Lightroom vs. Photomatix vs. Lighting

Sometimes it can be hard to tell exactly what an interior design photographer does, without knowing what to look for it can even be hard to recognize a highly skilled architectural photographer. The photos look great but it seems like all they do is shoot the natural light. I look at tons of interior photography in books and shelter magazines and often the photographers are so good at hiding their efforts, that I wonder if they light at all. So I have decided to try using only natural light and compare the results to my usual technique of combining several exposures. For natural light I tried two different techniques. The first technique used a single exposure, exposed a little dark to catch the highlights outside of the window. Then in Lightroom I dodged the image to remove a bit of exposure to bring up the light in the room and match it with the window. I raised the shadows and reduced the highlights to bring the dynamic range under control. The second technique was to bracket, shooting several exposures from light to dark and then combining the pictures in an HDR program called Photomatix. In Photomatix I used the exposure fusion which tends to give more realistic results and is sort of a milder form of HDR. Exposure fusion is convenient and often preferred by real estate photographers who need to be quick and run-and-gun.

 I was surprised at how well the single image in Lightroom turned out. It is a bit flat.

I was surprised at how well the single image in Lightroom turned out. It is a bit flat.

 This image is the exposure fusion version and the results are very similar to the single lightroom exposure. Both images were difficult to color balance. Both image are also painfully flat.

This image is the exposure fusion version and the results are very similar to the single lightroom exposure. Both images were difficult to color balance. Both image are also painfully flat.

 For this shot I bounced strobe light around the window to give a sense that the light in the room was coming from the window. Using layer masks I combined the lit images with the natural light to give dimension without feeling too "lit".  Just as I thought, I do prefer the lit version, it seems to have more volume. Probably the best place to see the difference is to look at the bed reflected in the mirror. In the lit version the bed looks great all of the textures show well and the shadows on the wall are softer and more pleasing. I also think that the contrast on the chair back gives a truer sense of the object and feels more three dimensional.  Overall it was a fun project, it was shot for the artist that hand finished and refurbished the vanity. I think that this does prove for me that lighting can make all the difference, just as long as it doesn't look "lit".

For this shot I bounced strobe light around the window to give a sense that the light in the room was coming from the window. Using layer masks I combined the lit images with the natural light to give dimension without feeling too "lit".  Just as I thought, I do prefer the lit version, it seems to have more volume. Probably the best place to see the difference is to look at the bed reflected in the mirror. In the lit version the bed looks great all of the textures show well and the shadows on the wall are softer and more pleasing. I also think that the contrast on the chair back gives a truer sense of the object and feels more three dimensional.

Overall it was a fun project, it was shot for the artist that hand finished and refurbished the vanity. I think that this does prove for me that lighting can make all the difference, just as long as it doesn't look "lit".

In the end, lighting did make quite an impact on the final image. While the exposure fusion and single shot are usable I definitely prefer the lit version. In all cases the three versions require some good architectural photography photoshop techniques. More importantly, knowing how and when to light helps me insure that I never have to make a sub-par photo. I can always figure out some way to get the shot even if weather and lighting conspire to ruin the whole day. It is what you should be looking for if you are in the market for a photographer. Sometimes good-enough is good-enough but when it really matters that you get the best shot you really need a professional architectural photographer.