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Using HDR for Real Estate Photography

By Christopher Kimball on December 16th 2013

Real estate photography, a niche that not a lot of photographers choose to work within, can be one of the more complicated types of photography. After all, houses are filled with lots of shadows, corners, and the most uncooperative or unforgiving things to try to photograph. Light is a premium, but some real estate photographers have found a solution by using HDR for real estate photography.

HDR Interior

The interior of this room was shot using a 5 exposure bracket and converted to HDR in Photomatix Pro 4.

[REWIND: HDR Photography Cameras Lenses Software and Other Gear]

HDR, or High Dynamic Range, images are emerging as a viable alternative to multiple lights or flash guns in a home. Photographers that have no desire to haul around and set up all the lighting are using HDR to create 3, 5, or even 7 exposures of a room and merging them into one HDR image. It can offer a great looking image with what some believe is a more natural feel to it.

In order to produce HDR images of a home, you will need a few things. You may already have some or all of these things, but if you don’t, none of them require an overly large investment. This list assumes that you already have a DSLR, lenses, and media cards.

  • Remote Trigger – You need to have a way to trigger the camera without touching it. A remote trigger is the best way to do this but you can set the self-timer on the camera if you do not have a trigger.
  • Tripod – This is not an option. You MUST have a solid tripod if you are going to create bracketed exposures of a room. If you move the camera, even a little, the shot is ruined and you will have to start again.
  • Software – There is some discussion in the HDR circle about this one. Adobe’s Photoshop software does produce HDR images, but the preferred software continues to be Photomatix Pro 5.0 from HDRsoft right now. It is cheaper than Photoshop and is a stand-alone application. It also offers a plugin to work with Adobe Lightroom.

[Tip: Click here for a 15% Photomatix Discount Code]

After you capture the images of the home, they have to be processed through your HDR software. The images, once merged, will result in a new image that takes advantage of the entire dynamic range of the originals. This will bring out details that were hidden in the shadows, tone down the highlights, and allow proper exposure across the entire image.


The processing takes a little longer on these images, but with Adobe Photoshop or HDRSoft’s PhotomatixPro, it can be accomplished pretty quickly. If you have considered real estate photography and do not have a lot to invest on lighting, HDR for real estate photography could be the way to go.

[Related Article: How to Become a Real Estate Photographer]

If you are interested in more about processing, I will be talking about that in more detail in another article. Be sure to come back and check it out.

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Christopher is a commercial and stock photographer based in Cocoa Beach, Florida. He specializes in shooting food, commercial real estate, and editorial projects related to food, sports, and products. His work has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and around the internet and his photography experience dates back some 30 years. Connect with Chris on social media or visit his website to see his work.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Robert Marcos

    For Ben to argue against using HDR for real estate photography is like arguing against the tide. EVERYBODY is now using HDR in real estate, whether it’s the pros or the realtors with their iPhones. The work being produced looks spectacular – here’s a link to my biggest competitor here in the desert:

    P.S. – thanks for the informative article!

    Robert Marcos

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  2. le griesmeyer

    It’s really good to see a David Lichtenstein blog:

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  3. Ben

    Umm no.

    HDR images should not be used for property photography if you really want to get a realistic representation of the space you’re shooting.

    Bracketing images? Yes. This is a must. But putting something through Photomatix or even Photoshop HDR blending is, well, lazy. Your results are going to suffer and although your clients might not know the difference as to them it will still look better than SOOC shot that an agent did themselves.

    However, if they were to sit down and compare your work to the work of a shooter who would layer/mask/blend images together they are quickly going to see that the latter produces a better result. One WILL look better than the other and well, no prizes for guessing who’s going to get the job of shooting for that client.

    Take a look at Mike Kelley, probably the top guy in this field and runs everything through LR & PS to get his final shot. SO, if it’s good enough for the pro’s. It should be good enough for you. Yes it’s a bit harder to learn the masking techniques etc but put in those extra yards and not only will you have far better images, chances are you’ll have happier (and hopefully MORE) clients to shoot for.

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