HDR and blending with Photomatix may be one of the most cost and time effective shooting techniques for real estate photographers because it allows shooting interiors without lighting equipment. It can minimize the amount of time spent on site with the trade off of spending a little more time doing post processing.
At the same time, if you are not extremely careful, your HDR images end up with a characteristic HDR look. There are some characteristics looks that HDR images have that are worth attempting to minimize:
- The smoke damage look - The bottom HDR image above demonstrates the smoke damage look. See how the smoke has darkened the ceiling around the light fixture in the lower image? As this pair of images demonstrates this look comes from getting carried away with the strength slider in Photomatix.
- The radioactive look - This look comes from getting carried away with the saturation slider. To me it feels like the Photomatix saturation slider has a hair trigger. I prefer modifying saturation in Lightroom or Photoshop where you have more precise, targeted control of saturation.
- The foggy look - This comes from the fact that by the time you get a processed image out of Photomatix the pixels have had a lot of "mashing" so the image always needs some serious sharpening or increase in clarity to reduce the fog. Even the best HDR images don't have that crisp, sharp look of a shot that was well lit with strobes has.
In areas of photography other than real estate marketing photography we can get away with more creative uses of HDR processing but in marketing shots we are constrained by the mental models we are all walking around with in our head that says that verticals are vertical, interiors don't look foggy, radioactive or wildly dramatic.
There are several myths among beginning HDR photographers that can get in the way of expanding skills beyond the use of just HDR:
- Myth 1: Shooting with natural light only is somehow purer and more truthful, and sacred than using artificial lighting. The fact is, the most talented photographers make use of natural and artificial light to control the look of a image. Controlling light is more difficult than HDR processing.
- Myth 2: If your clients don't immediately protest strange looking HDR images they are OK with them. The majority of Realtors and home sellers are not visually sophisticated enough to even talk about why the like or dislike an image. Clients are hesitant to bring up issues to someone that presents themselves as a professional photographer.
- Myth 3: Every shot can benefit from the use of the HDR process. The purpose of HDR is to help you out when the contrast is beyond the dynamic range of your camera. There are many situations where a conventional shot will work just fine.
In summary, Photomatix can be a big time and equipment saving tool in real estate photography, but don't get so stuck in doing only HDR images that you don't learn how to control light. I found Sylvia Guardia's recent post in the flickr discussion very interesting. Sylvia does beautiful HDR work yet she understands that to reach her maximum potential and do high-end architectural shooting, she needs to also learn how to use artificial lighting.