in Photoshop.

Which approach you choose or if you choose to do anything depends on the time you have and how much effort you want to put into your exterior shot.

10 comments on “What Can Be Done To Prevent Black Windows In Daylight Exterior Shots?”

  1. After reading this I went to Photoshop and opened a image of a front home exterior. Using the pen tool, I selected all the windows in the front. It took about 20 seconds. Then I made a selection of those pen paths. Just a one-button click to make all into "marching-ants". I copied that selection and pasted the windows back directly on top of the base layer (Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V). Took 2 seconds. I then made an inverse of that "windows" layer (Ctrl-I) and lowered the opacity of the layer to about 30%. In less than a minute I had a house with "lights on". To add a bit more realism, I selected the "windows" layer and filled in with a light yellow color (Alt-Bcksp).

    I've used this trick for years. With a little more work I can fake a twilight shot as well.

  2. Although I am attempting to stay in Lightroom as much as possible, I definitely should learn to do this. Does anyone have a favorite tutorial video for this in photoshop? There are so many out there, we can spend hours looking for the one that shows us best.

  3. A complete non-issue.

    One aspect of what we do is to try and reproduce the experience a person has when visiting a site "live". To that end, we work hard to make sure the brightness of the interiors of houses is acceptable, even as we expose our cameras for the (much brighter) views out the windows. That's because we are accustomed to being able to see both, simultaneously, in "real life".

    Standing outside a house, in daylight, we normally have no such experience (seeing into the windows, into a darkened room). Faking it via lighting or Photoshop would look bizarre at best.

  4. I wouldn't worry about it. If its high end and worth getting a "money Shot" then it's worth doing a twilight. If it's not worth doing a twilight then it's not worth worrying about. just my opinion

  5. Agree with Scott. I can't say I've ever thought that a front external daylight shot would benefit from showing a view through the windows. There's a case to be made for say a rear shot where they have a large family room with a very wide set of sliding doors, or similar.

  6. Like Scott and Matt, for most RE work, the windows being dark is not an issue. If it was an "architectural" home where there are big full height sliding doors that open up in a major way, you will want to light the inside so the scene flows from the outside to the inside. That will be a major commission and will be a home that is going to take more than 2 hours to photograph. Probably more like 2-3 days to get the best sun for each room.

    I'm trying to visualize if I'd have the grunt from my 300ws strobe to make a enough of a difference if I tried to lighten up the windows. Hmmmmmm. It would be a lot of work and a Mike Kelly sort of composited image done by lighting each room individually since I don't have enough strobes to do 4-6 windows on the front of a house. I still think it would look "wrong".

    You could always try it out on a few homes to see how it looked. Sometimes the road less traveled……..

  7. I just mask it out in photoshop and brighten it. Usually I still turn on all the lights in the house too before I take these shots. To be honest, I don't experience much black windows.

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