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eBooks


Copyright Copyright Š 2010, 2013 Scott Hargis. All rights reserved. Published by PFRE Media LLC. Text, photos and diagrams Copyright 2010, 2013 Scott Hargis. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form or by any means including but not limited to electronic, mechanical, photocopied, recorded or otherwise copied without the express written permission of the copyright holder. Disclaimer The information provided in this book is for educational purposes only. The author and publisher make no warranty, express or implied, including the warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. The author and publisher do not assume any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of any information, product, or process disclosed, and do not represent that its use would not infringe on privatelyowned rights. Use this book at your own risk. All company names, product names, service marks, and trademarks referred to in this book are the property of their respective owners. Use of a trademark or service mark or any other term in this book should not be regarded as affecting the validity of the mark.

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About The Author Scott Hargis is a widely recognized interiors and architectural photographer based in the San Francisco Bay area.   “I create artistic photographs that communicate more than just basic information about a room or structure. My compositions strive to reveal the intent of the designer, interpreting their work into a two-dimensional image that accurately conveys the feeling of being in the space itself.   In an age when many photographers assemble images using extensive digital manipulation, I still prefer traditional field technique and close attention to detail to capture photographs that feel authentic, carry the integrity of the moment, and which require minimal retouching. My work is often described as creative, crisp, and technically flawless. I’m fast, easy to work with, and fun to be around.”   Scott’s photographs have appeared in numerous publications including the This Old House, Oakland Magazine, Alameda Magazine, San Francisco Magazine, Diablo Magazine, Better Homes & Gardens, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, Design Bureau, Women’s Day Magazine, and The East Bay Express.

Scott Hargis

A member of the International Association of Architectural Photographers, Scott shares his expertise with students at workshops throughout North America, Europe, Australia, and the Middle East. SEE MORE OF SCOTT’S WORK AT: www.scotthargisphoto.com www.flickr.com/photos/scotthargis www.scotthargisphoto.wordpress.com SCOTT’S LIGHTING FOR REAL ESTATE PHOTOGRAPHY VIDEO SERIES www.LightingForRealEstatePhotography.com

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Table of Contents 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

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Introduction .....................................................................................6 Fundamentals ................................................................................12 Equipment......................................................................................24 Basic Bedroom ..............................................................................36 Controlling Window Exposures.......................................................47 Master Bedroom.............................................................................55 Master Bath....................................................................................63 Larger Rooms.................................................................................69 Larger Rooms: Seven Case Studies ..............................................85 Ceiling Fans .................................................................................101 Lighting Multiple Spaces .............................................................114 Advanced Reflections ..................................................................121 Kitchens .......................................................................................132 Kitchens: Six Case Studies ..........................................................147 Special Situations ........................................................................164 Good Light ...................................................................................179 Post-Processing ..........................................................................186 Speed Kills ...................................................................................219 Out Of The Box ............................................................................230 Wrap ............................................................................................257 Glossary .......................................................................................262 Suggested Reading .....................................................................268 Behind The Curtain ......................................................................269

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Introduction

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ack in the mid-19th century, a chap named Sergei Levitsky was experimenting with new techniques in the nascent field of photography. He hit on the idea of using an electric light, which was also a little known novelty, to artificially illuminate a photograph. He later said: “…as far as I know this application of electric light has never been tried; it is something new, which will be accepted by photographers because of its simplicity and practicality.” Boy, was that an understatement. That’s what this book is about. My goal has been to lay out for you, as clearly and simply as I can, the specific techniques I use to make artificially lit (electrically lit, if you will) photographs of residential interiors. This included everything from simple, boxy, empty rooms to big complicated multi-room setups. I made a few false starts with this project, and it was some time before I hit on the best way to present the material. Then one day I got a call from a longtime client to shoot a whole house remodel. While photographing the living room it occurred to me that I ought to just follow the course of one photo shoot, from start to finish, and let all the challenges and techniques come up naturally, just as they really do in the field. If I needed to get a good view out the window while photographing the bedrooms, I could just take that opportunity to talk about how you can control your window exposures without ever leaving the camera or adjusting a single light. Or, if I needed to use an umbrella to light a wall that was covered with reflective artwork, I could use that as a way of talking about the family of angles and how to avoid reflections in glass. What an awesome idea! I could even leave in my mistakes, and how I corrected them. That would be way more interesting than a dry technical manual. And since the idea came to me in the living room of a perfectly good house, I’d just use that very shoot as the core of my book. To flesh things out a bit more, and cover as many of the myriad architectural and design challenges that are out there as possible, I’d digress and show examples from other shoots, to help drive home the points I wanted to make. And for certain really important topics, like reflections, or equipment, I’d simply step aside for an entire chapter and focus on each of them individually.

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Well, that house was on Helen Street, in Oakland California, and true to my idea, this book follows the actual shoot I did there. Helen Street isn’t an absolutely typical house. Being a modernist remodel of an old Victorian structure, it’s got an open floor plan that makes things both easier in some ways, and harder in others. But all the major rooms are present, and the techniques and equipment I used there are just the same as those I use in nearly every residential shoot I do. This book is intended for the intermediate interiors photographer. Many readers will be shooting for the real estate industry, and the techniques discussed will work extremely well under those conditions i.e., working fast. Still others will be shooting hospitality or commercial spaces, either for the architect, builder, or interior designer. While this book deals specifically with the use of small, battery-powered speedlights, the techniques it describes are scalable and will work with larger lights as well.

“You, dear photographer, must make your own decisions on exposure, and leave the green box behind.” My assumptions are that you are shooting with a DSLR camera, that you have at least two lights you can fire remotely (flashes that aren’t on the camera’s hot shoe) and that you are comfortable shooting in fully manual mode with both camera and flash. That last point is important because interiors photography does not respond well to the various auto settings on the camera! Aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and the little green box are going to frustrate and confound you when you try to shoot interiors, especially when using flash. This is because of the very bright elements in our photos, such as windows and bright interior lights, which fool the camera’s meter into exposing for the wrong stuff. The result is usually a slightly overexposed window with a severely underexposed interior. The camera sees the window, which is incredibly bright, and the interior which is equally dark, and tries to calculate an average exposure. The result is a blown-out window and a dark gray interior. You, dear photographer, must make your own decisions on exposure, and leave the green box behind. Getting your gear into true manual mode is often the biggest 7

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Introduction

challenge facing people starting out. Unfortunately, with the plethora of camera models out there, it’s also impossible for me to provide instructions on them. Read the owner’s manual. The goal is to prevent the camera from making any exposure decisions whatsoever, and the same goes for the flashes. The other big tech challenge is always the triggering system for remote flashes. Chapter 2 deals with the most common methods for this, and there are also lots of online resources as well.

“we’ll talk about both the art and the science of lighting rooms because you have to have both to be effective!” We’ll start off with lighting what I call the basic box, a simple bedroom. Bedrooms are great laboratories for learning this stuff because they’re small, uniform, and tend to conform to a few basic layouts. We’ll use that simplicity to illustrate some of the fundamentals of exposing and lighting interiors. Then, things will get more interesting. We’ll delve into bathrooms, living rooms, contemporary architecture, big rooms, big windows, multiple rooms, and kitchens. We’ll even be stepping into a pitch black attic, briefly. I promise to avoid boring charts and graphs. But we will talk about both the art and the science of lighting rooms because you must have both to be effective! In music, for example, it’s crucial to have mastery over your instrument. But simply being able to faithfully play the notes on the score is only half the game. The musician must be able to introduce her own ideas about the meaning of the music before it can truly resonate with the listener. Likewise, in photography, technical mastery over the exposure, lighting, and composition are the foundation, but it’s only when the photographer combines these with their own vision for the image that it truly comes to life! This is the tipping point when one goes from simply documenting a room to interpreting it. But I digress… You might well ask, who the heck is Scott Hargis? My official biography on my website says: 8

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“Scott Hargis is based in the San Francisco Bay Area and has lots of experience shooting really cool spaces. He works throughout the United States. Scott’s work has been published in This Old House, Women’s Day Kitchens & Baths, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Times, Wend Magazine, Bay Crossings Magazine, and others. He’s fast, easy to work with, and fun to be around.” All very true, especially the part about being fun to be around! I’ve been shooting interiors for about nine years, not very long by most standards, but they’ve been a fairly intense nine years.

“...shooting real estate is an awesome proving ground for interiors photographers, because you get a lot of experience very quickly.” Thankfully I’ve had the benefit of exposure to a number of great photographers who helped me along. Over the past six years, I’ve taught over 50 workshops in North America, Europe, Scandinavia, Australia and the Middle East. Teaching technique to hundreds of photographers has forced me to really understand the fundamentals of our craft, because it’s hard to explain things if you don’t have a solid grasp of their underpinnings. My clients include architects, interior designers, builders, and some of the top-tier real estate agents in the San Francisco Bay Area. I shoot interiors nearly every day, including today. In particular, shooting real estate is an awesome proving ground for interiors photographers, because you get a lot of experience very quickly. But it helps if you’re willing to push past the limitations of the genre and shoot with higher goals in mind. I mentioned a minute ago that I’ve been the fortunate recipient of a lot of advice and mentoring over the years, and I’d like to get specific about that here. Among the photographers and photographic illuminati whose wisdom supports much of this book are Martin Sundberg, Mark Costantini, Shirley Streshinsky, Aaron Leitz,Tim Wimbourne, Stephen Wirtz, David Hobby and Nick Merrick. 9

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I’d also like to thank Malia Campbell for encouragement, advice, and putting up with my nearly year long obsession over this project. Larry Lohrman, and Ian Lohrman for editing, proofreading, and of course publishing me. And finally, Linda Artel, who looked me in the eye and asked, “Why not?”, thus setting me on the path to professional photography. E-BOOK NAVIGATION NOTE To make this e-book easier to navigate we’ve made the little “Contents” that is on the bottom right of every page a link back to the Table of Contents. That is, just click or touch the Contents link and it will take you to the Table of Contents.

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Chapter 1 Fundamentals

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et’s get started by examining some basic principles of interior flash photography. Hang in with me for a few pages because if you can get your head wrapped around these concepts, it will really help you out later! This book is written with small, hot shoe flashes in mind. The techniques will “scale up” to more powerful lights perfectly well, but in my descriptions and methods, I’ll be assuming that you’re using speedlights.1 The goal is to work with the existing ambient light. When I say “ambient” I’m talking about the existing light in the room — the light we don’t have any direct control over.2 We’ll be starting with an ambient exposure that is based on the brightest object in the scene (usually a window or a light fixture) and then filling in the shadows with flash. The technique for doing that is the essence of this book. The key to controlling your window exposures while still getting a pleasing interior exposure lies in understanding the relationship between the flash, the shutter speed, and the aperture.

“The key to controlling your window exposures while still getting a pleasing interior exposure lies in understanding the relationship between the flash, the shutter speed, and the aperture.”

1Nikon calls them “speedlights”; Canon calls them “speedlites”. They’re called speedlights because of the rapid rise in output at the front of the curve, when you graph it’s performance. You can see it here: http://www.chem. helsinki.fi/~toomas/ photo/flash-discharge/ regular.html 2Now, when I say that you can’t control the ambient, that’s not quite true. If you have the time (and the budget) there are steps you can take to knock the ambient down a bit. See page 51 for a discussion of what steps you can take to affect the ambient light.

RULE ONE: SHUTTER SPEED DOES NOT AFFECT FLASH Your camera has a maximum “sync” speed (probably 1/250, maybe 1/200) above which it can’t synchronize the shutter with the firing of the flash. However, that aside, the shutter speed has absolutely zero impact on the flash part of the exposure. For example, imagine you are in a windowless, lightless room, with the door closed and the ambient exposure is nonexistent. There is no light. To take a flash-assisted photograph of the room, it wouldn’t matter if your shutter speed was 1/250 of a second, or 250 whole seconds! The shutter would open… sometime later the flash would go off... Bam! and the shutter would close. Flash duration from speedlights ranges from about 1/1000 of a second at full power, to well over 1/20,000 of a second at the lower power settings which is overwhelmingly faster than your camera. 12

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Here’s a typical set of flash durations at various power settings. The higher the power, the longer the flash duration, but even the longest one is four times faster than the sync speed on a DSLR camera:3 • • • • • • • •

1/1050 sec. at M1/1 (full) output 1/1100 sec.   at M1/2 output 1/2700 sec.   at M1/4 output 1/5900 sec.   at M1/8 output 1/10900 sec. at M1/16 output 1/17800 sec. at M1/32 output 1/32300 sec. at M1/64 output 1/41600 sec. at M1/128 output4

3Medium-format

So again, even at a relatively fast shutter speed, it goes like this: Shutter opens, wait for it… FLASH FIRES!! Shutter closes. All within a fraction of a second. Don’t believe me? Well, step in here and let’s give it a try. Here’s an ambient-only shot of an attic.5 This is ISO 320, f/5.6, 1/50:

cameras have a great advantage here. Because of the way the shutter operates, they can sync at insanely fast speeds, like 1/2000. Very, very useful! 4Actual flash duration varies with the brand and model of light you’re using, and is quite different (but still very fast) for packand-head systems and monolights. The axiom still holds: Flash is not impacted by shutter speed, until you exceed your camera’s maximum sync speed, at which point you’re forced to switch to aperture to control your exposure. 5If you’ve never tried,

Figure 1.1

There ain’t no ambient light in here, folks. Let’s break out a flash, and see what happens.

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you have no idea how hard it is to find a windowless room with a tight-fitting door! This was the best I could come up with in two weeks of looking. The bank wouldn’t let me photograph the vault, for some reason…

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Chapter 1 Fundamentals

This is a single SB-80, set to 1/16 power: 

6In photography,

Figure 1.2

See? I told you we were in the attic. Remember, this was at 1/50 shutter speed. Now, let’s drag the shutter a bit and see if we can brighten this at all. I’ll try one with a 5-second exposure (that’s 8 stops difference!6). That ought to totally overexpose things, right?

light is commonly measured not in absolute units like candle power, but in relative units called “stops”. One stop of light represents a doubling or halving of the original amount of light, depending on which way you’re going. So, when we say, “Increase your exposure by one stop”, we mean, “Double the amount of light entering the camera.” You could do this in several different ways. For example, if you doubled the shutter speed (holding the shutter open twice as long) you’d double the amount of light. Or, you could make the shutter speed 50% longer, and open the aperture 50% more. The combination of those two would equal a 100% increase in the amount of light. These are the fundamental tools photographers use to control the exposure. Most modern cameras will allow you to make adjustments in 1/3-stop increments.

Figure 1.3

Gee, it didn’t make any difference! Since our exposure is based 100% on flash, the shutter speed has no impact. And for ye of little faith, we’ll do one more, taking the shutter speed in the other direction to 1/200, which is my camera’s max sync speed: 14

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Son of a gun – looks just the same. I guess I was right!

Figure 1.4

“You can think of it like water through a hose— the bigger the hose, the more you’re going to get soaked” RULE TWO: APERTURE DOES AFFECT FLASH In fact, aperture affects both flash and ambient. Again, flash duration is extremely fast, always faster than the shutter. But the size of the hole through which the light will pass has a strong impact on how many photons make it through to your sensor. A tiny aperture means only a small amount of light (whether ambient or flash) gets in. A wider aperture means a lot of light gets in. You can think of it like water through a hose— the bigger the hose, the more you’re going to get soaked. When your kid squirts you with a garden hose, that’s just cute. When you get nailed with a fire hose, on the other hand, you’re not just going to get wet; you’re going to get hurt. Likewise, a really wide-open aperture means a lot of light is going to enter the camera. Come back in the attic with me for a second and watch what happens when I stop the aperture down to f/87 (we were at f/5.6):  15

7Going from f/5.6 to f/8 is a one stop difference. Whole stops, following the customary standards adopted by the industry years ago, are: 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, 32 There’s no way around it — you have to memorize this.

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Chapter 1 Fundamentals

Figure 1.5

Aha! Things got darker, didn’t they! Everything else stayed the same, including the flash output, but the hole through which the light was passing got smaller. Aperture affects all the light in the scene, ambient and flash.

“Use up all the shutter speed you have first, then go to aperture” This is why I recommend using relatively wide apertures for flash photography. You can use the shutter speed to control your ambient, so the real difference between f/11 and f/8 is only felt in the flash side of the exposure. Fewer watt-seconds are required to accomplish the same amount of work at f/8 than at f/11. You only want to stop down your aperture when you’ve maxed out your shutter speed. Use up all the shutter speed you have first then go to aperture. I can’t emphasize that last point enough. I’ve seen too many photographers trying to control their window exposures by going straight to f/22, and dragging the shutter speed out to 2 seconds to try to get the interior, then complaining that their speedlight isn’t powerful enough to light the room! Well of course it isn’t, at f/22 you might as well try lighting the room with your Zippo. You have about a thousandth of a second flash duration, and you’re trying to cram all those photons through a pinhole! 16

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And what’s the most common reason given for using those small apertures? Depth of field. Fair enough, but f/22 is still overkill, pal. At a focal length of 20 mm, when focusing on an object 6 feet away, your depth of field at f/5.6 goes from less than 3 1/2 feet to 25 feet. Unless you’re shooting a very large room, or doing a fancy composition with a very close foreground object, that’s plenty of depth of field.8 The bottom line is, if you really need to be shooting at smaller apertures9, which you will if you start landing architectural gigs, you’ll need additional watt-seconds of light.10 You can start ganging up speedlights, but there will come a point when you’ll need to invest in some more powerful equipment. In the meantime, you can learn this stuff, and produce perfectly good images, using cheap, fast, easy hot shoe flashes. Just don’t make your life more difficult than it needs to be! THE ROLE OF ISO The third element that allows us to utilize these nifty little hot shoe flashes is ISO. For you piano players, think of ISO as the key. When you move the ISO up or down, you can transpose your exposure to follow along. The melody (exposure) remains the same.11 A relatively high ISO will allow you to get more out of your flashes – a lot more. Today’s cameras perform better than ever at ISOs that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. I can tell you that ISO 400 on my Canon 5DmkII is better than the ISO 100 on my old 20D, and the 5dmkIII is even better! Nikon, Sony, Fuji and the other mainstream DSLR manufacturers have made equally stunning gains. And if you did the exercise in the sidebar, you’ve figured out that with the aperture steady, a higher ISO means a higher shutter speed – and we know that our flashes could care less about shutter speed, so long as we don’t exceed our sync limit. With hot shoe flashes, I’d rather shoot 1/200 at f/8, than 1/100 at f/11. The flash doesn’t distinguish between the two shutter speeds, but the wider aperture buys me an extra stop in effective flash power! SOME PRACTICAL ADVICE Ok, I just hit my limit on the boring theoretical stuff. Let’s talk practical for a bit. There are some basic things you should be doing, that will make your life easier.

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8You can find a great depth-of-field calculator, along with lots of other good tools, at www. dofmaster.com 9Most lenses perform best at the middle apertures, typically around f/8 through f/11. 10Let’s say you have an exposure of ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/50, and you want to go to f/11 for more depth of field. You’re cutting two stops from the aperture, so you’ll need to do two things: increase your output on the lights, and/or increase the time your shutter is open to the equivalent of two stops. This retains all the ratios. The shot will be identical but with added depth of field. 11Say what?! OK, so it’s a slightly flawed analogy. But try this, and you’ll quickly see what I mean. Set your camera to aperture-priority, and pick a nice, medium aperture like f/8. Now set your ISO to 100, and find an exposure of your shoes. Got it? Your shutter speed might be something like 1/50. Now move the ISO to 200, and see what the camera returns as a shutter speed. 1/25, right? And for extra credit, go to f/4 and watch the shutter speed return to the original 1/50.

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Chapter 1 Fundamentals

GET YOUR FLASH OFF THE CAMERA This is the single most important thing you can do to improve your photography, and I’m not talking about just for interiors, either! Think back to the last wedding you attended. The photographer probably had her flash stuck out on an awkward-looking bracket, about 18 inches off to the side of the camera. Remember? Even that 18-inch distance makes a big difference in the quality of the light. You’re going to go way, way beyond that, my friend. There are four good ways of triggering your flash when it’s not sitting in the camera’s hot shoe: 1. 2. 3. 4.

Sync Cord Radio Trigger Built-in Infrared systems (Nikon CLS, Canon i-TTL) Optical Slave

“Most windows will look their best when overexposed a couple of stops. Unless you have a named, recognizable landmark out there, you don’t need or want a vivid, saturated, detailed window exposure.” In Chapter 2 I’ll go into these in more detail. I use a combination of radio triggers and optical triggers, which I’ll explain in Chapter 2 as well. If you’re just putting your kit together, you might want to skip ahead and read that chapter before continuing. Go ahead, we’ll wait. You’re going to need some light stands to hold those remote flashes and I recommend using lightweight, small, video tripods for this. Again, see Chapter 2. USE ALL THE AMBIENT YOU CAN This should be obvious, but it’s a common mistake. Your first step, for every shot you do, should be to establish an ambient exposure that’s based on the brightest object in the scene. This is almost always either a window or a light fixture. I often zoom in on that object for my test shots. This makes it easier to “chimp”.12 18

12 Taking shots, looking at the back of the camera, and adjusting. Shoot, chimp, shoot, chimp, until you see what you wanted to see. Keep increasing (or decreasing) the shutter speed until you’ve got the highlights in the scene where you want them. You can add light to your photo, but it’s hard to remove the existing light! That’s why you have to expose for it.

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Chapter 1

Don’t turn on any flashes, yet. Starting with a relatively high ISO13 (I recommend you start out near ISO 400) and a relatively wide aperture (say, f/6.3), find a shutter speed that gives you the exposure you want on the brightest thing you care about.14 And don’t get sucked into the “underexposed window fetish”, either. Most windows will look their best when overexposed a couple of stops. Unless you have a named, recognizable landmark out there, you don’t need or want a vivid, saturated, detailed window exposure. At the same time, you don’t want to over-expose things to the point that you start losing detail on the window frames themselves! Zoom in on the back of the camera and make sure you haven’t lost the muntins and mullions. Watch for flare around the curtains, too. If you’re shooting RAW, you can expect to recover some of those highlights later, but not much more than about half a stop.

“Use big soft light sources. If you’re a portrait photographer, you know the benefit of using soft boxes, umbrellas, silks, and other diffuse light sources. The same thing applies to interiors.”

Fundamentals

13 Little-known fact: the “native” ISO on Canon cameras is actually 160, which means that you’ll get better quality at 160 than you will at 100. Not only that, but your camera will perform better at multiples of 160 as you move up the scale. You’re better off at ISO 640 than you are at 500! Nikon’s “native” ISO varies from model to model, generally between 100 and 200. 14 I routinely “blow out” can lights and even glass bell light fixtures. reality has it’s limits.

As a photographer, you have the creative control to determine exactly how much of the view you want to reveal to your audience. My advice is, don’t work your butt off to show me a view of the parking lot! Save that for when you’ve got Mt. Vesuvius framed in the living room window. So again, find an exposure that is just enough to control the brightest thing in the picture. Then, and only then, can you start filling in with flash. LIGHT THE FOREGROUND FIRST, THEN WORK PROGRESSIVELY OUT FROM THERE Now, you’ve established a base exposure using a flash-friendly ISO and aperture, you’ve examined the resulting photo and you’re ready to start filling in the shadows with flash. Step one is to mentally divide the scene up into “zones”. We’re going to go into this in Chapter 7, “Lighting Larger Spaces”.

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Here’s what I’m talking about:

Figure 1.6

If you’re working in a small room, like a bedroom, you can probably consider it all as one zone. But larger spaces, and multiroom shots, should be thought of in terms of several smaller discrete zones, which can then be lit separately. Your lights will surely overlap each other, but it’s still helpful to divide the task up into manageable sections. This is one of the most compelling arguments for using several small lights rather than one big light. Imagine lighting the scene above with a single light! Typically, your most powerful lights are going to be near the camera. For this reason you should start lighting the foreground first, and then move progressively further out. In the photo above, I lit the foreground first, then the staircase, and finally the adjoining living room. If you did it the other way, by the time you got around to turning on your most powerful light sources, you’d discover that they “reached” further than you anticipated, and you’d have to go back and readjust all your more distant lights. Again, looking at the photo above, some of the light from my foreground penetrated into the living room, but not the other way around. If I had lit the living room first, when I got around to lighting the foreground it would have overbrightened the living room. This’ll make much more sense once we start messing around with 20

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real-life examples, but for now, just take it as a mantra: Light from the foreground to the background. USE BIG, SOFT LIGHT SOURCES If you’re a portrait photographer, you know the benefit of using softboxes, umbrellas, silks, and other diffuse light sources. The same thing applies to interiors. For the rest of you, listen up! Small light sources make hard light, and hard shadows. In general, this is bad,15 and speedlights are about as small as lights get! Watch what happens when I shoot this figurine with direct flash: 

15There are exceptions. Sometimes, we want those hard lights, and deep shadows. But rarely will our primary, or “key” light be a direct, unmodified flash.

Figure 1.7

Need I point out the shadow? Wanna take a wild guess as to where the light is positioned? This is because the light source is scarcely bigger than the figurine itself. Now look at the same photo with the flash fired through an umbrella: 

Figure 1.8

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Beautiful! The umbrella transforms my 2-inch light source (the flash) into a 43-inch light source. Now, instead of all the light coming from exactly the same angle, we have light coming at the figurine from left, right, high, low, and straight on all at once. This light is big enough to “wrap” right around the subject, blanketing it in soft, natural looking light. This is what we want to accomplish with an entire room full of furniture. For that, we need BFL’s – Big Freakin’ Lights. But my bag is full of these little speedlights, right? It’s counterintuitive, but the best thing you can do is to turn your light around and aim it directly away from the scene you’re trying to light. Aim your flash at the wall, or the ceiling, and let the light bounce off that and then hit your subject. You can create a light source several feet across.

Figure 1.9

In fact, if you can back your light(s) off several feet from your bounce surface, you can create a monster light source that’s nearly the same size as the room you’re lighting. This is particularly useful when you have a high ceiling that’s not visible in the composition. More about that later. The illustration above gives you a feeling for the difference between direct light coming from your speedlight and bounced light that first bounces off a wall. So you got this? Wanna try photographing some interiors? OK, then, let’s do it! 22

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Chapter 2 Equipment

Y

ou know, I almost didn’t write this chapter. Part of me wants to insist that gear doesn’t matter, that a good photographer with good technique can make a beautiful photo regardless of the camera. The photo at the head of this chapter was made with my iPhone, for Pete’s sake!1 But, that doesn’t always work, and tools are important. So we’ll take a quick tour of the gear I use. I’ll list it out, in detail, and we’ll take a few side trips to discuss some of the reasons why I carry certain things. Try to remember that there’s lots of great equipment out there. Just because I don’t own it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be in your bag. For that matter, just because I do have it doesn’t mean you should run out and buy it. If you aren’t sure when or how you’d use something, then there’s no point plunking down your hard earned cash to get it. I’m a Canon shooter, and have been ever since I went digital.2 There’s a Nikon equivalent to nearly every lens and camera body I own: IN THE CAMERA CASE

1True story: I once made an iPhone photo, and emailed it right off the phone to the San Francisco Chronicle so a client could make a last-minute deadline for a print ad. 2I’ve also shot Nikon, Olympus, Fuji, and Pentax (not to mention Mamiya, Bronica, Sinar, Holga, and Polaroid). And my favorite toy right now is the Fuji X100s— that thing is sweet! The point is, they all make great photos. Don’t get hung up on brands. If you’re trying to decide between Nikon and Canon, do yourself (and everyone else) a big favor and just flip a coin.

Figure 2.1

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First off, that’s a Pelican 1510 hard case with my bodies and lenses. I love this case because: A) It has rollers, B) It’s big enough for two bodies and a good array of glass and C) it fits in the overhead compartment of an airplane. If I’m forced to gate-check it, I have absolutely no fears for my cameras. They test these things by throwing them off tall buildings!3  Inside the 1510 from upper left:

3If you don’t believe me about the cases, watch this video: http://www.pelicancase.com/torture-test. html.

• Canon 70-200 mm f/2.8 (with a pair of reading glasses in a green case on top) • Hoodman Loupe • Canon 1.4x Extender mIII • Schneider-Kreuznach 50 mm PC-TS Super-Angulon f/2.8 • Canon 17-40 mm f/4.0 • Canon 5DmkII camera body • Canon 17 mm TS • Canon 5DmkIII camera body • Canon 24 mm TS The 24TS-E is the workhorse, for me. It’s on the camera for 80% of the photos I make. For the quick-paced world of real estate photography, the 17-40 is hard to beat. That’s the perfect focal length range for interiors (17 mm is a little too wide, 40 mm not quite long enough, but it’s close). Most of the images in this book were shot with the 17-40. But the longer focal lengths get used regularly, too, even for interiors. The Schneider 50 mm is a pricey lens, but there are very few choices4 for a shift lens at or near that focal length, and to me it’s worth it. That’s another lens that gets used on nearly every shoot I do. We’ll go into more detail about lenses in a bit, but for now let’s move on to the grip stuff: IN THE LIGHTING CASE Figure 2.3 is the Pelican 1560 which is big enough to carry all my flashes, and lighting-related junk. Fully loaded, it weighs 47.5 lbs which is 2.5 lbs under the limit for Southwest Airlines!5

4The Canon 45 mm TS is a disappointment. Rumors are flying about an improved version coming out in 2014... we’ll see. If it’s in line with the spectacular performance of the 24TS and the 17TS, I’m in! 5I know this because

I fly a lot. Southwest has a policy exempting photographers from this weight limit, but I’ve given up trying to convince ticket agents who won’t even accept as evidence my printouts from their own website! /end rant.

Inside the 1560:6 • Eight Nikon SB-80dx flashes • Slik quick-release plates (for attaching flashes to Slik Stands) 25

6You can see a (slightly dated) video tour of my gear bag on my blog.

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• Nikon AS-19 flash feet • Pocket Wizards, cables • Westcott 43” Double-Fold Collapsible Umbrellas – two white Satin, one silver • Ball Bungees • Homemade grids for speedlights • Long USB cable (for shooting tethered) • AC power supply for 5D/5DmII (for long time-lapse sequences) • X-Rite Color Checker Card • X-Rite Color Checker Passport • Westcott Collapsible 22” Reflector • Westcott Collapsible 14” Reflector • Canon Remote Timer (TC-80N3) • Sekonic 358L Light Meter (with Pocket Wizard Transmitter) • Lacie “Rugged” 250-gig Portable Hard Drive • Homemade gel wallet with assorted gels • Extra Batteries (mostly AA, but at least one for everything that uses batteries) • Gaffer’s Tape (never leave home without it!) • Sensor Cleaning Kit, Rocket Blower • Lint, loose change, and probably that thing I’ve been looking for all week.

Figure 2.2

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OTHER STUFF • • • • •

Gitzo GT2531 “Explorer” (carbon fiber) Tripod Manfrotto 405 Geared Tripod Head Slik SVD-20 Video Tripods – (use ‘em as lightstands7) Lastolite 30” Tri-grip 48” satin umbrellas, unknown origin (I love Craigslist!)

MORE LIGHTING The kit described above is my “real estate” kit, and that’s all I’m taking with me on typical real estate jobs. For most of my work, speed is not a primary consideration, and I’ve got an assistant to help me out, so the equipment manifest gets pretty big. On those jobs, the heavy lifting is done with Elinchrom Ranger8 packs and heads, along with a few Bowens monolights and a small constellation of hotlights (I favor Arri and Lowel). Speedlights get used too, but in a supporting role, for the most part. The more powerful lights allow me to shoot at a lower ISO, and a smaller aperture, which does garner me extra image quality. The techniques are the same. Light is light.

7The Slik SVD-20 is discontinued, but there are plenty of similar models out. See below for a few more observations on using these as light stands.

8I like the Elinchrom Rangers because they’re battery packs, which frees me from having to find an outlet, or running hundreds of feet of cable to get to one, when I’m outside. They’re heavier, but it’s worth it, to me.

NIKON SB-80, AND FLASH TRIGGERING SYSTEMS

“...since I’m shooting in manual mode, the camera doesn’t even know there’s a flash(es) being used! So the make and model of the flash is irrelevant – I can use my Nikons, my Ascor pack-and-head system, or any other strobe. I don’t actually own a single Canon flash!” Figure 2.3

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If you follow my blog, you know about my love affair with the Nikon SB-80. I think it’s the perfect flash for shooting residential interiors. Check the FAQ section of my blog9 for the full dissertation on why I think this is the best speedlight to own, but here’s the abbreviated version: Even though I shoot with a Canon camera, I don’t use a flash on the camera’s hot shoe. I use my flashes off-camera, and I use a combination of radio triggers and optical triggers to fire them. And since I’m shooting in manual mode, the camera doesn’t even know there’s a flash(es) being used! So the make and model of the flash is irrelevant – I can use my Nikons, my Ascor pack-and-head system, or any other strobe. I don’t actually own a single Canon flash! The Nikon SB-8010,11 is great because it has a very sensitive built-in optical slave. An optical slave is a little sensor that detects any brief flash of light, and triggers the flash immediately. I use a Pocket Wizard (one on the camera, one on a flash) to fire my “first” SB-80, and the light from that flash then triggers all my other SB80’s. No cables, no adapters, no other radios involved! Again, to clarify: I use one pair of Pocket Wizards. One on the camera’s hot shoe, and one on the first flash I set up. That flash

9Check the FAQ section of my blog see: http:// scotthargisphoto. wordpress. com/2009/06/23/ packing-light/

10SB-80s are no longer being manufactured. But this was Nikon’s flagship speedlight for many years; there are gazillions of them out there. Watch eBay, Craigslist, and KEH.com for bargains. 11In the two and a half years since the first edition of this book came out, a few new players have arrived on the small flash scene. One notable one is Yongnuo (try saying that five times fast! Actually try saying it once, slow.) Yongnuo flashes seem to be quite solid. They’ve got reliable optical slaves, PC ports, and the flip-down Fresnel lenses, all for about $70! Can’t beat that. I’ll probably never let go of my Nikons, but if I were starting out now, I’d be looking very hard at the YN-560 flash.

