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HDR is an editing process that balances shadows and highlights, especially for interior photography. If you've never done HDR photos and don't understand this type of presentation, we're going to discuss how to do HDR, when to use it, as well as situations where HDR real estate photography looks bad.
In photography, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, which is a type of editing process that involves combining bracketed photos with multiple exposures to broaden the difference between the darkest and lightest spots.
There are times when no matter how many times you adjust the camera settings, you won't be able to capture all the highlights and shadows in one photo. Utilizing the best HDR software, you can blend several pictures with varying exposure to get all details clearly.
You may see that some MLS photos have pastel-like colors,making them look unreal and give a false impression of an interior or a property.
Stereotypical HDRs show cartoon-like, oversaturated images. While stereotypical HDRs result in well-lit and artistic photos, the cartoon-like, oversaturated images would differ from the actual property's appearance.
Better than a stereotypical HDR image, naturally-blended HDRs provide an accurate representation of an interior by maintaining the original colors and details while only enhancing the brightness and accentuating shadows. An Arizona flat fee realtor shares that when photos look overly edited, potential home buyers can become skeptical of the listing and wonder how accurately the home is listed online. While some HDR is good, you don't want to overdo it.
Over the years, most top real estate photographers have moved beyond simple HDR. Some use HDR/Flash hybrid or have moved to LR/Enfuse, which looks more realistic than HDR photography.
Why Use HDR for Real Estate Photography?
The primary objective for using HDR in real estate photography is for the human eyes to see a property through one photo accurately. Aside from that, there are many advantages to why a high dynamic range is a suitable technique for photographers.
Save highlights and balance shadows: It can be challenging balancing the highlights when shooting interior spaces with exterior views. For example, photographing a bedroom with a window view may have multiple light sources. With HDR, you can preserve the contours from window light while retaining the room's vibrant colors.
Increased details: As opposed to shooting with a single exposure, HDR prevents you from losing image detail for important elements like fixtures or furniture. Likewise, you can enhance textures for sharpness and greater clarity.
Overcome tricky lighting conditions: There are times when combining ambient light and external lights can create complex lighting. Better than spending too long adjusting your lighting, HDR composites can counteract high contrast lighting in one image.
Downsides of HDR Photography
While a high dynamic range has benefits, it also comes with some disadvantages.
Time-consuming: Unlike basic retouching, blending brackets into one photo takes a lot of time and patience, especially during your first few tries.
Requires particular tools: As opposed to point-and-shoot cameras, some dedicated cameras or DSLRs have a bracketing feature or the automation of multiple exposures. You would also need post-processing tools like Photoshop to blend images.
Tendency to look fake: While it can be easy to fall into the rabbit hole of heavy editing, this, unfortunately, results in unrealistic details, colors, and vibrancy.
Considerations Before Doing HDR in Real Estate Photography
HDR photography can be a good and beneficial thing for your real estate work when you have the right equipment, use the appropriate settings, and edit using the appropriate HDR software. With that said, consider these factors before you think of bracketing an HDR image.
Camera: It's ideal to choose a type of camera with a built-in bracketing mode to ensure that you get different exposures without sacrificing quality. In addition, it would be helpful if the camera has a full-frame sensor that can adapt to low-light conditions.
Wide angle lens: A wide angle lens with a focal range of around 16mm to 34mm is perfect for capturing the whole room in the frame.
Flash: There are times when natural light won't be enough, yet a flash can further illuminate the scene.
Tripod: Since you have to blend at least 5 shots of the same scene, the photos must be as closely aligned as possible. When using a tripod, you can keep the camera and flash stable. A tripod can also retain the same height even as you control the camera's direction.
Remote trigger: Bracketing while handheld may cause motion blur, compromising the quality of your shots. Use a remote trigger to fire the shutter to ensure perfect alignment between all exposures of your frames.
Aperture: In general, real estate photography requires keeping the aperture wide open so that you can let in more light. Choose the manual mode, then set the aperture between f/7.1 to f/16.
Shutter speed: You would have more flexibility in shutter speed as this may depend on the aperture. However, shutter speeds between 1/60 and 1/2 of a second are best for bracketed images.
ISO: If you can't keep the ISO to around 100 to 400, you won't get sharp and clear details. Going beyond that may result in image noise.
