Those gorgeous, jaw dropping real estate photos – we’ve all seen them. Professional photographers can work magic for your listings. Everything is neat, clean and bright. Inviting, and quickly gets added to a buyer’s short-list.
We’ve also seen those photos taken by agents that make us cringe. Poor composition, unprofessional and under-exposed.
True story. When I was an agent in Houston Texas, a home listed in my neighborhood by another firm. When I viewed the listing in MLS, I was shocked at the photos. One word, awful. Poor composition, under-exposed, and several were blurry. The photo of the fireplace was entered sideways. I thought this must be an oversight and would quickly be corrected. Weeks went by and the photo stayed the same. That got me thinking… Why hadn’t the sellers mentioned this to their agent? They must have seen the listing in the MLS? Eventually the home was taken off the market, and while I don’t know the whole story – it’s clear to me the photography didn’t help.
Hire a professional or do it yourself?
I’ve been a real estate broker since 2006, and while I am no longer practicing, when I was – I struggled with whether to hire a photographer or take the photos myself. I really enjoyed taking pictures, and at the start I simply didn’t have the budget to spend on a photographer.
The Value of a Professional Photographer
Many agents take their own photos, and depending on the property, location and market expectations – that may be appropriate. The luxury market definitely calls for professional photography. I can’t image a multi-million dollar listing agent hauling a camera and tripod around to snap photos for their listings. They hire a professional. They value their time. They focus on what they do best. Unless you love photography and the post processing tools to make your photos shine, my recommendation is to hire a professional.
Going it alone
Okay, so your still reading… There may be circumstances where taking your own photos is preferable:
1. a rural farm/ranch market
2. lower priced listings
3. no budget for a photographer
If you do, here are a few tips that might help you with your Real Estate photography.
Five tips for improving your real estate photos:
1. Choose the right gear. Digital camera terminology is based on the very popular 35mm film cameras. Today, a full frame digital camera refers to a camera with a sensor the size of a piece of 35mm film. A crop camera has a smaller sensor, roughly the size of a piece of APS-C film. There are other cameras that have even smaller sensors like Micro Four Thirds System. The sensor is the part of the camera that captures the image. In theory, larger sensors yield better image quality.
If you’re on a budget, I’d recommend you invest in a used crop sensor camera from Canon or Nikon. Pair that with a wide-angle crop sensor zoom lens in the 10-22mm range. If you are using full frame camera, you want a lens in the 16-35mm range or 17-40mm. I am not going to go into why this is, but if you’re interested, you can learn more about it here at SLRLounge. I recently met a photographer who was using a used Canon 7D with an EF-S 10-22mm lens. His photos were beautiful and he used that camera to shoot the video tour.
2. Use a tripod. Make sure you have a basic understanding on how aperture, shutter speed and ISO work together. Shoot in aperture priority mode in the f11 to f16 range. That will give you a deep depth of field (more of focal range in focus). ISO 400 or less, preferably 100. That leaves the shutter speed to adjust automatically. On a tripod, you won’t have to worry about camera shake (images appearing blurry because of slight hand movements while the shutter is open). You also won’t have to worry about them being unexposed – since camera’s auto exposure metering will set your shutter speed. Generally for hand-held shooting, you may experience camera shake with shutter speeds slower than 1/60 of a second. While you’re at it, a remote shutter release to further reduce any movement of the camera when the shot is taken will improve image sharpness.
3. Let there be light. Light is essential for a good photo, but direct sunlight can be harsh and create shadows. When shooting exterior photos, avoid shooting mid-day when the sun is the strongest. Cloudy days diffuse and soften the light. Depending on which way the home faces, mornings or late afternoons may be yield better results. Try to avoid shooting directly towards the sun. I try to keep it behind me if I can.
For interiors, turn on all the lamps and overhead lights. Leave the windows blinds open but angled up to avoid shadows on furniture. Turn off ceiling fans to avoid blur at slower shutter speeds.
4. Mix it up a little – Don’t shoot everything ultra-wide. A wide angle makes rooms look big, but having all your shots from that angle won’t convey the charm or unique character of the space. Pay attention to the details.
Take some close-ups to highlight features, or to create a warm inviting feeling, like they do in magazines. Be sure to open your aperture a bit or better yet, switch to a prime lens (fixed focal length) for close-ups.
Get creative with showcasing gardens, porches and backyards. Take some time to compose your shots and pay attention to lighting, shadows and subjects. Sometimes I’ve found a nice vignette is inviting; small table and chairs, a garden bench, flower beds or an evening waterfall from the pool.
Watch for distortion of angles. Wide angle lenses tend to distort and skew vertical and horizontal lines, especially ones close to the camera. Try not to angle your camera up or down – keep it level halfway between the floor and the ceiling. Using a tripod makes it easy to do. If the ceilings are 9 feet high, then your camera lens should be 4 1/2 feet off the floor. Try to avoid shooting at the widest focal length (10mm on a crop frame or 16mm on a full frame) as it can really distort and stretch the edges of the shot.
5. Mirrors, toilet seats and clutter. Finally, don’t shoot directly into a mirror. Find the right angle to shoot where you won’t end up in the reflection – worse yet, with the flash firing. I’ve seen several listings in MLS, where the agent is behind a bright flash of light in a mirror. If you’re using a tripod, more than likely you won’t need the on camera flash.
Toilet seats should be down. You might laugh, but I’ve seen a ton of photos with them up.
This may sound like common sense, but remove obvious clutter in the room especially on the bathroom and kitchen counters. It is easy to forget the small things.
I took this photo using a Canon 16-35mm f2.8L zoom lens on a full frame Canon camera with three bracketed shots and some HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing. Yes that gear is expensive, but honestly, you don’t need to spend that much. I captured beautiful images on my little crop sensor Canon Rebel with a 10-22mm lens, which cost less than $1000.
Ideally, hiring a professional photographer to shoot your listings is my best advice. Many offer video tours and virtual tours that frankly unless you are doing this everyday, the time you’ll spend putting this all together could be spent meeting new clients.
Getting Started with Gear
For real estate, I’ve shot with several cameras from the Canon Rebel xsi to the flagship full frame Canon 5D Mark III. More important than the camera is the lens. For starters, stick with a crop sensor camera. If the camera comes with a lens already it will usually be a kit lens in the 18-55mm range. That’s not wide enough for shooting real estate, but it is a great all around lens to have, especially for close-in shots.
Affordable Crop Sensor choices under $1500
First choice -> Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM SLR Lens for EOS Digital SLRs
Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens
Canon EOS 70D Digital SLR Camera (Body Only)
Canon EOS 7D 18 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens (discontinued by manufacturer)* (Body Only)
Canon EOS Rebel SL1 Digital SLR with 18-55mm STM Lens
*Canon recently replaced the 7D with the 7D Mark II – pricing for the 7D recently dropped)
Since I’ve never shot with a Nikon camera, I’ll have to rely on reviews I’ve read and other posts:
There are so many tripods to choose from with different kinds of heads (the part that attaches to your camera). Some tripods come with a head, others you purchase separately. Whether you plan to shoot still photos or videos can also affect your decision. Any sturdy tripod will do. Read the reviews.
Start your search on Amazon:
Dolica GX650B204 Proline GX Series 65 inch Aluminum Tripod and Ball Head Combo for DSLR, SLR
Sources for more information:
You’ll find a wealth of information at photographyforrealestate.net – that is where I researched how to select a wide-angle lens for my camera.
Digital Photography School Tips is another excellent resource for digital photography enthusiasts.
Another one is Tips for Real Estate Photography
Highly Recommended Video Courses on Lynda