Class Introduction: Ten Tips Before Starting
This class is going to cover retouching for interior architectural photography but before I just jump in, I've kind of reflected on the previous classes that I did and for all of those, I just sort of like, "Here are some pictures, I'm gonna retouch them." But what's interesting about architectural photography is that I can show you everything that I've done for every picture ever made. In the first assignment that you get, none of what I taught you will have anything to do with that situation that you're in. So I kinda made a presentation here that goes over some ground rules for getting the best possible material that you can then post-produce after the shoot. So it is so important that you really make sure that everything you do on location is kind of done in preparation for your post-production. So with this presentation and the next one also, I'm hoping that we'll get to share some great insight for you so that again, you're not just seeing how I do post on some of my images, but ...
you take away things that will help you make your life in post-production much easier than it otherwise could be. So without anymore rambling, let's get to it. So, number one slide here is quality post-production does not start at the computer, it starts on location. Now this is kind of a little bit of a crossover class. I know it's Photoshop week, but like I said, getting things good in Photoshop really starts before you even get to the computer. There are some things that we can fix in post. How many people had a client who said, "Can you please Photoshop that?" and I'm a yes man, and it gets me to trouble when I'm like, "Of course! I can do anything." And then after five hours of Photoshop, I'm like, (laughing) "Why did I say that?" So I've been getting better at being more assertive on location, but there are some things we also cannot fix, and they are better dealt with right there on location. So in order to get the best final images after all of our post-production, it's critical that we pay attention and are very meticulous with our work on location. These are some of my favorite tips that I've learned over the years. Some, you know, I've learned some new lessons after disastrous shoots, and I've learned some lessons after great shoots and through lots of experimenting and reading and not, you know, doing anything else in my life for the past ten years, (audience laughing) so here we go. Number one, have you seen Zootopia when they go to the DMV and they have the sloth like trying to tell a joke? That's what I feel like, that's what I try to feel like when I'm on location. Architectural photography is a very slow genre. It's not like you're doing weddings and we deliver 500 pictures and we're doing portraits, and we take 300 pictures in 30 minutes, and we pick 'em right there. I might, on a, a big shoot, I've done as few as four pictures in a full day, 12-hour day and it's, we put the camera down and we have to wait. We can only go as fast as the sun moves, right? So if the sun's not there, we need to wait for the sun. It's a very slow genre, average is about 10 to 12 photos a day. And we're not just there to make Xeroxes, you know like, a lot of, There are some genres of photography where your job is to take a picture, a copy of exactly what is there. We want to add a little bit of artistic interpreation. Interpreation, interpretation, artistic interpre- Interpretation, I don't know why I can't say that. Well, also representing reality and what's there. We wanna make things look as good as we can without stretching the truth. And slowing down will really help you to find those great compositions, to find the best angles. You might have to think outside the box a little bit. For example, if you're shooting interior, like we're talking about today, you might wanna go outside, literally outside of the box put the camera in an open window or something to find the best shot. So slowing down, not just running off to the first corner you see, going as wide as possible and clicking. Really take a deep breath, slow it down, and relax. When I'm composing, I use bubble level and a gear head. So, I think everyone here owns a ball head with a tripod, right? And you know you, we hit your composition perfect and then you skew it on the ball head, and the camera just sags, right? Like, you always lose that centimeter or something, and you've probably gotten good at compensating for it. So you tilt up, right? (laughing) You know what I'm talking about yeah? I use a bubble level, and I'm very meticulous in making sure it doesn't look like the buildings are falling over, because again we wanna represent reality, and if we have a slightly crooked picture, even though it looks close enough, you know an architect spent years drawing very straight lines, building a very straight building. We wanna make sure that it looks accurate, because if we deliver photos that are crooked, it's gonna make it look, like the architect is gonna look bad, or the builder, or the hotel looks like it's falling over. We can't have that. Like I said, this leads to unhappy architects. So here's one example of a picture that on the surface seems very simple, but in reality it probably took me 20 minutes just to get the composition perfected. And you can see all of my vertical lines, I've drawn some rollers here, are perfectly vertical. It's a one-point perspective, so my one-point, Sorry, I don't know if that's gonna mess with things. (laughing) Horizontal