Recently one of our video clients inquired if we do real estate photography. He’s was selling a condominium near UIC and was considering selling it himself. As I’ve photographed real estate in the past, I affirmed we could photograph the condo for him. To keep within budget, we decided to photograph the condo with my iPhone 12 Pro Max. There was also the issue of my ultra-wide angle zoom lens having a burnt out focusing motor, which locked the focus near infinity.
Generally, real estate photography is done with full-frame or APS-C cameras, as well as dedicated 3D camera systems. Most of them have imaging sensors vastly larger than those found in phones, including the larger sensors used in newer phones like the 12 Pro Max. This means they’re much better as gathering light and have better dynamic range, that is, the ability to capture detail in both the bright and dark areas of a photo. Never-the-less, in real estate photography, it is standard practice to take a series of bracketed exposures and then merge the resulting image files into one image in programs like Photoshop or Lightroom to get a better representation of a property. Even with modern camera sensors, it’s hard to get detail in scenes outside a window if you’ve set your exposure for the interior lighting. And even if you’re shooting a view without a window in the frame, images produced from bracketed exposures give a better representation of tones from light to dark than a single capture does.
Many digital cameras include the ability to auto-bracket, that is, to set up a series of exposures that vary the exposure setting by a set amount. Back when I shot a lot of transparency film outside, I generally took three exposures, one with the exposure set at what the camera meter suggested and two with the setting a stop or two above and below that setting. Hopefully, one of those film images would produce a decent image. Of course, this was before computer image manipulation was available. Being able to merge the different exposures into one image makes a world of difference.
The built-in camera app on the iPhone is good for general use, but it does not include the ability to auto-bracket, you have to do it old-school by manually changing each exposure. You need a third party app to enable auto-bracket functionality. While there are several apps available for the iPhone, the one that has the best auto-bracket function is CameraPixels Pro. This app allows up to seven image exposure auto-brackets with one click of the shutter.
I proceeded to shoot the condo using the iPhone’s 13mm equivalent ultra-wide lens and CameraPixels Pro, with the phone on a tripod, of course. I merged the bracketed files of each scene in Adobe Lightroom. My client was happy with the results. I was so happy with the results, I used the iPhone on another job, shooting two co-working spaces for another client. She too was very happy with the photos, one of which is below.
There are a few gotchas with this method though. First, you need to remember to set the ISO on the phone to the lowest setting to keep digital noise to a minimum. Second, as a consequence of this, exposures can be quite long with ten seconds or more needed to do a seven image bracket. A camera can do it much faster. And third is a quirk of CameraPixels. When set to the regular photo mode and the ultra-wide lens, you can shoot jpeg, HEIC (hi efficiency), DNG raw or Apple’s ProRaw format. ProRaw is a DNG raw format file that includes all of Apple’s processing such as Deep Fusion and high dynamic range. Unfortunately, this means the files are big, 25 megabytes or more. When you switch CameraPixels to the auto-bracket mode and use the ultra-wide camera, you can only use ProRAW, jpeg or HEIC, not plain raw. Shooting several images for each scene eats up a lot of memory. Using jpeg or HEIC isn’t an option because merging those types of files doesn’t give the best results. So, I quickly deleted the bracketed images and only kept the final merged high dynamic range images.
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