By Ana Mireles on | No Comments
Are you looking to improve your real estate photography? Then you’ve come to the right place.
These tips don’t require you to invest in expensive photography equipment. So, you don’t need to be a photographer to benefit from this article.
If you identify with any of these situations, keep reading:
Real estate photography is a branch of commercial photography where the subject is a property that can be residential, commercial, industrial or even vacant land. And each of these categories has sub-categories as well. For example, residential properties can be family homes, condos, apartments, co-ops, etc.
As it is a commercial type of photography, the scope is typically to showcase the property's characteristics to attract potential clients to buy, rent, or sublet.
Real estate photography is not about a single image; it’s always about a SERIES of photographs. You will generally need to capture not only the interior but also the building, the surroundings, etc. The exact number of images and what they show will depend on each property.
Real estate photography differs from architecture and interior photography, the main difference being what the completed images are used for. This may sound minor, but it affects the entire process.
As we mentioned before, the general intent of real estate photography is to showcase a property in a way that attracts a potential buyer. On the other hand, architecture and interior photographs are typically used in an architect or a designer's portfolio, in editorial photography, and sometimes as fine art.
Because of how the images are used in these various types of photography, the time invested in shooting and editing images, as well as the level of detail, make them very different.
Also, for real estate photography, the shooter will usually try to photograph as objectively as possible (for ethical purposes). On the other hand, an architecture photographer may shoot more artistically, offering a unique perspective. Because of this, an architecture photographer will have a significantly higher fee than a real estate photographer.
If you’re looking to get started in real estate photography or just improve your skills, here are some tips to help you out.
Make a shot list. As you know, real estate photography has a tight budget and requires quick turnover. A shot list helps you to organize your photography packages and make your photo shoots more efficient.
You can create a different shot list for each type of property. Some factors to consider are whether it’s a house or an apartment and the number of rooms the property has.
Here is an example shot list for residential property:
Obviously, you can fine-tune this list according to each location. Just make sure you adjust your rate if your client asks for more images than your standard package.
Regardless of your photographic skills, a messy or dirty house won’t look good in photos. Make sure to clarify with your client that the home will be clean and ready to be photographed and that your services DO NOT ALSO include cleaning and tidying up a house.
Of course, you could offer those services if you want, but they should be for an additional fee to compensate you for the time needed before the photoshoot.
In general, though, real estate photographers are there to photograph a property and not to take care of a mess, just like portrait photographers are not expected to do the makeup of their subjects. Obviously, you can move a piece of furniture or a few things around to benefit the shot - but that should be about it.
Home staging is a service that involves redecorating a home, rearranging furniture, etc., to make the home look as attractive as possible to potential buyers. If a property owner is going to do this, it is usually done before real estate photos are taken.
Including home staging among your services can help you attract higher-end clients. This should, of course, be priced separately from your photographic services.
Many realtors already have a home stager they trust, so you may not always be free to choose the one you work with. However, it’s better to work with one you already know.
Hiring a stager for personal projects, like building your portfolio or selling real estate photos to stock photography sites, can also be a good idea.
You can also benefit by learning some tips from a professional stager to use when you’re working on your own.
In real estate photography, you often don’t have too much flexibility regarding the photoshoot schedule because you will need to coordinate the times with the homeowner and the realtor.
If possible, try to shoot during the early morning or late afternoon. Those times are often referred to as the golden hours because they create soft shadows and warm tones for photos that will work well for almost any property. Make sure the sun is illuminating the front of the house, though.
A cloudy day also provides a good lighting environment to photograph a house. Unfortunately, it will make for a very dull sky framing the property. However, that can be easily fixed in post-processing using a beautiful sky overlay - like my favorite painted sky overlays from Pretty Presets & Actions.
If you ARE asked to shoot in the evening or under difficult lighting conditions, you may want to consider adjusting your rate because you will need to bring flashes and extra equipment, and possibly an assistant.
A tripod is a must-have accessory for real estate photography. It will help you to have a fixed frame to compose your images better and prevent or diminish perspective distortion.
You will also need a tripod when shooting in low-light conditions. The available ambient light is often not strong enough to allow for a fast shutter speed. And if you don’t have a tripod, you will end up with blurry images.
Last but not least, a tripod is useful when shooting to process. This means taking photographs with a specific plan for working with them in post-production. This is the case with shooting for photo composites and HDR images.
Both of these techniques are very popular in real estate photography. I will explain them in more detail later on in this article. But for now, know that when shooting HDR and composites, you will need to take multiple images with the same framing, which can only be done properly using a tripod.
To photograph real estate, you will need a good wide-angle lens. This type of lens can fit the most amount of information in a single shot which is perfect for taking photos that show the house with some context or capture the entire living room (and not just a corner of it).
An excellent focal length that works for most situations in real estate photography is a 16-35mm zoom lens which will give you an angle of view from 107 degrees to 64 degrees. This is when you use them on a full-frame camera, which is advisable to keep the widest field of view. Otherwise, you will have to apply a conversion factor.
Beware of using shorter focal lengths when shooting real estate. They can distort your images.