lines are perfectly horizontal. Vertical lines are perfectly vertical. Vanishing point right to the center of the frame. And again, it takes five or 10 minutes to dial this in. And people, they're like, "What takes so long? Put the camera down," I'm like, "I'm finding my zen here. I'm making sure everything is perfect." So here's a little behind-the-scene shot as we were prepping for it, and you can see, I have a, It's an Arca Swiss cube, this is like overkill to the max in terms of heads go, but it's got multiple bubble levels on it. I'm shooting tethered so I can see on a computer exactly. Cause if you're hand-holding, you'll never get the stuff perfect. You can get close, but once you start looking, you're gonna see the lines are a little bit crooked and stuff like that, so slow down. Here's an example of a shot that I rushed. I will fully admit that because some reason or another, I can't remember, and it doesn't look that crooked. But it feels, it's kinda like this uncanny valley thing, right? The architect did not design this with a sloping roof line. It kinda feels skewed like this, and I had to go into post-production and fix it, right? But once you see it, you can't unsee the crookedness. And if I had just spent an actual 30 seconds taking care of things, it would've been a lot better. So again, it's very important that we represent the architect's intent in terms of line and composition rather than delivering crooked photos. So take a deep breath, take five minutes, slow it down. And it's gonna save you time in post, I'm gonna bring it full circle here, because you're not gonna have to do the skewing and the transforming to get everything perfect. So number two, I call it "wait for it." You got to wait for the right light. And what does that mean? Well, architecture benefits from flattering light, just like portraits, just like any subjects in photography, light is pretty much everything. And every situation is different. It's a lot easier to post-produce a photo where the light works with you instead of against you. There are times you shoot straight to the sun, but not, it doesn't work all the time, right? Maybe it's better to have the light sort of fill in the shadows for you, or to have a light coming from the side, add a nice contrast. In general, soft daylight in the morning or afternoon is easier to work with instead of harsh overhead light during noon. The shadows aren't as deep, it's more flattering. You get lovely three-dimensionality to your objects instead of everything being lit like it's done with an on-camera flash. Twilight, you know those 20 minutes before and after sunset or sunrise, generally the most forgiving light, but it only lasts a few minutes per day, so I can only do maybe two or three photos in that light, quality photos that I have slowed down and prepared for for every shoot. So this is one example of a photo that I think is at the wrong time of day. And I will show you how difficult it was to make this compared to the twilights. So, this is in Plyta Cavern, Mexico, and this is like on the equator, right? The sun is super harsh and we have this very dark, wooden interior. So outside is like screaming hot F11, 1/400th, ISO And the interior is like F11, two seconds ISO100, so it's crazy wide dynamic range. What the original picture does not show you is that I'd already get this to look like this. It looks somewhat natural, it looked a little fake to me, like I'm not totally buying it. But in order to get it to look good, I had to had one, two, three, four, and then there's two flashes, five, six, and these are pro photo D1 1000-watt heads or B1500, I mean they come up. But anyway, they're big lights, and I'm just smashing this room with light. Here's the exterior, right? You can see that I had to add light to bring up the exposure on the interior. And look at all these fake-looking shadows and everything. It doesn't look great like you'd never see this in real life Here's the exterior, so super bright outside, very dark inside. And here's the proper, what's with the camera thing is the proper exposure is for the interior. And this is the muddy, complete and utter mess, something that I would never want to deliver. So in post-production, I had to make you know several different layers, I had to blend it together using every technique in the book to get something that honestly I'm not psyched with, like it's a cool picture, but it doesn't it's not really as sexy as it could possibly be, and I worked way too hard to make it happen. Like I had to go in with the pen tool and isolate certain objects and do the view, so it's just, it's three or four hours with the work to get it perfect. But then, if I had just waited for twilight, right? This is one exposure, that's it. And it's like a light room at it, and I took it into Photoshop to make my vertical lines nice and vertical, that was it. If I had just waited, I would've saved myself time upon time upon hours. I have a feeling that someone's gonna make fun of me for like some of my little phrases here down the line, but I save myself tons of time, sort of by just shooting this at the right time of day. And to me, it's a much better photo. I love the sunset, I love all the lights. It doesn't look like I'm, it doesn't look too try hard. It looks effortless and natural compared to the previous one So, number three, pick it up. I am very good at making people think I work very hard and I had to learn this lesson the hard way. I'm always like, "Yeah, I