Recently I did a shoot for a client who had fitted out a school and they wanted some case studies for their portfolio. I saw this as the perfect opportunity to share with you my workflow for editing architectural and real estate photos in Lightroom.
I have step-by-step instruction here as well as a youtube video at the end if you prefer to watch how this is done instead.
Image Selections and Culling in Lightroom
During the shoot, I take a lot of pictures, possibly as many as 200-300. But I don’t want to spend a whole lot of time fixing up all those photos when, in the end, the client is only going to order 20-30 of them.
The first thing I do is import these photos into Lightroom.
When they’re in Lightroom and the previews have been rendered I will start sorting and culling the images.
What I’m looking for in this first editing pass is cull the photos that didn’t work and to make a bunch of selections of the best images. Then I will give this group a very quick edit and send them on to the client. Once the client selects their favorites to purchase, then I will focus on making that batch perfect.
Let’s go over what I’ll do for that first quick edit.
Importing Images to Lightroom Using Architectural Preset
The first thing I do is import all the images I have shot into Lightroom. During the importing process I normally use a Lightroom preset called Architectural Import. This is a preset I’ve made myself and amongst other things, it reduces the highlights right down and boosts the shadows right up, applies lens correction, sharpening and adjusts the tone curve.
This is applied to all images. Instead of applying a pre-set on import, you could also apply a preset to all the photos simultaneously after import using the synchronize feature in Lightroom. This saves a lot of time by making a lot of the standard adjustments all at one time. But I’ll still look at the photos individually for additional adjustments.
The reason I set the highlights right down and boost the shadows right up is because I end up with an image that shows the details in the shadows and limits overexposure. This gives the client an idea of what they can expect with the final image. If I didn’t do this, often the image wouldn’t look good as you’d have really dark parts and really bright parts.
Colors and Texture
The preset I used earlier left the white balance as it was shot for all the images. I usually use Auto White Balance in camera. Canon’s auto white balance is pretty good on the 6D Mark ii camera.
However, most times, you will still need to adjust the white balance on each photo – particularly indoors when there is mixed light (that is light from outside and artificial light from indoors). This is easy to do later if you’ve shot in RAW as I do.
You can use the white balance dropper in Lightroom to do this. It’s also very similar to do this in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) or Capture One software.
I also make some adjustments to the color. While you don’t want your photos to look oversaturated, adding a touch of vibrance and saturation can make the images pop.
Fixing Color Casts Caused by Artificial Light Mixed with Window Light
When the client selects an image, one of the things I look to fix are colour casts caused by window light mixing with the room light.
Natural ambient light coming in from the windows outside and the interior artificial lights often creates a blue cast where the window light is strong. You can see in the photos below how much blue cast there is in the shadows.
You can do a rough fix by reducing the saturation of the blue, purple and magenta. To fix it properly though, you’d need to use multiple exposures and layers in Photoshop.
Use the Clarity and Texture to Bring Out the Details
A little bit of texture and clarity was already added in the initial import preset as well to bring out some of the detail. But the individual photo might need more or less. Look at the clarity too. I normally use a clarity setting of around 17 to give a little more sharpness and contrast to the image.
Taking the clarity down isn’t really helpful for architectural images. You don’t need to soften up the image as you would maybe do for a portrait.
How to Fix Vertical Perspective Distortion in Lightroom
The next thing I do is make sure all the verticals in the photo are straight. We don’t want it to look like the building is leaning. This is caused by not keeping the camera sensor parallel with the vertical lines in the building.
To avoid having to do too many of these adjustments, set your camera level and perpendicular to the ground when you shoot (lens/sensor parallel with the building walls).
If you do need to straighten the photo in editing, you can manually adjust the image or using the “Vertical” slider option in Lightroom under the “Transformation” section in the Develop module.
A new and more automated way to adjust this is the use the “Guided” tool. Find a straight edge like a wall and add the guide. Do the same on the other side of the photo so you have two guides and Lightroom will straighten the walls and image for you.
The next step is to take a moment to check your composition and crop out any distracting elements. Make sure to leave enough to show a sense of depth to the room.
Dodging and Burning in Lightroom to Bring Out Shadows and Reduce Highlights
You can use Lightroom’s brush tool to fine-tune the exposure in specific areas of the image. I increase the shadows where the image is too dark to show the detail. And reduce the highlights to bring back detail when the image is overexposed.
You can create a brush tool pre-set for both of these. For my Highlight Reduction preset, I’ve pulled the exposure back and reduced the Highlights slide. But you can set yours how you’d like. I’ve created something similar to increase the Shadows. Just bump up the Exposure and Shadows sliders.
Which Brush Flow and Feather Settings Are Best?
Pay attention to the flow on your brush. The flow indicates how powerful the brush is, how much the effect is going to be applied on each pass. A lower flow might mean you need to make several passes over the same area for full effect. I like to have a little bit of a feather on my brush as well so it doesn’t look too obvious and a low flow so I can slowly build the effect.
Fixing Blown Out or Overexposed Windows in Lightroom / Photoshop
One feature that is included in many architectural shots is windows. It can be very difficult to balance the exposure for both the interior lighting and the windows at the same time. The exterior light is usually 2-4 stops brighter than the interior.
To fix this, I will usually take the same shot with 2-3 different exposures and then blend them in Photoshop so the windows and the room are both the correct exposure. This is called bracketed exposures.
When doing this, I make sure I have the camera on a tripod and I use the cable release or remote control. Any movement to the position of the camera between the two shots makes it much more difficult to align the photos for editing in Photoshop.
Cheat for Creating Bracketed Exposures in Lightroom
If you didn’t take multiple exposures, there is a little cheat you can do by creating a virtual copy to use as the “second” photo. Right click the photo you want to copy and choose “create a virtual copy”. You’ll use one image for the exposure of the room and the other for the exposure of the windows.
For the window exposure, manually adjust the exposure focusing your attention on the windows. Don’t worry too much about what is going on with the rest of the room, just make it look good at the windows.
Now, in Lightroom select both of the images you are going to use and “open them as layers” in Photoshop [Photo>Edit in>Open as Layers in Photoshop].
In Photoshop, toggle between the layers a couple of times to make sure the photos are aligned. You shouldn’t see any shifting as you toggle between the layers. If you do see any shift it means your layers are not aligned perfectly. You’ll need to manually align them so they are on top of each other.
Next, make sure that your primary image is on the top layer. This will be the image with interior exposure set as you’d like.
Add a white layer mask to the top layer, then select the window areas. You can use the Pen tool, or Polygonal Lasso Tool to do this. You’ll need to trace around the windows frames.
How much time and attention you take during this selection is up to you. For this demonstration, I went pretty quickly but you’ll probably want to take more time and effort for your client’s photos.
Once the area is selected, take a brush tool with the “black” color selected and the opacity at 100%. Paint over the selected area to let the layer below show through. Pay attention to how any items in front of the windows look. It might be necessary to carefully mask only the glass areas to get the right look.
You can also do some retouching or other adjustments, like more or less contrast or retouching, while still in Photoshop. Once you are satisfied with the image, use the menu or control+S (command+S for Mac) to save the image back to Lightroom.
Now you’ve fixed the overexposed windows!
All of the above might seem like a lot of steps to take for editing each photo but it’s actually pretty quick and easy once you get going.
By using a preset like I have and using the synchronizing feature to apply settings to the entire batch, you’ll get off to a fast start. Getting the exposure right with rooms where there are windows in view can take a bit more time but, on the whole, you should be able to get through each image in just minutes.
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