What Can Real Estate Photographers Do To Control The Color Problems When Shooting HDR?

October 4th, 2015

SooSoo recently asked:

I am a real estate agent and photographer. I like to do my own photos and I have a Nikon D750 with a 16-35mm lens. I use Photomatix for HDR for the convenience and Photoshop to edit. However, I have never learned how to get rid of the yellow color cast nicely in my photos. I tweak around and still can’t seem to get it right. I either remove too much yellow or not enough. I like the photos that have more grays and whites where as mine tend to have more yellows. Help!

Yes, color problems are a classic issue with HDR. Depending on the ambient light in the particular room, HDR frequently produces strange color artifacts that are difficult to remove in post-processing. The yellowish cast usually comes from the incandescent lights, but also the whites are not a crisp white and there can be other color problems that are hard to control.

Here are a couple of ways to get control of your color problems:

  1. Use a flash when shooting your brackets. You can use a on-camera manual flash like the YN-560-III or an automatic flash like the SB-910 or SB-800. Add flash to one or more of your brackets with the flash bouncing off the ceiling or against a wall-ceiling joint. Then process the brackets as you normally do and the colors will all be more accurate. If you use manual flash, experiment to find what the power setting works best. Half power is a good place to start.
  2. Another refinement to your workflow would be to use Enfuse processing (Photomatix has it build in) rather than HDR since Enfuse processing results in a more neutral results with fewer color artifacts. You can always adjust saturation and clarity in final post-processing to give a more HDR look if you like that look.

Anyone have any other suggestions for Soo?

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17 Responses to “What Can Real Estate Photographers Do To Control The Color Problems When Shooting HDR?”

  • I run my brackets (usually 5) through Lightroom and then photo> photo merge> HDR which takes you to Photoshop instead of Photomatix. Results are MUCH better right out of the gate. I know that must sound like a huge hassle compared to “batch processing” but since I avoid the endless hell of trying to get the colors right, time spent to finished product is about the same (and they look waaaaay better!) I also spent $5 on a gray card I use in rooms that I suspect they’ll be color difficulty with in post… And I calibrated my monitors (Spyder 5 Pro- it’s cheap) to have more confidence in what I’m looking at – money well spent imo.

  • I’m personally not a fan of hdr of any kind. Just because I know for a fact i’ll out re-touch any photographer that uses it and hence I can charge a higher price than those photographers that do. I think you would be better off training your own re-toucher based in the phillipines to do it manually or use a company, there are many, to get results that are much better and saves you time to focus on shooting / marketing your business. I’m up for the debate but imho I just dont think this is the best way to save your time. there are better ways to save time while also charging more for your services.

  • I use the bounce flash technique for all my brackets. I also run all of my shots through a “Pre-Enfuse” Lightroom preset before using the Enfuse plug-in, where I drop the Vibrance slider down to -10 (among other things). This has helped to keep my colors a little less difficult. Rooms with intense warm colors also get a white balance tweak before running Enfuse.

  • I also find homes that have cherry wood on the floor and in the kitchen with PhotoMatrix tends to make the woods look very red. And post processing still makes it difficult to get the wood tones better. Any suggestions for HDR with dark wood kitchens and rooms would be appreciated.

  • One of the easiest ways to do this is to add one of the original layers on top of the HDR or layer stack, and set it to color mode. This assumes you’ve colored this frame in LR first. Then you can use the opacity slider to set the color to taste. Also, make sure that any lens adjustments are applied to the same way to the HDR layer, and the layer you are using to control color (so they register correctly)

  • @ Cindy

    If you are using Canon, you might want to learn to use their DNG Editor to create a custom shooting profile in their Picture Profile Editor. I used it to create a shooting profile that mutes yellows, oranges, and reds, and instead renders all those colors towards brown, not brown, towards brown. Muted. If you go through the whole process, you end up with LR profiles that can be used as presets while importing so you don’t have to mess with the settings every time. This might require you to invest in a Color Passport Checker.

    Once you have all that set, even your HDRs will become more predictable. That said, the new HDR engine in LR is very good with exteriors, but I’m not sure about interiors (I think indoor HDR is problematic and doesn’t represent “reality” for serious interior work). To me, prettier pictures aren’t the only goal, but stunning reality is always the pursuit. Tonemapped HDR seems to have an inherent “grunge” in it. Pretty but dirty.

  • One of the best ways to shoot your brackets is to study Simon Maxwell’s eBook (get it on this blog, top left-“Enfuse for RE Photography”), study chapter 3. Then use LR’s ‘merge to HDR’ function. LR’s merge produces very realistic natural looking blends. My customers love the results. LR will allow about 5 batch brackets at a time (at least on my computer). I’ve tried 6 or more but this caused crashes. But these 5 processed fairly fast to then allow me to batch the next 5 and the next 5.