can just take out that cable and post," but I can spend 10 minutes doing it in Photoshop or I just walk over there and pick it up and move it. And I think everyone's guilty of that, you know, when there's like something that's a little bit crooked, and we don't really wanna do it on location because we're tired or we're hungry, or it's the end of the day, you wanna go home. So I say, clean the floor, rake the carpet. I have a carpet rake, I get down on my hands and knees and actually rake out the footprints in the carpet. I would adjust the chairs and make sure everything is as perfect as I can get it, because inevitably, I'll have a client come back and say, "Hey, can you take out that stack of chairs," or whatever it is, and I'm like, "Uh, God, why didn't I just do this when I had the chance." So this is one example of that, and like again, I'm tired, everyone's cranky for some reason I don't know. That chair on the left, we didn't catch it. I think we're so fixated on all the other stuff in the room and it was probably like 11:30, so we're starving. And I had to go in and Photoshop cause the client requested that I fix it. So what I ended up having to do is make the selection of this chair and duplicate it, but I couldn't catch those shadows, so it's just this 30-minute fix to get it to look right. And again, it's like, it literally would've taken me two seconds to walk up and fix that. Number four, shoot tethered. Architectural photography is a very detail-oriented subject. It's not like this is not a knock on portrait photographers or wedding photographers, but it's very different when you're shooting at 17-millimeters F11, and everything is in perfect sharp focus versus 200-millimeters F2.8, and you have a head with a blown out blurry background. Every single part of all those or 30 mega pixels or whatever is part of your picture. So everything has to be examined and slowed down And the little details, like I said earlier, can make or break your image. A lot of these pictures, if you're working for architects, they will use them for the next 20 to 30 years. They can have an extraordinary shelf life. It's not like a head shot that you have redone every year or two years if you're an actor, or a product photography that gets refreshed every year. Many times, when we are photographing a building, this is the only way the public will ever see it. So again, those pictures are gonna last for a very long time So don't be afraid to zoom in 200%. I bring my laptop with me, and we'll go in and light room as you're shooting tethered, and we'll look at every object in the frame because I don't want the architect 20 years from now, when he's doing his monograph, to say, "Darn it, I would use that photo except," you know, "the picture is crooked" or something, and that's his life's work. And there's no way you can go back to a 20-year-old building and make it right, so not only will everything look great. It'll save time in post-production. You're able to see problems on location much better on a 13 or 15-inch computer screen than on the three-inch LCD of your camera, trying to zoom in and zoom around. And just standing where your camera is and looking at the scene is always very different than actually what the camera sees, because we see in three-dimensionality and the camera sees in two, right? So it's very helpful to be able to get in there and nitpick the objects in your scene. So here's my setup, and you can see I personally use a device called a CamRanger, which is like a little wifi hub that streams your images wirelessly to an iPad or a laptop, and here we are, our little setup. It's this MacBook right here, and we'll just go around. I'll send the JPEGs to the camera immediately at full resolution and the client and I can sit there, and we can rearrange the bottles, and we can do the throws and the carpet and everything, we'll make it as perfect as it possibly can be. So shooting tethered if you have the luxury. Sometimes, for whatever reason, you have to be in and out in three hours, and you need to just make pictures. But if you have the time, slow down, shoot tethered. It's kind of like at odds with my personality but (laughing) Number five, when in doubt, take it out. I can't think of who said it, but the quote is something like, "Perfection is achieved only when there is nothing left to take away." So if you and the client or you and your assistant are talking about should we leave in that chair, should we leave in that picture, should we leave in that little trinket? Just take it out. I have never found that I've regretted taking out an object. In all of these photos that I've been showing you, I always, there's something I nitpick, I'm like, "Man, I wish I took out that chair," "I took out that blanket," "I took out that thing," so remove an object if you're debating. I mean obviously there are like core objects that have to be there from an interior design standpoint. Leave those in, but a lot of designers love to overstuff their designs with different tchotchke and trinkets and that sort of thing, just take it out and simplify. Cleaner images, as you probably all know, tend to look a lot better. And if you take something out, you remove the opportunity for the client to ask you to fix it in post, right? (laughing) So yeah. Kinda selfish, but you're saving time making better pictures Here's an example of a before picture, and again, you can see, I know that the architect would have hated all this stuff that ended up in building one