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Flash vs. HDR (High Dynamic Range) – Comparison [Real-Estate Photography]

Flash vs. HDR

There are numerous articles available discussing the pro’s and con’s to both, however I just wanted to throw a quick blog post discussing my experiences with these methods of shooting.

To cut to the chase, I prefer flash. Within this article, you can review the images for yourself to see a flashed photo, and a HDR processed shot. So for yourself, you can review which is best suits your taste.

I work for various offices across London and have seen competing agents use HDR and Flash Photography to market their properties, so I can safely say there is a market for both styles of shooting. It’s just dependant on your particular style and what quality level you want to deliver.

 

Why I choose flash?

I choose to shoot Flash Photography over HDR as I personally feel you have more control over the scene. Shooting bracketed shots and then processing them later you are heavily reliant on ambient/existing light, and in some cases the lighting is awful. Bulbs are missing/blown, horrible single bulb light source, very warm in colour temperature bulbs etc.

In addition, once processed, the images generally look more gritty and colours seem to be a little off in the midtones. You typically also have to shoot 3 bracketed shots and then spend an estimated 30sec for your brackets to merge before you even get to tweak the shot further. So there is more post-processing time involved also.

Flash Photography from my experience not only produces a more polished look, enables you to speed up post-processing if you correctly shoot the exposure in-camera.

Do I shoot HDR?

On occasion I have found that HDR is more efficient and most of the times those cases are when there isn’t much window light and I’m dealing with very reflective surfaces such as bathroom tiling.

Examples

I was in a well-presented property earlier today and I thought it would be a great property for me to compare the two styles of shooting.

I set the camera to bracket 3 shots +/- 2EV and I achieved the following shots.

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f/10, 0.8sec, ISO100

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f/10, 1/5sec, ISO100

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f/10, 3sec, ISO100

Merged together simply using the built in Lightroom HDR Merge function (Highlight the images then press “CTRL+H”) I was able to get a well balanced shot with regards to shadow and highlight detail.

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3 Bracketed shots, +/- 2EV, Lightroom Photo Merge

With a little tweaking with regards to vertical lines, white balance and exposure, the final HDR shot looks to be acceptable.

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3 Bracketed shots, +/- 2EV, Lightroom Photo Merge Processed

It’s not perfect by no means, however the tonal range is all there with straight vertical lines. So on a technical stand point, this is an acceptable image. Overall I would say there was roughly 5min invested into this image.

After shooting this shot with bracketed images, I attempted a flashed photo and achieved the following results with simply keeping the medium exposure to retain window detail and adding flash with the Meike MK-910 set to 1/4 power bouncing upward and slightly behind to create soft fill-light.

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f/10, 1/10sec, ISO400, 1/4 Flash Power

Shooting this method has helped clean up the shadows towards the left of the frame. Now with quick white balance, exposure and correcting vertical line adjustments the final submitted shot is much more polished.

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f/10, 1/10sec, ISO400, 1/4 Flash Power

Overall this photo took less than 2min to process.

Conclusion

I do prefer the look of the flashed photo as I feel the colours are much more accurate and overall the image looks much cleaner. In addition, it is much easier to post-produce if you’re able to shoot a correct exposure within one shot. There are occasions where its simply not possible to balance the exposure within one shot to obtain a pleasing image, and in those cases you may need to mask in a separate layer for window detail (see article).

There is no right or wrong method with regards to Flash vs. HDR. As I mentioned earlier, there are numerous estate agents using HDR, and others using Flash. At times, there are also shots which suit HDR over Flash.

So choose your preference with regards to image tonality and workflow. Mine however is definitely more suited to flash photography.

Equipment Used

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2 Responses

  1. HI Leo, nice tutorial. Are you using your flash on camera or off to the side generally and are you using any modifiers to soften the shadows?

    • Leo Hoang says:

      Hi Jimmy, thanks for taking the time to read this.

      I am using the flash off camera triggered via Nikon CLS. I don’t use any modifiers, just simple bounce off various surfaces.

      I do wear a white shirt when I work as a worst case scenario if the walls are red with wooden ceilings and sometimes I bounce off my chest which helps.

      Have you got an online portfolio at all? I would love to check out your work.

      Thanks

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