Figure 2.4

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fires via the radio signal carried by the Pocket Wizard. Every other flash fires sympathetically via the built-in optical sensor. If you can’t afford Pocket Wizards, get any one of the cheaper knockoffs that are out there: Cybersyncs, Skyports, Cactus, RadioPoppers, etc. If you’re really tight on budget, you can use a sync cord (which you can build yourself) to get your flash off the camera.12

“The optical slaves are so terrific that they will fire even when a fire truck goes by outside...”

Another option is to use a speedlight on the camera, and that flash will fire your remote SB-80’s, again via the built-in optical slave. This is actually a very popular method, but I’d caution you to avoid the temptation to rely too heavily on the hot shoe flash. You can make “quick-and-dirty” images this way, but your foregrounds are going to be over-lit, and your ceilings over bright, you’re going to leave telltale shadows around the room. If you’re going to use an on-camera flash as your trigger, keep it down below 1/16th, use a diffuser cap, and relegate it to fill light status. The remote flashes should be doing the most work. The optical slaves are so terrific that they will fire even when a fire truck goes by outside (the rotating red flashing lights do it). Lightning, sparks, my client’s point-and-shoot, all will trigger my flashes.13 I can place them upstairs, around corners, even in distant rooms, and they fire every time. You don’t need lineof-sight for optical slaves to work.

“I can place them upstairs, around corners, even in distant rooms, and they fire every time. You don’t need line-of-sight for optical slaves to work.”

12If you’re new to offcamera flash, you need to spend a day reading the Strobist blog (www. strobist.com). Even though it rarely touches on interiors, the Lighting 101 section will walk you through the basics of off-camera flash, from the mechanics of firing them, to the techniques for using them. I consider this required reading.

13The sensitive nature of the opticals is a problem when other photographers are present! Also, they don’t work very well outdoors, so if you’re doing other types of shooting, you’ll need another method of triggering.

Other Nikon flashes that have this same capability are the SB-26, SB-700, SB-800, and SB-900. The SB-26 is limited in it’s power range, though, and the SB-800 and 900 are very pricey. If you’ve got the budget, then by all means buy those flashes, they’re really good and you won’t regret it. But you’ll be shelling out upwards of $325 per flash. One specific model to avoid, in my opinion, is the 29

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Nikon SB-600. It has no optical, and no PC port, making it doubly difficult to use remotely. Meanwhile, the humble SB-80 goes on eBay for between $125 and $220. The key component is that optical slave! Canon flashes do not have optical slaves. Most don’t even have PC ports. And that concludes our discussion of Canon flashes. Before we go on, a word about infrared systems. Nikon CLS is a fantastic system of controlling multiple, remote flashes from the camera. Canon’s version of this is E-TTL. Both rely on a combination of tiny, very fast preflashes and/or an infrared signal to convey information back and forth from the camera to the flashes. It’s problematic for interiors because it is designed for line-of-sight situations meaning each flash needs to have an unobstructed view of the camera. The infrared signal will bounce off of walls and propagate around corners almost well enough to work. In practice, it works well enough to piss you off, if you know what I mean. You’ll soon find yourself frustrated by the “it worked fine a minute ago” syndrome. Optical triggering systems, on the other hand, propagate very well around corners, and even into remote rooms. You’ll be amazed at the reliability!14 The disadvantage, of course, is that you’ll have to walk around and adjust the power settings on each flash manually. But this is not a particularly onerous thing. I find that I’m as likely to be “tweaking” the exact angle, or placement of a flash as I am the power setting. There’s no avoiding it, you’ll have to come out from behind the camera!15 In any event, when choosing a speedlight, the characteristics you should be paying attention to are the PC Port (it should have one; this is where you’ll plug in a radio slave, if you’re not using opticals), the WAD (stands for wide angle diffuser, it’s the little Fresnel lens that flips down over the business end of the flash), and the ability to power the flash down to at least 1/64 power, preferably in 1/3 stop increments. Lower power settings are more important than higher ones! MISCELLANEOUS NOTES ON EQUIPMENT Lightstands: I’m not a fan of using standard C-stands16 for interiors work. They have two problems: they don’t get short enough, and they have a really big footprint. The big footprint makes it hard to hide them in the rooms we’re photographing, and 30

14It’s good to have a reliable set of radio triggers, even if you’re relying exclusively on optical slaves for your interiors. Many times, for example, I’ve needed to light an interior room while I was shooting a twilight exterior from across the street. Only a radio system can do this reliably. 15One recent product that is a real time-saver is the CamRanger, which allows you to get a live feed from your camera onto your iPad – and you can control the camera remotely, too! This means you can be out in the room, adjusting a light, and make test shots from right there, and see the results, all without returning to the camera for every shot. It’s like having a photo assistant! 16The term “C-Stand” is commonly meant to be any large lightstand with three legs, capable of holding a boom arm or a strobe. There are competing legends about the origin of the term, it’s fun to Google it.

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the height limits the places you can put them, too. Remember that the flash head itself adds a few inches of height overall, so forget about hiding this behind the sofa, or the kitchen counter. Little video tripods, on the other hand, can get as low as 22 inches, and are stable with the legs pulled in very tight. My Sliks17 will stand up with no wobbling and take up as little as three square inches! That lets me put them up on ledges, behind structural columns, and in impossibly small corners with no pesky leg sticking out for me to Photoshop out later! That said, there’s also a time for jamming your lights way up high into the air, and for this I do carry a couple of 12-foot stands around, just in case. You’ll also want to keep a couple of lights on the little flash foot (Nikon part number AS-19) that lets the flash stand upright on it’s own. This lets you place your lights in really wacky places like the tops of doors, as in the Basic Bedroom setup, which you’ll see in the next chapter including inside cabinets, on the floor behind the kitchen island, in the bathtub, you name it. I frequently have flashes perched on the edges of framed artwork that’s hanging on the walls (be careful, there) aimed up into the wall/ceiling joint. Works great!

17One of the biggest advantages to the video-tripod light stand is the quickrelease plate you get – leave it attached to your flash, and you can be set up and ready to shoot in a matter of seconds – no more fiddling around threading brackets onto those little ¼” studs. Just “Clip” and you’re ready to go.

Lenses: Obviously you’re going to be shooting wide-angle if you’re doing interiors. But do yourself a favor, don’t go overboard on that. Most of the high-end interiors you’ll see are shot at or near 24 mm, which is the customary sweet spot for architectural interiors. That’s why Canon and Nikon make that wonderful, wonderful Tilt-Shift lens at that focal length! It works for interiors, just as 85 mm and 105 mm work for head shots. Of course you aren’t constrained to using a fixed focal length all the time, after all, that’s why they make zoom lenses, but you probably don’t want to depart too far from the norm. CURSE OF THE UFWA In lens parlance, anything less than 50mm is considered “Wide-Angle”. And anything below 35mm is called “Ultra-Wide Angle” (or “UWA”). And beyond that? I have a client who speaks scornfully about “UFWA”… which I’ll let you figure out for yourself. What I’m trying to get around to say is this: don’t shoot too wide. One of the most popular lenses out there is the Sigma 1031

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20 mm (available in Canon and Nikon mounts). Both Canon and Nikon make a similar zoom lens that’s a little better quality, but for the money, the Sigma is hard to beat for an entry-level lens. This lens, and it’s cousins, are made for crop-sensor18 cameras, so the “effective” focal length is closer to 16-35 mm. In my opinion, anything below 17 mm (about 12 mm on a crop sensor) is outlandishly wide (UFWA) and should be avoided. Sure, there are exceptions, and remember, I’ve got a 17 mm in my bag, but don’t make it the rule. Your compositions will suffer, and it’ll be miserable to try to light, too. Read that last sentence again. Extreme wide-angle shots are also extremely hard to light well. Never mind that they’re aesthetically lacking, now they’ll be poorly lit, as well. Avoid it.

18Most crop-sensor bodies are either 1.6x (Canon) or 1.5x (Nikon). When I discuss focal lengths, I’m assuming the “effective”, or postcrop focal length. If you’re shooting with the Canon Rebel series, for example, your lenses are effectively 1.6 times longer than their stated focal lengths. Full-frame cameras don’t do this.

“Most of the high-end interiors you’ll see are shot at or near 24 mm, which is the customary sweet spot for architectural interiors.” If you’re shooting real estate, then you have the hardest job of all, in some ways. You’re expected to shoot very wide! But still, you don’t need to show all four walls of a room in a single shot. Tighten up those compositions and your clients will sing your praises. The other big issue with wide-angle lenses is the distortion that’s inherent. All lenses introduce some level of distortion, but what we as interiors photographers really care about is barrel distortion, which makes our beautiful straight lines appear curved, and the perspective distortion, which causes objects near the edges (and especially in the corners) to appear s t r e t c h e d. It’s a common myth that full-frame camera bodies will reduce the distortion, but in fact there’s no difference whatsoever. A 1.6x crop body with a 15 mm lens will deliver the exact same image as a full-frame body with a 24 mm lens. However, there is one big advantage to a full-frame sensor and that is, better glass. Remember that in order to achieve the same focal length, a crop sensor body must use a much shorter lens, as short as 10 mm! That’s asking a lot, even with today’s lens technology. It’s way, WAY easier for lens makers to produce high-quality optics at, say, 20 mm than it is at 8 mm. With a full-frame body, you can take 32

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advantage of longer focal length lenses and their inherently higher quality, and still have the same wide field of view. It was the advent of full-frame digital bodies that made 35 mm cameras viable for architecture in the first place!

“Don’t shoot too wide. Your compositions will suffer, and it’ll be miserable to try to light, too.” It’s also worth mentioning that the second most common lens I pull out of the bag is my 50 mm, followed closely by the 70-200. That’s right, a 200 mm lens, for shooting interiors. Can you say, detail shots? OK, I wandered a bit off the trail there, but ultra-wide-angle interiors shots are a pet peeve of mine, and I indulged myself in a bit of a rant! You’ll notice that I didn’t go into the functionality of tilt-shift lenses at all in this book, and I’m not going to, either. They’re incredibly useful, and there are photographs you simply can’t make without them, but I’m drawing a boundary here and taking this book back to it’s roots, which is lighting! BATTERIES My last bit of wisdom for this chapter is batteries. Use rechargeable batteries! They will pay for themselves very quickly if you’re doing any volume of shooting at all, and besides that, they’re the responsible thing to do. You shouldn’t be tossing your spent batteries in the trash any more than you should be pouring your used motor oil down the storm drain, and yet finding a proper disposal facility for batteries is a pain in the butt. So just avoid the issue and get a few sets of Eneloops, or MaHas, or whatever brand you like, and you’ll be happy. I can get a full day of shooting out of a single set of AA batteries unless I’m really taxing my lights heavily, and a good rapid-charger can juice them up in the time it takes to eat lunch, if necessary. I do carry a quantity of regular alkaline batteries for emergencies, but the environment will thank you for relying on the rechargeable batteries, as will your wallet. I’m going to end this chapter the same way I started it, with the admonition that ultimately you, the photographer, are the single 33

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most important item on the equipment list! Being smart, and using good technique will allow you to make fantastic images regardless of your gear. Remember that the cameras used by Julius Shulman, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, and others were woefully primitive by today’s standards. No auto-focus. No built-in exposure meters. No live-view. No fancy auto-bracketing. They had one overwhelming advantage, though, they had a highly developed ability to sense composition and light, and they used that to see the world through their cameras. Bring your brain to your shoots and you too, can produce great work, even if you’re shooting on an iPhone!

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B

y far the easiest place to get started is in a simple, relatively small, regular-shaped bedroom! Here we can really keep track of what our various light sources are doing, and experiment with them in a uncomplicated setting. While there are exceptions, bedrooms tend to conform to some regular standards. They are usually rectangular, with few complex angles. They are dominated by a single large piece of furniture (a bed) and the options for compositions are typically constrained. As I said in the introduction, we’re going to tackle this process by following a real-life shoot at a real-life house in Oakland, California, and that shoot begins in about two pages. We’re booked to shoot a remodel on Helen Street, and we’ll have three bedrooms to photograph, one is a basic box that couldn’t be easier to photograph. The second has a little architectural feature that will make us adjust our setup slightly, and the master bedroom is big and features a couple of challenges. Perfect! We’ll go through them one by one.

“There is already an off-camera light source present in the room when you arrive - the ambient light source.” But first, let’s take a look at a completely empty, totally “vanilla” box, so we can really see what each of our lights is doing. There is already an off-camera light source present in the room when you arrive- the ambient light source! Step one is to assess the ambient lighting, to see what it’s doing and from what direction it’s coming. Most likely the dominant source will be the window(s). Our goal will be twofold: 1) to find an exposure based on the window that shows the exact amount of detail outside that we want, and 2) to use fill lighting to gently “fill in” against the ambient and bring the levels up to a range that’s pleasing. Exposing for the windows is where you exercise your creative control. You have to decide just how much detail you want visible outside. Is there a view of a beautiful mountain range out there? You’re going to want a rich, saturated exposure that really makes them pop. Is the view just the crappy siding on the neighbor’s 36

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house? Then you’re going to want to overexpose that window a couple of stops. In general, unless the view is truly the major feature of the room, you’re going to want to leave the window somewhat overexposed. OK, so lets take a look at our really simple bedroom. This is an unstaged, small bedroom with a modest city view in downtown San Francisco:

Figure 3.1

Here’s the ambient exposure. This is a urban high-rise condo, and so the view of the neighboring skyscrapers is definitely part of the appeal. We don’t want to hide that, but it’s not so interesting that we need to really focus on it to the point of distracting from the bedroom itself. So, I elected to overexpose the window just a bit. The exposure here is ISO 320, f/7.1, 1/30. Notice that we’re shooting with a relatively high ISO. This gives our flash plenty of leeway to operate. The interior itself, however, is a bit dark and gloomy. It’s hard to tell exactly what color the walls are and it doesn’t look very inviting. We need to brighten this up a bit. We’ll start by adding our main light which we’ll position above the camera. In this case, I’ve balanced a speedlight on top of the door overhead. It’s aimed so that the light bounces into the wall/ceiling joint, and then radiates down and into the room from there. Here’s what that looks like: 37

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Figure 3.2

See how big the hot spot is? It’s like having a 3 foot by 4 foot soft box above the camera! This will yield beautiful, soft light that will blanket our room, wrapping around objects and looking very natural. And the resulting shot:

Figure 3.3

Not too bad, and in fact you could probably stop right there and complete the job in Photoshop. But we’re trying to cut down the time we spend in post-processing, and the far wall still needs to be brighter. So we’ll add one more light. This one will be out to one side. Since it’s the right-most wall we’re interested in, we’re going to position the new light out to the left side, where it can be aimed 38

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at the right-most wall directly.

Figure 3.4

Notice that the second light is not bounced. Not that bouncing would yield bad light, it wouldn’t. However, in this small room the hot spot would also spill out and into the scene we’re capturing. Because this light is out in front of the camera, the hot spot from a bounce would spill into the ceiling, and the strip of wall to the left of the window, making them too bright. The solution is to aim the light directly into the room, and feather it across the scene using the wide-angle diffuser flap (WAD). This is “direct light”, and you’ll find that it is much more powerful than bounced or diffused light! The power setting on this flash will likely be at or below 1/16! Here’s the final result:

Figure 3.5

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There’s no reflections, even illumination on the walls, still some retention of ambient (note the slight vignetting in the corners, which helps keep a sense of depth). This one’s in the can! This setup is highly reliable. The key is to think carefully about the placement of the lights. Having your fill light too far out to the side can result in an extreme side lighting of the wrong wall, and induce terrible shadows. This becomes even more of an issue when the room is furnished, which is what we have on Helen Street. But let’s remember that the goal is not to eliminate all shadows, that would look really fake. In fact, the absence of shadows is the epitome of flat lighting. The goal is to manage the shadows, and not create unrealistic ones, or ones that simply don’t work on an aesthetic level. SMALL FURNISHED BEDROOM OK, ready to shoot this house together? Let’s get started with the smallest bedroom. Here’s the layout of our Basic Bedroom on Helen Street:

Figure 3.6

Shooting from the doorway, we get this view:

Figure 3.6

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The very first thing we do is to establish an ambient exposure based on the brightest thing in the scene (that we care about), which in this case is the window. This bedroom has a fairly unexceptional view, so I’ve elected to over-expose it a couple of stops. Notice that I retained enough detail that you can see the louvered blinds. This exposure also gives us a nice glow from the lamps. Still, the rest of the interior is a bit dim, and the color is way off. We need light! We’ll do the exact same thing we did in the “primer” bedroom at the beginning of this chapter, bounce a light into the wall/wall/ceiling joint above the camera. This will be our main, or key light, and because of where we’re putting it, it will beam down and into the room.1 Here’s what the speedlight on top of the door looks like: Figure 3.7

1Any shadows this light produces will fall down and away from the camera, where they’ll be either invisible, or less visible.

2But wait, you’re saying.

I’ve simply balanced a speedlight on the top edge of the door (careful not to whack the door with your elbow) and aimed it up and into the recess formed by the walls and ceiling.2 And here’s what that gives us:

Figure 3.8

41

Aren’t you getting a tan “tint” to the light when you bounce it into a tan wall? Yep. But you can get away with bouncing into surprisingly bold colors. Pastels are definitely not a big problem. In this case, I corrected it easily by using the white balance eyedropper in Adobe Camera Raw to set the white balance for the windowsill, which was painted white. Any white object in the room will work as a color calibration target for your eyedropper; if you want to be very accurate, get an X-Rite color checker card and include it in a test exposure.

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Not bad. Many will stop right there and move on to the next room. But I think we can take this a bit further still, with one more light. We’ll bounce that one in from the right side, since there’s nothing over the bed that can reflect it back into to the camera. If there were glass-fronted artwork, or a mirror (they’re really the same thing as far as we’re concerned!) then we would have to do something else. Here’s what that looks like:

Figure 3.9

And here’s the shot with both lights:

Figure 3.10

Notice how much “crisper” everything looks. Comparing back to our ambient exposure, you can see that we have much better color and definition throughout. The combination of a very large light 42

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(over the door), and a smaller light (the tighter bounce at camera right) results in a well-illuminated shot that still retains edges and three dimensionality. That second light we added, creating a relatively small hot-spot on the wall (see figure 3.11 above) is throwing soft shadows off of the pillows and lamps. Those shadows are what help give these objects definition. This is very much what I “saw” when I was standing in the doorway.3 BEDROOM NUMBER TWO Ready to try something similar, but with a twist? OK, let’s head down the hall to bedroom number two.

Figure 3.11

3It’s interesting to note that what we just did is exactly the same thing portrait photographers do when photographing people – a main or “key” light from a relatively elevated position close to the camera, and a fill light from the side. We’ve replicated a basic headshot setup and turned it into a basic bedroom setup!

Again, our first step will be to get our ambient exposure:

Figure 3.12

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Here, I’ve elected to retain quite a bit of window exposure. The layout of this room is not a perfect regular rectangle. It has a little vestibule in the doorway that is going to force us to alter our “Basic Bedroom” setup just a little. Bouncing a light into the wall/wall/ ceiling joint in this room is going to cause some trouble, because of that little entry. This is the setup:

Figure 3.13

Figure 3.14

And this is the resulting photo:

Figure 3.15

Yikes! Check out the shadow line running through the left side! Going back to the floor plan to the right, it’s obvious what happened. So what do we do? No big deal, we just have to move the light 44

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out on a short stand, stick it on top of the bookcase, and aim it over the camera onto the wall above and to the right. It’s almost as good as a corner bounce:

Figure 3.16

Figure 3.17

And we get this result:

Figure 3.18

Quite frankly, I think this is fine, and no more lights are needed! Let’s move on to controlling window exposure and then to the master bedroom. 45

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Chapter Chapterxx 4 Controlling Window Exposures

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efore we move on to the other rooms in our house, let’s take a minute and think about window exposures. Controlling windows is perhaps the biggest technical challenge we face when photographing interiors. Our exposure decisions are almost always driven by the windows. If we are exposing for the interiors alone, the windows are usually completely “blown out”, or overexposed. While this is acceptable to a certain extent, depending on your aesthetic and the goals of the photo, it’s very rare indeed when a single ambient exposure can encompass the entire dynamic range present in both the outside and the inside.1

We’ve already seen how to light a Basic Bedroom, but now let’s go back in there and see what kind of creative control we can exert on the windows. This is a key skill to have, and it’s not really that complex. Let’s revisit that first “basic bedroom” shot we made, and try some different options. Here’s the final shot we ended up with on our Basic Bedroom:

1There’s also a certain amount of psychology involved in windows – viewers expect the window to be brighter than the room itself, most of the time, and so presenting them with an underexposed view of the mountains is likely to send people’s reactions into, or even beyond, the uncanny valley.

Figure 4.1

Remember how I decided early on that I wanted to overexpose that window? Well, let’s just say, for the sake of an example, that I changed my mind. I’m looking at my nice bedroom photo on the back of the camera, and thinking, “Man, how sweet would it be to have some nice blue sky showing instead of the great white wasteland up there?” No problem. Here’s where all that business about flash duration and shutter speed is going to pay off. 47

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Because my interior is lit primarily by flash, all I have to do to pull in more window is to jack up the shutter speed. The shot above was at 1/30. Now we’ll turn off the flashes for a minute and make a new ambient shot, but at 1/160:

Figure 4.2

Nothing else changed. All I did was increase my shutter speed by a little over two stops. Now I’ve got blue sky and, quite frankly, more detail in the neighborhood than I really want.2 But what will happen to my nice interior exposure when I turn the flashes back on?

“...it’s very rare indeed when a single ambient exposure can encompass the entire dynamic range present in both the outside and the inside.”

2The key to this exercise lies in estimating the percent contribution of ambient and flash to the overall exposure.

Almost nothing, that’s what. Shutter speed doesn’t affect flash exposure. The only thing we really lost was the glow from the lamps. “But wait a minute”, you’re saying. “In the ambient shot, the lamps look great, how come when you turned on the flashes they went so dead?” Aahh, here’s where it gets tricky. The light from my flashes, bouncing off the lampshades, is much more powerful than the 48

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Figure 4.3

pathetic (but pretty) little glow from the light bulb inside. Luminance trumps all, in photography. So the light bulbs no longer really register in the final photo.

“...something has to give. How important is the view, really? Are you willing to sacrifice a quality interior to get it?” Now we see the great trade off that occurs when we try to pull in a window exposure at the wrong time of day. You sacrifice the beautiful ambient light that existed in the room before you started messing around with flashes. We replaced the ambient with flash. There’s no getting around it, a really difficult room, combined with the wrong time of day, and the need for a very strong window pull, means something has to give. How important is the view, really? Are you willing to sacrifice a quality interior to get it? In the really extreme situations, at the least, you’ll want to use these techniques to get yourself into a good position to finish the job in Photoshop. A slightly overexposed window view can be selectively darkened, and a slightly underexposed interior can be brightened. At least you’ll be starting with quality material that will respond well to a simple curves or levels adjustment, and won’t require blending multiple shots together. 49

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Now it gets really fun. Without ever leaving the camera, we can just “walk” the windows up and down at will, until we see something we like. Watch, all I’m going to do is adjust the shutter speed down, a little at a time, until I have a combination of window pull and lamp glow that I like:

Figure 4.43

Figure 4.5

3At ISO 320, and f/7.1, you’ll start to lose your incandescent bulbs around 1/100, depending on how bright they are. By 1/200, they’re pretty much gone. By contrast, below 1/30, they start to blow out. Below 1/15, even the lampshades tend to start blowing out. 1/60 is a great place to be to retain some nice glow from light fixtures.

Figure 4.6

OK, right there we went too far! But you get my point – the interior exposure stays pretty close to constant, while the windows and lamps get brighter and brighter. Where is the perfect exposure? Who knows, that’s your job, Mate. You have to apply your own aesthetic, based on what’s to see out there, and how important the view is relative to the interior. Sometimes a blown window is artistically crucial. Sometimes you have the Brooklyn Bridge framed in the living room window, and it’s the entire reason you’re there. Hell, it’s the entire reason the house is there! At any rate, if the daylight isn’t what you’d wish for, you’re going to be faced with 50

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a hard decision about quality of window light vs. quality of interior light. There are a few things you can do to mitigate this. If you’re shooting for real estate, you’re unlikely to do any of them; but here’s the roster of fixes, in order of ease/effectiveness: 1) You can come back later. At twilight, the ambient exposure outside will be much closer to the ambient exposure inside, meaning that the flash-to-ambient ratio will allow a longer shutter speed and less flash. In fact, if you’re lucky, you may find that you don’t need additional light at all, and can go with ambient across the board! Life is sometimes good. On the other hand, you get about 15 minutes of perfect conditions every evening. Good luck shooting the whole gig in 15 minutes!4 2) You can take a separate exposure for the lamps, and blend it in to the flash exposure in Photoshop. This is not as hard as it sounds, and depending on the complexity of what’s around the lamps, can look pretty good. A great deal of the highest end interiors photography involves blending ambient and artificially-lit exposures together. 3) You can take a separate exposure for the windows and blend that in to your flash exposure in Photoshop. This can be a major league pain, and here on Helen Street, with venetian blinds, It’s pretty much impossible. This involves masking around every window frame, and every object that’s in front of the window. Easy, if it’s a situation like the following:

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4Unless, of course, you’re in Scandinavia or some other high-latitude place, where twilight can literally go on all night long! Imagine having six or seven hours of “magic hour” every day!

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Figure 4.7

There’s an entire industry of software designed to help you mask complex paths. But on the other hand, you might also encounter something like the room below.

Figure 4.8

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Go on. I dare you to mask that window. I double-dog dare you!

“Sometimes everything is working in your favor, but at other times, a window replacement is painfully obvious.” The other problem with masking in windows is getting the transition from window to interior right. The window frames, and curtains, and even the furniture in the vicinity of the windows are all in a transition zone where they’re receiving both outside light, and your artificial light, and getting that zone to look natural can be difficult at best. Sometimes everything is working in your favor, but at other times, a window replacement is painfully obvious. In the worst cases, the windows end up looking like travel posters taped to the wall. 4) You can scrim the windows. This means going outside and gaffer’s-taping some sort of window screen material over the window, to cut the light. It’s like putting sunglasses over the window. I use grid cloth, which is a black fabric mesh much like mosquito netting. It cuts one stop of light, but can’t be seen by the camera. One stop is a lot, and makes lighting the interior much, much easier. It also takes a ladder and about half an hour to do it. The main thing to take away from this chapter is that you, the photographer, have an entire arsenal of tools at your disposal to deal with this situation. Use ‘em!

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Chapter Chapterxx 5 Master Bedroom

Figure 5.1

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y now you should be getting comfortable with the basic approach to lighting simple bedrooms. Now we’ll take it up a notch. Here’s a more complex room, the master bedroom. This one’s going to get a little more interesting.

You won’t be able to do this with a single bounced light over the camera. Why? Because of the slight L shape, we’d need to have the light way out to camera right and anything we bounce in from over there is bound to show up as a big, old nasty reflection1 in the windows and artwork on the far left wall. Besides, the room is a little big for a single light. If it’s strong enough to reach all the way to the further corners, it’ll be too strong for the foreground areas. We’ll have to be a little more subtle.

1We’ll be looking at reflections in-depth in Chapter 10

By now, you should know the drill. We’re going to start with an ambient exposure, and build from there. I don’t see any reason at all to pull in detail in these windows, so we can drag the shutter a little. But there is direct sunlight hitting those blinds, and I don’t want them to dissolve into a blob of white, either. I’ll settle on 1/100 at f/7.1, ISO 320. Here’s what that looks like: 55

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Figure 5.2

I’m just barely keeping detail in the window frames, but still I’m clipping shadows under the bed, and the whole room looks dingy and uninviting. I’ve got a feeling we’ll be tweaking this base exposure before we’re done, but this will do for now. Let’s get to work!2 We’re going to light the foreground first. We don’t have a doorway behind us, this time, so the light is just on a stand, about 5 feet high, and aimed into the wall from a distance of maybe 3 feet. It’s set at 1/4 power. Note that we’re not sending it into the wall at camera left – that would create a big glare in the artwork on the near wall. Instead, we’re putting it off the white door behind and camera right. It’s not the perfect angle, but it’ll work OK. Figure 5.3 below shows what we get from that:

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2One of the keys to gaining an intuition for this kind of work is keeping the roles of ambient and flash separate in your mind. As we saw in Chapter 4, you have complete control over both, so we can build this shot based on this exposure, but change it later on and simply adjust the flash component accordingly.

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Figure 5.3

Way better already! But it still seems flat. The foot of the bed is too dark, and overall it lacks that little “zing!”. Our first light is positioned carefully so it’s just out of the reflection zone in both the artwork on the right, and the window on the left. We need to add another light somewhere camera left to bring up the dark areas on the bed. Instead of a soft blanketing light, let’s throw in a hard light that will cut across the scene and introduce some shadows. No, I’m not going to just bomb it with a bare-bulb flash at full power. I’m going to use a wide-angle diffuser (WAD) to feather a low-power speedlight across the scene very gently. This light is placed in the far left corner, just out of sight, and is aimed more or less at the closest bedside lamp. If it were aimed more at the bed, it would also be hitting the far wall, and since it’s in such close proximity, it would totally overlight that wall, to say nothing of the weird shadows I’d get off the two framed pictures over there.

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This is a direct light, so just a little bit goes a long way; I’ll set it at 1/16 and see what I get:

Figure 5.4

This looks OK, but at this point I’m seriously reconsidering my original decision about the windows. With the light I’m adding, the blinds have become, well, blinding! I’m going to have to cut some of the ambient before I’m done. With that in mind, I’m going to add one more bounced light source and then start walking my ambient exposure down little by little until this whole thing settles in where I want it.3 It would be possible to bounce the new light off the bathroom door, but my composition is so close to that wall that there’s not enough room for a light stand. If I place the light so close to the wall that it isn’t visible to the camera, my hotspot will be too small to provide that nice soft light I want. So instead I’m placing the light way up high, where it’s safely out of the camera’s view, and bouncing into the high wall above the bathroom door at about 1/8 power. Here’s a setup shot of what we’ve put in place: 58

3I do this in the field all the time. Because I’m keeping the ambient and flash components separate in my mind, I can finish building out the flash exposure and then return to the ambient, or vice versa. In this case, the addition of the flashes in pushing the window frames and blinds to a brightness that’s beyond the range of the camera to capture; they’re blownout. I still need the flash for the interior, but I’ll have to cut out some ambient to bring back those windows.

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Figure 5.5

And that gives us this photo:

Figure 5.6

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Good grief! I’ve totally over-exposed it at this point. But, I actually think I’ve got my three flashes pretty well balanced here. All I need to do is start walking the overall exposure down, step by step, and this should work. I’ll start with shutter speed. Here’s the same shot, but at 1/160:

Figure 5.7

And again, at 1/200:

Figure 5.8

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That maxes out my shutter speed (higher than this and I can’t sync with my flashes), so if I want to cut any more, it’ll have to be with aperture. This is going too slowly, I’m going to jump straight to f/9:

Figure 5.9

And there it is! The photo I was trying to make in the first place! Now that I’ve cut out some ambient, you can really see the effect of that second, direct, light we placed. Look at the definition we got behind the pillows on the bed. With bounced lights alone, this would be much flatter lighting. One last thing. The ability to massage your exposure and adjust the ratio of flash to ambient is not just because you might change your mind. Mother Nature sometimes has her own agenda too, and you don’t want to spend a half hour setting up a beautiful portfolio shot only to be reduced to weeping and gnashing of teeth when the sun disappears behind a cloud!

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Chapter Chapterxx 6 Master Bath

Figure 6.1

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ext up, we’ll tackle the master bathroom. This one is relatively modest, with just a double vanity and a simple bathtub. The toilet is in an adjoining closet. We’ll take a pass on photographing that! But this room can teach us something. First off, the bathroom is generally a good place to use a lot of ambient light because you aren’t usually going to need to worry about pulling in a great view. Again, there are exceptions to this, but this one isn’t one of them!1,2 There are limits to how much ambient we can use. In this case the limiting factor is not the window (which is only visible in the mirror anyway) but the light fixtures over the sink. They are the brightest objects I care about in this photo, so they are what I’ll be basing my ambient exposure on. To get this angle, I set the camera up in the shower stall, where I’m just barely out of the reflection in the mirror: 63

1While the prevailing view is that small bathrooms like this require extremely wide lenses, I take the opposite view; most of my bathroom shots are at or near 20 mm. I try to compose around the fixtures: the vanity, mirror, tub/shower, and any windows or other features. In general, the floor, walls, and ceiling are of secondary importance. 2I’m also not usually a fan of portrait orientations on bathroom photos. Too often, they result in a photo that shows too much floor and ceiling, with only a narrow band of interesting stuff in the middle (which could be cropped into a great landscape-orientation photo!).

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Chapter 6 Master Bath

Figure 6.2

I’m still blowing-out the center of the light fixture globes, but I’m OK with that. I just don’t want to lose the shape of the fixtures themselves. Looks like we need to find a replacement light bulb for the left hand fixture, too! The first thing I’m going to do is to assess the ambient I’ve got. It seems to me that the darkest area is on the left side, and also the upper right corner is pretty dim. I’ll start by adding a light from camera left. Now, there’s not much room over there, but I can fit a light stand in and bounce the light off of the folded-up shower curtain, and see how that works out:3

3It’s also perfectly possible to shoot a separate exposure for what’s in the mirrors, and mask it in later. It’s easy to do, and the result is great. Real estate photographers, however, are often tasked with editing 30, 40, or even 60 photos per day (usually at night), and an extra minute per photo means the difference between going to bed at 11:00pm or midnight! Little things add up.

