Image Sharpening for Real Estate Photography

July 25th, 2018

LR5SharpeningLast week, I had a conversation with Rozelle in South Africa about why her photos were not as sharp as some of her local competitors. She was ready to get a new camera and lens but after some discussion about her workflow, it turned out she was bracketing but not being diligent about ensuring the camera didn’t move.

I think what you will find is that even if you shoot with a great lens and quality DSLR camera, images need a little sharpening for the specific device they are being displayed on. For real estate images, that device is a computer display. Images intended for printed media require different sharpening than a computer display.

Sharpening is a fairly complex subject and is related to noise reduction. Anthony Morganti goes through this in the accompanying tutorial. Anthony’s tutorial covers the basics for any image but it all applies to real estate work. A classic resource for sharpening is Real World Image Sharpening with Adobe Photoshop, Camera Raw, and Lightroom, by Bruce Fraser and Jeff Schewe.

Here are some sharpness considerations specifically related to shooting real estate:

  1. Shooting and processing brackets are prone to result in a final image that is slightly soft (not sharp). Here are some ways to maximize sharpness when shooting brackets:
    • Use a remote shutter release and don’t touch the camera
    • Use mirror lockup and timed shutter release
    • Keep your ISO as low as your camera will go.
    • Avoid using really over-exposed brackets.
    • Use a fill flash when shooting brackets.
  2. Shooting with flash, in general, will produce a sharper image than processed bracketed shots.
  3. Camera movement when using slow shutter speeds will cause soft images.
  4. The Clarity slider in Lightroom/PS/ACR appears to sharpen an image. It’s really changing the mid-tone contrast.
  5. As a final step in post-processing, sharpen your images.

What do you do to keep your real estate photography results sharp?

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13 Responses to “Image Sharpening for Real Estate Photography”

  • I always sharpen my images using Unsharpen Mask in Photoshop. Unsharpen Mask is actually a term color separators use to describe when they always sharpen the scan of a slide or print for reproduction. Why then came up with a term that would seem to be the antithesis of what they are doing is still a mystery to me. But as they explained to me, the process of scanning results in a loss of sharpness so they have to restore it digitally. Since the images that get processed on our sensors are scans, the same is true of them.

    If you bracket your exposures it certainly helps if you use HDR to have your camera on a tripod. But most HDR apps these days have an optional box to check called “align” which aligns the 3 or more images pretty well. So I wait to sharpen until I have the HDR output and then open it in Photoshop (or Lightroom for those that use Lightroom). AuroraPro 2019 has a filter called “HDR Details Boost” which essentialy does the same thing. If I use that, then I don’t put my images through Unsharpen Mask in Photoshop. I am sure Photomatix has the same sort of thing but I have not used PHotomatix in over a year and am not familiar with their latest version.

    I have thus had pretty sharp results from even hand held images provided I am able to use a fast shutter speed so the brackets are all held very closely in framing.

    Unless you have used a slow shutter speed, moved the camera etc. there is really no reason to have soft images. Unsharpen Mask tends to create a crisp line around each pixel giving the appearance of sharpness since the pixels carry the information. It was trickier when we used to scan a transparency that was made of over lapping silver grains that had to be converted into square pixels, but it still worked.

    Flash can certainly make for a sharp image depending on the duration of the flash. But if you are combining sharp flash with soft ambient exposure, that effect will be diminished. So steady hand and/or steady tripod go a long way, but digital sharpening in Post is essential even if the camera was steady as a rock.

  • I will give a wildly different view on this topic.

    Sharpness is important only up to a certain point in my opinion. Meaning, if your techniques is good: a stationary, non-vibrating tripod, using flash, well focused, using nice glass, then your images are going to appear crisp and sharp al ost no matter what you do after that.

    My opinion is us photographers tend to place more importance on certain aspects of imagery more than the avergae viewer will. Sharpness is one of these aspects.

    Really ask yourself, as an interiors image gets sharper and sharper, is the image getting better? I do not think so, but going by many of the comments I see, sharpness does actually somehow turn into a “more is better” variable, and I believe this is a bit off base. Images of any kind, do not necessarily get better the sharper they get. They can get better, but I believe we make the mistake of thinking sharper ALWAYS equals better. Maybe it is true on paper that a sharper image is technically better than a softer one, but all the other aspects of the image are of such greater importance.

    My advice: attain sharpness through good technique, glass, lighting and of course processing because raw images are meant to be sharpened at least a little in my opinion. But beyond those factors, I would not worry about it too much. I think it would be much better for a photographer’s images to figure out how lighting makes his images sharper, as opposed to reading the Fraser Schewe book… which I have often heard is excellent. I just do not think that is the way to “good sharpening”, which I would consider the “sharpening” you do onsite, once again, with lighting, equipment, and technique.

  • Let me start off my saying that what ever technique you employ, Zillow’s compression algorithm will probably nullify it’s positive effects. But with that said…one of the greatest features I discovered in PS was the Shake Reduction feature. That one setting alone has improved the detail of my images a lot.

  • A member of one of my Facebook groups recently posted that her new (used) camera was producing bracketed images that were blurry and/or slightly shifted. I told her to try using mirror lockup and, if her lens had a vibration reduction (VR) switch, to turn it OFF. She reported back that turning off the VR seems to have solved the problem.

  • Rozelle, I edit entirely in Photomatix Pro 6.0 which creates single image HDRs via tone mapping. This eliminates the need to shoot bracketed photos. You might want to look into it. With the latest version you get finishing tools and adjustments for just about everything.

  • Digital image “sharpening” is not really sharpening in the common usage of the term. Sharpness is a result of the combined effects of resolution and edge contrast. Digital image sharpening is edge contrast enhancement. The resolution of an image is determined by the equipment and technique with which an image is shot. I suspect that most problems with sharpness occur because of poor shooting technique or equipment that is either not of sufficiently high quality for the application or is out of adjustment. Even if you do no digital image sharpening, an image should still not look obviously unsharp unless you intend it to look that way.

  • By the way, I disagree with many of the recommendation in the list above and some info is outright wrong, so much so that I don’t have the time to address point by point.

  • There are some people commenting on this thread that have ZERO understanding of what “sharpness” means, and zero understanding of how/when/why to apply it.
    I’d advise readers to move on, there’s terrible information in the comments section today.

    Jeff Schewe’s book is excellent.

  • There are many ways to achieve resolution and edge contrast aside from merely sharpening the image. Which is why I recommend Photomatix Pro which is tailored to real estate photography.

  • Until Scott mentioned it, I never really looked at the other comments besides Glenda’s, which is good advice. Everyone else who has commented with advice demonstrates a poor understanding of the subject in various ways.

  • To add onto Glenda’s comment…if you have IBIS, turn that off also. Maybe that’s what she is saying by mentioning locking up the mirror?

  • Settings have a lot to do with clarity of capture. A faster shutter will eliminate movement but you have to adjust the ISO to compensate. The Canon T6i has a built-in stabilizer which is why we use it to shoot pole aerials. If you are bracketing w/o a tripod your shots will not be as precise. Shooting creatively will help you gain a better understanding of how to overcome these problems. Go out and shoot some wildlife and enjoy yourself!

  • I agree completely to Andrew Pece: “My opinion is us photographers tend to place more importance on certain aspects of imagery more than the avergae viewer will. Sharpness is one of these aspects.”

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