Monthly Archives: October 2011

Shooting Architectural Interiors – Processing with Nik HDR Efex Pro

In this post we are going to talk about shooting and processing Architectural Interiors.

The reason why

Many of you have probably looked at ads for homes on real estate website or the books you pick up for free at the grocery store. The images are usually taken by the agent to save money or may be even taken by professionals…well that just don’t know any better. They all have the tell tale look. They were shot during the day with tons of light coming into the windows and you get one of two things because of the wide dynamic range present. You get super bright blown out windows and a properly exposed room with quite a bit of flare around those windows. Or, you get properly exposed windows and a room so dark you can’t tell if it is a bedroom or the kitchen.

Now a good photographer could know better and shoot at night when you have more control over light, or they could bring in a huge amounts of artificial lights and  get the scene to work. But the truth is, either the realtor has no budget for this big bucks photographer with a truck full of grip equipment. Or they don’t have the time for shooting at night when the home owners are home. Enter HDR.


So lets discuss how to shoot an interior using HDR and then we will go over how to best process that shoot in Nik’s HDR Efex Pro.

Those of you that know me know I am not a big advocate of shooting a gazillion exposures. People think if 3 is good 12 must be amazing. And that just isn’t true. Sometimes it is a waste of time, of computing power and may lead to lesser images because of registration errors, shooting images beyond the dynamic range that is there which leads to soft or noisy images and a host of other reasons. Some of my most successful  Landscape HDR images have been shot with only 3 exposures.

But for this lesson I am going to go against my usual wisdom. For two reasons. One is a mater of dynamic range. As much as we may have shooting outdoors, sometimes we can have even more shooting an interior. We maybe have  EV15 (Exposure Value) light coming through a window, yet we also may have light as low as candle light in the room or EV4, 11 full stops of exposure. ( for an explanation of Exposure Value, see this great explanation and charts at Fred Parker Photography ) So that is one reason we will want to shoot quite a number of exposures, just to cover the Dynamic Range.

Reason two; Detail. As detailed as the outdoors is, we are viewing it from a distance and you may not see all the nuances of texture that every object has in that scene. In interior photography, everything is closer, more defined and with that we need to have texture that we can see and well, almost feel. The nap of the carpet, the texture of the upholstery. We’re closer we need to see that.

For this example I shot 9 exposures 1 stop apart. Exposures because that was the dynamic range I measured. 1 stop apart because of the desire for detail of tonality.

Determine your dynamic range

First I determined the dynamic range I needed  to cover. I could not have done this just from where the camera was on the tripod. Because the camera’s meter averages, even in spot mode. It would not have known the correct exposure for the windows light. So I brought my camera to the window itself and metered the light outdoors. This was my beginning exposure. And no, I didn’t need to shoot an underexposure of the outdoor light, I just needed to get it right. This exposure was f/16,  1/125 ISO250.  I then moved to the darkest area of the room and metered there, this would be my final exposure and I just need to  get between the two readings in one step intervals ( I didn’t do the math, I used the 3 clicks of the dial equal one stop trick) My end exposure was f/16, 2 sec. ISO 250. It took 9 images to get from one to the other.

Do YOU need to do 9 exposures? It depends on what your final destination for your images are. I did test with this shoot and shot HDR’s with 9, 7, 5 and 3 exposures. 9 had the best detail, 7 was very very close, 5 was good, 3 was eh. If you image is just destined for websize on a realtor’s website or in one of those small grocery store magazines, 3, 5 whatever, you’ll be fine and far above those that shoot the windows blown out. But say your image is destined for a big glossy Architectural Magazine or a large print on the wall of an Interior Designer. You want the 9 shots.

So once I determined what I needed for dynamic range , I returned the camera to the tripod and composed the scene . Now I like to turn on as many of the rooms lights as possible to give it a more natural look, or “as lived in” look. I will try to only have one color temperture of light on, Tungsten, Halogen, Florescent, because we will have enough problems with white balance with possibly two different light temperature source, we don’t need 5. For this shoot I was in luck, since the lights in the room were CFL’s balanced for 5000°k or daylight.

