HDR Real Estate Photography Tutorial

HDR photography is very popular among many professional photographers and it is a surefire way to land you a hero shot with each photo shoot. However, it can take some practice to get accustomed to and not everyone gets it right the first time around. It can be an intense process for those without the proper know-how or prior experience needed to achieve an HDR image.

Whether you are working in the real estate industry or are working on other kinds of photography, HDR will come up one way or the other as it plays an important role in bringing images to life. In fact, it is very popular in landscape and travel photography.

To learn more about how you can achieve HDR in real estate photography specifically, check our easy tutorial below.

What is HDR photography?

HDR is an acronym that stands for High Dynamic Range. This advanced kind of photography method is all about maximizing the amount of detail found in the lightest of light and darkest of dark found within your image. By taking multiple shots and blending multiple exposures together, you are left with one stunning photograph that houses a wide range of lighting, ensuring that your image is well lit, exposed perfectly, and highlights all the necessary features that your listing has to offer your potential buyers.

The multiple benefits you stand to gather from utilizing HDR photography methods make it perfect for architectural and landscape photographers alike.

The Importance Of HDR

Because an HDR image takes the best of three exposures, you are left with an expanded range of contrast and color. The brightest parts of your images will not be washed out, but instead be pleasing to the eye. The darkest parts of your images will not be faded out, but instead hold a lot of details even in the shadows. Lastly, all elements in between will have a solid blend of exposures that perfectly complement the image at hand.

HDR helps mimic how the human eye naturally sees things. Since a camera cannot naturally compensate for light the way our eyes adjust, the HDR method is the closest thing we have in photography to match it.

Why use HDR for real estate photography?

As mentioned, the main reason HDR is so powerful is the fact that it can very closely imitate the way the natural human eye perceives surroundings. It helps put emphasis on all the details of a given scene, capture it in flattering colors, and highlight the features it holds best.

It is also the perfect method in balancing interior spaces with exterior views – a feat that many professional photographers find demanding especially when shooting interiors.

Since lighting is one of the great factors that make or break a real estate image, bringing in the HDR method to produce the most well balanced exposure can greatly benefit your listing.

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

Realistically speaking, the HDR technique makes the image really stand out and pop in all the right ways – but it does not necessarily work for every single situation. It is a great method for taking photographs in highly contrasting environments and differing lighting conditions.

In order to guarantee that the situation is most suitable to use HDR photography, first check the dynamic range of your photo. Are there areas that seem too bright or too dark – or both?

You can further analyze this using the built-in histogram in your camera. Take a test shot of your scene and look for a visible clipping at the end of the histogram. If the data happens to fade out or get lost in either the shadows or highlights (or both), then you will need an HDR shot for the scene.

How to Shoot Interior and Exterior HDR photography?

HDR Photography can be applied to both interior and exterior shots. Like mentioned above, depending on the amount of contrasting light you have available in the scene, only then can you determine if it is the right situation to apply HDR photography.

For both types of photography, you will need to adjust your camera’s settings according to the amount of light you have to work with.

With interior photography, there is more to consider in terms of the types of lights available in a given space, and how many there are. A combination of these can create an unbalanced and unrealistic colorcast on your image. We recommend sticking to the natural source of light available, if possible.

For exterior photos, the weather is your main challenge. Your settings and equipment will adjust based on how the sky is during your photo shoot. Is it sunny, harshly bright, overcast, dull and grey, raining, or maybe nighttime?

To help you shoot HDR photography in both interior and exterior settings, follow the steps below:

Step 1: Determine the right ISO and Aperture for your shot

When bracketing shots to merge into HDR, your ISO and Aperture settings must remain the same for all photo layers. The only variable you will change along the way is your shutter speed.

You can determine the right settings for your scene by first fixing up your tripod, and positioning your camera at the angle you intend to shoot from. When on Manual mode, keep your Aperture at F/8 and your ISO between 100 to 400. This can shift depending on how much natural light is present.

Step 2: Determine the shutter speed needed per layer

Bracketing shots will need a minimum of three exposure levels to achieve a well-balanced HDR image. The darkest photo is what will bring out the details in the highlights, while the brightest photo is in charge of bringing out the details within your shadows. The base photo will act as the mid-tone shot, and is responsible for bringing out the details in all other areas of the image.

Of course, you may opt to have more layers that can gradually showcase each exposure level especially if your subject has extra contrasting lighting conditions, but having at least three should suffice for most situations.

To determine the shutter speed, first analyze the longest and shortest shutter speeds needed for your scene. You can do this by switching to Aperture Priority mode, then clicking Spot Metering Mode on your camera. These settings ensure that your Aperture stays at F/8 while your camera processes the shutter speed.

Once you have the settings in place, point the camera at the darkest area of your shot and note down the exposure displayed on the camera. Next, do the same with the brightest area. Keep in mind the brightest area should not be directly at the sun or its reflection, rather at one of the elements within the frame.

Step 3: Take your photos.