in another that he didn't design, like he didn't design the pots, he didn't design the little half moon registration desk. We had to spend an hour and we cleaned it up and brought the building down to its sort of purest form, things like taking the TV off of the brackets there and getting out all of the benches here that have nothing to do with the design. And I think this is a much better cleaner image that again, in 20 years, he might actually wanna use because we took out all of that furniture that had nothing to do with the design. And I know this architect, he would not want, He would totally have asked me if I could take all that out in post. And you know there's no way that's ever happening, right? So take things out if there's any question to their validity if you will, pull 'em out. Number six, no pixels have to die. It's actually a Joe McNally quote. We're not shooting film, we don't have processing costs. I mean there's wear and tear on the camera, but it's like a penny for every picture that we take. So take as many pictures as you need, right? Whether it's a high-dynamic range scene or we're just experimenting with removing objects and adding them back in. I always bracket a wide range of exposure. So this gives me options from not only dark to light, but it gives me options of with things in, with things out, and so on. In interior photography, many times we are shooting from a black box, very dark interior out into bright, screaming, hot sunlight. So there's no camera in existence that can accurately capture that really dark interior exposure, like I said, this might be one-second F8 inside, but 200th of a second outside. So being able to extend that sort of exposure range of our camera with multiple exposures is one way that we can, in post-production, show the exterior and the interior accurately at the same time. So here's an example of that. This is, the interior's kind of the reverse of what I showed you earlier. We have the brightest highlights of this white chairs. This is in Miami, so again, one of those insanely bright locations. We have the really bright chairs, again it's like 1/400th outside, and I just kind of walk it back up to like 1/400, 1/200th. I don't know what's next, 1/100th or 1/50th or something. All the way until our exterior is properly exposed. And this is a what? One, two, three, four, five, six, seven exposure range to get to eight maybe? Our final image where everything has been painstakingly blended together by hand to show the exterior and in the interior in a realistic sort of environment. And I don't think there's one of those pictures that alone could have shown me both the inside and the outside. So, by all means, if you need to take bracket of nine photos from five stops below proper all the way up to five stops above, make it happen. Number seven is know when to stop, right? So if you're shooting in beautiful light, don't go screw it up with excessive post-production. Now, there's something to be said for a very quiet pretty scene with minimal post. It definitely looks effortless. There's some kind of, like I said earlier, uncanny valley where you can tell when something's had too much post-production done on it. And it really kind of takes away from the overall quality of the image in my opinion. Some shots may need a lot of post even in their best light but if you can avoid post-production, especially when you're shooting strictly for architects. I mean obviously there're situations where you can't like a hotel and you need everything to be perfect and advertisey, by all means, go nuts. But for architecture, clean simplicity is pretty much always the way to go. And it takes practice to know when you've gone too far. I've been doing this for ten years now, and I still see images that I edited a year or two ago, and I'm like, "What did I do?" You dial it back a bit. And I occasionally go through and re-edit and maybe do my portfolio cause as I learn more and hopefully and improving, I see that, "Oh, I went a little bit too far on that one." Here's a rule of thumb that I use, is I edit the photo all the way, and then in Photoshop, I'll group together all of my layers and I'll set the opacity of that group to 80% instead of so that everything sort of blends together a bit more gently and seamlessly, and it covers my tracks in post. So it doesn't seem so over-the-top crisp or sharp or perfectly adjusted in terms of brightness. And it takes a day or two for your eyes to see without bias. So, this is one reason I really try to avoid rushed turnaround, I have clients, "I need the pictures tomorrow." I'm like, "Alright, I'm gonna charge you a fortune for that, because it's gonna make me up all night," "It's gonna keep me up all night long," but also I feel like I don't do my best work, and by charging more, I try to avert that from happening in the first place. I try to stop it because I know that I'm not delivering my best work if I don't have time for my eyes to adjust and see what I've actually done. Like you know when you edit something and you wake up the next day, and you look at it, and you're like, "Why?" So here's an example of like, as seen, I don't think really needed any post-production. This is an iPhone shot on the left, and this is the final add of a camera. I mean what am I gonna do? Am I gonna blast light into here? This is beautiful, natural daylight. You got nice shadows coming from left to right. Everything is beautifully three-dimensional. Pretty much just a single exposure