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Better Photos Using High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photo Editing

With 90%+ of buyers starting their home searches online, it has become more important than ever to make sure the photos that buyers see are the very best they can be. While some Realtors pay a professional photographer to come in and take pictures of their listings, this can be extremely expensive and not cost-effective for the average home. Consequently many agents take their own photos… with widely varying results.

I’m a bit of a perfectionist so when it comes to photographing my listings, I’ve done some research and trial & error to come up with what I believe are awesome photos. I thought that I’d share with you the tools and methods I use to get the very best photo.

The biggest “trick” to this is something called HDR imaging.  HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and it is a format used to create photos with better color and contrast using a blending of the same picture taken at multiple exposures.  After my results I really believe this is a great way to improve your photos without spending ridiculous sums of money on high end cameras and equipment.

Equipment:
Olympus C-7070 7.1 Megapixel Camera (27mm focal length)
Wide angle lens attachment (brings it down to a 22mm-23mm focal length)
Tripod (cheap one still works fine)

Software:
Photomatrix Pro (retail $99)
Paint Shop Pro XI (retail $99)

First I use my tripod and the Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) feature of my camera to produce a total of 5 photos in quick succession. It is crucial that the photos are shot exactly so it is worth it to buy a $20-$30 tripod.  Not all cameras have this function and each will have slightly different settings… for mine I configured it to give the highest range possible, which gave me 2 photos over exposed, one photo about right, and two photos underexposed.

Overexposed highOverexpose LowNormal ExposureUnderexpose LowUnderexpose High

I then import the 5 photos into Photomatrix Pro using the HDR->Generate command
Then I use the HDR->Tone Mapping feature and configure the setting options as I feel fits the scene. These can change from picture to picture so it is best to “play” with them a little on each photo.

HDR Tone Mapping Settings

After I’ve got the picture the way I want it, I open the image in Paint Shop Pro Photo XI and click Enhance Photo->Smart Photo Fix.

 PSP Photo XI Smart Photo Fix Settings

Again I make the adjustments as I feel necessary and viola! An image that is correctly exposed in all parts, shows great color depth, and overall displays a much more professional image.

“Average” Photo
“Average Photo”

High Dynamic Range (HDR) tone mapped using Photomatrix Pro
HDR Photo from Photomatrix Pro

Final product after running through Paint Shop Pro Photo XI for some detail enhancement and better definition.
Final Product After Paint Shop Pro Photo XI

Another sample:

Source Images:
Overexposed HighOverexposed LowNormal ExposureOverexposed LowUnderexposed High

“Average” Photo
Normal Exposure

High Dynamic Range (HDR) tone mapped using Photomatrix Pro
Photomatrix HDR Image

 Final product after running through Paint Shop Pro Photo XI for some detail enhancement and better definition.
Final after Paint Shop Pro

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6 comments
Best Flash Diffuser
Best Flash Diffuser

What a remarkable difference between the pics you start out with and the end result. Can the same results be obtained by using Photoshop, maybe through picking and choosing layers?

Quqe
Quqe

I’m suprised you haven’t caught the fact that the building appears to be falling back

Aaron Dickinson
Aaron Dickinson

Most rooms and situations seem to benefit from the software. It is especially useful when there is a lot of change in brightness or contrast in a shot. By using the 5 photos at different exposures, you eliminate the overexposed and underexposed areas.

John L. Wake - Realtor
John L. Wake - Realtor

Nice photos! I might try that. When do you use Photomatrix Pro? Which photos are the prime candidates?

Aaron Dickinson
Aaron Dickinson

I hadn't noticed that and no one had mentioned that to me yet. Yeah, that's from the wide angle lens attachment. I'll have to keep an eye on that in the future.

Staten Island Real Estate - Chris Burdzy
Staten Island Real Estate - Chris Burdzy

I'm suprised you haven't caught the fact that the building appears to be falling back... I know it's just an illusion, but I've seen many listings (that have a hard time selling) in our MLS with pics that made the building appear crooked.

Disclaimer

TwinCitiesRealEstateBlog.com is not a Multiple Listing Service MLS, nor does it offer MLS access.
This website is a service of Aaron Dickinson of Edina Realty, a broker Participant of the Regional Multiple Listing Service of Minnesota, Inc.