HDR— Is it worth the extra $$?

Updated: Jul 1

High Dynamic Resolution (HDR) photography is often touted as a better way to shoot real estate. But is it worth paying the extra for HDR? Let’s have a peek under the hood of HDR and see.

Full HDR.

The holy grail of photography is to produce a photo with as much detail in the shadows and in the highlights as the human eye can perceive. This is the “dynamic range” challenge, and so far a camera falls short. High Dynamic Resolution is a software-based process that tries to extend the dynamic range of a photo bringing it a lot closer to what your eye can see. It solves the problem by merging the best areas of multiple exposures to achieve a much greater dynamic range than just one normal photo.

A camera usually captures one end of the range or the other. Either the highlights hold detail, but the shadows are just blocks of black, or there is detail in the shadows, but the highlights are blown out—but not both at the same time. HDR manages to extend that range pretty well, but it’s not perfect and doesn’t improve every shot.

HDR was introduced about a decade ago and was quickly seized upon by agents as a tool to make their listing look better than reality. It was cool (still is). You see, in addition to improving the dynamic range, HDR also has a tendency to lend a fantasy look to an image if you desire. This fantasy look was all the rage for a short while.

HDR fantasy look
A cluttered look becomes a fantasy look.

Sellers loved it, but buyers complained that the property wasn’t as pretty as in the photos. After a while, things settled down and many agents went back to standard photography, thinking HDR was just a fad and incapable of producing a faithful representation of the property. However, when applied correctly, HDR can enhance the photo without the “fantasy” look. It can capture details in the highlights and the shadows and give your property greater depth of detail, as promised.

Now, there are a couple of side effects with HDR that you should recognize. HDR tends to bring out the grain in wooden objects, such as furniture, cabinets, and floors—a bonus! But it also tends to emphasize the oranges and reds in the wood, resulting in an unnatural hue. This can be countered in the software, but because the editor's eye can become adjusted to this new hue, he may not notice the orange effect. Anyway, this is only a "gotcha" if not caught and fixed.

HDR Family Room
HDR makes wood grain pop, but the whites are not clean.