World Trade Inspired | Behind The Image

posted on: November 24, 2015

It's hard to think of interiors and architecture as having "moments", but this was one of those moments when several things aligned and made me geek out about an otherwise very plain image of office furniture.  

World Trade Inspired Office Furnishing Interior Photography

I knew I wanted a detail of the carpet, stools, filing cabinets, and desk, to highlight some of the designer's choices, but there were several of these to choose from throughout the office, so I kept looking until something inspired me. Then I noticed a set with the One World Trade building right outside the window- and that's when the "moment" of inspiration struck. Not only were the stools shaped like One World Trade as the edges angled upward toward a flat rounded top, but the carpet's hexagon design was a close relative of the octagon formed in the middle of the One World Trade building as its isosceles triangle facades aligned at even widths. Finally, my creative vision for making stools, carpet, and filing cabinets look more interesting.

The only problem was you couldn't tell exactly what building was out the window from the standing height normally appropriate for this desk. In a straight-on-view mid-height, the mirrored facade of OWT reflected the mid-height clouds in the sky and distorted some of the building shape.  So I squatted lower, and lower, and then even lower, until basically laying on the ground for a window perspective looking upward that allowed the crowning shape of OWT to be compared to the detail of the stools and carpet.  To give you a broader image of this scene, there were people working in this open layout office while I was there, just going about their regular office routines until spotting me essentially laying on the ground in the middle of their office to take a photo of some stools. It's probably good that I'm not embarrassed easily. When a "moment" of inspiration strikes, I'll do whatever it takes to make it work.

However, the work never stops at the capture of the image. This image wasn't actually possible in the camera itself, so if you'd like to know a little more about the technical process of creating it, read on...

First it required two different RAW exposures on site in order to get a proper exposure of the interior and a proper exposure of the exterior. From the settings below you can see these exposures are 3 stops apart (the only difference was changing the shutter speed from 1/10th of a second to 1/80th of a second). While RAW files can be pushed and pulled about 1 stop of light in over or under exposure without too many artifacts or distortions, anything beyond a full stop difference really needs to be a separate exposure.

Next was color correcting the interior image color to more accurately reflect the material and design colors without too much of the florescent orange light color cast and without too much natural blue light color cast. This is one of the most subjective parts of editing because it relies on the color sensitivity of our eyes both on site when photographing as well as our color memory when we're behind the computer.  The window exposure was already perfectly daylight balanced. If I tried to color correct after combining images, the window view would become an unnatural neon blue.

While many people think a grey card can solve the problem, it isn't very reliable under mixed lighting conditions and is highly likely that you'll still end up tweaking it in post-production to find something that balances better over the entire scene. Grey cards are great when you have consistent color across scenes as you do with studio lighting, but interiors are a messy blend of natural and artificial light, sometimes up to five different color tones of light across one space. If you're color blind, yes, use a grey card to get colors somewhere close to where they need to be. If you have great color sensitivity, you'll likely be doing the same amount of adjustments with or without a grey card.

Once my interior colors were as close as I could get to what I saw when I was on location when adjusting for various color reflections, the next step was to bring the window exposure detail into the interior exposure image using layers and masks in Photoshop. Sometimes it's possible to combine exposures with HDR software, but I've found that you end up losing a lot of latitude in highlights and colors when a software tries to average different images together.  

To demonstrate this, below is an example of the best possible detail after using HDR software on the left, versus masking in the window exposure manually on the right. The HDR software failed to pull in any of the blue sky outside, and yet decided to fill in a highlight on the filing cabinet with a blue color cast. You can also see how the HDR version reduces the amount of detail in the ceiling. Occasionally, when exposures are close enough, HDR software can be effective, but when the difference is this dramatic and selective, masking provides more control. I was also very careful not to allow the window scene to be bolder than the interior, because that would also be unnatural to the eye, and take the focus off of the interior design choices.

I believe that when an image is crafted well, you don't actually see all of the work that went into it. If it looks as natural on screen as it would to our eye in person, than I feel like I've done my job well to convey the design as clearly as the air that surrounds it.

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