Photography For Real Estate

Tips and techniques for real estate photography

Archive for the ‘Photo Editing’ Category

Do We Have Any Aperture Users Here?

Posted by larrylohrman on November 25, 2007

Jerry Swanson of Eagan, MN says: “… use the Canon 1Ds with Aperture. After ten months I still have not learned all the features. The Apple Store has experts to teach the program but one hour a week is not great. …I have been using Aperture and have found this a long learning experience.”

Is there anyone out there that has been using Aperture? I have a trial version of Aperture that came on my new  MacBook Pro but I’ve not run it because I’ve been so involved in using Lightroom. Can anyone give Jerry and others insight into using Aperture?


Posted in Photo Editing, Workflow | 2 Comments »

Free Replacement Skies For Real Estate Photographers

Posted by larrylohrman on November 18, 2007

It’s time to do another post on replacement skies. I put it up a page of free skies to use back in March of last year. However, the link is so buried in a long list of links on the right hand side-bar of the blog and I doubt if many people notice it. There’s been a discussion going on in the PFRE flickr discussion about how it would be nice to have a community collection of skies that anyone could use when the need a fresh sky so I volunteered to act as a sky librarian and add any sky donations that anyone has to my already existing collection at: I just got three new skies from Marcus in the UK and added them to the page. If anyone has any skies they’d like to contribute to the sky collection just e-mail the skies or a link to the files to and I’ll add them to the page. Whatever size you have is fine my web server has plenty of space.Be sure do download the sky to check it’s aspect ratio because currently page distorts many of the skies because it all skies to a 200×100 table cell for display purposes. I’ll have to think of a better design to use to display the skies.

Update on 11/23/07:  Need help in using these replacement skies? Have a look at:   Photoshop Tutorials by

Posted in Photo Editing | 3 Comments »

I Spent Yesterday at the Scott Kelby’s Photoshop CS3 Power Tour

Posted by larrylohrman on November 13, 2007

I spent the day yesterday (Monday 11/12) and I am excited about passing on several ideas that I picked up. The most exciting is that Dave Cross (the instructor from Kelby Training) talked about bracketing using camera raw which is something I’ve talked about briefly in a couple of previous posts. The idea is that you can use single RAW image to create two images from, one exposed for the highlights and one exposed for the shadows and then combine the 2 images and using the highlights from one image and the shadows from the second image. The difficult or time consuming part of this technique is developing the mask that controls which part of each image is use in the composite image. Dave demonstrated a technique that does NOT require a mask. Wow, this makes this technique a breeze. The only down side is this technique doesn’t work identically the same on every image. The images like the one above that have all the lacy tree branches in front of the bright sky are of coarse the most difficult.

After I got back home from the seminar I took one of my old images of a twilight shot where the sky was blown out and quickly and easily recovered the delicately lit sky. The basic idea of this technique is that you combine the highlight and shadow parts of the images using layer blending. On the image above I used the difference blending mode. I need to try some more examples and then I’ll do a tutorial that shows this technique step by step. I think this technique will work nicely for bright windows. I also need to check out if this works on Photoshop elements… I think it does. I believe it also works on most older versions of Photoshop since the layer blending features have been the same in Photoshop for a long time.

This seminar gave me a refreshed perspective on all the great advanced techniques that Photoshop has to offer in this new photo-editing world where Lightroom can do so much of what I used to do in Photoshop. There are still plenty great real estate photography post processing techniques that you need Photoshop for!

Posted in Photo Editing | 3 Comments »

Sharpening in Real Estate Photography Workflow

Posted by larrylohrman on November 1, 2007

Recently a reader asked me if every image needed sharpening. The answer is yes when you are downsizing images for web use like real estate photographers do all the time, sharpening is necessary for every image.

About the same time I was reading an excellent article in Photoshop User Magazine called Pro Sharpening Workflow in Lightroom 1.1, by Chris Orwig. Chris went into all the great sharpening features that Lightroom 1.1 has. At the the end of the article it dawned on me that since I’d started using Lightroom heavily and and carefully keeping all my images in Lightroom that I’d quit using the Photoshop Smart Sharpen filter like I always use to do. Lightroom sharpening has always looked a little weak to me compared to PS smart sharpen.

