Photographing rooms with windows is probably the most challenging aspect of real estate photography. The extreme dynamic range created by a dim interior of a home contrasted with the bright daylight of the outdoors makes for a difficult exposure.
There are many different ways to handle this high dynamic range (bright brights and dark darks) situation. These are a few that have worked for me as I get into real estate photography.
So far, I’ve found that flash is the easiest way to balance out the lighting. How does flash help? You set the exposure on your camera for the window lighting. Once the image of the window looks properly exposed, you’ll see the room is too dark.
Now you’ll just add flash in the room with some speedlights until the room is bright enough to match the exposure.
The simplest way to do this is to simply put one flash on the camera and point it straight up at the ceiling. The flash will likely be at full power. Then take the picture. This significantly brightens the room and will get it close to the brightness of the outdoors area through the window.
Close the Blinds
Okay, this one is probably a little too simple, but it’s something I didn’t think about in one of my shoots until afterward. Sometimes you want the blinds to be open so the potential home buyer can see the view outside the window.
But often, there really isn’t any view outside the window. For example, the view out the window may be the fence, the neighbor’s house that is very close to the home you’re photographing, train tracks, or other undesirable views. If that’s the case, it may be better to just close the blinds.
When you close the blinds, it’ll de-emphasize the nonexistent view and dramatically reduce the dynamic range.
HDR tonemapping is probably the most obvious way to approach a high dynamic range situation like this. Tonemapping means taking about 3 photos (one dark, one properly exposed, and one bright) and using software to take the pixels with detail to create a photo that can handle the brights and darks in the scene.
Tonemapping is much more popular among non-photographers (the real estate agents and potential buyers) than it is among photographers. Photographers have given HDR a pretty bad rap, but I generally find that non-photographers like the look of an HDR with a medium-strength affect applied.
Organic HDR is what I call it when you take a photo that is at a medium exposure (window a little overexposed and the room a little underexposed) and just use Lightroom to bring back the highlights and bring up the shadows.
Sometimes I call this “doing the splits” in Lightroom because your highlights slider goes all the way to the left and the shadows slider stretches all the way to the right.
This usually produces a very natural looking result, and I rarely find that bracketing gives much of a better result. A raw file is so infinitely adjustable that I usually find that stretching a raw file does quite well.
Wait for the Equalization Point
One way to fix the dynamic range problem is simply to wait for the equalization point. The equalization point is when the light outside matches the brightness of the interior lighting (dusk and dawn).
This is actually a very realistic solution for many real estate photographers, because we like to photograph the exterior in nice blue hour lighting anyway, so doing the interiors around the same time of day is a winning solution.
In a practical matter, there is no way a real estate photographer will get the good light for every shoot. Real estate agents often book shoots at horrible times of day for the lighting, but when it does work out to be shooting in good light, just pay attention to the equalization point and you’re gold.
I found that the equalization point would happen for the interior shots before the exterior shot. So if you plan your shoot at dusk and you shoot the interiors first, when you’re done with the interiors, it’ll be perfect timing to shoot the epic blue hour shot with the dark blue sky contrasted agains the warm house lights.
Let the Window Blow Out
Another option is to simply let the window light blow out. In portrait photography, this is common practice. Blowing out the background gives the photo a light and airy feel, which is well suited to real estate photography.
I certainly wouldn’t plan on doing this every time, and I’d never do it if the view is a selling feature of the house, but when you’re struggling to make a house look bright and clean, this is a viable option.
Whether you are clicking pictures of your windows for real estate or just for fun, it cannot be refuted that windows have a very important role to play in enhancing the overall look of the house. Therefore, in case your windows require repairs or replacments, so not shy away from getting the best home window replacement from Your Window Expert.