Real Estate Photography Basics, HDR Vs Flash, What Agents Need to Know | Flashy Photography
Are you a real estate agent who is looking to improve your marketing presence, impress sellers at your next listing presentation, and/or just looking to provide the best real estate images to sell you listings? If so, you may be wondering why some photos look better than others and what the difference is between HDR (High Dynamic Range) and Flash (Flambient) photography? By the end of this post, you should have a good understanding of the pros and cons of each methods, the ins and outs about each, and be able to better determine which one is right for your next listing. Read on to learn more!
In today’s highly competitive real estate realm, single exposure photographs are thing of the past and why your cell phone photos look amateur (even if take on the latest smart phone with the latest tech) when compared to professional real estate photography. Flash Photography and HDR photography are two of the most popular methods for taking high end real estate photos today. Both have their pros and cons, so it's important to understand the differences before deciding which one to use on your next shoot.
HDR photography is commonly used for taking photos of both interior and exterior photos. HDR captures a greater range of contrast of bright and dark areas and thus the name, “High Dynamic Range”. HDR shows both light and dark spaces of a scene more evenly to create a more consistently exposed image. The process of producing HDR photographs utilizes various software to combine 3-5 or more exposure brackets to create one final image. HDR's goal is to level out the light and dark frames into one. However, HDR photos can sometimes look fake or over-processed and usually is not the best option when you want to capture views from outside of a window.
The term “Flambient” refers to the editing process of combining flashed light with the natural ambient light to create a hand blended final image. In general, Flash photography shines when taking photos of interiors, as it uses artificial “Flashed” light to cancel out the harsh ambient light in the space. The final image created from this process looks more natural in color and without washing out the details while also pulling in details from the outside window views. However, this can also create a “flat" or “too perfect” look that some people do not prefer.
Ultimately, the best method for real estate photography depends on your personal taste, your brand, the property and the photographer's skill level. Everyone has an opinion on which is better, and you know the saying about opinions… At the core, each style similarly produces one final image that is made up from a combination of capturing and editing multiple exposures; however each method requires a different process for shooting and editing the final images. As they say, the devil is in the details. Here are some of the things to keep in mind with each style.
HDR Photography: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
HDR photography is a process that combines multiple photos (exposures) into one. By doing so, it gives the final image a greater range of contrast between the brightest and darkest spots in a photo. Simply put, HDR takes the dark spots and makes them more visible, and brings the bright spots down so you can view the details better. HDR photos are particularly useful in real estate photography, as they can help to show off a property with hard lighting in a more evenly/consistent final image. HDR method allows photographers to capture a greater range of detail than what is possible with a single exposure - this is why it became the industry standard for a long time. HDR photography can be very effective in revealing the details of a property that might otherwise be missed in single image photography. HDR photography is still a popular method that a lot of real estate photographers to this day as it is faster and easier to master vs Flash photography. A lot of newer real estate photographers just getting into the business and/or other photography professionals transitioning into real estate photography utilize this method. When done correctly, HDR photography can be a very powerful tool for showcasing a property with evenly lit light but does have its pros and cons.
Things you need to keep in mind with HDR photography for real estate:
The biggest benefit to the real estate professional is that it is quicker and easier for a photographer to get in and out and capture the entire property while on site in less time. The average sized home in Bakersfield can be photographed in about an hour or less using the HDR method. This can come in handy when you have a tenant situation where time is limited and/or a situation where the house needs to be listed asap. Secondly, the editing process is usually quicker as well because the first major step in the editing (the process of combining multiple pictures into one) is done automatically inside software programs. The bulk of the heavy lifting done via the software a program vs a manual hand blend (like the Flash method). This is the reason the turn around times are quicker too. However Quicker does not always mean better, and even-though artificial intelligence (AI) and the algorithms in these type of softwares have come a long way, they lack of finesse with the auto-blend in HDR photography. Lets talk more about that…
One of the biggest challenges of HDR photography is getting the exposure levels just right. If the photo is overexposed, it can look artificial and unrealistic. If the photo is under exposed, HDR can often look unnaturally "fuzzy" and even garnish colors in the overall image. It can also produce images with a hyper exaggerated contrast. Therefore, It can also be difficult to achieve the correct HDR balance in the dark areas.