Like in other kinds of photography, using an editing program is one of the best photography tips to see if a technique would work or not.
Hence, you must consider if you can use a photo editing software to create a realistic yet enticing HDR image. Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom are the most common programs for combining HDR real estate photos. You can also use applications such as Aurora HDR or Photomatix to merge bracketed pictures.
How to Determine If a Situation Is Suitable for HDR Photography
While HDR is an excellent technique, you must also keep in mind that it isn't suitable for all situations. Consequently, this can help you see whether HDR is good or bad for your real estate shoots.
When to Use HDR for Real Estate Photography
Rather than wasting time choosing between an interior that's too bright, or an exterior that's too dark, HDR photography is a better solution to attain balanced exposure for both.
HDR photography is best used when a scene's contrast exceeds the range of your camera. For instance, you want to maintain a house's color and detail under the lights while also keeping other areas like pathways and patio a bit darker.
Even a small room can get light from windows, doors, and fixtures. If you need consistent lighting and tones throughout the composition, using HDR can lower highlights, increase shadows, balance the brightness of lights, and keep shadow casts.
When Not to Use HDR Real Estate Photography
HDR photography can look terrible if you use it in the following situations:
Low contrast shooting: HDR won't do well with low-contrast scenes because they don't have varying exposures.
Silhouettes: Avoid using HDR when you need silhouettes because you would end up with really dark or pure black subjects with no detail.
When you want to remove all shadows: Shadows can bring shapes, dimensions, and depth to your compositions. In this way, you can also add drama or mystery to real estate pictures. Since you'll be shooting using various light sources, your images must retain shadows.
When you need to include people or animals: It's a bad idea to incorporate HDR photography when you need to take pictures of properties with people or animals. Skin tones may not blend well, or body parts won't match.
Creating High Dynamic Range Photos in Photoshop
There are several post-processing methods for creating an HDR look. The most popular technique nowadays is compositing, also called exposure blending, or just blending in Photoshop. Here are a couple of recent comparisons between compositing and HDR.
Import photos: Open the photos you want to blend as individual layers in one file. After opening the base image, click and drag the additional pictures into the Photoshop window.
Organize your files: It's advisable to put the image with the darkest exposure at the top, then work your way down to the brightest photos. The base exposure should serve as the bottom layer.
Add a layer mask: From the Layers panel, select the Add Layer Mask button. When the layer mask thumbnail appears, this means that the whole layer is visible. You can invert the layer by pressing Ctrl + I.
Make adjustments: You can modify the brush's size, severity, and opacity in the top panel. Likewise, you can change the masked layer's overall opacity to form a subtle effect for the whole layer.
Continue the masking effect: Continue masking until you reach the layer with the most different exposure, like a dark outside view. Instead of using the Eraser, switch to the Polygonal Lasso tool to select the edges of the scene you want to expose.
Do corrections: For a bit of tweaking, you can use the Eraser brush tool to continue applying masks, or the white Brush to erase masked layers.
Save your files: Save the layered image as a PSD file for the next time you need the photo. If you're happy with the final image, you can merge the layers and save the HDR photo as a JPEG file .
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Bracketing the Same as HDR?
Bracketing is a type of shooting technique, whereas HDR is the post-processing technique. In bracketing, you must take one photo with accurate exposure, then shoot several frames at various brightness settings to combine them later in post-production.
How to Take Good HDR Shots?
The right way to capture HDR images is to take a photo with even exposure, and at least 4 pictures with different exposures. The goal is to get varying levels of detail in each photo, with some having darker shadows or better highlights.
What Are HDR Real Estate Photography Tips?
Make sure to brighten dark areas and retain some shadows to give a more natural feeling. Also, do your best to keep the focus level similar on all shots, so you could easily overlap and blend the photos when editing. Lastly, take advantage of the camera's self-timer to avoid distortion.
Using HDR photography can become a good thing as long as it elevates the quality of your bracketed real estate images. It only becomes bad when done in haste or without the skills and knowledge.
I would recommend that real estate photographers learn to composite, although I wouldn't go so far as to say that HDR is bad because some photographers use it well and make it work for them. If you do use HDR, take the time to make it look amazing!