Great photographs are more important than ever for hooking online house-hunters.
Unless you’re listing million-dollar homes or have a big budget for marketing, chances are you’re the photographer on your listings. Improving your real estate photography skills improves your listings and sets them apart from the competition.
Here are some tips to give your listing photographs extra visual appeal.
With any photography, the photographer’s skill is the best determinant of quality. Buying more expensive property doesn’t guarantee you better photographs.
That being said, 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 barreling effect on your wide-angle shots. Barreling, or barrel lens distortion, is when the photograph curves as it moves towards the edges of the shot (e.g., a fish eye lens uses this effect to create distorted shots).
Barreling effects vary by lens, so check reviews for discussion about distortions. You can also avoid the worst barreling effects by keeping your lens towards the middle of your focal length (i.e., how far you are “zoomed in”).
Here are your options!
Cellphone cameras are convenient for quick photos of the exterior of a property if you’re scouting properties for a client.
But using a cellphone camera comes with a couple major drawbacks.
- Photographs are a crucial part of your online listing. Taking photos with your cell phone makes you look like you’re only putting in minimal marketing effort.
- You won’t be able to control difficult lighting situations with a cell phone camera. Rooms with strong direct light or rooms with low light will be a challenge.
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.
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 is 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 is 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 diffused light, as opposed to overexposing just one area.
To learn how to properly use these tools and settings, you’ll need to study up a bit. Try these resources:
Are tripods necessary? You can definitely get an okay shot without using one 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. Camera shake is caused by a variety of things, including the shutter speed, how you press down on 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.
Some cons: 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.
Don’t want to commit to a tripod? You can use furniture and a remote release in a pinch, but it’s less versatile.
To shop cameras and compare settings and features, check out:
Scheduling and preparation
It’s important to schedule with your sellers a date and time when you’ll return to take photos of the property. Ask them to give their home a good clean and declutter before that date. 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, and pets and occupants need to remain outside of the shots.
Outside, have your seller move their cars out of the driveway for the photo of the front of house.
Other preparation tips:
- Charge your camera before your appointment, and keep 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. If you’ve got more than one new listing, make it a photo day while you’ve got your equipment with you.
- Take extra storage. Again, a precaution. You don’t want to choose between your vacation pictures and your client’s listing photos.
What to photograph
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, special flooring, a remodeled bathroom or kitchen.
Plan on including at least 12-24 photos with the listing (adjust accordingly for very small or very large properties). That means you’ll be shooting at least 100 frames, and then choosing the best from the bunch. It’s easier to take extra pictures than to return to the property to re-take photos at a later time.
View the photos on your computer after the shoot 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 whole shot. Get the entire front of the property in one shot, with the least amount of property obscured by landscaping. Cross the street if necessary!
- Keep your back to then sun, when you can. If 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 blinds. If the light in one part of the room is overly harsh, adjust or close blinds, window shades or curtains to even out 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 reduce glare, and avoid taking a photo of your own reflection.
- Shoot rooms from multiple angles. If the shot doesn’t look right, step to the side or step back a bit. To reduce the visual effect of a low ceiling, lower the camera. This will make the room appear larger.
- Keep your lines straight. Verticals should be parallel to the right side of the shot, and horizontals are to be parallel to the bottom of your shot. Play with how far you’re zoomed in (your focal length) to mitigate barreling.
- 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 corner shot also frees the room from a boxy, constrained look.
Here’s another useful resource to check out:
This article was previously posted in 2015.