As smart as phones and cameras are now, they’re still a ways off from being able to think for you (at least the cameras. The phones seem like they’re getting pretty close). This ties in with one of the most common questions that I’m asked.
So here’s the problem. You’re photographing a room that has nice big windows and plenty of daylight. When you look at the resulting photo, the room is too dark. Why? Because the camera doesn’t know that the windows are supposed to be bright. It “thinks” that there’s way too much light, and compensates by cutting back on the amount of light it lets into the camera, resulting in the photo looking too dark.
The bright windows cause the camera to cut back on the exposure, resulting in a dark looking photo.
Here are some solutions, some easy, some more advanced. And before I go any further… please use a tripod! Even if you haven’t had your three cups of java this morning, it’s really difficult to hold the camera steady in the lower light levels that you find indoors. Plus, the more advanced techniques involve combining several exposures together, and they have to be perfectly aligned. Ok, here we go:
The most basic fix is to manually increase the exposure. This way the room will look properly exposed.
Better exposure for the room
While this is much better, the downside to this is that the windows may look way too bright, loosing all detail, sometimes even the window frames themselves will be washed out. You can certainly just go with this, but if you want to take it a step further, here are some options:
1. Add light. You can use a flash to make the interior of the room brighter, which will balance better with the exterior light. Avoid using direct flash, as it will create nasty shadows, make the foreground brighter than the background, and overall can tend to look pretty ugly. Better to bounce the flash off of the ceiling, which will soften it and make it more even looking.
2. Experiment with closing the blinds and curtains fully and partially. Try leaving window coverings open only on the windows not in the photo.
3. Try different times of day, when the outside light is not as bright.
4. If you can move the camera position to where you see trees or buildings outside the window instead of bright sky, that can be very helpful.
5. And now for the more advanced techniques: Photoshop…
a. One of the great things about Photoshop is that there are always several ways to do any one thing. One somewhat advanced technique is to take several exposures of the room and combine the windows from a darker photo with the interior of a lighter exposure using layers.
Note: When ever you are shooting several exposures that will be combined later, keep the f-stop the same, and change the shutter speed for different exposures. The reason is that when you change the f-stop, the images change slightly and may not line up well.
b. You can also try HDR, which stands for “High Dynamic Range.” This is also somewhat advanced, and the results can be great or disappointing. It also involves shooting several exposures and combining them together, using the software to automatically do the combining. You previously had to buy a third party program for HDR, but Photoshop now has an HDR tool.
c. This may be the easiest Photoshop solution. All of the DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) cameras and some of the point and shoot cameras offer the option to shoot RAW files. RAW files have much more exposure information in them. When you bring a RAW file into Photoshop, the RAW converter automatically opens. In the RAW converter, there is a slider called “fill light”. By moving this slider to the right, you can take an image that is somewhat darker, and open up (lighten) the shadows without affecting the bright areas too much. So, you’re starting with an image that has some detail in the windows, and lightening the room. There is another slider called “Recovery”. This slider will “unbrighten” the highlights so that you see more detail. Use both of these sliders sparingly, as they can easily degrade the image.
Here is what you can get with the RAW file:
Good exposure of room, detail in window
Notice how you can see the detail in the window frame and blinds.
The above photos have not been retouched or finished aside from what was described. Once you are comfortable with Photoshop, you can finesse to your heart’s content.
Use the above techniques, and take control of your camera for better looking photos.
Thanks to my client, Atlantic Realty, for the use of their location.