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The Future of Real Estate Photography is Here – HDR Editing

What is the future?

Camera Porn - Canon EOS 5D Mark IIThis year, famous photographer Trey Ratcliffe and I met at an event we both spoke at called Ignite. Trey has traveled the world and has become widely recognized for his passion for HDR (high dynamic range) photography. In his speech at Ignite, Trey noted that photos can’t quite convey exactly how our eye sees an image in real life; there is something in the third dimension that is missing on film, but with HDR photography, photos come to life in a way that viewers can experience them more realistically.

Trey has always been open with sharing his skills and teaching others for free and if you don’t know how to edit photos and you’re insisting on taking your own, brush up on this free HDR tutorial right now. If you have any questions about HDR, please leave them in comments and Trey assured me that he will swing by when he gets a chance to answer them (but seriously, he’s one of the busiest people I know, so give him some time).

How is this the future?

Photo editing where users crop out undesirable features is unethical, but editing images so they are more like how your eye experiences them in person is just smart marketing. Take this for example:

real estate photography

We’re used to seeing dull, faded pictures like the before image (which 5 years ago would have been one of the better images in the MLS, actually) but with post-production editing, it can look a little more realistic like the after shot. Note, I’m not a professional and I created a quick edit just for illustration purposes. You can do much better than this.

Seeing the world through HDR eyes:

Below are some of Trey’s HDR images, the first of which has actually been featured at the Smithsonian museum! (Note: these images are all featured here on flickr and may not be used for commercial purposes, so don’t go doing anything crazy, ok?)

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The Bamboo Forest and some great Twitter Lists to follow

Don’t these images invoke a much higher emotional response than the standard 2d flower pictures? Take the time to learn these new editing methods or ask your photographer if they have HDR skills- your business will be better for it!

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.



  1. nanette labastida

    March 23, 2010 at 12:08 am

    wow those are amazing! i fear that the cost of it would be so high – perhaps reserved for the the higher end listings

    • Lani Rosales

      March 23, 2010 at 12:17 am

      Well for your inner cheater, there’s always the “HDRish” effect on, go play with it and let me know what you think!

      • nanette labastida

        March 23, 2010 at 12:19 am

        oh yeah! i tried playing with it when you first showed me that after you did the pic of me! was a little overwhelming, i need to give it more dedicated time

  2. Benn Rosales

    March 23, 2010 at 12:11 am

    @rocknrealty I think you might be pleasantly surprised. One, you can do it yourself, anyone can, and two, it’s simply a process of software. I really love the idea of high end (especially urban) with this type of exposure…. wow

  3. nanette labastida

    March 23, 2010 at 12:16 am

    Urban yes with the views and angles, like the modern homes we saw.
    but i’m also picturing lake front & lake views and mega modern luxury outdoor living spaces & pools, so lush. you would want to jump in with cocktail in hand!
    i’ll look into it 🙂

    • Benn Rosales

      March 23, 2010 at 12:19 am

      I think peeps just have to be from Austin to see the potential of this kinds of stuff, thank God for our topography and architecture….

  4. Brian Tercero

    March 23, 2010 at 12:22 am

    I have played around with Photomatix and have come up with some really cool images, its incredibly easy. I often thought how cool it would be to have a real estate website with 100% HDR photography.

    I got into a debate with a local photographer about it. He thought it was a bad idea because it would be giving buyers an unrealistic view of the home. Kind of like those people who photoshop the heck out of their photos before they upload them to MLS.

    What do you think about his argument? Is it wrong for us to use HDR photos of homes to pull out the most vivid colors available?

    There is little doubt in my mind which photos people would enjoy looking at more, HDR all the way.

    • Lani Rosales

      March 23, 2010 at 12:27 am

      Like I said above, altering details is unethical, but HDR simply presents an image in a more realistic way than film can anyhow. That said, there IS such a thing as over-exaggerated HDR where a red door looks like firey red when really it was a stucco natural red or when grass looks like golf turf in an edited image but like a dead mess in real life.

      So long as HDR editing is done to highlight reality rather than replace reality, there is no problem whatsoever, it’s just smart marketing.

  5. Brian Tercero

    March 23, 2010 at 12:34 am

    I agree with you Lani. Real Estate websites are all about the user experience, and professional photography is a critical piece of the equation.