Figure 6.3

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All right, that’s a good start. Still, it lacks punch, so let’s add a second light, bounced off the ceiling, from somewhere between the two mirrors:

Figure 6.4

Sweet! Now we’ve got good, even light and crisp edges. This is classic real estate photography. A viewer can really see the tile work, the colors, and the details in this bathroom. Here’s the final setup with the lights:

Figure 6.5

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Why didn’t I bounce that first light off of the door? Because the composition wouldn’t allow it. Remember, the camera was actually back inside the shower stall, and the left edge of the photo skims right in front of that door. I couldn’t get the light far enough away from the door itself to provide a useful hotspot. The next best thing was to nestle it in against the shower curtain, right beside to the camera, and work with that. Before we leave this room, let’s try an experiment. Even though I’ve found that for the purposes of real estate there’s essentially no quality difference between ISO 400 and ISO 100. I know that many photographers are loath to use the higher ISOs for fear of digital noise. So let’s see if we can achieve the same result here with a lower ISO. From ISO 320 (where I shot this room) to ISO 100 is 5/3 of a stop. So to retain the same amount of ambient I’ll need to slow my shutter speed down 5/3, and my flash outputs will need to go up 5/3 as well, to keep everything equivalent. Aperture can remain the same.4 So now my exposure settings are: ISO 100, 1/50, f/7.1. And my first flash (curtain bounce) goes from 1/16 to 1/4 – 0.3. My second flash (ceiling bounce) goes from 1/32 to 1/8 – 0.3. Here are the two shots, side by side5:

ISO 320

Figure 6.6

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4For you musicians, try this analogy: the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO are the notes, but they can be transposed to another key by maintaining the exact ratios from one note to the next. In this case, we’re going to retain the same ratio of ambient to flash, but in dropping the ISO, we have to adjust the shutter speed and flash outputs to match the new key of the song. ISO 320 is the Soprano; ISO 100 is the Tenor, but they’re both singing the same melody. 5Don’t try to do the math in your head! You’ll just get a headache. Your flashes probably adjust in 1/3-stop increments, just like your camera’s exposure settings. So just count the “clicks”. As you dial your ISO down from 320 to 100, you count 1-2-3-4-5-clicks. Then, on your flashes, you count up 5 clicks, and your shutter speed goes down 5 clicks.

ISO 100

Figure 6.7

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Can you tell which is which? They’re virtually identical. What if one of my flashes had been close to full power already? I could simply add a second flash, right next to the first one, and adjust them both until combined, they equaled the desired output. No problem. I could do the same thing with aperture if I decided I needed more depth of field. Or for less, I could simply adjust everything else the same number of stops up or down to keep the ratio of ambient to flash identical.6

“And to be frank, for real estate purposes, the gains in image quality simply aren’t worth the extra work.”

6This is actually really fun to do, in a geeky sort of way, and an afternoon of shooting test shots while tethered to a laptop is all you need to really get a grip on this stuff.

So, you’re thinking, “Why not do this all the time? Isn’t ISO 100 better than ISO 320, or 400?” Well, sure it is, but at what cost? In this example, we weren’t working our flashes very hard, so we had room to crank them up when we shot our ISO 100 version. But what if they were already at 1/4 or 1/2 or more? We’d very quickly find ourselves running out of flash power. Sure, you can double them up, or go out and get some monolights or a pack and head system that can deliver plenty of power, but then you’d be losing the fast, nimble, lightweight factors that allow us to put these shots together quickly. And to be frank, for real estate purposes, the gains in image quality simply aren’t worth the extra work. When you feel it’s appropriate, you’ll know how to get to those more optimal settings, and you’ll know when to lug those big powerful lights out of the car, but for 90% of your day-to-day real estate photography, ISO 320 is plenty good, as evidenced by the comparison above.

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Chapter 7 Larger Rooms

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K, we’ve shot some small spaces like bedrooms, and now you’re starting to feel pretty comfortable with them, right? And, I’ve bent your brain around enough technical baloney for the time being, so let’s get on to the fun stuff. In most cases, the larger rooms in a house are the money shots: the living room, great room, family room, rec room, etc. They’re generally bigger, and sexier, than any of the bedrooms. And they’re usually way more important to your client, so this is where your time and energy are going to be spent.1

Because we’re working with larger spaces, we suddenly have the advantage of having more elbow room to operate. We could fit an umbrella in, for instance, or a reflector. Of course, bounced and direct lights will also still have their place in the arsenal.

“...keep in mind that the super-wide compositions are going to come with a price tag.” The first thing to do is to assess the space itself and find a composition you like.2 I’m a strong proponent of shooting tighter compositions, even for real estate photography, which tends to favor ultra-wide lenses and three-wall compositions. In my view, by creating too wide a composition not only are you diluting the essence of the photo, you’re also making it increasingly harder to light! Every square foot of space you include in your photo is another square foot of space unavailable to you for lighting it. So, keep in mind that the super-wide compositions are going to come with a price tag. Our house on Helen Street features an open floor plan, which makes carving out a living room shot quite easy. We’ll start off with it, then in the next chapter we’ll take a look at some other, more traditional spaces and how to tackle them.

1This is why, when shooting real estate, I often start out shooting the bedrooms and secondary rooms. I get them out of the way quickly, reserving my time and energy for these more valuable shots.

2Most of the interiors photography you see in books and magazines is shot at 24 mm or higher. 24 mm is a de facto “standard” for architectural interiors, with a few exceptions. Both Canon and Nikon feature a very highquality 24 mm Tilt-Shift lens that is a must-have for serious shooters.

The living room (or “great room”) has a fireplace, and large windows looking out to a patio. Fireplaces and windows are essential elements to include in your composition! 69

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Figure 7.1

I’ll position the camera near the invisible line dividing the dining room from the living room, and frame the shot to include the built-in bookcases, the fireplace, and a large swath of windows and patio doors. I’m shooting over the couch, but I don’t want to include the back of the couch.3 I’ll include just enough of the tops of the cushions so that the viewer has a good reference point and knows what’s going on along the right side of the image. Here’s my ambient exposure:

3It’s crucial, in my opinion, for the viewer to have a clear line of access into the photo; I avoid compositions that make me feel “blocked” from the space I’m showing.

4f/8 buys me almost Figure 7.2

This is ISO 320, f/8, 1/100, at 26 mm. Why f/8? Because I’ve got that sofa cushion right up in the foreground, and I didn’t want it to be too soft.4 I also made sure my focus point was relatively close to the camera, as I feel it’s more important to have the foreground objects sharp than the background objects. 70

12 inches of depth of field on the near side, over f/6.3. In this shot, my camera is about four feet away from the near corner of the couch; that 12 inches of depth of field makes the difference between sharp and not sharp.

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Chapter 7 Larger Rooms

Notice also that I retained a fair amount of detail outside. The patio was important to my client, so I wanted to show that there was furniture and the privacy fence. Now, this is really not much different from lighting the bedrooms we’ve been working on. It’s a slightly larger space, but not by much.5 My first thought here might be to bring my main light in from above and camera right, but that isn’t going to work because of the big glass doors. They’d reflect any light source that’s camera right. In fact, if you look at the left-most door, you can see the reflection of the kitchen windows! So my first step will be to close those blinds in the kitchen. In the next shot, you’ll see that reflection has been knocked down quite a bit. If I wanted to kill it completely, I’d have to cover it physically, probably with some black fabric.

5With open floor plans, I often shoot a broad overview photo that shows the overall space, and then move in and “carve out” discrete spaces that represent living room, dining room, etc. In this case, I’m reversing that order, for the purposes of the learning curve.

But at any rate, I’m tired of light that comes down from above the camera. It’s time to shake things up a bit! For this shot, let’s bring it in from camera left, and in a more directional way. Whenever possible, we want our light to look like the existing ambient light. If there was a wall to my left, I might bounce a light off of it, but as you can see from the diagram, there’s a big open space over there instead. Time to break out an umbrella!

Figure 7.3

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Figure 7.3

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There are a couple of things to notice, here. One is that we can’t just crank this thing up and nuke the room, because by the time we get the walls lit, the near edges of the sofa are going to get cooked.6 Secondly, how come this umbrella isn’t reflected in the windows over the fireplace, and/or in the glass-fronted artwork over the mantle?

“The great thing about umbrellas is that they send light out in a near perfect hemisphere. That’s also the thing that makes them a pain in the butt.”

6This is a good time to point out that the Inverse Square Law is very much in play here. Light intensity decreases as the square of the distance from the light source.

Well, in the case of the windows, it’s because the umbrella is too low to fall into that family of angles. That’s just geometry. As for those square paintings, there are safe zones in-between them, and I’ve positioned my umbrella (after a couple of tries) in a spot where it is between those glass panels. At any rate, here’s the photo:

Figure 7.4

Wow, all that from one little umbrella (well, actually, it’s a mediumsized umbrella, 43 inches to be exact). How’d the back of the sofa get lit from an umbrella that’s way out to the left? Ceiling bounce, my friend. The great thing about umbrellas is that they send light 72

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out in a near perfect hemisphere. That’s also the thing that makes them a pain in the butt. Generally, bigger is better when it comes to your lights, but a shoot-through umbrella is hard to control, it just sprays light out in all directions. In this case, it works. So we’re done, right? You have to be kidding – I’m never going to do something that simple! Let’s spice this up a bit with some direct light. I’m going to bring one in from the exact diagonal opposite of our umbrella. This is a cross-lighting technique that can really bring some depth to the image. We don’t need a lot of light.7 Our umbrella has gotten us 95% of the way to our desired exposure, but we need some highlights, and in my opinion, the far end of the scene needs a little push. I’m going to set a light with the WAD deployed down at the far end of the near sofa (that’s camera right) and aim it at a point somewhere between the camera and the umbrella:

7Direct light plays very differently from diffuse light. A little goes a very long way.

Figure 7.5

And that gives us this photo:

Figure 7.6

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See the nice highlights we gained along the top of the near sofa? The coffee table pops a little more, too. Could you do this in Photoshop? Sure. But I’d rather do it in the field. And now, for extra credit, can you find the reflection of that second light? It’s there, and I was able to anticipate it, find it on the back of the camera, and make sure it was in a good place for cloning out later. (see red arrow)

Figure 7.7

THE OVERVIEW SHOT OK, let’s shoot one more angle on this space. Since it’s an open floor plan, I want to show how the living room connects to the rest of the house. I’ll move the camera down to the double patio doors that are just to the left of our first photo, above, and try to capture the entire length of the space, all the way down to the kitchen.

Figure 7.8

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By the way, the camera is actually outside for this shot, with the field of view barely clearing the door frame. Why? I wanted to shoot this with the longest possible focal length, which pulls the distant kitchen in much closer than it would appear with a wideangle shot. The focal length in this photo is 22 mm, still very wide, but not so wide as to create significant distortion.

“Get the foreground lit, then work your way out from there.” By now, you know the drill. I’m going to establish an ambient exposure, and then start lighting, working from the foreground to the background. Here’s the ambient shot:

Figure 7.9

Pretty dark! But I’m trying to control those kitchen windows, which are seriously back-lit with direct sunlight streaming in. The exposure here is: ISO 320, 1/125 at f/8. The key to lighting these larger spaces is to divide them up into zones, and treat each one separately. Of course, there’s going to be some overlap with regard to your lights, but if you can chop the space up mentally it helps to organize things. In this case, I’m 75

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seeing a foreground area, the living room, and then a dining area, and a kitchen— Three distinct zones, which I’ll light separately.8 Secondly, it’s best to light things from the foreground to background. Start in close, then work your way out from there. Often, the darkest areas are the little nooks and crannies way down at the far end of the scene, and it’s tempting to start tucking lights in odd places down there right away. But in practice, you’ll find that your larger light sources are going to penetrate much further than you think. By the time you’ve lit your way from the foreground out to those little doorways, pantries and breakfast nooks, they’re going to be much brighter than they were when you started. Get the foreground lit, then work your way out from there.

8This is going to come up in a big way in the next chapter, where we’ll be looking at a variety of “large spaces” scenarios. Mentally dividing up the composition into distinct lighting zones is crucial to keeping it all straight!

Since we’ve already got an umbrella out and ready from the last shot, we’ll use it here, just like we did in the last shot, bringing it in from the right:

9If you’re wondering

Figure 7.10

Crap. It didn’t work – see the big reflection in the artwork over the mantle?9 Worse than that, I’m not really getting the brightness I need. In this case, I’m going to reposition the umbrella over the camera, so it can be aimed more generally down the length of the house: 76

why I couldn’t just move the umbrella more to the right, so it struck more between two of the art pieces (like we did in the tighter shot above), the answer is the angled bay window way down in the kitchen. It’s angled just right to reflect our umbrella back into the camera. This could probably by worked around, but I’m electing to go with flatter light for the sake of simplicity here.

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Figure 7.11

That’s better. No reflection, and a bit more brightness, extending all the way into the dining area. Let’s add one more light for the foreground, and then start working our way down towards the kitchen. My second light will be that hard “kicker” with the WAD that we used in the first shot. I’m going to put it camera left, at the far end of the sofa, and aim it across the coffee table towards the open space on the right. The exact aim of this light is crucial. Too far to the left and the fireplace will get hit much too hard. Too far to the right and we won’t get any benefit from it! The umbrella is a jackhammer; as long as you’re reasonably close it’ll do it’s thing. Moving it 6 inches this way or that is not going to make an appreciable difference. This direct light, however, is more like a sculptor’s chisel. Go easy with it, and make sure it’s in the right place! About 1/16 power should be good.

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Here’s what we get with the kicker added:

Figure 7.12

It’s subtle, but we picked up some brightness on the coffee table and the sofa. Time to move on to the dining area. I’ll bounce in a light from the right side. This light is aimed at the wall that’s just out of frame on the right edge of the photo, about opposite the dining room. It’s set to 1/8 power:

Figure 7.13

Looks good, but check out the third picture from the left, over the fireplace. I caught a reflection. Truth be told, I caught a much 78

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bigger reflection than this on my first try, and this was the best I could get after repositioning that light several times. To make it go away completely, I had to reduce the size of my “bounce” to the point that it no longer gave me a good quality of light in the dining area.10 This is the compromise I settled on; good light, and a pretty easy fix later in Photoshop. The reflection is confined to the white edge of the picture, and the frame. I can fix that up easily. Let’s move on. The last zone I need to deal with is the kitchen. There’s no good surface on the right side of the kitchen for me to bounce a light off of, and anyway my photo cleaves so close to that side that there’s no place to put a light anyway! Instead, I’ll hide one right behind the far edge of the fridge, and aim it (with the WAD deployed) back across towards the dining area. Why not straight into the kitchen? Because the windows, being so close to that light, would get too hot. I want to feather this light across the kitchen and dining area.

10How do you reduce the size of a bounce? You move the light closer to the surface you’re bouncing off. This is the reason why I generally avoid using the WAD when bouncing – you can get out of control quickly!

Figure 7.14

This is looking pretty good so far, but I want to do one more thing to try to liven up the kitchen. What we’re mainly seeing in the kitchen is the cabinetry under the sink, and of course the windows. None of that is really getting any light from my flash next to the fridge. I’m going to put a light on the floor behind the counter, and bounce it into the cabinetry to brighten the area under the sink.

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Here’s what I get:

Figure 7.15

Well, cool, that worked OK, but look at the area high on the wall above the dining room table – whoops! This is what we call “spill”. 11 The light I put on the floor in the kitchen is aimed slightly up, and it’s far enough back from the cabinets (I wanted a big soft bounced light, remember?) that some of the light is escaping right over the edge of the counter and hitting the wall and ceiling directly. It’s easily fixed. I’ll just aim the flash head a bit lower, and move it in closer to the cabinets. I could also block that light with a piece of cardboard called a gobo.12

Figure 7.16

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11Again: avoid using the WAD when bouncing lights. It throws relatively hard light out in almost 180 degrees, and will easily spill out into areas you don’t want it. 12Rooted in the film industry, “flag” and “gobo” are two very different things. But many still photographers (including me, sometimes) use them more or less interchangeably. “gobo” is shorthand for “goes before optics” and is an object designed to interfere with the light as it hits the subject matter. A “flag”, on the other hand, is an object that blocks the light from directly striking the camera, where it might create lens flare or other problems.

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Problem solved! This photo looks pretty nice, and a skilled Photoshop guru would take it even further. But just as we did with our bedroom shot, I’m just curious to see how much more ambient this shot will take. Let’s drop the shutter speed down from 1/125 (where it’s been all along), to 1/60. We’re doubling the amount of ambient in the exposure, and I’m not doing a thing to my flash:

Figure 7.17

Whoa. It really came to life! And, the clipped areas of the highlights didn’t really expand at all.13 This is something I’ve learned to do: before I strike my lights, I shoot a few extra frames with varying shutter speeds, to see just how far I can push an exposure. You’ll be pleasantly surprised quite often. You might also notice that I removed the dried plant arrangement in the upper left corner. It looked terrible to me!

“This is something I’ve learned to do: before I strike my lights, I shoot a few extra frames with varying shutter speeds...”

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13A note about back lit windows: Counterintuitively, when sunlight is streaming in through the windows, the trees and other objects outside are actually at their dimmest because the sun is behind them. As in this case, you’ll have intense highlights on the window frames and other areas where the sun is hitting straight on, but the actual view out the window is likely to be quite manageable. You can make incredible photos shooting almost straight into the sun.

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The following two photos show the lighting setup for this shot:

Figure 7.18

Figure 7.19

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One last thing, and then we’ll close this section. When you’ve got a nice setup like this going on, don’t pass up the chance to pick up extra photos! Without moving a single light, without changing your exposure at all, you can make several different compositions. Move in, move out, throw a longer lens on, shoot some details. These are free photos, folks! Here’s an alternate composition I made by switching to a 50 mm lens and going to a portrait orientation:

Figure 7.20

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Lighting Larger Spaces

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Chapter Chapterxx 8 Larger Rooms: Seven Case Studies

O

ur house on Helen Street that we’ve been shooting in previous chapters is, admittedly, atypical in many ways. It’s an old Victorian that’s been gutted and redesigned with an open floor plan, which makes photographing it both easy and challenging, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. In this chapter, I thought we should look at some other spaces that are very commonly encountered, and see what techniques we can bring to light them. We are going to look at two big spaces with high ceilings, a large space with a lower ceiling, and the special case of cove ceilings (ceiling curves to meet the walls), plus a large area where there’s no place to hide a speedlight. For most of these case studies I’ve included my mostly hand drawn notes about the spaces and the lighting setups. Bear with me here, I’m a photographer, not a draftsman! CASE STUDY 1: CRAFTSMAN LIVING ROOM

Figure 8.1

This is an extremely typical living room. It’s not tiny, but not enormous, either. It has big windows fronting the street, a fireplace, and a ceiling fan thrown in just so we don’t get complacent. Where I live, I can encounter this room every day. At first glance, it doesn’t seem too hard. It isn’t a very big space 85

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after all, but it’s pretty dark in there. Here’s the ambient shot:

Figure 8.2

Things don’t look so bad over on the right side, near the window, but the left side is awfully gloomy. I lit this with three lights. It’s a variation on the Basic Bedroom setup. One in from over the camera, and one bounced in from camera left, and one direct from camera right. Here’s what the setup looks like:

Figure 8.3

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The light bouncing off the wall to camera right1 is positioned (lucky break) so that the reflection falls partly on the window frame, and partly up on the curtains, otherwise that one would have been a problem! Before we move on, I just want to reinforce that once you’ve established the wide shot (this was at 20 mm) you can throw a longer lens on and grab a free derivative:2

1This, by the way, is how you kill ceiling fan shadows. You hit it with lights from as many directions as possible. In this case, we have ambient light coming in from the window, and then I’ve introduced lights from three more directions. More about this later. 2The more complex the lighting setup, the more motivated I am to find secondary and even tertiary shots – after all, I’ve invested a significant amount of time in this room, and I want to get the maximum return! Now is a great time to get a detail of the stonework on the fireplace, or a tight shot of the woodwork.

Figure 8.4

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CASE STUDY 2: HIGH TRUSSED CEILINGS

Figure 8.5

Figure 8.6

“Composition and lighting go hand in hand, and you can’t really discuss one without including the other.” At first glance, you might think that this room would be shadow hell with all those trusses! But then look closely at the composition. That high, peaked ceiling worked very much in my favor. The composition I chose allowed me to show the unusual architecture, 88

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but also gave me plenty of space above the camera to bounce lights where they couldn’t be seen. Composition and lighting go hand in hand, and you can’t really discuss one without including the other. I stood on a chair and put a speedlight (with the little AS-19 foot) on top of a truss above and to the right of the camera, aimed up at the angled ceiling. It created a huge, soft light source that came down into the room at the perfect angle to light the fireplace, wall, and chairs. A second light is bounced in from camera right, down at the end of the sofa. That’s for the far end of the room, and there’s a window down there, too, adding some nice light to the dining room table. Finally, I bounced one in from camera left to bring up the lamp and end table in the foreground. The secret to this shot is to work with the ambient. If I had nuked that ceiling too hard, I would have gotten terrible down-shadows on the wall under those beams. A relatively slow shutter speed retained enough ambient to wash those out. It was a delicate balance between blowing out3 the sconce lights and killing the shadows. CASE STUDY 3: BIG SPACES

3This is a key concept – when you’ve gotten your exposure where it needs to be, but the lighting is harsh and you’re struggling with shadows - look to your ratios! Allowing more ambient and killing the flash an equivalent amount can massage your exposure and smooth out the light. And for pity’s sake don’t get up and walk around adjusting every flash, just stop down your aperture, and then open up the shutter speed.

Figure 8.7

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There are probably 1500 square feet in this photo, and that’s a lot of real estate, if you’ll pardon the pun. The key to lighting these spaces is to chop them up into manageable sections, and light them one by one. It’s also important to note that I used a LOT of ambient in this shot. When setting this sort of thing up, I start with the foreground, and work my way out from there.

Figure 8.8

When4 I looked at the scene above, I mentally divided it into the following areas: 1. The red cushions in foreground. 2. The long table and red chest immediately past the red cushions. 3. The living room (under the trusses including the sofa and all the way to the fireplace). 4. The sitting area with wicker chairs in the middle left distance. 5. The foyer (where the big wagon-wheel chandelier is). 6. The office (the furthest space visible, past the wagon-wheel chandelier at center left). I lit the foreground with a simple ceiling bounce. I could also have 90

4With a relatively open floor plan like this, there’s a great deal of “overlap” from one zone to the next, and the lights will propagate well outside their intended areas. To some extent, we have to plan for that. With more traditional architecture, when you have multiple rooms that are more discretely partitioned, it’s quite easy to light them – just pretend you’re lighting each one as if it were the only room in the shot. Often it’s just a matter of stringing several Basic Bedroom setups together, one room after another.

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used an umbrella from camera left, but that would have been flatter5, and I wanted to retain some depth and detail on those pillows. Next, I put a speedlight on the floor in front of the red chest, and bounced it into the curved plaster wall below the red pillows. That brightens the chest, and the table and art pieces above it. This is subtle, that light was probably at 1/16 or less! Now, on to the larger, further back areas.

“Your first thought should always be to bounce one, hard, off that ceiling. Maybe bounce two off of it...”

5“Flat light” means even, shadowless and boring. In general, light that is aligned with the axis of the lens will be perceived as flat, while light coming in from an angle will produce visible shadow areas that create depth and mood.

The main living area under the trusses was part way there with ambient, but needed some help in a few crucial areas. The trusses themselves were very dark, and it was important to show them off. Likewise, the mantle was very, very dark, even clipped. Just as I did in the previous case study, I bounced light in from the angled ceiling. This time I used three speedlights, on high stands (couldn’t find a chair high enough to reach those beams!) spaced more or less evenly down the right-hand side. That illuminated the upper reaches of the trusses, and sent enough light down into the living room to rescue the deepest shadows there. For the sitting area, I used an umbrella that’s hidden around the corner to the left. The Foyer is helped along, mostly for color balance, by a single light bounced off the right-hand wall. And finally, the most distant space visible, the office (just beyond the foyer), is lit with two lights. Why two? That room needed a LOT of light relative to the rest of the scene, and while I could get enough watts out of just one light, it was pretty harsh. By bouncing one in from the left, and one in from the right, I got much more natural looking light in there. A shot like this can take quite a while to put together, relatively speaking6. This one took me a good half hour from start to finish, and I had an assistant helping me with the lights.

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6On a shot like this, I will often spend as much as 10 or 15 minutes just walking around and looking at the light. The more time I spend thinking the shot through, the faster the lighting comes together.

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CASE STUDY FOUR: MORE HIGH CEILINGS

Figure 8.9

Why am I harping on this high ceiling stuff? Because too often people neglect to use ‘em! Generally speaking, a high-ceilinged room is going to also have big high windows, with tons of sunlight pouring in. It’s a blessing and a curse, because all that light is helping, kind of, but it’s murder to try and fill in against, because there’s just too damn much of it! And of course, reflections in the windows are a serious constraint, a lot of the time. That’s where the high ceilings come in. Your first thought should always be to bounce one, hard7, off that ceiling will fill in shadows nicely. Maybe bounce two off of it, like I did in this case. You aren’t going to be able to completely light the place with that, but you can give yourself a one to two stop head start. All that soft light coming down from the ceiling which is high enough to not be in your photo, and will either miss the family of angles in the window, or be in an easily retouched area of sky. Then, you can bring in light from the sides, and “sculpt” the lighting in any way you choose. In this case, as I said, I bounced two speedlights at full power off the ceiling, and followed them up with an umbrella and a direct light. 92

7More than likely, you’re going to need all the power you have for your high ceiling bounces. Why? Because the Inverse Square Law will kick your butt otherwise. In this case, the ceiling is a good 20 feet high. That means my light (which is on a 5-foot stand) has to travel 15 feet up, bounce off the paint on the ceiling, and then travel another 20 feet down before it hits anything. That’s 35 feet, and I’m probably losing at least a stop or two in the bounce! Here’s where carrying a good solid strobe like an Alien Bee is very helpful.

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Figure 8.10

CASE STUDY FIVE: LOW CEILINGS

Figure 8.11

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Figure 8.12

OK, going in the other direction, now, we have the low-ceilinged craftsman. Beamed ceilings, dark wood, big window… it won’t do to just nuke this room as if it were a flossy new contemporary thing out in the suburbs. This house is old, and comfortable, and there’s a well earned patina on the floors and woodwork that should come through in the photo. I want the personality of the room to come out a little bit!8 With that in mind, I went with as much ambient as possible, watching the lamps and the window. I used the histogram on my camera’s LCD to see exactly what was getting clipped.9 I ended up at 1/15 of a second.

“This house is old, and comfortable... I want the personality of the room to come out a little bit.” A single, main light source was simply not going to work here. First of all, it would completely overlight whatever was immediately in front of it, and secondly, it would almost certainly bleed out onto the ceiling, creating either an unsightly hotspot, or casting shadows off the beams. So I divided the job up between three lights. First, I used a partially collapsed umbrella a couple of feet to 94

8Adjust your style to match the personality of the house. An old craftsman like this one should be photographed and lit differently than a mid-century modern, or a Mediterranean, or for that matter even a colonial. All have distinct personalities – talk to them a little while and get to know them! 9“Clipped” refers to an area of the photo that has gone so bright, or so dark, that it has lost all detail. Clipped highlights will be pure white, returning a value of 255, 255, 255 (rgb). Likewise, clipped shadows are 0,0,0, or pure black. The histogram is the only way to know if you’re really clipping anything.

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camera left. It’s just far enough to the left to avoid reflecting in the leaded glass window to the right of the fireplace. Partially collapsed means that I’m using a double-fold umbrella, and it’s only partly opened, so it’s about 24 inches across and much deeper than usual.10 This helps me control the reflections in the varnish on the mantle (although you can still find some specular nastiness down there, if you look closely). Next, I also bounced in two more lights off the right-hand wall. One near to me, and another, weaker one, down near where the fall foliage stuff is. It may seem odd that neither of these reflects in the picture window until you realize that this is shot with a relatively long focal length (27 mm). The camera is several feet back from the actual scene, which has the effect of narrowing the family of angles considerably. Another way of putting this is that the angle of reflection in the picture window is more oblique than it would be if the camera were closer. If that window were a mirror, you’d be looking at a reflection of the fireplace.11 Here’s an important note: In general, you’ll want to back up and shoot with the longest focal length you can. For this shot, I could have pushed the camera in closer and shot the same field of view with a 20 mm lens, but that would have induced extra stretching at the edges, and made the room look unrealistically large. In this case, 27 mm renders the room exactly as it is, not too big, and not too small. There are two more lights here. One is camera left, with the WAD deployed, aimed across towards the fall foliage arrangement. The other is on the floor at the far end of the coffee table, also with the WAD, aimed at the bookshelves and fireplace. That one is at very low power, probably 1/64 or even lower! At that range, with a direct light, it doesn’t take much, and I didn’t need much, either.

10See the Equipment List, Chapter 2. I use Westcott Double-fold collapsible umbrellas, partly because of situations like this.

11Predicting reflections can be frustratingly hard, but sometimes, you can actually see the mirror effect in the ambient light. Stand still, and try to focus your eyes on the plane of the glass. It’s easier to see a moving target, so wave your arms, or have someone else walk around the room while you try to spot them, reflected (faintly) in the glass of the windows or artwork.

In some cases, all I’m trying to do with a light placement is get a dark area up to a level that I can finish in post-production. Sometimes, getting the shot lit perfectly in the field is more work than I have time for. In those cases, I just want to make sure I’m getting back to the office with a RAW file that can be quickly massaged into shape with a little shadow fill, or extra contrast, etc. Putting just a little light onto a bookshelf, for example, can be 95

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enough to prevent the shadows from being completely clipped, but still not create unsightly shadows or reflections. That puts me in a good position to finish the job in Lightroom or Photoshop. I prefer to finish the job in the field; but reality sometimes dictates a Plan B! This is a good example of why several low-power lights are more useful than a single, high-power light. No matter where you placed a single, powerful light source, you’d have big problems in a room like this. But by spreading the lights out, getting some of them out in front of the camera, we can be much more nuanced and retain a more natural feel to the room. CASE STUDY SIX: COVE CEILINGS

Figure 8.13

Are you getting the sense that ceilings are important? Yeah. When you see cove ceilings, you’re going to have a good day. Cove ceilings12 are like having a giant softbox above every room. That shape will just ping-pong your light around and spread it deliciously across your scene like a big blanket. Not unlike what you can do with a bounce from a two-story ceiling, eh? Then, you can choose to send in a hard, edgy light to create some depth and shadow, or maybe a couple of gridded spots to highlight the backs of some chairs. You can do whatever strikes your fancy, because the heavy lifting has been done already. 96

12A cove ceiling is an architectural feature that is less common today than it was in the first half of the 20th Century. The cove is the smooth, curved plaster transition from wall to ceiling. The bigger the radius of the curve, the better it does at spreading out your light.

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Figure 8.14

In this case, I set two lights up, one camera left, one camera right, and aimed them into the cove. That was all it took for the dining room! The further room is lit with a single speedlight buried around the corner to the right, and bounced out of the other end of that room. It picked up a lot of warmth from the yellow paint, which I liked. Had I not liked that, I could have obtained the same lighting (but with neutral color) using an umbrella or a big bounce card. CASE STUDY SEVEN: CHEATING

Figure 8.15

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“Sometimes, you have to cheat.”

Figure 8.16

Sometimes, you have to cheat. I was able to light four out of five zones here, but the fifth one confounded me. So I cheated. First, let’s identify the zones: 1. The foreground foyer area – this is the area immediately in front of the camera, including the fancy newel post at the foot of the stairs. 2. The foreground living room – this is the carpeted area up to the big plant at left. 3. The stairs and upper floor 4. The living room – this is the area under the big hanging light fixture at left. 5. The hallway – this was the one that I couldn’t quite get lit – the hall below the stairs leading to the back of the house. The two most distant spaces I left out of my lighting scheme altogether. I let them “go ambient”. The two foreground areas, right and left, are lit with simple wall/ ceiling bounces. Nothing difficult there. The upper stairs and landing are lit with a single speedlight 98

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bounced off the ceiling at the top of the stairs. That lights the upper walls and the steps very nicely. In the living room area is another bounced light, this one angles in from the right side of that space.

“Remember that light itself is actually invisible until it hits something.” But that hallway... how to hide a light there? You can’t do it. I can see both walls and there’s just no place to put it where it won’t show. The hall didn’t need much, but it was more than I was comfortable doing in Photoshop. The solution was to set a light on a low 30-inch stand, with an Omnibounce or Stofen cap on it, and leave it right out in plain sight. In fact, the plainer the better! I made sure that it was sitting in a place where there was the simplest possible background behind it and just cloned it out later in Photoshop! Again, the key was to make sure that it wasn’t going to be a laborious, complex cloning job. The Stofen cap allowed me to pump a little bit of non-directional light into that hallway (it was set at about 1/16) and once the stand was cloned away, you’d never guess it had been there. There are advanced versions of this trick that are possible – use your imagination! Remember that light itself is actually invisible until it hits something. RECAP: I could go on and on with Case Studies, but every room is different, and the point is for you to understand that lighting these spaces is often just a matter of applying a fairly limited arsenal of tools in different combinations to accomplish the task.

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Chapter 9 Ceiling Fans

CEILING FANS AND OTHER DANGLING THINGS f you skipped straight to this chapter without reading Chapter One, “Fundamentals of Interior Flash Photography”, then I want you to turn around, march right back to Chapter 1, and read that first. I mean it. There are a few key factors that go into avoiding ceiling fan shadows, and having a solid grasp on quality of light is critical.

I

The problem with ceiling fans (and chandeliers, and other dangly bits) is that they are notorious for creating big nasty shadows from our lights. Part of the problem is that they tend to be relatively close to the camera and the lights. Part of the problem is that they can be quite large. And part of the problem is that we tend to view them against the backdrop of the ceiling, which is otherwise completely featureless, making any shadows we do produce that much more obnoxious. But there are a few things we can do to stack the deck in our favor. First, we can compose a shot that allows us to set lights out in front of the camera. Generally, that means you aren’t going to go UFWA and bring in three walls. Second, we can allow a generous amount of ambient light into the exposure. And third, we can make sure we avoid hard (small) lights at all costs, unless they’re at a very favorable angle! We’ll be bouncing lights, shooting into or through umbrellas, or both. If the room is large enough, you may find that you are able to create a single, large enough light source to “wrap” right around your ceiling fan, and there’s no problem at all. More likely, however, you’ll be working in a smaller space, and even your umbrella will create a noticeable shadow on the opposite wall. In these situations, your best bet is to triangulate, and hit the fan with light from three directions. Sometimes you can even get four light sources in play!

