HDR in Real Estate Photography – Part I

Local, ex Dutch Harbour (yes, of the Deadliest Catch Alaskan Crab kind) Nelson photographer, Glen Bisdee says “Make First Impressions Count.”

Glen also tells me that after a few weeks on the boats (a 3mth on / 3 mth off type of arrangement) that a 3-4 hr sleep feels just as satisfying as a 10-12hr one on land in normal circumstances, and that by the time the 2 ½ month timeframe comes around the body starts to ache in places you didn’t even know could ……signaling a break would be good “real soon.”

Personally I’ve always remember being told once “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”

Both quite similar and in reality allude to the same intention.

And that intention should be uppermost in anyone’s mind when it comes to the photography of Real Estate. In Real Estate it’s so important to get this right before the marketing commences.

HDR is an acronym for High Dynamic Range.

A quick primer here.

The human eye is generally known to see at first glance a range around 10 EV, but with adaption up to 20 EV. By adaption I’m talking about a human eye’s ability to cope with a wide range of luminance’s. Look……others explain it a bit better than me here, here & here.

Or put another way by a photographer, in what I’d call plain english terms very well here…

The -entire- range of the human eye is quite large, as you say. In a pitch black room, you can see the tiniest light. Likewise, you can adapt to very bright light. But you cannot see that entire range all at once. At any given average lightlevel, you can only see about 3 or 4 stops on either side of the average. Think of it like this: lay a one foot ruler next to a yard-stick. You can move that rulers anywhere along the yard stick, but at any given time, you’re still only at 12 inches, whether is 1-12 or 24-36.

As a quick example, I’ll use my latest listing this week to illustrate.

From a series of 9 bracketed photos taken with my Nikon D200, here are the brightest and darkest shots taken.

From the bracketed photos I take what I feel is the best three slanted/biased to continue with, these three.

After HDR and some post processing, we have…..this

The large amount of blue sky, well its Nelson isn’t it? Actually it also helps for a new listing because their is ample space in advertising parlance to place the “NEW LISTING” tag without it getting in the way of any features of the property. Ans secondly even once that NEW LISTING tag goes up, there is still heaps of “experience” in the remaining detail. In other words it doesn’t detract from the photo.

On the day in question speed was of the essence to get the listing up onto the web, and as the weather was forecast to be inclement later in the day, I decided that even though the light wasn’t perfect that morning, “nows good.”

Your thoughts?

Now it’s not exactly cheating, the sun was out and it was a beautiful typical Nelson “near spring” day. Other than what I have seen some “retouchers” do, those are the REAL clouds you see too.

Cheating is when a photographer tries to remove power lines, TV aerials, etc and rightly so, this is not tolerated by the authorities for Real Estate photography in NZ.

It’s just that, courtesy of the suns angle, and with many homes having eaves, the range of shadows to highlights can be extreme, and often doesn’t show a property “as you remembered it” when taking the photo. In Part II I explain more about what you can do to experiment with this technique.

NB – due to the complexities of colour shifting when resaving / optimizing HDR JPEG images some photos may look very different than your finished image once loaded up on to Real Estate portal. Often the portal has its own software that will resize / reframe / rejig your photo, and so its sometimes a case of experimenting here. Even the expense a full blown colour calibrator probably wouldn’t assist in this.

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3 thoughts on “HDR in Real Estate Photography – Part I

  1. avatarRoss Brader

    Our photographer has been using HDR method but compare this photo which was a single shot:


    With this one which is an HDR:


    The first shot looks really crisp and very high resolution but the second shot using HDR looks “grainy” and not very crisp at all – just look at the leather couch which looks nthing like that when you are at the house.

    I notice the photographer uses a tripod but pushs the shutter manually each time so how could he possibly get each shot identical – ie could the camera not move marginally on the tripod?

    Also if using HDR outside and the wind is blowing what impact will that have on how trees appear?

  2. avatarDavid Leggott

    Windy days and HDR do not mix. Hanging baskets, trees, flags, bushes, anything that moves in the wind will definitely effect the merge operation.
    Same goes if you are near a road and traffic as in cars, boats, planes, people any sort of moving object in more than 1 frame will be an issue. Actually contrails look quite “cute.”
    The issue about graininess can go on for hours. It would be a whole blog post in itself.
    The compression algorithms, was the original shot in RAW, JPEG, TIFF, etc, what software program was used for the post production, 8bit vs 16bit vs 32bit, whether it has been saved in another format after that, i.e. does Open2view publish the photo as uploaded or do they like most sites, rejig, recompress, etc the uploaded shot?
    Overall one of the major causes of that grainy look as per the sofa example is that in the original on location shot that would have been in a dark shadow, the graininess there is a tell tale sign that it has been post-processed and attempts have been made to boost the brightness there considerably.
    When you mentioned the manual shutter, I would be real interested to know, was it being done by remote, timer or actually by hand?
    If he is doing it by hand that would explain an issue. It needs to be done via a remote cord or wirelessly…..and if you want to be really professional then the mirror would need to be “locked-up” – presuming as I am sure they do the photographer was using a DSLR.
    I could go on…..

  3. avatarCaroline Crick

    Hi David, great website with some good advice – I wish there were more agents around with such a good appreciation of the value of good images to their clients.

    I just read your comments on HDR and agree that HDR seems to offer a fail safe way of getting a good overall level of exposure in a room that has bright and dark spots, or for a south facing exterior exposure. I also think though that HDR images have a kind of other worldly look about them that is, well, not quite right. I do real estate work in Nelson and find that alot of the required post touching can be avoided if you pay attention to the time of day, the sun angles, and get there at the right time. Interior shots can be succesfully achieved using mutiple exposures, good photographic lighting to flood dark areas, and careful cutting and pasting of window lights between exposures. Which of course all takes time and is not always possible, but I would use HDR as a last resort rather than as an everyday tool! I use a delay timer on my camera to avoid camera shake, a perspective shift lens to get verticals straight and get into those awkward corners. It all makes a difference to the end product. Cheers and great website

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