How to Deal with Bright Light in Interior Photos

By
Real Estate Sales Representative with Windermere Real Estate / Whatcom Inc.

Yesterday I was forced to take photos of a home during the middle of the day. I always try to make an appointment to take photos in the evening, but sometimes it just doesn't work out. The biggest problem with taking photos in the middle of the day is dealing with direct sunlight. The light comes right though the windows and turns them bright white. If you try a shorter exposure time, you end up with a great view out the window, but an all black room. Here is a technique that you can use to get around the problem of daytime interior photos.

First, you are going to have to use a tripod. The reason that you are going to use a tripod is so you can take 2 photos of the room. Below is an example of the room I shot yesterday. The first photo has a low shutter speed (longer exposure). The second photo has a high shutter setting (short exposure). You can see that both of these photos have the problem that I described above. To the left, the room is clear and in focus, but the windows are washed out in white light. To the right, you can see the beautiful view of the valley out the window, but the room is black.

To make this work we are going to combine the 2 photos, so we get the best of both worlds. To begin, take two photos like the one above. Make sure that the photos are taken exactly the same with the exception of the exposure time. In Photoshop, open the photo to the left add a "New Layer". (See Below)

Now open the other photo with a longer exposure (black photo) and highlight the "Marquee" tool. Use the Marquee tool to crop out the window. (See below)

  

Now you can drag the window onto the new layer over the longer exposure photo. When you do this, make sure that you drag the window onto the "Layer" and not the "Background". (See Below)

Now you can see the new window is over the old window in the good photo. You can zoom into the photo to clear it up. To "clear it up", you can use the eraser tool and or the blur tool. I typically use the eraser tool to remove any black that I accidentally brought over with the window. If there are hard edges, you can use the blur tool to smooth out the edges. Now, repeat the process with the other window and you are done. Below is an example of my finished photo.

 

Ryan Martin, e-Pro®, Realtor® - 360-319-0040

Bellingham Real Estate | Anacortes Real Estate | Bellingham Commercial Real Estate


 

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Rainer
49,011
Earleene Woods
Keller Williams Experience Realty - Murray, KY
ASP, CRS, GRI

By the way Ryan, my son worked at a camp called Sambica on lake Sammamish all the way thru college.  He loved it out there.  As a matter of fact he got one of his good friends to come out there to work for the summer and she never came back.  She loves it out there.  Beautiful country.

Jun 05, 2008 09:06 AM #41
Rainer
113,497
Ryan Martin
Windermere Real Estate / Whatcom Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham Commercial RE Broker

Earleene ~ Hopefully you bought a fairly study tripod. Mine was only $50 and it works okay, but I have gotten into taking 6 exposures per photos, so I would actually like to get a better tripod.

Regarding Bellingham, yes it is a beautiful area when the weather is nice. The summers here are the best. There are a lot of people that snowbird from Bellingham to Arizona and South Cal.

Jun 05, 2008 09:14 AM #42
Rainer
38,233
Jay Groccia
OnlinePropertyShowcase.com - Boston, MA

One thing that I would caution regarding HDR - it can get very 'cartoonish'. Even using a point+shoot, one can simply put a flash deflector on it (even something as simple as a business card taped to the front of the camera and make the flash bounce up instead of blasting forward. Now go and get 2, 3, or 4 mini 'slave' flashes  - these are small and inexpensive and can be hidden behind furniture and placed on shelves behind the camera or even held in your hands and pointed in different directions to smooth out the light. This will get the colors and textures of things in the room to look a lot more natural.

 

Another danger with HDR is when you use real long shutter speeds to pick up all the shadow detail, very bright light sources near the dark parts will 'bleed' into that part of the scene and spoil the shot. That's what's happening in the top poto - look at the blueish 'fog' around the fireplace.

 

For your viewing pleasure, here is a home we recently photographed - CLICK on the photo to explore the entire home.