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Let’s take a look at a real-life situation. As we’ve done before, we’re going to start with a nice, simple, empty room, where we can really see what’s happening. Here’s a basic, empty bedroom with a fan. As always, we’ll take an ambient-only photograph and see what we’ve got to work with. After a couple of tries, I settled on 1/60 at f/7.1, ISO 320 for an exposure, based (of course) on the brightest thing in the scene, the door leading outside:

Figure 9.1

The first thing to notice is that there is already a significant ceiling fan shadow present in this room! See it? It’s right up there to the left of the fan. This is typical, and you’ll want to take a moment and study the existing light in your shots before you jump in and start setting lights. In this case, the bright sunlight pouring in through the patio door is creating a large, dark shadow on the left side of the ceiling. That’s a light source that’s already present, and we can use it as part of our triangle. Before we do that, however, let’s just see what can go wrong with this. We’ll start with the most rookie of all the rookie mistakes, one flash, on-camera, aimed right into the room. By this point, if you’ve been paying attention and drunk the Kool-aid like you’re supposed to, your hands are flapping around your head and you’re speechless with horror. But bear with me... this won’t last long. Here’s the on-camera flash shot: 102

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Figure 9.2

What? You don’t like it? We’ve lit the room (sort of)... but yeah, there’s that hard-edged fan shadow in the opposite corner. So let’s scratch that idea and try to be a little more clever. We’ll take the flash OFF the camera and set it up over to the right, and aim it across towards the far left wall. That should work, right?

Figure 9.3

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Well...not quite. We moved the shadow up and onto the ceiling on the far side of the fan. You at least have a faint hope of being able to air brush it out, but let’s see if we can’t improve on things, just a little more. For starters, we’re completely abandoning the small, hard light sources for this shot. In previous chapters, we’ve occasionally used a flash with the WAD down at very low power to help create edges and highlights, but always with the caveat that this technique is a shadow manufacturer, and can only be used under certain conditions (e.g. when shadows are not going to be a problem... because some shadows are always gonna be there.)

“By this point, if you’ve been paying attention and drunk the Kool-aid like you’re supposed to, your hands are flapping around your head and you’re speechless with horror.” No, we need soft light. BIG, soft light. And our first go-to solution for that is almost always going to be a bounce of some sort. My first thought is to bounce it in from camera right, where I’ve got a nice, big wall that I’ve thoughtfully left out of the composition. Here’s the result:

Figure 9.4

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So this is probably the best photo I’ve made so far, but it still has issues. First of all though, notice that I’ve really softened the original natural fan shadow. But, I’ve replaced it with another big, soft shadow that spills down onto the far wall. I don’t like that. And, we’ve got a second issue. The closet door on the right is completely over-lit. The Inverse Square Law is kicking my butt again as it always does. Remember, objects closer to the light receive exponentially more light. So we’re going to have to bring a second light in. The bounce light we just placed can stay, but it has to be turned down significantly, and we’ll augment it with another light from somewhere else. One possibility would be to bounce a second light in from camera left (which I’ve thoughtfully left out of my composition). But there are two little problems with that idea. Firstly, if the light is too close to the camera it shows up as a nasty glare in the glossy paint on the closet door. Secondly, if it’s too far from the camera we’ll get the exact same problem we had with the first light and it will overlight the wall next to it. So we’ll forget about bouncing off the wall, and use a bounce umbrella, instead. This gives us a nice compromise. We can put it down in the far left corner where we really want it, and because the umbrella is fairly controlled, we can keep the light off of the adjacent wall. Here’s what our setup looks like so far:

Figure 9.5

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And the photo looks like this:

Figure 9.6

Now we’re getting there! You can find two faint shadows, one from each of our bounced lights (as well as the remains of the original “window light” shadow) but lots of people will be perfectly satisfied with this photo, as is. There’s also a little glare on the woodwork which is regrettable but is an easy enough retouch that I’m willing to look the other way, for now. But just for the sake of being a perfectionist, let’s make the shadows go away. The solution is simplicity itself. We just need bigger light sources, meaning a bigger bounce off the right-hand wall, and a bigger umbrella at camera left. That’s going to mean a slightly tighter composition, because in order to get that bigger bounce I have to move the flash a few more inches away from the wall, and right now I’m composed right up to within an inch of my lightstand! The same thing is happening on the left side. So, we’ll zoom in just a bit, enlarge our two lights, and....

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Figure 9.7

The important takeaways here are that we had three lights (window, bounce flash, bounce umbrella), none of them were “hard” lights (they were all “big, soft” lights) and none of them were behind the camera. TAKE TWO OK, ready to try another one? A tougher one? Here’s the shot we’re going to build:

Figure 9.8

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This is ISO 320, f/8, and 1/200. I maxed out my shutter speed to get the view, and even bumped the aperture a little to get it right where I wanted it. The ambient-only exposure looks like this:

Figure 9.9

Where to begin?! The situation is not as hopeless as you might think. If your first thought was something like the “Basic Bedroom” setup... think again. First of all, this room is too darn big for that to work. You’re going to completely overlight the near side of the bed before you ever get anything done in the far corner. Secondly, C’mon! This is a nice room, the master bedroom is complete with a big view, a deck, and a fireplace. Let’s take a few minutes and make a nice photo out of this. So with regard to not overlighting the near side of the bed, we have two options for getting light into this space: Left, and Right. But “Center” is out, unless it’s a very light (pardon the pun) touch, indeed. So which way do we go? Left, or Right? If you take a close look at the finished photo above, you’ll see that I did both. There are faint double shadows off of everything along the far wall, and two visible shadows coming off of the base of the fan itself. I could 108

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have made those go away by reducing the output of my left/right flashes, and adding a ceiling bounce from somewhere near the camera, but I would have been sacrificing every scrap of depth in the room. Frankly, better quality light trumped shadows for me. In this situation, a little gentle airbrushing to remove one of the two shadows is OK with me. My first attempt at this was with only one light. Some of you will have thought of this already. Put a light into a bounce umbrella, and set it outside, on the balcony, just out of frame at camera left. Aim it in and across the room, and let it augment the natural light coming from that direction. The idea is that the strobe, traveling more horizontally than the daylight, will propagate deeper into the room, but will look just like natural daylight. A room like this is a little too big to be pulling that off with a single speedlight, so I ended up putting two speedlights into that umbrella... and here’s what I got:

Figure 9.10

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In many ways, this is pretty good! Notice how everything has texture and three dimensionality? Even the carpet has texture! We’re going to talk about that in detail in Chapter 15, “Good Light”. But, this is just a little too contrasty, and a little too obvious for me. Especially with regard to the doggone fan shadow, which is killing me! So we’ll need to soften this up a little. To do that, we add a second light, at camera right, bounced off of the wall. It has to be placed just this side of where it will start reflecting in the glass. And it’s going to be significantly lower power than what’s happening in the umbrella. I’m lowering the power on the umbrella light, moving it to the bounce light, and adding net new power overall. This will result in a brighter, less contrasty image (because I’ll be filling in some of those shadows), but will also produce the double-shadow issue I was complaining about earlier. Here’s what the setup looks like now:

Figure 9.11

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And the photo now looks like this:

Figure 9.12

See what I mean? We’ve softened the shadows, all right, but the near side of the bed is overlit now! Drat! To mitigate this and get some sense of three dimensionality back into this photo, I’m going to add a graduated neutral density filter to the lens, to darken the lower third. This is a great bit of fakery that can help offset many unbalanced lighting situations! While I’m tweaking things, I’m going to slightly increase the light coming from out on the balcony, and slightly decrease the light bouncing in from camera right. That should help push the balance back towards a left-to-right direction for our light, overall.

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And that gets us to the final result:

Figure 9.13

Depending on how much power I put into these two lights, I can push those shadows either way... but they’re not going to disappear until I get to the point of absolutely crushing the room, which I’m not willing to do. Ceiling fans, chandeliers, midroom posts and columns, and even box-beam ceilings are all variations on the same problem. They’re shadow-makers.... and the key to dealing with all of them is the same: multiple, soft light sources.

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Chapter 10 xx Lighting Multiple Spaces

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his chapter is actually going to be shorter than you might have thought. The reason being, you already have all the skills you need to do this! You might not have all the flashes you need, though. It can be flash intensive! At first glance, these interconnected, complicated spaces seem to be overwhelming, with way too much going on to keep track of. But scenes with multiple spaces are not so hard if you remember to divide the task up into zones. Each individual space can be lit separately, exactly as if you would if you were shooting it by itself. In most cases, of course, there’s enough interaction between the rooms to cause some of your light to “bleed” from one room to another, but that’s no problem because you’re lighting from the nearest (foreground) room to the farthest (right). Right!? So, let’s take a look at a typical situation, and how we might deal with it.

1How many zones? If Figure 10.1

Here we have three distinct zones. There’s the foyer and lower steps, which I’d say is our foreground zone, there’s the upper steps and the landing on the right, and then we have the living room, visible through the big arched doorway on the left.1 By the way, the sun was streaming in through those windows (this was a late afternoon shot in winter). Those streaks of light on the floor are sunlight! 114

you’re not sure, assume more “zones”. Because you’re lighting from the nearest zone first, to the furthest zone last, if your lights are more effective than you predicted, you can just skip over a zone. The key is to have a good, clear idea of what each light is doing, individually.

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All that sunlight meant that the surfaces facing me were in dark shadow. My task was to fill in against that so we could see things more clearly. After I determined my base exposure, which was 1/100 @ f/6.3, ISO 400, I set to work lighting the foreground, or foyer area. I started with a big umbrella directly over the camera, aimed straight towards the door. That one gave me good soft light on the lower steps, the railing, and brought the whole foyer up a bit. The further reaches of the foyer still needed some help, so I bounced a light off the wall to camera left. At that point, things looked pretty good, but just to show off I also set a light way over camera left, with the WAD, and aimed it across the scene towards the stairs, at about 1/32 power. That light builds back some of the fine contrast in the plant and the banister that the big soft lights had erased.2

“When you’re faced with a seemingly complex shot, break it down into manageable sections.” With the foyer looking pretty good, I moved on to the staircase. The upper area was still pretty dark, so I did what I almost always do for staircases, I bounced a light off the high ceiling way up there. That creates a HUGE diffuse light source that comes streaming down and blankets everything with nice, even light.

2 It’s difficult, almost impossible, usually, to “wash out” a shadow you’ve created with another flash. But you can build back tiny little shadows to create contrast and depth, easily. It doesn’t take much power, either! This is why, in Chapter 2, I said that it’s more important for a flash to go very low power, than very high.

Finally, I turned my attention to the living room. It was really getting bombarded by the strong, low sunlight coming in through the windows, and I needed to pump quite a bit of fill light to fill in against it. I put an SB-80 around the corner to the left and fired it through an umbrella. That got me the illumination I needed on the visible surfaces, but again, to bring back some contrast and definition, I also added one direct light, at low power, with the WAD deployed. So what’s the lesson here? When you’re faced with a seemingly complex shot, break it down into manageable sections. We’ve already discussed how to light spaces like these individually, now you just need to apply it in more than one room at a time! This is 115

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where having a bag full of lights comes in really handy. The shot above took six lights, and that’s just for a living room, foyer, and some steps.3 WHEN GOOD SHOTS GO BAD Let’s look at some of the ways things can go wrong with these kinds of shots. One of the most common goofs around is the “spilled light syndrome”. I fall prey to this one myself all the time! Take a look at the photo below and see if you can spot the problem:

3 In the photo on the previous page, it wasn’t that we needed six lights worth of watt-seconds. It was because we wanted a certain quality of light that we had to use so many. One or two very powerful lights would have been plenty, but awfully harsh, flat, and boring! Much better to break the task into many small parts.

Figure 10.2

See it? That bright triangle on the ceiling, to the right of the track lighting? That’s classic spill, and it’s an extremely common mistake. What’s happening is this. There’s a flash buried around the corner in the bathroom, which is supposed to be bouncing off the interior walls in there and lighting the vanity. That’s a very good idea, except that the photographer (uh…that’s me…) left the WAD down on that flash, and didn’t put the flash far enough behind the doorway, so some direct light is “spilling” right out the door and hitting the ceiling.4 That WAD is insidious – light comes out of that thing in a 180-degree arc! Generally, if you can see the Fresnel at all, you’re getting direct light from it. This is so common a problem, I’ve trained myself to automatically zoom in (or look close on my laptop) and try to anticipate where it will be. You should too. You should also avoid using the WAD 116

4Leaving the WAD down: I make this mistake ALL THE TIME. I was once trying to set up a demonstration of this issue, and was placing the flash “correctly” in order to show how to avoid the problem…..and got spill anyway. It’s insidious!

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when bouncing your light, like this dummy did. In theory, the WAD spreads the light out and gives you a tremendously big bounce area, but in practice it’s just too hard to keep direct light out of your photo. Bounce with the WAD off.5 If you can’t back the flash off from the wall far enough to get the big light you’re after, then your best bet is to break your light into two or three smaller pieces. Instead of one flash, 6 inches away from the wall, creating a 12-inch diameter hot spot, try three flashes, six inches from the wall. Now you’ve got a 36-inch diameter hot spot!

“The only way you’re going to learn some of this stuff is to try it. You’ll screw up a lot of photos, but every once in a while you’ll score a winner, and you will remember the trick...”

5Bounce with the WAD off. This is a key point. Learn what the common problems are, and predict when they might occur. If you’re not shooting tethered, you have to zoom in on the back of the camera and look for these issues. Otherwise you’ll be cursing your carelessness later, as you attempt to deal with the problems in post.

The only way you’re going to learn some of this stuff is to try it! You’ll screw up a lot of photos, but every once in a while you’ll score a winner, and you’ll remember the trick when you need it next. LIGHTING DISTANT ROOMS

Figure 10.3

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Take a look at the photo above. First off, how many zones do you see? I see three: the foreground room I count as one, then the central foyer area (with the zebra-skin rug), and finally, furthest out, is the dining room. And in what order did I light them? That’s right, foreground, foyer, dining room, in that order. But I really want to draw your attention to two things. First, when I’m shooting straight through multiple rooms, like this, I find it helps if I vary the light from one room to the next, to help the viewer sort things out visually. You can do this in several creative ways. The quality of light, the direction of the light, the color of the light, the intensity of the light. All these can be manipulated and used in alternation from one room to the next. In the case shown above, I did a couple of things. First, I warmed up the light in the foyer slightly, and left it just a little bit darker than the foreground. In the dining room, I brightened things back up, and used a relatively harsh, directional light that is much more dramatic than that used in the foyer or the foreground. Let’s take a closer look:

Figure 10.4

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In the dining room, I used direct, hard light to produce much more contrast than I did in the other rooms. That light also produced some outrageous shadows, but because we’re only seeing such a narrow slice of the dining room, I was able to arrange things so that those nasty shadows were not visible. Here’s where doing a thorough walk-through and visualizing the angles really helps. The angle at which the light strikes the objects you’re seeing has a tremendous impact on the look of your photo. That last point brings me to the other thing I want to point out about distant rooms; the angle of view we generally have of them. The further you get from the subject, the more oblique your angle of view becomes. Go back to the beginning of this chapter and take another look at the full photo. Notice that the angle of view we have on most of the furniture is down – we’re seeing the top surfaces as well as some of the sides. Now6 look closely at the close-up of the dining room – we’re really only seeing the sides of things. You can barely see the tabletop at all!

6Thinking in terms of what specifically is visible to the camera, and what isn’t is a good habit to get into.

For this reason alone, it’s a good idea to avoid using a ceiling bounce in a distant room. Unless the room is very large, a ceiling bounce is going to send light primarily down, where it will primarily light the top surfaces (which we can’t see very well anyway). It produces a very contrasty light. It’s much better to take advantage of the limited horizontal range and do some side-lighting. Just watch for spill coming out the doorway!

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Chapter 11 xx Advanced Reflections

B

efore we move on to the larger spaces, we ought to take a few minutes and think about reflections. If it weren’t for reflective surfaces, a lot of this stuff would be much easier! The trouble is, we’re usually faced with lots of reflective stuff, whether it’s windows, glass-fronted artwork, metallic or ceramic surfaces, actual mirrors, or even glossy varnish. Any of these can cause trouble with our lights. So let’s take a look at what can go wrong, and then how to avoid it. Believe me, I’m an expert at what can go wrong! We’ll start with windows, but this applies to any glass surface, including that framed portrait of Grandma and Grandpa hanging over the mantle. Glass surfaces should be treated like mirrors. Even though you don’t see a reflection under ambient light, when you start popping flashes that’s going to change. The brightest light always wins and your flash is likely brighter (albeit smaller) than pretty much anything around.1

“So let’s take a look at what can go wrong, and then how to avoid it. Believe me, I’m an expert at what can go wrong!” If you play tennis or billiards, you’re in luck. One good way to think about this stuff is to imagine a tennis ball being fired out of your lights, like one of those guns that shoot balls over the net at some terrified beginner. Ask yourself this: “Iif a tennis ball came flying out of that speedlight, where exactly would it go?” If, after bouncing off the glass, it would hit your camera, you’ve got a reflection issue.2 Let’s take a look at the living room in our house on Helen Street. Suppose we’re trying to shoot towards the double glass doors that lead out to the patio, and we want some fill flash for the inside. Putting the flash pretty much anywhere camera right isn’t going to work:

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1Wanna hear something really weird? Sometimes, you’ll have a naturally-occurring window light reflection on a glass-fronted piece of art, and it completely disappears in your flash exposure! Why? Because your ambient exposure is dark enough that the ambient window light doesn’t even register in the reflection. Either that, or it’s magic! 2A great read that will really help you get a grip on this stuff is Light, Science, and Magic (Focal Press, 2007). Fil Hunter, Steven Biver and Paul Fuqua go into exhaustive detail analyzing not only the “family of angles” but different kinds of reflective surfaces and how to deal with them.

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“One good way to think about this stuff is to imagine a tennis ball being fired out of your lights, like one of those guns that shoot balls over the net at some terrified beginner.”

Figure 11.1

You have to work the geometry and find a place where your light can do its thing, and not be in the family of angles3 that will reflect back into the camera. Something like this, maybe:

3Family of Angles refers to the area visible to the lens – including the areas visible via reflected light in mirrors, windows, or any other reflective surface.

Figure 11.2

Now here’s an interesting and useful thing: in the figure above, I’m showing you how a speedlight will reflect back into the camera if it’s placed in the “wrong” spot. But the reality is, that sometimes that’s the best place for the light to go, and in practice, if it’s just a bare-bulb speedlight (e.g. no umbrella, no bounce, no softbox) you can get away with it easily. Look at this real-world example. In addition to a large diffuse light that is outside the family of angles, there is a light aimed directly in, with the WAD. Can you find the 122

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reflection of this light in the photo?

4What you’re seeing Figure 11.3

Look close – here it is:

is the exact shape of the flash head: a rectangle 1inch by 3 inch. Even if it had the WAD, or a diffuser cap, the size and shape of the reflection would be unchanged. You’re seeing exactly what you would see if you looked at your flash in the mirror while it fired. The fact that photons are flying out of the flash in many directions has no bearing on this – only the ones that follow a path off the glass and back to the camera matter. 5Depending on the

Figure 11.44

How easy do you think it would be to clone-stamp that little 1 inch x 3 inch reflection out? Pretty darned easy.5 The key is to make sure it’s in a spot where it won’t be a pain in the butt to deal with. 123

type of glass, the reflection may be less crisp. In some cases, especially with modern coated glass, it will dissolve into more of a blurry round spot; but it’s still easy to clone out. Double-pane windows will produce a double reflection.

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In this case, it’s positioned against some relatively monotonous foliage; I didn’t have to be very careful about where I borrowed to cover it up. If that light had been positioned 6 inches closer to the camera, though, the reflection would have hit right on the edge of the door frame, and I would have had to carefully rebuild that section of woodwork. Much harder, although still not impossible. The bottom line is, it’s entirely possible to work within the family of angles as long as you are able to understand what’s happening, and you have a plan for dealing with it in post-processing. In the example above, no mortal human would be able to detect the cover-up I did. But if that had been a 30-inch umbrella reflected in the glass, the cover-up would be much, much harder, if indeed it could be done at all without a second exposure to mask in.6

“The bottom line is, it’s entirely possible to work within the family of angles as long as you are able to understand what’s happening, and you have a plan for dealing with it...” Masking in a second exposure can be incredibly easy, or incredibly hard, depending on the situation. Briefly, all you’re doing is making a second exposure with the offending flash turned off (by all means leave your other flashes on, if you’re using them). That shot gets layered on top of the first photo in Photoshop, and using a layer mask7, you quickly brush away your nasty reflection. But as noted above, sometimes it’s just not that simple. Learn to work around them, and use the software as your fall back position. The family of angles can be maddeningly wide. As you’re assessing your composition, and thinking about how to light it, put it to the “tennis ball test”. If you stood behind your camera, and threw an imaginary tennis ball at the window (or mirror, or artwork, etc.), could you hit your light with the rebound? If the answer is yes, you need to reposition something. Pretty soon you’ll get good at solving little geometry problems in your head!

6Masking in windows is perfectly acceptable, but often very difficult. A “clean” window with no occlusions is fairly easy, but when there is an orchid between you and the window, your job gets extremely difficult. That’s when it’s good to know how to capture the shot with one frame.

7A great resource for getting acquainted with Layers and Masks is the creatively titled book Layers, by Matt Kloskowski (Peachpit Press, 2011).

HOW TO CHEAT Sometimes, there aren’t a lot of options. No matter how you look at it, there’s just no place you can put a light that isn’t going to show up reflected. Now what? There are a few things you can do. If it’s a door, open it. Maybe all the way (call it a creative decision), 124

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or maybe just an inch. The same thing can be done for cabinet doors and windows that open like doors. By cracking them open just a tiny bit, you radically change the family of angles they reflect. Generally, because of the flattening effect of photography, this trick is completely undetectable. Let’s go back to the Helen Street living room and see how this works.

Figure 11.5

This is the exact same setup we had in Fig. 11.1, only this time we’ve opened the door an inch or so.8 You can accomplish the same thing with artwork hung on walls. I

8The open door trick only works for direct reflections. For diffuse reflections, such as often found on wood cabinetry doors, this trick is not effective.

Figure 11.6

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normally use a handful of tissue paper wadded up and (carefully) wedged behind one side or the other of the frame. The idea is to prevent the picture from hanging flat against the wall, and instead to angle it slightly. In this first photo, you can see a large reflection in the artwork on the wall, from a light I have bounced in from camera left:

9You could track me throughout the country by the little wads of TP I’ve left behind! Figure 11.79

Figure 11.8

A paper towel, wadded up, and stuck behind the left edge of the picture, like so:

Figure 11.9

And VoilĂ ! The picture now reflects a completely different angle. Problem solved. And the fact that the picture is no longer flat against the wall is not visible at all. 126

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Figure 11.10

STAINLESS STEEL AND OTHER FORMS OF TORTURE Of course, glass is not the only reflective surface we have to deal with. Ceramic tile, varnished wood, even glossy paint will all cause you a headache at some point. But nothing will make you weep with frustration quite like stainless steel. Stainless is very popular these days in kitchens. We’re going to talk about kitchens in detail in another chapter, but let’s just look at how to deal with the big stainless steel refrigerator now. At first glance, you’d think this would be easy, right? After all, you’ve read Light, Science, and Magic and you’ve got a firm grasp on the family of angles. All you have to do is position a light outside that arc and you’re golden. Right? Wrong! Stainless doesn’t obey the same laws of geometry that everything else does. Stainless can throw a reflection back at you even when your light is more than 90 degrees in front of the camera! Not only that, but it won’t be just a little spot reflection, either – you’re going to have these big, long, streaky things to deal with. And believe me, they’re a pain in the butt to take out in postprocessing10.

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10A good-looking stainless panel is actually a very complex milieu of gradations and tones. Start mucking around with the clone stamp and you’ll quickly make things worse, unless you are very skilled, indeed. Much better to find ways of avoiding the situation in the first place.

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Figure 11.11

In the previous photo, we can see not only the streaks in the refrigerator, but also the large diffuse reflection in the varnished cabinetry. All three issues that I indicated in red are from separate light sources! The faint streak at the top of the fridge is from a light at camera right. The diffuse glare on the cabinets is from one more or less on-axis with the camera, and the big one that looks like Luke Skywalker’s light saber down low on the fridge is from one that’s bounced off the backside of the island. In the case of stainless, what would ordinarily be a simple little dot of light becomes a streak of white traveling the length of the refrigerator. In the diagram above, you might expect flash position 1 to reflect 128

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back into the camera. But you might be surprised that positions 2, 3, 4, and possibly even 5 will do the same, even though those angles seem impossible! The tennis ball test is useless here. Stainless doesn’t obey the rules. It’s surface, on a microscopic level, is covered in tiny grooves, creating a “rippled” surface that presents a reflective angle in a wide arc. Your lights will have to be positioned very far out to the sides in order to avoid issues. Some stainless appliances have a different finish, and are much more forgiving. But for the tough ones11, consider a ceiling bounce, and plan to do some corrective action in post-processing. I’ve found that a light airbrushing set to “darker color” in Photoshop works reasonably well as a “quick-and-dirty” fix. VARNISH After stainless, the second toughest surface, in my opinion, is varnished wood. Instead of direct reflection, varnish produces a diffuse reflection that shows up as a hazy white glare. It kills all detail, color, and is pretty much impossible to deal with in postprocessing.

11Stainless panels are either “rolled” or “polished”. The rolled version has a very linear texture that is easier for photographers to deal with. Polished stainless will catch and scatter your light from a much wider family of angles.

The cure? Very similar to stainless, actually. Assume a very wide family of angles, and use lots and lots of ambient light! BRAIN BENDERS I’ll leave you with the truly difficult ones, the reflections that seem to defy the laws of geometry. Billiards players will have no trouble following this section; the rest of us can only scratch our heads and wonder. Sometimes, your lights will reflect back into your camera via a bank shot. Trying to predict these is an exercise in futility, but if you’re aware of the possibilities, you can at least save yourself a lot of time scratching your head and wondering about the existence of gremlins. Here’s what I’m talking about. I’ve altered our basic bedroom from Helen Street by moving the windows into the corner; a pretty typical situation especially for midcentury modern architecture. The camera is in the usual place, and I’ve put a flash over to the left side where it ought to be well outside the family of angles, right? Not so fast, young Jedi!12 Look at the following diagram which illustrates an issue that’s created when direct light from a flash strikes a mirror or other glass surface at an extremely oblique angle, casting a distorted parallelogram of light onto a distant wall. 129

12There’s a similar issue that’s created when direct light from a flash strikes a mirror or other glass surface at an extremely oblique angle, causing a distorted parallelogram representing the shape of the mirror onto a distant wall.

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“As you’re assessing your composition, and thinking about how to light it, put it to the “tennis ball test”. If you stood behind your camera, and threw an imaginary tennis ball at the window... could you hit your light with the rebound?”

Figure 11.12

You’ve fallen victim to the dreaded “bank shot”. It can get even more complex than this, involving pictures on the wall, and even glass that’s outside. Fortunately those situations are rare. Just keep the phenomenon in mind when you’re on location and you find yourself starting to question the laws of physics!

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Chapter 12 xx Kitchens

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n the whole, the most challenging rooms of all are the kitchens. And the pressure’s on, because our clients have often spent tens of thousands of dollars remodeling them with glossy marble counter tops (ugh!), stainless-steel appliances (curses!), premium glass-glazed tile back splashes (dammit!), and glass-fronted cabinetry (good grief!). But we love them nonetheless, because the kitchen is today’s answer to the famous Frank Lloyd Wright maxim that the “hearth is the heart of the home.” These days, the kitchen is often the centerpiece of the home, and a beautiful kitchen photo is as valuable (or more!) than any other. Kitchens are my favorite areas to photograph, (after stairs, of course). Ok, so we know they’re hard to shoot. What’s a photographer to do, then? Shoot ambient, that’s what. Well, OK, we can light them, but really, in the kitchen, ambient light is your best friend. This is not the place to try to bring in a view at high noon. If you must do it, remember what we said back in Chapter 4, you’re going to pay a price for that view, and that price will come in the form of a flashy, unnatural looking kitchen.

“Given the reflective nature of most kitchens, it’s not a great idea to be completely replacing the ambient light. You want to be extracting every single photon you can from the existing light in the room!” Given the reflective nature of most kitchens, it’s not a great idea to be completely replacing the ambient light.1 You want to be extracting every single photon you can from the existing light in the room! Blow out those can lights in the ceiling, overexpose the windows to within a hair’s breadth of losing detail in the window frames, and be smart about your compositions. In short make your life as easy as possible, because the kitchen will kick your butt if you don’t.

1As a practice, I like to have my ambient exposure within a stop of where I want to end up. More than that, and it’s going to be very hard, and very timeconsuming, to make the kitchen look “natural”.

I’m gonna give a few bits of general wisdom, but since kitchens, unlike bedrooms, are utterly random in terms of layout and design, there just aren’t any formulaic lighting setups that you can sketch on the palm of your hand. 132

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Here we’ll shoot the kitchen of our house on Helen Street, which will complete that shoot. But the next chapter will be devoted to case studies. I’ve selected six kitchens, each with it’s own set of problems, and we’ll talk through what I did to resolve them. GENERAL WISDOM While this isn’t universally true, many, many kitchens have a lot of highly reflective stuff in them. Even varnished wood cabinets are problematic in this way. Given this, our old standby tricks of using umbrellas and bounced light sources are frequently unusable, because of the massive reflections they cause. Luckily, by their very nature, kitchens ,especially the ones made from those shiny, high-tech materials, respond very well to hard light sources. Hard lights tend to produce small, easily retouched reflections, and complement the edgy, stark nature of a modern kitchen very well. Just watch the shadows!2 Also, don’t assume that there’s never a place for a big soft light if you can compose in a way that manages the family of angles. You may very well be able to use an umbrella, a ceiling bounce, or even a wall bounce. Sometimes, we get lucky. Learn to look for those opportunities!

2This is where really taking some time to think through the shot helps. Visualize the angles, break the lighting down to discrete zones, and compose carefully!

“And who’s to say that glare wasn’t caused by a can light?” Speaking of ceiling bounces, that’s often the best option, especially for cabinet materials that return a diffuse reflection. A well-positioned ceiling bounce can do a passably good job of lighting the entire room, while leaving only a faint glare in an upper cabinet door as evidence. And who’s to say that glare wasn’t caused by a can light? If you glossed over it before, now is a great time to go back and reread the Advanced Reflections chapter because this is ground zero, for reflections, Mate. Ready? OK, lets wrap up our shoot on Helen Street!

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HELEN STREET KITCHEN

Figure 12.1

Here on Helen Street, we’ve got a few factors to consider. First, in terms of composition, there are probably only three main photos we could make. The best of these is the one from the ingress next to the fridge, looking in across the ell towards the sink and stove. There’s a reverse angle that’s possible, looking across the ell towards the fridge but that’s just not as interesting. For my second shot, I’d probably go with something from inside the kitchen, looking out towards the dining room and living room, to show how the kitchen connects to the rest of the house.3 But we’ll just focus on that main photo that isolates and shows off our new kitchen. Here’s my ambient shot:

3A note on composition: don’t forget about the possibility of putting the camera outside, and shooting through an open window. You can get really great perspectives that way!

Figure 12.2

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Notice how the windowsills and venetian blinds are quite bright (even blown out, actually), but the foliage that’s visible outside is actually rather dark. It’s a very contrasty scene out there. There’s not much choice but to let the highlights go. By the time I expose for the brightest stuff, that foliage will be black! So here I’ve tried to hit a happy compromise.4 One of the great aspects of an open floor plan, such as we have here is that we can maneuver things like umbrellas around the perimeter of our set. And since I’m composing this shot as a two wall photo, we can position an umbrella somewhere near the camera and it shouldn’t reflect off of anything. The family of angles on those windows is reflecting things well out to camera left.

4Once highlights are blown, they’re blown – they aren’t going to get any worse! So in the case of a relatively contrasty window like this one, you can open up quite a bit on the exposure and the “blown-out” area isn’t going to grow significantly.

So let’s try it:

Figure 12.3

Figure 12.4

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Whoa! That’s pretty good! In fact, a lot of people will stop right there, and finish the job in post-processing. But I’m going to try to get the tones a little better, and reduce some of the shadows. My umbrella was positioned up pretty high, and aimed down into the kitchen space which created a fairly deep shadow under the counter top, and under the upper cabinets on the far wall. I don’t like that, so I’m going to reposition that umbrella to my right, and bring it down a little lower, so the light is goes in more horizontally:

Figure 12.5

Figure 12.6

Uh-oh, trouble. I did succeed in reducing the shadows under the cabinet, but look at the big honkin’ reflection I got in the window at image center! Damn that family of angles. 136

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OK, let’s move the umbrella back to the left a little, but keep it low:

Figure 12.7

That’s much better. But with the umbrella down lower like this, the light doesn’t penetrate down into the central area as well. The photo looks dull. So, we’ll add a second light. Because I want those cabinet facings to pop a little and give a little more contrast in this image, I’m going to add a little bit of hard light from camera right, in the form of a speedlight with the WAD down, at 1/16 power. It’s aimed very carefully towards the near end of the wood counter. Why? Because it’s in such close proximity to the sink and windows that if I aimed it towards the back cabinets (which are what I’m trying to light), I’d overexpose the right side of the photo.5 By aiming this new light well over to the left, I’m feathering the light more evenly across the scene. Some of it is wasted, going out towards the camera and even behind it. The strongest light, coming out of the middle of the WAD, hits the ell and the rear cabinets (which are also the furthest away from the light). The weaker light coming out of the WAD on the extreme left and right edges either trickles away into space (on the left) or hits the cabinets under the sink (which are closest to the light). By understanding the behavior of the WAD, I’m able to control it to achieve even light across a three-dimensional space. Here’s the diagram, and the resulting photo:

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5Again with the Inverse Square Law! Near objects get more illumination than far objects – much more! I’ll spell it out for you, just this one time: Assume you have a light that’s 4 feet from the subject you’re lighting. That’s our baseline. If you move the light back, so it’s now 8 feet away, the amount of light the subject receives will be 1/4 of what it was. Why? Because the light is now twice as far away, and twice squared is 4. Get it?

