Getting Around Mirrors

Shooting bathrooms is no easy task.  For one thing, they can be small and cramped, making it extremely difficult to get your camera and tripod in just the right place to get the shot.  But it's not their size or configuration that challenges me as often as those pesky mirrors.  All bathrooms have them, and most of the time they are hard to dodge.  No matter how hard you try, it's almost impossible to get those much-needed shots without your camera being visible in the mirror.

In some situations, you can position the camera in such a way that it's hidden by an object that's on the counter...like a flower arrangement or something similar that's big enough to obstruct the reflection of the camera in the mirror.  But I find those situations to be extremely rare, and I just have to get the shot and then try my best to fix it in Photoshop.

Probably the most popular technique is to take the picture with the camera and tripod visible in the mirror, and then remove them from the image using things like the clone stamp or healing brush tools in Photoshop.  As long as there's nothing between the camera and the wall in the reflection, it's not too hard of a fix. 

Here's an example of a small bathroom in a house I shot a few weeks ago.  Drag the slider to see the "before" shot as it compares to the "after" shot.

Before After

You'll notice that there's nothing between the camera and the wall behind it, making it relatively easy  to clone or paint it out.  All I had to deal with was a tan wall.

Unfortunately, however, there's not always a plain, solid color wall behind the camera.  Things like patterned wallpaper or objects like tables, chairs, dressers, lamps, etc. are situation behind the camera against the wall, and those make cloning out the camera almost impossible.  Sure, it can probably be done, but you're talking about an extremely laborious process in Photoshop and I can't afford to spend that much time on a single image for an average real estate shoot.

And that's where another technique comes into play...at least for me.  Just yesterday, I was shooting a condo for a client, and she specifically wanted a shot of the vanity in the master bathroom.  The only place for me to position my camera to get the best shot of the vanity was in the doorway directly in front of the mirror...and there was nothing on the counter to hide the camera behind...AND there was a chair against the wall behind the camera, as well as a mural on the wall.  I went ahead and took the shot, and here's what I was faced with...

As you can see, trying to remove the camera and tripod from this image would be no easy task...not in the least.  So how do get around this?  Easy!

All I did was rotate my camera 180 degrees so that it was pointing away from the vanity and into the bedroom, and I took a shot of the far wall of the bedroom....that is, after all, what you can see in the mirror, right?  So, here's that shot of the bedroom...

And the rest is taken care of in Photoshop...

I open two files:  one of the bathroom/vanity and one of the bedroom.  I start with the bedroom image, and the first thing I do is flip the image horizontally (Image->Image Rotation->Flip Canvas Horizontally) because that's how the bedroom looks as we view it in the mirror. 

mirror4.jpg

Next, I copy that image and then paste it as a new layer on the vanity/bathroom image.  With the bedroom layer selected, I then choose the Move Tool to do two things:  I resize the image and then drag it so that it's positioned correctly in relation to the mirror in the bathroom/vanity image...this is going to become the view through the door in the mirror in the final image, so it needs to be sized and positioned accordingly.

Once this is done, I move the bedroom image layer below the bathroom/vanity layer.  With the bathroom/vanity layer selected, I then create a layer mask and use the Polygonal Lasso Tool to carefully select the area that's visible through the door to the bedroom.  Once this is done, I simply tap my delete key and the mirror selection is deleted, and the bedroom layer is now visible in the mirror.

Here's the final result:

mirror2a.jpg

In my opinion, this technique was much easier and less painful and time-consuming than sitting there for who knows how long trying to make it happen with the clone stamp tool, paint brush, etc.  It did involve multiple steps, but that's fine by me.

Anyway, that's it.  If you're ever in a situation like this and you have enough room to rotate around and get a shot of what's behind the camera, I suggest you give it a try.  Good luck!