Selecting a Real Estate Photographer (Part 4)


My HDR example from Part 3. Compare this to the HDR examples below.

Go to Part 1 here

Part 3 of this series examined the reason so many real estate photo companies rely on High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography.  HDR is often a business shortcut that allows national chains and franchises to overcome high photographer turnover.  It is also a crutch that helps novice photographers compete at all.

HDR is a tool just like a hammer or a screwdriver.  Unlike natural light photography that works in 99% of architectural and real estate applications, there are times when HDR is appropriate to use and there are times when it fails.

Note the dark halos around the ceiling lights and in and around the windows and door. Also, the verticals are angled.

In real estate photography, HDR is best used in interior settings where bright windows are an important element of the composition.

Period.  Done. End of use.  Full stop.  Put the tool away.

Any photographer worth their lens caps should be able to properly expose a single frame for interior shots that do not include bright windows.  Any professional photographer should be able to properly expose a single frame for exterior shots, no matter the mix of sun and shade.  HDR is the wrong tool for these jobs.

So then why do so many photographers, companies and franchises shoot HDR exclusively?

  1. They shoot HDR all the time because HDR has a unique HDR-ish look.  If you mix single frame photos with HDR photos in the same listing, the difference will be too obvious to overlook.
  2. It takes too long to train someone how to shoot natural light for 100% of situations.

The ceiling between the recessed lights looks stained. Walls appear dirty and spotted. Also, HDR processing smudged focus so that countertop, cabinet and wall edges appear fuzzy. There are no windows featured in this composition. HDR was the wrong tool to use.

Most people like rich, deeply saturated colors.  Natural light photography delivers those colors in a sharp, realistic fashion.  And natural light delivers these free of unnatural artifacts.

People often say HDR makes objects in the composition look ‘plastic’.  They object to halos, unnatural colors (usually orange/green tints) and false texture.  HDR can make clean carpets and furniture look dirty.  It can make fabrics and draperies look like the ends are burned.

Are the curtains really that dirty? Was the bedspread charred in a fire? What’s up with that grimy lamp shade in the foreground? Why are the table lamps off?

When evaluating a real estate photographer, ask if they rely on HDR.  If yes, the next question is do they use HDR on every shot or only in certain situations.  Ask them if they do their own post processing or if others process their images at the home office.

Look at their portfolio with special emphasis on interiors with bright windows.  Does the view out the window look natural?  Are there halos and artifacts? Does their HDR make the house look bright and inviting, or does it add strange shadows and orange/green tints?

HDR has a nasty habit of revealing specks of dust on the camera’s image sensor, too.

Is the carpet dirty or are those HDR artifacts? How about the recliner and the window treatment? Although they may be too small to see in this thumbnail, dust specks on the camera’s image sensor are visible on the wall between the piano and the right edge, above the electric socket. One dust spot is also visible on the far left between the bottom left corner of the picture frame and the side of the photo. Click on the photo to pull up a larger version.

I’m not saying that all HDR will look like poor these examples.  What I am saying is that HDR is often used as a short cut to work around photographer skill and/or business process shortcomings.  Do you want to rely on someone who must use failure-prone shortcuts to get the job done?

HDR adds an exciting level of uncertainty to your photo assignment.  To paraphrase Dirty Harry, if you decide to go with a photographer that promises HDR you have to ask yourself, do you feel lucky?

How many high-end architectural journals and glossy lifestyle magazines use HDR photos in feature stories?  Hardly any.  They all use natural light techniques – the ones I use.

Ok, where do we start? HDR halos around the lights. The yellow-green tint combined with fuzzy detail gives this bathroom a dirty feel. Cabinets and mirrors are tilted right instead of vertical. For bonus points, the camera that took this photo is visible in the lower left of the left side mirror.

Remember – a 2016 study of over 1 million home sales proved listings that can be described as having “natural light” sell faster.

In the final installment of this series, we’ll see the full benefit of natural light photography.

Enjoy the photos.  Click here for Part 5.

An example of why you don’t use HDR for exteriors. Since HDR photos are made from several different exposures taken a few seconds apart, elements of the composition may move in between and during shots. We call this ‘ghosting’. In this case, the clouds moved between each exposure giving the sky a vibrating look. The leaves on the near left moved between shots. Who ever did the HDR processing failed to click the de-ghosting switch. Finally, the verticals on the home and garage are tilted. Click the photo for a larger version.


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