HDR and Real Estate Photography – Part 2

Part two in a series about HDR and Real Estate Photography by Joseph T. Meirose IV 

You can see Part One here.

There have been many discussions regarding the approach to the shoot with the property owners. Detailed map studies of the region have been completed. Many times over there have been references to a smart phone app for sunrise and sunset locations. The weather has been watched closely for days. Everyone’s schedules have been altered when rain and clouds were in the forecast. Now, finally, the real estate shoot has been booked.

Prior to arrival, clients had the property detailed and cleaned. They hired landscapers to manicure the grounds. The weather is changing, winter is coming, and the leaves are in peak season. The estate must be shot now. Any mistakes or missed shots simply cannot be reshot at a later date. “Do overs” cost time and money. There is no second chance. Everyone will see the photographs, whether I like them or not. From the field office all the way to the worldwide corporate headquarters in NYC. They will scrutinize every angle and detail. They will question the composition and lighting. Potential buyers will see these images from around the world. The work is demanding and expectations are high.

As those big iron gates slowly open at the end of the long driveway, my mind instantly fills with self-doubt, while a wave of nausea builds in my stomach.

This happens to me, almost every time I roll up.

The homes are pristine and crisp. Most these places are already picture perfect. They are grand estates by renowned architects and designers. A simple average home will almost always look better through decent images. My results should be more than that. Everyone is expecting, rightfully so, that my photographs will showcase the home just as spectacularly as actually being there! This is a tall order to fill when standing on the patio of a multi-million dollar home overlooking a pristine lake at sunset.  There are many factors a high-end real estate photographer has to contend with. Camera settings and light set ups are only two of them.

Like most genres, there are many rules for interior photography. I don’t pretend to know them all and admittedly only follow the ones I do know occasionally. My approach to real estate photography is the same as when I am buying or selling a home personally, “When selling, think like a buyer. When buying, think like a seller.” I think like a seller when shooting an estate and think like a buyer when editing it. Though I am easily impressed with property for which I cannot afford, I find that looking through discerning eyes helps me compose the images. If there is something in a space I don’t like, I don’t shoot it.

A topic of great concern is that of creative liberties taken by the photographer during editing and ethical restraint when working with real estate photography. There have been a few occasions that my first desired angle to shoot is spoiled because of a crack in a tile or stain on a wood floor.  While walking through a home, they might not even be noticed, but when staring at a photograph they are easily seen. Those imperfections stick out like a sore thumb. Of course I could quickly fix these issues in post and easily get carried away with editing. There is a fine line that one can cross when editing a real estate image. Photographers strive for perfect results, as they should. There is nothing wrong with this goal when shooting fine art, but there are constraints when making real estate images. Altering a room digitally to the point of misrepresenting the space and the factual condition of a home can lead to disgruntled potential buyers. The selling agent, and the company for which you work, can be affected negatively. High-end real estate sales are very competitive. Reputations are always at stake.

A space typically has one best, and another just ok, angle from which to shoot. For example, if there is a small section of pealing wallpaper in the composition, should the photographer fix it in post? Ethically speaking, no. So I simply resort to using a few pieces of scotch tape to hold the pealing paper in place, and though creative lighting and camera perspective, try and minimize the flaw. I find this method more acceptable than a quick repair in post. It just seems more honest to me. In regards to furniture, I find out whether the piece is a consideration for sale. If not, I will take the liberty of repairing scratches, imperfections, and tears during editing.

Overall, I find the best approach is to avoid photographing anything that will detract from the final image in the first place. An area of a home that is purposely omitted from the collective set is still effective in showing the home, but I won’t have to worry about whether to fix something or not after the shoot.

To combat all this stress, I rely on prior positive experiences. I am a creature of habit and methodical thinking. If I approach every gig like I have with previous successful shoots, the odds are in my favor of making everyone happy again.

As I arrive on site, I’m looking at light and shadow and the way it plays on the landscape and structures. Most of the time I arrive well before sunrise. In the dark I decide on what shots will show best with morning light. This is why my pre-shoot planning is so helpful.  All these key compositions have to be made during that brief period of time artist call the ‘golden hour’ or ‘blue hour’. I only wish it lasted that long. Typically I concentrate on the big shots during this time; the vista view from a living room, a boat dock with the rising sun in the distance, and a marquee shot. Those are the images I know from experience will be shown the most. They are very important. The marquee shot, usually the front of a home, will adorn the number one position in most press and media announcements and deserves to be made with best light. As I mentioned in part one of HDR and Real Estate Photography, I have all the window treatments open and every interior and exterior light illuminated. Sometimes I use them all, sometimes I don’t. Depending on the client’s budget, if I have planned the day(s) of my visit well, and have a good deal of weather guessing luck, I’ll have at least two, sometimes three or more, golden hour opportunities at getting the sunrise or sunset shot for every window of a home that has the view. While still making the exterior best light shots as well.

After the morning shooting is complete, I then take a great deal of time staging. Most my images are made during sunrise and sunset, both interiors and exteriors. I’ve found that homes typically have a morning and evening best light side. Depending on the time of day I’m prepping for, I’m setting up one interior side of a home w/ my lights at a time. I use many lights and position them in as many rooms as possible while waiting on good ambient light. I prefer to use ambient light as the key light and my continuous lights for soft fill and hard accent. All the while paying attention to angles and looking through the lens for the best perspective of the room I’m preparing to shoot. Most rooms need to look big and bright. I use a lot of lights and prefer to tone them down in post if needed v. trying to bump them in post. When the time comes, I literally run room to room making the shots I planed during the day. Sometimes I have to drag lights along with me but I’m constantly buying more and doing that less often. My goal is to quickly transition from one room to another, dragging only my camera and tripod along. It’s a mad dash and I enjoy the challenge.

In my next installment I’ll go into greater detail about lighting set ups, camera settings, and how I shoot my HDR brackets.

Cheers, Joe

Joseph T. Meirose IV

“Full Frame Works’ Photography

Sackets Harbor, New York




  • Neil

    Jesus! Class photos dude

    • Joe Meirose

      Appreciate it, Neil. Cheers.

  • Ron Johnson

    Your photos are breathtaking! I too, do a lot of real estate HDR photography. I’ve built a nice little loyal REALTOR business following using the HDR techniques. (I call them proprietary to my clients. HAH!)

    My photos POP on the local MLS service and evoke an emotional response from the viewers. I’ve documented more viewings and quicker sales than conventional photo techniques.

    This series is fascinating and perhaps I can post some of my HDR work.
    Thanks, HDROne for being there!
    As always, Please have a GREAT DAY!

    • Joe Meirose

      Cool, Ron. I’d like to check them out. Best to you.

  • Lisa

    Wow that 3rd image, the textures and details are fab

    • Joe Meirose

      Thank you, Lisa. I was really excited as well when all the details came out. Thanks for commenting. :)