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Figure 12.8

Figure 12.9

Looks like I started bragging a little too soon! There are a couple things that went wrong, here. First, despite my best guess, the light is aimed too much towards the right. Look at the shadows I created under the cabinet door handles below the sink! Secondly, check out the nasty reflection I caught in the glass tiles above the back counter next to the stove! 1/16 turns out to be too powerful. It even threw hard shadows off the cabinetry and onto the tan wall on the left side. Luckily, this stuff is easy to fix. All I need to do is raise the light another 6 inches higher, that should kill the reflection. I’ll aim it more to the left, and turn it down a little:

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Figure 12.10

Much better. There’s still some faint shadows over on the left side, but the reflection now hits up higher on the cabinets themselves, where we can’t see it, and I’ve eliminated the shadows on the door handles under the sink. Next, let’s see if we can brighten this shot at all. I’m going to use a simple ceiling bounce at 1/8 power out to the left of the chairs. This should put some light on the top of the butcher block counter, and into the central floor area. It should also help to wash out the remaining shadows on the left wall:

Figure 12.11

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Figure 12.12

Yikes! It worked, but maybe I could turn that one down, just a little bit Let’s try 1/16 on that ceiling bounce:6

6It’s possible that the ceiling bounce is, in fact, reflecting in the window – but if so, it’s happening up high, and in the area of blown-out sky. So who cares?

Figure 12.13

Nice. At this point, I’m pretty much done. As I often do, I’m going to see what happens when I drag my shutter just a little bit, to let a bit more ambient soak into the photo. We’ve been shooting at 1/125, let’s just see what this looks like at 1/80: 140

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Figure 12.14

Nice. Windows were already clipped around the edges, so nothing was really lost there. The foliage is a bit brighter, and the kitchen itself seems much more inviting and happy. I also picked up more detail on the floor. As a last little exercise, let’s just say that we’re so happy with this shot that we’d like to re-shoot it at ISO 100. Or maybe our camera is producing some noise in that black stained floor, and we’d like to get the extra image quality of the lower ISO. Can we do it? You bet. The exposure I ended up with was: ISO 320, 1/80, f/8.0. To transpose that to a lower ISO, we simply count the number of stops difference. From ISO 320 to ISO 100 is 1 and 2/3 stops, or 5/3. That means that I need to adjust my shutter speed down by 5/3, to 1/25 (just count “clicks” on your dial7). I’ll need to turn all the flashes up by 5/3. I’ll have to walk around to each one and adjust it’s power setting up 5 “clicks” (my camera and my flashes all adjust in 1/3–stop increments). Here’s the shot I get at ISO 100. Virtually identical to the original:

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7Most speedlights will adjust in 1/3–stop increments. Make sure your camera is set that way, too. Some cameras will default to ½-stop increments, but you’ll want to match it to your flashes. And you’ll come to appreciate the fine control, too!

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Figure 12.15

After a couple of quick RAW adjustments in Lightroom, I’ve got this final result:

Figure 12.16

The next two images are setup shots that show the final lighting setup for this shot.

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Figure 12.17

Figure 12.18

HELEN STREET, IN THE CAN Hey! We just finished our shoot on Helen Street! Time for a beer, eh? Seriously, go ahead and open a couple, we’ve earned them. In the next chapter, we’ll take a look at six “case study” kitchens, each one with it’s own unique characteristics, and talk about strategies for shooting them. But before we close out this chapter, let’s take a quick look back at our Helen Street set: 143

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Bedroom

Bathroom

Living Room

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Figure 12.19

Figure 12.20

Figure 12.21

Figure 12.22

Figure 12.23

Figure 12.24

Bedroom

Master Bedroom

Living Room

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Kitchen

Figure 12.25

Figure 12.26 Kitchen Living Room detail shot

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s I said in the previous chapter, every kitchen is a little different (or sometimes a LOT different!). So in this chapter we’ll take a look at six different kitchens, each with it’s own set of challenges, and look at how they can be lit. CASE STUDY ONE: BRIGHT AND WHITE

Figure 13.1

This room doesn’t need a lot of help, really. With a beautiful screen of foliage outside the windows, we aren’t getting any direct sunlight that we have to balance against. The challenge here is to get good, crisp whites, and avoid those wacky reflections in the stainless appliances. Let’s take a look at the “straight-out-of-the-camera” version of this image, before any post-processing happened. See if you can “deconstruct” the lighting in this image. This is a great exercise that you can do on a regular basis (I buy a “Shelter” magazine off the rack at the grocery store every couple of weeks and study the photos). Try to figure out where the natural light is coming from, first. Then look for shadows, reflections, highlights etc. that can tip you off to how the photo was lit. I’ll give you a hint: there are three lights involved, and there are obvious clues to two of them!

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Figure 13.2

I’ll prompt you through this. Check the next page for the “answers”. First and foremost, what can you figure out from the overall “look” of this photo? Pay attention to the ambient light, and the foliage outside the windows.1 OK, so how was this lit? Numbers 1, 2, and 3 are all artifacts from the same light. Based on the reflections in the window, where was that light, and how was is modified? And, for extra credit: why are there two2 reflections in the window?

1The absence of direct sunlight in the image, and the smooth, uncontrasty nature of the window views indicates either a cloudy day, or else a twilight shoot. In fact, this was a cloudy afternoon, so you can be sure I used a longish shutter speed! This exposure was 1/50, f/7.1, ISO 320. 2

The angle on the fridge is too extreme to throw a reflection back at the camera, but the handles present a facet that’s just right, and sure enough, there’s a little reflection. Ditto for the legs of the butcher block table. And the hard shadow underneath the near edge of that table proves there’s a hard light source somewhere behind and slightly above the camera.

Double-pane windows make double reflections!

OK, moving on: Number 4 is just another indication of the ambient light conditions on a bright, sunlit day, there’s no way we’d have that much detail 148

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showing in a back lit sheer curtain unless there was some fancy multiple-exposure blending going on (not here, Scout’s Honor!). Number 5 is the hardest one to figure out, and even I was fooled at first (and I’m the one who lit this!). At first glance, I thought it must be an up-shadow from the molding over the door. But it’s not. So where could it be coming from? The answer tells you something about the location and nature of the “main” light for this shot.3 Number 6 shows two shadows on the ceiling – and while you’re at it, look how bright things are down near the floor to the right of the dishwasher. What can you deduce from this?4 So you can see that I shot this with the plan of doing some corrective action in post-processing. All of these issues could probably have been worked around, but since I had a very limited amount of time to spend on this shot in the field, I opted to “manage” them and make sure that my retouching would be as quick and painless as possible. In this case, the reflections in the windows were easily clonestamped out, and the bright spots on the stainless were airbrushed to fade them slightly. Ditto for the shadow lines on the ceiling. Here’s the final, again:

3You wouldn’t be able to figure this one out without a hint. That’s the shadow of the profile of the molding above a doorway that’s immediately to the right of the camera. It’s the same molding that you can see above the outside door, and the curtained window. The main light is perched on that very molding, and bounced into the corner. It must have been very close to the wall, and the resulting hotspot wasn’t big enough to avoid throwing that shadow (especially since the molding was so close to the light itself). It’s a weird situation, that surprises me, frankly. 4There are two lights tucked around the corner. One is up high, one is down low (probably on the floor). Both are bounced into the corner . Why two lights? Because that space is so tight that a single light can’t “grow” large enough to fill it evenly.

Figure 13.3

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And here is the lighting diagram:

Figure 13.4

CASE STUDY TWO: THE GALLEY KITCHEN

Figure 13.5

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“Galley kitchens are ubiquitous— you’ll find them in every architectural style. The trick to lighting them is in the composition.”

Figure 13.6

Galley kitchens are ubiquitous— you’ll find them in every architectural style. The trick to lighting them is in the composition. Most people try to compose straight down the middle, which is not usually the most pleasing composition5 to begin with, but is also extra hard to light. Straight down the middle of a long, narrow space, especially with a wide-angle lens, results in what I call the “bowling alley effect” – the room will appear elongated. Composing a little tighter helps, but changing the station point and perspective on the room will help even more! 151

5In general, my rule is to favor sinks, windows, and high-end appliances in my compositions. I avoid refrigerators as much as possible, especially if they’re the plain white variety. Even the nice, new stainless ones are usually only implied in my photos - rarely featured.

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I prefer to choose one side or the other to emphasize, showing the full length of that side, and an abbreviated view of the other side. In addition to the more normal-looking appearance of the photo, this makes it much easier to get light down to the far end of the space. In the example at the top of this section, I used three lights – two in the kitchen and one in the adjacent dining room. The main light is bounced off the ceiling more or less over the camera. This lights countertops and upper cabinets in the foreground. The second light is on the floor below the camera, bounced into the lower cabinetry on the right side at my feet. This light brightens the bank of cabinets below the sink and window.6 Finally, the third light, which is in the dining room at image center, is bounced in at fairly high power from the right side. I think the important thing to notice is that the camera is not lined up on the centerline of the kitchen – it’s off to the right, and angled slightly to the left. If I had7 this to shoot over again, I’d angle even more to the left, to gain a better view of the window over the sink, cutting out some of the boring cabinetry in the upper right of this photo. That would have made my lighting job even easier, because I could have bounced a light off the cabinets above and to the right of the camera, yielding good, even light on the left side of the scene.

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6It’s important to note that with the window on the left side of the kitchen, it’s the right side that’s brightest. The left side of the room is in the shadow. As always, it’s good to spend a moment really thinking about what the ambient is doing, and how to fill in against it. 7A note on composition: always keep the camera high enough to avoid seeing the underside of the upper bank of cabinets.

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CASE STUDY THREE: PEAKED CEILINGS

Figure 13.7

Figure 13.8

Here I go again about high, peaked ceilings – they’re awesome! This photo is actually a test shot for a production photo with models. Notice how I’ve carefully composed the photo to show that there’s a high, peaked ceiling, but left out most of the near slope. If you’ve been paying any attention to me at all, you should be able to predict where I put my first light! 153

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Yep. I bounced off the ceiling. In fact, there are three speedlights bounced off the ceiling to camera right, and a couple more bounced in from low on the right side, too. An umbrella to camera left sent in light down the long axis of the room. There are also lights in the distant adjacent spaces – the dining room and foyer. While I could probably have gotten away with a longer exposure in this room, I had to build my shot around a relatively fast shutter speed in order to stop the action8 we had planned for the final image – so I settled on 1/100 at f/7.1, ISO 200. Here’s the end result:

8By the way, learning to light interiors will take your lifestyle and portrait photography to a whole new level! All sorts of things become possible.

Figure 13.9

Note that the camera has moved significantly from it’s original position, but the lights didn’t have to move at all!

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CASE STUDY FOUR: THE BASIC “ELL”

Figure 13.10

Here’s another one you’ll encounter again and again – the corner “ell” kitchen.9 These are really easy once you get the hang of them. The key is composing it, and keeping in mind the family of angles. Shooting in on a diagonal like I did here makes it really easy. By keeping the light (in this case, an umbrella) somewhere near the axis of the camera, you avoid reflections in the fridge, the varnished cabinets, and the microwave. I could also have bounced a light in from camera right, as long as it wasn’t too far out to the right, at which point it would begin to show up in the left-hand cabinets.

9An ell is an architectural term referring to a rightangle bend or protrusion. Kitchens often have a counter top work surface that forms an ell and separates the kitchen from the eating area.

“You don’t need to see the entire fridge. If I show you two thirds of it, you can pretty much figure out what the rest of it looks like, right?” 155

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Figure 13.11

The full lighting skinny on this one was an umbrella from low and slightly camera right, a ceiling bounce over the camera, and a wall bounce just off the floor, camera right (to brighten the lower cabinetry visible beyond the foreground countertop). The bright spot that I was basing my exposure on is the under-cabinet lights.10 This is one of my favorite compositions. It’s pretty tight, which I think is appropriate in a kitchen like this. You don’t need to see the entire fridge. If I show you two thirds of it, you can pretty much figure out what the rest of it looks like, right? And by moving in and shooting long (this is 34 mm), I can give the viewer the sense that they’re already “in” the scene. This is very much the perspective of someone who’s sitting or standing at the counter, having a glass of wine, watching super being made.

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10It’s often useful to bounce a light off the back side of the ell. Put the light either on the floor, or on a very short stand, and remember that you’re working in a very small space – so low power is all you need! Often a bounced light at 1/32 is more than enough to brighten the opposite side of the kitchen. Be careful with this light placement; if you angle it up even a tiny bit, you’ll throw a hard shadow line on the ceiling from the edge of the counter top!

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CASE STUDY FIVE: BROAD DAYLIGHT

Figure 13.12

I

Figure 13.13

If you’re shooting real estate, you’ve encountered this one. Bright daylight, a client who wants vivid views, and a complex interior. Shrug. You do the best you can. The image above has flaws – 157

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you don’t have to tell me that! But it was the best compromise I could come up with between a good-looking interior, and a good-looking view, at 2:00pm, with windows facing five different angles. As I’ve said elsewhere in this book, there are times when you’re going to have to make a choice between the views, or the interiors. In this case, for this client, the view trumped the interior, so I exposed for that, and did the best I could on the kitchen. I approached this as a two-zone shot – the foreground (table and chairs), and the background (kitchen). After I established that my exposure (based on the windows) would be 1/200 at f/7.1, ISO 320, I set about lighting it. Again, there are clues here that can help you to deconstruct what I did – follow the shadows!11 But the best clue of all is the bay window at image center – the one nearest the kitchen ell. Look closely, and you will see that it’s been opened slightly, about a half inch or so. This changed the family of angles enough to allow me to put a large umbrella just to the right of the camera. No other window is angled in a way that can reflect that back to the camera.

11Hard shadows (like the ones coming off the legs of the chairs) always point back towards the light source.

My second light for the foreground is on a 5-foot stand camera right (maybe 5 feet away) with the WAD down, aimed across towards the left wall. This one left some faint shadows on the wall behind and to the left of the table, which I cleaned up in Photoshop. And, of course, there was a little rectangular reflection in the big center window, which I cloned out with a single click – easy! That left the kitchen area to light. This was a little easier – there are two lights, one of which is around the corner to the right, where there’s a large open space with more kitchen cabinetry. That light is bounced into that area, at quite a high power, maybe full power, I can’t remember. The second light is on the floor behind the ell, bounced into the lower cabinetry. This light brightens the cabinets on the right side of the photo. Check out the crossed shadows under the little half-round shelves at the end of the ell! In fact, if you look closely at this photo, you can find little clues all over that will tell you what happened here. This lighting is flat, harsh, and relatively unattractive. But it got the job done without my resorting to a tedious window replacement in Photoshop.12

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12I should just say that if it’s done well, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with doing a second exposure for windows, and masking them in. But it’s not always feasible, as I pointed out in Chapter 4 (Controlling Window Exposures).

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CASE STUDY SIX: TWILIGHT

Figure 13.14

Figure 13.15

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At the other end of the spectrum is the twilight kitchen shot. I’ve been reminding you throughout this book that the best way to deal with a truly difficult room is to come back later – and here’s an example where I did just that. When my client sent me scouting photos of this house, I saw the kitchen and immediately thought “twilight”. Dark, shiny cabinets, stainless steel, large space…sure, I could light this, but why would I want to? I had the luxury of being able to dictate the time of day, so I suggested that the shoot begin relatively late in the day, and then planned the kitchen shot for last. We started shooting this kitchen at about 6:00pm, and the final shot, above, was made at about 6:50.13 As you can see from the dappled sunlight on the cabinets under the microwave, the sun was right on the horizon. This didn’t mean I didn’t have to light anything, though. There was still a bit too much dynamic range present for the camera to

“Dark, shiny cabinets, stainless steel, large space... sure, I could light this, but why would I want to?”

13Actually, I continued shooting this kitchen for another half hour. Once I had the lighting figured out, there were several “derivative” photos to be made.

handle, and some of the darkest shadowed areas were definitely too dark for my taste. So this came down to just accent lighting. There were seven lights in all. Each one is doing a very discrete task, helping to “sculpt” the light, to “massage” it to suit my (and my client’s) vision for the image. 1) Umbrella, behind and camera left This light digs out the deepest shadow in the photo, which was the end of the cabinet to the left of the barstools. The ambient exposure had zero detail left in that area, and I wanted to see wood grain. This was a speedlight fired through a 43-inch satin umbrella. 2) Umbrella, camera left A very small accent lighting job! This is a 30-inch white satin shootthrough, low and just out of the frame, to bring up some detail on the back of the wicker chair in the immediate foreground. That’s it, just the sliver of chair back at the bottom edge of the photo. 160

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3) Ceiling bounce, over the camera Primarily for the flowers and tabletop in the foreground, this light also spills out into the backs of the barstools as well, a nice little “collateral benefit”. 4) Reflector, below glass table The second-darkest area of the image was the legs of the three barstools near image center. Except for the bluish daylight that’s hitting the near corner of the cabinets, the rest of that little corner was dark and almost devoid of detail. There was nothing on the right side of this room to bounce a light off, so I used a large white reflector and bounced a speedlight off of it. I experimented with putting it opposite the stools but found that even at that angle, I got terrible specular reflections on the backs of those shiny, dark wooden stools. Eventually, I found that putting the reflector almost under the glass table in the foreground gave me good light into that corner, and minimal glare. 5) Sunflowers I wanted those sunflowers to really “pop”. Forty-five minutes earlier, when I started setting this shot up, they were gloriously lit by the ample daylight that was streaming in from the windows to the right. But by the time the twilight had advanced to the “perfect” moment for the rest of the scene, that effect was greatly diminished. So, I cheated, by placing a speedlight way down at that end of the kitchen, with a grid14 aimed very carefully so the flowers are spotlighted and really stand out from the background. 6) Tile backsplash We discovered a problem early on in the process of setting up this shot – the lights under the hood over the range were burned out! I usually carry spare light bulbs with me, but these were special halogen units, and we couldn’t find a replacement anywhere. I made several attempts to fake it by gaffer-taping speedlights up under the hood, but nothing looked remotely realistic (let alone attractive), and I finally gave up. Instead, I brightened the glass tile backsplash with a speedlight that’s sitting on the counter behind the sunflowers, with the WAD down, aimed straight across at the stove. I had to keep it at very low power, and you can see a little white reflection from it in the tiles at the lower right corner of the backsplash. (Note to self: repair that in Photoshop.)

14I haven’t talked much about grids in this book, but they’re AWESOME for punching light in a tight, controlled beam, right where you want it. Spotlighting objects like this is harder than you’d think, but in some situations, like this, it works wonderfully.

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the camera past the second refrigerator. It was much darker back there, and I was really worried about getting nasty, diffuse reflective ugliness in the cabinets to the right of the fridge. I put a speedlight near the back of the hall, about 4 feet off the floor, and aimed it at the closed door at the end of the hallway, which extends another 3 or 4 feet beyond what you can see in this photo. The ugly, diffuse reflection falls directly behind the sunflowers, and I got my color and brightness back. Now, that might seem like an overwhelming amount of detail. “How would I ever figure all that out?”, you might be asking yourself! The key is to get that first ambient-only photograph made and examine it carefully. I was shooting tethered to a laptop for this project, which allowed me to really zoom in and see what was going on in my photo, identify the specific areas you need to work on, and tackle them one at a time, working from foreground to background. If you try to do everything at once, you’ll get overwhelmed. If you try to light everything with one or two lights, you’ll have an overlit foreground and a dark, shadowy background. Work slowly, be thoughtful, and you’ll get it! For more on that subject, check out Chapter 17: Speed Kills.

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e’ve covered a lot of ground so far. I’ve tried to keep things relevant to the kinds of architecture and design that constitute 90% of what we all encounter day to day. But what about the oddball spaces? What about the really interesting architecture that seems to defy convention? This chapter attempts to deal with that 10%. Mainly, the point of this chapter is to encourage you to think creatively, put a few of these ideas in your back pocket, and someday, in 2 weeks, or 10 months, or next year sometime you’ll pull one of them out and do something extraordinary with it. Photography is fun. Especially when you can take a scene and completely bend it to your creative will! HIGH CEILINGS This one is a no-brainer. And when I say, “high ceilings”, I’m not talking about 12-footers, either. I mean really high ceilings, the twostory ones, or at least the peaked kind that go up a good 15-feet.

High ceilings are your friend. Your first step (after you’ve established an ambient exposure, of course) is to bounce a flash off of it. Put it on a relatively high stand, at least up above the level of the camera, and nuke the ceiling, which is high enough that the hot spot won’t be visible at all.1 You’ll be able to create a hot spot that’s easily 10-feet across, maybe bigger. That light will come

1Rooms with high ceilings often have big, tall windows, too. Watch the reflections! Fortunately, from the camera’s perspective, what you’re usually seeing in the upper windows is pure sky, which can be easily fixed if a reflection shows up. I’m not making this up!

Figure 14.1

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“Light that comes straight down from the ceiling will penetrate into every little nook and crevice, removing most of the depth and interest from the photo.” down into the room as a huge, soft, even light that will get you nearly all the way to your desired exposure. Maybe all the way.

Figure 14.2

It’s also very flat. Meaning light that comes straight down from the ceiling will penetrate into every little nook and crevice, removing most of the depth and interest from the photo. And it won’t do anything for the “under-spaces”, beneath bookshelves and tabletops, which will simply appear darker and drearier than ever. But the nice thing is, now that you’ve got a decent level of illumination overall, you can easily sculpt the light to your liking, by strategically adding lights from lower down. You can use a gridded2 light to punch up a chair, or a plant. You can bounce one in off a wall to bring some horizontal light in and dig out the shadows under the table. Also you can plant one out in the garden and zoom it in to shine through the windows like sunlight. 165

2For spotlighting details in a room, many architectural photographers carry dozens of small, focused lights called inkies which is short for inky-dinky.

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You’ll want to power that ceiling light up quite a bit. Remember the Inverse Square Law?3 It’s totally in play here. That ceiling is probably 20 feet up, which means your light has to travel around 15 feet from the flash to the ceiling, then another twenty feet back down before it strikes the furniture and floor. And of course, you’re going to lose some light in the bounce itself. It’s not unusual to need two lights, or more if the space is really big, and/or the exposure is extreme. In the example below, a ceiling bounce, along with a long exposure taken at twilight, provides almost all the light necessary. An umbrella from camera right gives a little extra light on the near surfaces of the furniture.

3In case you need a reminder, the Inverse Square Law says that, “The brightness of your light drops as the square of the distance it travels”. For example, if you move the light twice as far from the subject, the brightness falls to 1/4 what you had originally. If you move the light 3 times as far away, then the brightness falls to 1/9.

Figure 14.3

Even a relatively low peaked ceiling, as in the kitchen shot below, works great as a bounce surface. The near side of the ceiling is completely out of the photo, so I was able to use almost every inch of it to beam light down into the room. This makes it appear as if the skylights were doing all the work!

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Figure 14.4

COVE CEILINGS

Figure 14.5

Cove ceilings are another great asset for interior photographers. A cove is the curved plaster transition from wall to ceiling that was very popular in the 1940s and is still used occasionally today. 167

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Figure 14.6

Pointing a flash into the cove results in the most even, broad lighting you can get. The shape and surface combine to create a very efficient lighting modifier. In fact, the major challenge (as with the high ceiling bounce described above) is reintroducing some depth and contrast! But for simply obtaining your exposure, and balancing against a bright window, you can’t beat a cove ceiling. PHONY SUNLIGHT AND OTHER OUTRIGHT FAKERY We don’t always have the light we wish we had. But sometimes we can make it happen anyway. For example, here’s a perfectly good shot of a living room, with a nice view of a ridge out the window:

Figure 14.7 same shot, only this time I’ve added a light Now, here’s the exact

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Now, here’s the exact same shot, only this time I’ve added two lights outside, firing through the glass. The flash has been gelled CTO (Color Change Orange), and it adds warm highlights to the furniture, and even puts the pattern of the windows on the floor and walls! This punches up an otherwise dull photo.4

4If you want the full story of how I made this photo, subscribe to www. lightingforrealestate. com

Figure 14.8

“A nice, controlled splash of sunlight can totally bring an otherwise boring photo to life.”

The trick to doing this is to get that light as far away from the window as you can. Rays from the sun, because of its tremendous distance from the earth, are effectively parallel. As such, shadows cast from sunlight are also parallel, and won’t splay out in a fan shape. The closer your flash is to a group of objects, the more fanshaped the shadow pattern will be, which is a dead give away. To create false sunlight through a window, put the flash a good 30 feet or more out in the yard, and zoom it to its tightest pattern (SB-80s will go to 105 mm; the new SB-900 zooms to 210mm!). You can also gel it to warm it up, which is a good idea since low sunlight (which is what you’re mimicking) tends to be significantly warmer than midday sunlight.4 You also need to have that flash up high - probably higher than your little video tripod lightstands will go. Otherwise, you’ll be putting light on the ceiling, which would never happen naturally. Here is where you want to break out a 169

4Simulating sunlight is actually a good reason to carry a more powerful strobe around. Speedlights sometimes don’t have enough output to pull this off!

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good old fashioned 12-foot lightstand. In general, this trick works best when there’s a lot of glass broken up with a lot of window frame. French windows are perfect for this technique, as you’ll get a fine cross-hatch pattern of shadow from the Muntins and Mullions that cues the viewer to what’s going on. A nice, controlled splash of sunlight can totally bring an otherwise boring photo to life. Just be careful not to do something that’s completely contradicted by the existing, “real” light in the room, or what’s visible outdoors! If it’s obviously wet and rainy outside, your fake sunlight on the carpet is going to look silly. Likewise, you can’t have real sunlight streaming in from the left, and then introduce fake sunlight streaming in from the right, unless of course you live on another planet, in another solar system. In which case, please send me photos immediately! While we’re on the topic of faking the ambient, it’s worth mentioning that you can fake a missing light bulb pretty easily, too. While it’s not that hard to fake the glow inside a lampshade using Photoshop, it’s a little harder to create a realistic-looking glow on the wall and ceiling. But a speedlight, perched precariously inside the lampshade, gelled warm and powered down to 1/32 or so can stand in for a missing light bulb quite easily. The light bounces around inside the lampshade and comes out looking just like the other lamps in the room. I’ve done this many times when a light bulb was unavailable, or the power wasn’t working in the room I was shooting (this happens a lot with new construction). GELLING LIGHTS I’ve mentioned gels several times now, so let’s dig into that topic for a bit. A gel is a colored sheet that you place in front of the light to alter the temperature of the light. It’s useful, and even necessary, in lots of situations. First, and most obviously, is when we’re trying to match the temperature of our flashes to the temperature of the existing light in the room. During normal daylight hours, the rooms are typically flooded with daylight from outside. There may be other light sources present, like lamps, but they usually represent a small fraction of the overall light, and don’t usually contribute except in a small radius around themselves. This is especially true when we’re using a fast shutter speed to control a strong window exposure 170

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that tends to suppress the light fixtures in the room. Fortunately, speedlights are typically “daylight balanced”, meaning that the color of the light from your flash is pretty close to daylight. Most speedlights are at about 5500 K (K is an abbreviation for Kelvin). The accepted standard for daylight5 is 5600 K. Real daylight, of course, varies quite a bit, especially since it’s usually bouncing off of lots of different stuff on its way into your living room. Grass, trees, clouds and dust particles in the atmosphere all have the effect of warming the sunlight. But then again, every time you use a modifier on your flashes, you’re also warming the light, in varying amounts. Umbrellas, Stofens, and of course bouncing light off of who knows what color paint, alters the color of your flash! So what’s a photographer to do?

5Color temperature is measured in Kelvin, named after a 19th Century physicist. Accepted standards are: Daylight: 5600 K Tungsten: 2600 K Halogen: 3200 K Cloudy: 6500 K Shade: 7400 K Note that these can vary significantly depending on environmental influences!

In practice, you’ll find that the use of flash has a diluting effect on all the light sources in the room. It’ll warm up the daylight, cool down the tungsten, and help neutralize the fluorescent lighting. However, the more ambient light you include in your photos, the more you’re going to notice the color casts from each distinct light source. Especially problematic is the blue cast from daylight, and the green cast from fluorescent lights (under-cabinet lighting in kitchens is particularly troublesome). Tungsten light fixtures will glow amber, which is actually quite pleasing, until it gets extreme. Here’s an example of how gelling a flash or two can even out the competing color casts in a scene. This small bathroom has three zones to deal with: the well-lit vanity, the somewhat dimmer tub area on the right, and the water closet through the door. The vanity is all ambient light. I dragged the shutter enough that I didn’t need to add any flash at all. But the tub/shower, and the water closet needed some extra light, so I put low power flashes in both those locations. Because the vanity is lit via the tungsten light fixtures above the mirror, I set the camera’s white balance down to around 4000 K so the white sinks look white. But since my flashes are at 5500 K the areas lit by them are showing up quite blue.

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Figure 14.9

6Gel manufacturers can

In this second shot, I’ve covered the flash heads with a straw warming gel. The gel converts the 5500 K flash to about 3800K…. just about right!6

supply you with a chart that tells you specifically what the conversion values are for every gel they supply. Unless you’re working in very controlled environments, and using a colorimeter, you’re probably best off sticking with the standard gels: CTO – converts Flash to Tungsten. CTB – converts Tungsten to Flash.

Figure 14.10

Window Green – converts Flash to Fluorescent. Straw – Similar to CTO, but less orange.

MORE FAKERY Remember what I was saying above about faking a missing light 172

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bulb with a flash? To make it look even more real, gel that flash CTO. Check this out. Here’s a dining room shot made in a house with no electricity:

Figure 14.11

All is well and good, but a little lifeless, eh? Now, we’ll just light the chandelier with a flash. In this case, to get the flash, which is very directional, to behave like a light bulb and put light out in all directions, I used a Stofen cap. I lined it with CTO gels, so the flash would take on the same color as a tungsten bulb, too:

Figure 14.12

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Figure 14.13

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Then I placed it inside the light fixture. That flash is set at something like 1/32, or maybe even 1/64 power. Now the shot looks like the following:

Figure 14.14

See how the Stofen cap fills the bowl evenly? And, it puts a nice warm glow on the ceiling and everything! For a really dramatic effect, shoot a room at twilight, and make sure to under expose the windows a bit. Set the camera’s white balance to Tungsten, which will cause the windows and anything that’s lit by daylight, to go deep, vivid blue.7 Meanwhile the tungsten light fixtures in the room will appear perfectly normal because you’ve set your white balance specifically for them. If you need to add flash to the interior exposure, gel your flashes CTO which converts the native flash temperature to tungsten. Everything inside the room will now be the correct color, and your windows will have an ethereal, beautiful blue color. It’s totally unrealistic but a very cool and popular effect.

“...the more ambient light you include in your photos, the more you’re going to notice the color casts from each distinct light source.” 174

7Color Temperature gets very, very counterintuitive very quickly. In our life experience, we know that the hotter something is, the bluer it appears. For instance, a match glows yelloworange, but a propane torch (or your kitchen stove) is blue. But in photography, we routinely describe a blue cast as “cool”, and a reddish cast as “warm”. To make matters worse, when we want to “warm up” our flash, we use a gel that’s designed to convert it to a lower temperature! Argh!

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Figure 14.15

Another way to use gels is to artificially warm up a specific area of the photo for aesthetic reasons. I do this all the time for shots that include a staircase. I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my favorite technique for lighting the stairs is to put a light at the top, bounced off the ceiling. What I also do is put a half straw gel on that light, to introduce a gentle amber glow to the light streaming down from upstairs. To my eye, it makes the staircase that much more inviting:

Figure 14.16

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SHOOTING THROUGH CURTAINS Curtains, even relatively heavy ones, make great light modifiers. In fact, for a lot of famous portrait photographers, it’s pretty much standard procedure to snag a bedsheet from their hotel room to bring with them to their shoots. They hang it across a doorway or window and fire a light through it. Voila! An instant 7-foot silk diffuser (and no extra baggage charges). Explaining to the hotel manager how and why you got gaffer’s tape all over his 200-thread count sheets is another matter. Here’s a shot where I had a fabric divider in a doorway, just out of frame in an oddly shaped room. I was able to bounce in a little light from camera left. However, getting the other end of this room lit to anything approaching the window exposure was baffling me, until it occurred to me to use that curtain:

Figure 14.17

The curtain is partitioning off a closet, and it’s just this side of the dresser on the right.

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Here’s what was going on inside that closet:

Figure 14.18

Natural window light, great as it is, doesn’t spread out into the room very well. It comes in pretty much straight and lights everything in its path, but leaves everything on either side in darkness. A neutral colored fabric hung in front of a window, on the other hand, will not only diffuse the light, but scatter it in many directions. Obviously you can’t hang a bedsheet in a window that’s facing the camera. But you can do it for windows that you don’t have a very clear view of, or that aren’t in the composition at all, and get a lot of nice light from it. It looks like window light, but it spreads out and covers a wider area than you could otherwise get.

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T

here’s a common term we use when critiquing photographs – “flat”. When we say that a photo looks flat, we mean that there is little sense of depth. This is influenced in part by composition, but mostly it’s a function of the quality of the light in the scene. In general, light coming from the same axis as the lens will produce a flat photograph. The room will be illuminated adequately, but there will be few visual cues that indicate three dimensionality. This is the number one reason to get your light off the camera. Light coming from the camera’s location is boring! Portrait photographers go to great lengths to produce photos that show great depth and feeling for their subjects, and we can do the same thing with interiors. Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. We’ll shoot this bedroom a couple of different ways, one designed to produce flat light, and one designed to produce a feeling of depth (and even mood). The exposure and composition will remain exactly the same in both shots. Only the lighting will change. Since we’re so often called upon to resolve the view out the windows, I’m going to use a base exposure that “gets it all” – ISO 100, f/10, 1/40.1

1Full disclosure: the examples in this section are not made with speedlights. In this shot, and the kitchen photo below, I’m using an Elinchrom Ranger pack and a couple of heads. The same exposure could be attained with speedlights, but I’d need a higher ISO, and a wider aperture and an accordingly faster shutter speed.

