I use an Olympus EM-10 with a Panasonic Lumix MFT lens. No other accessories apart from the build in flash.

I trained a situation in a restaurant to take a picture of the table inside with an outdoor background showing water and a village. I tried different options but without a satisfying solution. Either the background was overexposed or the foreground was underexposed; I could not find a balance. Below I try to show two examples.

I tried different options of which I believe are the more interesting ones:

  • I tried to used the flash as I believed maybe this would be a situation to use a fill flash. Either the flash was too weak or my assumption is not accurate for the situation. I believe the flash sync speed is 1/60 s for my camera. I also tried slow flash or different manual options (full, 1/2, ...)
  • I tried different options for the light meter hoping to be able to find balanced lighting (e.g. high f stop for shallow depth of field and using partial light metering on an area/spot)
  • I tried Automatic mode. I focus on the foreground/background but this overexposes/underexposes the other ground.
  • I tried to use Aperture or Shutter mode with above combinations (let's say I was desperate and was curious to practise/learn intuition)

I'd be happy if someone can let me know:

  • Is there a way with my equipment to solve this issue?
  • What additional equipment would I need if first question is negative? Or how would you approach this ?

Background overexposed

Background overexposed

Foreground underexposed

Foreground underexposed

  • 14
    To be clear: this is a difficult lighting situation. Sunlight outside and room light inside. The difference in brightness is huge. – Pete Becker Oct 22 at 15:56
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    I like the first image, because of the lack of detail in the background. It's a contrasty scene as I would expect from a restaurant near the ocean. It helps drawing the attention to the foreground in the image (just like a shallower depth of field would). If the first image had the background of the second, it might be too much clearly visible detail spread across the entire image that would make it look "busy". – null Oct 22 at 21:54
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    Shoot RAW and discover why you paid all that money for a decent camera. The difference between 8-bit (JPEG) and 12-bit (EM-10 RAW) is about 30dB of dynamic range. That's 1000 times more contrast, literally. The exposure is there on the sensor - you just have to not throw it away. – J... Oct 23 at 13:04
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    See also ETTR: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exposing_to_the_right – biziclop Oct 24 at 9:20
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    @LamarLatrell A former contributor here used to do the same thing for major commercial shoots to produce still images. – Michael C Oct 25 at 4:38

10 Answers 10

Definitely you shall use frontal lighting. Mostly so called fill-in flash.

The second option: HDR with at least 3 shots to get high, mid and low tones.

  • 1
    It seems like. I see lighting from reflecting material at children cart, but it is definitely too weak. – Seweryn Habdank-Wojewódzki Oct 22 at 15:34
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    This, this is what HDR was invented for. – user3067860 Oct 22 at 22:35
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    @user3067860 RAW is fine for this shot - it doesn't need HDR. – J... Oct 23 at 13:02
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    HDR was not invented for this. For this you take three different shots at high speed > 6 fps with the proper bracketing setting in camera and post process it to get out a “perfect” photograph in photoshop. Computer HDR is just an interpretation, quite unnatural by the way, of any scene. – abetancort Oct 24 at 0:08
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    HDR works just fine with landscapes, for example, but I don't think you want to use it when there are people moving in the shots. – ChatterOne Oct 24 at 7:27

The difference between the outside parts of the scene and the inside parts of the scene are too great for your camera (or pretty much any camera) to properly record both.

You have two basic options:

  • Add more light to the indoor parts of the scene. The best results will be with strategically placed off camera light sources that won't cause distracting reflections bounced back at the camera.
  • Wait until later in the day when the outside scene is approaching twilight and the illumination levels between the outside and inside are much closer. The outside light will change very rapidly during twilight and even the difference of a minute or two can have a great effect on the outcome of the photo.

In either case, you may need to use color modifiers over your indoor light sources (whether flashes or the ambient lights in the room) to match the color of the indoor lights to the light outside.

  • I really appreciate your answer. The second point is particularly interesting to me; I did not have that thought. Thank you – Ely Oct 22 at 16:51
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    The outside light will change very rapidly during twilight, that depends on the latitude, but judging from the subject I'm guessing this photo was taken in the Mediterranean, where the light will change rapidly indeed. – gerrit Oct 23 at 10:50
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    Compared to midday sun, the light around sunrise and sunset changes much more rapidly regardless of one's latitude. Yes, it will change that much faster in the tropics than further north or further south, but unless one is near or inside the arctic or antarctic circles, twilight does not stay the same brightness for near as long as midday does. – Michael C Oct 23 at 11:38

Other answers have already covered that the difference between the light exterior & dark interior is too great for almost any camera sensor.
With no additional equipment, and if you had the time, waiting until the light faded outdoors would have been your optimum solution - though could get somewhat tedious, if that was lunchtime ;)

Exposure to the right, ie making the outside too bright [but without going off the scale], is the best way to handle your existing equipment setup, though your interior is still backlit too much for me. I had to drop both shots into photoshop & start to balance up a bit before I even noticed there's a child in the chair at the head of the near table [unfortunately part-hidden in the lighter shot].