(c)2008 OnSiteStudios.com

 

Jay Groccia, Principal Photographer

OnSite Studios

Jun 05, 2008 09:48 AM #43
Rainer
113,497
Ryan Martin
Windermere Real Estate / Whatcom Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham Commercial RE Broker

Jay ~ Thanks for the tips. This is a pretty old post. I have learned a lot more about HDR photography over the last 6 months. Here is a photo that I shot last night in my TV room. You are correct that there is a little bleed over of blue from the outdoor white balance, but all in all I think it is much better.

 

Jun 05, 2008 10:04 AM #44
Rainer
38,233
Jay Groccia
OnlinePropertyShowcase.com - Boston, MA

Much better - I don't find the smearing of the ceiling lights or the feathering at the window border too bad. It certainly is FAR AND AWAY BETTER than 90% of the real estate photography out there - and I think THAT is the important point for this board. My clients hold me to a higher standard because publications demand it.

Jay Groccia, Principal Photographer

OnSite Studios

 

Jun 05, 2008 10:39 AM #45
Rainer
113,497
Ryan Martin
Windermere Real Estate / Whatcom Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham Commercial RE Broker

Jay ~ Thank you. I only spent 5 minutes editing this photo, so I don't feel too bad. You are correct that I could have turned down the dimmer on the ceiling lights and be a bit more careful with the window trim. One of my friends is a professional photographer and he is always giving me a hard time. Realistically, it makes me feel better.

Jun 05, 2008 10:44 AM #46
Rainer
113,497
Ryan Martin
Windermere Real Estate / Whatcom Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham Commercial RE Broker

Lynsey ~ Or you can just wait until the sun is about to go down and the natural light is perfect ;)

BTW: You being a photographer, why no photo?

Jun 18, 2008 03:04 AM #48
Anonymous
Anonymous

@Ryan ~ Good point. But the sun doesn't go down until about 7:30.. and that it too late to be working for me! :)

That is a good question! The main reason why I don't have a photo is because I often shoot homes by myself, and I worry about people hiring me because they know who I am and what I look like. (FYI: I am no one special, and I am nothing special HAHA... but there are weirdos out there just the same.) So I try to stay behind the scenes.....

I used to be a Realtor and it was a very important thing to be aware of your surroundings. Because for a little while there, there were stories popping up about women realtors who were getting kidnapped by people who pretended they wanted to tour a home.  Scary!

 

Jun 18, 2008 03:43 AM #49
Rainer
113,497
Ryan Martin
Windermere Real Estate / Whatcom Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham Commercial RE Broker

Lynsey ~ Know I now why you got out of real estate... couldn't handle the hours... LOL.

I was just giving you a hard time about your photo. I understand that people like to fly under the radar. I also know that real estate agents need to have their agent photo on display because people like to look at who they are working with. The only reason that I gave you a hard time is because Jay started commenting on a 7 month old post and now I am getting beat up by the pros for some past work.

Realistically, most real estate agents are taking photos with a point and shoot that lacks an external flash. I was just trying to provide some tips on compensating for windows, which is something that agents have to deal with all the time.

Thanks for your input and the laughs :D

Jun 18, 2008 04:19 AM #51
Rainer
22,052
Iriana Shiyan
Artazum, LLC - Bellevue, WA
Atazum Seattle Real Estate Photography

Ryan, I was actually planning to post a blog about windows and the view. Your way is good and it works great, but for many people it takes too much time.

Jun 19, 2008 06:14 PM #53
Rainer
113,497
Ryan Martin
Windermere Real Estate / Whatcom Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham Commercial RE Broker

Irina ~ Thank you. Like anything else, with a little practice you can better quickly and save time in the long run.

Jun 19, 2008 06:28 PM #54
Rainer
5,436
Trish Edmonds
Ad Vantage Virtual Tours, LLC - Jacksonville, FL

I have had to rely on this technique many times, but like some of the other comments, prefer to expose for windows and then allow flash to fill in room. Much more time effective.  However, there are always those times that don't work as well as necessary and its Photoshop to the rescue.   