Figure 15.1

Here’s the “flat” shot. There’s one light, bounced into the wall/ ceiling joint above the camera. 179

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This is a basic real estate shot. By now you should have thought of this setup instantly. I’ve delivered plenty just like it to clients, but the purpose of this section is to illustrate what we can do to improve on this, simply by finessing the lighting. As it stands, every square inch of this room is lit, and there’s no question about the color of the paint, the detail in the chairs, etc. My bounced light was large enough that there are no nasty shadows. In fact there are no shadows at all! But the image is flat. It’s that very lack of shadow that makes the light so clinical and fundamentally moodless. This room does not look inviting! So let’s look at what options we have. Anytime we can get the

“...I want you to go look inside your camera bag. There should be a piece of paper in there with the words ‘Get the lights out from behind the camera’ written on it!” lights out from behind the camera, it’s a good thing. Write that one down, and put it in your camera bag! Again: anytime we can get the lights out from behind the camera, the photographs will improve. You can go ahead and quote me on that! So, what if we were to bring the light in from the side, instead of from behind the camera? The natural, ambient light in this room pours in from the windows, mostly along the left side, so we’ll go with that and set a couple of umbrellas out on the balcony, aiming them in through the windows. One will go outside the left-most window (the one we see only a slice of) – that’ll be for the bedspread, and it won’t be very strong, either. The second light will be hidden between the doors and the last window on the left behind the plant. That light will be for the chairs and the far end of the room. Finally, we’ll set one inside the bedroom at camera right, to fill in and control the contrast. It’s bounced off of a whitish door at camera right, and kept down fairly low so it doesn’t “spill” onto the ceiling. This light is at quite low power because we don’t even want to come close to equaling the light coming in from the left which would totally ruin the whole effect! Here’s the result: 180

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Figure 15.2

Whoa. That makes a huge difference, wouldn’t you say? And check out the windows – the exposure did not change at all between these two shots. Notice how three dimensional the chairs now appear. The light on the plant is quite beautiful, and the bedspread is not so featureless. I achieved that by keeping the light in the left window very low, so it rakes across the bed at an extreme angle, creating tiny little shadows at every undulation of the fabric. (FYI, in the course of making these two examples, the sun rose a little higher in the sky, so the sun-splash on the bedspread was not present for the second photo. It’s still visible on the wall below the left-hand window.) Pretty cool, huh? The key to getting this kind of creative freedom is to compose shots that allow you to light them. Had I gone all “UFWA” on this shot, with three walls, I wouldn’t have been able to bring in the gentle fill light from the right side that’s so crucial.

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Let’s take a look at another example. Here’s a kitchen, with a breakfast nook adjacent to it. As with the bedroom example above, we’ll start out with a quick-and-dirty, but flat, lighting setup. Here’s what it looks like with one light, bounced from above the camera:2

2Pop Quiz: Q: How come the light isn’t reflected in the windows at the end of the room? A: Perspective. It’s far enough away that the angle of reflection is nearly parallel to the floor. It barely registers the ceiling above the camera. (Also, I opened them about a half inch!)

Figure 15.3

Meh. It “gets it done” in the sense that you can now see clearly into every part of the scene, but other than that… Yuck. This is not a kitchen where I’d want to cook a gourmet meal for my girlfriend, much less eat it. It’s sterile and uninviting. So, what can we do? As a start, I want you to go look inside your camera bag. There should be a piece of paper in there with the words “Get the lights out from behind the camera” written on it! As in the previous example, the goal is to get the light off-axis. In other words, get it out from behind the camera, and somewhere to the left or right of the scene where it can create that three dimensional quality we love. We need shadows, highlights, and contrast! In an ideal world, I might bring light into the foreground from outside the window over the sink. Unfortunately, the foliage out there was so dense and close to the glass that it just wasn’t possible without using a machete, which I don’t normally carry. So instead, I set a light to the left, on the far side of the range where there’s a dining room. It’s bounced into an umbrella to preserve the directional quality that I want, and aimed across the range towards the right-hand bank of cabinets. 182

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That leaves the breakfast nook. I lit it the same way, with a light positioned outside the window, and again bounced into an umbrella that’s aimed in and down to emulate sunlight. This is a good place to whip out that gentle warming gel, to really get a warm, sunlit effect! Here’s the resulting photo:

3Hotlights are “con-

Figure 15.4

Again – Wow! What a difference! It really came alive! This is a much more interesting photo, and notice that the window exposure hasn’t changed one bit from our original, flat, photo. The two lights I described above got me 90% of the way here. In the course of setting this up, I decided that the lower bank of cabinets on the right side wasn’t showing quite enough detail. So I added a hotlight3 down low on the floor just behind the stove, aimed across at the area beneath the sink. Hotlights are great for this sort of thing, because I had to carefully adjust the “barn doors4” to keep it from spilling down onto the floor, or up too high where it could create hard shadows on the backsplash. The positioning of that light, and the “shape” of the light, was very precise. With a flash, that would have taken lots of trial and error. But with a hotlight, you can see exactly what you’re getting, and for a low-output job like this, it’s perfect. While I was at it, I added another hotlight5 to create the little specular highlight on the near edge of the stove door. It’s little 183

tinuous” lights – and as their name suggests, they get hot. Very hot! The little ones favored by interiors photographers are called ‘inkies”..short for “inky-dinky”. Scout’s honor. 4Barn Doors are the large metal flaps that are attached to the business end of a hotlight. We adjust them to shape the light exactly as we need it. 5The hotlights that I use are made by Arri. Since I’m usually using them for small, very subtle jobs, I like the 150 watt models, although I also carry a couple 300-watt lights, as well. Hotlights come as powerful as 2000 watts, and if you’re ever around a Hollywood movie set, you’ll encounter hotlights as strong as 20,000 watts! Wear sunscreen.

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details like this that can bring your photo to life. Your clients may never know all that you’re doing, but they’ll love the results, trust me. To them, your photos will just be “better” than the next guy’s, even if they can’t articulate why. This book is written primarily with real estate photography in mind. There are times (especially in the second, third, and fourth bedrooms!) when a single light, banged off the wall/ceiling behind the camera, is the smart move. That’s why we started the book off with the “basic bedroom” setup. But that doesn’t mean that every photo you make has to be flat, boring and efficient and lightning fast. And a small, ground floor bedroom is actually the perfect place to start thinking in terms of lights that are directional. A great exercise is to conduct an entire shoot with the iron clad rule that you will have NO lights behind the camera, no matter what. It may force you to compose your shots differently! Very likely, you’ll have to shoot a little bit tighter than you’re used to. Trust me, that will be a good thing. And your light... your light will be sexy and evocative, and your photos will pop right off the page!

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Chapter 16 Post-Processing

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ome people have the notion that post-processing is for losers, and that the only goal of any true photographer should be to capture the “perfect” photo in-camera. I have two words for you: Post Happens. Everyone does it, to varying degrees, and you might be surprised to learn that the “higher” you go in the world of photography, the more post-processing is going on! The difference, of course, is that top photographers are more likely to be managing the process from capture to print, while us lesser mortals sometimes find ourselves rescuing photos that we’ve screwed up!

“...top photographers are more likely to be managing the process from capture to print, while us lesser mortals sometimes find ourselves rescuing photos that we’ve screwed up!” Anyway, the first thing to know is that you aren’t going to be able to deliver every photo “straight out of the camera.” This is just an unrealistic expectation given the vagaries of lenses, the limitations of camera sensors, and the demands of clients. This is especially true for real estate photography, where we’re typically expected to produce a large number of photos in a very short period of time. Inevitably, that means that we’re compromising at every step! I consider a photo to be a success if it’s roughly 90% camera and field technique, and 10% post-production. The more post-production I do, the more I know I was compromising in the field which tends to happen a lot with real estate work. But even those “90%” shots are getting some RAW adjustments. These little tweaks are roughly analogous to a film photographer choosing a specific film, or to a darkroom process that increases, or decreases contrast. In this chapter I’m going to lay out the basics of what I commonly do, starting with workflow, then I’ll go into the thought process from capture to delivery. I’m going to show you some of the basic, accepted norms for post-processing. Just understand that there’s a huge world of 186

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editing software and technique out there, and that what you do in Photoshop is every bit as important as what you do with your camera in the field. Photography has always been at least as much about the darkroom (digital or otherwise) as it has been about the camera. Today, Photoshop is your darkroom1, and you will surely develop techniques of your own that help to set your photography apart from the rest. HISTOGRAM When I’m shooting, I’m thinking about getting the best capture I can get “in-camera”, but there are times when that means deliberately setting up the post-processing, by shooting separate exposures for highlights and shadows, positioning my lights so that they will be easy to remove digitally, or even shooting components to be composited later into a final product. My exposures are calculated to allow me to accomplish specific things in post-production. Most often, though, I’m just trying to get the highlights under control, and making sure that the shadows aren’t clipped beyond my ability to recover them.2 Ideally, what I capture in-camera is very close to what will ultimately be delivered, but in some situations, I’m just happy to get an image that can be “massaged” into something beautiful later on!

“Today, Photoshop is your darkroom, and you will surely develop techniques of your own that help to set your photography apart from the rest.” And for that, the most important thing I pay attention to during shooting is my histogram3, which tells me in absolute terms where my exposure is. You can’t rely on chimping to tell you if your exposure is correct! The display on the back of your camera is only a rough representation of your image, good for assessing composition and getting a approximation of color and exposure, but not much else. The histogram, on the other hand, is completely quantitative, and the first thing to examine is the left and right sides. If you’ve “clipped” the highlights or shadows excessively, you need to do more work in the field! Once you’ve lost detail in those areas, you can’t get it back.

1It’s often said that Ansel Adams was an average photographer… but a brilliant darkroom technician! 2This book is intended to teach lighting techniques, but of course there are many ways to blend multiple exposures together to capture the entire dynamic range of a scene. Known collectively as “HDR” or “Exposure Blending”, it’s extremely popular, and can deliver acceptable results, but requires a lot of time! Many photographers use a “hybrid” approach, lighting several exposures and then blending them together, either using specialized software such as Photomatix or Enfuse, or “by hand” in Photoshop. 3The histogram shows you graphically where your exposure is. The left edge represents 100% white; the right edge represents 100% black. There are 256 levels of gray in between. The shape of the graph tells you how many pixels in your image are at any of those levels of gray. If you have a histogram that “bleeds” off the left or right edge too much, you’ve “clipped” your highlights or shadows! This might be acceptable, depending on the goal of your photo, but make sure you’re in control of this.

The histogram shows you graphically where your exposure is. The 187

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left edge represents 100% white, the right edge represents 100% black and there are 256 levels of gray in between. The shape of the graph tells you how many pixels in your image are at any of those levels of gray. If you have a histogram that “bleeds” off the left or right edge too much, you’ve “clipped” your highlights or shadows! This might be acceptable, depending on the goal of your photo, but make sure you’re in control of it. In the example below, the graph falls to zero at the extreme left edge, which tells us that no part of the photo is 100% black. There are portions which are very close, but there is still some detail there. Most of the pixels are grouped just to the right of center, which tells us that most of the photo is a little brighter than average. And the graph bleeds off of the right side, so we know that there are some clipped highlights.

Figure 16.1

Clipped shadows and highlights are not necessarily bad, as long as you’re in charge. It’s a good exercise to examine a few of your own photos and try to map the histogram to the image itself. Where are those shadows? Where are the clipped highlights? What constitutes a “midtone”? Getting a feel for what the histogram looks like in different situations will help you out a lot when you’re trying to evaluate your exposure in the field. We’ve spent most of this book discussing how to compress the tonal range you are confronted with in the field into something the camera can handle. The histogram is your scorecard. Learn to read it! The good news is that you can do a remarkable amount of 188

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manipulation with the pixels that aren’t falling off the edge of your histogram. Today’s cameras deliver awesome image quality, and today’s RAW processors (Lightroom, Adobe Camera RAW, etc.) are more capable than ever. In my opinion, new camera sensors combined with the latest RAW editors have rendered HDR and all of it’s cousins obsolete. I can do more with a single, well-exposed RAW file and Lightroom than most people can do with three brackets and all the software in the world.

“In my opinion, new camera sensors combined with the latest RAW editors have rendered HDR and all of it’s cousins obsolete.” One note on capture: you should be shooting RAW. Period. You can argue with me all you like about the relative merits of JPG vs. RAW, but frankly that debate was over years ago, and RAW won. The advantages are overwhelming and the disadvantages are spurious. RAW files are archival by their nature4, whereas JPGs degrade over time. RAW captures all the data your camera is capable of collecting, while JPGs are inherently “lossy”, meaning you’ve already compromised quality before you even write the image to your CF card. RAW files can be manipulated to a great degree without experiencing quality loss, but JPGs lose quality with nearly everything you do to them.

4I recommend converting your RAW files to the nonproprietary “DNG” format for archiving. DNG preserves all the “RAW-ness” of your file, but releases you from proprietary Nikon, or Canon support.

“You should be shooting RAW Period. You can argue with me all you like about the relative merits of JPG vs RAW, but frankly that debate was over years ago, and RAW won.” With storage costs below 50 cents per gigabyte and dropping, there’s really no reason to avoid the larger, and better, files. As soon as possible after shooting, get your images off the card and onto a hard drive, and get them backed up to a second drive. If you’re traveling, the second drive should be packed separately from your laptop, to minimize the chance that they’ll both get lost. 189

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You’re going to want a good digital asset management (DAM) system, and that should include keywording your files. I’m not even going to touch that subject further, as Peter Krogh has covered it in exhaustive detail in his fantastic book, The Dam Book: Digital Asset Management for Photographers (O’Reilly Media, 2009). Now let’s skip ahead to the point where you’ve got a photo you want to work on. I use Adobe Lightroom, and Photoshop, and I’ll be writing this section with those programs in mind. You might also want to give Aperture5 a look, it’s a good competitor for Lightroom. Capture One, which has long been favored for tethered capture is also highly capable. I recommend that you use one of these four programs (Adobe Photoshop Elements is a good budget alternative to the full Photoshop). Personally, I use Lightroom for both DAM and RAW editing. Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW are functionally identical, and I’ll be writing the rest of this chapter to their functionality, specifically using Lightroom version 5.0.

5Aperture is available only for Macintosh.

Whether you’re working in Lightroom, or Adobe Camera RAW, your first step is to work your way through the RAW adjustments available. Let’s take a real-life example, and work it from a RAW file all the way to a finished product ready for delivery. We’ll start with something really simple, and then try one that’s a little more involved. CASE STUDY 1: AN EASY ROOM

Figure 16.2

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Here’s a very typical small room shot, straight out of the camera. Not bad, overall, but it has a few issues! First and foremost, the white balance is way off. All that yellow paint really throws a color cast over everything, and I didn’t compensate for it very well incamera. There’s also some sensor dust, and the whole thing is just a little flat and dull. We’re going to work on this in Lightroom, and I’m going to work my way down the Develop panel more or less in order, from top to bottom. Beginning with Lightroom 4.0, the basic adjustment sliders are “image adaptive”, and their effects are in some measure predicated on the adjustments you made above them. Not saying you can’t go back and change your mind on something, but Adobe strongly recommends that you work in order as they’re laid out. But before I touch any of the creative adjustments, I’m going to skip down to the lens correction section, near the bottom of the adjustments panel. There are some automatic adjustments that should always be turned on, so we’ll hit them right away.

Figure 16.3

Within the lens corrections section, click the “Basic” tab, and then click all three boxes below. Profile corrections will read the EXIF data from your image, identify the lens you were using, and apply a very good generic correction to your image while accounting for that particular lens’ imperfections, at the specific aperture you used. It’s possible to calibrate your lens and create a correction profile that’s completely customized for your copy of that lens, but I have to say that I’ve found Adobe’s generic profiles to be completely satisfactory. 191

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Note that profile corrections are not available for shift lenses, because of the infinite variables inherent in the shift/tilt combinations. And lenses that are not brand appropriate will not always be read automatically. You might have to click the profile tab and find your lens from the drop-down menu, where it may, or may not exist. But if you’re shooting Nikon lenses on a Nikon camera, or Canon Lenses on a Canon camera…this is gonna work fine. Generally, your barrel and pincushion distortion will be taken care of, as well as your lens vignetting. The “remove chromatic aberration” box will do a very good job of removing this little creature, which will drive you batty once you start seeing it. Chromatic aberration (CA) is the red/cyan, and yellow/blue fringing that shows up along high-contrast lines, Which is worst near the edges of your photo. This is a lens defect, and there is essentially zero cost to correcting it in terms of image quality, so there’s really no reason not to leave this little box checked. The color tab allows you to manually adjust the Chromatic Aberration correction, and also to address a less-common but related issue, fringing. I’m not going to address fringing here, but again I’d refer you to The Digital Negative, by Jeff Schewe for more information than you likely want. Instead, let’s move on to the manual tab. This is a topic I’ve discussed at length on my blog, and if you haven’t already seen it, I suggest heading over there now to watch the free video tutorial: www.scotthargisphoto.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/correctingverticals-redux/ The video explains things much better than I could possibly do here. Suffice it to say that I did not do a great job leveling the camera in the field on this shot, and it was rotated around the vertical axis by +0.6 degrees! Lightroom displays a helpful grid when your mouse is over the adjustment sliders, and below you can see where I was looking to make sure things were correct.

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Figure 16.4

Again, this is a big topic, but the free video is vastly superior to what we can accomplish here. If you’ve got any question marks popping up here, go watch it! In the meantime, we’re moving back to the top of the adjustments panel, to the “basic” section. First up: white balance. Luckily, you can fine-tune your white balance in RAW with no consequence exactly as if you had dialed in the perfect setting in your camera while shooting. If you’ve included a white balance card6 in a test shot, use the eyedropper to sample a swatch. I find I get the best results if I eyedropper a gray swatch that is close in tonality to the overall tonality of the room. Otherwise, use the white swatch. With that one click, all of the highlights in your photo will be very nearly perfect. You may not need to do anything further to this image’s color! In this case, I’m going to use the eyedropper tool in Lightroom to sample the switch plate cover on the wall to the left of the bookshelves. I don’t trust the paint on the shelves and windows to be truly white, but I made a mental note while on site that the switch plate covers were. Whenever in doubt, throw a white balance card into a test shot!

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6If you’re using a gray card, make sure it’s meant for Color Digital photography! The old Kodak gray cards are not spectrally neutral (meaning that they are “gray” in a black-andwhite world, but they have a color cast in a color world.

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Figure 16.5

Notice that Lightroom determined that 3650K is “neutral”, pretty close to tungsten! This should confirm your suspicion regarding the conditions in this room. There’s not a lot of daylight, and a slow shutter speed was used. Take a squint at the window. You’re in a typical San Francisco row house, and that’s the neighboring house you’re seeing about 4 feet away. The tiny bit of daylight that we are getting, along with the relatively small flash component, are what raises the color temperature in this room up above pure tungsten. Our white balance should now be pretty accurate, but I also know that people generally respond better to a photo that’s slightly warmer than neutral, particularly when the color scheme in the room is already warm. So, as long as it looks right to my eye, I often artificially “warm up” a room just a little bit. In this case, Lightroom has settled on 3650K as the correct white balance, which is probably right, but I’m going to bump that up to 4000K arbitrarily, because I like the look. No one will be calling me out on this, and my goal here is to make a photo that looks and feels good. Another, more precise, way to handle this is to use a color target to calibrate the image. I use the X-Rite color checker card, which is an 8” x 10” card with colored squares, available from your camera store for about $60. Put the color checker into the shot, in a place where it’s receiving the dominant light source (in the case of our office above, that would be the flash). I’d prop it up on the desk. Next, photograph 194

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the room twice: once with the card, and once without it. During post-processing, use the white or gray swatches to set your white balance in RAW. This gives you an unquestionably accurate target to set the color balance to, because the white, gray, and black swatches are absolutely neutral.7 Then, you simply “sync” those settings to the photo without the card in it, and proceed as usual. In general, if you get the whites neutral, and the blacks neutral, the midtones are going to follow along. Note that in most cases, as interiors photographers, we’re working in mixed light conditions, which means we’ve got tungsten (3200K) from the lamps, daylight (5500K+) from the windows, fluorescent most likely with a massive green shift from the practicals, and if it’s a kitchen, probably some Halogen spots thrown in for good measure (~3500K with a huge red shift). So where do you put the color checker? The more discrete your light sources are, the less effective the color checker is going to be. If you’re in a situation that demands near perfect color fidelity (“perfect” is not a realistic expectation), you can go a step further. Let’s say, for example, that your client is an interior designer who spent weeks choosing the exact shade of blue paint on the walls. He expects your photos to render that blue in all it’s nuances! No problem. You set your white balance using the white, gray, or black swatches. The choose the square that is closest in color and tone to the color you’re most concerned with. In this case, that would probably be the light blue swatch in the upper right corner, or maybe the one just above the black square near the lower right. Your color card comes with a little pamphlet that gives you the absolute RGB values for every square on the card. Working in RAW (preferably) or in Photoshop, correct the color in your image until you get the same values on that part of the color card. Keep double-checking the white and black swatches as you go, to make sure they don’t drift too far from neutral! You can place control points on the image so that you can continuously see the values for those areas as you work. You’re unlikely to get the numbers exact, but if you’re within 5 points on all 3, you’re doing pretty good8. If you have neutral highlights, neutral blacks, and your “important” color all within a few points of where the pamphlet says they should be, then you’ve got a very accurate image.

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7Neutral means that the Red, Green, & Blue (RGB) values are equal, or nearly equal. Pure white is 100, 100, 100, and pure black is 0,0,0. Since “white” objects in our photos are usually more of a bright gray (i.e. not clipped), you’ll want to make sure that when you sample them, you get roughly the same values for R, G, & B. Remember that slight color casts are often preferable. In this case I’ve chosen to warm up my image, which means that the “white” trim around the windows is actually reading 78, 76, 72 (a little on the yellow/red side of neutral).

8I don’t want to advocate sloppy work, but it’s worth remembering that once the photographs leave your studio, there’s just no telling how they’re going to be viewed. It’s highly unlikely that your client’s monitor is calibrated at all, and even a professional print facility will depart from your “perfect” color to some degree. It’s unavoidable. All you can do is deliver the best match you can.

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TONING Next up are the exposure controls: exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, whites, blacks & clarity. You’ll want to pay close attention to the histogram when working with these. Turning on the clipping indicator helps tremendously. Highlights will show as solid red, shadows will show as solid blue. You have to click the little triangles in the upper left and right corners of the histogram to get this to show.

“I tend to bump up the saturation on my real estate images a little more than I do my other interiors photos, in a nod to the prevailing aesthetic of the industry overall.” The red and blue areas are showing you where pixels are at, or very near, the edges of the histogram. This is the point where all detail is irrevocably lost and you’re left with pure white, or pure black.9 I don’t mind if a bare light bulb goes pure white (“blownout”, we call it), and it’s absolutely folly to try to avoid blowingout a bright overcast sky while still capturing detail in the interior. Likewise, there’s a place for pure black in our photos, too. The important thing is to be in control of things. Your photo should exhibit the characteristics that you want, not the characteristics you couldn’t avoid! In this case, I’m barely clipping anything, but the very dark lacquered desk and round table are very dark. Let’s start at the top, and remember, these sliders are “smart” and what we do with adjustment affects the behavior of the sliders below it. The highlights and shadows sliders will allow you to recover the detail in areas that are almost clipped. But remember, pixels that are completely clipped, or off the edges of your histogram, are not recoverable. With experience, you’ll gain a good sense of what’s recoverable and what’s not. You have to get to know your camera for this. For this image, I’ve bumped up the exposure +0.10, which brightens the midtones just a bit. A generous dose of experience will help you to identify the highlight, midtone, and shadow areas of your photos. It’s a good skill to have, and messing around with these sliders can help you learn what falls in what category. Next, 196

9Managing your shadows and highlights is an art form. Pulling the edges of your histogram “in” excessively will result in dull, boring photos with little contrast. This is a condition that’s typical of “HDR” photography, where the software is designed to prevent clipping at all costs! But a beautifully-lit interior room, that dissolves into brightness as the eye continues out the French doors can be striking, as can deep shadows in a woodpaneled library. Just make sure that YOU, the photographer, are in control of the image, not the other way around!

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I’ve reduced the contrast -10, in part because of the big difference

Figure 16.6

between the dark furniture and the bright windows and shelves. Also, my Canon 5DmkII tends to deliver RAW files that are slightly more contrasty than I like, so that’s a typical adjustment for me to make. I did a really good job of controlling my highlights in this image, but I’ve lowered the highlights adjustment -7 anyway. In general, you’ll want to move this slider to the left until most of the red clipping indicator has disappeared from your image excepting stuff you don’t really care about, like bare light bulbs, bright hazy skies, etc. The real work on this image is with the shadows adjustment. Even though there’s nothing much clipped, I want to bring out the scalloped edge of the round table, and I want to separate the chair from the desk a little – all of which means I need to brighten the darkest shadows. So I’ve gone to +34, which is quite a bit, for me. It’s very likely this has introduced some noise to the image, but we’ll deal with that in a minute. Lastly, I’m increasing the clarity by +7, and the saturation by +6. Clarity is midtone contrast, and I’d advise that you have a light hand with that one. It’s quite powerful on some images, and it’s easy to go overboard without noticing it! I tend to bump up the saturation on my real estate images a little more than I do my other interiors photos, in a nod to the prevailing aesthetic of the industry overall. These photos need to look good as thumbnails, and a little extra vividness in the color helps in that regard.10 197

10Lightroom and ACR also allow for Curve adjustments which give even more control over the tonality of the image. In this chapter, I’m only touching on the very basics of what’s possible!

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Before we go any further, I’m going to fix something that’s driving me crazy— the sensor dust spots! I hate those…but they’re very easy to fix in Lightroom. We’ll use the spot removal tool which is located just above the “Basic” adjustment panel. It’s the second icon from the left, and gives me a little bull’s-eye target icon which I can resize and then click on top of a blemish to remove it.

Figure 16.7

If you don’t like the sample that Lightroom picks to blend in over your blemish, you can manually drag it to another spot. And you can use the cursor keys to really place it exactly where you want, which can be helpful if you’re working on a regular feature like a windowpane or wallpaper, where you’ve got to line things up perfectly. Here, I’m just spotting sensor dust on a plain painted wall. Easy! Further down the panel are the sharpening and noise reduction controls. This is a very complex topic that is frankly, beyond the scope of this book. Suffice it to say that noise reduction and sharpening are somewhat bound together which is why they’re adjacent in the adjustment panel. The best guide to understanding and using them that I’ve found is the book Real World Image Sharpening (Peachpit Press, 2010) by Jeff Schewe and Bruce Fraser. In the 2:1 crop below, you can see the noise in the shadows and even midtones of the image.11

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11For the record, I actually made the noise in the image worse, just so that it would show up in this relatively small, low-resolution format.

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Figure 16.8

Incidentally, here’s where Adobe got the order wrong – it’s universally agreed that noise reduction should be done before sharpening. Sharpening will only make noise more pronounced, so it’s better to deal with the noise first. I’m going to apply a luminescence adjustment of +24, which eliminates the noise. Then, zooming to a 1:1 view, I’ll tackle the sharpening. I tend to be a little more relaxed about noise, and a little more aggressive about sharpening, with real estate images. This is born from long experience in how they tend to be used. The relatively cheap printing, and the fact that screen viewing is arguably more important than print, leads me to push my images to “pop” a little more. If they’re slightly oversharpened on my computer screen, they’ll actually print better for my client’s brochure, and they’ll “pop” a little more in an online slideshow. But when in doubt, I advise using a light touch. Be conservative! With a radius of 1.2 which roughly corresponds to the size of detail I want to retain, I’ll apply a sharpening amount of +49. This firms up the tiny edges without creating noticeable halos.

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Here’s what I get:

Figure 16.9

Noise reduction and sharpness are linked to each other, and navigating the two to produce the optimal result is an art form in itself. Check the “Suggested Reading” chapter for a great book on this subject.

Figure 16.10

At this point, I think this image is ready to deliver. But, there’s one last thing I’m going to do, which I think will improve things. I’m going to add a subtle vignette. This is a technique that’s as old as photography itself (indeed, much older than that: vignetting has been around in art since the Pleistocene, probably). By darkening 200

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the corners slightly, we can help the viewer’s eye stay “in” the photo. Our eyes are attracted to bright things, and an image with bright edges and corners will allow the eye to wander right off the edge. In the darkroom, this was done by “burning” in the edges of the print while on the enlarger. You can still perform the digital equivalent of this in Photoshop but Lightroom has given us a great tool that allows even better control, and it’s entirely reversible if you change your mind. Down near the bottom of the adjustment panel you’ll find the “effects” section, and the first one is “post-crop vignetting”. Don’t confuse this with “lens vignetting”, which is just above this in the lens corrections section. They’re similar, but “lens vignetting” is designed specifically to correct the optical flaws in lenses. “Postcrop vignetting” is designed as a creative process that mimics the darkroom technique. This one is very easy to master, just start cranking the sliders around and you’ll see immediately how it works. I’m keeping it very simple, and just darkening the corners about -18.

Figure 16.11

And with that, this image is done! Now I’ll grant you, I probably tweaked this one more than is strictly necessary for my client’s purposes, but at least we got a chance to walk through the most common adjustments that come up. Whether you use Lightroom, Adobe Camera RAW or other RAW editors It’s best to do absolutely everything you possibly can in RAW before you move to Photoshop. Most of my images never go 201

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to Photoshop and if they do, it’s generally because of a physical blemish like graffiti, or carpet stains or because I was sloppy with my lighting… as in the next example! CASE STUDY #2: SHADOWS AND REFLECTIONS

Figure 16.12

We’ll work with this greatroom photo I made back in 2010. I’ve both seen and produced worse, but still, this has major problems. Let’s take a look at the obvious ones. First, the white balance needs to be adjusted. No big deal, we’ll just use the eyedropper tool to sample something white, like the windowsills, as we did in the office photo in the section above. And it’s pretty flat and boring, and needs punch! We can achieve that with some curves adjustment. But there are other, more pressing problems, too.

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Figure 16.13

Here are the biggest problems that jump right out to me: 1 and 3- Shadows! This was just a sloppy light placement on my part. There is a speedlight at camera left, with the WAD, which is working well except that it’s “behind” the line of the left side of the dormer, and is casting a hard shadow on the wall. Had I moved that light slightly to the right, I could have eliminated that issue and still had good light. Now I have to fix it in Photoshop. 2 – These are the reflections from speedlights at camera left and right, with the WAD’s down (the one on the left also caused the shadows). I could have positioned these a lot better, but still, I can clone them out pretty easily. I don’t even try to avoid these because they’re just too easy to deal with in post-processing. You’ll see what I mean in a few minutes. While it might be possible to fix these with Lightroom’s spot removal tool, it’ll be a lot easier with Photoshop’s clone tool. 4 – Curses!! Sensor dust!! So let’s tackle these, and see what we end up with. Just as before, I’ll begin with a white balance adjustment. I shot this at 4200K, for some reason, but I’ll correct it by eyedroppering the white windowsills, and then arbitrarily warm the image from there up to 4950K, which looks very pleasing to my eye: 203

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Figure 16.14

Now, on to toning. Looking at my clipping indicators, I see that the sky is pretty much blown (no surprise there), but if anything, my shadows are too bright! So I’ll be focusing on the highlights slider, and then using either the black slider, or contrast slider or both, to give this image some definition. I’m also going to use the Lightroom lens corrections profile to kill any vignetting and pincushion distortion. Here’s what I get after applying all that:

Figure 16.15

Nice! I’ve gotten some definition (read: “contrast”), and I got back quite a bit of color in the windows, too. At this point, I’m ready to take this into Photoshop to deal with the shadows and reflections. Let’s start with the shadows above and to the left of the windows, and on the wall above the sofa. The easiest way to take these out is by airbrushing them away, but it takes a light touch! The first step is to create a mask around the area we’re going to brush. I’ll use the magic wand tool for that: 204

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Figure 16.16

Notice that I’ve selected a large area around the shadows that I want to paint away. This is to accommodate the large brush I’ll be using. I want my airbrush strokes to blend seamlessly with the existing wall color, but, I don’t have to worry about airbrushing wall color over the furniture, or the windows, etc. Careful masking is very important. The secret to airbrushing out flaws is to have a very light touch. Use a large, very soft brush, and keep the flow and opacity low, too. I like to leave the flow at about 50% or so, and the opacity at between 10% and 25%. It also helps to use the darker color or lighter color options from the drop-down menu in the options bar. These can help a lot in retaining detail in the areas you’re painting. I’ll use the eyedropper to select an area of paint that’s outside the shadow area above the windows, and with my brush set at 50% flow and 18% opacity, I’ll make several passes over the shadow line, until it’s just blended in. Then I’ll do the same thing behind the sofa.

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Here’s the result:

Figure 16.17

It looks pretty good, and because I had the brush set to lighter color, I even retained at least a little bit of the glow from the spotlight on the ceiling above the window. Now, I’ll go after the reflections in the windows. For this, I’ll need the clone tool. Had I been more observant in the field, I would have repositioned those flashes a couple of inches each so as to put the reflections in the easiest possible spots, anticipating having to clone them out later. But, I wasn’t particularly paying attention, so they are where they are. Let’s take a closer look: Figure 16.18

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OK, it could be worse. I can “borrow” from areas in the immediate vicinity of both of these. Here’s the “targets” I’ll use with my clone stamp:

Figure 16.19

And, here’s what it looks like after I’ve cloned them. See how easy that was? It would have been even easier had I strategically positioned those reflections in an area of clear sky or foliage, with no window frames to deal with.

