HDR Photography Isn't About Misleading Advertising

Education & Training with RealtySoft.com Chief Evangelist 15067

HDR is High Dynamic Range photography.  There are a number of real estate related sites that have mentioned HDR, some criticizing it as over-enhancement of images that mislead the viewer who will see something very different when they actually visit a home.  While there are a great many things you can do with HDR software to enhance and even change a photo dramatically, I use it for the range of exposures that gives me better interior shots.  You know the problems with lighting, and shooting toward bright windows.  Those problems go away with HDR.

Basically, HDR is taking three or more shots across a spread of exposures, most commonly 1 stop on each side of the normal exposure.  So, the center shot is normal, one shot is darker and the other lighter, as -1, 0, +1.  The darker exposure shot will allow a better view through that bright window, with the interior going very dark.  The brighter shot will bring out the darker areas of the interior, but the window will be blown out.  It's the merging of the three with software that makes an HDR image and one that lets the photo show more like what the human eye sees.  I like to take five shots each 3/4 stop apart, thus -1.5, -.75, 0, +.75, +1.5

There is an HDR group on Flickr, so I grabbed some shots that allow use with attribution. Clicking on them will take you to Flickr.  Here is an example shot.

Room Interior, Marriott Chateau Champlain


Without HDR, you'd either get a very bright window to see the interior curtains, or you'd get a normal look through the window, but the curtains would be totally dark.  The merging of the images allows everything to be visible, though this image is still just a tad dark in my opinion.

In this next shot, the barn's interior is exposed very well, with areas back under the upper level showing good detail.  And, the sunlit door at the rear still presents a view of what's beyond.


Newry barn interior


In this next shot, we get great detail around the window and the view through it as well.  This one says it was done with in-camera HDR.  I have a Pentax camera that I bought because it will take and merge the images in-camera.  However, I found that I didn't like the result as much as doing it with software.  There are a number of inexpensive HDR software solutions, and I settled on Dynamic Photo HDR for $55, number 2 on this review list.  All I have to do is load the photos into the software, align them, then the software merges them to produce the finished image.

Waiting Room


Many cameras will allow you to set up a multi-exposure process, where you just push the button and all three shots are taken without you having to change the exposure.  You will need to use a tripod, as you must keep the camera very still.  The photos get merged, and any movement will make that merge difficult or impossible.  

As far as being misleading, you can do some really amazing things with HDR software, including making colors jump out, and grass greener, etc.  While I do some fun things with my personal photos, I try to keep the real estate images as true to life as possible.  It just makes the interior shots so much more lifelike, as the result is more like what the human eye sees, not the small exposure range of a single camera shot.

Here are a few more.  I recommend HDR for real estate, and we all know how important those images are in our Internet marketing efforts.


Sunset from Indoors



Frisbee Memorial_


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Peggy Chirico
Prudential CT Realty - Manchester, CT
REALTOR® 860-748-8900, Hartford & Tolland County Real Estate

This is a very clear explanation of HDR and great examples of what it can do.  Thanks for taking the time to share--and finding beautiful photos.

Oct 27, 2011 03:21 AM #1
Ralph Janisch ABR CRS Broker
Janisch & Co. - Conroe, TX
Selling Northwest Houston to good people like you!

Thanks for the info.  I wasn't familiar with HDR but now I'll bookmark and study up on it.

Oct 27, 2011 03:33 AM #2
Donnie McKinney
Coldwell Banker Commercial Purchase Realty Group - Paducah, KY
Donnie McKinney CCIM, Coldwell Banker Commercial

Thanks, Jim. That's one of the most fascinating things I've seen recently. I just took some pics of the most fabulous condos in our area & the windows are bright while the interior is dark. Hmmm. This will make them show up beautifully.

Oct 27, 2011 03:44 AM #3
Mark Delgado
houses for rent, Solano County & Glen Cove - Benicia, CA
Benicia and Vallejo, Property Management, rental h
I can't imagine why HDR would be questioned. The human eye can discern a much wider range of light to dark than a camera can. HDR simply allows a photo to align with how the human eye would have seen the view.
Oct 28, 2011 03:24 AM #4
David Eichler
David Eichler Photography - Daly City, CA

High dynamic range imagery (HDRI) is not inherently "artificial" looking. However, the process can be quite hard to control, and it is frequently used by inexperienced photographers who have neither the visual nor the technical training to use it to best effect. Furthermore, simply being able to record most of the detail in a scene does not make for a compelling image. Often, the ambient lighting in residential interiors is not of very high quality. Furthermore, photos for real estate marketing are often done in a big rush, without sufficient time available to wait for high quality ambient lighting; and, in any case, the ambient lighting will never be good for all parts of a building at any given time of day. This is compounded by the problem of mixed light sources (that is, daylight, tungsten/incandescent and fluorescent, etc.), which the camera sees quite differently from the human eye, and which requires advanced photographic technique to correct. The only ways to overcome these obstacles are through advanced Photoshop processing or the use of supplementary lighting (with or without the use of HDRI), or both, which are far beyond the capabilities of the vast majority of real estate agents or beginning pro photographers.  So, if all you want are informational photos, by all means use HDRI and quick-and-dirty processing. However, if you want compelling marketing photos that will show off a property to its best advantage and help you to reinforce your brand, I suggest using an experienced pro who demonstrates the ability to photograph interiors.

Feb 13, 2012 01:03 PM #5
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