At first, I thought that Lightroom was downsizing after the sharpening but after more consideration I don’t think that’s the case. As with all output from Lightroom fixing the image data as a pixel image is the last step. I think the sharpening algorithms in Lightroom are not quite as aggressive as Photoshop Smart Sharpen.

So what I’m going to start doing is doing my sharpening as a last step in Photoshop Smart Sharpen.

In summary,

  • When you downsize an image always sharpen AFTER the downsizing as a last step in the workflow.
  • Sharpening and then downsizing is NOT the same and downsizing and then sharpening.
  • If you have Photoshop CS3 you might check out the Smart Sharpen filter… it is the best sharpening filter I’ve seen.

Update note: on 11/2/07 I updated this post. When I first made the post I jumped to the conclusion that because Lightroom sharpening was a little weak that it was downsizing before applying sharpening. Matt Stec pointed out this is unlikely.

Posted in Lightroom, Photo Editing, Workflow | 4 Comments »

A Painless Masking Technique for Photoshop CS3

Posted by larrylohrman on October 31, 2007

The post I did on atticfire was extremely popular. I asked the guys at atticfire if they would talk about their shooting and work-flow process but not unexpectedly they declined to share any secrets with us.

There was a bunch of traffic on the atticfire post from a forum on CGarchitect (“A global community for Architectural Visualization Professionals”). Interestingly, the majority of the comments on PFRE, the PFRE flickr discussion and the CGarchitect discussion were that people felt that the atticfire images looked “over processed” yet there was more traffic on this post than almost any post I’ve done recently.

In the process of looking around on I found a very interesting masking tutorial by Scott Onstott called “Expanding Dynamic Range in Photoshop“. It requires CS3. This is another nifty way of creating a mask that can be used create a composite of two images, one exposed for the windows and one exposed for the interior. This technique is similar to the John Warner Blue Channel Masking technique that I demonstrated back in April of this year.

Posted in Photo Editing | 2 Comments »

HDR vs Masking For Exterior Real Estate Photography

Posted by larrylohrman on October 23, 2007

Back in April I did a post on a technique for making composite images with masking in Photoshop. The photo above is from that post and is the result of combining one exposure of the sky with another exposure of the house, foreground and trees. Of coarse the trick with this technique is creating a mask that just masks the sky and has a complicated edge with all the tree branches. Back in the original post I explain how I created the mask in this case.

Another way to solve this same problem is to use Photomatix by MultimediaPhoto. I’ve played with Photomatix in the past but never got excited about using it for my work. This has changed recently after taking some time to learn how to use the software and seeing some good looking work done by David Palermo and Uwe Steinmueller. Much of what I’ve seen done with Photomatix appears too wild and crazy for my taste and many Photomatixed photos have a “dirty” look in many of the shadow areas. David and Uwe’s Photomatix work shows that quality images with out this “dirty shadows” look is possible with Photomatix.

I decided to go back and use the same images I used for the masking image and create a HDR version with Photomatix 2.3. I’ll have to admit it took me a while to get past the frustration of all the sliders in Photomatix. My main frustration is that the preview image in Photomatix tone-mapping doesn’t always show what the final image will look like. I created the version below with Photomatix.

The first thing I noticed about the Photomatix version is that the lighting is more realistic. This it the yellow upper story of the home doesn’t look like it had the sun on the front. In the masked version I like the punch that the upper part of the house has but I must admit the clouds are a bit too ominous for a real estate image. I’m not practiced enough with Photomatix so I have all the control I want of what the final image looks like. But overall I think the Photomatix version is very usable. I end up fine tuning the output of Photomatix in Lightroom.

I will have to say it was much faster and easier creating the Photomatix image than creating the mask for the Photoshop image. Right now for me the trade off is between learning how to control the look of the image with the sliders in Photomatix and my skill at quickly creating a Photoshop mask. There is no question that for the price ($99) Photomatix can be a very useful tool.

