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Why You Should Hire a Professional to Photograph Your Interior Design Projects

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…

HDR Amateur image - Low Quality HDR Amateur image – Low Quality Flash w/ Ambient - professional quality  Flash w/ Ambient – professional quality

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

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.

Crooked Painting

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.

Tripod Reflection

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.

Ceiling Vent

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.

Floor Reflection

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:

Depth/Contrast

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.

Final Image

Conclusion

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.

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