My scene was set and I shot the 9 frames. Here they are in contact sheet form. (Click to enlarge) The image sequence runs from the bottom left up and down to top right.


Now that we have our images shot, It’s time to merge and tone map them into our HDR image.

For this shoot, I knew the right tool for the job was Nik HDR Efex Pro Anyone that has seen my workshop in my garage knows I always have more than one tool for any job . For this job HDR Efex Pro was the correct tool because of the amount and quality of detail.

Selecting my 9 images in Lightroom 3 I exported them to HDR Efex Pro. In the first part of the tone mapping, I wanted to get my overall look. So I worked on the right panel and started with the following setting.  Tone Compression 22%. Saturation 20%, Structure 4%, Black 6% and Whites 8%

This yielded me this image

Using Control Points

Not a bad starting point for overall balance. But the windows just aren’t right. This is going to be hard for any HDR program to get right because the software will look for the brightest points  and the darkest points and put them where it thinks best. It just gets them wrong here. All is not lost though, enter the beauty of Nik HDR Efex Pro’s Control Points. I placed 9 control points in this image. In the windows, on the Photos on two walls, on the ceiling and on the fireplace. I adjusted these all individually to get the best balance for all the areas and most importantly,  to bring back the detail to the windows.

Here are what the control points looked like and also how it looks when you click on the control points mask so you can really see all the areas that control points are affecting


Once I had this all the best I could I took the image into Photoshop For some final touches and this yielded us our final image.

I wish you could see the detail in the full resolution file. The grain of the leather and the nap of the carpet is incredible and the print this made was really as the room looked. Truth be told if I was going to submit this to a high end magazine I may work on the windows even further which would have taken a lot of time and may not be worth it just for realtor submissions.

Getting the correct White Balance

As I spoke about earlier, we also need to consider white balance when working with interior shots.  In a big budget shoot, we could of course  use some gels on all the different light sources to make them all the same color temperature. But we may not have the time nor budget to do such things. We could change bulbs. But most homeowners probably don’t want you messing around with all the light fixtures in their home. So let’s just go simple.

In most instances, I recommend doing a white balance for the predominate light source in our scene. But lets look at the room I shot here and see what the real life experience will be. This also is why shooting RAW is so important, besides giving us the ultimate dynamic range and color latitude, it also allows us to go in later and easily change the white balance of our shoot.

So for this image, the predominant light was outdoor light coming in from the windows along with 3 sources of incandecant light as accents only. The day was cloudy and rainy so setting the white balance for cloudy yielded these results.

Not bad and since I am a landscape shooter I tend to like warm light but I think this is just too much

Let’s try adjusting for the Tungsten Light and see what that returns

Yeah, That’s not any better, in fact I think it’s quite worse. The lights themselves look good but the tone overall is much too cool

Hmmm…OK. Let’s try just as it was shot with the Auto-White balance

To me this is the best of all worlds and the best balance that could be had. Comparing a print of this image to the actual room that day was pretty much spot on for “As the eye sees” my favorite reference. Funny I guess Auto White Balance doesn’t suck as much as some seem to think.

I hope this has helped you understand how to shoot and post process Architectural Interior images, maybe this could provide you with a new income stream selling to Real Estate agents that need every tool they can muster in such a down market.

Equipment used for this shoot: Canon 5D  , Canon 17-40 4.0 L ,  Canon Remote Control , Manfrotto Tripod and Head and of course Nik HDR Efex Pro

Hope that helps,


Follow up on ” What to Focus on”

In response to the article on “What to Focus on – Hyperfocal Distance and more

Dunne W asked the question: “What would you recommend when you want place you focus for the Hyperfocal point in the scene, but also a Good Midtone for metering for our HDR’s. I guess what if a midtone is not in the area of the Hyperfocal area?”

Which really is a great question because depending on what Focus mode you are in, The focus point used may also be the point used for the camera’s metering.