With your camera settings good to go, you can start taking your bracketed images. There are two main methods you can use when capturing photographs, namely:

The Semi-Automated Method

This method makes use of the Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) mode within your camera, and the HDR Exposure Calculator. Most, if not all, DSLR cameras are capable of automatically taking photos with the exposure levels bracketed around one central shutter speed. The HDR Exposure Calculator then provides the shutter speeds needed and the number of bracketed sets are required to achieve an efficient HDR photo.

To use this, you must first activate the AEB function while on Manual mode, fix your camera’s shutter speed to the first value given by the HDR Exposure Calculator, determine your number of photos, and then click on the shutter button, or a remote shutter release to capture the image.

Full Manual Method

On the off chance that your camera does not have an Auto Exposure Bracketing function or an HDR calculator, you can always maximize the full manual method instead. Look for Single-Shot and Manual mode in your settings, choose the fastest shutter speed determined in Step 2, and then take the shot.

For the next photo, you will want 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

Once you capture the scene with the given settings, your camera will automatically collect the multiple images in varying exposures. You can import these to your preferred editing program.

There are numerous software that are made specifically for, or at least to efficiently 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.

Once you have merged the photos in one HDR image, you have the option to further edit them but ensure that each final image is still realistic. It is very easy to get carried away with the vibrancy and stunning colors every adjustment produces. However, keeping the photographs relatable are what give the potential buyers more reason to trust the listing and feel better about the place.

Developing the HDR Photos

Once you have your multiple images at varying exposures ready to go, it is time to develop them. As mentioned, there are numerous software (both free and paid) that you can utilize when merging your HDR photos and further editing them. It all depends on your preferences, needs, and budget.

For this tutorial, we will be utilizing a photographer’s favorite program that is not only widely utilized for HDR techniques, but for all other editing methods as well. This program comes in both paid and free trial, which you can maximize to determine if it is right for you. It is ultimately one of the most convenient programs mainly due to its user-friendly interface and ability to edit by batch. We are talking about none other that the classic Adobe Lightroom.

The first step is to determine the photos needed per scene, and import your relevant images to Adobe Lightroom.

From there, you can make the necessary adjustments needed on the main image, copy the same adjustments over to the other images, highlight them and then right-click. Under the options that drop down click on “Photo Merge” and then “HDR”.

This activates the HDR process, where you can further Auto Align and tick on Auto Settings before hitting Merge. In a matter of seconds, Lightroom will give you an image that needs only minor adjustments, if any, before sending to your client.

HDR Real Estate Photography Tutorial Using Photoshop

You can also send edited bracketed photos from Adobe Lightroom over into Adobe Photoshop if you feel more comfortable working with this program.

Step 1: Import your files

Open all your relevant photos that you need to blend together as individual layers, but in one file. It is important to first open the base photo, then drag the other photos into the window.

If you are importing them from Lightroom, you can simply select the photos, right click, and hit “Edit In”. After which, choose “Open as Layer in Photoshop”.

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

It would be good to arrange them according to exposure levels. We recommend putting the darkest exposure on the top most of the layers,  then work you way down to the lightest exposure – but keeping your base exposure at the bottom.

Step 3: Add Layer Mask To Each Of The Layers

In order to add different elements of each layer to the merged photo, they each need to have a layer mask over them first. You can find this at the bottom of the “Layers” panel, select the layer, and click “Add layer mask”.

Once the layer mask is created, the thumbnail will appear white. This signifies that the whole layer is visible. To make it invisible, hit Ctrl + I, to invert it. If the thumbnail is black, it means it is successfully inverted. Repeat this step for every layer.

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

Start at the topmost layer. First brush the parts that you want to make visible on your photo by using the “Eraser” tool, and setting the color of the eraser to black. Coloring it black makes the elements appear, while switching it to white makes the elements disappear.

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

Step 5: Continue This Process With Each Layer

Continue to mask each later until you get to the one that is meant for focus on the outside view, such as windows or door frames.

These will be handled a little differently due to their rougher edges that a brush may not efficiently be able to work on.

For the dark layers that focus on the outside views, it is relatively the same masking process, except this time, you will be using the Polygonal Lasso Tool instead of the Erase tool. Carefully select the edges of the areas you want exposed.

For example, when working with a window, you want to lasso all the edges of the window view, but avoid the window frame itself and any objects that are in front of the window. Next, use the “Eraser” brush the same way with the other layers on the lasso-selected area.

Step 6: Use the White Brush To Correct Elements

If you have accidentally gone over some part of the image that was not meant to be visible, you can simply change the brush color to white undo the area of the masked layer.

Step 7: Save Your Work

Now that you have everything set, it is time to save your work. If you started this process by importing the files from Lightroom, then when you save the finished work, it will create a new layered file and automatically open in the Lightroom gallery. You can make further adjustments to the colors and other factors there.

If started the process in Photoshop, save the layered image as a Photoshop file first, and then merge the layers to save as JPEG.