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Tips for reducing glare around windows?

Sean Galbraith , Apr 03, 2009; 10:59 a.m.

I shoot a lot of interiors, and frequently get blown out highlights in windows. I don't mind that much. What I mind is the glare that impacts the areas around the blown out windows. Is this just a function of the quality of the lens, or is there a technique I can use to reduce the glare? I rarely, if ever, had this happen when I shot with a Panasonic FZ30 and its Leica lens. But I got it often on my Nikon D80 with Nikon lenses. Now that I'm shooting medium format film only, I would like to minimize the unwanted effect.
Examples of what I'm talking about:
Good blown out windows:

bad blown out windows:


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Luis G , Apr 03, 2009; 11:59 a.m.

This is exactly the kind of thing HDR shines at. It would triple your scanning work, but you'll be able to deal with the problem.

Other than that, in the old days, people used flash to reduce the contrast between interior and exterior (not possible with your warehouse shot without van loads of lighting), easily doable with the 2nd picture. Or....people used discreetly tape semi-opaque translucent plastic (there was a commercial product for this, can't remember the name) over the window to reduce the contrast.

HDR will offer you more control and is simpler/faster to work with than doing it en situ.

Dan Lovell - Orange County, California , Apr 03, 2009; 12:09 p.m.

Your first image is not a problem (let the windows blow), but for the 2nd example....

For flashable rooms you could do this:

Depending upon the size of the room, you could use one or more flashes to balance the light differences between that coming into the room and the ambiant room lighting. Don't worry about blown widows...let them blow because they don't matter. Adding contrast during post processing can be helpful too. Also, placement of yourself can be exeedingly helpful, so if you can get the window on the side of behind you that would be helpful.

Now more about flashing: set the camera to manual mode, F8, and set to shutter to under expose the window light by 2 or 3 stops. Then set the flashes to meter on your hand or something normal gray in the room, using the * button. Take the shot. It will work everytime. Make sure to tripod for best results.

Carey Moulton , Apr 03, 2009; 01:20 p.m.

I think there also a problem of lens flare. The lighting in the first is much more even than the second. The second looks mostly darker except for the strongly lit window. Shooting directly into the bright window as you are would present a problem to most lenses. There are a few Nikon lens I have used that are better at this, the 28f2 and 28f3.5 are good examples. There are probably others. I would also recommend a lens hood.

John Kelly , Apr 03, 2009; 01:28 p.m.

The last image seems to have an unusual amount of flare. I wonder if the lens was clean?

Avoid filters. Avoid zoom lenses.

Flash fill is standard with formal architectural work, which is another story.

Dan L's idea might deliver what you're after without looking artificially-lit.

Your "naturalistic" look would be lost with HDR, but that might be irrelevant, depending on your goals. HDR's usual artificial post-card look can be a virtue, occasionally, but it's usually bogus. It's popular with realtors because it delivers basic facts but doesn't depict the grubby reality.

It'd be easy to fill the huge interior with a small flash if you painted with light...might be nice in the early morning when dawn light was just leaking into the space. Or DON'T fill the entire space, explore the look of limited lighting at night.

Charles Heckel , Apr 03, 2009; 02:35 p.m.

You have several workarounds offered above. You're talking about glare that is sometimes "good" and sometimes "bad," and occurs with some lenses more than others. Let's consider the problem and try to understand it. Your "good" glare occurred in a shot with low subject contrast--window light in an interior with opposing window banks which balance each other. There was a large window area in the picture and the light was coming in from the side, lighting the interior more than your lens. Your "bad" glare had high subject contrast--head on into a window, no apparent fill lighting from other windows, small window area in the picture.
The extra light from your blown highlights is likely to spill over into the shadows next to them--lots if it's a lot of extra light, less if it's just barely enough to kill the detail--and the more glass-to-air surfaces, the more that light will bounce around in the camera body instead of pinging the emulsion (or sensor) where it's supposed to. This is called flare. Teutonic optical engineers subscribe to the notion that der machine muss be perfekt and pounce upon flare with a maul, producing meticulously ground lenses with few elements that manage flare well, like the lens of your Leica. Japanese optical engineers think that their lenses are supposed to be the soul of the photographer and expect you to eat and sleep with them, practicing assiduously until you can get the best out of your gear in a state of no-mind and become a perfect master of your craft.
I recommend that you make a habit of taking spot readings of the highlights and shadows in a scene, chimp at the sensitometric curve after making an exposure, and be aware of extraneous light falling on your lens. You can buy a Hassie or a Rollei with optics that are absolutely killer, but if you're going to spend that much money, you might as well start becoming a perfect master anyway.

John Vandehei , Apr 03, 2009; 02:38 p.m.

"Your 'naturalistic' look would be lost with HDR". I disagree. While it's true that HDR images can look artificial and surreal, if done right, HDR can make the final image appear much closer to what your eyes actually saw at the time the picture was taken. For example, take a look at the picture below. It was a stained glass window in a property that I was appraising. There was no way I could take one picture and get the exposure right. I took several bracketed shots and combined them later on the computer. Although I'm still working to improve my technique, I think the final result looks quite natural (well, the exposure of the wood could use some work).

HDR stained glass window

John Kelly , Apr 03, 2009; 03:02 p.m.

John V, I think you proved my point by abandoning the wood's character in exchange for the well-worthwhile glass detail. Sean didn't show us such important glass...in fact, it might not have hurt to see more flare from the factory windows.
HDR works well depicting detail that might otherwise be fuzzy or lost, but shadow details, soft light, and long tonal scale seemed crucial to Sean's images.
If all he wanted was line detail, per your examples, HDR would be effective...might be beautiful as well, particularly with the warehouse image. I think it would take away from the reality of the prison cell.

Jim Momary , Apr 03, 2009; 04:56 p.m.

For image number two, flash, HDR or Roscoe Cinegel neutral density filter over the window to tame down the light a bit. Jim.

John O'Keefe-Odom , Apr 04, 2009; 12:13 p.m.

In film, shorter shutter speed helps. You will see this same type of halation with very long exposures. What you're witnessing is halation outside your camera. If you have a very long available light exposure, like 2-10 minutes, you'll see it, probably to the point that it begins to obscure something else, under common interior light. Transfer that same EV to a shorter shutter duration, and it'll go away.

What are you metering for in the example photos? What's basically happening is that the light outside is so bright it's not only out of range, it's way out of range. I imagine that these were longer exposures, maybe with wide apertures, to do a handheld shot with no flash?

The neutral density filter recommendation above will work because that will compress range. If you compress contrast range, that'll help; any method; filtration before camera, developer exposure, filtration in enlarging; computer tinkering of a digital file.

Overall, easiest and fastest in the short room situation is to just use strobe. I take it you're encountering this in available light situations? Most strobes will blast out to 50', more than enough for most interiors. A good strobe can handle it out to a hundred. One or two off camera strobes would have gotten you out of this situation. If your strobe exposure is four stops away from whatever ambient will be, you'll have almost no ambient influence.

Pick a strobe setting that'll get you 2 stops ambient underexposed, and you'll be closer. One way is to pick a strobe setting that will let you set aperture based on strobe, but keep the shutter open for a long while; but that won't counteract this type of problem. You'll just get both. 2-4 stops under with shutter open long and strobed can turn out well. Give one of those a pop if you get into ambient and strobe indoors. They usually do okay for me.

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