Photo Styles: Basic, HDR and Strobe

Throughout this site, you'll see a number of references to three types of photography: Basic, HDR, and Strobe. In the following paragraphs, we'll attempt to explain the main features and benefits of both HDR and Strobe, because they are perhaps the least well understood by the average non-photographer.

Basic photographs are simply the best images we can make without spending the additional time required for HDR or Strobe photography. Basic photographs are generally taken without a tripod, and without any off-camera flash equipment. In scenes without optimal ambient light, the quality of Basic photos can be limited, but they are generally very good. The most obvious problem with Basic photos is shadow areas that are too dark, and highlight areas that are too bright. Both of those problems can be mitigated by using HDR or Strobe photography.

HDR Sample

An HDR photo

What is HDR Photography?

HDR is a relatively new digital photography process. The technique is most often used for scenes that have a combination of dark shadows and bright highlights, such as an interior shot with bright daylight coming in through the window. When a scene contains extreme elements of both shadows and highlights, it can be described as a "high dynamic range" (HDR) image.

When shooting scenes like this, digital cameras cannot capture the full range of brightness in one exposure—a single exposure will have either blackened shadow areas, washed out highlights, or both. To solve this problem, it's necessary to take a series of exposures, ranging from an under-exposed image that captures the highlight detail, to an over-exposed image that captures the shadow detail. The series is shot using a tripod to keep the camera in a consistent position, and then processed using specialized software that blends these exposures into a single image. The purpose is to brighten the detail in the dark shadows, and to darken the detail in bright highlights, and display all the detail in a single image. The image below was taken using all three styles—Basic, HDR, and Stobe. Click the links below the image to see the variations, or move your mouse pointer over the names in the upper-right corner.

HDR comparison image

Basic | HDR | Strobe

Some photographers offer what they call "High Definition" photography, which is a misnomer, because the image has no more "definition" than a standard image of the same resolution. What they are really talking about is exactly the same HDR process described above. I believe they call it High Definition because it sounds a little more familiar and maybe less technical to the consumer. Perhaps my competitors have better marketing departments than I do, but I prefer industry standard terminology (or truth in advertising), so I call it what it is. You can read more about HDR photography in this Wikipedia article.

a Strobe sample

A strobe photo

What is Strobe Photography?

photo of strobe lights with umbrella reflectors

Any electronic flash used in photography is called a strobe. In the context of our services, a "Strobe" photo is an image taken with one or more large, off-camera strobe units made for use in a studio. Strobes can be used with umbrella reflectors (right) to diffuse the light and create softer shadows. They can also be used without the umbrellas to direct the light more precisely.

Proper use of strobes involves lighting a scene primarily with the ambient light in the room, and then adding fill light to brighten up the shadow areas. It's a delicate balancing act to get the strobes positioned and adjusted such that they add just enough light where it's needed, but not so much that you can see that it was lit with strobes. A well-lit scene will not have any obvious shadows or harsh lighting, characteristic of an overpowered strobe. In the example at left, strobes are used to fill in the shadowy base cabinets and the dark recessed corners, as well as to boost the overall ambient light in the room. See more examples in our Portfolio section.

Because of the extra time required to bring in, set up and fine-tune the strobes for each scene, there is an extra fee for the strobe session, and the individual strobe images are somewhat more expensive than the HDR equivalents. For this reason, strobe photography is most often reserved for the high-end properties like "parade" homes, or other, well-staged properties, but it's suitable any time you need a high-quality image.

Which type is best for me?

In a nutshell, HDR is a high-tech alternative to strobes for lighting a scene. It's a shortcut that makes use of ambient light, which means the photographer has less control over the lighting. Sometimes the results are impressive, but often they can have a surreal or fantasy-like appearance. This unique look is popular right now, but some people prefer a more natural look.

Strobe photography is fundamentally higher quality than HDR. Virtually all interior architectural photos (and many exterior shots) printed in magazines use strobes to enhance the ambient light in a scene. It's more demanding to shoot, more time-consuming, and therefore more expensive than HDR, but the difference in quality is often worth it for glossy printed brochures, posters, or anywhere that the image quality is of prime importance.

HDR Photography

Advantages
  • Less expensive than strobe
  • Faster to shoot
  • Popular, trendy look
Disadvantages
  • Grainy appearance
  • Trendy look is un-natural
  • Scenes can look dirty
  • Colors can be less accurate

» See our HDR samples

Strobe Photography

Advantages
  • Higher quality than HDR
  • Classic, more natural look
  • Not grainy
  • Better control of light in a scene
Disadvantages
  • Requires more time to shoot
  • More expensive

» See our Strobe samples