HDR Interior Photography [All You Need to Know]

HDR (High Dynamic Range) Photography is a well-loved strategy by many professional real estate photographers. The technique allows you to capture a single subject in multiple exposure levels in order to blend the layers together in one, perfectly exposed image.

By practicing this method of photography, you are able to produce vibrant and highly detailed images each time. However, it may take some practice to be able to edit an image correctly. Oftentimes, it is easy to go overboard with the adjustments that the photo ends up looking unrealistic.

To prevent this from happening, we have gathered everything there is for you to know about HDR Interior Photography.

What Equipment Is Needed For HDR Interior Photography?

Contrary to what some may believe, the equipment and gear that you would need to HDR interior photography is as straightforward and fundamental as the ones used in other standard types of photography. You do not need any fancy tools to get your images successfully bracketed and efficiently processed.

The top 5 equipment you will need to land a good HDR photo are:

CAMERA. A DSLR or mirror less camera are both great for taking HDR images. The important feature you want included in your chosen camera is the ability to do AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing). With AEB, you get to take advantage of the automated process and have the camera take care of adjusting exposure levels when taking multiple images. All you have to do is manage the settings and activate the shutter.

However, if you already have a camera that you intend to use for HDR and it does not have AEB, you can still use that in this project. The only difference is having to manually adjust the shutter speed for the varying exposure levels as you go along, which is not that tedious of a job.

TRIPOD. Investing in a sturdy tripod is a definite must when planning to take HDR images. A tripod is essential when capturing high quality, sharp, and vibrant photos. It plays a huge role in allowing as much light in the camera sensor while actively preventing the camera from shaking.

Especially in the case of bracketed images, you will be dealing with varying exposure levels, which requires your camera to be as still as possible. If you attempt to take the shots while holding the camera, we guarantee a lot of details will be lost within the image, especially in areas that are too dark or too bright.

REMOTE SHUTTER. Another way to prevent camera shake is by getting a remote shutter. This helps you take images without the need to actually touch the camera at all, leaving it still and ready to process the image at hand.

FLASH. While a lot of HDR images may not need flash, you can further enhance your photos by combining a flash exposed layer with your HDR image. We discuss more on this technique below.

LENS. While there is no one specific lens meant to work with HDR, we do highly recommend working with a wide-angle lens if dealing with interiors. This gives the best area coverage and allows you to capture the most detail within a given space.BRA

How to Shoot Interior HDR photography?

When shooting HDR photography indoors, you must be mindful of the amount of contrasting light that is present in your environment. This is the best way to determine if you need to apply HDR photography and by how much adjustment of exposure levels,

For interior photography, you need to factor in the different kinds of lights present in your given space, they may vary in types, hues, and can be situated in different areas. This can easily create an imbalance in your colorcast and make your image look unrealistic or of poor quality. As much as possible, stick to the natural light, and supplement with your own flash when needed,

To help you get started in shooting interior HDR, follow our steps below:

Step 1: Find out what is the right ISO and Aperture for your specific shot

When you are bracketing images to merge into one HDR shot, your ISO and Aperture settings should be constant in all photo layers. The only element you should be shifting throughout the process is your shutter speed.

In order to find out what the right settings are for your scene, prop your camera on your tripod and position it at your intended angle. While in Manual mode, fix your Aperture to F/8 and your ISO between 100 to 400, depending on how much natural light you have to work with.

Step 2: Find out what shutter speed is needed on each layer

When bracketing your images, you will need a minimum of three exposure levels to end up with a well-balanced HDR photo. The darkest photo of your trio is meant to bring out the details within your highlights, while the brightest photo of your trio is meant to bring out the details within your shadows. The third photo is considered the base exposure, and it is meant to bring out the details of all other elements in between.

In some instances wherein your image has overtly contrasting lighting, you may opt to have more layers within your bracketing process. This can help really bring out all layers of details and gradually merge the exposure levels as needed. However, more often than not, three images work perfectly fine.

When finding out the shutter speed needed, first determine both the longest and shortest shutter speeds required to expose your subject. This can be done by switching to Aperture Priority mode, then clicking Spot Metering Mode on your camera settings. This combination ensures that your Aperture stays at F/8 while your camera automatically processes the necessary shutter speeds.

Once everything is set and ready to go, point your camera to the darkest area of your shot and take note of the exposure level displayed on the camera. Next, do the same with the brightest area. It is important to remember that the brightest area should not be directly at the sun or the sun’s reflection – simply aim it at one of the elements within the frame.

Step 3: Take your photos.

