Sometimes HDR is not enough

This shoot for an Interior Designer was a very challenging room. Off-white walls and white ceiling, with a deep navy blue cabinet, an even darker and less reflective navy blue sofa, and very bright lamps on either side. Incandescent lighting was mixed with a south facing wall of glass, on a sunny day. The designer wanted a bright final image with true colors and range seen by eye, that had to show the texture in the lamp shades. At 5 stops down the lampshades were still blown out in the middle and the sofa and cabinet were of course black. Aurora HDR 2019 produced a decent image from 5 bracketed shots, with many areas of reflected color. The shadows on the wall and ceiling also looked too dark. (Image 1) Almost every area had to be worked on individually in Photoshop CC. Lots of pen work and masking, color balance and saturation changes, eliminating shadows and burned out areas, cloning, smudging to smooth wall areas, and more, while keeping the lampshades unchanged. Original images are 6000×4000.

I was not happy with the results (Image 2).  The lamp shade frame had lost its color and tone and most surfaces ended up looking too light. I tried to make changes that were too dramatic, and didn’t use my memory of the original appearance of the room accurately enough. So I started over

The final image (Image 3) started with just one exposure of the 5 bracketed photos.  I processed it in Aurora and then took another approach in Photoshop.  The recently improved masking allowed me to select much of the wall with the magic wand, and then refine the selection with the Select and Mask function and the brush tool, working down to a 3 pixel size.  I could then work on it independently of the rest of the image.  I did this also for the ceiling – using the pen tool for selection.  Then  I selected the crown molding and worked on it individually. The cabinet was so dark in the image selected that noise was very noticeable.  I selected the camera raw filter and went to the detail window to reduce luminance and color noise and  finally used smart blur to smooth out the various door and frame surfaces. I made no other general changes to color balance ( I always start a shoot with the Expodisk)  Last step was to remove the blue tinge on the front of the ottoman, caused by the bright daylight near the doors.

The client said it looked great and the colors were spot on. The biggest color change was in the chair at the bottom where just a few inches of it shows. The first two images had it too light and too much cyan. Finally I had created an image the looked very close to what the eye saw. Since the intended use was online with 72 dpi and a size less than 1200×800, the accuracy of the selections was adequate.  If this was to be a 20×30 print, there would have been much more detailed work required!

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