Post-Processing a Real-Estate Exterior in Lightroom Classic CC 2018
Real Estate photography is nightmarishly competitive. There are several national companies that offer complete packages to Realtors, and they have on-staff post-processing professionals. As a photographer – even one with nearly 38 years of experience – it is difficult for me to offer the same type of post-processing in a 24-hour window that the national companies offer. Just in the spirit of full disclosure, I do shoot for several of the national companies and have a non-compete agreement in place with each of them. I can, however, shoot for my own clients without violating those agreements.
What follows is a series of intermediary steps in the post-processing of a Real-Estate exterior that I recently shot for Coldwell Banker Realtor Debbie Anderson. This post-process was the result of criticism Debbie gave me when I delivered the images. (Debbie typically uses Fotosold, and likes the style of their finished images. I find them garish and unprofessional. To each his, or her, own.)
The Available Light on the Day of the Shoot
I arrived at 4 pm to photograph this listing, and the sun was already beginning to set behind the house. This meant the sky would be over-exposed and the front of the house still in deep shadows. I decided to make a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image, and made several images at differing exposures. I choose the following two images to stitch together into a final working image.
I stitched these two images together into an HDR images using the built-in Lightroom HDR utility.
The Steps to the Final Image
I first cropped the HDR image above to its final dimensions. I did this because the extraneous pixels would complicate the process of color-correcting (correcting the white-balance) the image. The following is the cropped image.
The next step is standard in all of my post-processing. I applied Lightroom’s lens correction algorithm for the lens I used to make the images. The following image show the result of this step. (To me, the difference in the previous and next images is quite obvious, although several people who read this article before it was published claim to see no difference.)
In the next image, I have used Lightroom’s transformation tool to ensure that “my horizontals are horizontal and my verticals are vertical”. If they aren’t, the final product is garbage. I do my best to ensure this is achieved in the camera, but slight adjustments are always necessary. As before, several pre-readers claim to see no difference in the before and after images. As before, the difference is obvious to me.
Now, the Fun Part
Now that all of the basic image housekeeping has been done, its time to get down to making this a money image. This involves several exposure correction steps, white-balance, and color saturation modifications, and finally, a clarity adjustment.
First, I do a basic exposure adjustment. (Because there are two exposures in the HDR image, I will ultimately make three exposure adjustments.)
You should be able to see that I have lightened the entire image quite a bit. The front of the house that was initially in shadow is now properly exposed, but I have lost some of the detail in the sky.
Before making any further exposure modifications, I will correct the white-balance. I typically do this at this point in my post-processing workflow, but other photographers may finish all of the exposure modifications first. It is largely a matter of preference.
In the next two steps, I want to recapture some of the dramatic effect I have lost in the sky in the previous exposure modification. The first step in this is to make a split-tone correction that will reduce the range of exposures between the shadows and the highlights.
Next, I increase the brightness of the entire image, recapturing detail in both the shadows and the highlights.
In the next two images, I make a pair of saturation adjustments. First, I reduce the yellow saturation, and then increase the blue saturation. This serves to “whiten” the final image, and make the sky more blue.
You can see in the histogram (in the top right of the image) that this image is quite good. However, Debbie said she wanted the images to “pop”. This is Realtor-speak for clarity. In the next image, I have made a clarity adjustment. You should be able to see that the next image is not as “soft” as the previous image. This has nothing to do with focus. It is simply a pixel manipulation.
The Delivered Image and Some Final Comments
The next, and final image is the image that was delivered to Debbie. It has been exported at 1600 pixels by 1067 pixels, the dimensions required by Debbie’s MLS.
I could have made this image much more extreme, in line with the post-processing done by Fotosold, but I believe the final image should as accurately as possible depict the actual house. I believe any more extreme methods would have compromised this. The final image could also have been further cropped before being exported. This is also a matter of preference. I defer to the listing Realtor’s preference when making any final image crops.
Feel free to let me know your thoughts, opinions, criticisms, etc.