I recently had the opportunity to shoot for talented Phoenix designer Christina Forrest (21 Interiors). She commissioned me to photograph a few of her design projects. Featured below is the second project, an amazing contemporary home located in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Recently I had the pleasure of working with the Wendy Black Rogers team to photograph a private casita. Overall we ended up creating 10 interior and exterior images over the course of about 3 hours or so. There were some problems to work around, just like with any other photoshoot, but with some lighting and post production tricks, we were able to create some great images after it was all said and done.
The space was fairly small, which limited our composition choices a bit. Some shots took about a half hour to dial in the composition, but the time spent on location doing that is worth it in the end. Below are a few behind the scenes shots as well as some of the final images that were delivered to the client.
Some of the Final Images:
Phoenix, Arizona - This article will highlight the reasons why you should hire a professional photographer for your next interiors/architectural project. I compare the quality of amateur photographer techniques like HDR to my own techniques and analyze the results.
To start off the new year, I wanted to write a post that would benefit not only my current clients and potential clients, but other photographers getting started in interiors/architectural photography. I am using real behind the scenes images from a recent shoot for Romantic Homes Magazine (at Randi Garrett's home) to express my points about amateur vs. professional shooting/retouching techniques. I processed the same image using HDR methods without any retouching (typical of a beginner), and then used my normal technique with flash for comparison.
Here is the final image:
What is HDR?
HDR, or High Dynamic Range, is a fairly new photography style in which a photographer takes 3-9 “bracketed” photographs, typically from a tripod, of the same exact scene. Each photograph in the bracket is at a different exposure level than the others. The idea is to capture the entire dynamic range of a scene. Dynamic range is simply the ratio between light and dark areas of an image. After the bracketed images are captured, the photographer uses software to blend those images together.
The process is fairly quick and simple, which is why many beginner photographers gravitate towards HDR. They don't want to invest time and money into buying equipment and learning how to use it, and HDR seems to be the path of least resistance. I know this because that is exactly what I did, and I quickly learned I needed to use flash to get that Magazine quality I was craving.
Don't get me wrong; HDR has it's place and some photographers have mastered the Art. On the other hand, I just don't see HDR in architectural/interiors photography really looking all that great. I believe HDR is better for landscapes and other subjects, not architecture and interiors.
When I say Flash photography, I’m referring to using flash strobes, like speedlights or monolights, mixed with ambient lighting and post production, to create a final image.
Comparing HDR to Flash
Let’s take these two images and compare them. The one on the left is HDR, the one on right is an image I would deliver to a client.. Do you notice anything different between the two? Click on each one to take a closer look...
There are several things wrong with the image on the left:
1) The vertical lines in the image are not straight
2) There is a yellow color cast throughout the image
3) There is a basketball hoop outside that hasn't been cloned out (aka "photoshopped")
4) The paintings on the wall near the window are crooked
5) There's a reflection of my tripod on the dresser to the right
6) The air vent on the ceiling is showing
7) There's a large, distracting reflection on the wood floor
8) The entire image is washed out and lacks contrast/depth
9)The colors are dull and lack vibrancy
10) There is significant barrel distortion in the image - a by product of using wide angle lenses. (24mm in this case).
All of these problems present in the image on the left may be present in your own images, too, whether you're a photographer or someone hiring a photographer. Take a look at your own images and your competitor's images and see if you can spot any of the above flaws. You may be surprised at the things you find!
All of these problems are fixed by using flash AND by using proper retouching techniques, which is typically what beginners shy away from. Learning Photoshop is hard and it takes time. Learning flash photography and doing it well is hard, too. Beginner photographers using HDR also make beginner retouching mistakes, leaving you with a sub-par image that doesn't have that wow factor you're looking for.
Professional Retouching Techniques
Retouching an architectural or interior image properly is extremely important. Other Photographers who are also retouchers can spot an amateur retouching job from a mile away. Other people who don't quite know what they're looking at, will have that "something's missing" feeling without knowing exactly why. Composition is an important aspect of a great image, but retouching and lighting are other important pieces, too.
Here's how I retouch and fix these errors:
Vertical Lines/Barrel Distortion
I use rulers in Photoshop, line them up with vertical and horizontal lines, then use transform tools (Edit>Transform) to straighten vertical lines. Using the lens correction filter in photoshop gets rid of most of this, and the rest can be gotten rid of using Edit>Transform.