You can now start taking your bracketed images with the current camera settings. There are two main techniques that you can use when shooting your photographs, namely:

The Semi-Automated Method

This method utilizes the built-in Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) mode within your camera, and the HDR Exposure Calculator. Most of the modern DSLR cameras have the ability to automatically take photos of varying exposure levels bracketed around one central shutter speed.

The role of the HDR Exposure Calculator is to then provide the shutter speed needed and the number of bracketed sets required to successfully achieve an HDR photo for the scene.

If you opt to use this method, first activate the AEB function while on Manual mode, fix your camera’s shutter speed to the very first value determined by the HDR Exposure Calculator, set the number of photos required, and then click on the shutter button, or a remote shutter release to capture the set of images.

Full Manual Method

If your camera does not have a built-in Auto Exposure Bracketing function or an HDR calculator, there is always the option to go full manual method instead. You can set this up by choosing Single-Shot and Manual mode in your settings, applying the fastest shutter speed determined in Step 2, and then take the shot

For the second photo, you will need to decrease the shutter speed by one stop or 1 EV, and take the shot again. Repeat this process until you reach the slowest shutter speed as determined in Step 2.

Step 4: Develop and Edit Your HDR Images

When you are finally done capturing your photos, import your relevant images to your chosen editing program. There are many kinds of software that are designed for (or to support) HDR photography. These include but are not limited to: Affinity Photo Tone Mapping Persona, Photomatix Pro, Aurora HDR, Nik HDR Efex Pro 2, Luminance HDR, EasyHDR, Adobe Lightroom, and Adobe Photoshop.

After choosing your preferred program and merging your photos into one HDR image, you may further edit the shot to guarantee it looks as realistic as possible. When it comes to HDR photography, you can easily be swayed by how vibrant and colorful the adjustments can get – ensure that your photos are close to the real thing to maintain your potential buyer’s trust and your credibility.

Developing the HDR Photos

When all of your images taken at varying exposures are set for developing, it is time to choose your preferred software. When determining which program is best for you, consider your needs, wants, and budget in creating HDR photos. Also factor is if this is something you see yourself doing regularly over the course of your next projects, in order to better weigh out if it’s worth the investment in your case. Otherwise, there are many free programs that still do a decent job at HDR processing,

For this specific tutorial, we will be focusing on a program that most professional photographers have come to love, not only for editing HDR photos but also for all sorts of enhancement methods. This popular program comes in a paid version and a free trial, which you can make use of to see if it’s a good fit for your needs. Due to its user-friendly interface and capability to batch edit, it is by far one of the most convenient editing software to date. We are talking about the fan favorite, Adobe Lightroom.

The very first step is to decide which photos you want to utilize for your HDR shot, and import all of them to the Adobe Lightroom workspace.

Next, edit the photos as you see fit, such as its color and temperature – but do not enhance its brightness, shadows, highlights, and similar factors just yet.  Once finished, highlight the photos, right click, and under the drop down menu of options, choose “Photo Merge” and then “HDR”.

Before the HDR process begins, you can choose to Auto Align and opt in Auto Settings before hitting Merge. In just a few seconds, Lightroom will produce an image that you can further enhance until you are fully satisfied with the output.

HDR Real Estate Photography Tutorial Using Photoshop

There are some photographers who feel more comfortable using Adobe Photoshop, after all, it is the most commonly used photo manipulation software. If you prefer to do so, you may also send your edited bracketed photos from Adobe Lightroom over into Adobe Photoshop and use the latter to merge into your HDR photo.

Step 1: Import your files

Start by opening all of the files you need to use for the photo in Photoshop. Make sure they are in individual layers, but in one singular file. Your base photo should be at the very bottom of the layers.

If you are importing your edited photos from Adobe Lightroom, simply highlight all the relevant photos, right click, and choose “Edit In”. Once the drop-down menu comes up, choose “Open as Layer in Photoshop” and it will automatically send your files to the program.

Step 2: Organize your files so they are easier to work with

Arrange your layers according to the exposure levels. As mentioned, keep your base exposure at the very bottom of the file, with your varied exposures above it. We recommend putting the darkest exposed photo on the top most of the layers and working your way down to the lightest exposed photo. If you are working only with three shots, then the brightest will simply be in the middle.

Step 3: Add Layer Mask To Each Of The Layers

Since different elements from each photo will be used to combine the main HDR photo, each layer has to have a mask over it first. You can do this by going over to the bottom of the Layers panel, selecting layer, and choosing “Add layer mask”.