Figure 16.20

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Figure 16.21

And now, we can apply a curves adjustment to this image, and call it a day! To my eye, this image is a little too bright, especially in the midtones. But I don’t want to lose the bright, crisp window frames, and I don’t want to darken the shadows under the plants too much, either. This is where curves is especially useful. With curves, you can pinpoint your adjustments to a specific tonal range. In this case, I’m going to darken the midtones, which are represented by the middle of the curve, but make sure that my shadows and highlights aren’t affected:

Figure 16.22

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Notice that this is not exactly the classic “s-curve” that’s so often used. I just didn’t want to darken my shadows any more than they are already. So I placed a point on the curve down low and maintained that spot right where I started. The midtones were pulled down a little bit, and the highlights pushed up a little bit. It doesn’t take much! Here’s the result:

Figure 16.23

At this point, I’m pretty much done. If I wanted to, I could easily magic wand the windowpanes and airbrush in a better sky, but frankly I like this the way it is. However, there is one last thing that will improve this image immensely. Because of the way I lit it, with a lot of light coming from behind the camera, the foreground is quite bright. This goes very much against the grain of what our brains perceive as natural. So now, back in Lightroom, I’m going to apply a gradient to the bottom 1/3 or so of the image, and adjust the tones slightly. The “gradient” tool is incredibly useful! It’s located at the top of the develop adjustments panel, just to the right of the spot removal tool. With it, I’ll drag the gradient up from the bottom of the image, like so:

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Figure 16.24

The effect of the gradient is “full strength” up to the middle line (where I’ve circled the dot), and is “feathered” from there to the lead line (which I’ve shown with arrows). I’ve upped the color temperature very slightly to compensate for the blue effect of the extra flash these areas are getting, and lowered the exposure to compensate for the excess light these areas get. Combined with the slight vignette I’m going to apply for the final image (see below), it really makes a big difference in terms of softening the lighting. I’m not going to revisit the noise reduction/sharpening stuff we did on the office photo, so with that final touch, I’m calling this one a wrap. Here’s the before and after:

Figure 16.25

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Figure 16.26

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BEYOND THE BASICS The examples above are very typical of what I do for my real estate images. The techniques are quick, render pretty good results, and will satisfy most clients. But of course, you can go way, way beyond this! And as I mentioned at the start of this chapter, you might be surprised at just how involved the post-processing can get in the higher echelons of commercial photography. Layers, layer masks, blending, shadow/highlights, and of course curves are all extremely useful. The new “content-aware” features that were introduced in Photoshop CS5 are awesome for rebuilding large areas of the image that would be a nightmare to clone-stamp in. There are many, many ways to accomplish these same things, and over time you’ll develop your own “recipes” that will give your work a distinct look. Check the suggested reading section at the end of this book for some resources that I’ve found useful. Post-processing is the digital equivalent of the darkroom. My goal is to spend the least amount of time necessary doing it, but it’s a huge part of anyone’s photography, and I’m no exception. It’s worth noting that this is one of the longest chapters in this book, even though I normally spend only a few minutes per image in post-production! Having a plan in place for your images that includes the postproduction is key to being efficient in the field. Again, with time and practice, you’ll develop routines in post-production that you can plan on when capturing images. You’ll learn how to read your histograms and know when you’ve captured the right components, or ingredients, for your own personal Photoshop recipes. Your images will have nuanced flavors that no one else can replicate! Before we leave, I’m going to say something outrageous. Ready? OK, here we go: HDR, blending, enfusing, and all of their cousins are obsolete. Whoa. Did he just say that? Yep. I did. And I mean it. There was a time when I thought HDR was going to be the big thing, and dominate our industry. I didn’t much care for the results people were getting, but I figured that the software would evolve, new methods would be developed, and that this would eventually be the mainstream way to shoot interiors. 211

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I was wrong. At this point, I look at programs like Photomatix, Enfuse, etc. and I see a solution in search of a problem. Instead of blending programs improving (which I’m sure they have, incrementally), we’ve seen an explosion in the capabilities of RAW processing, and an explosion in the image quality we’re getting from camera sensors. A RAW file from a modern camera such as the Nikon D800 or Canon 5DmIII is tremendously malleable, especially when the massaging is being done with a powerful editor such as Lightroom or Adobe Camera RAW. So I’ll close this chapter by showing you an example. Here’s an unadjusted RAW file, straight out of the camera:

Figure 16.27

Pretty dark, huh? Here’s the histogram:

Figure 16.28

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That histogram is no accident! There’s a little clipping of the shadows, but not much. And I knew I had a black coffee table that was going to be extremely dark no matter what (it’s supposed to be very dark!). Pretty much everything else is crowded down into the shadow end of things. That’s fine because that’s how I controlled the highlights on the right side of the photo, where there’s sunlight coming in and hitting the pillows. And that’s why I have a great window exposure over there by the front door. So this shot looks like hell, but in fact, I’ve set myself up for some serious pixel wrangling later! Wanna see where I’m going?

Figure 16.29

Pretty radical, eh? You’re still looking at a RAW file, and the only software that’s been used is Lightroom. The first thing I did, knowing that I was going to be doing some very heavy massaging, was an aggressive noise reduction adjustment. The image was so dark, I could barely even see the noise, so this was kind of a guess, but I set the luminance to 60, and the detail to 25. I also set the color slider up to 45, and the color detail slider down to 17. These were starting points, so that the big exposure and shadows adjustments I was about to make didn’t exacerbate the existing noise. 213

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Here’s what the top of the adjustments panel looks like, after I’ve finished:

Figure 16.30

In addition to what you’re seeing in the sliders, I’ve also pulled gradients in from both the left and the right. From the right, to control the highlights on the pillows, and cool down the extrawarm light coming from outside. From the left, to warm up the tones, just a little. Does this replace lighting? No. The best I was able to do, was to work with the existing light in the space. In this case, it’s not bad which is why I chose this example. In other cases, the existing light is going to be poor, and you’ll be stuck with, at best, a bright, flat, end result. No amount of manipulation is going to create three dimensionality where it doesn’t exist! Another example? With windows, maybe? You got it.

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Here’s the ambient-only shot:

Figure 16.31

Good grief. You probably can’t tell, but the foreground room is all dark oak paneling, with a beamed ceiling and a hardwood floor. And through the open doorway is a dazzling, sunny atrium made of glass and white woodwork. This is what I call a high dynamic range situation! And here’s where I got it, using nothing but Lightroom:

Figure 16.32

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In this case, in addition to many of the same things I did in the first example, I also used an adjustment brush, to isolate areas like the doorway. Now the truth of the matter is that this is not a portfolio worthy result, but it is about what you’d expect to get from a blending program. The midtones are a little muddled, the contrast is off, and the colors are sort of all over the place, but plenty of people are making a living with images just like this, so…it’s food for thought. And the further truth is, I could quickly and fairly easily light this room to a much better result. Here’s what I actually delivered:

Figure 16.33

Everything about it is crisper, has way better detail, and the color is more consistent.

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The file holds up infinitely better when you can zoom in, too:

Figure 16.34

At the end of the day, I still consider myself a photographer. I’d rather spend time in the field with my camera than spend time on my butt in the office. And of course, the old adage, “Garbage in, garbage out,” holds very true, the better the material you’re starting with, regardless of what processing you’re going to apply, the better the final product is going to be. But if HDR/Blending is your thing, I’d strongly urge you to consider working with single exposures, or in a truly extreme situation, using two exposures manually layered and blended. You’ll be in the driver’s seat, and you may like where you end up!

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H

ere’s me cooking dinner:

Drop some Italian sausages into a skillet, turn on the burner all the way. Put the frozen dinner rolls into the oven, and read the instructions on the box which says to bake them 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Well, I guess 15 minutes at 800 degrees should be the same thing, and I’m in a hurry. OK, what else? Oh, hey, there’s some peppers in the fridge, next to the beer (...sound of beer bottle being opened); maybe I can sauté them with some onions, and eat that with the sausage. Do I have an onion? No... crap. Maybe my cute neighbor across the hall does. I’ll text her and ask. (sound of me texting my neighbor, Amanda). Argh!! The sausages are getting burnt! Grab the skillet, move it off the burner. Open the window to let the smoke out. Finish texting Amanda, and alright! She’s bringing over an onion. Put the sausages back on, chop up those peppers. Hey, Amanda! Thanks! Want a beer? No? OK... well, see you later, then. Peel and slice the onion, start sautéing them with some vinegar. Gee, Amanda sure left in a hurry, and what was that look on her face about? It’s just a little smoke, for Pete’s sake! Just like if I was grilling, sort of. Good grief, the peppers are almost done already, and I know those sausages are still a little pink inside. Well, maybe I can put this aside while the sausage finishes. Should I have a salad? That would be good - but now it’s too late, the sausage will be done in like five more minutes and AAAUGH! I forgot to turn off the burner and my onions are practically on fire! Pour some beer in, that’ll taste good anyway... and why is there smoke coming out of the oven?!

Some folks shoot interiors this way. Seat-of-their-pants, making it up as they go, scrambling every minute. This chapter is about how to slow it down, and still get done on time. Real estate photography is, for most people, a volume-based business model. The fee for a shoot is very low, but you make up for that on volume with some shooters doing three, four, even five shoots in a single day, regularly. Even if you’re doing a somewhat more sane schedule of two shoots per day, you’re moving really fast! It’s typical to spend between 90 minutes and two hours on a shoot, aiming to produce 15 to 20 finished photographs. That’s about 6 minutes per photo! 219

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Contrast that with the way a “traditional” architectural photographer works. When I’m shooting architecture, or interior design, the standard is at least 1 hour per photo, on average (2 hours if it’s not residential). For some shooters, 3 hours per photo is not unusual. So 6 minutes is absurdly fast, by any measure. If you’re comparing your photos to the ones in Architectural Digest, or Elle Decor, or Dwell, etc., give yourself a break; none of those are snapshots! There’s a stylist, an art director, and a crew of people laboring to perfect every detail. And if you’re looking at the ads in those magazines (which you should be) then things are even more out of balance. Many of the interiors you see are actually constructed sets built inside enormous studios, where the photographer has infinite control over every aspect of the light and a time frame measured in days to produce the shot. Meanwhile, there you are, on your own, with a clock ticking and an impatient real estate agent checking her emails and asking how long you’re going to be.

“If you are comparing your photos to the ones in Architectural Digest, or Elle Decor, or Dwell, etc., give yourself a break; none of these are snapshots!” So some strategy is in order. It’s absolutely critical to have a plan, and stick with it! Think about football (and feel free to visualize either “American” football, or the real thing1) - the team doesn’t just rush the field and “go like hell” towards the opponent’s goal. They’ve got a plan. They’ve practiced (Ooh... now there’s a concept. More on that later) and they’ve even got a strategy for how they’re going to deal with the specific challenges of that specific game. In “American” football, the players huddle before every play, and go over the plan of the specific moves, for the next little bit of action. Imagine that, a little planning session every 3 or 4 minutes!

1Just don’t visualize “Aussie Rules” football, which is sheer chaos no matter what they tell you.

You should do the same. Here’s what I do, on a typical 20-photo real estate shoot:

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THE WALK-THROUGH I simply cannot emphasize this one enough, and it’s the first thing people drop when they’re feeling rushed. For me, the walk-through sometimes starts while I’m still parking my car. I may as well start assessing the front exterior right now. Who’s parked directly in front of the house? Hopefully, it’s either me, or my client (at least I know I can get those cars moved when the time comes). Is it about to rain - meaning should I shoot the outside stuff right now before I even unload the rest of my gear? Or will it be better towards the end of the shoot, when the sun has moved over to the left? Once I arrive inside the house with my gear, I deposit it in the kitchen (makes a good base of operations) and then start exploring. Some of my clients are really into the walk-through, and accompany me every step of the way, others just let me do my thing. OK with me, either way.

“I walk through every room of the house, and I don’t just mean walking by, either. I go in, squeeze back behind the furniture, and physically check out every angle that might eventually be a photo.” I walk through every room of the house and I don’t just mean walking by, either. I go in, squeeze back behind the furniture, and physically check out every angle that might eventually be a photo. When I find something that I think will be a winner, I also look around and try to sketch in how I might build that shot. What’s my exposure likely to be? Is there a bright window to contend with? Or will I be “dragging” the shutter and going with mostly ambient light? How will I light the scene in front of me? Sometimes, it’s simple. Maybe a single light, bounced in from a nearby wall (aka “Basic Bedroom”) will suffice. Or maybe it’s more complicated. Or, perhaps it’s essentially unlightable. THE UNLIGHTABLE There are such shots. And they’re really frustrating. Photos that are compositionally great, but that you simply can’t execute, right now, with the time frame you’re under. Maybe later this afternoon, it’ll be easy, but the shoot is scheduled right now. Welcome to the world of real estate photography, and that shot, as gorgeous as it is in 221

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your imagination, ain’t gonna happen. It’s better to work that out right now, in your mind, rather than storm in with every speedlight you own and waste 20 minutes arriving at the same conclusion— that it can’t be lit. Sometimes, in those situations, after I’ve reluctantly given up on my grand “hero” shot, I try to drill in a little, and find a tighter vignette that still encompasses the vital elements that drew me to the room in the first place, but that isn’t necessarily “real estate” wide. Very often this is a vertical shot, made with a relatively long lens (50 mm is excellent for this stuff). A nice up-and-down slice of the room that catches a third of the chandelier (instead of the entire thing), half the table (we can figure out the other half), one full window and a slice of the other one (so now we know there are at least two), and that chair in the corner that’s Figure 17.1 catching fantastic light. Now that you’ve eliminated two thirds of the room, while still telling the complete story of it, you have a million options for lighting it, and you can light it in some really sexy ways, too.

Figure 17.2

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And sometimes, there are five great shots of a single room available to you. This happens all the time in the really great houses. Everywhere you turn there’s a fantastic photo waiting. Now what do you do? Again, this is where the walkthrough really pays for itself. Do a little pre-shoot editing. Rather than setting up and shooting all five angles on the living room, decide— right here, right now— which one or two are the best, and shoot them. Shooting them all and then Contents


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deciding later (or worse, making your client decide which ones to use) is a colossal waste of time. You’re the photographer, make a decision! As I walk through the house, I’m making a list of the photos I’m going to make. And I mean that literally— I use the “notes” feature of my iPhone to jot down every shot I intend to make, and even a few details about the specific angle. For example, a typical shot list might look like this (and I’ve added some translations in brackets): EXT [Front exterior] MBR [Master bedroom] BR BOY [Boy’s bedroom] BR GREEN [The bedroom with green walls] BR DOWN [Spare bedroom down in the basement] FAM to KTCH [Family room, looking towards the kitchen] FAM [Family room, different angle - probably obvious or I’d have been specific] KTCH [Kitchen] KTCH to FAM [Kitchen looking towards family room] LR HERO from sofa [“Hero” means a wide shot that encompasses the main features of the room.] LR to DR, from STAIRS [Living Room towards Dining Room, taken from the base of the stairs] DR [Dining Room] MBATH [Master Bath] Figure 17.3 BATH [The other Bathroom] REAR [back yard or garden] REAR [another back yard or garden shot] VIEW [This house has a view of the hills, so I’ll shoot that.] That’s 17 photos, which in my opinion were exactly what the house needed. I highly recommend that at this point you share the list 223

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with your client. Get a verbal sign-off on the plan. This is their chance to ask you why you aren’t shooting the attic space that’s been remodeled into a rumpus room for the kids (“Oops” you say. Make that 18 photos!) Or maybe they’ll tell you that the hall bath is not something they’re interested in. No need to shoot that one. “Are you getting the fireplace?”, they’ll ask. “Yep.”, you say, “It’ll be dead center in the LR HERO shot, and it’s also in the second LR shot. Got it covered.” Many real estate photographers are contracted to produce a fixed number of shots, and/or they’re charging “per photo” for the service. In those cases especially, having a solid shot list and then sticking to it is essential. When a client asks, “Are you shooting the hall closet?” you can say, “Well, I certainly can. But we’re already at 15. Which of the existing shots do you want to drop? Or are you bumping this shoot up to the premium level, which costs $XX more?” Now the responsibility is on their shoulders, and they can decide if they’re willing to pay an extra $75 for a photo of a closet. One last thing about the list. I’m not saying that you can’t change your mind. You may very well discover a fantastic shot later on, and want to make it. But at least you’ll have a framework to fit it into. Do you need to drop an existing photo in order to make room for the new one? Or, if it’s going to be a “net new” photo, will you have time to make it? Maybe it’s something you won’t even deliver to your client, so you’re just shooting it for your own portfolio. At least now you’ve got a time budget, and you can figure out how to squeeze this career advancing photo in. I think I’ve made my point. But one more thing, part of building a list is also assessing the difficulty level of each photo. Generally speaking, bedrooms are going to be easy, as we saw in Chapter 3: Basic Bedrooms. I can shoot a typical bedroom in under a minute, unless conditions are unusually bad. So I might look at the shot list above and calculate that I could have all four bedrooms done in under 10 minutes, counting time to walk downstairs for that basement room. That’s good news, because the KTCH to FAM shot is a beast, and I know that I’m going to need extra time to figure that one out. A good solid walk-through will take me at least 15 minutes, and if it’s a big house, 20. More, if I’ve got a really gung-ho client. So if I’ve blocked out 2 hours for this shoot, and 20 minutes have already elapsed, I’ve got exactly 100 minutes left to make 17 224

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photos... or just under 6 minutes per image, average. Some (like the bedrooms) will go very quickly, which banks extra time, and some (like the kitchen) will take much longer. As long as it averages out, and I know where I am on the clock, I’m fine. Somewhere, someone is reading this and thinking, “What the hell?! I’m in and out of a house in 30 minutes!” To you, sir, I say one thing, “Stop that!” Seriously, stop doing that. First of all, pretty soon, your client is going to figure out that there’s nothing you’re doing that she can’t do herself with a point and shoot. And secondly, this book is probably not going to help you until you change your ways. Good photography takes time. If you’re not satisfied with your images, and you want to make them better, something has to change. And that “something” is almost guaranteed to mean more time on-location. They’re not telling the termite inspector he has to finish inspecting the entire house in 30 minutes. The window washers get the time they need to do a good job. The housecleaning service is in there for at least a couple of hours, getting the place ready for open house. You can, too. Slow down!

“Somewhere, someone is reading this and thinking , ‘What the Hell?! I’m in and out of a house in 30 minutes!’ To you sir: I say ‘Stop That! Seriously stop doing that.’”

THE SHOOTING So now you’re ready to start shooting. At this point in the hypothetical shoot I’m describing, I start setting up my gear. Because I’ve already looked at every shot I intend to make, I know pretty well what gear I need to set up. Will I need all eight speedlights I carry? An umbrella? Gels? I get them ready. Unless I’m chasing the sun, or weather, or children’s nap schedules, I like to start with the bedrooms and bathrooms. I can shoot most bedrooms 100% on autopilot (see previous chapter!), so they’re a nice way to get “warmed up”, and get a couple of perfect photos in the can which is an easy “win” to start the shoot off right. I’m figuring out the white balance, what the window exposures are like today, and how much “bounce” I’m getting from the paint scheme (which is probably consistent throughout the house). 225

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So, within 10 or 12 minutes, I’ve got as much as a quarter of my shot list done! That always feels pretty good. At that point, I tackle the “core” of the house: living room, family room, dining room, kitchen. These are usually the “money shots”, and are the ones where I’m going to take the most time. Again, here’s where having already decided what angles to shoot is really nice. KEEP CALM, AND CARRY ON When I’m looking at a relatively complex photo, for example a living room with a view, and an adjoining dining room, with a slice of the kitchen visible beyond that, I try to slow down and just look at it for a few minutes. The more difficult it is, the more time I spend just looking, and thinking. As I was once told by a master interiors photographer, “More lookin’, and less clickin’!” I’ll stand next to the camera, and visualize exactly where the lights are going to go, and exactly what they’re going to light. I may make an ambient-only photo, so I know for sure what I’m up against, but that’s it. The rest is a “thought experiment”. I’ll often walk back and forth from the camera into the scene, checking lines of sight to see if I’ll have room to hide a flash behind this corner, or whether I’ll be able to squeeze an umbrella into the dining room. If I’ve got 10 minutes set aside for this shot, I may well spend 5 of them just thinking it through. What can go wrong with this light placement? Will it reflect in the glass-fronted artwork over the sofa? If so, what can I do about that? Once I start actually placing lights, I’m usually spot-on with at least half of them, and the others only need minor tweaking. But if I had just charged in guns a-blazing, so to speak, I’d have been in trouble from the minute I started. Lights everywhere, no clear idea of what, exactly, each one is doing. Something would be wrong with the photo, and I’d have no idea which of my lights (or all of them?) was causing it. So don’t panic. BREATHE. Think about what you’re doing. A photo that requires three or five or six lights only takes a couple of minutes to physically set up, if you know exactly where/how to set them. So you’ve got time to get it figured out, because the actual “photography” part will be quite quick. You’ll be more effective working it out in your head, rather than going through three or four “trial and error” sessions with the lights. 226

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The more you shoot, the faster you’ll be. And this brings me back to something I hinted at earlier: PRACTICE Musicians practice. Athletes practice. Actors rehearse. Writers make it a point to spend time writing every day, whether they’re working on a book or not. At chef school you spend entire days doing nothing but cracking eggs. But try asking a photographer when the last time she practiced was. You’ll get a stunned silence for an answer. “Practice?” she’ll say. “But I’m a professional! I don’t practice!”

“...if you’re just starting out, and you’ve got more time than money... there’s no excuse for not shooting. You need to be making photos, every single day.” That’s a bad idea. We need to practice. If you’re shooting eight hours a day, every day, then I get it. You’re busy. But even you should be setting aside time to practice your craft. And if you’re just starting out, and you’ve got more time than money... there’s no excuse for not shooting. You need to be making photos, every single day. If you can’t find anything else, shoot your boyfriend’s crappy apartment. It’ll guilt-trip him into cleaning it up. Ask your next door neighbor if you can shoot their kitchen. And the front exterior, while you’re at it. From time to time, I hit up one of my clients and ask them to “give” me a house for the day. Whenever it’s possible, they’re glad to do it, because I tell them honestly what I’m up to— I’m practicing. I’m trying out new techniques, and working to become a better photographer. Sometimes I get a few colleagues together and we shoot the place as a group exercise. It’s great. There’s no client pressure, no unrealistic time constraints and I can spend the entire day if I want to and not produce a single usable photo. But I’m gaining experience, I’m making the mistakes in a setting where it doesn’t matter, so I don’t have to make them on a job. It’s also a great opportunity to make portfolio 227

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shots. When I was shooting real estate full time, and wanted to be shooting interior design and lifestyle, I built a large part of my portfolio this way, returning to real estate listings that I’d already shot once, and making “my” photos, on my dime, in my time. As often as not, I showed my real estate client the results, and they would be so impressed that they’d start asking me to make “that kind” of photo for them! THE WRAP-UP Back to our fictional shoot. Once I’ve nailed the “core” photos, I’ll head outside and get all my exterior stuff done. The very last thing, assuming I’ve still got a couple of minutes left, is to throw a long lens (like my 70-200) on the camera and wander around the house, shooting little details. The flowers in the window. The cute mailbox. The cool light fixtures. The art deco tiles in the fireplace. The way the sunlight hits the pillows in the master bedroom— all of that stuff. Those are great filler photos if you need to pad the shot list a bit, or you want to deliver a little something extra— go that extra mile to impress your client. And with that, I’m packed up and out the door. Hopefully, I’ll be home in time to make dinner!

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F

or the most part, this book is highly technical. I’ve focused on geeky stuff like apertures, light modifiers, and the Inverse Square Law. But from time to time, I’ve also hinted at the idea that real estate photographers can go beyond making technically excellent images and enter the realm of commercial art. Maybe even “pure” art. So when we talk about making a “good” photograph, what do we mean? Each person has a highly personal answer for this, but still, there are some transcendent concepts. More on that in a minute. But first, indulge me... A SOLILOQUY There was a time, before my entry into professional photography, when the barrier to entry into the profession was largely technical. Interiors photographers were working with 4x5 film, and simply being able to produce a usable transparency was an achievement in itself. I know because I’ve been messing around trying to shoot interiors on film for a few years now, and it’s hard!!

“So if absolutely everyone has technically excellent photographs in the modern world, what is it that sets one photographer apart from another?”

But if you achieved that level of technical excellence, meaning that your chromes or negatives were in focus, had believable color, and a pleasing contrast, you were in a very small club. You were “in”, and you could make a living. If you could accomplish those basic things, AND produce a truly compelling image... you were bound for greatness. Then the digital revolution came along, with autofocus, auto-exposure, auto white balance and suddenly everyone’s photos were technically excellent. Hell, my iPhone makes technically great photos! There are a lot of great photographers who never made the transition, and many of those who did bemoan the new world in which nearly any suburban MWAC (Mom With A Camera) can now shoot the same portrait of her third-grader that the official school photographer can, and for free. So if absolutely everyone has technically excellent 230

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photographs in the modern world, what is it that sets one photographer apart from another? The answer, in my opinion, lies in something that can’t be computerized: Art. And this is great news! Hardly any of us got into photography because we were fascinated by optics or copal shutters or light meters. We got into it because we loved pretty pictures. We long to create beautiful shapes and tones and images like the ones that inspire us. And since technology has provided us with a huge head start in mastering the basics, we’re now free to spend our energy developing the artistic side of what we do.

“Like a professional chef dicing an onion, you need to be able to handle the technical aspects of the photo more or less intuitively.”

So to be clear, it’s absolutely essential that you have a rock-solid grasp of the technique. This book may help, but you’ll need to put in many, many hours of practice before the techniques for lighting an interiors scene become second nature. Like a professional chef dicing an onion, you need to be able to handle the technical aspects of the photo more or less intuitively. Then, and only then, can you free your “right” brain to think creatively about the photograph. The technical aspects of a photo include things like focus, color, sharpness, resolution, and even arbitrary characteristics like straight verticals and “correct” exposure. These things are not necessarily a given even in the 21st Century, but they’re certainly easier to attain now than they were 30 years ago. No algorithm will produce a truly compelling photograph that makes your eye linger, your heart skip a beat, and makes you remember it for days, months, or even a lifetime. For this, it’s necessary to have a photographer— a human being who can apply a vision to the process.

“Real estate photography falls under the category of “commercial Art”, and it’s my belief that we ignore the Art portion of that at our peril.”

Real estate photography falls under the category of “commercial art”, and it’s my belief that we ignore the “art” portion of that at our peril. Absolutely every one of your competitors is able to produce 231

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a technically excellent photo, at least most of the time. How then are you to differentiate yourself? Why should your clients pay your higher fee? Personal relationships and customer service do play a part, but the best differentiator of all is your art. Your personal vision, your interpretation of the space itself is unique to you, and no one else. Neither me, nor the photographer next door can replicate it. Embrace your art, and you will attract clients who are fanatical about you. WHAT IS GOOD? So leaving aside the technical excellence pieces, what makes a good photograph? Many people agree that a good photograph will be comprised of three basic elements: subject, form, and emotion. The “subject” is of course whatever is in front of our lens. Be it a $20 million mansion in San Francisco California or a $40,000 ranch in Columbia, Missouri, it has a personality, a story, and a history. The “form” is how you choose to assemble the architectural and design elements. Will you use the long, curved sweep of the piano to guide the eye into the living room? Will you choose a one-point composition to emphasize the strong geometry in the kitchen? Will the exterior photo be mostly sky, to drive home the point that this house is out on the prairie? Will you warm up and desaturate the colors to impart a sense of deep history in a 19th-Century farmhouse?

“Just as you wouldn’t put your driver’s license photo up on a dating website, you shouldn’t be putting flat, strictly informational photographs of a house into the marketing material”

And that brings us into the “emotion” part. (Hang in with me, fellows, there’s a payoff coming.) This is the least tangible of all the pieces, but it’s arguably the most important. When you can bring technical excellence, outstanding subject matter, and thoughtful form to your work, and create meaning at the same time, then you’ll have a photograph for the ages. It’s very difficult to do! Many photographers spend a lifetime chasing this elusive grail. The goal, for me, at the end of the process, is to make a photograph that feels the way the room actually felt to me when I was there. 232

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Much less important to me is whether the photograph looks like the room I was in. Any robot can do that. I want my clients to look at my images and either see the space in a way they’d never seen it before, or at a minimum, to recognize it emotionally. Any good real estate agent will tell you that no one “buys” a house. Instead, people “fall in love” with a “home”. Notice the language! Good real estate photography plays into that— we should be making images that will cause people to fall in love. Just as you wouldn’t put your driver’s license photo up on a dating website, you shouldn’t be putting flat, strictly “informational” photographs of a house into the marketing material. This is why we go to the extra trouble to make sure that the texture in the distressed pine paneling shows up. Why we capture the way the light falls through the maple tree and dapples on the kitchen floor. Why we show the grooves in the siding next to the front door, where the original owner of an old house used to strike a match to light his pipe as he left for work in the morning. Make your photographs different. Make them compelling. Here are a few thoughts and examples on how to get “out of the box”. GO VERTICAL Most real estate websites are not very friendly to vertical-format images. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make ‘em. Sometimes, I create diptychs for my clients comprised of two images sideby-side, so that they can upload a horizontal JPG, which allows me to make not one but two vertical compositions!

Figure 18.1

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Below is the traditional horizontal image I made of a foyer in a contemporary house in Oakland Hills and the better, vertical composition.

Figure 18.2

The vertical composition allows the architect’s lines to really work as intended, and it shows the height of the foyer much better than the horizontal version. Some spaces are just not meant for a horizontal format!

Figure 18.3

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Some work both ways:

Figure 18.4

Figure 18.5

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GO LONG Interiors photography, and especially real estate photography, is known for it’s use of wide-angle lenses. Even ultra-wide-angle! And of course, there’s the dreaded UFWA (I’ll let you look that one up in the glossary, if you can’t guess). I once got into an argument with a guy on the Internet (big mistake) over wide-angle lenses. He was insisting that he needed to shoot at 12 mm because he was always confronted with really small rooms. I thought that was crazy. I went back through my archives and pulled up a good twenty or thirty of the smallest rooms I’d shot, and I mean, some of these were barely even closets! There were little bathrooms, little bedrooms, wine cellars, you get the picture. I charted the focal lengths I used in those shots, and found that I averaged 28 mm. The widest I’d gone was 19 mm, and many were pushing 40 mm and beyond. I’m more likely to pull out my really wide lenses in the bigger spaces, actually. But even then, there’s a value to shooting long. Here’s a few examples:

Figure 18.6

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Living Room, 70 mm

Figure 18.7

Figure 18.8

Overview, 30 mm 237

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Figure 18.9

Overview, 29 mm

Figure 18.10

Living Room, 40 mm 238

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GO SMALL Detail shots are a great joy, an excellent way to pad the shot count, and can really pull at the heartstrings. Use a very fast lens, shoot wide-open, and make your subject really “pop� against the background:

Figure 18.11

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Figure 18.12

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Figure 18.13

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Figure 18.14

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GO DRAMATIC Don’t be afraid of shadows! Here’s the dining room:

Figure 18.15

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And here’s the killer “art” shot I made to accompany it:

Figure 18.16

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Another house, another boring foyer:

Figure 18.17

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Unless you shoot it like this:

Figure 18.18

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And when you’ve got dramatic light.... run with it!!

Figure 18.19

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Figure 18.20

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Figure 18.21

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GO WILD Everything doesn’t have to be explicit. This house was a kaleidoscope of color and everything inside it made me feel exuberant. I made this photo, which encapsulated the feeling of the place perfectly:

Figure 18.22

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And this old place had wonderfully shaped trusses supporting a cathedral ceiling in the living room:

Figure 18.23

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And here’s another long focal length composition, driven by the shapes and overall opulent feel of the house:

Figure 18.24

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GO OUTSIDE THE BOX Find ways to charm and surprise people! Does the window open? Go outside and shoot back in through it. What does the chandelier look like from underneath the glass coffee table? Above all, strive to make Art.

Figure 18.25

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Figure 18.26

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Figure 18.27

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Chapter 19 Wrap

W

e’ve come to the end. Over the course of the last eighteen chapters, I’ve laid out the techniques I use nearly every day to cope with the endless challenges presented by the spaces I’m asked to photograph. There are about a million other ways to do what I’ve described in this book. These are simply the techniques I’ve found work well for me, for the style of photography I’ve been successful with. Your task is to take things further. Experiment. Try things that seem, at first glance, to be goofy. You won’t get it right on the first try. You’ll get something right on the tenth try, maybe. And then that little technique will be yours, always there in your bag, ready for the moment when you need it again, and you’ll be the only guy around who can get that shot. A word of advice: don’t rush out tomorrow and buy ten speedlights and a bundle of stands and try to use them on your next shoot. If you aren’t used to working with multiple flashes, or for that matter, even if you are – take things slowly. On your next shoot, work entirely within your usual modus operandi, but add in one new thing. Pick the one thing from this book that you really “get”, and work that into your routine. Just that one thing, to start.

“Pick the one thing from this book that you really “get”, and work that into your routine. Just that one thing, to start”

Maybe that’s bouncing the light. Maybe it’s using the WAD. For a lot of folks, it’s going to be using an off-camera flash for the first time. If that’s you, then listen up: don’t get rid of your on-camera flash! Keep it, but use it as fill, not as your main light. Let your remote light become the workhorse. Use one light off-camera, bounced, and one light oncamera, as very gentle fill (and I mean gentle – 1/16, no more.) That’s a great place to be for a couple of weeks. Then, when you’ve gotten comfortable with that, get a couple more lights. Three flashes (or four, if you’ve got one on the camera) is a great number, and there’s very little you can’t do with that setup. When you’re ready for flash number five, you’ll know exactly what 257

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you’re going to do with it. You’ll have a shot all set up, everything looking great, and there will be one distant room that’s too dark. There won’t be any question in your mind what you would do with flash number five – you’d put it in that distant room and bounce it off the left wall, or the right wall, or wherever. Having that flash in your bag is going to save you 10 minutes in Photoshop, and you’ll be grateful, believe me. When you reach that point, go out and buy two more flashes. While I’ve kept the scope of this book pretty tightly focused on lighting and attempting to get things as good as possible in-camera, there’s no denying that much of the best work out there is done by blending elements from multiple exposures together. One of the best techniques around involves lighting a room and then blending one or more ambient shots over it. This is truly an art form, and can yield utterly beautiful results. Remember that the camera is only the first step – the darkroom (aka RAW editor and Photoshop) is equally important. BEYOND REAL ESTATE Real estate photography can be a great way to break into the larger world of interiors photography. I know, because that’s what I did! In my experience, the secret to moving your photography onwards is to continually stretch yourself. Don’t be afraid to over deliver in terms of quality, and for Pete’s sake, don’t fall into the trap of holding back on your work simply because you don’t think you’re being paid enough, or because you don’t think your client will notice. That’s a trap!!