I’m not sure I’m ready to start using Photomatix for interior shots yet. I still like the idea of being in control of the light inside.

Posted in Photo Editing | 3 Comments »

How to Stack Images Shot Without a Tripod

Posted by larrylohrman on October 2, 2007

Darren over at posted a tutorial that is if interest to RE photographers that are not using Photoshop CS3. The tutorial, called Stacking Images shot without a Tripod illustrated how to stack and align images using PTAssembler (shareware) or Hugin (free).

The problem is if you want to shoot several images so you can blend the sky from one image with the foreground of another image you need to have the two images perfectly registered (aligned pixel for pixel). There are several was to do this:

  1. You can shoot RAW and open the image twice once to get a properly exposed sky and a second time to get a foreground exposure. I know, there are many folks out there that choose not to shoot RAW.
  2. You can use a tripod and shoot bracketed images.
  3. You could use the PS CS3 auto align feature.
  4. You can use the technique described in the tutorial to align the images. The benefit of this technique is that it can be done with free software and no tripod.

Of all of these I still like 1. the best. With this technique you can extract multiple exposures many stops apart in exposure from one RAW image. When shooting panoramas when  this technique  is invaluable.

Posted in Photo Editing | 8 Comments »

Photoshop Elements 6 Announced Yesterday

Posted by larrylohrman on September 25, 2007

Yesterday Adobe  released an updated version of Photoshop Elements for Windows with the Mac version due early in 2008. Now that I’m a Mac user I feel left out. Wired has an an article on the release. Macworld says PE6 has a new Photomerge and Quick Selection Tool… hopefully the same one that is in CS3.

I think for real estate work PSE 6 may be a great companion photo editor for Lightroom since it has the Transform and lens correction features still missing from Lightroom and you can do sky masking pretty effectively. If the Photomerge is the same as CS3 it is awesome! The main point is that PSE 6 may fill all the Lightroom wholes for $99.

Posted in Photo Editing | 1 Comment »

More on Straightening Walls

Posted by larrylohrman on September 24, 2007

Lots of good comments on the last post about straightening walls. There are several of the comments that are worth expanding on.

The best way is to get the wall right while shooting. Absolutely, do everything you can to get the walls straight while shooting like using a tripod and using the right and left frame edge as a reference. Many find a tripod limits the places in the room you can to shoot. That is, its hard to get in those tight corners with a tripod. Some have suggested in comments earlier this year that they like a mono pod with small legs on the bottom. Also, someone always brings up tilt and shift lenses when discussing this subject. Canon makes the TS-E 24mm and Nikon makes the wide angle shift 28mm. Yes, if you have an extra $1,000 in your equipment budget this is an alternative. The downside of this alternative is you are constrained to never shoot wider shots than 24 or 28mm. I find this too much of a limitation. For real estate work I’d rather spend my money on a ultra-wide zoom. Ultimately, whether you get the walls straight while shooting or in post processing is a workflow preference.

Are there exceptions to the straight wall rule? Yes, perhaps. The image above is an example of the kind of shot I always end up shooting at a home where there is an overlook or unique stairway view. With these kind of shot There is certainly no “right way” to get the walls on these kind of image. But at the same time I feel like this kind of image is never a very strong image compared to other images. I frequently shot them but almost never end up using them.

There is more than one way to adjust verticals. In Photoshop there are three commands under the Edit>Transform command. They are Distort, Skew and Perspective. Here is a nice description of the three methods. I’m in the habit of using Distort because if done it that way for so long. However, as you will see if you play with Skew a bit it works exactly like you want it to when you are straightening verticals. That is it straightens ONLY verticals. Perspective moves verticals symmetrically on both sides… this is usually not what I want to do. Distort has the advantage of being able to change verticals AND horizontals at the same time. I like Distort because I frequently find myself wanting to adjust both horizontals and verticals. There are a bunch of other ways to modify verticals. I summarized many of them in a previous post.

The thing I find amazing is how quickly the eye spots a vertical that is slightly off and the visual tension it creates. Some times you can feel the vertical is off but you have to get a reference guide next to it to tell for sure.

