Should you shoot HDR with lights on or lights off?

October 23, 2019 0 Comments Real Estate Post Production

For Dad...

Normally, when I shoot HDR, I prefer the interior lights to be off. This assures that I have full control over the white balance and I can produce accurate colors of cabinets/furniture and walls.

As interior lighting is typically around 2700k (slight orange hue) this color will bounce off all the objects in the room making pure white objects appear discolored. If you're shooting for a builder or an interior designer - this is game over.

Standard HDR Image with Lights On

Notice the discoloration of the kitchen cabinets (which are suppose to be white) and the counter tops:

HDR Image with discoloration

Shooting HDR with the lights off eliminates this issue.

Standard HDR Image with Lights Off

Now the colors of the cabinets, flooring, walls, ceiling and furniture are accurate. This is why I typically shoot HDR with the lights off HOWEVER,

My Dad tells me that I should always shoot with the lights on. Even after explaining to him the issue of shooting with the lights on, he told me if he were to agree with me, "we'd both be wrong..." So I've been thinking a lot about this and how I should approach it.

I know what your thinking - No problem, I'll shoot with the lights on and then just correct the white balance in post production. Well... even if you were to correct the white balance in post production, you would have to use a brush tool to pick only the areas of the image that need the correction. Simply using the white balance tool in Light Room will effect the entire image with a universal correction.

Light Room's Color Correction using White Balance Tool

Now you could spend hours fine tuning this and brushing in sections with small adjustments and you may come very very close but there is a fast, simple solution to this problem that I think is a good compromise...

Use a Luminosity Mask

By using a luminosity mask in photoshop I can avoid the hassle of trying to remove color distortion in my images. Simply take one HDR image with the lights on and one HDR image with the lights off. Then place the image with the lights on over the image with the lights off in photoshop. See the process below:

Layer One - Lights Off | Layer Two - Lights On
Create Layer Mask
Change Mask to Luminosty
Brush in accent lighting

Final Image with correct white balance and no color distortion:

Final Image

My general rule is, if I have to open an image in photoshop for a real estate shoot I might as well light it correctly vs using HDR however, on those rare occasions where HDR will produce a better image then using flash, this is a tool I'll definitely rely on in the future... Thoughts?

Brad Capone
Brad Capone
Knoxville TN