Real Estate Photography

How are photographers taking pictures indoors and the windows are so clear? A tip to creating real estate photography is use HDR bracketing and the right software to process the bracketed photos.
​What single photography software will return results like shown above on the right.That’s correct, no single software application will achieve results like shown above. HDR gets you close but it still requires a little tweak in Photoshop or fireworks photo editing software. The final image editing is easy and you don’t need to master Photoshop to do it.
Here is a photo without bracketing or HDR. Taken with a fisheye lens used to create virtual tours. It is blinding bright because to have the inside with good lighting you have to set the exposure longer time, which blinds out windows but makes everything else inside look great.


Here is one with bracketing and HDR

This is the same shot flattened out in the pre-final 360 pano and after merging the bracketed photos. It is much better but still washed out a bit. We really the vacation customers to see the beautiful gulf Florida beach outside.


Here is the same photo finished

There is no software that is going to be able to understand what is desirable in a photo and what is not. Software can only follow redundant instructions and hence the reason the beach scene was too bright with just HDR processing alone. What you are seeing here is hybrid of HDR processing and some simple, manual Photoshop work. Basically I create two HDR processing runs, one is perfect lighting inside while outside is a little too bright and the other is perfect lighting outside but having the inside a little too dark. This makes the photoshop work very easy and only takes 60 seconds or less to feather lasso cut the windows from the darker image with perfect windows into the brighter one with perfect indoor lighting.
Why can’t a camera just capture what is real as we see it?Answer​: Because what we see is not real.

That’s correct. What a camera captures is what is real. The human eye is actually a very poor optical device. The only reason we see so clearly with all colors is because the eye samples many low quality images every second. These are sent to the brain, the brain uses all of these images to produce what you think is the real world. A process known as sampling. In the end you see a beautiful world full of colors.
In order to make nice, realistic photos we need do something along the same process with cameras and software.
Using the camera, recreate what your brain does with the sample images.
We need to take some samples and merge them together. A very basic HDR would have, at minimum, 3 photos merged. There can be more than 3 and the more you use the more detail you can provide. I like to use 9 to 15. The samples are called Brackets.
There is also a increment of exposure time between each bracket. This is called the step measured in a unit of measurement called stops. A stop is just an increment in exposure time. The smaller the increment the more information there is for the final merge. I have found 1 stop is good and less than one just takes up space on your memory card with no noticeable improvement in your merged product. Here is more info on bracketing.

The bracketing range  most cameras is not very wide for doing nice HDR work so I use an add on device for the camera called Promote Control. If you get one of these make sure you get the one . This device will let you take many brackets at what ever increment you like.
If you don’t want to buy the Promote Control. That is pretty good and in hindsight if I was to start over with new equipment I would of went with Nikon over Canon just for that feature. Canon only does 5 brackets.
Merging your images.
Once you have the series of jpeg images you will want to merge them. There is only one software I highly recommend and that is Photomatix. Many HDR merging tools will produce a very surreal image like this one on the left. It is very artistic but for real estate you want something realistic looking.

Fusion vrs HDR merge.Photomatix has a blending function they call Fusion. For real looking photos this the only tool to use. It has less parameters than HDR blending and is easier to get a handle on. Basically you only have to set it up once and save your settings for the 3 blends you want.
You want one where the outdoor shots look natural and the sky is deep blue. Name this setting Outside and save it. You want another where the inside windows are very colorful and a little darker than brighter, deep in color. Finally another indoor setting where the inside is nice and bright but with no concern for the windows.
So is that all there is to it?Answer​: No, but almost there.
In order to get windows to look real like shown at the top of this post you need to take two runs with Fusion in Photomatix. One run you want bright but your windows will look washed somewhat. You also want to do a second run where the inside is too dark but windows look nice and you can see outside. Separate your outdoor shots from the indoor shots as you only need one run for outdoor shots. So in the end you would make 3 runs if you had a collection of indoor and outdoor shots. The porch and deck scenes are considered outdoors and not indoors.
PhotoMatix has a batch processor so you can process a folder of photos all the same which is much faster than doing each one individually. I can process an entire set of 5 condos in about an hour, walking back to the computer every 20 minutes or so to start my next run until all three runs are complete.

Experiment with the fusion settings and save them as your presets as shown to the left. You can see I have different presets for outdoor shots also. This will take some time at first but once saved you can reuse these and not have to go through this step again.

Now you have two fused (merged) images, what to do next?
Open the two image in a photo editing software. Photoshop is one option. I use Fireworks. I actually have the older Fireworks before Adobe bought them. Gimp is a free one but I don’t know how the feather cut works in that one.

You don’t need to be precise. Once you paste into your lighter image you use the transparency to blend in if it window looks too dark or unnatural. You can even do this where blinds are partially open. A good tip is to use the transparency to blend in those windows with blinds or may be a tad too dark. I tend to always use about a 80% transparency just to make the pasting job look more realistic.

The final product are windows you can see outside while still seeing the inside without the use of flash photography. Everything looks natural like you was standing there.

Hopefully this will help with your next real estate photography job.

This post was written by a professional virtual tour photographer.

Matthew Zachary

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