Your first shot, with the background over-exposed, is [as already mentioned] the one you can 'rescue' the most. There were a couple of blown-out areas, but I think you got away with it, generally.

There's the added difficulty that the furniture is almost black anyway & the boats & buildings outside are predominantly white - accentuating the lighting difference.

enter image description here

Very quick tweak in Photoshop
Bringing down the highlights & whites, whilst boosting the shadows & blacks, greys down the exterior, whilst simultaneously killing the over-reflective table a bit.

I think it does give it a bit of an 'HDR' feel, which may not really be what you want, & I still think you needed more light facing the scene from camera-side, but it's an improvement, imo. Some of the reflective surfaces indoors would have made me reach for a polariser too.

You could, of course, do a lot better from the original full-size image, especially if you shot RAW.

I'll post my attempt at the darker shot, but tbh whilst I can change it, I don't feel I can really improve it in anything like the same way. Push it any further than this & noise gets too high for me. Again, though - from the original RAW you may have a better chance.

enter image description here

  • 6
    I think the top looks a bit HDR-y because we expect these kinds of shots to have overexposed exteriors. The contrast outside got nuked on the tone down as well. All in all though, nice edits for displaying the point I was trying to make :-)! – Hueco Oct 22 at 20:09
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    [added to answer] There's the added difficulty that the furniture is almost black anyway & the boats & buildings outside are predominantly white - accentuating the lighting difference. – Tetsujin Oct 23 at 9:52

Given your gear, a perfectly balanced inside and outside will be impossible - the correct exposures for each are too far apart.

Since shadows can be bumped up and blown highlights are completely gone, you should err on the side of not blowing anything out.

You actually handled the situation as best you could. In looking at the first shot, nothing appears to be blown out in the outside shot. This makes it the best shot between the two. This is because you can easily bring the highlights back down in post and be left with a pleasing shot where the inside is lit and the outside is appropriately exposed.

If you try to use the second shot and to bring up the shadows in post, you'll find a greater increase in noise, though it may be workable pending your use of the photo.

To recap: If you don't have the gear to light the inside enough to match or come close to the outside exposure, then the best thing that you can do is overexpose the outside until it is almost blown out. This way, you maximize the inside exposure and provide enough wiggle room to equalize things in post. (Do make sure you're shooting RAW!)

If you were to buy some equipment, then get yourself a decent speedlight. Simply bouncing that flash off the ceiling would have (probably) been more than enough to light the inside to match the outside exposure.

Had you used a different angle, it appears that you may have also been able to place a reflector outside aimed inside to light your subject. This method won't bounce enough light to light the room, but it will give you more for the subject.

Try shooting a bracketed set of photos, then fusing them together. Here is one example I tried as an experiment.

The bracketed photos, with the largest center one being the default exposure:

set of bracketed images

And the result after postprocessing:

postprocessed blended exposure

This isn't a perfect solution, for example if the subject is close and there is movement you get completely different results (such as this flag in high wind):

multi-exposure flag blowing in the wind

For best results, you need to (1) precisely align and uniformly crop all the bracketed shots, then (2) fuse them together, taking only the properly exposed bits from each image for the final output.

To do this using Ubuntu Linux, here's a helpful Bash script that you can put in ~/.local/share/nautilus/scripts/ to make it accessible from your right-click menu. (If you install Hugin panorama photo stitcher it will install the prerequisite packages for you.)

#!/bin/bash

align_image_stack -a BATCH -C $(echo -n "$@") && enfuse -o ~/Desktop/align-and-fuse-$(date '+%Y-%m-%d-%T').tif BATCH*.tif && rm BATCH*.tif

Now you can select the set of bracketed images and the script will output a timestamped image with everything fused together to your desktop directory.

Either the flash was too weak or my assumption is not accurate for the situation

Even the near edge of the table shows no flash on it. But the flash capability is not all that weak. The flash metering automation is seeing the bright outdoors, and deciding the flash is not much needed there. The answer is that automation is simply too dumb for difficult shots. Humans have to take charge of both exposures, make them both be what you want.

Manual flash power level could make a big difference, to manually set its power at the highest manual level that gives good results. However flash intensity falls off fast with distance (close vs. far will be very different intensity). A flash capable of bounce flash could make that range be some better (if the ceiling allows), but it is still a difficult situation.

You're on the right track with the 2nd photo. The camera can properly expose for the outside light and you need to provide extra light on the inside. Notice on the glassware the highlight that was apparently created by your flash. You will just need to increase the inside light until it and the outside are balanced. If you are just using the onboard flash, you can see that it will not provide the necessary light and that you are going to need a bigger flash.

