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After Julia challenged us to a nighttime photography shoot-off, we shared the guts of our home at the most relaxing time of day (in our minds, anyway) – the evening. After work. When laptops and cell phones are stashed (far, far) away.

After that post and throughout the following week, we received comments and emails that asked, how did you get your photos to do that? First, I will say that there are many ways to get your photos just right – some easy, some a bit more complicated. The simple answer? I blended 2 photographs in Photoshop, with a goal to create what we see in our home, at night.

As a starting point, I shoot all of the photos you see on this blog in raw using manual mode, so I do have a little more freedom to play with the exposures and recover “hot spots” (those very bright, very overexposed areas in your photo) once I open the files in Photoshop. However, these quick steps will work all the same when using jpg files, and it’s a start in the right direction at getting as close as possible to real life, nighttime photos indoors. After all, your evening photos should reflect that cozy, warm feeling you get when you’re snuggled on the couch catching up on your Hulu queue, right?

So, let’s set the mood.

Below is a fairly simple method of how I take two differently exposed photographs of the exact same image and blend them using Photoshop (I use CS5). Both photos were taken on a tripod from the same spot, with Photo 1 exposed for the foreground and Photo 2 exposed for the light source only. I also lowered the saturation and contrast on each of them so they felt more true to life; when the sun goes down, colors seem to fade and hard edges melt together. Note: Find these settings in Photoshop > Image > Adjustments.

ONE. For this example, I’ve saved Photo 1 and Photo 2 as jpgs. You can see (above and below) that Photo 1, while lit fairly well overall, is too bright where our silver pendant hangs over our end table. On the other hand, Photo 2 is dark and dim, but you can – at the very least – make out the edges of the pendant and all the stuff on the coffee table. So, using your move tool (circled below), hold down the Shift key and move Photo 1 on to Photo 2. Go on; you can just drag it right on over.

At this point, you can minimize Photo 1 and work directly off of Photo 2. As you can see in your layer panel for Photo 2, Photo 1 is now Layer 1. All you can see is Photo 1, but Photo 2 is still there as the Background.

TWO. Next, we’ll want to add a Layer Mask to Layer 1 by clicking on the Layer Mask icon while Layer 1 is highlighted in your panel. From here on out, we’ll be working on the Layer Mask to show off the areas we really want to see.

THREE. Select your brush tool, and set your brush color to black. We’re going to gently brush over the areas in the Layer Mask (Layer 1) that we want to erase away; this will slowly reveal the original Photo 2 underneath – the properly exposed pendant light. Because we want to do this carefully, I’ve set my brush opacity to 30%, and now I can brush away the over exposed area above our end table and too-bright parts of the coffee table, too.

FOUR. Continue to play with your Layer Mask using the brush tool until you’re happy with the results. You’ll notice that you can see your brush strokes on the layer panel (the black areas on the Layer Mask), and at this point, you can even play with the opacity of the layer itself. I set my Layer Mask to 80% to help blend both images together overall.

FIVE. Now, save your file! In all cases, once I have my image looking how I’d like, I always save a high resolution Photoshop image, then I re-size that file to our blog width (550 pixels) and save for web as a separate file. These are the photos that make it to the body of a post.

And that’s it – you can blend exposures! You can take photos indoors at night. Look at you, you fancy thing, you! Of course every blended-experience will be different depending on your subject matter, and the complexity of your photos can, of course, make your merge more complex overall. Again, there are so many ways you could do this, but remember to just play with brush sizes (making your brush smaller or larger depending on the area), opacity (more or less depending on how aggressive you’d like to get), and have fun!

Whether you’re photo savvy or not, we’d love to hear any of your own tips and suggestions – questions, too! (I’ll give ‘em an honest try, at the very least.) And since I sincerely love to grow and learn when it comes to photography, let’s get geeky and talk shop, yeah?

PS: This is a great video for avoiding over-blown windows (which also uses layer masks), and this one is for blending exposures in Photoshop Elements!