“Three flashes (or four, if you’ve got one on the camera) is a great number, and there’s very little you can’t do with that setup. When you’re ready for flash number five, you’ll know exactly what you are going to do with it.”

First of all, some of your clients will notice. And secondly, guess what? You’re only as good as your worst photo. You simply can’t afford to have anything out there that doesn’t represent you well. If the gig really doesn’t pay enough for you to shoot it the way you want to shoot it… turn it down. Really! Your reputation is more valuable than any real estate shoot. 258

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Real estate, architecture, interior design… there’s a tremendous amount of overlap between these genres, and just because the client is an interior designer doesn’t automatically mean that the budget will be five figures and that the aesthetic will be Architectural Digest. There are lots of architects, builders and designers who are working out of their basements and to whom your real estate fee structure will come as a shock (“$200?! Just for a few photos?”). Likewise, there are real estate agents who will spend upwards of $1000 for twenty good photos of a trophy listing. Clients just don’t always align themselves into neat categories the way we imagine. All that being said, if you really want to push your photography to a higher level, you’re unlikely to do it within the world of real estate. This is because you will rarely have the time or the budget to really get a photo “right”. When I’m shooting interiors for anyone other than a real estate agent, the standard is one to one and a half hours per photo, and often longer than that. I tell prospective clients that I can make eight interior images in a full day, or twelve exterior images. The process is deliberate, and there’s a lot of time spent just looking at the subject, discussing it, parsing it into it’s composite elements and thinking about how to best represent it in a photograph.

“At the end of the day, all the technique and pixel-peeping and Photoshop Plugin-Ins in the world aren’t worth a bucket of warm spit if the resulting photo isn’t compelling enough to make you want to spend some time with it.” The standards can be very high. Few of my clients are particularly fussy about image quality. Some of them seem oblivious to technical things that I think are absolutely egregious! But, all of my clients are real sticklers for the compositional aspects of the photo. They notice how it’s cropped, how the lines work, and often point out things that I would never, ever have noticed on my own. And while they don’t often have a good pre-visualization of the photo, they tend to react very well to the more nuanced lighting that I do. These are visually literate people! Their expectation of me is that I understand their work as well. 259

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I’ve made a great effort to learn how to appreciate interior design and architecture. I may not be an architect, but I can limp through a conversation with one without falling on my face (most of the time). By expressing even a passing interest in their work, your clients will gladly take you to school on it. After all, who doesn’t like to talk about what they do? When I can really understand what’s going on in a room, or a structure, when I truly “get it”, then I can make a photograph of it that will tell it’s story. Just as a great portraiture photographer can go light years beyond what’s on your driver’s license, so can a great interiors photographer go beyond a real estate image. It’s a wonderful challenge, and deeply satisfying when you find yourself getting close. The point of this book is to help you get to the place where the technique becomes second nature, and subordinate to your vision for the photograph. You want to be able to spend your energy analyzing how the structure makes you feel, and how to best express that within your photo, knowing that whatever it is, you’ll have the ability to execute that image. You’ll be free to pursue any photo you can visualize.

“…and so there ain’t nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I’d a’ knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn’t a’ tackled it, and ain’t a-going to no more.” - Huckleberry Finn

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Glossary

Ambient

Ambient or available light refers to any source of light that is not explicitly supplied by the photographer, such as daylight, light fixtures (lamps, sconces, practicals).

Barrel distortion

Image distortion where magnification decreases with the distance form the optical axis. The apparent effect is that of an image which has been mapped around a sphere (or barrel). This is most easily noticed as curved lines near the edges of the image.

Blown out

Highlights that are clipped, or almost clipped. See Clipping.

Bounced light

Aiming a light away from the subject, and letting it bounce off of another object (wall, ceiling, umbrella, or your shirt) and then back to light your subject. This technique can yield a softer, larger, light than any other method.

Bounce Umbrella

A light modifier just like a “rain” umbrella, but lined with either silver or white satin fabric, and with an opaque outer covering. A strobe is aimed into the concave side of the umbrella, which then reflects the light back out but with a larger, diffuse quality.

Canon E-TTL

Canon Inc.’s EOS flash system. Introduced in 1987 it has gone through a number of revisions as new flash systems have been introduced. The EOS system is capable of wireless, multiple flash control where a master flash unit or infrared (IR) transmitter mounted on the camera body can control up to 3 groups of flash units through IR signals.

Chimping

A colloquial term used in digital photography to describe the habit of checking every photo on the camera display (LCD) immediately after capture. Chimp is an acronym of CHeck IMage Preview. There are also several humorous anecdotes relating to the origin of the term.

Chromatic aberration

In optics, chromatic aberration is a type of distortion in which there is a failure of a lens to focus all colors to the same convergence point. It occurs because lenses have different refractive indexes for different wavelengths of light. The refractive index decreases with increasing wavelength.

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Chromatic aberration manifests itself as blue/yellow or red/cyan fringing along line of high contrast, particularly near the edges of images. Clipping

Describes the result of exposing an image such that the darkest or lightest areas fall outside the film or sensor’s ability to record detail (i.e. pure white, or pure black).

Color temperature

A way of quantifying color as it relates to the camera’s white balance. Temperature is conventionally stated in absolute units measured in degrees Kelvin (K). Higher color temperatures (5000 K or more) are called “cool” colors (blueish white), lower color temperatures (2700 K-3000 K) are called warm colors (yellowish white through red).

Converging verticals

Optical phenomenon created by tilting the lens up or down causing vertical lines in the photograph to slant inwards (tilted up) or outwards (tilted down). Visible in the viewfinder, the solution is to level the camera, or correct digitally in Photoshop or other editing software.

Depth of field (DOF)

The portion of a scene that appears acceptably sharp in the image. The DOF is determined by the camera-to-subject distance, the lens focal length, the lens f-number and the format size or circle of confusion criterion.

Diffuser cap

A white, translucent plastic cap that fits over the head of a speedlight, directing the light evenly in nearly every direction.

Flag

A flag is a device used in lighting to block light or provide negative fill or to avoid light flare form light sources just outside the camera frame. Flags are usually several square feet in area mounted on C-stands or overhead rigs but can also be tiny. Scott often uses 4” x 6” cards on his speedlights.

Flash

A device used in photography producing a “flash” of artificial light (typically 1/1000th to 1/20,000th second in duration) at a color temperature of about 5500K to illuminate a scene. The term “Flash” is often used interchangeably with “Strobe”, but most commonly refers to small, electronic

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units that are meant to sit in the hot shoe of a DSLR camera. Gobo

This term is derived from “go between” or GOes Before Optics. Originally used on film sets between a light source and the set is as physical template slotted inside, or placed in front of, a lighting source, used to control the shape of emitted light.

Gridded light

A “grid” refers to a Gobo (see above) that consists of a honeycomb shape, placed in front of a light. The result is a highly directional, hard-edged light that can be accurately “spotted” into a scene.

Highlights

Area in a photograph where the lighting is near or exceeds the maximum possible brightness.

Kelvin

Unit increment of temperature. Kelvin scale is a thermodynamic (absolute) temperature scale.

Lens flare

The light scattered in lens systems, producing unexpected spots and geometric shapes on the photograph, usually from internal lens reflections and scattering from material inconsistencies in the lens elements. Often beautiful, sometimes intentionally created, but just as often devastating to the photograph.

Mid tones

A tone that appears between a scene’s highlight and shadow areas. (e.g. “gray”).

Mullions

The structural element that divides adjacent window units.

Muntins

A strip of wood or metal separating and holding panes of glass in a window.

Nikon CLS

Nikon’s Creative Lighting System. The CLS system is capable of wireless, multiple flash control where a master flash unit or infrared (IR) transmitter mounted on the camera body can control up to three groups of flash units through IR signals.

Omnibounce

See diffuser cap.

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Optical slave

An optical slave is a little sensor that detects any brief flash of light, and triggers the flash immediately.

Pocket Wizard

Brand name for radio triggers made by Mac Group. Pocket Wizards are the industry standard for reliability and functionality.

POV Abbreviation for Point Of View. Having to do with where you have the camera for a shot. Radio slave

Devices that are used to trigger remote flashes via a radio signal. Typically consist of a transmitter connected to the camera, and a receiver connected to the flash unit.

Radio trigger

See Radio slave.

RAW Refers to the “native” format of a digital photograph. Various camera manufacturers (e.g. Nikon, Canon, Fuji, etc.) use proprietary file formats to record the data collected by the camera’s sensor. The RAW file contains the maximum information possible, and requires special software to view and edit. Scrim A device used to modify properties of light. Usually used to reduce the intensity and/or harshness of light. Shadows

Area in a photograph where the lighting is near or below the minimum levels the film or sensor can record (e.g. approaching “black”).

Shoot through umbrella White satin fabric umbrella designed to diffuse the light passing through it. Speedlight

(also: Speedlite) Vernacular for any small, hot shoe mounted flash unit such as the Nikon SB-800, Canon 580EX and a multitude of others.

Stofen See Diffuser cap. Strobe (See also “Flash”) Strobe is often used interchangeably with “Flash” but in common practice a “Strobe” usually refers to a larger device that is not intended to mount on a camera’s hotshoe. 265

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Trigger Method of making a flash or a camera actuate. Triggering methods are optical, radio, and hard-wire connection from the camera or flash to a transmitting device. UFWA

Acronym for Ultra Fucking Wide Angle. A derogatory term referring to the common practice of shooting a shot too wide. That is, overuse of a wide-angle lens.

Vignetting

A reduction of an image’s brightness or saturation at the periphery compared to the image center. Is often used to help concentrate a viewer’s attention to the center of an image.

WAD Acronym for Wide Angle Diffuser, or the built-in Fresnel lens that most hot shoe flashes have. Spreads the beam of light out across a nearly 190-degree arc, feathering the light and helping to mitigate the intensity up the middle.

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Suggested Reading

The Digital Negative, Jeff Schewe. Real World Image Sharpening, Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe. The DAM Book, Peter Krogh. Best Business Practices for Photographers, John Harrington. Layers: The Complete Guide to Photoshop’s Most Powerful Feature (2nd Edition), by Matt Kloskowski. Light, Science, and Magic: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting, by Fil Hunter, Steven Biver, Paul and Fuqua. Lighting For Real Estate Photography (Video Series), by Scott Hargis, lightingforrealestatephotography.com. Photography For Real Estate: How to use photography to effectively Market Real Estate 3rd Edition, by Larry Lohrman. The Business of Real Estate Photography, by Larry Lohrman. Image Editing For Real Estate Photography, by John McBay The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 book for digital photographers, by Scott Kelby. The Hot Shoe Diaries: Big Light From Small Flashes, by Joe McNally.

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Behind The Curtain

Behind The Curtain is the story behind the chapter head photographs in this book. W

riting books is hard work. But one of the fun parts was choosing the photos to use as the chapter headers, and the front cover. I tried to pick photos that would be relevant to the subject matter, and that I thought were particularly successful in some way. This book was written, for the most part, with real estate photography in mind. All of the photos that are used inside the chapters were shot under real estate conditions (i.e. “fast”) and with the equipment I described in Chapter 2. But these days, I shoot very little real estate. Most of my work is for architects, interior designers, and other clients, where I have a more liberal allowance of time and budget, and can work closer to the limits of my ability. Making photos that are as good as I can possibly make them – no excuses, no “would’ve/should’ve/could’ve.” It’s both scary, and incredibly rewarding. I wanted to share a few of those photos too (along with a few real estate shots that made the cut), as a way of illustrating just how far you can take the techniques we’ve been discussing. While I was choosing the front cover image, I shared a few options with my friend Mike Kelley and we came as near as we’ve ever been to having an argument over which photo should be there. (I won – that’s my choice on the front cover. Take that, Kelley!) Mike’s pick was the one that leads off the “Advanced Reflections” chapter, and he was surprised when I told him that I wasn’t discussing the photo in any detail inside the book. “It deserves mention,” he said. So even though I thought I was done writing, here’s a quick background on the 22 photos that start off each chapter, and the cover photo. Thanks, Mike!

Introduction The client was an interior designer from Ketchum, Idaho, and had never worked with me before. I had scouted the house, in San Francisco’s posh Pacific Heights neighborhood, a couple of weeks ahead of time and had a good idea of what I wanted to shoot. Jennifer, the designer, gave me a more or less free hand to do my thing, and we started off the day with this image.

Canon 5DmkIII, 24 mm TS-E 3.2 seconds, f/13, ISO160

This was made with a technique called “flat stitching” in which a “shift lens” (in this case my 24 mm) is used to make an image of the top half of the scene, and then the bottom half, which are then “stitched” together in Photoshop to create the full composition. That’s natural daylight flooding through the door, and my assistant is actually standing in the threshold holding a large piece of scrim material (or maybe the doormat knowing Alan) to reduce the brightness near the floor. The photo works because I left the foreground darker and allowed the daylight, which is coming in at a 90-degree angle to be the dominant light source. This creates a strong sense of three dimensionality. The light flows in from the door, and practically sweeps your eye up the steps to the left. The pair of shoes (my client’s) lends a little life to the scene. Then say someone lives here, they’ve just arrived home a moment ago, probably went right up those steps and don’t you want to know where that goes? If you let your eye drop into a soft focus, you’ll notice that there’s a diagonal line created from lower left to upper right, anchored by the trestle table and ending with the curio cabinet on the wall. Since the eye’s destination is the landing, that leaves the lower right corner open and it’s easy to imagine some text there, or my client’s logo, etc.

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Behind The Curtain Fundamentals This bath was designed by one of the most talented clients I have, and I was immediately struck by the Zen-like simplicity of the room. The high ceiling, enormous edge-to-edge mirror, and simple fixtures, along with the absence of artwork, made for a very airy feeling, and made the room feel much larger than it really was. I opted for a vertical composition that included a lot of empty space to recreate the feeling of open space and simplicity. The slight tint of the mirror’s glass creates a white-on-white scheme that only emphasizes the thick redwood shelf. An overhead skylight provided all the light this room needed.

Canon 5DmkIII, 24 mm TS-E 0.5 seconds, f/11, ISO160

Equipment OK, so it’s not a beauty shot, but this is pretty much what lunch looks like on location. We try to consolidate the gear into a small area so people aren’t tripping over it, and it’s a good chance to top off battery packs and take a quick inventory. I work with a fantastic assistant who is obsessed with neatly coiling cables and organizing stuff. He knows more about the insides of my equipment cases than I do.

iPhone

Basic Bedroom

Canon 5DmkIII, 17-40 mm L 1/5 seconds, f/11, ISO100

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When a great editorial portrait photographer works, the results are different than what you get on your driver’s license. Some of this is the lighting and the technique being used, but most of it comes from the photographer’s getting to know the subject and getting the person’s personality into the photo. The photograph sometimes barely reveals what the individual looks like, but it says volumes about who they are. That’s what I try to do in my interiors photography. This kid’s bedroom, for example. I’m only showing you maybe 50% of the room itself, but I’ve tried to key in on what the designer was thinking and feeling as she put it together. The walls and furniture are a flat, medium grey. Clearly we’re supposed to be looking at something else. It’s the light fixture, the carpet, and the bedspreads that are vibrating with electricity and energy here! I composed my shot so that the light fixture is directly above the zebra rug that reflects it’s energy right back up. The shapes of the beds, radiating out from the center of the zebra-skin rug are reflective of the angles contained within the light fixture, and my tight crop makes them proportionate, too. Some continuous tungsten lighting creates pools of extra warm light on the floor and the books, echoing the warm light from the bulbs.

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Behind The Curtain Controlling Windows Here’s a broken rule! I often advise people not to approach a one-point composition too closely without actually hitting it because it can feel awkward. I’d rather be 20 degrees off, than 5 degrees. But in this case, my “near miss” works, mostly because of the angled keyboard lid that creates the illusion of a more severe angle along the floor. This photo is all about demonstrating the airiness and context of this high-rise condo. The vertical piers of the windows are positioned to reveal the iconic One Rincon Center tower outside, but the effect is softened by the green reeds on the left. The urn, bed, and keyboard provide the counterpoint to the otherwise rigid vertical structure. The exposure is chosen to closely replicate the dynamic range as I actually experienced it. A darker, more underexposed window would have had richer color and more cloud detail, but would have felt decidedly fake. This exposure seems completely natural, even though in fact I did have to light the room to meet it.

Canon 5DmkII, 50 mm 1.8 1/100 second, f/11, ISO 100

Master Bedroom Believe it or not, this is a real estate photo! For $27 million, you can put your guests up in this spare bedroom. Obviously, everything about this room is over the top. Try as I might, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of the opulent bed and canopy. They seemed to say everything that needed to be said, and so I worked with the shapes to create a composition that makes you feel cradled by the rich French décor. What light I added is coming straight back towards the camera, so there’s deep texture on the bed, especially the canopy fabric. This is a room fit for the Dauphine, and flattening it out with on-axis flash might get me the guillotine!

Canon 5DmkIII, 17-40 mm L 1/8 second, f/11, ISO 160

Master Bath I loved the simplicity of this master bath near California’s Lake Tahoe. The steep-pitched ceiling combined with the slightly elevated platform, and the herringbone pattern of the floor tiles combine to create a beautiful cradle to contain the tub. I included enough of the shower enclosure glass to let you know it’s there, but this photo is all about the tub. A last minute addition was the two river rocks, which help transition from floor tiles to tub. Styling is a critical component of every photograph, and much effort and anguish goes into details like this! There were two facets of the glass shower enclosure, each reflecting a different, and distracting, reflection. I used a polarizing filter to kill the reflection in one panel, then made a second exposure with the polarizer rotated to kill the reflection in the other panel. These images were combined in Photoshop to create this final photo with no distracting reflections. Only the slight green tint of the glass cues us as to what it is.

Canon 5DmIII, 24 mm TS-E + 1.4x extender 13 seconds, f/11, ISO 160

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Behind The Curtain Larger Rooms Lighting this space was actually simple. But we spent the better part of 45 minutes getting the foreground table and chairs arranged. Every intersection of chair/table, and table/rug was discussed and tweaked and analyzed until we felt that it was right. What constitutes right is not something you can dissect like the innards of a bird. You just have to feel your way along. When it ain’t right, the photo feels tense and disorganized. I often liken it to a guitar that is technically in tune, but still needs that final, tiny, delicate turn of the tuning key, with the musician’s ear carefully cocked towards the strings, before it truly sings. Electronic tuners can get you very close, but the complexities of the harmonics that a fine instrument produces require a human touch or ear to perfect. When all the objects in the photograph are “in tune” the image relaxes and “sings.” The great architectural photographer Julius Shulman called this “visual acoustics.”

Canon 5DmkII 24 mm TS-E 2 seconds, f/13, ISO 100

Larger Rooms CS I often treat my real estate shoots as laboratories to try out new ideas, new lighting techniques and new lenses. I have good, long standing relationships with the real estate agents I work with, and they tend to leave me alone to do what I want in their houses. So I often bring my film gear with me on the off chance that I’ll come upon something worthy of a piece of 4x5 film (about $4.00 a sheet, plus developing, scanning, easily $20 or more) or maybe some 120 (cheaper, but still it adds up). Often, it doesn’t work out. Film is much harder than digital, but each time I learn something valuable and it’s fun to do, so I keep with it. Mamiya RB67, Mamiya-Sekor 50 mm 4.5 1/4th second, f/8, Fuji Provia, ISO100

In this case, conditions were beautiful. I was able to augment the existing light in this gorgeous tudor with a couple of well-placed lights and captured this image. Real estate works on a timetable that’s way too fast for film, but most of my interior design and architect clients are very intrigued with the film versions of their work.

Ceiling Fans This is one of the only photos in the book that was not made during a real shoot. This image is from a practice shoot! Like I said in the “Speed Kills” chapter, I frequently practice my trade. In this case, I hit up a real estate agent to give me a house for an afternoon, so I could work on technique, in a relaxed, no pressure atmosphere where I could mess up all the photos I wanted on my own time, while my best client wasn’t watching. And believe me, I’ve messed up plenty of photos!

1/200 second, f/7.1, ISO 320

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Behind The Curtain Lighting Multiple Spaces Another example of less is more. This image, made at a workshop in Norway, says a lot about this relatively small foyer without being redundant. The first thing you notice is the beautifully curved staircase. But because it only exists in the photo as a narrow shape on the left side, you’re free to wander through the photo and notice other things, as well. By making the rear room about a stop brighter than anything else in the photo we make sure your eye ends up there. A second room is hinted at, but because it’s a small, unattractive bath we leave it mysterious and darker.

Canon 5DkmII 17-40 mm L, 1/8th second, f/7.1, ISO 320

Had this been lit from behind the camera, the stairs would have lost all their three dimensionality and been much less interesting. Adding light at the bottom and the top gives us additional places to “go” and makes the entire photo more inviting and cheerful. Above is the unlit version, for comparison.

Advanced Reflections

Canon 5DmkII, 24 mm TS-E 1.3 seconds, f/10, ISO 160

Every once in a while, you can pull out all the stops. We had been shooting in this unbelievable residence in San Francisco’s Russian Hill neighborhood for two days, and my client, the designer, announced that she was leaving just as the late afternoon sun was sweeping across Coit Tower (visible in the window). The homeowners were out of the country, and I found myself in full possession of the place for the entire night, if I wanted it. I quickly outlined the photo I wanted to make and got my client’s blessing to make it happen. No timetable, no schedule, no budget, a photographer’s dream. We spent the next 2 1/2 hours dragging furniture around, setting lights (I think the final count was 11) and flagging off reflections. There are about 20 yards of black cloth draped behind the camera, and my assistant (god love him) even ran a strip of black gaffer’s tape down the shaft of the upright lamp on the right side to kill the reflection of the chrome in the window. We left just enough reflections to retain at least some sense of reality. This is a single exposure. At twilight, the dominant light source inside is usually something close to tungsten, which is around 2700 K. With the camera’s white balance set that low, the low-light exterior view becomes a beautiful, eerie blue. All the strobes in this shot have been gelled with a full cut of CTO to preserve this color imbalance, which lends so much drama to the shot. Coit Tower itself is obviously lit with a very warm light source as well, hence it’s orange glow against the natural blue twilight of the city and sky.

Kitchens Architectural photography is all about geometry: lines, angles, shapes, and how they interact with one another. This kitchen, shot for a design/build firm, was unoccupied. We styled with a combination of items brought for the purpose, and a few “found” items scavenged from boxes in the garage. Natural light is being managed with some large blackout cloths, and augmented with a combination of strobes and hotlights. The camera, which is actually a good 30 feet away, is positioned with a precision measured in millimeters. Attention has been paid to the way all the objects and shapes and lines intersect with each other; from the black support column, to the pendant lights, to the ways that the island is outlined against the rear cabinetry. The amount of dark flooring in the foreground has to be just right to securely ground the photo, with it’s light, airy peaked-foreground ceiling. Mamiya RB-67, Mamiya-Sekor 50 mm 4.5, 5 seconds, f/11, Fuji Reala 100

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We shot this with both film and digital cameras. The film version was unanimously declared the winner for it’s natural, organic tonal transitions. Even the slight green color cast in the shadows, which was not present in the digital version, seems to lend authenticity to the image.

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Behind The Curtain Kitchens Six Studies Sometimes, you just know. I knew I was going to make this photo from the day I first scouted this job, about a week before the actual shoot. I described what I was seeing in my head to my client, the architect, and he really didn’t get it. When we built our shot list, which was frighteningly long, this wasn’t on it. I tried again the day of the shoot, but he wasn’t hearing it. Nothing about my description interested him, and since he was already shelling out a sizeable fee for the shoot, he wasn’t about to add yet another photo to the invoice. So when lunchtime came, I wolfed down a few mouthfuls of Chinese take-out, told my assistant to stay put and relax, which he did, and started making this photo. I included it in my retouching proofs when I presented them to my client. Both he, and the cabinet maker (who was my secondary client) ended up licensing the photo— enthusiastically. I was able to see this image so clearly, but I couldn’t quite translate that vision into words that gave my client the same vision.

Canon 5DmkIII, Schneider 50 mm TS 2.5 seconds, f/14, ISO 160

Special Situations

Canon 5DmkII, 24 mm TS-E, 8 seconds, f/11, ISO 160

I’ve tried to break up with this woman twice. As you might guess, this is the work of an interior designer with ATTITUDE. You don’t hire Susie unless you want to make a statement, because she doesn’t screw around, and she doesn’t play anything safe. She goes for it! That bold design sense comes with a hefty dose of, shall we say, stubbornness. Susie is very strong-willed, to put it mildly. Every time we shoot, we butt heads over composition, styling, even lighting (Hey! That’s my turf!) And I mean, we’ve gotten passionate about things to the point that the crew is getting nervous. Susie and I know it’s all well-intentioned (mostly)…but they think we’re about to start scuffling. But, like Jack Twist with Ennis Del Mar…I don’t know how to quit Susie. Every time I shoot for her, I put something in my portfolio. And how often do you get to photograph something like this room? We were all enchanted with the spider web net of shadows from the giant green hanging lamp, but the exposure was such that it wasn’t registering in the photo with as much punch as we were experiencing it with our eyes. So we augmented it with our own light, shining through the globe. The key to keeping it believable was maintaining enough distance between the Fresnel of the light and the lamp, so that the shadows were just soft enough to seem like they’re from the bulb at the center.

Good Light If you can’t tell where the key light is for this image, you haven’t been paying attention! But imagine, for a minute, what this would look like if it had been lit differently. This image took me maybe 45 minutes to put together and you’re looking at a crop of a much wider, and poorly composed, shot. I could probably have lit it in ten minutes by bouncing a light off the wall somewhere above the camera, and called it a day. But what would I have gotten? Would the rich texture in the red Afghan show up? Would you still want to sit down, sip that cup of tea, and thumb through that magazine in a sleepy way? No, you wouldn’t. It would be cold, clinical, and uninviting.

Canon 5DmkIII, 24 mm TS-E, 1 second, f/11, ISO 320

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Oh, and before we leave this— the painting that you can see just a sliver of in the upper right? That’s being held in place by hand, by a stalwart assistant with good shoulders. Anything for the good of the photo!

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Behind The Curtain Post-Processing

Canon 5DmkIII, 24 mm TS-E, 13 seconds, f/11, ISO 160

Shot in a mountain lodge for the architect, we loved this little guest bath for the rustic materials made into a modernist bath. The room was lit primarily from a narrow, floor-to-ceiling window in the near right corner. That provided plenty of illumination, but it was too close to the axis of the lens, it flattened everything out. The pebbled wall might as well have been printed wallpaper, and the stump lost all it’s shape. I strove mightily to work with that light, but in the end we draped the window with black fabric and started from scratch, with our own light. I bounced two inkies (small, focused hotlights) into small home made V-flats in the far right corner, so that the light is now traveling towards the camera, and throwing shadows that create the texture this bath so desperately needed. Suddenly the pebbles are jumping right off the wall, and the beautifully weathered stump has regained it’s contours, crenulations and character. There was a lot of back-and-forth between me and the pair of architects who designed this room over the presence of the reflection of the Edison bulbs in the mirror. Everyone agreed that this was a crucial element in the overall composition, but we had different opinions, with one faction strongly in favor of Photoshopping them out, and the other faction believing that those reflected bulbs “made” the photo. In the end, we made two versions, and everyone was happy.

Speed Kills This image is from a real, paid shoot. You’re looking at the interior of a burned-out dry cleaners, that has been acquired by a developer and is soon to be turned into a sleek, modern residence. I do a fair amount of these before and after gigs. Ideally, I’ve got access to the drawings of the proposed house so that I can shoot angles that approximate the ones I’ll make in the final beauty shots in a few months. In this case, they ripped out so many interior walls that it made little difference what I shot.

1/5 second, f/7.1, ISO 320

I take these assignments seriously. Even in a burned-out shell, you can still think about composition, form and light. To the right is the after photo, in case you’re curious!

Wrap Another real estate shoot. This time of a wonderful little bungalow that the owner had completely remodeled into a warm, cozy space. That’s natural sunlight streaming in on the round table, but because of trees or neighbor’s houses or whatever it was, none of that was coming through the kitchen window. So, we made our own stinkin’ sun! There’s a bounce umbrella and two speedlights just outside that window bringing in extra light. One speedlight (gelled ½ straw to warm it up like late-day sun) is aimed into the umbrella and comes back out as soft golden light. The other speedlight is aimed into the kitchen directly, with no diffusion whatsoever. That light provides the hard edges and shadows that match with what’s happening in the foreground. And, not to beat a dead horse, but here’s another example of not shooting too wide. A slice of the table (do you really not know what the rest of this table looks like?), a generous swath of kitchen, a vertical composition to show off the skylights, and a clear path for the eye to wander back to the brightest area. This photo does it’s job very efficiently. Canon 5DmkIII, 1/10 second, f/8, ISO 160

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Behind The Curtain Out Of The Box

Canon 5DmkIII, 17 mm TS-E 4 seconds, f/11, ISO 160

This is a highly technical book. And interiors photography is widely acknowledged as one of the most technical genres of photography around. We deal with a lot of hardware, we’re balancing ambient and strobe, we’re thinking about lens movements and focal length and depth of field, barrel distortion and keystoning, and sometimes trying to light a scene that’s a few thousand square feet. It makes you long for a pretty model and a piece of white seamless! So shooting can be kind of intense. When I was making this photo, at the end of a long day, I was working out some very complex lighting issues, and at the same time trying to stay in touch with how I was reacting to this staircase, trying not to lose my emotional response to the architecture. It would have been easy to lose the geometric vision I had amidst the demands of lighting, especially since I was working with a rookie substitute assistant who was on his first commercial shoot! I’d say, “Get the 300 and mount it on the 6-inch extension stud and superclamp it to the railing upstairs, with a quarter cut of CTB,” and he’d disappear upstairs to try and figure out what the hell I’d just said to him and whether he should be insulted. Meanwhile I was swapping back and forth between a 24 mm lens and a 17 mm, unable to decide which was best for the task. The goal was to highlight (pardon the pun) the “keyhole” shape of this stairwell, tie it in to the upstairs space we’d just photographed, which featured another of those “spiderweb” lamps with the crazy shadows, and show the beauty of the angles and shapes made by the handrail. It meant completely reversing the existing flow of light. The foyer was actually much brighter than the stairwell itself, but I wanted to pull the viewer’s eye right up to the second floor. Along the way, we encountered some insane color casts. To the left of the bottom steps is a frosted glass door leading to a dense garden outside, and I was using that dim, shadowed light for my foreground. But once I adjusted my camera’s white balance for the tungsten color of my hotlights in the stairwell, the foreground went mint-green. I was beside myself, trying to figure out how to gel things back to balance and giving myself a headache in the process, when Mr. Rookie assistant wordlessly blacked out the glass of the door and added a very low-power strobe at camera right to replace it. “Try it now,” he said quietly. The colors snapped into place, and I reconnected with my original vision. For the first time in 40 minutes I was seeing the photograph and not the technique. I made a small change in the camera’s POV, resolving a neglected issue between the handrail and the vertical bars. One last frame, and we wrapped the shoot.

A few of the interim steps along the way to the final image. The green color cast really blew my mind!

Glossary This photo, made for an interior designer, is a good example of the power of subtractive lighting. Mostly, we think in terms of adding light. We expose for the bright stuff, and light the dark stuff (admit it, you were mouthing those words along with me as you read). But in this case, I barely added any light at all. There is a large bank of windows behind and to the left of the camera, and of course there’s a window at the rear of the scene that we can see. My first step was to black out the big window completely, which had the effect of darkening the foreground profoundly. Suddenly, the near side of everything in the room was darker than the tops and receding sides, meaning that suddenly everything had three dimensions, instead of two. The only problem was, now my exposure had gone from 1/40 of a second down to a full 1.6 seconds. Six full stops! You can bet that rear window was nuclear, by then. But rather than going back to 1/40 and trying to light this room to that exposure, we simply added four layers of one-stop scrim to the window at the rear, folding it over on itself until we had darkened the window to the point that it looked bright but not blinding. Mother nature took care of everything else. Canon 5DmkIII, 24 mm TS-E, 1.6 seconds, f/13, ISO 160

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Behind The Curtain Suggested Reading Recognizing when not to light something is just as important as knowing how to light it. We weren’t even tempted to try and improve on this! A graduated neutral density filter darkens the foreground a bit, and a relatively long focal length gives a close, intimate feel even as the actual field of view extends from the floor to the 10-foot ceiling. I could have easily overthought this and wasted time trying to get what nature had already provided.

Canon 5DmkIII, Schneider 50 mm TS, 1/80 second, f/10, ISO 160

Front Cover We talked a little bit in Chapter 15, “Good Light”, about what constitutes a good photograph, and while there’s no set definition for this, there are a few ideas which can guide us in making a judgment. Often we speak in terms of three elements that comprise a photograph: technical, subject, and form. Hitting all three targets in a single photo is something that we may never fully achieve, at least not to our own standards, but the quest is something that can occupy one for a lifetime. Believe it or not, there are over 3000 watt-seconds of light being added to this poor little room. I was charmed by this scene from the moment I first walked in, and I never seriously considered any other composition than the one you see. I knew that I wanted those gorgeous leaded-glass windows to have a soft, painterly look to them that would match the carpet and the floral arrangement. With an exposure of just over half a second at f/11, the interior, and particularly the foreground, was as dark as a cave and very contrasty. All the light is pouring in through those big rear windows.

Canon 5DmkIII, 24 mm TS-E, 0.6 seconds, f/11, ISO 160

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Bringing light in from behind the camera to try and fill in directly against the ambient would have looked very unnatural, besides reflecting back in the windows, so instead I asked my assistant to place my most powerful strobe, a Dynalite 1600W, outside the left-hand window, bounced into the largest umbrella I own, a 60-inch thing that’s unwieldy and downright dangerous in the wind. Sixteen hundred watts wasn’t enough, so we added an 1100-watt Elinchrom head right beside it. That gave me the light I needed. Suddenly I had color and detail, and everything still had a definite highlight/shadow shape to it. We tweaked things gently with a couple more lights, including a strobe bounced off the ceiling near the camera at about 100 watts, and a couple of inkies.

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Lighting interiors ii  
Lighting interiors ii