How To Edit HDR Real Estate Photos [Expert Guide]

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and is a photography strategy that many professional real estate photographers utilize to come up with vivid, properly lit, and well-contrasted photos.

The process may be a little daunting as it involves a few more steps than the usual point-and-shoot routine most are used to. However, with proper guidance and a lot of practice, you are sure to nail the HDR effect in no time, leaving you with a string of hero shots to choose from after each photo shoot!

Below we talk about why HDR is essential in real estate photography, the settings you need to be accustomed to in order to achieve it, and other tips and tricks of the trade.

Why Use HDR for Real Estate Photography?

HDR real estate photography is a great way to bring all of your real estate images to life. The concept is designed to maximize the amount of detail found within the brightest light and the dimmest dark of your images by taking multiple shots of the exact same angle at varying exposure levels.

Once all of the essential exposure levels have been captured, you then have to blend them together, which results in a photograph containing a wide range of lighting, contrast, shadows, and highlights. This means that the brightest areas of the photo will not be washed out, nor will the darkest areas be faded out.

More often that not, three exposure levels is more than enough to result in a stunningly vivid image. However, some photographers opt to take more to ensure no detail is lost in the process.

The reason why HDR is so moving is the fact that it efficiently mimics how the human eye naturally sees subjects. Cameras do not naturally compensate for lighting the way our eyes do, which is where the HDR method comes into play, as it is the closest digital process that can match it.

Lastly, the HDR process helps balance out the interior spaces with exterior views, which many seasoned photographers find time consuming and challenging to achieve especially when dealing with inconsistent lighting conditions.

Overall, it is an excellent tool that, when practiced correctly, can greatly benefit your listing.

Nailing The Camera Settings For HDR Real Estate Photos

HDR photography can work for both interior and exterior images, and at practically any time of the day. The camera settings you need to use will heavily rely on the amount of contrasting light you have to work with during the shoot itself.

With interior real estate photography, there are a few more factors to consider in terms of lighting because more often than not, multiple kinds of lights are present at any given space. A combination of varying lighting can give an unbalanced and unrealistic colorcast on your photograph. For interiors, we recommend sticking to the natural source of light, or bring your own external lighting to ensure that it is consistent all throughout the space.

For exterior real estate photography, the main factor to take into consideration is the weather. Both your settings and the equipment you can utilize will have to adapt based on how the sky is looking during your photo shoot.

In order to help you nail the right camera settings for your HDR real estate photo, we have prepared a 4-step guide below:

Step 1: Set the correct ISO and Aperture for your photo

To successfully bracket images into HDR, it is important that both your ISO and aperture settings remain consistent throughout all the photo layers. The sole variable that should change is your shutter speed.

The first step to getting the right ISO and aperture settings is to prop up your tripod and position your camera in the angle you intend to shoot from. Switch to Manual mode and affix your aperture to F/8. Your ISO should be around 100 to 400, depending on how much natural light is present.

Step 2: Now, find out the shutter speed settings needed per layer

As mentioned, you will need a minimum of three exposure levels to successfully bracket your images into a well-balanced HDR photo.

The darkest photo of the trio is meant to bring out the details in your highlights, while the brightest photo of the trio is meant to bring out the details in your shadows. The base photo in between will be the mid-tone shot that is meant to bring out the details in all other areas.

To determine the shutter speed settings of each layer, first find out the longest and the shortest shutter speeds needed within the image. This can be done by going to Aperture Priority mode, and then selecting Spot Metering Mode. These settings are in place to ensure your aperture stays consistent at F/8 while your camera processes the varying shutter speeds.

Point the camera on the darkest area in the image and take note of the exposure displayed on the camera screen. Follow the same procedure with the brightest area of the image, but making sure that this is not directly angled at the sun or its reflection.

Step 3: Time to take your photos

Now that you have your aperture and ISO set, your angle right, and the list of the longest and shortest exposure levels you need, it is time to capture the photos. There are two ways you can go about it:

The Semi-Automated Method

The semi-automated method utilizes the Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) mode built into your camera, and the HDR Exposure Calculator. Most, if not all, DSLR cameras have the Auto Exposure Bracketing capability. The HDR Exposure Calculator is what provides the shutter speeds and the number of bracketed sets needed to achieve the shot.

To use this method, first activate the AEB function while still in Manual mode and then set your camera’s shutter speed to the first value given by the HDR Exposure Calculator. Input the number of photos needed and simply click the shutter button, or your remote shutter release to capture the bracketed images.

Full Manual Method

In situations where your camera does not have a built-in Auto Exposure Bracketing feature, or it is your preference to go full on manual mode, there is still an easy process to achieve the HDR image.