Sometimes with HDR, the final image can look washed out and lose some detail. Other times, the features most effected with HDR are usually the major upgrades and selling points you want to highlight correctly. Color distortion commonly happens to specific features (ie wood flooring and kitchen cabinetry and dark colored couches, floors, and more) especially when a property is dark and does not have a lot of good ambient lighting. Think about how popular vinyl plank flooring is currently; In order to capture the best HDR image with these type of features, you need good ambient light. Also, The increased contrast and saturation can sometimes make HDR images look cartoonish or can make an otherwise beautiful photo look overly-processed.
Another downside of HDR photography is that it can sometimes result in "ghosting" artifacts, especially when photographing moving objects. This can happen with trees, flags, fans, and other objects the may move slightly from frame to frame in the multiple exposure capture process. HDR photography can also make some shots look artificially bright. This can create an inconsistency when viewing a collection/album of photos as a whole, where there can be more variance in the brightness from shot to shot.
Flashy Photography: The Shining Star, and the New Industry Standard.
Flash Photography, aka the ‘flambient’ method, is the newest style of real estate photography that is becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason. When good Flash photos are taken, the final images produced are more realistic and lifelike than traditional HDR photos. Flash photography can produce a higher level of detail. This is because ‘flambient’ process uses both types of light, Flash and Ambient, and then using the best of both light sources to offset shadows and highlights; thus making the image appear more lifelike and accurate. The result is a 'magazine' look that sellers appreciate and stands out online. The process itself of blending ambient and flashed light is done “by hand” by and at the photographers discretion, and in theory will have more finesse than HDR images that are auto-blended by computer software. While you may think the purpose of flash is to brighten a room (which it can), the main benefit of flash photography (specifically in real estate) is to capture authentic colors in a space and produce a well lit image that is not washed out and all while preserving the clarity and details in the image. These are the details that get lost in HDR photos, or that just can’t be consistently produced with HDR and why Flash is the new standard.
Flash too, comes with it's list of things to consider:
The overall images with Flash photography will be more cleaner and more authentic to what your natural eye would view. Flash photography also produces the best looking window views outside and should be strongly considered if your property has selling points to highlight with inside/outside views (for example, views of the backyard with the mountains in the background, or maybe the swimming pool right out side the master bedroom). Flash photography creates the best window views. With proper camera settings and flash techniques, getting window views from flashed light creates a resulting image that is 100x more consistent than what HDR can produce. The best way I can explain it is that HDR uses multiple exposures and takes an “average” approach, while Flash method takes multiple exposures and uses the “best of both” approach for the final image.
As previously mentioned, Flash is especially better at capturing the true colors of major selling points like wood flooring and wood cabinetry. Sometimes a cameras sensor and/or ambient light can distort the colors in wood features, and flashed light helps to maintain the woods natural color as well as bringing back clarity from blow outs of harsh ambient lighting. However, there are some drawbacks to flash photography that should be mentioned…
First, Flash can accidentally create false coloring to a space as well. This is because flash powered light can be difficult to balance properly. There is a “Goldilocks” effect with flash photography to get the final image just right. An unseasoned photographer can easily use too much flash that can “blow out” the images details on light colored surfaces and simultaneously create reflecting color casts that muddy an images true colors in unintended places. A prime example is with flooring that reflects browns and oranges onto white ceilings. Also, by not using enough flash power it can create a "flat" look and create noise in post editing when trying to brighten it up for the final image.
Second, unintended flash pops and hot spots are caught that sometimes can not be edited out. A well trained photographer keeps this in mind while shooting, but inevitably there will be accidents that won’t be seen until back at the computer to edit. Unintended shadows fall in the same category. Whether it's from a fan, or a chandelier, when using multiple flash pops to capture final image, sometime an unintended consequence is that it creates multiple shadows that trail different directions.These shadows appear unnatural when compared to ambient light frames of the same shot.