Posted in Photo Editing, Photo Technique | 3 Comments »

My Mission: To Straighten All Walls in the Realm!

Posted by larrylohrman on September 20, 2007

I have found my mission in life and it is to make sure all the walls in real estate marketing photos do not have converging verticals!

There is something about making walls straight that is hard for photographers to get. Apparently, it just isn’t obvious that walls like the ones above detract from an image. I see many real estate photographers out there charging Realtors to shoot property photos that think it’s not a big deal to produce photos with converging verticals and color casts like the photo above. They are wrong. It is a big deal.

This is the same photo with the distractions removed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

I think one of the reasons converging verticals and color casts are not fixed in property photos is that some photographers are not familiar with or are opposed to post processing photos. These problems are quite easy to fix when post processing an image.

The fact is, if you are going to produce high quality images you MUST do post processing.

Posted in Photo Editing, Photo Technique | 20 Comments »

HDR Software Overview

Posted by larrylohrman on September 18, 2007

I recently noticed a nice overview of HDR software that is in the Panotools Wiki. I thought that this was one of the best HDR software overviews I’ve seen. This link on the Panotools NG forum which is a forum of panographers that discuss PanoTools, panoramic imaging, and related technologies and techniques, front-ends such as PTGui, PTMac, hugin or PTAssembler, or companion apps such as Pano2QTVR.

HDR is routinely used in panoramic imaging because when shooting panos frequently you find yourself shooting both into the sun and away from the sun in the same image… HDR becomes essential in these situations.

Posted in Lighting, Photo Editing | Leave a Comment »

For The Real Money Shot Hire a Pro

Posted by larrylohrman on September 5, 2007

Adriana Barton wrote a recent article for the Globe and Mail (Canadian national newspaper) on real estate photography. I knew this article was in the works because Adriana asked my permission to quote from this blog. Although I didn’t know when it was going to be published… Reader Drew King noticed the article and pointed it out to me this morning. This article is the third article (NYTimes, LATimes) I’ve seen this year done by major newspapers that recommends that Realtors hire a professional for marketing photography. These articles all point to the fact that real estate marketing is getting more visibility at least from print media journalists.

An important aspect of this article is seen in the comments. I find the comments revel a naive point of view on the subject of wide-angle lens and Photoshop and making home interiors attractive. I would have dismissed the point of view expressed in the comments on the Globe and Mail article if it weren’t for the fact that M. James Northen pointed out the very same kinds of points of view on a re-posting of the NYTimes article on Be sure to read through these two sets of comments. As M. James pointed out, “There are a few people out there that are so ignorant that they think RE Photography could be construed as Bait and Switch. That the original pictures in this post are better than the pro-shots. That wide angle lenses set off their BS alarms.”

I think that the public is generally not very aware or sophisticated when it comes to images they see day in and day out on TV, movies and print media. They think that the cover girls they see on magazine covers at the grocery store check-out stands come straight out of the camera and on to the cover. And they never think about how far from reality many of the TV ad images are. Real estate marketing is generally the least manipulated of media images. This lack of visual sophistication is, I think, the same thing that lead Realtors to not recognize the difference between a good and bad marketing images. Most Realtors and the general public just need to be visually educated.

Posted in Marketing, Photo Editing | 8 Comments »

Content Aware Image Resizing – I Want this in Photoshop!

Posted by larrylohrman on August 28, 2007

Michael Arrington over at TechCrunch shows a small video of an image resizing concept that researchers Dr. Ariel Shamir and Dr. Shai Avidan have come up with. I’ll bet this is in Photoshop soon.

8/28 late Update: John Nack over at reveals that Dr. Shai Avidan one of the researchers that came up with “Content Aware Image Resizing” described in the video above has joined Adobe in the Newton, MA office of Adobe… Hmm, I wonder what he’ll be doing?

Posted in Photo Editing | Leave a Comment »

Adobe Offers Elements Users an Upgrade to CS3 for $299

Posted by larrylohrman on August 27, 2007

Cherie Irwin just pointed out that Adobe is offering to upgrade Elements to Photoshop CS3 for only $299 This is a savings of $350! If you are an Elements user and you were dreaming of CS3 better take advantage of this!