Now if you are shooting in manual exposure mode. This really isn’t too big of a problem. Simply before you lock your camera into the tripod. get a 0 metering point from your scene ( as Duane says a midtone) remember that shutter speed and then work to each side from there. ( Quick tip if you don’t want to do the math of what the shutter speeds  you need to shoot at for your exposures, do this. Set your 0 exposure shutter speed and then for your next exposure count the clicks of the exposure wheel, 3 for each stop you want, 6 if you were doing 2 stops. No need to even look in the viewfinder)

This really is a more important question if you are doing Automatic Exposure bracketing in Aperture Priority mode. Because establishing a correct 0 exposure will ensure that those exposures that are bracketed around that o point are correct as I talked about in this post.

But the truth is these are two separate steps because when we use Hyperfocal Distance. It is best done ( as maybe I should have explained) with the Autofocus turned off . Using the Distance Scale on our lens (which hopefully your new lens still has , not all do) we set it for the hyperfocal distance and then turn off Auto-Focus. In fact turning off Auto Focus while shooting an HDR is actually really important for two reasons. One, because we want the focus point to stay constant in each exposure we shoot. And also when  we focus at a distance as opposed to close up, the zoom and  framing of the images changes ever so slightly, not a lot but it is noticeable if you take two shots on a tripod a different focal points and  switch between the two. Both things lead to loss of sharpness in our final image.
Anyway, getting back to Duane’s question. So now that you have locked  focus, you need to worry about locking exposure and depending on which focus mode you are in (even though the AF on your lens is turned off) But if you are in Matrix or Evaluative focus mode (Nikon/Canon) the focus point selected is where you meter is biased towards. In all other modes, Spot, Centerpoint average etc. The meter is biased towards the center of your focus screen. So wherever that is pointed is where it is going to get it’s 0 reading from regardless of where you may have focused.
We can correct for this by:
  • Adjusted our exposure manually as I stated earlier
  • Using the exposure lock button on our camera. Unfortunately, this only stays active for 5 seconds if you take your finger off the shutter release. So even if you lock it, if you don’t take the image within 5 seconds it will re-meter the scene
  • Use Exposure compensation along with Exposure Bracketing,  Which is something I do very often.

You can use Exposure Compensation by either just figuring it out mathematically. The sky where I am pointed at is 1/400 and my midtone is 1/100 therefore I need to set -2 stops EC. Or you can let the camera do the thinking, Point it at your midtone and get a reading and then put the camera in shooting position and adjust the compensation till you get the same reading you did when pointed at the mid-tone.

Of course EC is usually limited to 2 stop +-, so if it is really far off between the two areas. It’s always best to just resort to manual exposure


Hope that helps



Thanks Steve…

Just want to share the blog post I did at my Portfolio Website

Featured in the October Nik Newsletter

Myself and The HDR Image website are featured in the October Nik Software Newsletter

Thanks to our great friends at Nik Software!

HDR How To Page update

I updated the” HDR How To” page to reflect the changes in some of the Panels and controls in Photomatix Pro 4.1.

This will make it easier for people to follow along  if the downloaded  or purchased the latest version

Remember, use coupon code:  theHDRimage to get 15% off your Photomatix Pro 4.1 Purchase

What to focus on – Hyperfocal Distance and more

 Reader and fellow photographer Duane W. Asked “Can you explain Hyper focal distance and where and how should I actually focus?

Now this really isn’t a HDR question per say but it is a very relevant one since a good portion of HDRs are landscapes or objects that we may need a very deep depth of field for. In fact shallow DOF images are not really that great but of course there are exceptions.

Depth of Field

So let’s examine how to get the maximum Depth of field and also how and what should be our subject of focus.

First lets go over what makes up Depth of Field (DOF from here out) DOF is determined by: Aperture, Focal Length and Distance to subject. The smaller the aperture, (higher the f/number) the deeper the DOF. The wider the focal length, the deeper the DOF, The farther away you are from the subject, the deeper the DOF (Of course in all cases the opposite is true.)