  • I am happy to read that answer. I really had the same thought, though I have to admit I did not explore the possibility with the restaurant/waiters if one could have more light... – Ely Oct 22 at 15:33

You correctly set the fill-in flash to compensate for the bright window. However, flash squelches to avoid areas of saturated highlights, and the reflectors on the perambulator might have done you in. Reflectors are bad news for a direct flash any time. What you need here is an indirect flash. Have a powerful external flash pointed at the ceiling, for example. This bypasses the reflectors.

Another thing is that your white balance does not match the foreground in either picture. Select a manual white balance better matched to the foreground. That will make the background even more vivid, of course. One possible way to deal with that is to blur it. That means decreasing your depth of field. Aim for wide open apertures and move in somewhat more (meaning a smaller focal length). That also makes your flash more effective and puts the perambulator more off-axis (getting it out might be the better move). Another possibility is using a polarising filter: this does not help against the perambulator (its reflectors are of the metallic kind and don't really polarize), but depending on the angle with which the sun is hitting the window panes, the passing light may be polarized to some degree (the main effect is on reflections, but if the reflection happens to be polarised, the passing light at least contains a polarised component).

Of course, it would appear that you have an open door right behind your subject and that won't be fazed by a polariser and provides additional distraction exactly when you manage to reduce the influence of the windows.

This is a scene that is really badly set up. Either you need to employ powerful ambient lighting, or convince your camera to do everything right for the foreground (exposure, white balance, focus) and then fix the background in post-production. Since it will likely be lacking sufficient contrast due to overexposure, you'd not just need to tone it down but also blur it in order to mask the lack of brightness detail.

  • I think the intent of the shot was to show the view of the harbor from inside the restaurant. If that is the case, the last thing one would want to do is blur the outside scene. If one does that, they might as well just let it blow out and expose properly for inside the restaurant! – Michael C Oct 23 at 1:38
  • I appreciate your answer and a thumbs up for mentioning the White Balance (you are the first to mention this I believe; I admit I did not pay attention to it). – Ely Oct 23 at 7:23
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    @Ely You may not have caught it, but color/white balance is what the last line of my answer above (posted earlier than this one) is about. – Michael C Oct 25 at 18:24
  • Oh yes, you are right. I did not realise, now I understand. – Ely Oct 25 at 18:39

Similar to your Olympus, I carry with me a Canon mirrorless EOS M5 as a travel camera with one lens and use the onboard flash.

When running into such problems as yours, and not wanting to take 3 shots especially if I have a moving subject, I use the following technique which produces just enough soft light to keep the interior lit to some level of satisfaction and allows me to get away with one shot.

• Keep the Camera in Manual Exposure Mode

• Set the ISO between 400 and 800

• Set the Shutter speed to around 30th of a Second - I have used Lower

• I then dial in the Aperture so that the outside is exposed. At times, 1 stop over exposure is not too bad.

• Pop the on-camera flash

• Set the On-Camera Flash Control from TTL to Manual - first Curtain

• Set Power output to Maximum

• Place the camera on a sturdy surface

• Ensure that wherever the camera is placed, behind it is either a white wall or something fairly light.

When I am ready to press the shutter or touch the screen to take the shot, I place a white Envelope about 5 inches in front of the flash at a 45 degree angle (there is generally some trial and error). What I have done is created my flash to bounce whilst taking full advantage of all the elements surrounding me and at the same time, taking full advantage of the camera tech to produce the maximum amount of light to fill.

If the scene does not have any moving subjects, then I will do a 3-exposure merge.

The answer is to use off camera flash (strobe) or studio light with a warming gel in manual mode to even out the exterior and interior lighting.

  1. First set your camera so the background is within the histogram. Remember that with most strobes you can only rise up to 1/250s in shutter speed,so you will have keep your ISO at its minimum and reduce your aperture (a higher number) to accommodate for the bright background.
  2. That will probably give you a large DOF, so if you want to keep your background out of focus, you should focus around ⅓ of the distance between you and your subject (take test photo and check focus).
  3. Placing the strobe, remember that moving away the strobe by 1 meter to 2 meters reduces the effective f-stop by 4 (the inverse of the square of the change in distance), the same happens when you reduce the distance, if it’s by 1/2 you will increase the effective f-stops by 4 due to the same principle. So place it at sufficient distance to cover your foreground evenly but not too far away.
  4. If you want soft light you can bounce it from the celling if it’s white or it’s soft colored, use a diffuser (from light box to a Tupperware of the right shape will do. Now, start with the strobe at 1/4 of its Max. Power, if you need more light raise a stop by going 1/2 of the power, if you need less you can lower a stop by decreasing power to 1/8. If you reach full power and you need more light for your foreground you can either increase the aperture (lower number), and compensate by increasing the speed (Max. 1/250) or move your lights just 1/4 of the distance to your subject for a full stop increase.

When you get your light balance right, you can shoot as much as you want as long as the foreground distance to your lights doesn’t change substantially.

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