  • renee - April 10, 2013 - 7:44 AM

    A photoshop lesson! Love it. Ha! I have a few tips. How long can my comment be? JK. Good job Vargo.ReplyCancel

  • Shannon - April 10, 2013 - 9:07 AM

    This is brilliant! Thanks so much for sharing! :)ReplyCancel

  • Kati from so happy home - April 10, 2013 - 9:21 AM

    My husband is a photoshop wizard, and I’m only just learning, so this is awesome! I was JUST talking about how I wanted to start using photoshop for photos (and not just mood boards), so I appreciate the mini-tutorial. Now, I just have to keep the house clean by nightfall and I can try it.ReplyCancel

  • Julia [Chris Loves Julia] - April 10, 2013 - 11:42 AM

    Taking notes. ;)ReplyCancel

  • Jaime Lopez - April 10, 2013 - 12:13 PM

    This was beyond helpful. With still learning the ins and outs of photoshop, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to show the process. I loved your evening photos and now I can try to do this too!

    – JaimeReplyCancel

  • Kim - April 10, 2013 - 12:51 PM

    Renee, thanks! ;)

    Kati, try it!

    Jaime, I’d love to see how yours turn out!ReplyCancel

  • Rebelwerewolf - April 10, 2013 - 3:45 PM

    Thanks for the tutorial! I’ll have to try this out. Now to get a dog that lies in the same place for two pictures…ReplyCancel

  • Kim - April 10, 2013 - 3:51 PM

    Rebel, snap the photos really fast – back to back! Plus, I got lucky.ReplyCancel

  • Julia @cuckoo4design - April 10, 2013 - 5:52 PM

    Yay, thank you so much for this awesome post!!!!ReplyCancel

  • Henna | HENNA BLOSSOM BLOG - April 12, 2013 - 4:04 PM

    It’s going to take me a minute to absorb this…thanks for sharing. I’m fairly new to photoshop and in LOVE. I want to learn everyyyything. :)ReplyCancel

  • Jaye Brown - April 16, 2013 - 11:09 AM

    What an awesome tutorial! Thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Marlene @ Jade and Fern - July 30, 2013 - 9:32 PM

    This is really helpful! Kim, do you use a handheld light meter for your shots? I’m trying to figure out how I would expose first for one area, and then another, using the in-camera meter without moving the camera itself.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - July 31, 2013 - 9:08 AM

    Hi Marlene, I don’t use a handheld meter, but if you set your focus in the camera on the darkest part of the photo, the internal light meter will read this. If you set your focus to the brightest part of the photo, the internal meter will read that! Let me know if you have any other questions :)ReplyCancel


Add one more to that Stunted List – our hall of mirrors. Oh, boy. Our collection of gilded gold grows (whoa, say that three times fast!), and there’s no where for them to go – well, unless you count hallway-stacking as a “place.” You know, for them to “go.”

Alternate title: Ghost Jack

  • Julia [Chris Loves Julia] - April 8, 2013 - 8:18 AM

    If we can expect all these things coming to pass in your new place, I might faint. So. Pretty.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - April 8, 2013 - 9:20 AM

      I might faint, too! The ideas and daydreams are almost killing us.ReplyCancel

  • Crystal - April 8, 2013 - 10:14 AM

    Love all those gilded gold frames. But I guess it is a good thing you know you plan on moving soon!ReplyCancel

  • eryka - April 8, 2013 - 10:22 AM

    Wait…they’re not going to stay there?? They look gorgeous right where they are!ReplyCancel

  • Kim - April 8, 2013 - 10:29 AM

    Crystal, we know, right?

    Eryka, I suppose they’d look gorgeous anywhere… ha!ReplyCancel

  • Molly - April 8, 2013 - 3:34 PM

    They are gorgeous! Can’t wait to see them in your new house!ReplyCancel

  • Jillian - April 9, 2013 - 11:27 AM

    Where do you find all of these lovely gilded frames and mirrors? I’ve been on the lookout… but don’t want to pay an arm and a leg. Help!ReplyCancel

  • Kim - April 9, 2013 - 11:45 AM

    Jillian, the black and gold one was picked up in a thrift shop in Pittsburgh, and the really hunky gold one was found on Craigslist (our friend Jess actually saw it, then sent us a text to snatch it up, pronto!).

    A lot of times we can find mirrors like this for a steal at flea markets in smaller cities – but not in Chicago. Many times in Chicago, people know what they’re worth, and the cost is inflated. We have had luck when we travel to visit family in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, mostly!