When your layer mask is created, the thumbnail will appear as white. This means that the entire layer is currently visible. If you want to make it invisible, click Ctrl + I, to invert the mask. Once the thumbnail is black, it has successfully been inverted. Do this step for each of the layers present in your file

Step 4: Brush The Portions Of The Mask You Want To Apply On The Photo

Starting with the topmost layer, which is the darkest exposure, use the “Eraser” tool to slowly brush among the areas that you want to make visible in your photo. Ensure that the of the eraser to black since this makes the elements fade in, as opposed to switching it to white, which makes the elements fade out

From here, you may opt to adjust the opacity, severity, and size of the eraser brush through its settings to create a more seamless and subtle effect.

Step 5: Continue This Process With Each Layer

Continue to edit each mask on the layers except for the darker exposure level that is intended to focus on the outside view, such as your windows and door frames.

Leave this first because these elements are to be handled differently due to their rougher edges, meaning a brush may not be the best option to work with straight away.

For these specific elements that are meant to showcase the outside views, it is generally the same masking process, except this time around, you need to utilize the Polygonal Lasso Tool first before applying the Erase tool. With the Polygonal Lasso Tool selected, trace the edges of the areas you want exposed.

For example, if you are working on one of the windows, take the lasso tool and select all the edges of the window view while avoiding the main window frame itself, and also avoiding any objects that are in front of the window. Next step, utilize the “Eraser” brush again in the same way with the other layers on the lasso-selected area. This gives you more precision when working with the layer and limits that area that you can allow to fade through the image.

Step 6: Use the White Brush To Correct Elements

It is perfectly fine to accidentally reveal elements that you did mean to. If by chance you have accidentally brushed over some part of the image that was meant to stay invisible, you can simply switch the brush color from black to white, and paint over the area to undo it.

Step 7: Save Your Work

Completely satisfied with your photo? You can now save your work.

If you begin this editing process by importing the photos from your Lightroom workspace, then when you save the finished work, it will create a new layered file and automatically open in the Lightroom gallery again. Once you are back on Lightroom, feel free to make further adjustments to the file such as color, temperature, contrast, cropping, and the like.

If you begin the editing process directly in Photoshop, save the layered image as a Photoshop file first, and then merge the layers to save as JPEG afterwards.

How Can I Determine If A Situation Is Suitable For HDR Photography?

While the HDR technique is a great way to make any image stand out, it is not always the best fit for every scene. It is best to utilize this method for photographs taken in highly contrasting lighting conditions.

To ensure that your situation is suitable to apply HDR photography, you can easily check through the dynamic range of your image. Ask yourself if there are areas that seem to be too bright, or rather too dark.

You DSLR camera should also have a built-in histogram, which you can use to further analyze the image’s dynamic range. You can use this by taking a test shot of the scene, and then look for a visible clipping at the end of the histogram displayed. If the data fades out or gets lot in either the shadows, the highlights, or even in both, then you can definitely use and benefit from an HDR shot for this image.

Adding Flash to an HDR Real Estate Photo

For some scenes, the wide dynamic range may be a little too much. If you feel that the contrast is far too great, then you can lower that range by adding some extra light to the darkest areas by way of an external flash.

First, you must determine the areas that need extra light and then position your flash accordingly. In order to prevent having highlights turn out too harsh, be sure to diffuse and reflect the flash to soften the output. You can achieve this by covering your flash up with a diffuser and then positioning it upwards to bounce it off the ceiling.

Having the flash bounce off the ceiling gives it a very wide area to reflect on, which can sometimes come off as too evenly spread out and lacking in depth – however, this is exactly what you need when combining it with your current HDR photo.

There may be some other areas in the photo that the light cannot get to, and you may use an additional flash to fix that.

Combining Your HDR Photo and Flash Photo In Post-Production

Now that your photo is properly lit, you may start to manually combine the flash exposed photo with your current HDR photo. First, take both your photos and open as layers in Photoshop, ensuring that the HDR photo is on top of your flash photo.

Next, put a black mask over the HDR photo in order to reveal the flash layer underneath. Remember that the flash layer can greatly help in bringing out all the lost details in your otherwise dark areas, and contribute to getting that soft, cozy glow all around the space. So your goal for this enhancement is to just that.

Take your Brush tool, lower the flow to 20%, and then choose white as your color. Start painting it on the mask in areas that you find the image too bright. This allows the HDR photo to fade in, and make your image look more natural. Continue on with all the areas that you feel bring out the best features from both exposure levels and seamlessly blend it all in.

Once finished, you can further enhance the image in Lightroom to ensure that all your vertical lines are straight, your colors are good, and everything else is in place.