Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bright Window Views

When we look out of a window, our eyes instantly adjust from the darkness of the room to the bright view outside. So if we want to simulate the scene as we subjectively perceive it, it's perfectly natural to paint both the interior and exterior areas in a full range of values.

Here's a detail of the painting "Artist's Bedroom in Ritterstrasse" by Adolf Menzel. The rendering of the buildings looks as it might if the artist were painting the scene outside as a separate landscape.

But in reality, the interior of a room that's not artificially illuminated is vastly darker than the scene outdoors. It's often true that the darkest dark in the scene outside is lighter than the lightest light inside. 

Photographers know that if you expose for the room, the brightness of the scene outside the window exceeds the capacity of the film or sensor, so it burns out to white, or is "clipped." So with a single exposure, the best you can hope for is a compromise exposure, which makes the room look a little too dark and the window view a little too light.

Modern high-dynamic-range (HDR) photography allows you to combine different exposures to make a single photograph, which comes closer to our natural perception.

But for painters, the problem is usually the reverse. We tend to unconsciously even out the exposures and paint everything in middle values. I find it helps to keep in mind the true relationships. That means painting the room darker than it appears to the eye, and the scene outside brighter than it appears.

Hotel room photo by Steve 
HDR Photo by Jim Kimmons


armandcabrera said...

Great post. Scenes like this are a good reminder of how much we translate things and can't really copy because of the limited range of value and color at our disposal. It takes a lot of controlled design to make them seem natural.

Tom Hart said...

I was going to say "great post", but Armand beat me to it. Still, I can't resist echoing that sentiment. Thanks James!

K_tigress said...

Yeah, I've done that only for a family near a TV scene. It was for a children’s book. You couldn't actually see the TV in this illustration but you can see how the light from the TV effects the lighting in a room, the colour on the skin of the children playing with their kitty and the mood of the time of day. The time of day was evening so I had a lot of blues in the scene but you still had the warm colours of the lamps in the background.

Pseudonym said...

For completeness, we should probably mention tone mapping. There's a heck of a lot of research that's been done in trying to model what the human eye does to a view with lots of dynamic range.