    Im going to re-explore the idea, maybe launch a niche web site with HDR’s and see what happens. Thank you for the wonderful post!

    • Lani Rosales

      March 23, 2010 at 12:39 am

      Please keep me informed, you know how to reach us! 🙂

  6. Paula Henry

    March 23, 2010 at 8:13 am

    I love PhotoMatrix and have used it for listings. Nothing unrealistic or edited; just enhanced to define the lines and colors. It does take more time and a commitment, but I love it and my clients do also. BTW – my most recent ones were in the high 100’s. I don’t think it has to be high-end, but there is time involved.

  7. Ed Kohler

    March 23, 2010 at 11:16 am

    My biggest concern with HDR images is authenticity. If the pictures bring out the reality of the property, great. But HDR can, as the examples above illustrate, turn a property into something it is not, which seems to defeat the purpose of listing photos.

  8. Brad Rachielles

    March 23, 2010 at 11:37 am

    Good post. The technique can make for very interesting images. Bringing picture information out of the highlites and dark shaddows into printable mid ranges will bring more information to the tougher shots.

    I’m not a good photographer, but do recall reading that there is a camera that will automatically bracket for, expose and combine the exposures “in camera”. does anyone else know what camera that was that I may have read about and mentally misplaced?

    My wish now is that we no longer see high color saturation photos of dishes in the sink, shampoo / hair spray / mouth wash / cleanser / drain cleaner / plungers in the bathroom and dirty clothes / ripped rock star posters / unmade beds / bed sheets for curtains bedrooms.

    Great exposure technique still won’t help a bad photo.

  9. Al Lorenz

    March 23, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    HDR images are great for showing a room and the view out the window, like your eye can. Without HDR the room is either underexposed or the view is an overexposed white out.

  10. Karen Hutton

    March 23, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    In Australia, we use professional photographers, and many smart agents use professional copy writers as well. Do US agents take their own images and write their own copy? It would surprise me to learn that this is the case, as in most other things I’ve always thought that the US leads the way…

  11. Don Corson

    March 23, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Good HDR real estate photography should not be apparent to the non-professional. Although the examples shown are impressive, I would classify those as artistic HDR. For some examples of good HDR photography for real estate, check out Michael James at, whom I found via twitter. Good HDR requires some pro photo skills, IMHO. That said, there are some easy, HDR-like shortcuts. The easiest that I have found is the “collage” feature on Picasa. And its much simpler with a camera that can do exposure bracketing (higher end point and shoot, and most DSLRs can). It seems like HDR is really catching on, so we should be seeing more cameras with HDR features built in coming down the pike. All the HDR talk aside, ultra wide angle, non fisheye lenses are the key to good real estate photography.

  12. Orange County Photographer

    March 24, 2010 at 8:27 am

    What a fabulous Pictures……..It shows professional photography of your’s.Great use of technology , with new techniques.Really awesome……with great effects of lights and shadows and your creativity.

  13. sabrina

    March 24, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    For Realtors who want to edit their own images, I think NIK software is much easier to use and the results are more realistic. You just need to put a point on the spot you think is too dark or too bright, and then adjust the brightness/contrast by sliding left and right.

    For HDR softwares such as Photomatix and Unified Color, you can make it realistic and pretty if you know how to use it; otherwise, the images look too cartoonish and our eyes certainly don’t look at a house that way.

    I think real estate photographers use Photoshop to remove the car on the driveway, place a fire in the fireplace, insert blue sky for the exterior shot. . . but all these things don’t alter the fact that all these things can be done without PS. However, some HDR images I see on MLS are way overly done. It looks over saturated, cartoonish, and not very please to the eyes. It’s different when buyers see a professional images and think “it’s so pretty, I am going to see this house” vs when they see a over done HDR images and think “I don’t think the house really looks like that; it looks so fake”.

    Photoshop or Photomatix is just a tool. It depends on who is using the tool and how s/he use the tool, the same image will turn out differently. The problem is not which tool to use; it’s how we use them.

  14. univision live

    April 5, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Breathtaking, fascinating, brilliant and unique these pictures. While most likely all have a digital retouching, are impressive and very beautiful.
    Trey Ratcliffe is calling for a new era of photography, a style that certainly seems quite fascinating and attractive. Excellent shots and edits. Thanks for sharing.

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