Notice that in the lower right corner of the e-mail that Cherie got is says to use Promotion code C5B775F3 and the promotion only lasts through 9/16/07.

Thanks Cherie.

8/28 Update: Apparently the promotion code above works only once. If you are a Elements user that wants to do this upgrade you’ll probably have to call Adobe customer service to get your own unique Promotion code.

Posted in Photo Editing | 10 Comments »

Good Use of HDR

Posted by larrylohrman on August 16, 2007

Sometimes HDR is the only way to get the shot outside. Photo by Maciek Duczynski. Here for more photos by Maciek Duczynski.

I find it interesting that you can spot a HDR image instantly… HDR processed images have a strange unearthly look that is unmistakable.

Posted in Photo Editing | 2 Comments »

Strategies to Stay Within the Law When Editing Digital Photos

Posted by larrylohrman on August 13, 2007

I hesitate to do another post on photo editing ethics again since we have pretty much beat this subject to death in the recent past. However, the Real Estate Trends + Technology Magazine of the California Association of Realtors have a pretty definitive article by John Edwards, titled Have you crossed the line?

I think this is a great summary of the issues on this subject. And I feel like it pretty much summarizes the conclusions that we collectively came to on the ethics of real estate photo modification.

I think the statement in the article by Teresa Hoffman, president of the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials, a Montgomery, Ala.-based organization that represents governmental agencies and other organizations that issue real estate licenses, regulate real estate practice and enforce real estate law gets at the essence of the issue. She says:

“Remember, if a consumer claims they relied on a representation as real and true, and it turns out to be an enhancement and false, the licensee will have to defend the action. Why would anyone wish to incur this risk?”

That is the Realtor is the one that is at risk of having to legally defending themselves from a potential law suit and if they are smart they will error on the side of caution.

Posted in Legal, Photo Editing | 3 Comments »

A Comparison Between PTlens and Photoshop CS2 Lens Filter

Posted by larrylohrman on August 6, 2007

I’m back from a relaxing several day break at the Oregon beach (with very little Internet access).

While I was gone I heard from Drew King who pointed out an interesting article by Alson van der Meulen that compares PTlens to the lens distortion filter in Photoshop CS2 (not sure if this is the same one that is in CS3). This article relates to the post I did last week on alternatives for lens distortion correction. The bottom line is that Alson finds that PTlens is as good or better than the lens distortion filter in PS CS2 and easier to use because PTlens uses the EXIF data to recognize what lens was used to shoot the image and apply the appropriate correction where as PS CS2 is a trial and error visual correction.

Thanks Drew.

Posted in Photo Editing | Leave a Comment »

How Do Lightroom Users Fix Barrel Distortion & Converging Verticals?

Posted by larrylohrman on July 29, 2007

A discussion going on in the Flickr PhotographyForRealEstate discussion brought to my attention that other Lightroom users are going through the same evaluation of Barrel distortion and vertical fixing that I’m going through after my recent addition of a MacBook Pro to my tools.

Here’s the problem:

If you are a Lightroom user you need an application to correct barrel distortion and fix converging verticals since Lightroom currently doesn’t do either. You’d like to find an application for your platform that is easy to use but doesn’t cost a bundle. Photoshop CS3 is the obvious choice but is expensive. Using PS CS3 to correct verticals and barrel distortion is like cracking eggs with a sledge hammer.

My first reaction was that I just need to bite the bullet and get a copy of DxO since the newest version apparently works with Lightroom. So last week I downloaded the DxO trial and started checking it out. After a few days of use I began to realize that 80-90% of the functionality of DxO is an overlap with Lightroom. So, much of what you are paying for with DxO you already have with Lightroom. Also, fixing barrel distortion and perspective was not as smooth as I’d hoped it would be. It seems to work all the time with JPGs but doesn’t want to display some RAW files… not sure why yet. Also, I don’t like the fact that I have to pay a premium for the version that works with my 1Ds and 16-35mm zoom and yet that version doesn’t work with files from my old CoolPix (or any other camera) which has worse barrel distortion than my 16-35mm.

