Sharpening For Real Estate Photographers

October 2nd, 2013

LR5SharpeningThe last month or so I’ve gotten several requests to talk about sharpening. The first request I got I blew off because I’ve never considered sharpening to be a serious problem for real estate photography. But when I got another request about sharpening from a person I knew shot exclusively bracketed photos and did HDR and Exposure Fusion processing it dawned on me why people were asking about sharpening. They shoot brackets.

I don’t shoot brackets to speak of so sharpening has never been a serious issue. I’ve always just use standard sharpening and noise reduction techniques like Anthony Morganti goes through in the tutorial to the right. Anthony’s tutorial covers the basics for any image but it all applies to real estate work.

However, if you shoot brackets (that is you use Exposure Fusion or HDR) sharpening is going to be a much bigger problem than if you use multiple flashes. Here’s why:

  • The HDR and EF  processes are very prone to resulting in a final result that is soft and fuzzy.
  • Any camera movement while shooting brackets are likely to cause a sharpening problem.
  • The quality of the light in a room has an effect on how sharp the final image is. Ambient only light is probably always going to be more diffuse than flash.

My guess is that there’s never anyway you can combine 3, 5 or 9 frames together with HDR or EF and get as crisp and sharp a result as you can with a single flash image. Here are some things you can do to help keep HDR or EF images as sharp as possible:

  • Use a remote shutter release and don’t touch the camera.
  • Use mirror lockup and timed shutter release as Joseph suggests below.
  • Keep your ISO as low as you camera will go. This keeps the digital noise to an absolute minimum.
  • Take great care to stabilize your camera while shooting brackets. I’ve heard of some people hanging a weight on their tripod.
  • Use a single fill flash when shooting brackets for HDR or EF.
  • Avoid using those really over-exposed brackets when blending as Simon suggests below.

Have I missed something? What do you do to keep your real estate photography results sharp?

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6 Responses to “Sharpening For Real Estate Photographers”

  • I don’t think you missed anything Larry! I’d just like to chime in re your point about shooting brackets with a single flash: I think that some of the agreed problem of soft looking exposure-fused or HDR blended shots is down to the fact that the really over-exposed brackets that one needs to shoot in order to capture detail in the shadow areas, cause “bloom” or flare , ie large areas of really over-exposed ambient (let’s face it .. shooting towards a window is what we were always told not to do, ie shoot directly into the light!) This non-image forming light or straight flare is bound to degrade the blended image. I feel that if you can avoid using those really over-exposed brackets when blending , by popping a flash for the shadow areas to just lighten them a bit, then the blend will be a crisper one. I always add a bit of contrast to my enfused shots post-blending anyway, as the process seems to result in slightly weak but detail-containing images. This certainly helps with sharpness (plus adding sharpening to the bracketed RAW files pre-blend) but I think that your suggestion of helping things along with a little bit of flash can definitely make an improvement.

  • I also use mirror lockup and a 2 second self timer to reduce vibration.

  • @Simon – Great idea, thanks for the suggestion about staying away from really over exposed brackets.

    @Joseph – Yes, absolutely. I forgot those two items. Thanks.

  • These are all great methods that you are looking at Larry L. and most shooters don’t really know about this unless they have studied their camera manual carefully. One of the reasons that we started off with such a big bang, is that we paid a private instructor who specialized in Canon to teach us the exact ins and outs of our first 5D and we are now up to our 5DMark3. This knowledge has carried us through lots of difficult situations including using rental cameras, trying to correct in camera because we believe that getting it right in camera makes for less post processing and better images. Sometimes though, shooters no matter what tricks they use, just can’t get it that final push to sharpness and that is where Nik Sharpener plugin comes in very handy. It lets you either presharpen the raw image or sharpen on the way out for the specific format you will be printing or displaying your image with. A great plug in to Aperature, Lightroom and Photoshop Cloud and Elements.

  • When I decide to shoot brackets, I always do one set with flash and one set without. I sharpen all the shots in a batch before using EF, and then layer the two resulting fusions together. Sometimes I bring one of the exposures back in to layer over top.

  • Thanks for posting this Larry. I don’t even know what mirror lock up is – I think photography is wonderful because there’s always something new to learn and pick up. Thanks for everyone’s feedback. Back to the manual.

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