    Also, there are knock-off frames (usually made with cheap plastic or light wood) that can be painted gold for the same effect. No one will know but you!ReplyCancel

  • Ashley@AttemptsAtDomestication - April 9, 2013 - 2:55 PM

    Love those mirrors! Soooo pretttyyy!ReplyCancel

  • Sarah - December 28, 2014 - 10:08 PM

    I have a mirror “problem” too. And they are stacked in the dining room waiting for homes. Unfortunately, I learned the other day that one of them got cracked in the everlasting waiting. *sigh* I guess that is a lesson. Nonetheless, the incident has motivated me to get the others hung ASAP!ReplyCancel


Lately – and maybe you all may have noticed? – we’ve been feeling… stunted.

Stunted, because there’s so much we want to do, but we know it doesn’t make sense to do. Our home has been tweaked and fluffed and re-painted more times than we can count, and we have (mostly) loved every phase of every room. Because as we grow and change, so does our home. As you can imagine, this whole we-might-be-buying-a-house-and-everything-will-be-changing-again thing has got us feeling in limbo. (A happy limbo, but limbo nonetheless!)

We’re taking this in-between time to focus on finding inspiration – and then promptly filing it away. We’re spending extra hours in the office (him) and studio (me), and we’re laying on the couch much more on the weekends. While we’ve been crazy productive in ways that aren’t very home related much at all, we’ve been missing our usual DIYs and umpteenth living room re-fluff.

We’ve been stunted.

There are a handful of projects that we’ve discussed tackling around here, but why would we do it? Soon, our environment could change (well, here’s hoping those contracts lead to something, right?), and what makes sense now could easily seem like a why did we do that? moment later. Oh, home, shall we list the ways?

ONE. Our coffee table. It’s the just-right size for our living room, coming in at 32″ round. (Believe it or not, that was a pretty hard size to find!) We picked it up on Craigslist years ago, and while it’s served us well, it’s been showing its age. It’s full of nicks, and ha! Joke’s on you – it’s not even real wood. I’ve often fantasized about transforming it into an over-sized ottoman for use in a cozy nook or a larger studio. This makes no sense right this minute (what color fabric? Should we tuft it or not?), but a girl can dream, yes?

TWO. The art. Aah, the art! We have tubes upon tubes of art stored above our kitchen cabinets; so much art, actually, that we don’t even remember what we have! Is this a problem (or a sign of hoarding)? Maybe. But even with our current limited wall space, we can’t bear to part with our (hidden) collection. Fingers crossed for more wall space in a future home.

THREE. Our $5 yard sale pendant. Not that long ago, I asked Scott if he’d be into painting the matte black inside of our pendant gold – and he enthusiastically agreed (what have I don’t to him?). Then I remembered this pin from ages ago, and paired with a neon lamp cord – well, yowza! But until we know where this guy might end up living – and because we love it in its current chrome-y goodness – this doesn’t make much sense right now either. Womp-womp.

All feelings of being stumped aside, I am going to attempt to tap into my crafty side over the weekend, just to keep these hands busy. While we can’t exactly start picking out the perfect fabric for an ottoman or start changing the finish on a pendant, we can tackle non-room-changers. And since Jack ate his bed for the third time, I’m thinking I know what’s next (but with a twist – insert evil laugh here)!

Some of you must fill this limbo, too, right? At the very least, as the seasons turn, we’re all feeling a bit fidgety, no?

Ottoman images via Decor Pad and Etsy, gallery wall via Decoratica, and bronze light fixtures via Desire to Inspire.

  • Jimmy - April 5, 2013 - 8:50 AM

    Total bummer of a feeling. I know it all too well. You make a good point about not even wanting to build things that you’ll take with you, lest they turn out to be the wrong things for the next place.

    One thing I find helpful during times like these (and this is usually easier said than done): Purge. Get rid of stuff you haven’t wanted or used in ages, stuff you know you won’t be bringing with you once you find the next “one.” Start making (literal) space in your life for all the things to come. It feels amazing to de-clutter and cut back, and it will make the eventual move even easier.

