Best Technique for Shooting Interiors: HDR or Flash?

Have you ever tried to shoot an interior photograph and have it look like the shots in magazines or high end property brochures? If so then you probably know there are two routes to go: HDR or Flash. Photographer Dom Bower recently made a video showing the differences in both techniques and how you can combine them both to create a sort of hybrid image. Keep in mind that Dom is only using one single speedlight directly above the camera. Many of the amazing images you see for high end hotels and expensive properties often have dozens of light sources accenting very specific elements in the image. What techniques have you guys used in your interior photos? If you have examples, feel free to post your images in the comments below and check out Dom's final photos in the full post.

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Jänz S.'s picture

nah, that guy isnt doing any good. for good basics watch this good old stuff:

Remy Musser's picture

Dean Collins was amazing!

Dean Collins knows lighting in & out!  Ha, I'm attending Brooks as we speak!

Very intresting.

Martin Clark's picture

buy different software.... NOT PHOTOMATIX 

try oloneo or hdr express

Nour El Refai's picture

I usually use Strobe lights for my Interiors, especially on situations like those, I used HDR only once before when the space was huge to be lighted with my strobes.

Leo B's picture

very nice 

IanLivesey's picture

Very informative... certainly a few things to try out. Thanks.

My big complaint of this video is that in his shots his camera isn't Level, its pointing upward, so the vertical lines are not parallel (perspective distortion).  I know the whole point was lighting and dynamic range, but its a fundamental of interior photography.  I use HDR in most cases since I can walk into a room, using a tripod, take 2 or 3 pictures and move on.  Shooting a large house for real estate can take a while if I have to light each room.  I might pick a single room to showcase with some lighting but HDR is just real quick and easy, 

Dom Bower's picture

Strange to have a big complaint about something that the video was not talking about or directed on.

I'm sea sick after watching this video...  Next time, please hold your camera still or put it on a tripod.  Thanks.

Why the hell this guy doesn't use a tripod!? If you are professional, shooting real estate photos to be printed in magazines, the least you could do is to bring a tripod. Especially if you intend to shoot an HDR.
I would never recommend using photomatix for creating real estate HDR images (to be completely honest - in some cases you can get acceptable real estate HDRs with photomatix but by no means you'll get them using their presets. You'll have to tweak the settings yourself).
Personally I use tripod when shooting interiors, and I usually take several exposures for each scene. Then in Photoshop I load the different exposures as layers and use layer masks to create a single photograph.
To me there is one significant issue when shooting with the on-camera strobe reflected from the ceiling (or the wall for that matter) - it doesn't provide an even lighting for the whole room. You get a hot spot and then a fade-out, which looks horrible. The solution to that would be to take the flash off camera and to use large reflectors, which equals long setup time, not always acceptable by the customer. Another thing to have in mind is that ceilings and walls are not always white, and it is not always possible to reflect light off of them.

Dom Bower's picture

I do use a tripod. just didnt bother to bring one out in this video as i was trying to get a point across about the lighting in a very short period of time.  your additional points about large reflectors and off camera strobes are very valid, along with the hot spot look.  and again you are spot on about the deal that is acceptable with the customer and also the boss. if you have got 20 flats to shoot in a day, you only have about 5 minutes per room and then you have all the editing afterwards. If it was a big paying customer then yeah but when it is 15minutes per house then its best just to shove a flash on and shoot.

Troy Baker Photogra's picture

When shooting real estate I use multiple strobes off camera in manual, to control each of them individually. TTL is only a good option if you really are just looking for a basic option. Vertical's are also an important factor to consider.

Hell yea DOM! Love Dom he's taught me a lot since I got my first DSLR last june!

Seriously, this is ridiculous! No tripod (for the video camera or the still camera)? You're asking if it's "good enough for a magazine?" but you aren't even using a tripod? 

Also, as someone else already pointed out, the verticals aren't vertical. a tilt-shift lens would be ideal here, but you can easily correct for this in Lightroom or Photoshop. But the saddest part here is that even without correcting for the vertical perspective distortion it still isn't level! The verticals in the center of the frame should be vertical even if the others aren't. The whole image is off. 

But the biggest problem of all is the notion of using Photomatix for anything serious. They were the first easily accessible option for HDR processing, but in this day and age there's no excuse for the sort of ignorance propagated by this video. Personally, since the day I installed the trial of nik's HDR Efex Pro I haven't even launched Photomatix once. Many of the presets there are bizarre, but the default is often all I need for a very realistic feeling HDR, with further enhancement done in layers for images that warrant the effort (additional help from Topaz Adjust & Detail as appropriate). 

