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.
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?
- 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.
- It takes too long to train someone how to shoot natural light for 100% of situations.
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.
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.
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, the question you have to ask yourself, is do you feel lucky?
Enjoy the photos.