I decided to see what other options are available these days. I’ve been compiling the results of my search here. This list is probably not complete but I think it has all the most popular lens correction applications. Right now I’m leaning towards using LensFix for the Mac which is essentially a Mac version of PTLens. I’ve used PTLens by Tom Niemann on Windows for quite a while and seen it get better and better over the years. Tom has an extensive library of lenses that PTLens is calibrated for and if your lens is not in the PTLens database (not likely) you can calibrate PTLens for your lens. LensFix apparently uses the same lens library as PTLens. Both PTLens and LensFix use Panorama Tools to do the mathematical calculations.

Hugin (last application of my list) appears to be a perfect solution but for my taste it’s a little difficult to use. It’s free so you have nothing to loose by giving it a try; you might like it.

If anyone has an alternative that I’ve missed be sure to leave a comment. I’ve report back after I’ve tried out LensFix for a while.

Posted in Photo Editing | 8 Comments » Online Videos For Photoshop

Posted by larrylohrman on May 3, 2007

In the past I have not liked training videos but recently I subscribed to the podcast and ran across the podcast by Deke McClelland on the new photomerge feature in Photoshop CS3. It was short and effective. The free podcast actually covers many different applications, not just Photoshop. Then after registering my version of Photoshop CS3 I chose the one month free subscription to that Adobe gives as gift for registering.

I really like the design of these online videos. Unlike most other training videos I’ve used these are “chunked” in to 2 to 10 minutes on specific subjects. It’s great, you can skip around and look at just the subjects you want and easily come back later and find a particular subject that you want to watch again.

The series I’ve found particularly useful so far is “Photoshop CS3 New Features”. Since its too early for any of the Photoshop books to be updated for CS3 this is a great way to find out what’s up the CS3 upgrade. In fact, this is the best description of the new CS3 features anywhere. In addition to the series on CS3 new features there is a series on Photoshop CS3 Advanced Techniques, Beyond the Basics and CS3 Essentials. There is also a series on Photoshop Elements 5.

At $25 per month for an online subscription, I think this a great way to become more effective with either Photoshop you use.

By the way there are a bunch of Photoshop and photography how-to podcasts (free via iTunes). Many of these are video podcasts. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Killer Tips
  • Creative Photoshop with John Reuter
  • Photoshop TV
  • Photoshop for Digital Photographers
  • Lightroom for Digital Photographers

Posted in Photo Editing | 4 Comments »

New Photomerge in Photoshop CS3 is a Breakthrough Improvement

Posted by larrylohrman on April 28, 2007

Wow, the new photomerge feature in Photoshop CS3 is a huge improvement compared to previous versions of photomerge. The idea of photomerge is to stitch together a series of photos into a panorama similar to the panorama above. I made this panorama from six overlapping shots that cover about 180 degrees of horizontal view. The six shots were taken without a tripod and in aperture priority mode. Normally you would use a tripod to make sure the shots line up nicely for stitching and use manual exposure mode so all parts of the panorama had the same exposure. But I wanted to test the stitching, alignment and blending algorithms in photomerge.

This second panorama is made from the very same six photos with the older photomerge that is in Photoshop Elements 5.0. I think the same photomerge is in Photoshop CS2 and earlier versions.

Notice the nice blending job that the new photomerge (top most example) did when the shutter speed was increased towards the right side of the panorama that was towards the sun. You have to look closely to in the top example to that there is a change in exposure on the right-hand side. The old photomerge makes kind of a mess and doesn’t even try to blend the different images.

A panoramic shot can be nice on a property brochure or flyer or a web site. Many do-it-yourself virtual tour sites allow you to use this kind of panorama shot. In the past I’ve always used specialized stitching software like PhotoVista or PTgui to make panoramas because Photoshop did such a bad job. Photoshop CS3 has changed that, photomerge finally stitches and blends panoramas as good or better than specialized software.