edit. I don't know what I could've possibly done to make this better. And then you have shots like that one in Mexico that I showed you, which took two or three hours, and it does take some experience to kind of see when a shot doesn't need post-production and when it needs oodles of post-production. So number eight, building on that, know when you have to add light, right? There are some situations where a little bit of light, a little flash pop can go a long way. In terms of cleaning up color casts or reducing bloom around windows when you have an over-exposed high-contrast area, you get that muddy sort of bloom look. Sometimes, we really only need a tiny bit. If you've seen me teach before, I have this phrase that I keep using, "It's the kiss, this little kiss of light." Like anything, it takes practice to know when you've gone too far. You don't wanna nuke things. You just wanna add a little touch of light. In most cases obviously, every situation is different but a little bit of light is all you might need. Gentle is generally the way to go. You don't need to kill beautiful natural light with flash. Here's a room that I felt was a good example of what I'm talking about. So this is actually shot probably, I don't know 3:00 or 4:00 in the afternoon. And what I do here is I add a little bit of light to sort of clean up the color cast. It feels a little heavy and dark and overbearing, and we're losing detail. Here's that bloom that I was talking about. This is totally over-exposed and gone. I just add a little, one light out the window and one light bounced behind the camera for some fill in the shadows. And that's all it really took. So I'm replicating sunlight in the window, and I'm cleaning up some of the dark shadows inside. So again, you can see I added a little bit of sort of we'll call it like 9:00 AM light, right? Late Sunday morning light. And that's coming in the window. Again, this is like the worst time of day ever to shoot, 3:00 or 4:00 PM, but I had to make something happen, cause we're getting paid, we gotta be pro. So there's a light out here, kinda coming in this way. You can see some of the shadows and highlights on all the furniture, and again one light, I think maybe like here, bounced up into the ceiling to fill in the shadows. I was gonna show you again, this is, when all is said and done, barely any post-production. Maybe a little shadow lift in light room and a little highlights and some contrast, and that was all it really took to go from this sort of green, cavey nest to a really pretty natural-feeling scene. And like, I could, I can walk right in there right now, have my coffee and feel totally relaxed. Or is this kind of feels, like I said, overbearing, a little bit heavy, color's not quite right. So just a little bit of light was all it really took. Just when we are adding light, you should also know when to remove light. A lot of photographers get caught up in only adding light, they're like, "Oh, I gotta light it. I gotta add light, I gotta bounce light off the ceiling, and I gotta fill the scene, I gotta make it bright and white." But just think that, you know, instead of adding light, we can also subtract light. This is a big sort of trick in Hollywood. They'll have all kinds of screens and flags and everything to remove light, to shape it, to be exactly what they want. Like anything here, it takes a little bit of experimenting. And my rule of thumb here is I generally will always try to block light coming from behind the camera. If you've shot a portrait or party pictures, anything like that with an on-camera flash, and you get that sort of harsh, in-your-face, high contrast flat-at-the-same-time look, it's not very flattering. I mean there's a certain style that does it, but for architecture, generally, it tends to flatten the light out, and we want light coming from the side or towards us to add three-dimensionality to objects, so I block the light coming from behind the camera. So here's an example of that. This is straight out of the camera. You can see this is weird, like blue, flat light from behind This doesn't look very elegant to me or or pretty in any way, right? We have some nice light coming in here, but then we have this really flat light. And again, our objects, this kind of looks like it's pasted in. There's no shadow or anything, same thing over here. There's no texture in the wood. We don't see the depth of the scene. And this is a really long space, there should be some great depth to it. So I add a black net behind me or a black cloth. I can't remember what it was, solid black perhaps. And I let the lights in the room do the heavy lifting and we've got all of a sudden, this great sort of dramatic downlight, and you can see the three-dimensionality here. And the chairs, again, I can back up and I'll show you, like see how flat this looks? There's no, you don't know what those are in terms of, you don't know how big they are, how the texture works on them. But as soon as I take out the light from behind me, Again, I let the natural light in the room do the heavy lifting, you get this great, great texture in there. And then I leave this, I think this bright back on here works really well 'cause there's all this skylights. There's a bunch up here too. And that brightness here, keep this in mind. I will always go to the brightest part of the scene, right? So I want the eye to move through the scene. I want this could be where we end up, we're gonna linger here, we're gonna go around, we're