    Also, it’s seed germinating/sprouting time inside on windowsills across the mid-Atlantic, and I’d guess you guys aren’t far behind on that. Since you’ll be just growing a bunch of plugs to be transplanted later, you don’t have to decide on the right planter just yet. How nice would it be to have a ton of plugs ready to plant when you eventually show up at the new place?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - April 5, 2013 - 9:10 AM

      Jimmy, you’ve nailed it. PURGE! We really should be taking the time to do this now. It’s actually one of my favorite things to do…ReplyCancel

  • Laura - April 5, 2013 - 9:36 AM

    You COULD take this time to simply relax and enjoy the beautiful home that you’ve put so much hard work into! :-)ReplyCancel

  • Kim - April 5, 2013 - 11:20 AM

    Laura, this is true!ReplyCancel

  • Alexis - April 5, 2013 - 11:26 AM

    I love all your project ideas. I always develop a bit of ennui when it comes to sewing projects, especially if they’re time consuming and not that fun. This post inspired me to write up projects to finish this weekend, 5 in total.
    Happy making!ReplyCancel

  • Kim - April 5, 2013 - 11:34 AM

    Alexis, wow! Happy making to YOU!ReplyCancel

  • Helen - April 5, 2013 - 11:56 AM

    humm, does the coffee table have the weight capacity as an ottoman? I know I always sit on an ottoman.. just wonderingReplyCancel

  • Helena - April 5, 2013 - 12:00 PM

    Oy! We have been searching for a coffee table that size so I feel your pain! Round ones just don’t exist or are super tall or huge or heinous. It’s been a long, slow battle.ReplyCancel

  • Heather {A Fire Pole in the Dining Room} - April 5, 2013 - 12:09 PM

    SO been there! Buying a house is tough, isn’t it? When we were waiting to close on the firehouse we completely avoided one of our favorite pastimes: walking around antique malls. We REALLY didn’t want to move anything else and there were just too many questions: what do we need, where will we put decorative objects, and considering all the construction, when will we even be able to decorate?

    It was very frustrating to sit and wait. “Stunted” is a great way to put it. My best suggestion is to try and enjoy the downtime before your whole life gets turned upside down. And if you are moving neighborhoods, enjoy the pieces you live in your current one. Before long your favorite restaurant may not be a stroll away.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - April 5, 2013 - 12:11 PM

    Helen, good point. I’ll definitely have to consider that if we move forward with the ottoman!

    Helena, we ultimately found ours on Craigslist, but it seemed like the impossible task. All we found in stores was LARGE round coffee tables! We feel your pain.ReplyCancel

  • Kim - April 5, 2013 - 12:13 PM

    Heather, yup, you must know EXACTLY what it feels like. We’ve been avoiding yard sales and vintages sales like crazy – which is SO hard! But we do give in every now and then…

    One of the pluses of this home (again, fingers crossed!), is that it’s in our same neighborhood. The ‘hood that we love SO, SO much.ReplyCancel

  • Trude - April 5, 2013 - 3:29 PM

    I so feel you on the waiting game. It’s so hard to sit on your hands and wait until you’re finally in a new space so you can see just what it needs. And even once you know where you’re moving, you have to be in there a bit to really see what will work best for the space and your needs! Sucks big ones, but I’m sure it’ll be worth the results. But I’m sure Jack wouldn’t mind a new spot to destroy in the meantime. ;)ReplyCancel

  • Kim - April 5, 2013 - 5:44 PM

    Trude, you had me laughing at the Jack part :)ReplyCancel

  • Staci @ My Friend Staci - April 7, 2013 - 3:42 PM

    I am with you! Living in a boring no-personality apartment for the indefinite future is frustrating! Do I want to move into a cooler place with more personality when our lease is up? Or stay put and just work as hard as I can to save up a down payment so we can really have our OWN space! Coming from two rentals were we pretty much had free reign, our hands are tied (the apt is owned by a corporation and not an individual) and it’s taken some getting used to!

    There’s no hurt in doing some tweaking here and there with what you already have, if you get bored, though. :)ReplyCancel

  • tish - April 10, 2013 - 6:22 PM

    try a kuranda bed for the dog. We have one and it works great.

  • Kim - April 11, 2013 - 8:28 AM

    Tish, that bed is pretty cool!ReplyCancel