BTW, if you want to get some more in depth how-to on using Photomerge in CS3 there is a multi-part Video podcast on this subject currently at All you need is a free download of Apple iTunes. After installing iTunes, use iTunes to subscribe to the podcast. You can then watch the video on either your PC/MAC or iPod. The Photomerge podcast is #59 for April 20.

Posted in Panoramas, Photo Editing | 2 Comments »

Tour Hosting, and More Photomatix Examples

Posted by larrylohrman on April 12, 2007

Ed Parsons of Myrtle Beach, SC ( sent me an example of his Interactive Home Showcase for a recent client. This virtual tour has several things I want to comment on.

The first is that it’s an example of a Flash slide-show created by the program which is a bunch of Flash templates that you can use as a virtual tour, like Ed does or burn them on a CD or both. Ed says, “I use SellFolio 3.0 For Client Projects- Merchandising version. The program paid for itself with our first tour

The second thing is that this tour is hosted by which is a virtural tour hosting service that hosts a variety of tours that you build for a monthly cost. Apparently, this service is easier than maintaining your own web site from scratch.

After I studied Ed’s photos Ed had to endure my lecture on converging verticals and barrel distortion… I think Ed is now a believer in avoiding these mortal sins. I also was telling Ed that for my taste his images were a little under lit. He obviously was not using any lighting. He told me that he was a Photomatix user and all the images in this tour with Photomatix. This surprised me because I’d never been able to get images I did with Photomatrix to look this good. Mine always come out “dirty” looking. Ed says he shoots 10-to 12 shots per scene and carefully chooses the images to use. I need to go back and try to get Photomatix to make images that look this good.

Posted in Photo Editing, Virtual Tours | 7 Comments »

Using Multiple Images and Masking to Make a Composite Image

Posted by larrylohrman on April 11, 2007

After my post about Photomatrix I wanted to make sure beginning real estate photographers know that there are other, better ways to deal with the problem of shooting in a situation where the brightness range is more than you camera can handle. Ideally you want to get the darkness of the sky and still get crisp whites. It’s almost impossible to do this with out making a composite image.

The image above is one I shot of my son’s 1880 Dutch Colonial farm house last week. The weather was broken clouds and the north facing front was brightly lit with ominous clouds in the sky. This is a classic case where it takes one exposure for the home and foreground and a second exposure to get the darkness and delicateness of the clouds. If I’d exposed for the nice greens and yellow of the home the sky would be burned out and boring. On the other hand, if I’d exposed for the sky the the House and foreground would be too dark and the yellow and white wouldn’t have been crisp. This is the very same situation that you run into when shooting interiors where the windows are bright and the interior is not as bright. In the interior situation a flash can be used to light the interior so it’s the same brightness as the outside but outside this won’t work.

When I was taking this shot I took several exposures in anticipation making a composite image example. To create this image I opened both shots in Photoshop and shift+dragged one image over the other to exactly register them. The crux of doing a composite of these two images is to select the complicated edge between the sky and the house/foreground. There are many ways to do this but I like the way described in Katrin Eismann’s book, Photoshop Masking & Compositing. This is a great book that has everything you need to know about using Photoshop to make composite images. On page 225 she describes a technique she got from John Warner to select the sky by duplicating the blue channel and then using curves to increase the contrast of the the blue channel copy so it is a solid mask for the sky. This is the technique I used on this image. This technique is a quick and relatively painless (took me about 15 minutes for this image) way to select the complicated edge between the sky and the trees. After selecting the sky, you make a layer mask that allows the sky from one layer/image show through to the layer/image of the house and foreground.

You can usually spot composite images of this sort because there is a temptation to take shortcuts in making the sky selection mask. Frequently, there will be a “halo” between the sky and the rest of the image because someone took a shortcut in making the sky mask. If you look very closely at a large file of this image there are still defects along the lacy edge where the trees meet the sky but in sizes used for the web it’s difficult to see the defects. The mask is delicate enough to let the dark sky show through the lacy trees on the far left and middle-left.