The third and most important thing for you as an agent to prepare for, is that it can take a little more time consuming to actually shoot flash photography. We photographers rely on agents as the intermediary to inform your seller of realistic time frames to shoot the house in its entirety (and preferably without the seller right there, hovering over their shoulder the entire shoot). While most homes can be shot in an hour with HDR, flash photography can take up to 2-3 times longer depending on a house’s layout and coloring. Specifically, darker homes are more difficult to capture correctly and thus require more time. Finally, flash photos can sometimes look too perfect, which can make a home seem less inviting to some viewers.
Nonetheless, Flash photography is a the cleanest way to showcase a property with all its details and with authentic light.
HDR VS FLASH Summary
HDR produces high quality results with quicker turnaround times and is a better “bargain for your buck” as you typically get more images at a lower price. While Flash photography produces clearer, higher detail images with more authentic coloring to showcase your listing in its best light to potential buyers. It also provides better window views to bring together your listings outside selling features and surroundings such as mountain views and pools. The trade off with Flash is it takes more time to shoot, more time to edit/turnaround this method to the client. Flash photography produces higher quality images, at a higher price point.
In closing, both Flash and HDR photography produce high end, captivating, real estate photographs to help market and sell your listings. Both methods will hands down look better when compared to single exposure photography. You can build your brand and reputation as a serious real estate agent by hiring a professional real estate photographer to capture and help market your listings. Your future clients will be impressed when you can show them your portfolio of quality photos from previously sold homes. Stand out from your competition and all the agents out there marketing listings with cell phone photos on the MLS. Take it from us, don’t be that guy/gal, people see it online and laugh. Be a professional, hire a professional, build your brand!
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How To Decide Which Method is Best for Your Next Listing?
We at Flashy Photography obviously recommend flash photography, as it's in our name, as the premier option if you have the budget for it; However it may not always be necessary or needed. There are a few specific scenarios to keep in mind:
If your house is really dark with little ambient natural light (especially in the kitchen or living rooms), HDR is probably not the best.
If you have a lot of wood, and it’s a higher end home, definitely want to use Flash.
If you have a tenant situation and/or where a quick turnaround is needed, HDR is a good option.
If the listing is not that well cared for, the seller doesn’t really care, but you still want high quality photos, HDR is a great option for that scenario as well.
These are just a few of the scenarios we recommend but it is always up to you as the agent representing your client to decide what you feel is best. If you have any questions about which to use, feel free to give us a call. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have and we would be happy to walk the property prior to shooting it, and making our professional recommendation.
Quicker to take photos on site and quicker turn around for the client.
Because it’s quicker, pricing usually reflects that as well as you get more shots for your money.
Ideal for tenant situations to get in and out and or to get your listing on the MLS Asap.
Helps to highlight features that might otherwise be hidden in shadows.
Produces far better results than any single image photographs especially compared to your ‘new-by’ agent’s cell phone photos.
Final image can exhibit distorted in color in part or in whole and exhibit too much contrast, thus looking hyper exaggerated or cartoonish.
Can exhibit ghosting artifacts and typically produces washed out window views.
Does not produce as much detail, specifically in exterior shots.
Inconsistency from shot to shot when viewing a collection. HDR is dependent on the ambient lighting of the rooms and even shots from within the same room can vary drastically.
Too much of the final result is out of the photographers direct control - ie whether and lighting. Relies heavily on good ambient lighting, and thus not all homes will get great results with HDR method.
For more examples of our HDR Photography, check out our HDR Photography Page.
Biggest Pro - The resulting photos are said to be more realistic and lifelike than HDR images, and in our opinion, better overall.
Produces authentic colors with greater clarity in the details
A cleaner/brighter overall image.
Also, helps to highlight features that might otherwise be hidden in shadows.
The final album is more consistent as a collection as a lot more of the variables can be controlled by the photographer
Better window views outside to highlight outside views and features of the property.
Authentically capture of the color of wood features.
Biggest con - takes longer on site to shoot and capture spaces correctly; And usually takes longer to edit and turn around to a client.
Flash photography can also create hot spots, grey spots and/or blow out details in sections unintended, like kitchens with white counter tops and back splashes or in rooms with wood flooring and cabinetry.
Lighting itself, can be hard to get right in darker rooms that create a fuzzy look.
Some think the Flash look is a too' perfect image.