Color casts can be fixed by adding a new hue/saturation layer, and either using the eyedropper to select the color you want gone, or by selecting the general color (yellows, reds, greens etc) and dragging the saturation slider down. The effect can be painted in because the hue/saturation layer also comes with a mask built in. You can invert the mask (command-i) and paint in the effect with your brush.
To select the eyedropper tool, click the hand with arrows. To select the color range, select the dropdown that says "master" and select the color.
Removing Objects - Basketball Hoop
Unless the photographer wants to go outside and move the hoop, which is perfectly reasonable, then the photographer either has to leave the hoop in the image, or clone it out in Photoshop during post production.
There were other images with window views into the backyard that I ended up taking during this shoot, so I opted to leave the hoop and deal with it in post. In this situation, the lines of the blinds and the consistent background of bushes made it easier for me to clone those areas over the hoop. The whole cloning process for this hoop took me about 15-20 minutes.
Using the clone stamp tool and polygonal lasso tool can get the job done. Just select the window using the polygonal lasso to avoid cloning beyond the window. Then, clone a portion without the hoop, and paint those portions over the hood portions. This will take some time to make it look natural, but if you’re in a bind or can’t move the object, clone it out later.
This is a simple fix - pull out a ruler and set it against the painting (Command-R if you can’t see the rulers). Make a selection round the painting using the polygonal lasso tool, select your Move tool (v), then rotate the painting until it’s straight.
This is a job for the Clone Stamp tool. Make a selection around the wood using the Polygonal Lasso, then just stamp away at the tripod leg until it’s gone and looks natural.
I use the Patch tool for things like this. Select your patch tool, make a selection around the air vent, and drag the selection to another part of the ceiling until the air vent is covered. See the video I made about cloning out my tripod; I use the clone stamp tool in that video. Photoshop will take the texture of the other ceiling portion, copy it over the air vent, but leave the luminosity data in place.
See the below image - I could’ve used a large scrim to knockout the reflection, but I wanted to keep a hint of realistic vibe to the image, so instead I lowered my exposure and popped a flash near the window to mimic the natural shadows. See below:
It’s hard to get rid of this when you’re using HDR, because the natural light tends to wash out the image. Getting better contrast comes from using flash. Of course, you could try bumping the contrast in post production, but that will never compare to getting proper contrast using flash. In order to get better contrast in this image, I used a few different flashed frames with an ambient frame.
The image below is an example of my workflow and technique. I put a monolight outside with a shoot through umbrella and fired it through the window. This cut down on a lot of haze by lowering my exposure and using flash to bring the levels up a bit. It also created some interesting shadows.
Lack of Vibrant Colors
Again, using flash brings out contrast and HDR washes that contrast away. Bumping up the vibrancy only worsens the yellow color cast problem mentioned before. Use flash to boost the contrast and color depth.
I hope you were able to get something out of this short tutorial. Whether you're a designer, architect, or someone hiring photographers, or you're a photographer looking to sharpen your skills, this tutorial has valuable information for everyone. I also hope this tutorial has shed some light on some of the major, common mistakes I see in architectural and interior design imagery.
My first blog post of the year is going to be a short tutorial on how I created this image:
Here’s the gear list:
- Nikon D610
- Nikon 60mm AF-D Micro (Great lens, can be used as a portrait lens, macro lens, walk around lens, razor sharp, 1:1 reproduction for under $300!)
- remote triggers
- 2 stripboxes with monolights or speedlights
- two 24x36 scrims (made from Savage plastic & foldable matthews scrim frames)
- Grip head w/ extension arm
The first step is to photograph the bottles. I glued each one to the extension arm, and placed it in position. I imaged how I wanted the bottles to appear to be floating in the final image, so I placed the bottle in that position when I photographed it. I put the glued bottle into the grip head, positioned it, put a white card behind the bottle, and a scrim on each side of the bottle. I positioned the strip lights behind the scrims, just slightly angled toward my camera and placed slightly behind the bottles to create a gradient effect.
I photographed each bottle like this, then imported the photos into Photoshop to knockout the bottle (create clipping mask) and clean any reflections. I did the exact same way as I did for this bottle in my other tutorial.
I used curves adjustments to brighten the bottles and add shadows in the appropriate places. I also used a hue/saturation layer to get rid of the orange color cast on the bottles from one of my moonlights. It’s a subtle change but it makes a big difference.
Once I photographed both bottles and imported them into photoshop for cleaning/masking/adjustments, I began searching for splashes to use. I purchased some splash packs from the Photigy store for experimentation and practice, so I recommend you either purchase those or create your own splashes.
