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.
Hope that helps,