Lighting a large space requires time, skills, and equipment. These things are not always considered in real estate photography budgets and timetables. So, it’s better to get the shot using the available ambient light.
Here are a few tips when working with ambient light:
One of the difficult things to manage when shooting real estate photography is white balance because of the varying mix of natural light from windows and artificial light from inside the house.
As you probably know, light from different sources often has different color temperatures. This is measured in Kelvin degrees.
For example, light on a sunny day at noon measures about 5500 Kelvin degrees, while light from a desk lamp typically measures around 2700 to 3000 degrees. At these temperatures, the natural light will look white, and the desk lamp will look yellow.
Varying light combinations can be a pain to fix in post-processing. You can sometimes use them for a specific effect, but when you’re looking for a neutral color balance, you can spend hours trying to correct this.
The best option is to try and stick to one type of light. If there is lots of light coming from the windows, turn off the indoor lights and use only the window light. Or, use indoor lighting and a flash to overpower the natural light.
When choosing where to set up your tripod, keep in mind the scope of real estate photos - showcasing the property's characteristics and representing it as objectively as possible.
You also need to consider the restrictions of real estate photography. That is, you will only have a handful of images to showcase the features of the property while at the same time capturing the viewer’s interest as they scroll through hundreds of listings.
Having said this, some properties don’t have much wiggle room. If the space is small, you might have to shoot from the doorway to be able to stand behind the camera. Choosing a wide-angle lens (like mentioned above) can also help with this. If possible, always try to include three walls to offer a better idea of the space.
When photographing real estate, preventing or reducing perspective distortion is essential.
To achieve this, you need a leveled camera so that all verticals, like doorways, wall corners, etc., appear straight. You can use a double bubble level to make sure of this. You should also use a tilt-shift head on your tripod to be more precise with your movements.
Leveling the camera requires some attention, but it’s not difficult to do and is not open to interpretation.
On the other hand, finding the best height to shoot from can be more difficult because it is subjective and can change from one room to the next.
Shooting at chest height is the standard to avoid distortion. However, this can sometimes result in too much ceiling and too little foreground. In some cases, it might even be cutting off a piece of furniture that’s too close to the camera creating an awkward composition.
To solve this, you will need to shoot from a lower height. Most real estate photographers recommend the height of a doorknob. Until you become more experienced, try shooting at different heights to find the best one for each shot.
If you can't avoid perspective distortion in-camera, you can fix or reduce it during your editing process. Converging lines are the biggest tell of a non-professional photographer, so it is very important to do this, especially in real estate photography.
Most editing programs have a feature that allows you to correct lens and perspective distortion. If you edit on a desktop, you can use Lightroom, Photoshop, GIMP, or many other programs.
I like to use Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw for my real estate post-processing.
For those of you who take photos on a mobile device, there are powerful apps like SKRWT that are fantastic at correcting perspective distortion. Lightroom Mobile and Snapseed also have distortion correction features.
As you can see, fixing distortion is very easy and makes a world of difference.
High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography is a common technique used by real estate photographers that merges several images of the same shot taken at different exposures to create a final image with an overall correct exposure.
This allows you to record details from contrasting scenes, such as a dark interior with bright light shining in from a window.
To create an HDR photo, you need to use a tripod. Once your camera is locked into position on a tripod, you need to take at least three shots at different exposures. The framing needs to be exactly the same - ONLY the exposure will change.
You will need to properly expose one photo for highlights, one for the mid-tones, and one for the shadows. Shooting more than three images can help get even better results because you will capture more of the entire dynamic range.
Once you have your photos, you must combine them into a single image in post-processing.
Some dedicated HDR programs, such as Luminar NEO, offer great flexibility when working with HDR.
Another great option is Photoshop which also has an HDR feature. To use it, launch Photoshop, go to the menu File>Automate>Merge to HDR Pro. Then select the files, and Photoshop will merge them into a single HDR photo. The results can be fine-tuned using the HDR interface sliders.
Using this technique can create images that look unnatural or fake. Use a light hand or just pick specific images that will benefit from this technique to avoid a photo that looks nothing like the space you are photographing.
Photo compositing is another technique real estate photographers use, but it is much more complicated and time-consuming than HDR photography. So, only use it if the light conditions are very tricky and the fee is adequate for the amount of work you will need to do
To create a composited photo, first, you need to secure your camera on a tripod and frame your picture. Then, using a flash, move around, lighting different sections of the room and taking a photo each time.
For example, for one shot, stand on the right side with a flashgun pointed to the left part of the room while taking a photo. Then move to the other side and illuminate the right part of the room and so on.
Depending on the size of the room and the available light, the number of images you need for a good composite will vary.
Once you have all your images, load them as layers in a single Photoshop document. From each layer, you should only use the part of the image illuminated by the flash. The rest can be hidden with a layer mask. Once all the layers are combined, your final image should show a perfectly lit room.
Whether you are a professional real estate photographer, a realtor, or a homeowner who wants to take their own real estate photos, these tips should help you out.
If you have any questions or would like to share some tips of your own, please leave us a comment below. We would love to hear from you!
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Ana Mireles is a Mexican photographer and researcher with a passion for writing and teaching. She’s collaborated in artistic and cultural projects in Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands.