With the announcement of new features in Lightroom 6, namely HDR and Photomerge, I immediately wondered how useful they would be for real estate work. The short answer – Not Very. Less than a mile away, a new 4,000 square foot house hit the market with some astonishingly bad photos and I wanted to try something new. Check out the listing photos below and notice the blown out skies, lack of sharpness, color, or composition that would make the place stand out. The strangest thing about the listing to me was that they didn’t include a single photo of the interior of the house!
What makes this property a little more challenging and thus more interesting to shoot is a combination of 1) the house isn’t meant to be viewed from the driveway side, 2) it is built at the top of a hill, 3) it has a large lawn, 4) a major road, a park, and power/phone lines are at the edge of the property at the bottom of the hill. Shooting with a wide angle lens at 10mm from the middle of the lawn makes the house look far too small, as seen below. If I moved closer, then the view of the house would disappear due to the angle of shooting up the hill. Even cropping in made it feel distant.
At 20mm the images felt much better but weren’t wide enough to fully capture the landscaping. This was an opportunity to use the new PhotoMerge feature. Select two (or more) images, right click, and select PhotoMerge > Panorama. The result is a stitched image as a Digital Negative that retains all of the RAW data and a reason to stitch in Lightroom when possible versus exporting to Photoshop or PTGui. Helpful, yes, but outside of landscape photography, how often will it actually get used? The resulting stitched image is below.
In the midst of this, I tried out the new HDR function. Select your bracketed images, right click, and select PhotoMerge > HDR. Now, given the stigma surrounding HDR and the often bat-shit crazy tonemapping that defines the worst of it, I can hear groans about Adobe including this in their latest release. However, what it does stays true to what the acronym stands for – it merges multiple exposures into a single Digital Negative with a higher dynamic range than the original single exposure. The program is not capable of tone mapping and for the most part, the resulting HDR image is very similar to a processed/developed version of the middle exposure. Check the comparison below. It’s hard to tell the difference. In terms of using it for real estate, it may be helpful once in awhile, but window masking between exposures still needs to be done elsewhere.
Enter the zoom lens. I wanted to emphasize the house and at 80mm I could shoot from across the street while keeping the power lines out of the frame. I dodged traffic, fired off a sequence of overlapping images between passing cars, and retreated. I stitched them together using the PhotoMerge feature and the uncropped result is below.
After cropping, I had what I was looking for. A decent image of the “front” of the house from an angle closer to level. My comparison to the the original listing image is below – it’s best viewed at full size. Blue sky and green greens tend to help any listing image look better, but also note how much more of the house is visible.
Are the new tools in Lightroom 6 useful for Real Estate Photographers? Again, not really. The PhotoMerge features – HDR and Panorama – are aimed at landscape photographers. Saving the new files as Digital Negatives is great, however the tools don’t do what I would need. Rather than getting a crisp view through a window, I only get a little more detail and still have to dump the images into Photoshop for masking. Panoramas and image stitching is slightly more useful, but won’t often be used.