Using an orange filter on your flash units at night or dusk can really give a nice effect with the cooler color temp which comes after the sun goes down. Getting real estate photos to pop will get you more hits on the internet. You can use this technique for portraits, real estate and just about any situation where you might like to make the blue sky color pop for effect. I do this quite often for my personal photography even indoors to make the window views more blue, although for real estate sales I keep it for occasional exterior shots. Your camera may or may not adjust completely for the orange cast from the flash so you may have to tweak it some in your editing software. What happens is when you adjust the white balance to correct for the orange cast you get more intense blues or a cooler white balance on areas not affected by the flashes light output. The blues tend to look different / more pure than just cranking up the blue channel in your HSL ( Hue, Saturation, Lightness) tools with a warmer white balance setting. If you know your color wheel well you can use other color filters for effect as well.
Left image was taken with a diffuser on my SB800 flash unit set at 60 degrees. The problem that can arise with Exposure blending or HDR is that the longer exposures can lighten and change the color of some wood tones like the example above in which the flashed shot is accurate. This usually is only an issue with oranges and reds in wood tones. The best way to avoid this is to only use a long exposure that does not go too far beyond the ambient light, shorter exposures can be used to control AC lighting. This can be an issue with high-end kitchens where clients expect the wood tone of their cabinets to look correct. As long as your aware of this you can usually make some corrections to the files before blending if you’re an HDR shooter. getting the shot right with flash saves a lot of time in post later. There are times though that getting it right with one flash unit or even multible flash units won’t cut it, this is where a tripod and exposure blending comes in handy. As long as your processing is consistent the over all look of your finished images will look pretty good and the viewer won’t likely notice that you used different lighting techniques. Sloppy HDR processing can result in a lot of errors and obvious artifacts which high end clients might not appreciate.
Just Click on any image for a closer look. (Update: as of 7-01-2012 new camera sensors continue to have more DR compared to older models and in particular Nikon’s new D800 which has over 14 stops of DR and is the new king of DR according to DXO Mark’s website. ), this really has to be seen to appreciate it, see this link: http://www.fredmiranda.com/5DIII-D800/index_controlled-tests.html As camera sensors get better and better their ability to capture the dynamic range of a scene has been increasing. In the samples above HDR or EB was not required and the files look very clean at web resolution and in smaller prints up to 8.5 x 12. In the samples above I took the shot so that the histogram showed just a bit of clipping in the highlights, this is usually going to get you the most range in a contrasty scene like above when you shoot in the raw format. The latest DX format cameras like the Nikon D7000 have almost 2 stops more DR than the camera I used to take the above shots. One big advantage to this is not having to deal with the wind or alignment issues when blending in software. Also you don’t need a tripod like when doing HDR. Your results will probably look more natural than HDR as well ( at least for beginners). There are many ways to go about this in software, you could make several versions from the one and blends them if you wanted to. The point is that the best sensors at any given time (newer is usually better with digital) can make getting a great image a lot easier. For you RE shooters that just want to use single shot images and not do HDR (this goes for interiors as well) you need all the dynamic range you can get from your camera’s sensor. Digital noise is another area that newer sensors have been improving in, particularly at higher ISOs, the cleaner the files the less noise and artifacts that will show up in the shadow areas when opening up the darker areas of an image. These two areas (DR & Noise) have real world advantages for RE and other forms of photography if you do any heavy processing. There is always going to be plenty of cases where HDR is the only way to get the scene in because of the high degree of contrast in some shooting situations.
One more area that sensor technology is improving is resistance to light spill or what we called halation in the film days, that is the ability to resist light from a bright light source from spilling over in the surrounding area of the image. In other words better definition around very bright objects. We will continue to see improvements as technology moves forward, Of course even if it didn’t the high end today will eventually make its way to the consumer or lower prices cameras. Todays mid level DSLR camera bodies are already using better sensors than you could buy at any price 2yrs ago (DX sensors), and for the most part they at least on par with full frame 35mm sensors from 5yrs ago. That’s why digital bodies are a poor investment, buy what you need now and only buy the best if it makes financial sense. A $5,000 DSLR will probably be worth $1,200 -1900 in 5yrs (that has been the case so far). Once full frame sensors find their way into midrange bodies the value of those high priced pro FF camera bodies will come down even more.
Right now your best values in Full Frame camera bodies are the Sony A850, A900, the Nikon D700, the Canon 5D2 or used 5D1. By the end of this year 2011 there will be a new breed of pro FF camera bodies that will be fitted with even better sensors and features making the older ones far less attractive and less expensive to buy on the used market.
Update: The latest version of Adobe Lightroom (version 4.4 )really makes it easier to get the most out of a Raw file with its new controls and adjustment brushes. As long as the sun in not in or near the edge of your camera’s view you probably don’t need to do exposure blending for outdoor shots during the day. Blending still buys you more time in the evening and gets you more range at night. Indoors shots with window views that pop is still going to be tricky at times.
Update: With some of the new high mp camera bodies now coming out, some without AA filters we have the ability to really get some nice big sharp images particuarlly when downsized. Even though in tests you might think you can almost match the Full Frame camera with a little noise reduction ( you just about can) don’t be fooled into thinking that you can come close to matching them once you start pushing shadows and exposure beyond 2+ stops. Take for example Nikon’s new D5200/7100 cameras. They have a new Toshiba sensor in them and that sensor hides color casts and banding within the shadows that you may have to deal with depending on the scene and how much it affect the shadows. At this time only Topaz’s De-Noise software (to my knowledge) eliminates banding (100% at that). Color casts you will have to learn some tricks to deal with that.