Tuesday, January 10, 2012

When Tonemapping Isn't Enough, Add Some Flash

Using a Strobe in an Interior HDR Shoot

Recently, kitchen and bathroom designer Steve Roberts asked me to photograph a master bath he had just remodeled.

I've learned on-the-job that HDR blending of multiple exposures is the most efficient way to assure shadow details without blowing out the highlights in interior shots.  And in all assignments thus far, flash photography has been unnecessary. But this particular bathroom proved to be tenaciously problematic.

Non-HDR image at "correct" average exposure

Here's a single shot of one end of the master bath, revealing both under exposed and overexposed areas.  I was particularly concerned that the shower to the left would be poorly represented, even with a half-dozen bracketed frames.  It has details that show off Steve's talents, and I wanted to be sure to do justice to him.

I figured a little fill light couldn't hurt.  I placed a strobe in the shower and used a simple solution to remotely trigger it. I activated the optical slave on it and set it off by firing another flash mounted on the hot shoe of my camera, pointed at the ceiling.  With some experimentation to control reflections and hot spots off the glass, I discovered that placing the flash on the floor of the shower and bouncing it off a 24 inch white reflector did the best job of scattering the light the way I wanted. With both flashes set to 1/16 power, there was just enough kiss of light to give the right fill.

The flashes went off in each frame of the bracketed shots.  Here are the results.

Notice how nicely the details of the shower interior show inside the tiled stall.  This experience taught me to not be shy about combining some fill flash with HDR bracketing.  In situations like this, a little extra light can make a big difference.

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