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Window Masking Tutorial - For Those Properties With An Essential View

Published: 10/02/2014

SergeOne of the challenges with real estate photography can be getting well exposed interiors and well exposed windows in the same image. Much of the time a perfectly exposed exterior view out the window isn't that essential but when a home has a knockout view home sellers and listing agents want to see both a wonderful interior and a crystal clear view out the window in the same image.

This is a classic real estate photography problem and we've talked about it many other times over the years:

  1. How to Do Masking For Sky or Window Replacement
  2. Window Recovery With The New Highlight and Shadow Sliders
  3. Someone Took The Glass Out of The Windows!

Our man in Paris, Serge Ramelli  recently put up a tutorial where he demonstrates window masking. Serge, is much more entertaining than my attempts at the same thing. Note that Serge's technique only handles the situation where the window area you want to mask is very even. If you have a plant or some very irregular object(s) that needs masking this technique won't work as well. If you have a very complex my old tutorial from 2008 will deal with almost anything. It's also worth noting that there are many Photoshop Plug-ins that handle complicated edges. One of the newest of these is a Lightroom Plugin called Perfect Mask,  in Photo Suite 8 which I talked about in October.

Larry Lohrman

13 comments on “Window Masking Tutorial - For Those Properties With An Essential View”

  1. If high quality results are the goal, the methods referred to above all fail to address situations with substantial amounts of light from the windows that is illuminating the interior. All too often I have seen photographers mask in the windows for a full and well-exposed view of the exterior and leave bright areas of window light in the interior unaddressed, creating a very unbalanced and disconcerting impression, where it will be evident that the window, as it appears in the photo, could not have possibly created the apparent brightness of the interior objects and surfaces that are nearest to it. The more of a difference in brightness between the actual exterior and the interior, the more of a problem this is. In addition, I see many photographers fail to adequately address reflections of the windows in mirrors, table tops, glossy cabinets, etc., with sometimes comical results, such as a deep blue sky in the window and a completely blank one in its reflection. In the case of Serge Ramelli's example there was not a lot of light from outside illuminating the interior and there was nothing inside reflecting the window itself.

    The very wide views that are common for real estate interiors compound the problem, because there is less of an opportunity to simply narrow the view to avoid problem reflections of the windows at the edges of the frame.

  2. Oops. Sorry. Using the Lightroom highlight and shadows sliders will help deal with a rather wide contrast range in some situations, but this is often insufficient to deal with the wide brightness differences between interior and exterior that real estate photographers commonly encounter.

  3. Maybe I'm strange, but the technique that I think I'm going to get the most use out of is the radial filter highlight to add some mood into a scene.

  4. Scott Hargis also has a great method for getting proper window exposure. Basically, set exposure for outside window and light the interior with your bounce strobe or shoot through umbrellas.

  5. I enjoy Serge's tutorials as he provides some good techniques. But, on this one I think he should have selected each window pane instead of the entire window area. The window mullions should be from the interior exposure and not the exterior exposure, IMO.

  6. I am just a run of the mill agent, but I try so hard to get quality pictures of listings in order to show off the pro's of a home. I have tried to get exterior views from an interior window, but to no avail. I think I'm just not as well trained in photography as y'all are. Hope I can learn some more about it!

  7. He should have definitely selected each window pane for a much better result...

    Also, I sometimes like using the Polygonal Lasso Tool instead of the pen tool. I think it is quicker and easier when selecting a bunch of square window panes.

  8. @Alex part of its training, know what to look for, how to set your exposure etc., a lot of it is practice. With more iterations between shooting and "developing" you'll begin to see the light differently, a better awareness of the changing light while your shooting and a better feel for what you can do to improve the lighting.

    I liked the tutorial but the place to start would have been at the shoot, one well placed strobe would have made the post processing much quicker, easier and better and if you don't have any strobes bracket the exposure and HDR the window. There's obviously a lot of ways to skin this cat..

    @Josh, the pen tool provides so much more control and the only additional step is to right click to turn the path into a selection.

  9. great tutorial but this photo looks very unnatural to me. I think it screams PHOTOSHOP, and I think that is not what we are trying to do. Maybe its the blue or something.

  10. @Alex- A few agents are good photographers, but most are not. Just as you would call an electrician to fix an outlet that wasn't working, bringing in a professional photographer is often a very good move. It certainly doesn't hurt to be able to make a good photo yourself so you can get a listing up in a hurry and for properties that don't have the marketing budget. Even more than selling a particular home, good photos sell you. Being able to SHOW a potential client why they should list with you is more powerful than just telling them how great you are.

    @Kerry- I could go either way with exposing the mullions for the interior or the exterior. They way Serge did it adds more depth to the dormer. I would have liked to see it done the other way as well.

    @Tony- Yup, it's much better to get it right in the camera and just polish it a little in post. It doesn't hurt to understand how to do it Serge's way in case you knock your flash off of the top of the door. I wish I had the budget to take Scott's class. Maybe next time. There is nothing like hands-on learning.

    @Josh- The Polygonal Lasso Tool might be too perfect in some cases. I've seen a few windows masked in that were freakishly obvious. A little imperfection can sell the composition better if you don't want to advertise the manipulation.

  11. This was great for me to watch right now! Thanks for sharing this, I thought I watched every interior photo tutorial on YT but I was wrong.

    I just got my first flash yesterday and here is my 2nd attempt using it (Before/After):

    I am struggling with the windows, so this process and the posted comment methods as well are something for me to try.

    Dave Dugdale

  12. Serge doesn't use flashes/strobes, so his photography differs to the methods used by many of us. However, his tutorials are excellent.

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