Choosing Between HDR & Flambient for Real Estate Photography
So I get asked a lot about when I decide to do flambient vs hdr so I wanted to make this post to clarify that and also hopefully help others decide which method is right for their own business by raising some important points to consider if they are struggling to decide between the two.
WHEN DO I USE FLAMBIENT?
So first I want to answer this question about when do I decide to use flambient vs HDR. As many of you probably know if you watch my videos, I utilize both methods in my work and I will quickly clarify why that is for you right now.
The majority of my shoots are HDR shoots using a hand blending editing method. For most run of the mill real estate shoots my personal opinion is that HDR is perfectly sufficient and helps get you in and out of homes quickly. I do a pretty high volume of shoots typically in the range 4-7 shoots in a day so efficiency is key for me most of the time and HDR is the most efficient method in regards to time on site. Also, using hand blending when editing can yield very high quality results that are similar to the results the flambient method can produce in a lot of cases so there’s not necessarily much of a sacrifice in quality using HDR in my opinion if you are editing that way. Case in point, numerous times I’ve had other photographers think some of my images were flambient when in reality they were HDR and no flash was used.
So when do I use flambient? I typically use flambient on higher end, higher budget real estate shoots and also real estate shoots that get full packages (such as photos, drone, video, Matterport and floor plans). In other words, shoots that are paying more and that I’m spending more time on. Other examples would be commercial shoots or shoots for designers or stagers. Those would all be shoots I would charge higher prices and therefore invest more time into because I’m being compensated for it. I may use my flash for a regular real estate shoot here and there as well if the mood strikes me. There’s no hard and fast rule for me, I use my discretion.
I’m a firm believer that as this is my profession, I should be proficient in multiple disciplines and be educated on all different approaches and that is the philosophy I try to teach on this channel. If you want to settle into one method I think that’s fine but at least explore other methods and familiarize yourself with them so you have a full understanding of what’s out there and what’s possible and what suits you best.
Ok, so now let me go over some points that I think are important to keep in mind when choosing between these methods. If you are debating on which way to go hopefully this will help with that decision and provide some clarity.
I mentioned efficiency earlier but it’s one of the points that I believe is very important to consider when deciding between these methods. I think part of this comes down to what kind of market you're in. Are you aiming to get into a luxury market where you charge high prices and therefore shoot a low amount of properties? Does that even exist where you live? If so then flambient would be my choice. Or, are you in a market where people are charging something like between $150-$300 for a photo shoot so therefore you have to price yourself accordingly and do a high volume of shoots in order to make a good living? In that scenario then efficiency becomes paramount and I definitely think HDR is the way to go. Judging by what I know of the industry at large, most people most likely fall under the latter category. Also, I’m not saying that it's not possible to do flambient efficiently because I think it can be, especially when you get streamlined with it. However from a shooting standpoint, it's still more equipment to manage and cart around and prepare and it’s inevitably going to slow you down to some extent.
Another point that I think you should consider is how you want your business to scale over time. Are you planning to grow to a point where you are hiring more photographers and running a team? The reason I bring this up is because you want consistent and replicable high quality results across the board for all of the photographers you have shooting for you. Consistency is the hallmark of any successful business in my mind so you want to choose a method best suited to providing you with that consistency especially if you have multiple photographers working for you.
In my opinion, the flambient method by nature has more variables and room for error and is more prone to inconsistencies in a team setting. Also, flambient will no doubt require more training time for any photographer you hire and of course a higher financial investment in equipment over HDR. Shooting brackets for HDR is a more straightforward method with much less room for interpretation and error by the photographer. By nature it’s going to lend itself to yielding more consistent results across a team of multiple photographers while also being less of an investment in time for training photographers and also less of a financial investment into equipment.
Another aspect to consider when choosing between these methods is editing. On one hand, flambient editing can be faster than hand blending HDR brackets but again though, you might want to consider that bigger picture here. In the long run and as your business scales and you are doing more and more shoots are you planning on doing all of the editing or will you outsource all or some of it? At some point you may become overwhelmed by the amount of editing work you have to do and may need help with that tremendous workload to be able to turn your product around in a timely manner that your clients will expect.
The reason I bring this point up is that I believe it's going to be harder to find an editor or editors that will be able to do as consistent and good of a job editing flambient images as they would HDR. I’ve tried outsourcing some flambient images and did not get good results back. Again, with flambient there’s more up for interpretation when it comes to the editing and the editor may not know where your head was at exactly when you shot your images and did your flash shots and how you want it put together. Of course it's possible to work with an editor and train them on how you want your flambient images edited. I’m not saying this is not a possibility, just more difficult. The point I’m trying to get across is that HDR is just more straightforward in both the shooting and editing aspects so when working with multiple photographers and editors it may be the way to go.
Are you just starting out in real estate photography and trying to decide between HDR or flambient? Do you have prior photography experience in other areas and are now looking to branch out into real estate photography or are you completely new to photography in general? The reason I ask these questions is that if you are new to real estate photography then you should take your experience level with photography into consideration when trying to decide on which method you want to go with.
If you don’t have much experience with photography already (especially flash photography) then HDR may be the smarter choice for you when starting out. Adding a flash into the mix will obviously make things more complicated and overwhelming in the beginning while with HDR you can just concentrate on composition and taking your shots. Again, HDR is just a more simple and straightforward approach overall. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from doing flambient here, I just want to raise these points as food for thought when starting out and in general. These are definitely valid things to consider.
Ok, so I’m sure by now you get the points that I’m trying to make. It may sound like I’m trying to discourage flambient in this video but that is absolutely not what I’m trying to do! I absolutely think flambient is a great method that produces excellent results, I simply think that there are some things to consider about it, mainly if you are thinking about scaling your business in the future. However, If you plan to just remain a solo act and do all of your own editing then I would absolutely choose flambient as my method. As I said, I do more HDR than flambient personally but I actually enjoy shooting flambient the most. I just feel the nature of my business necessitates the use of HDR most of the time for the reasons I’ve stated in this post.
HDR by nature is simpler and more straightforward overall which makes it a good choice if you are just starting out in real estate photography. Also, the results are easier to replicate when it comes to shooting and editing which may make it a better choice if you are looking to scale your business in the future to multiple photographers and editors. All large real estate photography companies that I know of use HDR most likely for these exact reasons. I don’t know of any that use flambient. Can you scale your business using flambient? Sure, its certainly possible but it will require a heavier investment in time for training and financial investment in equipment.