Now, that said, I much prefer to light a room. I own over 20 speedlights of varying power levels and capabilities because I really enjoy controlling where the light goes. It can take time to light a room, but the results are FAR from a single bounced speedlight or an HDR that violates everything about good HDR technique. 

I've enjoyed some of Dom's videos in the past. This one was a real let-down. 

Dom Bower's picture

Ridiculous? propoganda?
wow calm down.

This video I state "but tell me what you think" and i show 4 options of flash and hdr and fast and slow shutter, and suddenly it is propoganda and ridiculous.  take a chill pill.

Propoganda? Huh? You asked for opinions. I gave you mine. Your technique is poor in each example. That makes it a ridiculous comparison. 

Let's use an analogy. I enjoy restoring motorcycles. I enjoy the training videos at Imagine if they put up a video saying, "What's the best way to paint your car? With paint rollers and house paint or with rattle cans from the home improvement store?" Okay, that's not a fair analogy because obviously neither of those techniques are the BEST way to paint a car. But the result of your comparison is basically the same because you do them so poorly. 

If your video was titled something like "quick comparison of hdr vs flash for real estate or architectural photography" then it wouldn't be an issue. But when you title it "best technique" and then use really poor technique, to the point that you make both methods look bad, AND ask for opinions, you're going to get some negative reviews. 

If you don't want to hear it, don't ask for opinions! 

Dom Bower's picture

hahahahahahaha yeah. "I" titled it best technique.    you will find I titled My Video "HDR vs Flash photography: Property Photos (large room)"  
The Fstoppers titled the blog post themselves afterwards.  Guess you didn't bother to notice that. so I guess I wont bother to listen to your opinion as it is based on your mistaken observation.

well done.

With newer sensors you could get away with just under exposing the interior and lifting the shadows.. This ofc depends on how bright it is out side but with the k5 and d7000 you have about 4-5 stops of detail hiding, hell I could probably capture that room with a custom jpg setting on the k5.

As for HDR v Flash, Both have there pro's and con's.. hell why not do both?  Bracket the shot and then shoot a flash shot, merg your hdr and overlay the flash photo on top at some % that looks good.  Also you could just expose for the room and for outside and join them in PS.

There are many ways to do different things im sure one would work better than the other in different situations.

this video is very lame and unprofessional! if you want to do it right a) get a tripod b) DON'T use photomatrix c) get a real light meter. 
Place your camera on the tripod and using the light meter take a reading for every tricky light. changing only your shutter speed (so that your dof remains the same) take a raw for every reading. After you processed the raws in camera raw, overlap those photos in photoshop and, using a layer mask, show the correct portion of every picture. 
For really hard light conditions (i.e. really dark areas) use a (proper) studio flash as a fill light

Dom Bower's picture

thanks for your advice.  glad you watched the video

Sean Shimmel's picture

Good job.

It's the CONCEPTS he's presenting so well... spot metering, dragging the shutter, directional lighting (and when NOT to employ it) and even the nuanced distinctions between natural lighting, HDR, hard flash and balanced fill flash.

I'd say that's a lot more than for which he's being credited.

Best of all, anyone can then freely add a tripod and choose his own software to perfect and customize it all.

Dom Bower's picture

Thanks Sean, glad to see some people are smart enough to learn what this video was trying to show.

Sean Shimmel's picture

Keep up the bold spirit (strange that anyone should even need to be bold, eh?) and thanks for kindly sharing.

I was not impressed with this video.
I do think however, that you should become very familiar with both these techniques depending on the situation. I think if I was in to this type of photography I would do single RAW conversions in PM, for the HDR look and also the fact that I wouldn't need to carry a tripod. 

He made the video to illustrate a point, it doesn't matter whether he uses a tripod to capture. Also he caters to the masses and while we all know there's all kinds of different software out there to process images for HDR he probably mentioned Photomatix because it is synonymous with HDR processing.  The video gets its point across, that's the only point that should matter.

Dom Bower's picture

Thank you Clodius, much appreciated

Obviously using powerful strobes would be ideal for an interior shot, but if you don't have enough power and about 15ft ceilings like I had to deal with, I bracketed five different exposures and blended them through CS5's HDR Pro tool...  and I have to say that I'm pretty satisfied!  Here's my final image:

thats a nice "magazine" shoot