Tips for Bracketing Exposures to Photograph Real Estate

The higher the quality your real estate photos are, the more attractive they will be for prospective buyers and the faster they could sell at higher prices. To ensure you are publishing only the best real estate photos with crisp details and vibrant colors, we recommend using bracketing exposure to your advantage.

Using bracketed images is widely practiced for landscape photography and real estate photography. It usually entails using the AEB setting in your camera to capture multiple photos, and then applying the HDR technique to superimpose them together. HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, while AEB stands for Auto-Exposure Bracketing – with this method, you are guaranteed excellent exposure levels and defining contrast for your real estate images.

If you want to explore the world of bracketing for your images, we have prepared a list of tips and tricks to get you started and how to best go about it.

How Do You Bracket Photos In Real Estate?

Bracketing is the art of taking multiple images of the same subject at different exposure levels, and then combining them by taking only their best assets to create one high quality image. The final output will be properly exposed with balanced shadows, diffused highlights, and an overall well lit environment.

In order to achieve this, there are 3 main steps to follow, namely:

Step 1: Set up your tripod and camera to determine the right ISO and aperture for your scene.

When bracketing shots, both the ISO and Aperture should remain the same throughout the whole process, and the only variable you will be adjusting along the way is your shutter speed.

While in Manual mode, keep the Aperture at f/8 and the ISO ranging between 100 to 400, depending on how much natural light you have to work with.

Step 2: Determine what shutter speed to use for each layer

You will be taking at least three shots in order to have a complete set of images to bracket. The darkest photo of the bunch will bring out the details in the highlights, while the brightest photo will bring out the details in the shadows. The third photo will act as the mid-tone shot, which will bring out the details of everything in between.

In order to achieve this, you must first determine the longest and shortest shutter speeds you should use for your specific scene. You can do so using your camera’s light meter.

Start by switching to Aperture Priority mode and then utilizing the Spot Metering Mode on your camera. This ensures that your aperture stays at f/8 while your camera adjusts the shutter speed.

Once this is set up, first point the camera at the darkest area of your shot then take note of the exposure displayed in the camera. Do the same with the brightest area of the image as well. Take note that the brightest area should not be directly at the sun or its reflection.

Step 3: Taking the photos

Now that you have your camera settings ready to go, it’s time to take the shots. There are two methods you can use when capturing the images, namely:

The Semi-Automated Method

This method utilizes the Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) built-in your camera, and the HDR Exposure Calculator. Most DSLR cameras are able to automatically take photos with exposures bracketed around a central shutter speed. The calculator will then provide you with the shutter speeds needed and how many bracketed sets will be required.

All you have to do is activate the AEB function while in Manual mode, set the shutter speed to the first value given by the calculator, select your number of photos, and press the shutter button, or a remote shutter release to get going.

Full Manual Method

If your camera does not have an AEB function or you do not have an HDR calculator, you can use the full manual method. Under Single-Shot and Manual mode, set the fastest shutter speed in Step 2 then take the shot. Next, decrease the shutter speed by one stop or 1 EV, and take the shot. Repeat this process until you reach the slowest shutter speed as determined in Step 2.

How Do You Use Exposure Compensation?

Exposure Compensation is when real estate photographers override exposure settings that have been automatically set by the camera’s meter in order to further darken or brighten photos before capturing them.

In some cases wherein the lighting is extra challenging, the meter may overexpose or underexpose some shots, which can be easily fixed by adding or decreasing a stop. This is where Exposure Compensation steps in.

You must first be in a camera mode that utilizes the camera meter, such as Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program Mode, or another scene mode that is designed to automatically adjust exposure. Then you can find the Exposure Compensation on your camera, which is a black and white square button with a plus and minus sign on it. More often than not, this can be found either on the top or back of the camera. Once you have located the button, simply add or decrease a stop until your photo is correctly exposed.

How Do You Merge Exposure Bracketed Shots?

Now that you have all your shots in order, it is time to put them together. Most editing software support HDR and allow you to merge the results of your exposure bracketing into a single image.

There are three recommended software to use when achieving HDR, namely Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, and Aurora HDR.

How To Merge Photos Using Aurora HDR

Aurora HDR, as its name suggests, is specifically designed for combining images together in order to create an HDR photo. It is the preferred option of most real estate photographer because of its intuitive interface, straight to the point system, and user-friendly process.

It can even be installed as a plugin for Lightroom or Photoshop if you are more accustomed to using either of the two.

Step 1: When launching Aurora HDR, choose the photos you want to use for your image. Ensure that you are picking them individually, and not just importing the entire batch.

Step 2: Tick the Auto-Align checkbox. If you are moving objects within the image, click on the gear to your left and from the dialogue options, switch on Ghost Reduction.

Step 3: Your computer will then combine the photos together. How long this could take depends on how many photos are being used, the resolution of your camera, and how fast your computer is.

Step 4: Once it is finished, you can now preview your HDR image that you can either further edit or export.

How To Merge Photos Using Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop can also be used to create your HDR images. If you have Photoshop installed, you will most likely have Adobe Bridge on your computer as well, which makes the process even easier. There are two main methods when choosing to utilize Adobe Photoshop, namely:

Method 1

Step 1: While on Adobe Bridge, select the photos you want to use.

Step 2: From the drop down menu, choose “Tools”, “Photoshop”, and then click “Merge to HDR Pro”. Your computer will then automatically load the files and open them up on Photoshop.

Step 3: A dialogue window will pop up in Photoshop with the label “Merge to HDR Pro”. Here, you can decide whether you want to Remove Ghosts (which is a term used for wind blown leaves or moving water), along with other options to further refine the image.

Step 4: Once you have your settings fixed how you want, hit “OK” and Photoshop will start to combine your images. Afterwards, you can either continue to edit it or export.

Method 2

Step 1: Highlight the images on Adobe Bridge, and open them in Camera Raw.

Step 2: Highlight all of the images in the navigator found within Camera Raw, right click on your mouse, and choose “Merge to HDR”

Step 3: Your computer should then start to combine the images. Here, you can opt to Auto-Align and set your preferred level of De-ghosting.

Step 4: Hit “Merge” and once finished, you can export your final HDR image.

How To Merge Photos Using Adobe Lightroom

Last but not the least, we have Adobe Lightroom. Adobe Lightroom is a photographer’s favorite software for its many features and tools that make editing a breeze.

In order to export HDR images from bracketed photos using Lightroom, follow these 4 easy steps.

Step 1: Under the Develop module, highlight all the files you want to merge together.

Step 2: Right click and choose “Photo Merge”, followed by “HDR”.

Step 3: Lightroom will then begin to merge the chosen files together. Once it is finished, a dialogue box will appear where you can decide to Auto-Align and define the De-ghost level you want.

Step 4: Click on “Merge” in the bottom right to complete the process. You can further run through post processing or export your final HDR image.

How Many Brackets Do You Need For Real Estate Photography?

Knowing how many bracketed exposures you need really depends on the scene and how much detail is required to extract from each exposure setting. More often than not, real estate and landscape photographers find that working with three photos is a good basis since it covers all points: Mid-tones, shadows, and highlights.

However, if your scene is a little more unbalanced with lighting, you may need to capture more than three to get a fully detailed and vibrant HDR photo.