  • In response to Soo’s question: Soo… I am interested in your workflow/ approach. It is important I think to be clear about what actual colour distortions you are experiencing. I think there are two issues: the most likely reason for the yellow cast you are experiencing is the fact that you are shooting during the hours of daylight with plenty of cool daylight coming through the windows but with the interior tungsten lights on: this is a white balance issue: the correct white balance setting for the daylight is not enough to “cool down” that warm tungsten, so that latter is rendered as overly yellow: but if you go all out with white balance setting which corrects for the tungsten then your daylight is going to turn blue (especially noticeable in reflective floorboards etc). As Larry advises, one way to “knock back” the tungsten a bit is to use a generous amount of fill flash (more or less similar in terms of white balance as the daylight). Result: the tungsten will still have a warmish glow but more of your interiors will effectively be flash lit and better rendered (with a daylight white balance setting applied to the image). Can I suggest first off shooting a room set with daylight illumination only: switch off all the artificial light sources. See how that looks. I rarely shoot with tungsten on in the daytime as it is a very difficult balance to get right if you are only shooting ambient (i.e. daylight and continuous artificial light but no flash) . Shoot a series of brackets in this way and apply a daylight white balance setting to all of them: if they look OK individually, then you know that white balance or, more accurately, shooting with light sources of conflicting colour temperature, known as “mixed light” situations, is your issue. Then progress to your usual Photomatix workflow: here comes the second possible issue: colour distortions and that “grunginess” mentioned by others , neither of which I “hear” are a problem for you. That said: try running fewer brackets through photomatix : really over-exposed frames can lead to colour distortions (bringing out the red in wooden floorboards/ furniture etc to an unnatural degree for example). If you are not going to use fill flash and want to go on using tungsten in your shots along with the daylight (I know a lot of RE work requires this) then try adjusting the saturation levels of the yellow and/ or orange channels in Lightroom or photoshop on your blended results. But this will of course desaturate anything “naturally” yellow in your shot e.g. fabrics. One thing you can also try on large ares e.g. white ceilings which can show up colour casts, is to brush over them with the adjustment brush in Lightroom set to a broad, well-feathered setting and with a saturation setting of negative 25 or so: that will help to make those areas a little more neutral: too much and they will appear monochrome though! In short, I don’t think that the fact that you use photomatix/ exposure blending is necessarily the root of the problem: a single exposure under such mixed lighting conditions is going to exhibit a similar yellow cast to blended series of brackets. Do let me know how you get on!

  • Here’s a simple solution you may want to try before other more complex suggestions. In LR, I would just click on the number of the color temp slider and tap the “down arrow key” until you have removed enough warmth (yellow cast) from the photo. This brings the color temperature down (cooler), removes yellows and adds a more bluish cast. Depending on the photo, the room, and the feel you are shooting for (warm and cozy, cool and bright) you probably want to go for a nice balance between the blue and yellow cast. I try to go for what looks natural and comfortable.

  • Having used Photoshop for 25 years I never tried LR till it came free with the new CC. Yesterday I attended an all day seminar with KelbyOne in Sacramento with the new version of LR. Really learned a lot about color correcting and some newer techniques. If KelbyOne comes to your area I would highly recommend spending the $89. to attend it.

  • @ Cindy.

    I have noticed this with a large shadow adjustment. Cherry, reds and other colors become over-saturated.

    Here is a quick and simple correction. Goto the HSL/Colors/B+W tab in LR.
    Select HSL
    Select Saturation
    Click the little circle to the left of the colors
    Drag that to the cherry that has gone too red
    click the down button
    This reduces the saturation that the shadow adjustment has created
    You can also do these using luminance to lighten or darken certain colors

    Cheers

  • OK My question is I’m having difficulty getting consistent color from room to room for things such as walls and floors.

    My process is:
    Import.
    Correct WB in DxO (or LR) – this stage i just started using and has made my images so much better than wb after. I also set an outdoor wb for the window bracketed shot and interior wb fro the others.
    Send to Photomattix
    Create a pretty flat dark image there (sometime replace windows with the largest – exposure)
    bring back into LR
    use a preset of large + exposure, large – highlights, large +shadows and various other tweaks.

    Is there a LR tool (or color picker or eyedropper) that I can use from a target cold and share amongst images?

    Cheers

  • that was target ‘color’ and share amongst other images?

  • Wow, I did not know this question was published and happen to run across it by complete accident!

    My workflow is:
    -bracket 5 photos at +2, 5.6f, 200 iso, white balance auto
    -load into Photomatix, Exposure fusion/Real Estate
    -edit a bit in photoshop

  • I have another set of raw photos I’ve uploaded if anyone would like to help. This is another property that doesn’t have as much yellow, but still I have the same problem.

    https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=FA3CB7F2142F5FBC!71105&authkey=!AB4MCsjqIVb-KFo&ithint=folder%2c

    Thanks in advance!
    Soo

  • Do as much of your WB adjustments as possible in RAW. Once you get to a tiff, you won’t get good results for large adjustments.

  • I read quite a few posts about using muliple flashes, triggers, umbrellas, problems with WB in mixed lighting sources and perhaps my standards are not high enough, but typically shooting 15+ homes/per week, I need to produce top quality photos quickly, while keeping my shoot time in the home to a minimum.

    I shoot with a Canon 5DMII and a 17 T/S lens and just one flash shoe mounted flash unit, Canon 580EX. With that combination, shooting bounce flash I can get great results. I also use Magic Lantern on the SD card to provide more than just 3 brackets. What is nice about it is that I sent the initial exposure for the room and ML does the rest according to what I have set it to do. I use the bounce flash on the first shot, then the camera takes over and takes as many shots as necessary to get the full dynamic range.

    This provides me with all the exposures I need to get well lit rooms as well as an exposure for the window view if I want to do quick layering in PSE. I have spent literally 100’s of hours working with Photomatix trying to get clean interior photos but have given up on it. I do use Photomatix for exterior brackets and often on just one exposure.

    Once the RAW photos have been imported into LR, I then apply Auto WB to the interior RAW images, then group the brackets and run LR/Enfuse. Many times I don’t need to do anything but minor tweaking and move on to the next one.

    My average time in a home less than 3000sf is 45 minutes or less. I usually can process the merged brackets and send off the photos to the client in an hour. If I layer photos to get a stunning window pull, then it takes somewhat longer. Again, shooting 15-20 homes/week requires fast work, otherwise my weeks run 50-70 hours.

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