I used 4 splashes total in this photo. In order to bring the splashes into my document and match my background without looking suspicious, I first imported the splashes into Photoshop, then used a channel masking technique I used in my architectural photography to replace skies. Here’s a quick video below of me masking out the splash:
From this point, I can import the masked splash without the background onto my document, place the splash how I want (either leaving it how it is or using puppet-warp) and begin to clean it up by brushing out the parts I don’t need.
Then I can apply curves and color correction adjustments as needed.
Then you rinse and repeat for each splash!
After you have the splashes in place and positioned, then you can begin to apply color corrections and curves adjustments to get the contrast and color matched with the bottle. Also, you need to apply some shadows under the splashes to make the splashes appear more real.
The final step is to make sure every imperfection is cloned out. There were some reflections on the bottle caps from the extension arm, so I cleaned those up and took out little specs of dust, too.
As 2016 comes to an end, I thought I'd take this year out with a short tutorial on a recent image of mine I created for my product photography portfolio. I'm working diligently to fill my book with stunning imagery, and it's a time consuming process! Here is the final image I'll be breaking down:
Compositing is a huge part of my architectural & interiors work, so I want to apply that same mindset to my product work. This image is a composite of 3 elements - the bottle, the splashes, and the background. The bottle and splashes were photographed separately (the splashes are part of a Photigy splash pack, more on that later) and composited together in Photoshop.
The first step for me was to photograph the bottle. To hold up the bottle, I hot glued the back to a metal rod (you can get a 40" long metal rod from home depot for like $7) and secured it into a grip head. I used two scrims on either side with strip boxes behind the scrims at an angle to create slight gradients, then I placed a white card behind the product to provide a clean background. I'm anxious to try this again with an odd color card, like a green screen, to make my clipping process easier.
The next step for me was to import this image into photoshop, and create a clipping path around the product. I used the pen tool, feathered the edges by 2 pixels, and contracted the selection by another 2 pixels (Select>Modify). This ensured a clean mask and no white edging around the product.
After you have the the bottle isolated from the background, you can begin working on "cleaning" it. There is a reflection from the metal rod holding the bottle, and various dust particles and imperfections in the product. all of that needs to be removed and cleaned so it doesn't distract from the final image. I used the clone stamp tool, patch tool, spot healing brush, and a few different filters to clean the surface and get rid of scratches and dust (Filter>Noise>Median & Filter>Blur>Surface Blur).
After the bottle is cleaned of all imperfections, I moved onto the background and splashes. I purchased some splash packs from Photigy, and for this particular shot I used a few splashes from the "Milk on Black" splash pack. They had a holiday sale and I got a few packs for 50% off, but normally each pack runs $50 and includes GIGABYTES worth of hi-res splash images. It's definitely worth a look if you don't want to get messy in the studio, don't have equipment to create splashes, or if you want to experiment with clipping, shaping, and incorporating splashes into your work.
I recommend learning how to create splashes of your own so you can expand beyond what someone else has done for you, but these packs are a good start for getting your feet wet and I'm sure I'll use them again in the future.
For the background, I simply used the radial gradient tool, selected white and a light area of the product, and created a gradient on it's own layer behind the image. I played with it a few times until I got the desired effect.
I selected the splashes I wanted out of the pack and imported them into photoshop. Since it was milk on a black background, using channels and curves adjustments, I was easily able to separate and mask out the background, leaving only the splash. I imported the splash into my other document and positioned it the way I wanted using transform tools and the puppet warp tool.
After positioning the splashes and masking out the splash portions covering parts of the bottle I didn't want it to, I then created some shadows on the splashes and the bottle and brightened the splashes using curves adjustments. The fake shadows help bring some realism to the composite and I think our subconscious minds expect a shadows to be there.
For the final image, I combined all layers to a new layer (Command-Option-Shift-E), sent that layer to Camera Raw for adjustments (Command-Shift-A), saved my PSD/PSB file, then exported as a JPG. I would say the total time spent on this project was 2-3 hours. I spent about 30 minutes in my studio photographing the bottle, and the rest was spent in post. I hope this tutorial has helped, and if I left anything unanswered or could clear anything up, please leave me a comment below! Thanks!
Landon Wiggs is an arizona based commercial photographer specializing in architecture, interiors, and product photography. To schedule a shoot or inquire about services and pricing, contact him here.