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The Problem of Dirty Whites When Processing HDR

Published: 29/07/2010
By: larry

I ran across this video today and I can't help but comment on the issue of "dirty whites" in HDR processing. The shots in this video are a great illustration of the issue of "dirty whites" that real estate photographers run into. Notice how the whites and other lighter colors in most of the interior shots have areas of "dirtyness". Kind of like there is smoke damage on the walls.

Some photographers apparently don't see this or believe that it's an issue that is out weighed by the increased dynamic range benefits of HDR. I find it hard to ignore.

This problem is exactly what Trey Ratcliff is talking about in his E-Book on the Top 10 Mistakes in HDR Processing. This is one of the classic problems that arise in HDR processing and Trey points out that this dirtiness can't be remedied with sliders.  Trey suggests a couple of solutions to this problem:

  1. Use the control point feature in the Nik Photoshop Plugin to touch up the whites and make them white again.
  2. Use one of the unprocessed original bracket photos to make a separate Photoshop layer and blend in the original color.

Yes, this all works great if you are doing fine art and aren't pressed for time. But if you are shooting three or four homes a day and are committed to deliver photos in 12 to 24 hours you have a problem on your hands. This problem is exactly why most real estate photographers that are shooting brackets are moving to Exposure Fusion or using multiple small speedlights instead of HDR. Most real estate photographers find that getting great results with HDR requires a huge amount of time in Photoshop to fix issues like "dirty whites" and this extensive amount of postprocessing time eventually limits the number of shoots you can do per day and means you have to spend an extensive amount of time at a computer doing post processing.

The bottom line is to take a look at either learning to use multiple speedlights or checkout Exposure Fusion with a just a few speedlights. EF and speedlights can give you a much better look with a lot less time invested than HDR processing.

12 comments on “The Problem of Dirty Whites When Processing HDR”

  1. I guess I don't know the term "exposure fusion"? Can you provide an explanation or direction to a FAQ or tutorial? Or is that term just a coined word for masking?

  2. I have been using Enfuse with great success, but am always looking to improve my craft. Can anyone share the fundamentals of adding a strobe to an Exposure Fusion bracketed series? Is the strobe added to every shot or just one? I have very little working knowledge of this aspect of EF & am seeking an education! Thanks...

  3. Another alternative for realtors and other professionals requiring photo editing for commercial use is MegaFixels. MegaFixels is a professional online photo editing service available for anyone and anywhere. We will edit photos for you per your instruction. The best part is no financial information is required from visitors until they view the edited photo and decide to purchase it. If you don't like it, you don't have to buy it. NO OBLIGATION.

  4. One reason why I don't HDR alot and prefer strobes. I know with strobes at least when I leave the location I have a workable shot. Sometimes though, HDR is almost the only choice in some difficult spaces..

  5. Larry,

    You are completely correct. The "smoke-damage look" is unacceptable. Yet, I see quite a bit on it around, and find it hard to beleive that a professional photographer will actually hand clients images that look that way. More surpringly, clients are willing to pay for it.
    I guess it's more of the "it's good enough" era that we are currently living in

    While HDR has it's place in some cases, rarely will it look "right" when shooting interiors.

    I agree, Fusion does a much better job than HDR, especially if an image is properly exposed from the start. Done properly post production time is minimal.

    Still, multiple exposures (just like I used to do in "old days" on 4x5 film), properly blended in post, is at times the only practical way of getting some shots. But, when you have 4+ stops of dynamic range, add properly filtered strobes.



  6. HDR is in its infancy, you would have to give it a few more years.
    I see more and more images with dirtiness, halos, etc creeping into Real Estate photography.
    I dont see much creeping into Fashion, High quality architect mags.
    Why is this??

    Is it a combination of poor Photographers using poor post processing? or just a lack of care and knowledge from all concerned?There are far too many people in the industry these days with little if any training, using post production to correct their errors.Learn to light, learn to shoot its not that hard.

  7. Can the amount be time be slashed in HDR by the purchase of a high End powerful computer? On a laptop with even 2 gig of Ram its just impossible. I went the multiple lights as a choice, but still in the end , I am not sure their would be much difference in final cost after the purchase of nine lights and stands and all the other bits and pieces that go with strobes. Both techniques need to be learned, Also , I guess some photographers may prefer less time onsite?

  8. Eric Clapton swings a standard. Who'da thought? Not bad, except for a kind or lame synth solo. Not exactly his forte, but pleasant enough.

    Anyway, so much bad HDR out there masquerading as professional work. It is depressing. A perfectly useful technique in its place. And HDRed interiors don't necessarily have to look dirty or grungy or garish. My guess is that most so-called HDR professionals don't realize that post processing can be especially important with HDR. My HDRs often look absolutely flat and boring coming out of Photomatix. It is in post that I do the creative processing.

  9. Charles - I use Enfuse / Lightroom to process all my interior bracketed shots and Photomatix for the exterior brackets. I was processing on a MacBook Pro 2.5Ghz with 4G of RAM. I found that Enfuse process was taking 3-4 minutes per set to process. I recently purchased a 27" iMac with the I5 quad processor, 4G RAM. It now takes only (sit down for this one) 12 seconds to process a set. It goes faster than I can as I work on the exterior shots while Lightroom/Enfuse is working in the background on the interior.

    Yes, the processing power of the computer has a lot to do with how many photo shoots you can schedule in a day if you are working on a same day to 24hr delivery.

  10. Terry
    Thanks for that. I read somewhere that the HPZ 600 High end woks stations pack a lot of power. Up to 24 GB (6x4 GB) DDR3-1333 ECC Unbuffered RAM 2-CPU. This I understand, positively rips through video files. This must be the way to go if you’re a pro. Probably cost you 5,000 Dollars but, If its time one is worried about then these file crunching machines would resolve that issue.

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