Look for Single-Shot under your Manual settings, select the fastest shutter speed determined in Step 2, and then take the photo. Now you have your first layer.

For the next layer, 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.

If you prefer to stick to just the recommended three layers, take a photo using the longest shutter speed, another photo with the shortest shutter speed, and one more photo with the exposure set in between the two.

Step 4: Merge Your HDR Images

Once you have your images layers in place, you can import these to your preferred program to merge the photos into an HDR image.

There are many programs that support HDR photography and can easily merge the layers for you, namely:

  • Adobe Photoshop.
  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Photomatix Pro
  • Aurora HDR
  • Nik HDR Efex Pro 2
  • Luminance HDR
  • EasyHDR,
  • Affinity Photo Tone Mapping Persona
  • and  more!

How To Create HDR Images In Photoshop?

Adobe Photoshop is one of the leading editing software today. If you are more accustomed to working with this program, here are the steps you can take to take your bracketed images and create an HDR photo in Adobe Photoshop:

Step 1: Import your files

Choose all your relevant photos to blend together as individual layers and import then into one file. The base photo, or mid-exposed layer should be at the bottom, and then drag the other layers on top.

Step 2: Organize your files so your work process is smoother

We suggest arranging the layers according to exposure levels. While keeping your base exposure at bottom, drag your darkest exposure on top of the base and work your way up to the lightest exposure.

Step 3: Add A Layer Mask To Each Of The Image Layers

When creating an HDR image, you will need to take different elements from each layer and combine those in the finished photo. In order to do this, each of the photos needs to have a layer mask over them.

You can find this tool at the bottom of the “Layers” panel, select layer, and select “Add layer mask”.

Once it has been successfully created, the thumbnail over your image will appear white, meaning that the layer is visible. To make the layer mask invisible, hit Ctrl + I, to invert it. The thumbnail should now be black. Repeat this step with every layer.

Step 4: Use The Brush Tool On The Mask

Beginning with the topmost layer, use the brush tool on the areas that you want to make visible on your HDR photo, while setting the color of the brush to black.

Coloring the areas black makes the elements appear, while changing the brush to white makes the elements disappear.

You can also adjust the opacity, hardness, and size of the brush through its settings in order to make the applied effect come out smoother.

Step 5: Continue With Each Layer

Continue the process on each of the layers, except for the darkest layer, which is meant to display the outside scene, such as windows or doors. These will need a different tool due to their rougher edges that cannot be worked on as efficiently with a brush tool.

Once you are on the darker layers, use the Polygonal Lasso Tool instead of the Brush tool. Carefully select the edges of the areas you want to show in your HDR image, but do not include its surrounding elements.

For instance, when editing a window, apply the lasso around the edges of the bright window view, but not on the window frame itself or any object in front of the window.

Once you have the lasso tool in place, select the brush tool again and use it on the lasso-selected area.

Step 6: Use the White Brush To Correct Elements

If there were some areas in the image that were not meant to be visible, you can simply switch the brush color to white and apply over the area to make it invisible again.

Step 7: Save Your Work

There you have it! Now you have your freshly edited HDR image. First, save the layered image as a Photoshop file to ensure you can go back and edit it if needed.

Next, select all the layers and merge them together. Save this as a JPEG image, and now you have your HDR photo ready to publish! You may also enhance the photo more by adjusting its brightness, colors, saturation and other tools before saving as a JPEG file.

5 HDR Editing Real Estate Photo Tips and Tricks

Now that you have learned the fundamental way of editing an HDR photo, there are a few tips and tricks you can apply for next time.

1. Always take photos in RAW format

This allows you to capture all the data within the image without risking quality loss during the editing process.

2. Keep ISO low

It is recommended to stick within 100 – 400 for your ISO levels, but the lower the better. This limits the amount of noise that gets into the shadows and highlights of the image.

3. Align your shots with a tripod

It is recommended to use a tripod in all your real estate photography shoots, but most especially when taking HDR shots. It is crucial to have all your bracketed images be the exact angle to ensure the merging is seamless and smooth.

4. Use a wide-angle lens

A wide-angle lens is an important tool to have when shooting real estate because it helps bring in all the necessary details into one frame.

5. Do not go crazy with editing

HDR photos are meant to look lively and full of color, which allows us to easily get carried away when enhancing these values. Always ensure that the images look realistic and not overly done.

Wrap up

HDR photography is a simple and cost-effective way to get stunning images each time. By consistently practicing the above steps and taking more HDR photos as you go along, you will soon find that this process is as easy as riding a bike. Try it out today!