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Photography Question 
Dawn L. Penich

Balancing Outdoor Vs. Indoor Lighting

How do I balance outdoor light and indoor light while photographing homes? The windows seem to be blown-out when shooting interiors. I am having problems with everything else looking flat and bland. I have a Canon Digital Rebel.

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6/19/2005 12:15:10 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  The problem is disparity in lighting levels. The interior of a home is typically quite significantly lower in lighting level than the exterior during daylight hours. While your eyes and brain can deal with this as they have enormous latitude and can adjust quickly, neither film nor digital have anywhere near the latitude.
I have been faced with this imbalance issue more frequently at wedding receptions and similar events during daylight hours in venues with enormous expanses of glass and the clients want the view of the great outdoors as the backdrop for the photography. The solution I have used is lighting the interior using bounce or highly diffused daylight balanced flash or strobes set up in a manner that simulates the ambient lighting. The exterior, as seen through the windows, is metered and the flash (or strobes) are set up to provide the same level of lighting. One must be careful about the reflectivity of the window glass and set things up so there is no reflection of the flash/strobes off the glass to the camera lens.

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6/19/2005 12:27:37 AM

Dawn L. Penich   Thank you very much. I have umbrella lighting but I only have 2 lights, and these homes are usually 2-story, wide-open homes. I feel like it wouldn't be enough light. When I turn in the photos from last week, the marketing company I work for will be very upset and probably ask me to re-shoot the homes on my own penny. If you have any suggestion of how I can professionally explain the problem so they understand, that would be great. I usually don't have this much of a problem, but the homes were unfurnished and the walls were all white. There were absolutely no blinds or cover of any type on any of the windows. I am so frusterated.

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6/19/2005 11:19:03 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Explanation: Outdoor daylight is much brighter than indoor lighting ... more than can be recorded within the range of a digital or film camera. Exposure for the scene outdoors results in gross underexposure of what's indoors. Exposure for indoors results in gross overexposure of what's outdoors. If you cannot get enough lighting indoors to bring it up to the outdoor lighting level, then shoot one for proper exposure of the outdoors as seen through the windows, and another for proper exposure of the indoor area. Use PhotoShop to rope the windows of the first and replace the windows in the second with them. This would require using a sturdy tripod, and taking great care to not move the camera even a little while making each double shot.
With the great care required to do it this way, along with all the back-end PhotoShop work to make one photo out of two for each pair shots, it would be much better if you could do it in one shot with enough light from your monolights to bring the indoor light level up to the outdoor level. What lights do you have? Make, model, power level?

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6/19/2005 7:38:09 PM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  BTW, one other issue with double shots ... if you use only the indoor ambient lighting for the inside exposure ... is the color temperature imbalance. You'd also have to do two color balancing measurements ... one for outdoor using it for the outdoor exposure and one for indoor for the indoor exposure. One more reason for trying to get the indoor lighting level up to that of the outdoor scene (as measured through the windows) using daylight balanced strobes.

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6/19/2005 7:41:55 PM


BetterPhoto Member
What you need is more lights and power to bring the interior brightness up to the exterior brightness and two lights wont be enough. I take 10 and ususally use half of them. Keep in mind the possibility of shooting at dusk when the outdoors is darker. Many architechture photographers work through the night.

John has some great tips regarding the double exposure follow his advice on the double exposure and blending in PS. I have done this technique many times, but you need to watch out for flare. If it wraps around the inside of the window to much, it is very difficult to combine them in PS. So what I do if need be, is get a bunch of black bed sheets and clamp/tape them outside the windows of the house. Shoot the interior with the ambient strobe mix, then remove the sheets and shoot seperate outside images before blending in PS. The only problem could be 2nd story windows, which I then cut black posterboard to size and push it all the way against the window from the inside. It has worked for me every time.

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6/19/2005 8:48:51 PM

Brent W. Smith   Dawn, have you tried shooting in the early morning or late afternoon? You will be very limited in the amount of time you have for shooting your shots when the amount of light inside and outside will be closely balanced relative to the number of lights you have. This limiting factor will require good prior staging and bracketed exposures to increase your odds. Color temperature imbalance at these hours could help with the mood, or hurt.

Good Luck,
- Brent

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6/21/2005 6:53:15 AM

H. William Lewis   When I used to shoot real estate photos in Florida for a real estate magazine I tried to schedule interior shots on a day that was predicted to be cloudy, or if I didn't have to make an appointment, a time when it was cloudy. That way with my limited strobes, in bounce mode, I could match both interior and exterior light intensity.

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6/21/2005 7:50:23 AM

Dawn Penich   Thanks so much for all of your help. You guys are consistant with your advice and it helps a lot. The problem I have with the marketing company is that they expect me to do this quickly and would never give me the time to set up that much lighting and such. I think I will start recommending that I shoot later in the evening. Maybe start the exterior shots in the afternoon and then go back for interiors in the evening. Thanks so much guys. I really appreciate it.

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6/21/2005 9:32:53 AM

Ken Henry   The sun rules. And so do you as a professional photographer. f16 @ 1/125sec. or f11 @ 1/250sec. or f8 @ 1/500sec, etc.

I have a "fewwww" clients like yours. I pump up the direct flash, no bounce no diffusers, etc! or they pay my $200-$300 fee to merge the exterior and interior shot. They pay or take it.

As a professional photographer I show my clients the different photos and help them get what "They Want" to fill "Their Needs". (salesmanship 101)Most of them choose ambient with fill flash.

Surprisingly, some clients like the 'creative shadows' you can throw in by direct flash for no additional fees!

Sell it. You're the artist.

One large house I had three merge shots out of 27 interior and exterior shots. Planned ahead with the architect.

"I find that, as a professional photographer, I do not need to practice at my own home experimenting with all those different exposures, lightings, techniques, and boxes of photos, etc. Nor do I need to read all those dumb photo books." Hmmmmm......

Night shots... God, I hope I don't get that lazy! But it's an nice extra $300 fee. I shoot hotel lobbies, restaurants at 3am. I have 'night stalker' fees for this time of the day.

regards, Ken

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6/22/2005 9:02:46 AM

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