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The Radioactive Look in HDR - Does It Work For You?

Published: 30/05/2011
By: larry

Last week my wife Levi got a e-mail flyer for a new listing in Redmond, WA on Seattle's Eastside. She forwarded it to me as she exclaimed how this single little front shot made her want to go see this little cottage. This is exactly what front shots are suppose to do right?

While what I call the "radioactive look" in HDR has never been my favorite, I have to admit this little image has substantial impact to it even in thumbnail form. Much of the attractiveness of this photo is the cottage style of the home, the punchy red color and the fact that this shot is very well composed. That is, three-quarter angle, not directly from the front or side view.

The interior shots on this listing are done with the same "pumped up" HDR style. As a whole this style of real estate photography creates a cartoon like look that for this little cottage isn't all bad. After all the design of the home is a fun loving informal 2006 rendition of a 1930's design so in a way this cartoon like photographic style kind of fits the property style.

I have many real estate photographers tell me that this style of HDR is popular with some agents. I can believe that, however, even though the bright over saturated colors are attention getting I'm skeptical that this style will sell very well to more visually sophisticated upper-end agents. There seems to be a bunch of low end agents that really like this style of work and others that hate it. I tend to associate this over bearing style of HDR with low-end home and real estate photographers that are still learning.

I'm interested to know what people think about this style and what your experience is with how it is accepted?

25 comments on “The Radioactive Look in HDR - Does It Work For You?”

  1. I'm guessing you will get a few comments on this one Larry!

    Personally I just don't get the appeal with this kind of look?

    I don't mind HDR when it produces a nice effect (and it doesn't necessarily have to be realistic for me). Harry Bisel comes to mind with his older style, it was a very attractive illustrative style. I see some others that use it to great effect to get a really nice effect with their individual styles.

    But this look is just typical of low end shooters who just churn a bracketed series of shots through a HDR program with the settings cranked up.

    Yet every now and again someone says something about how appealing it is, and judging by all the groups on Flickr that congratulate each other on images with this style, some seem to think it looks good?

    Just last week I had an agent telling me how he had another photographer shoot one of his listings. It was a developer's property and they had an architectural photographer shoot it. 

    This agent thought I would be interested in this photographer's "special technique" of harvesting different exposures to get all the tones in a scene. 

    I explained to him that yes, many high end architectural photographers do mask in various exposures to capture a scene faithfully and I do that as well in a limited way for RE.

    But when I checked the listing the images were very wide angle and all HDR, comparable in quality to the images in this listing above.

    It must have had some appeal to the agent, because I was told that the office had seriously considered switching to this guy???

  2. I suspect the attraction is that this listing will stand out and get noticed. Being different from the rest, it will stick in a prospective buyers mind. Is the real question does it work for the client? I'm sure it will run it's course, be trendy for a while and then become 'not another one of those'. But then I'm new to this area of photography so my opinion should be rated as such.

  3. I think the photo would have just as much impact without the cartoonish treatment. What makes it stand out is the composition and the color ... neither of which are improved by tone-mapping. Imagine how much nicer it would be without the overdone saturation and the ashiness introduced by HDR.

  4. As an agent and amature photographer, I know that HDR is effective in gaining interest in a property on the internet. Industry stats say that you have 1/2 second to tweak someones interest and I think HDR does that. Personally I strive for more of a photorealistic look but I know from experience that HDR does help a property sell faster, and the bottom line of real estate photography is to help houses sell ASAP. Don't lose sight of that fact.

  5. A few articles ago, you pointed out that our job was to generate showings. So if the look does that, then it is mission accomplished. The agent is paying me, so I will try to discern and match their needs. Sometimes that is not what I would prefer. I tend to avoid HDR, but typicall make images pop a bit. I would not of presneted your example to a client. The look can be accomplshed with or without HDR.

  6. I have been photographing only high end homes for several years and dabbled in HDR when it first presented itself. I found it to be the lazy man's way of producing a shot with a fuller range of exposure without fusing with lights. I was unhappy with the look personally and ran into resistance from my customers who preferred a more natural look. I will still use the technique on occasion, mainly on exterior shots, if there is no other option due to high contrast situations but only if tone-mapping takes most of the edge off the results. Since learning better lighting techniques I have used HDR only rarely and find I produce a better, more universally acceptable product. (Thanks to Mr. Hargus for his priceless workshop several years ago!). I firmly agree that high end customers do not go for the HDR look. By the way, I think HDR produces terrible scenics also. Can't believe the number of pros who are producing this other-worldly stuff and getting it published!

  7. Mark Bolton got it right with the mini skirt and high heels analogy. HDR photographic style is very fashionable right now. It probably helps that this look is easy to produce. In a way it's easier than straight photography. Color accuracy is out the window and noise, rather than being a flaw, can be a plus.

    It sells. I recently sent to an editor several carefully crafted images and one HDR image I threw together in 10 minutes. Guess which one he liked.

  8. Not only do I personally not like it, there are some ethical issues that come into play.

    There are already a couple of Boards of Realtors that frown upon heavy HDR, because it does not depict a property the way it actually looks. There is also currently a Realtor in CA being sued for "misrepresentation" for the very same reason.

    If your attititude is whatever "sells", you had better be very careful - as all it takes is for one agent to lose a lawsuit (because of your images) and you can bet that "you will NEVER work in that town again".

    This is not advertising photography, where you have a very free creative hand. In real estate photography, your job is to take attractive, but ACCURATE photographs of a property. Sure you want to make it look as good as you can, but, "changing or altering" it (like removing powerlines, fences, public signage etc.) is a no-no. I think heavy HDR, changes things to the point, that it becomes very close to the line of what is okay (ethically, and legally) and seriously puts your clients at risk of negative feedback from buyers and sellers alike.