gonna move back towards the rear end of the scene. And keeping that nice and bright and natural while sort of dimming this and making it look a bit sexier is gonna help sell that a lot more. So my tenth and final spiel here is quiet on the set. Not necessarily stop talking, but everyone, when you're actually doing the photo, all your assistants and stylists or whoever, or just you, take a deep breath, calm down, stop walking around because subtle camera motions won't allow you to do this sort of finesse in compositing in post-production. If I'm walking around, even on a hard-wood floor like this the camera will vibrate, right? Especially if you have like a battery grip and there's another weak point of connection there. So if you're shooting on a carpet and you know, you just come to a stop on the carpet, the camera's gonna move, so just everyone, stand still relax, when you're photographing your final image. So yeah, just bump into something inadvertently there and that's gonna screw up all of our layering and compositing. Wispy things like pillows and bed sheets are very prone to movement between frames. I might not, if this is a bed, right, and there's a shoot hanging off of it, if I just walk past it, the wind from my body can move a sheet, and when you go to put that together, and you're brushing all your frames together, you might have some problems with opacity of the pillow, with the bed sheet in different situations. Sorry, in different layers. Or if you're walking, like I have clients on the phone doing very important things most of the time when I'm shooting, and they're walking around and they're making business calls and they're pacing back and forth, and then the camera is going like this on a hard-wood floor and I'm like, it's really, really difficult. If you're in a small room, like a bathroom, and sometimes, you know, we're all in there like this and the camera's like click, click, click, click, I tell people hold your breath, right, and we get the shots. So here's an example that looks like a really simple fix. But you can see how difficult it would be to get rid of that sort of duvet cover that was moved because for some reason, one of us walked on the carpet here and we had to, in post-production, sort of go in and chisel it out, kind of using all these different parts of that bureau, whatever this thing is, nice end to clean it up. So that kind of concludes my PowerPoint. I would say the overall big take aways here are to just slow down, relax. Don't rush in and sort of slam things with light. Take your time, get everything nice and level. Because what we are doing in terms of, you know, photography is pretty important. Like I said, we might be the only people who'll get to photograph this subject. It's not like a landscape that a million people can go to and take the same picture over and over. In many cases, we're the only living public record of a building, so we need to slow down. Those images are gonna have a long shelf life. Very important to get things as perfect as possible. It's not that I'm just a stickler or that I am super detail-oriented. It just kinda comes with the territory, so.
Noticing in some of your photos. You obviously have lights on for effect, and some you decided to leave them off.
Can you just talk a little bit about how you decide?
Whether to leave on or off?
When I first started doing interiors and architectural photography, I was always told, "All the lights on all the time, trying to sell the house, you gotta show the lighting design." But after awhile, I was like, nobody lives with all the lights on all the time, and I want my pictures to be relatable. So whether it's, I guess what I wanna say is I want you to be able to see yourself in the pictures that I'm taking. If that means there's only one light on in the room, that's a reading light next to the bed, then I'm gonna put one light on. I'm just gonna try to tell the story of the room at that particular time. A lot of the time I see full lights on in bright daylight. I'm like, no one locks on their house with every light on. It looks a little fake and kitschy to me. And in many cases, yes, we are trying to capture the lighting design, but the camera does not do it as well as the human eye. So maybe I'll try to capture like a more dramatic lighting design. I will turn certain lights on and off, I'll dim some and go up and down, but I would say my short answer to that is I wanna capture what it would be like to live in that space or to visit that space. If it's a commercial space, then by all means, turn all the lights on, if it's a restaurant, maybe we'll dim them. We'll make it look like cool, evening, romantic light or something. I'm not gonna turn all the lights on, max power, and completely ruin any idea of the space. I want the picture to be like if you were there. If it's a dark photo, I'm sorry. If it's a dark space, the photo's gonna be a little dark. It's okay, it doesn't have to be perfectly exposed. Does that kind of answer your questions? I just want it to be, again, like why would you have the lights on in bright daylight? I have no idea, you know? Or like the one I showed you previously. I feel like if I had all the lights on here, it would totally kill that Sunday morning vibe. So it's just kind of a, a learned thing. But I think it's totally okay to experiment, and like, "I think this would also work if I just had that light on." But I don't think anyone wakes up and turns all the chandeliers and cans on in their rooms so.