HDR vs. Using Lights – Real Estate Photography


Many realtors really don’t see how much adding lights can affect the quality of a real estate photo, and how lights can produce results that HDR, or ambient-only light cannot, without an obscene amount of post-processing – and even then it’s not ideal.

HDR vs Using Lights – Example 1

With Lights:

Without Lights using HDR / Ambient Only:

A yellow tinge, and just not very crisp.

HDR vs Using Lights – Example 2

Here is a shot that I took using two lights.  I put one in the side closet on the right, just for a little accent, and one to light the room.  The window had direct sun coming in and was almost completely blown out.  By using lights, I was able increase my shutter speed to get the window viewable, and light the rest of the room which was darkened by the reduced shutter speed.

(this is not a glamour shot, but a basic shot just to easily showcase the differences)


A basic room with hard sunlight. Using lights balanced the room and made it appealing.

The second shot I used HDR, typical with most real estate photos, and the difference should be obvious.   Very grungy, contrasty, noisy, and not very appealing.   

This photo used only ambient light, and a commonly used HDR program. The results are…meh.

The paint in this room is very uneven and faded, and the ambient-only shots really highlight the paint issues.    

For more complicated rooms and luxury shoots, sometimes I use 4, 5 or even 6 additional lights to light up far rooms, hallways and furniture, and then I blend back in an ambient shot in areas to balance it out (aka Flambient Photography).

HDR vs Using Lights – Example 3 (Luxury)

With Lights:

Lights allow all of the great details of this room to come in, while still being able to see detail and color out of the window.  The table’s color and textures come out, and the staging work is crisp and visible.

Without Lights (HDR-Only):

This is a very typical looking Real Estate photo that uses HDR only.

HDR vs Using Lights – Example 4 (Luxury)


Lights bring out more detail in the fine wood cabinets and eliminate glare.  I was able to light the far room and hallway too.

HDR / Ambient:

This is a situation where HDR did pretty well, but still, there are color casts, white surfaces are turned yellow or blue, and there is glare on the wood.


Issues common to HDR / Ambient Only

  • Nasty color casts (often Yellow, Orange or Blue)
  • Inaccurate colors
  • Blown-out highlights 
  • Blown-out windows
  • Nasty, deep shadows
  • Much less detail

Learn More:

Real Estate Photography

Assessing The Quality of a Real Estate Photo

2 thoughts on “HDR vs. Using Lights – Real Estate Photography

  1. Pingback: Assessing The Quality of a Real Estate Photo - David Besnette

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