    Just my 2 cents

  9. George, heavy HDR doesn't look any less accurate than a high percentage of MLS listings taken by agents with point and shoot cameras. Many homes are almost unrecognizable from reality with interiors that are super dark or only a small corner of a room is shown due to lack of focal length. White HDR may look more surreal, I don't think you can argue that inaccurate colors are legitimate grounds for a lawsuit or even any worse than a lot of the amateur garbage found on MLSs.

  10. OMG... the entire set is AWFUL. Outside shots are oversaturated and glowing like a nuclear spring. Interiors are grey and dull and completely devoid of contrast.

    I use Lightroom and Enfuse for all of my blended exposures and the aim is to make the scene look real.


    I even set up strobes and do exposure bracketing and sometimes combine the Enfused ambient exposure brackets with the strobe shot. Again, the aim is realism.

  11. I think a few of the images would be okay with some more contrast, but I don't think that they look as good as properly exposed/blended/strobed/ images look.

    If the word you are trying to use for these photos is striking (not necessarily in a good way) then the photographer succeeded. Striking does get a potential buyer to look longer or take a second look at the photos and that is a good thing.

    If the word you are trying to use for these photos is good then I don't think the photographer succeeded.

    They are better than typical agent P&S images however.

    I personally think non HDR with fill light from strobes and a little extra saturation to pump the colors is a much better approach and tends to make more striking (in a good way) image. Hand blended exposures can also qualify, but not like the ones in this shoot.

    However, to the untrained (read buyers and agents) eye, these photos would look much better than the typical image they are used to seeing...

  12. These images look like my first HDR images before I learned how to control Photomatix. It took reading a book and a lot of experimenting to understand all those settings and how to achieve a realistic look. I don't think it's a question of "HDR is bad" or "HDR is good," but of how it is used.

  13. Funny this came up. I was in Yosemite park taking a picture of the chapel in the valley. I did not use a tripod and it was evident when I got back to the camper as things were out of focus. Instead of trashing it, I used photomatix for an hdr look and it did look artsy when I finished. I then sent it to everybody in my email list and waited for the replies. Only one person said" it looks fake", all other replies were very positive, including " put that on a greeting card", even though I left the extension cord they were using for remodeling in the picture ! It may be hdr is still so new to the masses that is is acceptable to most, up to a certain "cartoonish" point.

  14. My feeling is if the customer is happy it's all good.

    There are a ton of photographers out in the marketplace and we all have are own segment of the market. If the photographer who produced those images have happy customers who are we to argue? I agree we should be to be mindful of not misrepresenting the property. However,uUnlike what people have mentioned above this is advertising, period. I agree with the idea of not photoshopping out power lines, holes in walls, etc, but overall anything we can do to make the place look interesting and worth a buyer taking a look at is fair game. Need to shoot from a weird angle to not show the hole in the floor? No problem. Not going to shoot the back yard with no grass? Sure. So we misrepresent all the time. It is a matter of degrees.

    If the photos were produced in black and white would anyone say they were misrepresenting the property? Does using flash instead of HDR misrepresent the property? I mean, there have been two or three posts in the last month about sky replacement... doesn't that misrepresent the property?

  15. Ahh yes, the overdone HDR! I am sooo guilty of this in the past. I have since moved to multiple strobes, coupled with a seperate exposure for windows and such, 15% graycard, you get the idea. Realism is key to me. With that said, we have to realize we are in a service industry and it is up to what the client wants and needs. I shoot mostly portraits and have started to only show the shots I deem acceptable for clients to choose from because, without fail, the non photographer will pick your worst photo every time!
    I shoot the exterior in HDR but am finding I can get just as close with some adjustments in Camera RAW and Photoshop. To me it dirties the walls, floors, etc. It may be using natural light, but that natural light is both mixed, (tungsten/florescent/natural) and coming from only a few direct areas. I would much rather spread light around.
    I don't want to open a whole can of worms about HDR misrepresenting but isn't it fair to say a camera, doesn't capture the same way our eyes do anyways? The dynamic range of an image sensor is no where near as capable as our very own eyes. So who is to say that camera even has the possibly to "correctly represent" what is real life?

  16. As a REALTOR(R) I can't be happy with anything that distorts or hides the truth.... or appears to possibly. With this amount of alteration, were there power lines edited out? Are there blemishes that have been "corrected".... after all, this graphic HAS OBVIOUSLY been altered.

    If you want a piece of art, great. Watercolors sell too.

  17. This photo is hideous: it's a simple matter to get a nice angle and popping saturated colors without putting C4 in it and lighting the fuse.

  18. it all comes down again to the fact that pictures are marketing materials not official documents...yes we must not alter actual power lines, but what does cropping do? exactly the same thing... Yes, it accomplishes the same goal but with "plausible deniability". So i belive we all need to be a blend of the actual and the artistic and not strict interpretation. A deed is black and white, as well as other disclosures as to who represents who. Photography is an art form with to many many variabilities and viewers trying to get only what they want out of the pictures, this we can't control. I believe the rules should state that only pictures that are verified by the realtor should be used as the so called "document", if that rule is used then it follows. You can't have it both state it and then you can hold reators accountable.... just my opinion.
    if strict interpretation was used for every picture in advertizing, litigation would run rampant. remember lawyers make money on strict interpretation not common sense, so i would be careful and state major changes in the picture. "Law is for lawyers not for justice"...right OJ? so disclose and have fun with your Pictures (oops I mean marketing)

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