I see so many listings with unprofessional blown out windows.  It can be so distracting to the picture.  Thanks for sharing the technique with others.

Jun 21, 2008 11:53 PM #55
Rainer
8,560
Bill Fletcher
Web Handyman - Dana Point, CA

Good discussion! I can only think of one thing to add.  Rather than adding a layer via the main tool bar, you can simply click on the "add new layer" icon in the "layers" pallet.  The new layer icon is the second icon from the right in the row of icons just below the background layer.  It looks like a white page with a corner turned up.  Clicking on this icon will insert a new layer just above the layer you have selected.

It is worth mentioning that if you would rather focus your energy on selling homes, there are services out there who will perform these kinds of procedures for you. 

Cheers,

Mio

Jul 06, 2008 05:57 AM #56
Rainer
51,774
Barb Hutchinson, Fruitland Idaho - Payette County homes and real estate
Silverhawk Realty - Payette, ID
www.BarbHutchinsonHomes.com

Thanks for the tipe - I am going to try this with the next home that I list.  I really appreciate the information on how to do this.  Thanks again!

Jul 06, 2008 06:26 PM #57
Rainer
113,497
Ryan Martin
Windermere Real Estate / Whatcom Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham Commercial RE Broker

Trish ~ You are right and sometimes this is the only way to go.

Jul 07, 2008 06:31 AM #58
Rainer
113,497
Ryan Martin
Windermere Real Estate / Whatcom Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham Commercial RE Broker

Bill ~ Good call on the "new layer" icon. I actually do the same thing.

Also, it is ideal to spend all of your time focusing on selling real estate, but taking & editing your own photos can also be the most reliable method.

Jul 07, 2008 06:33 AM #59
Rainer
113,497
Ryan Martin
Windermere Real Estate / Whatcom Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham Commercial RE Broker

Barb ~ You are welcome. This is a pretty easy technique for most agents with a point and shoot camera. Despite the resistance from some of the professionals that have commented, you can produce some decent results with a little effort.

Jul 07, 2008 06:36 AM #60
Rainer
113,497
Ryan Martin
Windermere Real Estate / Whatcom Inc. - Bellingham, WA
Bellingham Commercial RE Broker

@Anonymous ~ I think we are actually in agreement. However, an agent with decent equipment and knowledge can produce great photos for the MLS and their marketing materials. They are not going to be near as good as the best professional photographers and probably not as good a most photographers that call themselves professionals, but if they can come close how is that bad for the client?

Is a potential Internet buyer going to refuse to look at a house because the white balance of the windows is incorrect? Of course not. Would an editor of a magazine refuse a photo because of poor white balancing? I think they would be disappointed. 

The intent of good real estate photos is to entice buyers to look at homes. It just isn't necessary to produce magazine quality photographs and certainly not for all homes. The MLS is going to butcher the photos when they compress them anyway. 

The reason that I suggested that professionals can be unreliable is because they are often extremely busy and can take a while to schedule. Once they shoot the photos they also require further time to process the photos. It can be difficult to coordinate all of this with the seller, while still following the MLS rules.

Please understand that I hold professional photographers in the highest regard, but it is not always necessary to hire a professional for real estate photos.

Jul 07, 2008 11:57 AM #61
Rainer
63,553
Greg Fox
Realty World Wichita - Wichita, KS
Techy Broker in Wichita Kansas

I like the layer, and I too can use a bounce.  If I'm really feeling like extra work, I'll bounce 2 flashes.  Either way, tripod, 2 shots, layers:   Bouncing, 2 flashes, takes about the same amount of time

Jul 07, 2008 12:11 PM #62
Rainmaker
197,346
Kathy Anderson
Arizona Luxury & Lifestyle Living - Cave Creek, AZ
Arizona Homes For Sale, Sun City Grand

This is a real problem in AZ with our consistently sunnY days.  Thanks for the tip!  I'll be giving it a try.

Jul 11, 2008 05:03 AM #63
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