The Lazy Photographer: Exposing for Single-Shot HDR (Sort Of)
Cafe with a View Wedding-Venue Rokusisui (六絲水), Kyoto Japan -- Rokusisui (六絲水) -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Cafe with a View
Wedding-Venue Rokusisui (六絲水), Kyoto Japan

Photos in yesterday's Heian Shrine Gate From a New Perspective were taken during an open house at a new wedding-venue business. The fifth-floor terrace from where I took those photos is off a small cafe where wedding guests can wait for the events to begin.

The cafe was richly lit with shade streaming in from the floor-to-ceiling windows that made up two walls, but it was much darker than the outside, so the wide dynamic range (wide range between shadows and brights) made for a fun challenge.

To create the photo above, I overexposed for the outside and then slightly adjusted things in Lightroom (where in this case sightly means a lot. The result above is actually not too bad, I think. At least it doesn't have too much of an HDR fakeish smell despite the rather extreme adjustments made in Lightroom.

For reference, here's the original pre-slightly photo that the above was derived from:

Slightly Overexposed for the Outside original -- Rokusisui (六絲水) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/200 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Slightly Overexposed for the Outside
original

As you can see, quite of bit of detail and richness can be extracted from the shadows. Much of that ability derives from shooting raw instead of JPEG. (In the past I've posted some pretty amazing examples of data recovery: here, here, and here)

I also tried exposing for the dark inside, which I knew would turn the outside into a blinding wash of white:

Different Shot, Exposed for the Inside original -- Rokusisui (六絲水) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/2.8, ISO 640 — map & image datanearby photos
Different Shot, Exposed for the Inside
original

The blinding nature of the outside can make for an artsy kind of view, and with a little work this could be made a nice shot. But a natural view couldn't be created from it the way it was created from the initial shot because blown highlights like this are simply gone and can't be recovered. Here's the best I could come up with:

Not Worth The Effort best try at “ fixing ” the “ Exposed for the Inside ” shot -- Rokusisui (六絲水) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/50 sec, f/2.8, ISO 640 — map & image datanearby photos
Not Worth The Effort
best try at fixing the Exposed for the Inside shot

The first shot of the cafe shown above used an exposure that was slightly overexposed for the outside... the overexposure allowed the dark inside to record a few extra photons, but at the same time the slightness of that overexposure kept it from blowing out the outside view, so detail could be recovered. This brings to mind two old posts about exposure recoverability:

The lessons from both are twofold: 1) you can recover more from too-dark shadows than from too-bright highlights, and 2) shoot raw rather than jpeg.

As one more set of data points, here's a photo with proper exposure for the outside, and its natural version after adjustments in Lightroom...

Properly Exposed for the Outside the outside is fine, but the inside is way too dark -- Rokusisui (六絲水) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/2000 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Properly Exposed for the Outside
the outside is fine, but the inside is way too dark
Properly Exposed for the Outside adjusted, but a bit too HDRish for my tastes -- Rokusisui (六絲水) -- Kyoto, Japan -- Copyright 2014 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm — 1/2000 sec, f/2.8, ISO 100 — map & image datanearby photos
Properly Exposed for the Outside
adjusted, but a bit too HDRish for my tastes

Finally, it's interesting to compare these various views (as hastily and unprofessionally made as they are) with a CGI version created by the business last summer.

(A CGI image used to be here, but they eventually replaced their image with a real photo.)

I think it's nicely done. They made it long before the new building actually existed, so the inside is all computer generated. I saw blueprints for the new building early last year so I know they had an idea of how it would look, but it's amazing to me how much detail of the interior was planned ahead and entered into a computer with enough precision to generate a reasonably-accurate representation of what the view would eventually look like. I suppose it's standard for the industry, but as an outsider who knows nothing about the industry, I guess I'm just amazed.


All 5 comments so far, oldest first...

v nice Jeff.

When I try this I have two different approaches. The simple way is to just play with Photoshop’s curves and/or levels for the entire photo. The more complex way is to lasso the outside scene (eg, the windows) and adjust those curves and levels separately.

Your picture is a lot better than theirs I think! I was at a Michelin-start French place for Asami’s birthday last month, and their web site’s photos were awful–camera not even vertical, no perspective correction (my pet peeve in architecture is for vertical lines to be vertical), and blown-out views out the window which is selling themselves so short: it actually looks right down onto the imperial palace grounds, probably a stunning view. (I had other things on my mind and actually forgot to check the view myself.)

— comment by Frank Sheeran on May 23rd, 2014 at 12:07pm JST (3 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

Funny how they got the inside of the room so accurate in the computer simulation, but then totally faked the outside so that it looks like you’re pressing your nose up against the glass… 🙂

— comment by Zak on May 23rd, 2014 at 8:38pm JST (3 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

By using “gentle HDR” you have successfully brought the indoors & outdoors into balance. So both the cafe and the outside view draw the viewer’s eye. Fun experiments.

— comment by Tom in SF on May 23rd, 2014 at 11:21pm JST (3 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

“….cafe with shade streaming in….. SHADE streaming in???? How is that possible? I never heard of such a thing. Fascinating.
Nice photos, though.

Shade, as opposed to direct sunlight. The difference is huge… the color of the light is completely different, as is the kind of shadows it creates. —Jeffy

— comment by Grandma Friedl, Ohio, USA on May 24th, 2014 at 7:09am JST (3 years, 6 months ago) comment permalink

It’s so hard to keep balance between overexposure and underexposure for a novice in photography. As for me taking pics inside is the most difficult part of HDR, landscapes are easier.
I use this guide for exposure value oustide https://aurorahdr.com/what-is-exposure-value, but for inside they have only 2 options: “1) Artificial light in offices, galleries and gyms 8 to 10 EV; 2) Interior at home or Christmas tree lights 5 EV”. I believe in this case they are not applicable – no artificial light, no Christmas tree lights. So, thank you for explaining how it works with indoor photos, Jeffrey! I hope one day I’ll master this tip to deal with real estate photography genre.

— comment by Margaret Brooks on May 22nd, 2017 at 2:30am JST (5 months, 30 days ago) comment permalink
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