Interior Photo Technique





Introduction: Interior Photo Technique

About: My favorite quotation is: “All you need in order to accomplish something great is a good idea and not quite enough money.” – Anon I live by that theme, and the ideas just keep coming.

While photographing my laundry remodeling project last summer, I discovered that there are two situations that are extremely difficult to capture in digital photography: light fixtures, and indoor spaces with windows.
Recently, I wanted to photograph our dining room with a homemade chandelier turned on and a bright, snowy scene showing through a set of windows. I wanted detail in the room, in the light fixture, and in the outdoor snowy scene.
Unfortunately, it is not possible to have it all in a single shot, no matter how much special lighting you have. As you can see in photos 2, 3, 4, and 5, you will lose detail somewhere in the photo no matter what exposure you choose.
The solution to indoor/lighting photography? 
1. Set the camera on a tripod. 
2. Take three or four exactly placed photos at different exposures: one to capture the detail outside the window, one to capture detail in the light fixture, and one or two to capture detail in the rest of the room. 
3. Mash all four photos in Photoshop.

Step 1: How to Mash Different Exposures

To mash photos with different exposures, you'll need an image editing software that works in layers. Photoshop is one of several that do so, and it is the software used here.
Before you "mash," or combine, photos, be sure to make COPIES of the photos you wish to mash. DO NOT work with originals.
Next, layer the photos as follows from darkest to lightest.
1. Open the second darkest photo, select the entire photo with the selection tool and copy.
2. Open the darkest photo and paste the second darkest on top. The second darkest photo will appear above the darkest photo in the layers sidebar.
3. Repeat with second lightest and the lightest photos, pasting them on top of the darker photos. All photos will now appear in the layers sidebar stacked from darkest to lightest.

Step 2: Correcting Exposure for Light Sources

To get the ideal exposure for all parts of the image, begin by hiding all but the darkest layer (click on the eye next to the layer you want to hide). Examine the darkest layer for anything you want to keep. Write it down. Do the same for each of the layers, then make all layers visible again. 
Select the eraser tool and set the opacity to a low number (I work with an opacity of 15% or so).
Since you can only use the eraser tool with one layer at a time, select the top layer and erase through the washed out areas such as the windows and the light fixture.
Repeat with as many layers as you need to reveal the desired exposure.
In the mashup below, I erased three layers of windows and two layers of light fixtures to get the desired lighting balance.
Last step: crop and adjust the overall lighting and saturation as desired, and save. To save as a jpeg, click on the layers option and select "merge visible" layers, then save.

Step 3:



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    14 Discussions

    Apparently I cannot get the website to understand I am not a bot when I try to reply to the comment so lets reply this way.

    Light is light. It is called "flash" because the duration is so short but it can be modified with the exactly same methods as any light.

    With the light fixture you could either change some serious bulbs in them and only burn them for the time you really need to, not as general illumination or you could screw in one of those E27-socket slaves. Even if you use hot lights in the sockets, the heat will not harm anything if the burn time is short enough.

    Balance the exposures. You are the photographer, you do the light. The only lighting level you cannot control is what is outside, what is inside is up to you. I do not know if any digital camera can do double exposures but with film things like the lighting fixtures could be exposed for a much longer time providing the outside light can be somehow shut out.

    Digital or film does not matter, the camera is only a tool to capture the light. The same lighting works, the same filters, colors, physics... the thing that differs is that with film you get continuous tones with grain, with digital you get a finite number of tones with pixels.

    Do not be fooled into thinking that the "old-fashioned" camera books contain information that cannot be used with the new-fangled digital. Look at pictures by Adams, Cornell, Capa, Cartier-Bresson, Hurrell, Leibowitz and a bunch of others and remember that they are not made on a computer, they are real. Recreate the scene and take the picture with your digital and you get the same result.

    Photography is about vision and light, it is not about cameras and materials. Think about computers, is it the computer or the person between the keyboard and chair that does the work; the same applies to photography: camera or photographer?

    Study the light and you will eventually become one with the scene, study the paints and you become one with the canvas.

    1 reply

    I've learned a lot about capturing light with a paintbrush, but I need hands-on lessons in capturing light with photographic equipment. Here's a humbling quote from Ansel Adams: "Knowing what I know now, any photographer worth his salt could make some beautiful things with pinhole cameras."

    There's a much easier way to do this. This is called HDR photography. Take the same 4 pictures.

    Open photoshop.
    File -> Automate -> Merge to HDR
    Select your images and follow the prompts. It will do everything for you.

    Using a free HDR tool can get you pretty similar results, without all the complicated hand work. Also, I'm pretty sure photoshop has a pretty robust HDR tool in it.

    1 reply

    THANK YOU! I had to look up HDR cuz I'd never heard of it before. High Dynamic Range tools let you do what I did automatically, aligning and mashing a range of exposures. Best thing is, there are several free HDR software out there! Newer versions of Photoshop have it as an option, but my Elements 5 doesn't. Will be downloading one of those free programs soon!
    Thanks again for the tip.

    I did something like this, but in the days long before photo editing software. I used multiple exposures on one piece of film. The first exposure and the last were separated by several hours. This also involved painting with light. That does not mean waving a flashlight while the shutter is open to make curved lines, but firing off a flash carefully multiple times while walking around in the camera's field of view. You can see my Instructable here. This could be done with a digital camera if the camera had a way of holding the shutter open for extended periods of time and had a way of opening the shutter more than once on the same frame.

    I once downloaded GIMP, the free photo editing software, but never learned enough about it to do what you did. It does work in layers and probably would do what you have done.

    5 replies

    Ah. You're talking about REAL photography--what few know how to do anymore. My hat's off to you!
    Yes, I think GIMP works in layers and is free. Too bad there are so few tutorials on how to use it. Perhaps that's what keeps people away.

    I no longer even have my film camera and equipment. We used to sweat blood to get what we thought was a good exposure. Now even a bad digital camera exposure is better than the best stuff I did back when. I began to experiment with GIMP basics. Then I got a Kodak digital camera and the Easy Share software allows me to make the few minor tweaks to my photos that have been all I need, so far. I do have a book on GIMP and expected to do some work with it, but it has not happened, yet.

    Amazon sells a book on GIMP. It is not free.

    at you can find great tutorials for GIMP including video tutorials.

    Another old-fashioned way would be to measure the outside light and add interior light to match.

    As an example with flash; outside lets say 1/125s at f/8 while inside the available light would sit at approximately 1/30s at f/8. Now add flash so that the flash exposure would be at f/8 with the shutter set to 1/125. Or flash to f/16 and shutter at 1/30 just as f/4 and 1/500 would have the same effect bearing in mind that on real cameras only leaf shutters can go up to 1/500 and still sync.

    The first thing to remember is to stay within the flash sync speeds, that is not to use a shutter speed that is faster than the maximum sync speed. The other is that electronic flash exposure is only affected by the aperture, not the shutter speed.

    This could also be done with hot lights but the problem would be the massive amount of light needed to balance the high noon outside.

    1 reply

    Wouldn't the flash create stark shadows? And how about the light fixture? How do you take old-fashioned photos of light fixtures with the light turned on? And then how to combine all the desired exposures in a single shot?
    P.S. I need a DSLR. Bet the options would open up over a regular digital.