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Help fix a majorly blown out window!

Josh Gilreath , Jul 27, 2009; 12:07 p.m.

I photographed a wedding this last Saturday, and after the ceremony I did a series of shots with the bride and groom in the church. In the front of the church is a huge stained glass window that was so bright it blew out when I exposed for the bride and groom, if I exposed for the window the bride and groom would be almost completely black with no detail. I did shoot the image RAW on a D200, but thus far have not been able to figure out what to do to "fix" this image. I understand that the window may not have tons of detail but it needs to be better than this big white gob. Also there is a problem with the floor past the bride and groom, because of the window. Please take a look at my photo and give me suggestions of how I can fix the window and also how I might shoot shots like this in the future.
Thanks in advance,

Blown out window!


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Nadine Ohara - SF Bay Area/CA , Jul 27, 2009; 12:24 p.m.

Basically you mask the window and try to recover as much detail as is there. Same for the floor. If you use Lightroom, the adjustment brushes can work.

You 'could have' shot another frame that had the correct or close to correct exposure to the window and composited them. If you can go back to the church and do that, you might be able to do that still.

Otherwise, you could use flash on the couple, and possibly in the near background area (shooting up to the walls) to bring the interior/subject exposure up enough so that you could get some detail in the window. You probably won't be able to balance it exactly without the interior going black (as you discovered). So an 'in between' exposure that brings just enough detail back in the window that it doesn't look like a white blob.

Bob Bernardo - LA area disabled , Jul 27, 2009; 12:42 p.m.

You are looking at about a 5 F stop variance, maybe more. Without using a flash there's no way to make the shot look really professional, unless you take 2 shots and mask them together in photoshop.

I know you didn't ask advice about the posing, but the groom looks thin and the brides pose isn't flattering. I'd turn the bride and the groom more in an angle, somewhere around 45 degrees.

a slight adjustment

William Porter , Jul 27, 2009; 01:05 p.m.


First, let me say that I don't think the blown-out window is that huge a problem. I would certainly bring up the exposure in the rest of the photo - especially on the bride - half a stop or more. But a bright window shining God's blinding light on the couple isn't automatically a bad thing. It is not automatically a technical error to blow highlights. It's only an error when the blown highlights hurt the photo, say, if you lose all the detail in the bride's gown, or a subject's eyeglasses reflect the flash and turn into white disks - that sort of thing.

You may think (apparently do think) that it would be better to have some detail in that window in the far background. That's fine. Matter of taste and if you feel that way, it's your photo and I won't argue with you. I'm just saying that I don't think that the blown window is the main problem with the photo.

For the future, how do you handle this situation?

Remember that your camera has a dynamic range considerably smaller than the dynamic range of the human eye. Camera can only see a range of 5-6 stops. Sometimes the reality you're looking at has a dynamic range of only 3-4 stops and everything's peachy. Expose to the right of the histogram without blowing significant details and you'll be in great shape. But this shot is a tough one. There is no single exposure that will prevent both loss of highlights and loss of detail in the shadows. Something has to give.

If you want to keep some of the detail in the window, the easiest thing to do is reduce the dynamic range by using flash to brighten up the interior of the church or at least brighten up the bride and groom. If you wanted to do it without flash, you could take multiple shots with different exposures and then combine them in Photoshop (as Nadine suggests). What I would probably do personally is take two meter readings - one aiming straight toward the bride and groom, another aiming straight toward the window. Then split the difference and shoot. The goal would be to underexpose the bride and groom a bit and overexpose the window a bit, but not so badly that I could fix 'em both with the localized correction brush in Lightroom, where I do most of my work. And I would probably review that first shot on the back of the camera to see how badly the window was blown. (I have my cameras set to flash blown highlights.) I would be willing to accept some blinking around the window so long as it wasn't ALL blinking.

But let me say again: I don't think what you've got is a bad photo at all, at least not after you brighten the bride up a bit. The reflection of the window on the floor doesn't bother me either. Notice that the altar came out nicely and you seem to have good depth of field. Guess it's a matter of personal taste but I rather like the shot.

Gary Van Schaick , Jul 27, 2009; 01:29 p.m.

You may try the following since you shot in RAW and assuming you have something like Photoshop:
In RAW, Expose for the couple, convert to jpeg, change name and save
In RAW, Expose for the window, convert to jpeg, change name and save.
Now you have two jpegs that you can combine and try to take the best of both.

Good luck

Sam Ellis , Jul 27, 2009; 03:53 p.m.

Did you shoot any images where you exposed for the window? Would it be possible to merge the two together? Could you even go back and shoot the window again? Is it worth it?

Bob O'Sullivan , Jul 27, 2009; 07:58 p.m.

I think you've got enough good advice on how to try to fix this. I'll give you how I would do this next time.

First, definitely use fill flash. Meter ambient for some detail in the window area. Use manual zoom on the flash and set it to it's widest setting. This will help eliminate the tunnel vision type flash pattern that screams "amateur". Or better yet, if you have time set strobes with large umbrellas to light the scene.

Also you have a lot of glare on the floor tiles. In my experience, this kind of surface will yeild a combination of polarized and direct reflection light. You can't do anything about the direct reflection light excpect change positons. But you can use a polarizer to minimize some of the glare.

John Deerfield , Jul 27, 2009; 08:30 p.m.

I am not how much a single fill flash would help with the current pose; light fall off would still keep the groom 1-stop under the bride. With a single fill flash I would bring the groom in front of the bride. Also, in terms of "the next time", how about just moving the B&G back into the light?Instead of using the flowers on our R/L now, use the flowers where the bride is, put the B&G in the light, meter maybe 1/2 to 1 stop under off the brides face and fill flash. Just a thought.

David Schilling - Chicago, Illinois , Jul 28, 2009; 12:32 a.m.

You might try to sandwhich some stain glass in between two layers and punch out the blown hilites.....I did a quick PS tweak below.

Insert some new stain glass........

David Wegwart - Denver/CO. , Jul 28, 2009; 01:00 a.m.

Haha, I love that David. Just get the glazers in to fix it.

I personally don't mind the blown window that much, but it is a distraction more due to the fact that you have not exposed the B&G in this shot.

If I were faced with that situation, I would have added some light or used a reflector/assistant to fill.

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