The following is an excerpt from the new edition of the firsttuesday Career Manual, a best practices guide to help new real estate licensees establish their personal brands and boost income. In this excerpt, we discuss photography tips for real estate professionals.

Live or die by the photo

Great photographs are more important than ever for hooking up with online house-hunters.

Unless you’re listing million-dollar homes or you (or your broker) have a big budget for marketing, chances are you’re the photographer on your listings. Improving your real estate photography skills improves the first impression of your listings and sets them apart from the competition.

Here are some tips to give your listing photographs extra visual appeal.

Quality and quantity

The quality of your photos is as important, if not more important than the total number of photos you take and post for the listing.

To get the best photos, take at least four times as many pictures as you plan on using. This covers the likelihood of some blurry shots, wrong angles, or improperly exposed pictures.

Also, the property owner likely won’t want to be bothered with your reshoot when the only shot taken of the kitchen has your finger in it. Thus, take multiple pictures of everything. This includes overview shots of all living areas.

Shots of the exterior and any scenic views the home may offer are also important. Schedule the shoot for a day with nice weather for the best exterior shots, and at a time the sun casts the best lighting for the property’s exterior features.

Photograph any other selling points worth mentioning in the listing as well.

Also, carefully select the primary image of the property to feature in the listing. The featured image is the first and singular view an interested buyer will see at the outset aside from the basic marketing information on the property. An appealing photo will nudge the buyer to click for more information and learn more about the property.

To choose the perfect photo to feature, consider what the most desirable aspect of the property is from a buyer’s standpoint. Does the home have an amazing view? Does it boast a brand new chef’s kitchen? A pool area?

The photo that sets the listing apart as unique from other similar properties is a good pick for the featured photo.


With any photography, the photographer’s skill is the best determinant of quality. Listing expensive, well-designed property doesn’t guarantee you better photographs.

Beyond skill, the bare necessities for proper real estate photography include:

  • a digital camera;
  • wide-angle lens capability to capture more of a room in a single shot; and
  • a flash.

Regardless of the type of camera you choose to go with, watch out for barrel lens distortion on your wide-angle shots. Barrel lens distortion is when the photographed structure curves inward towards the edges of the shot (e.g., a fish-eye lens uses this effect to deliberately create distorted shots).

Barrel distortion effects vary by lens, so check reviews for discussion about distortions. You can also avoid the worst barrel distortion effects by keeping your lens towards the middle of your focal length (i.e., how far you are “zoomed in”).

Cellphone cameras

Cellphone cameras are convenient for quick photos of the exterior of a property if you’re scouting properties for a client. Your cellphone is always with you and cell phone camera technology improves dramatically with each successive product generation.

However, using a cellphone camera comes with a couple major drawbacks. Photographs are a crucial part of your online listing and taking photos with your cell phone may make it look like you’re only putting in minimal marketing effort. Because they are so ubiquitous, taking listing photos with a cellphone may appear too casual for a professional context.

Further, you won’t be able to control difficult lighting situations or create lighting highlights with a cell phone camera. Rooms with strong direct light or rooms with low light are a challenge to photograph favorably on a cell phone camera.

If you’re a pro on your cellphone camera and have tools to handle difficult indoor lighting, snap away. Otherwise, upgrade to the next level.

Compact cameras

The next best option is a compact camera, also known as a point-and-shoot. A compact camera is a small, portable camera that typically doesn’t allow you to swap out the lens. It has more settings and features than a cellphone camera, but still automates the bulk of the technical aspects of photography.

The flash on a compact camera can illuminate an area, but if the room has light and dark spots, flash will be harsh and unflattering. Try to rely on natural light and existing light fixtures where possible.


After the point-and-shoot you need to find an entry-level digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera.

DSLRs have automatic settings which allow you to just point and shoot – but they don’t come out of the box taking much better photos than a high-end compact camera.

A DSLR’s advantage comes from:

  • the use of a dedicated wide-angle lens;
  • the use of an external flash;
  • aperture controls which allow you to adjust how much light you let in through the lens; and
  • shutter speed controls which allow you to adjust how quickly you capture the light for the photo.

Like a compact camera, DSLRs come with built-in flash, but the light flashes in one direction only. Adding an external flash gives you a more powerful flash. It also allows you to control how the light works, and lets you bounce light off other surfaces to create a soft diffused light, as opposed to overexposing just one area.


