How to choose between HDR, Exposure Fusion and Multiple Flash for your Real Estate Photography

In the world of real estate photography there are three primary methods being used to capture homes in Southern California: HDR (High Dynamic Range), Exposure Fusion, and Multiple Flash. While the three methods and appointment and post processing times vary, they are each tools that get the same job done.

At Real Estate Web Solutions, we focus on the luxury market with the goal of delivering final images at editorial level. For this reason the only viable solution is a multiple flash setup where each area of our image is carefully lit. This type of work takes time, often 8 to 10 minutes to capture a single photo of a large space, but the end results speak for themselves.

Rather than bore you with the technical aspects, let’s take a look at the results. First we’ll start off with a typical Southern California scenario: A studio loft with dark walls, blinding afternoon sun and plenty of reflective surfaces. Here’s the room with only natural light, also known as the ambient exposure:

Natural Light (Ambient Exposure)

As you can see we have a number of problems. The windows are blown out, the detail is lost in the shadows and we’ve got a pretty strong yellow color cast.  Now let’s take a look at the HDR method.  By shooting 5 to 7 exposures we can send the photos through a piece of software and we’re left with the end result

High Dynamic Range (HDR)
High Dynamic Range (HDR)

I hate to say it, but I think the Natural Light photo looks better simply based on the colors.  The windows are slightly better with HDR and the shadows are improved so we can see detail on the two shelves to the left and right of the TV, but the color accuracy really kills the shot.  Consistent color will make or break a photo shoot for an interior designer.

Now let’s look at another popular method: Exposure Fusion.  If I was given the choice between HDR or Exposure Fusion I would opt for the latter.  I find the results to be passable for lower end real estate photography and the colors to be more realistic than HDR.

Exposure Fusion
Exposure Fusion

Unfortunately in this situation there is a strong haze left over the photo after processing with Exposure Fusion.  We can alleviate this to an extent by increasing the contrast, but it will come at the cost of losing shadow detail.  I believe a sizable number of real estate agents would accept this result.

Now it’s time for the final method, multiple flash.

Multiple Flashes
Multiple Flashes

Right off the bat there’s a lot to like about this image. We’ve diminished the ceiling shadows caused by the shutters, the color is very close to the natural light shot and the window exposure is greatly improved.  It’s a challenging space to light, but in the middle of a Southern California day on Beverly Glen, this is the only way to shoot interiors.

I hope you’ve found our analysis and explanations of HDR, Exposure Fusion and Multiple Flash to be helpful.  As you look to hire your photographer for your next listing, be sure to ask the method being used and pay accordingly.  If you just need quick photos and a 30 minute appointment, Exposure Fusion or HDR will do the trick in many cases.  But, if you have demanding clients who want editorial quality images, you’ll need to look into a photographer using Multiple Flashes.

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