There are many real estate photographers that have realized that shooting a series of bracketed exposures and using the Exposure Fusion (EF) feature in Photomatix or one of the many other EF applications is a quick and easy way to getting good quality interior shots. Not as high a quality as multiple off camera flashes but good quality.
To say it in a little different way, using EF is many times faster than using HDR (tone mapping) and then doing post processing in Photoshop, Lightroom or Aperture to get the images to look "natural". With EF you usually get closer to "natural" without extensive postprocessing.
We Canon shooters are limited to only being able to shoot 3 frames when shooting brackets. This raises the question, are 3 bracketed shots enough? Of course, the answer is it depends on the situation. Some times 3 bracketed frames 2 stops apart are enough. But then there is always those bright summer days and large south facing windows where 3 brackets 2 stops apart won't do the job. But how do you know if 3 brackets are enough?
As a demonstration that 3 shots aren't always enough and what the final image looks when the brackets don't capture the whole range of contrast, I did some test shots in a room with a large window in a moderately (not extreme) bright situation. I've put the processed images in a slide show that will go fullscreen so the differences can be seen easily. These are all shot with my Canon 5D MK II with a 24-70mm f/2.8, processed in EF in Photomatix. All the shots were done within a few minutes so there is not a significant change in outside lighting and there is no inside lighting. No adjustments were done in Lightroom except the ones mentioned in #3. The tests are as follows:
When shooting only 3 brackets the tendency is to not recognize when you aren't capturing enough highlights and enough shadows. Here are some observations about the results:
How do you make sure you are capturing a wide enough dynamic range when you are shooting brackets? Do you just bracket like crazy or is there a way to easily figure out what the dynamic range in a scene is?
There are several methods:
It is worth noting that many real estate photographers doing HDR or Exposure Fusion are just shooting 3 brackets 2 stops apart and getting good results 90% of the time. What I'm talking about here is improving your work 5 or 10% of the time. It's not huge but it's significant.
The last subject in bracketing I want to mention is combining Flash with Exposure Fusion. I talk to more an more real estate photographers all the time that are adding a single Flash with Exposure Fusion. The reason is that combining one or more Flash brackets in a sequence of brackets has a positive effect on colors, white balance and make white woodwork crisper than it appears without Flash frames. The over all goal of adding Flash is to minimize post processing (adjustments needed after Photomatix processing). I'll be covering this subject in more depth in the future.