Flash Plus Ambient Light Versus HDR: Which Gives the Best Results for Real Estate Interiors?

Creating even, realistic, and balanced lighting when shooting interiors for real estate can be tough. One route is to light an interior with flash and balance it against the ambient light outside. Another option is to use HDR to blend a number of bracketed images together. Which gives better results?

This short video from Mike Burke at Inside Real Estate Photography looks at the advantages and disadvantages of each approach. Within HDR, Burke also looks at two different methods: using software to automate the blending of the bracketed images versus manually blending the images together in Photoshop in order to avoid some of the pitfalls.

Personally, while overpowering the ambient light and filling a room with flash will avoid strange color casts, taking the flambient route can risk flattening the image, exaggerating contrast, and removing some of the sense of depth from a room. If you decide that flambient works best, there’s no substitute for good lighting technique to avoid creating images that feel unrealistic.

In terms of cost, investing in lighting gear can be expensive but keep in mind that, given how much better hand-blended HDR is over automated HDR, you may end up saving yourself a lot of time in the edit, making it more economically viable in the long run.

Which is your preferred method? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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7 Comments

Matthias Dengler's picture

The dip to black after each photo basically ruined any comparison to me. Sorry.

Karim Hosein's picture

Pause the video, and use [ ← ]/[ → ].

Paul Scharff's picture

I was surprised at how similar the three options looked. I selected a different favorite treatment for each photo. But I thought they all looked nice. None of them had that awful electric orange-looking HDR that I still see in a lot of RE photography.

I noticed that many of the highlights were not as contained as I would have hoped, particularly with the lights, but also in many of the windows. I would imagine this would be an ever bigger challenge for bathroom lighting, which blows out so easily because it is so close to the lens.

Separately, I've been looking for a video that shows some batch processing for a handful of photos using Enfuse in LR, where we just see the screen and watch the process step by step. If there is one already out there that I've just missed, I'd love it if a link could be posted.

Karim Hosein's picture

I was able to tell all three all the time, however, the auto-merge HDR was the worst auto-merge HDR I have seen. My camera does better auto-merge HDR than that.

That being said, I always preferred the “Flambient” —a.k.a., flash photography— image in all cases. His hand-merged HDR was actually quite good.

When he spoke of, “flambient,” I thought he was referring to merging a strobe image with an ambient-only image. He alluded to that as an alternative —which is often done in RE photography— in his comments in the video. Based on his explanations, his use of the word, “flambient,” simply meant “using flash as intended by its creator.”

Willy Williams's picture

The hand-blended HDR shots were (for me) the most effective. I spotted them every time. That said, if you've not tried Aurora HDR, you need to take the time to check it out. It seems to exceed the capabilities of Lightroom by far. I shoot the 7.1 paradigm, but generally select the best 5 to blend in Aurora. I have created a preset that I really like for real estate that is credible and not oversaturated. I take the output from Aurora and pull that into darktable for final finish work.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I was drawn more to the hand-blend or flambient. If they weren't side by side I would have been ok even with the auto-hdr.

Paul Trantow's picture

If you're talented you'll light the room. With lights, either continuous or flash. This will always look better than HDR. Always.