Posted in Photo Editing, Photo Technique | 4 Comments »

Example of a Well Done Property Website –

Posted by larrylohrman on March 29, 2007

I just got a e-mail ad for a property in Snohomish (North of Seattle). I get 20 to 30 of these things a day as all Realtors on the Northwest Multiple Listing. The photos most of them put you to sleep. This one grabbed my attention. All the photos are on a property website:

I think this is a stunning example of 1. A good property website and 2. Stunning real estate photography. If you look closely at the images they have the look of blended images and/or HDR processing. The website of the company that did the site (Vista Estate Imaging) indicates these images are done “with natural light”. There are many images that have indications of some manual blending and many have indications of HDR processing. All in all though, this is one of the best jobs of blending images I’ve seen.

Posted in Photo Editing, Photo Technique, Real Estate Photo of the Week | 19 Comments »

What About Photoshop CS3?

Posted by larrylohrman on March 28, 2007

Since Photoshop 3 I’ve been one of the first in line to upgrade my version of Photoshop. This time it feels different to me. I’ve been using the Beta Photoshop CS3 on one machine and I have to say I like the feel of the new Bridge but I haven’t run into a CS3 feature I can’t live without. Lately I feel like I’m being over run by new Adobe software.

Maybe it’s because Lightroom just came out and I’m still learning how to be effective and comfortable with Lightroom. Just after Lightroom came out I got a copy of Photoshop Elements 5 and it has all the features I need. At this point I feel I could get by just fine with Lightroom and PE 5 so when the CS3 media circus started yesterday it didn’t grab me like a new version of Photoshop usually does.

I’m sure there will be some compelling feature in CS3 that will become a reason for upgrade, I just don’t see it at this point.

Posted in Photo Editing | 3 Comments »

HDR Image Processing with Photomatix

Posted by larrylohrman on March 13, 2007

I’ve been having an interesting discussion with my friend Kevin Caskey about HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing of spherical panoramas. Kevin is a photographic savvy Realtor in Bellevue, WA that shoots his own spherical panoramas. Kevin discovered and pointed out Photomatix software to me. He showed me his QuickTime VR panorama of his living room that he processed created with Photomatrix.

The typical problem encountered when shooting panoramas is that since you have to shoot all shots being stitched together at the same exposure settings so that you can stitch them together so you have a hard time dealing with scenes that have an extreme dynamic range.

Here’s some background on HDR and Photomatix. The way HDR works is that in addition to the normal exposure you take one or more exposures with less exposure and one or more exposures with more exposure than the normally exposed image. You then combine the multiple images together in a way that takes the “best” parts of each image and results in an image that has a dynamic range of all the combined images. This combining process is what Photomatix does.

Why would you want to go to the work of taking multiple images and combining them? For interiors, it’s an alternative to artificial lighting. For outdoor shots it’s the only way to get the shot if you are faced with a wide range of brightness.

So Kevin used HDR processing with Photomatrix on this QuickTime VR shot of his living room. To appreciate this use of HDR, compare it with this panorama which is some of the same files from Kevin’s panorama only without HDR processing. This second shot is just one shot in each of 3 directions stitched together. Whereas Kevin’s shot is 3 shots in each of 3 directions and all 3 images in each direction combined with Photomatix and the final 3 HDR image stitched toghether. In comparing the two panoramas you will quickly see that Kevin’s HDR panorama has more even lighting around the whole 360 view much like you would get if you’d used a flash unit. In the non-HDR version of the panorama the lighting is more uneven around the 360 degrees of view. The windows are well exposed but the opposite direction is quite underexposed.

When working inside I’d rather use a external flash unit and take one shot in each direction since it’s a lot less processing work than using Photomatix and shooting 3 times more images. However, when you are shooting outside where you can’t can’t control the lighting there is no other way of capturing the total brightness range of a scene with a bright sky and not so bright foreground.

Last April I did a post on some ways to do image blending for interiors as an alternative to using lighting equipment. Photomatix is another piece of software that goes works in a similar way to the techniques I described in that post. However, with Photomatix you have much more control over the combining of images with a process that’s called “tone-mapping”. For a complete tutorial on HDR and using Photomatrix see

Posted in Panoramas, Photo Editing, Virtual Tours | 14 Comments »