So for the most part, a good amount of all landscapes and HDR of architecture or objects are shot with wide angle lenses. So we’ll take that part as a given. The distance to subject can vary greatly. So that leaves Aperture and you may think, well for the deepest DOF, I’ll just crank it down to the smallest aperture I have.

Well, that would be wrong. The problem being; Diffraction. Diffraction causes loss of sharpness in our image and it comes from using too small an aperture. Some is good, more isn’t better. Now there is a long and involved story behind it but I will let you Google that part. But I’ll just say that it is dependant on your sensor size on how far you can go. For a Full Frame DSLR, you should Max out at about f/16, for a crop sensor DSLR, about f/11 and for point and shoot camera, about f/8. Can you go more? Yeah you can get away with it sometimes and sometimes you need to when you are trying for long shutter speeds for the image. But the above guidelines are pretty good.

So now that we know how to get a deep depth of field, let’s look at focusing techniques that best take advantage of that.


All too often when people take Landscape images they just focus on the distant horizon or “Infinity” on our camera’s focusing scale. And that may be fine. But sometimes that is the last place we want to focus. It really depends on the composition of our image and the element within that image.

Let me give you one piece of advice, This way you can sleep at night, not toss and turn and worry about one more thing. If your subject of the image is the mountain range or the lake or the sunset over the ocean and there is no subject in the foreground. Focus at infinity…done.

But, if you take the advice that I offer in my …See class, “Always have a subject in the foreground and leading lines to your background”, well, now you have something to think about.

Hyperfocal Distance

Hyperfocal Distance is a distance to focus on, based on Focal Length and Aperture that will have the maximum DOF possible with that lens at those setting. When focused at the Hyperfocal Distance, your DOF will extend from ½ the Hyperfocal Distance all the way to infinity.

“But I stink at math how can I figure out Hyperfocal Distance?” Well luckily there are many charts and programs and website to do that math for you. On the web you can go to and right there you can plug in your camera, focal length and aperture and not only will it give you the Hyperfocal distance. You can also use it to figure out DOF for other shooting situations.

But of course you don’t always have your computer around when you are out shooting. Well then do what I do, get a DOF ap for your smart phone. Check the ap store for your particular phone for DOF calculators and I’m sure you will find one no problem. The good thing about an ap on your phone rather then just using a website on your phone is even if you are in remote locations away from any signal, your ap will work.

Focus in Practice

Let’s take look at how this all works in practice.

Equipment used for this test was a Full Frame Canon 5D Camera along with a Canon 17-40 4.0 L Lens set to 17mm. All shots were taken at f/16  1/100 ISO 100

In the first example the Pencil cup was placed at the Hyperfocal distance of our lens and aperture setting. The Hyperfocal distance in this case was 2 feet. 

With the lens focused at 2 feet, our image is in the field of acceptable focus from 1 foot (half the Hyperfocal distance) all the way to infinity. The pencil can is sharp and if we look at the zoom you can see that the 12 Inch mark is clear. If we look at the background we can see that it falls well within the field of acceptable focus (remember that the point of focus is the only part that is perfectly sharp) 

















Now lets move the cup closer to the camera, in fact let’s make it extreme and place it at the minimum focus distance of the  Canon 17-40L lens: .75’

Placing the focus on the Pencil Can, We can see the can is perfectly sharp. The distant background is now slightly out of focus.














Setting the focus at the Hyperfocal distance, the background now comes into the field of focus and the pencil can looses some of its focus.


Placing the focus at infinity is the worst scenario and with the background in focus but no sharpness or focus whatsoever on the pencil can, our subject.






So here is where you need to make a decision. For me, I would place focus on the subject itself.  Because of the size and scale of the subject in the overall image, I want that totally sharp and would give up a little of the background focus

Making the decision

Here are some Guidelines to help you make that decision.

