I recently bought a house, so I was looking at loads of real estate pictures. Most are simply informative pictures, and most are made with a smartphone. Real estate pictures can be fun to make, however, and when done well they can help sell a house more quickly. HDR is a great tool to make good real estate photos, but if you let your imagination run away you can end up with a picture that belongs more on a movie poster than the MLS. Let me share a few ideas to help you make the most of your HDR’s for real estate.

This picture is a little over the top for most real estate applications. It’s cool, but prospective buyers aren’t looking for cool.

Time of day

As with all photography, light is the most important consideration in real estate photography. It’s generally best to shoot when the sun is low on the horizon, in the morning or afternoon. But which one is better? It depends on which way the structure is facing. You should scout the location ahead of time and choose the right time of day whenever possible. Use an app like PhotoPills to help you understand what time the sun will be in the best position. HDR is often used because the sun is behind the building when the photos are made, but it’d be better to simply shoot at the right time.

Also, when the sun is low, the sky behind your subject is more likely to be a rich color. Pay attention to traffic patterns and try to be there when the parking areas are empty so you don’t have distracting cars filling your frame.

Shoot brackets

High Dynamic Range photography is best done with multiple pictures of the same scene shot at different exposures. This is called bracketing the exposure, and you’ll find a ton of articles on Photofocus dedicated to helping you learn how to do it. I used a bracket of five pictures to make this HDR.

Go for a natural look

When you launch Aurora HDR and open your bracket, you’ll probably find that the picture it compiles looks pretty good without any changes. Aurora utilizes artificial intelligence and even recognizes what kind of a photo you’re working with. It’ll probably suggest the Architecture category from the Looks options because it knows you’re working with a building. This initial image may be just about perfect.

Beware saturation and glow

No matter what software you use to make your HDR’s, nothing screams, “I’m an HDR picture!” like using too much saturation and image radiance or glow. Aurora has tools that will let you do it, but keep in mind that this picture is supposed to look like a real-life building.

You can see here the settings I used. You might want the landscaping to pop, but you don’t want the whole thing to look too cartoonish. Try sliding the vibrance upward and sliding the saturation down a little. Vibrance starts working on blues and greens first, so the sky and the leaves will look a little more colorful. turning down the saturation can help keep the reds under control. Alternatively, you can create a new adjustment layer and just paint the areas you want to have more color.

Remember to check out the Polarizer filter. It’ll only enrich the blues and give you a rich blue sky.

Leave space for Transform and Lens Correction

Right at the top of Aurora’s side panel, next to the work Filters are the Transform and Lens Correction tools. Use these to help your building to stand up straight. When you are standing at street level and shooting upward, the vertical lines will all appear to tilt toward the center at the top. Correct this with the Vertical slider and also try adjusting the Distortion slider in the Lens Correction tool. It makes a big impact toward making your picture look more professional, even if you did use a smartphone to shoot it.

Be sure that when you shoot you leave space around your subject when shooting so that these tools can make adjustments without cropping out important features. Normally, you have to use a tilt/shift lens or a large format camera with tilt controls to adjust the picture so that the lines are vertical. This is a powerful tool, so shoot a little loose and utilize it in Aurora.


Increase details selectively

Once dead giveaway of a heavy-handed HDR is too much detail. Noisy skies and grungy looking bricks are fun, but not for real estate photos. Aurora HDR lets you apply all the filters selectively so you don’t get crazy looking skies and too much detail in places where it’s not necessary. Check out this article for details on applying filters selectively, but basically, you just add an adjustment layer and use the brush tool. It’s so simple and so powerful. In this photo, I used the brush to apply the HDR Detail Boost filter to the sign on the front of the building without affecting anything else.

Closing comments

You’ve got to keep your imagination under control when making HDR photos for real estate. Don’t do too much color or glow and keep the details in the important places only. I recommend using Aurora HDR because it yields very natural-looking results and allows you to selectively apply all the changes you want to make. I also recommend making crazy cartoony over-the-top HDR’s; just make sure you give your client the option of the real world.