How to photo interior with windows
Photographing interior with windows is probably one of the most difficult tasks when photographing real estate. The high dynamic range that results from the dim interior of the house and the contrasting bright daylight creates exposure problems.
There are many different ways to deal with high dynamic range (bright brights and dark darks). Here are a few options that helped me when I got into real estate photography.
I still find flash to be the easiest way to balance lighting. So how can a flash help? You set the camera exposure to light the windows. But when the windows look good, the room gets too dark.
Now you simply add light to the room by using flash and making it light enough so that the interior matches the exposure of the windows.
The easiest way to do this is to place one flash on the camera and point it directly at the ceiling. Preferably, the flash should be set to full power. Take a picture. This method will brighten the room considerably and make it close to the illumination of the landscape in the window.
Close the blinds
Okay, this method is probably too simple, but it has come in handy in some of my shots. Sometimes you need the blinds to be open so a potential buyer can appreciate the view outside the window.
However, very often there is nothing noteworthy outside the window. For example, there may be a fence, a neighbor’s house that is very close, railroad tracks, or other undesirable scenery. In such a case, it is better to simply blind the windows.
When you close the blinds, it will take away the unwanted view and greatly reduce the dynamic range.
I photographed this room with the blinds closed for a better balance of light, there were no unwanted views outside the window
Tone mapping is the most obvious way to deal with high dynamic range, as in our situation. This technique involves taking three photos (one dark, one with the right exposure, the third light) and using special programs that end up creating a photo with balanced lighting and shadows.
The tonal compression technique is more popular with real estate agents and prospective buyers than with photographers. Professional photographers don’t like HDR photography, but I believe there’s nothing wrong with HDR photos with a little of that effect.
“Organic HDR” is what I call a situation where a photo is taken with medium exposure (windows slightly overexposed, room on the contrary underexposed) and then Lightroom is used to process it. The result is to bring back the light and accentuate the shadows.
Sometimes I call this “doing twine” in Lightroom because of the fact that the lightening slider constantly goes to the left and the shadow slider stretches to the right.
This usually produces a very natural result that is much better than a bracketed shot. An untreated shot also offers endless possibilities for correction and working with it produces excellent results.
Wait for the alignment point
One method of dealing with dynamic range problems is to wait for the alignment point. The equalization point is when the light from outside matches the brightness of the light in the room (usually reached at dusk and dawn).
This is a very good solution for many photographers, since the exterior of the building looks best at regime time, so taking interior shots around that time is a very profitable decision.
In practice, the photographer can’t get good lighting for every shot. Realtors often book photos during hours when the lighting is just awful. However, if you get a chance to photograph at a good time, just pay attention to the alignment point and everything will come out perfect.
I’ve noticed that the alignment point shows up better if you shoot the interior first and then move on to the exterior. So if you are planning to shoot at dusk, shoot the interior first and when you are done, get the perfect time for a mode shot with the dark blue sky and warm lighting of the house.
Allow the light to diffuse
Another option is to simply let the light in the windows diffuse. This is a popular practice in portrait photography. Scattering the background gives the shot a light and airy look, which works well when photographing real estate as well.
I don’t necessarily use this technique every time and would never do it if the view was the main feature when selling a house. However, if you can’t get the house to look bright and clean, this is a possible option.