Real Estate Photography – Common pitfalls and how to avoid them
When selling a house, the key is to attract attention. These days, with online listings as a major market for house hunters, an essential part of every seller’s marketing strategy is to include photographs in the listing. Experience has shown that online listings which do not include any pictures are often dismissed without a second glance. Potential buyers want the chance to see the interior of a house to familiarize themselves somewhat with the space before they make a visit in person. Some real estate agents will take the photos themselves, and some choose to hire a professional photographer, but in many cases, the homeowner takes his or her own pictures and submits them to the agency to be used with the listing. As with other fields of photography, there are common pitfalls in real estate photography that result in unappealing shots. Professionals usually know what they’re doing already, but for real estate agents and homeowners alike who want to save a couple hundred dollars and do it themselves, here are some industry-proven techniques to make sure your photos are attractive to potential buyers.
One of the most important steps to producing attractive photos of a house is to invest in a decent camera. Cell phone cameras are ever-increasing in resolution and features, but the size of the camera on such devices usually prohibits adequate lens dimensions for optimal real estate shots. Industry professionals recommend using a camera of at least five megapixels with a wide angle lens. This doesn’t mean dropping hundreds of dollars on a fancy DSLR. There are basic point-and-shoot cameras that meet these specifications for well under a hundred dollars. The wide-angle lens accentuates depth and space, allowing the photographer to capture more of the room in a single frame. Real estate photos should allow the viewer to get an accurate sense of the space in a room – not hyperbolically large, but not cramped and confined. Inexperienced photographers should be careful, however, when using a wide-angle lens. There is a certain amount of distortion around the edges of the shot, due to the shape of the lens. This can lead to a warped image of certain parts of the room, especially conjunctions of vertical and horizontal lines, like where the corner of two walls meets the ceiling. Careful framing of the shot should allow the photographer to avoid this. In addition to having an adequate camera, investing in a tripod will allow for clean, crisp shots, free of shaky-hand distortion.
Professional photographers agree that not much can beat natural light. Exterior shots should be taken when the weather is overcast but still bright, so as to avoid unsightly shadows on the house. Interior shots should be taken on a sunny day, with the windows uncovered to allow as much sunlight into the room as possible. In a large space where the sunlight can’t quite reach the far corners, artificial light may also be used, but be careful to blend the differently-lighted spaces so there is not a jarring difference in hues. With some training, flash equipment may be used to balance the lighting in a room, but the built-in flash of any camera is likely to cause more problems than it fixes. Flash should be avoided whenever possible.
One common problem with windows is that they can let in so much light that they trick the auto-exposure on a camera into thinking the room is brighter than it is. This causes the camera to adjust disproportionately to the light, thereby darkening the rest of the room. This can be avoided. Some cameras have a manual exposure feature. The user can force the exposure to adjust to the actual lighting of the room instead of the bright windows. If a camera does not have manual exposure, it may have an exposure lock function. This is used by pointing the camera away from any windows to a well-lit but not too bright part of the room, such as a wall or the furniture, then pressing the shutter button partway down (this engages the focus and exposure to prepare for the shot,) then with the button held in that position, moving the camera back to the position where the desired shot is in frame before pushing the button the remainder of the way down and taking the shot. This may require some practice and familiarization with one’s particular camera, so be sure to take plenty of shots.
The content of your photos is what will be the most persuasive to potential buyers. “Content” covers such things as the objects in a room, the color composition, and the point of view. Many poorly composed real estate photos are marred by clutter. Some homeowners neglect to clean a room and remove excessive “personal touches” before taking the shot. One should remember that the pictures are to advertise the house, not what it contains. This means counter-top kitchen appliances, food, refrigerator magnets, magazines, personal hygiene products in the bathroom, etc. should all be removed before photographing the room. The viewer should be able to project his or her own idea of a lived-in space onto the image, without being distracted by the details of someone else’s life in the same space. If the decluttering process leaves the room feeling bare or lifeless, a vase of flowers on a table or an unassuming bit of artwork can add a splash of color without overwhelming the shot. Color should be used to attract attention to the desirable elements of the room, not to distract from potentially undesirable elements.
When photographing a room, perspective is essential to giving the viewer a sense of the space. Some of the most encompassing shots are taken from the doorway looking in. In other cases, the ideal perspective is to be backed as far into a corner as possible. The idea is to find the angle that captures the most space. Obstructions such as walls, bookcases, cupboards, open doors, etc. that take up too much of the shot can obscure portions of the room and make the space seem smaller or leave the viewer wondering if the photographer was trying to hide something. With exterior shots, objects such as telephone poles or cars should also be kept out of the shot whenever possible.
Don’t be afraid to touch up your photos. Photo editing software can adjust lighting, remove unsightly objects from the background, and make the image seem clearer and sharper to the viewer. Remember that the goal is to produce an accurate depiction of the house without unnecessary distractions, not to fool the viewer into thinking the house is something it’s not.