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Toning down hot spots on photos

Discussion in 'Landscape Lighting' started by jnewton, Mar 22, 2008.

  1. jnewton

    jnewton LawnSite Member
    Messages: 29

    It seems like even some of the best photos of landscape lighting scenes have hot spots (that aren't really that hot in real life). In my limited experience, it seems like I've had to overexpose the brighter areas of the photo to get the proper exposure on the more subtly lit areas. The result: hot spots.

    Does anyone know any photo editing tricks that tones down those hot spots so they don't draw the eye?
  2. Mike M

    Mike M LawnSite Bronze Member
    from usa
    Messages: 1,988

    Steve Parrott from CAST has some excellent writing on this very topic.

    The main problem is the lack of tonal range in digital cameras. The solution is to take the pics during a brief window of time as the sun is going down and the lights are on. The ambient light from the sky will help fill in darker areas, and your hot spots should not be as bad. You will be able to play with other factors such as exposure times, aperture, etc., but the sunset thing is definitely where to start.

    It's also a good opportunity to practice avoiding hotspots or "almost" hot spots in your designs.

    When looking at lighting pics, check out the incidence of "blue" sky and not complete darkness.

  3. pihta

    pihta LawnSite Member
    Messages: 115

    another tricks is to made HDR image:
    make 2+ photos with different exposure - low exposure for good details in light, second with medium(high) exposure for details in dark areas
    when use one of the HDR combining programs on the market (search for HDR photo editor) - and combine this photos in to one with good detail both in dark and bright areas, plus in the software you can balance the resulting brightness.
    and of course better to shoot in RAW format - even with one photo you can make two differently exposured JPEGs from one RAW and combine them as HDR
  4. The Lighting Geek

    The Lighting Geek LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 886

    I have found over time, that if I adjust or move a fixture after my first shot to get the hotspot out of the photo, I end up with a better job as well. Now that I am more experienced on the photography side, it has taught me to better a better designer and installer. The use of lenses helps soften, spread, and usually hide the source of the light. I am told that software would make it easier on me, but I have learned alot from the experience.
  5. INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting

    INTEGRA Bespoke Lighting LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,102

    Mastering night photography is an art, mastering night photography of lighting is art + science.

    If you really want to learn how to do this right you will need a teacher, a mentor, or some other form of guidance. It will involve you shooting in RAW mode, bracketing your photographs (essentially having the camera automatically shoot 3 images, one after the other, with different exposures), and it will involve 'post production' in Photoshop CS3. That is how the pros do it.

    Otherwise, you will be limited to about a 15 minute window in which you can shoot, just after the sun goes down but before it is fully dark. This is also very limiting, especially on large projects. If this is going to be your preferred technique then you will have to arrive much earlier and plan your shoot. Pick shot locations and frame them taking notes and using location indicators that you can find easily in the twilight.

    Most of the pros I have heard and seen prefer to shoot at night, in the dark, allowing the camera to capture the information that we see and enjoy, and then processing the images later to show that.

    Last point... learn your equipment. Take an evening course in digital photography and check first if the instructor has any experience in low light level or night time photography.

  6. NightLightingFX

    NightLightingFX LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 580

    When it come to the right time to take photos there is two contrasting ideas. One is the quote “Golden” hour right before it gets dark. I personally always liked my pictures better when it was fully dark out. My belief was confirmed when Georg Gruel – Husband and photographer for Janet Moyer spoke at the AOLP conference. He said it is better to take pictures when it is fully dark out. Personally, when I see a picture taken before it gets really dark out I just don’t feel like I am seeing the real effect of the lighting job. I would say there is no right or wrong just what you think looks better.

    As far as minimizing bright spots Tommy is 100% right, most of the time a photo can be fixed by fixture adjustment. However, I have noticed that taking pictures of architecture seems to be more challenging on getting a good shot without glare. But since I now have a SLR camera, and I am able to use manual settings, I have been learning how to get more difficult pictures such as architecture scenes without glare. I am no expert in photography but I am very interested in it and I am learning and experimenting. You can go to my website www.nightlightingfx.com (currently being updated it is almost done) and check out my photo gallery. Most of my pics are taken with a point and shoot. The “Illuminated Water Feature” and “Accent vs Conventional Lighting” were taken with an SLR. I am pretty sure if I would have taken the “Accent Lighting” pic with a point and shoot camera it would have been too hot. A good example of adjusting the fixture to make it not too hot would be my tree – “Focal Point” pic. To the human eye it looked good. When I took pics it was too hot. I adjusted the fixtures until it looked good through my camera.
  7. steveparrott

    steveparrott LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,276

    Pihta, please check your private messages.
  8. steveparrott

    steveparrott LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,276

    Just to provide an example of using photoshop to arrive at a final photo with good exposure in all areas - the first two photos are from the raw images. The first one has the correct exposure for the tree and walkway. The second exposure is correct for inside the living room, the front door and under the walkway lights. The difference in the two exposures was about 6 sec. at F4.5 (about 1.5 F-stops).

    In photoshop, I put the lighter photo in a layer on top of the dark layer, then using marque and eraser tools, I erased the overexposed areas to reveal the correclty exposed areas underneath.

    I finished up by covering the well light at the bottom with the clone tool. (lighting design by Rob Schucker)



  9. steveparrott

    steveparrott LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,276

    By the way, I'm available to retouch your photos. PM me.
  10. steveparrott

    steveparrott LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,276

    I agree that some of the best lighting photos are later at night (I often shoot into the wee hours). Still, there are some shots that need to be taken earlier. Big picture shots that show the whole house and the landscape are often better at around dusk. Such shots, taken later into the night, will have shadows on the structure and landscape that go to black. You also tend to lose the roofline and this adversely alters the shape of the structure. That doesn't look good and misrepresents how the scene looks to the viewer.

    A good rule of thumb for any photo is to have a full range of brightness from white to black. But only the very extreme darkest areas should go to black and only the very extreme brightest areas should go to white. If there's too much black or too much white then the viewer perceives the photo as either too dark or too light respectively.

    My goal is to always produce photos that best mimic the experience of the viewer at the site. Even late at night, the viewer sees blades of grass in an unlit lawn, bricks in unlit portions of a structure's face, and so on.

    The big challenge shooting at around dusk is a sky that's too bright - this can be adjusted in photoshop. You west coast and southwest guys aren't so challenged with this because your skies tend to be blue and are still a dark blue for 2 or 3 hours after sunset. Here on the east coast, skies tend to be grey (or dusky purple) and go to black within an hour after sunset. During shoots out west I was ecstatic that the sky still showed a deep blue late into the night.

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