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HDR vs Exposure Fusion vs Single On-Camera vs Multiple Off-Camera Flash

Published: 13/12/2012
By: larry

Mike Kelley wrote a great article over at that illustrates the various approaches to lighting when you are shooting interiors and real estate.

The four interior shooting approaches Mike compares are:

  1. HDR: As in processing as series of bracketed images with tone mapping.
  2. Exposure Fusion: Processing bracketed image with a different algorithm.
  3. On-camera flash.
  4. Multiple off camera flashes.

Mike does a good job of illustrating the strengths and weaknesses of each of these shooting approaches.

Mike's article shows that Multiple off-camera flashes give the best looking results and the other techniques can create be used while you are building your competence and confidence with the multiple off-camera flash technique.

Regular readers may recall that back in June of 2011 I polled readers on these and related shooting approaches in this post. If you look at the poll in this post carefully you'll notice a couple of interesting things:

  1. About 25% of PFRE readers use a hybrid technique of EF/HDR and Flash.
  2. About 26% of PFRE readers use multiple off camera flash.
  3. About 23% of PFRE readers use either straight EF or straight HDR.

So even though Mike shows it's clear which technique gives the best results real estate shooters are using a variety of techniques.

12 comments on “HDR vs Exposure Fusion vs Single On-Camera vs Multiple Off-Camera Flash”

  1. Thanks Larry, nice article and good examples.
    I just bought a Nikon D-7000 to replace my D-300 for real estate, as I heard the dynamic range is better and it auto brackets at 2 stops apart for HDR or Fusion. I normally shoot with two strobes (one on camera and one off) but I still have issues getting accurate color and window exposure balance. Mike did not mention about bracketing HDR or Exposure fusion with the flash attached. Isn’t that one way you shoot Larry to keep the color more accurate? I have still not learned to master that technique.

  2. Thanks for this! There are surprisingly few comparison studies of different techniques, and the couple I've seen were either poorly done across the board, or skewed to fit that photog's agenda. I think it's in every photographer's best interest to do their own comparisons and really try to get the best image out of each technique. If your favorite technique ends up at #1, then you can use those results to sell that technique. If your favorite ends up looking shoddy compared to another test shot, you might want to consider learning more about that technique. And of course different situations call for different techniques; another reason to expand beyond a "one size fits all" approach.

  3. I agree that off camera flash is the best but this comparison doesn't prove anything. He only took 3 bracketed shots only going 2 stops in each direction in a scene that had extreme differences in lighting. The HDR was guaranteed to fail from the start. This was a setup, designed to push his opinion. I do not disagree with the conclusion it's just that the differences are much smaller than he is showing.

  4. @Eric - I recommend shooting multiple off-camera flash whenever possible. But there is a steep learning curve and equipment required. I find the results from shooting brackets much nicer when you add at least one flash. When you add some flash the whites are much crisper and the colors more accurate. When people are just starting out they tend to gravitate to shooting with brackets rather than off-camera flash. But as people get more sophisticated in seeing light they naturally start seeing the benefits of off-camera flash.

  5. I have to agree with what Larry stated. I started shooting RE about 1 1/2 years ago and was just using HDR. When overall lighting is good and adequate the results were very acceptable. But as everyone has experienced optimal situations can be few and far between sometimes. I finally did a workshop with Malia using flashes. As both her and Scott Hargis state you'll spend more time setting up the shot, but post should be quicker, but I still don't feel good enough to achieve consistent results with one exposure. So I've started using a hybrid which I'm still playing around with. As Larry says adding even just one flash shot will give you crisper whites and improvement in color, but oftentimes one flash just isn't enough. So 've started using multiple flashes and shooting 2-3 brackets and then processinbg the images via fusion. As everyone knows you bracket using exposure time with HDR, but when shooting with flashes this has little to no effect on the resulting image exposure. So I figured, what the heck, let's see what happen when bracketing with f stop. I find that as long as I'm aware of DOF and not pushing the range to far I've been getting better results than I can using straight HDR or single exposure flash. Look forward to your comments

  6. Thanks Larry.
    One issue I have experienced with all of my Digital Nikons is White balance change when placing a flash into the hotshot. I notice that something happens to the white balance. It goes much warmer (into the yellow side) as soon as I switch on the flash. But if I keep my same settings, remove the flash from the hotshot, and fire it through my PC connection, the color stays more neutral. I don’t know if Canon does the same, but I find this a major issue when I use the flash on camera. I bought an Expodisc to try to color correct each shot, but I don’t always get consistent results. Has any other Nikon user experienced this same issue?

  7. @Eric - No, I've not noticed this issue with my 5DMKII. But if you shoot RAW just put the WB were you want it in LR or ACR.

  8. Eric, I have that issue with my D300s and recently bought flash triggers to take the flash off camera to try and solve that particular issue. So far so good but I just started this method and will learn more as I go.

  9. Great article and I love the side by side comparisons. I too started with HDR (very short lived), moved onto fusion which served me well for a long time, picked up off-camera flash and have settled on a flash/fusion hybrid method for about the last 3 months.

    My one comment to Eric is about his point that the hybrid method is too time consuming. I would argue that if you think a certain technique will create consistently better photos, then its worth your time and effort to do it that way. And once you've made that decision, that it's again worth your time and effort to figure out a workflow to keep it worth all that time & effort!

  10. I've done all: fusion, HDR, flashes and tone mapping. When I produce something "fine art," that audience gravitates to the lousiest as well as the best processed and over processed crap gathered together on a piece of paper because that genre is all about the message or the mood. I have been told outright by a client, "We don't want any of that HDR stuff. " So, I think that the best way is to use any of this when appropriate because the more you know, the more you can deliver. My experience is that the client is buying a service, not me and not my style, but rather what I can produce for them and often, it is something they were used to in a photographer they couldn't get. So, it doesn't hurt to know where you are going with any of this stuff by experimenting or exploring the area. In my experience, HDR or tone mapping might add to an outside shot, but it can make an interior look like a cartoon, even with a light touch and when I use it, I'm usually wiping down the layers to bring back some of the original stuff. You would best be getting a high day rate to deliver that. If you are merely smashing three brackets together in Photomatix, who said you were done? Usually, that work takes more work.. This is too time consuming for client work. At the end of the day I go along with what Scott Hargis says - get it right in the camera. His work speaks for itself!

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