HDR stands for high-dynamic-range imaging. While the history of HDR can be tracked as far back as 1850’s when Gustave Le Grey manually cropped and combined parts of a photo with various exposures into one single image, wide-spread use in real estate photography didn’t come into play till late 1990’s when digital cameras and special software made it possible for quicker results.
A stunning HDR photo is hard to achieve. It often requires between 5 and 20 shots of the same composition at different exposure settings and then using different techniques like tone-mapping or exposure fusion in Photomatix or other program. Some cameras have built-in software and can deliver an HDR image by combining 3 or more shots which the camera automatically takes at different exposures.
When it comes to shooting interiors HDR is often used by those who have limited knowledge about lighting with multiple flash units. An HDR image is usually taken without any flash. HDR is quicker to shoot, and the results are often good. It’s a great option for beginners. However, if you really want to create mood in your composition and make it look as natural as possible, using multiple off-camera flashes is much more beneficial.
Lack of flash in HDR results in vibrant yet quite flat images. A photo will look “artistic” because it will look like a painting, over saturated and not natural.
Our eyes actually do see things closer to what an HDR image looks like, but the coverage area we naturally observe with our eyes is much larger than a 5×7 photo. That’s why HDR images are much easier to take in in a form of a poster or billboard. Cramming every properly exposed pixel into one small image will throw our brain off. Another issue I personally have with interior HDR photos is almost always the windows come out underexposed, which makes a photo look very unnatural.
But there are times HDR can be useful. I’d use it more for exterior shots when the front of the house has heavy shadows. And also when you or your client do want that artistic/painting look for extra effect. However, shooting in RAW format will allow you to capture an extra stop each way allowing you to bring out the shadows and turn down the highlights all without fiddling with HDR settings. So, my suggestion to anyone wanting to produce great real estate photos – learn how to use multiple flashes and shoot in RAW.