  • If your subject is in the background and no items of interest in the foreground: Focus at infinity done, sleep at night.
  • If you have a foreground subject but not one clearly defined subject, focus at the Hyperfocal distance
  • If you have a clearly defined foreground subject that is at or closer to the camera than the Hyperfocal distance, focus ON the subject.
  • If the composition and scale allows, place your subject at the hyperfocal distance. Best of all worlds

Here are some examples of when you would use what.

In this case with a clear and difined subject that was closer than my hyperfocal distance, I chose to focus on the subject, the tennis ball












In this image I have a foreground subject but it isn’t a single subject or point and I need the maximum depth of field. So I focused at the hyperfocal distance. Which in this case was on a 1.6X crop camera, 10mm Lens, f/20 and the hyperfocal distance was 11 inches

















Focus Stacking

Ok, so we are done right? Almost, what if I have tried everything and becauee of the combinations of focal length and distance to subject and aperture I just can’t get that deep deep DOF I need! Am I out of luck? Nope, your last ditch effort is: Focus Stacking.

Focus stacking is something that is done often with Macro photography. Because of the close distnace to subject and focal length used the total DOF is often in mm. So people will use sophisticated programs to stack images shot at different focus distance to blend into a single image with greater DOF. Well we don’t need to get that compliacted and we can take just two images, One focused on our subject and one focus at our background and blend those tow together using layer masks just like I showed you for adding adjustment layer masks.

This image was done just that way because I wanted to clouds and the mountain behind the poppy field to be in better total focus.











Hope that helps,


Quick Tip: Cure the HDR Blinky-Blackies

Ever get an HDR with this? {click to enlarge}

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Quick Tip: Cure the Blinky-Blackies

Ever get an HDR with this? {click to enlarge}


I call them the Blinky-Blackies, because they remind me of the blown highlight warning on my camera.

They are caused by the software getting confused. It usually occurs on areas of very bright light next to an area of shadow. This can be a very bright light on a car or plane or building, Or as in this case, Specular Highlights. Specular highlights are reflected light, You often see this on a body of water which is highly reflective and you are getting reflections of the sun itself that is MUCH brighter than the actual body of water. The software gets confused either because that bright light moves or flashes from one frame to the next or just the fact that the exposures vary so much from one to another on that bright highlight. The software says, should I be white or black here? Heck I don’t know, I’ll be both. And you get…the above..Yikes.

This specular highlight was cause by an oncoming train’s super bright headlight reflecting off the highly reflective surface of a galvinzed metal fence along the tracks and also on the tracks themselves, even parts of the building that were really lit up became affected. You won’t see Blinky-Blackies in any of your individual images, it something brought out in the merge and they are visible in the 32 bit merged file.

OK so now we have Blinky-Blackies. How do we fix them? Well, I used to clone them out, but well cloning is  a pain and well, it sucks. So why don’t we fix them before we even get to that point.

This is were we turn to what I think is one of the best features of good old Photomatix Pro 4.1  and some older versions (coupon code TheHDRImage)  The Selective Deghosting tool that I showed you how to use in this post

So the first thing we do in Photomatix Pro 4.1 is when this window pops up after selcting your images, Click the box Remove Ghost and check: Selective Deghosting

When the new window opens, we will select the affected areas and mark as selected


Next we choose the exposure we want to use to de-ghost by right clicking on the selected areas. In this case I chose the 0 exposure for  the fence and the +2 exposure for the rails.


Check the preview of the deghosting, if you are good, continue onto Tone mapping and you are done. No Cloning required


Hope that helps


HEY!  wait! don’t go! I’m already in the tone mapping and I don’t want to do the merge again. OK Lazy Butt. Luckily Photomatix Pro 4.1  in the latest version has a fix for you too. In the tone mapping screen, click the Selection button and select the areas that have Blinky-Blackies, right click them and select a single exposure for that area. I don’t think, for this, it works as well, but…then you’re the lazy one 😉



To download or purchase the amazing PHOTOMATIX  Pro 4.1 go to: HDR Soft Don’t forget to enter the coupon code:  TheHDRImage for 15% off your purchase