You can take reasonably attractive pictures without using a tripod in a well-lit property. However, tripods help you take sharper shots, especially in low-light situations.

Photographs with soft edges are generally the result of camera shake. A variety of conditions cause camera shake, including shutter speed, how you press the shutter release, your stance, how you hold the camera and your breathing.

A tripod removes the human sources of camera shake. Pair it with a timed shutter release or a remote release to obtain maximum sharpness for your shots.

However, a good tripod is an investment. In other words, a good, light tripod will set you back at least several hundred dollars. They also take more time to set up in each room.

When you don’t want to commit to a tripod, use furniture and a remote release in a pinch. It’s less versatile but effective.

Scheduling and preparation

Schedule a date and time with the sellers to take photos of their property. Kindly request they give their home a good cleaning and declutter it before that date —staging is important.

Also, point out anything that can be easily fixed before the photo session, like holes in the drywall, carpet stains, weeds and stains in the driveway.

Inside the property, personal items need to be squirreled away. Similarly, pets and occupants need to remain outside of the shots.

Outside the property, have your seller move cars out of the driveway for the photo of the front of house.

Other preparation tips:

  • Charge your camera before your appointment, and have a spare battery handy. Unless you’re listing Hearst Castle, chances are you won’t need two entire batteries to take your photos. However, being over-prepared is better than inconveniencing a client.
  • Double up on photo sessions. When you have more than one new listing, make it a photo day while you have all your equipment with you.
  • Take extra storage as a precaution. You don’t want to start dumping your personal vacation pictures to make room for your client’s listing photos.

What to photograph

Be thorough in your photoshoot, being sure to take:

  • a front exterior shot;
  • a shot of every room in the house (except the garage, unless it’s a selling point);
  • the backyard; and
  • any special features you’re highlighting in your listing.

Special features can include amazing landscaping, a pool, upgraded flooring, or a remodeled bathroom or kitchen – amenities.

Plan on including at least 12-24 photos with the listing, adjusting accordingly for very small or very large properties.

That means you’ll be shooting up to 100 frames, then choosing the very best from the bunch. It’s easier to take extra pictures than return to the property to re-take photos.

After the shoot, view the photos on your computer when deciding which ones to keep. Details will appear on a larger screen which you may miss when looking at the photos on the camera’s preview screen. Weed out the obvious clunkers before consulting with your client on which ones to use.

Exterior shot tips

  • One shot of the whole property. Get the entire front of the property in one shot, with the least amount of structures obscured by landscaping. Cross the street if necessary to get this wide shot.
  • Keep your back to the sun, when you can. When the house is situated so you have to shoot into the light, try to choose a time of day when the sun isn’t directly in front of you. Shooting directly into the sun means the sky will be washed out, and everything else will appear darker than it actually is.
  • Use cloud cover. Mid-day sun creates harsh shadows. Try to shoot on a day when there’s a little cloud cover, as clouds diffuse harsh lighting. An overcast day may be okay for shooting — just keep any dark skies out of your shot to avoid an ominous look.

Interior shot tips

  • Turn on the lights. Don’t rely solely on sunlight, as it can create harsh lighting in a dark room. Turn on every light you can in the room you’re photographing.
  • Adjust or close the blinds. If the light in one part of the room is overly harsh, adjust or close the blinds, window shades or curtains to moderate the light in the room.
  • Keep an eye out for reflective surfaces. Shoot around mirrors, windows, and any other reflective surfaces. Try shooting from a different angle to eliminate glare. Also, avoid inadvertently including your own reflection in the photo.
  • Shoot rooms from multiple angles. When the shot doesn’t look right, step to one side or step back a bit. To reduce the visual effect of a low ceiling, lower the shoot level of the camera. This will make the room appear larger.
  • Keep your lines straight. Vertical lines should be parallel to the right side of the shot, and horizontal lines are to be parallel to the bottom of your shot. Play with how far you’re zoomed in (your focal length) to mitigate barrel lens distortion.
  • Shoot into corners. Unless a wall features a fantastic pattern or other visual draw, shoot into corners to create size and interest in your shot. A shot into a corner also frees the room from a boxy, constrained look and provides a greater sense of depth.