7 Tips for Better Real Estate Photos

Want to take better real estate photos? I can help. First of all, let's be realistic about what to expect. Photography is part art, part following some basic rules for composition. ANYONE can improve, but not everyone can take professional photos. Having an artistic eye is sometimes just something you are born with. So keep your expectations reasonable. If you would like one-on-one help learning these techniques or purchasing and setting up the equipment I can provide that at an hourly rate of $30 per hour.

Now, most of what I am going to teach you can be used by you to take better pictures. But I would say 75% of what makes my photos great is what I do in post-processing. Since editing in post-processing is where I excel, I am offering those services to real estate agents and at a very reasonable price, only $1.50 per image. That's only $20-$30 per listing! And I will work with you to continuously improve your images. Keep reading to learn the 7 steps to greatly improve your real estate photos.

Step 1: Invest in a good solid professional tripod. You will be taking photos with limited available light. The camera will need to make exposures that keep the shutter open for a few seconds to collect enough light. Unless the camera is on a solid tripod you will not get clear photos. 

Expect to spend at LEAST $125. Manfrotto makes high quality tripods like this model available on Amazon: Manfrotto MK294A3-D3RC2 294 Aluminum Tripod Kit with 3-Way Head with Quick Release

Step 2: Use a quality camera that can take bracketed exposures. Already have a camera? See if it shows up on this list: Detailed list of cameras that support auto exposure bracketing (all links open in new tab/window). I highly recommend any Nikon or Canon camera that appears on the list as long as it has a Maximum EV range (column 4) with a value higher than 3.

I give preference to some Nikon models which have a dedicated button for turning on auto-exposure bracketing since that is a feature you will use frequently. You can find detailed reviews and recommended cameras on this site: Photography for Real Estate Camera Reviews

Step 3: Get a quality ultra-wide angle lens. Keep in mind your selection will depend on whether you have a full frame (14-24mm or 16-36mm is good) or a smaller sensor with a 1.5x or larger crop factor (requires a wider angle, such as a 10-20mm). Feel free to consult me about a lens before making a purchase. Figure out your camera's crop factor and choose a lens based on the reviews here: Photography for Real Estate Lens Reviews

Step 4: Set the camera to "aperture priority" (A or Av) mode, set the ISO to 200 (do not use ISO Auto), set the aperture to f/8 and turn on auto-bracketing. Setting the aperture to f/8 will ensure that both near and far objects are in sharp focus, but it also limits the light reaching the sensor resulting in longer exposures. Be sure to use your tripod and a remote control is prefered to trigger the camera.

Using a low ISO setting (ISO 100-320) will ensure that there is less noise in the shadows. Some cameras have an ISO Auto setting that will automatically raise the ISO to keep the exposure time short. This will greatly increase the noise levels, so be sure it is not enabled. 

Using auto exposure bracketing to take multiple exposures at different brightness levels may be the hardest part of the process. Remember, I am here to help, and once you master setting up your camera, you should not have to change it's settings again. You can find instructional videos here showing how to do bracketing for many popular cameras: HDR-Photography.com. Additionally I will give one hour of telephone tech support for free and an additional hour for each 10 homes you have processed. It should be more than enough to solve any problems you run into.

Take either 7 bracketed exposures if you are using 1-stop increments, or 5 exposures if you are using 1.5 or 2-stop increments. These will be used later to produce the final image. Perplexed? Believe it or not, your camera's manual explains how to do all of this in detail. If you learn better with one-on-one help, give me a call and take advantage of that hour of free tech support or schedule some hands on training with me. I am confident you will master all the technical stuff in a short time.

Step 5: Learn the basic rules for photographing interiors and exteriors. Keep in mind this advice for making images to deliver to me for post-processing. I will improve the crops and better the exposure. The image coming out of the camera will probably not look like the examples I have posted.

Interiors:

Set the lens at it's widest angle. If you are using the Sigma 10-20mm lens, set it at 10mm. This will capture the widest angle of view and allow me to find a pleasing crop in post-processing. Set the tripod to be at least 1 foot higher than countertops, often between 4.5 and 5 feet from the floor. The key to composition (there are exceptions and odd shaped rooms that will make this difficult) is to photograph from one of eight locations in a room. One of the four corners or at the mid-point of one of the four main walls.

This example illustrates some possible locations for positioning the camera:

Suggested Photo LocationsSuggested Photo LocationsBlueprint of a living room detailing suggested location for real estate photography.

When making your composition, think about what you want to include in the image. What is the view out of the windows? What unique features of the home are in the frame? While it is nice to make the furniture look good, it is not usually being sold with the house, so focus more on house features and views than the decorating.

Here is an example photograph of a living room:

The view of the lake outside and the fireplace inside were both important features of this home. Thus I positioned the camera to have an unobstructed view. The center of the frame is more or less aimed into the opposite corner. There was a piano just behind and to the right of the camera that would have blocked the window so I chose to focus only on the front half of the room for this shot. I made a second shot from the midpoint of the wall in front of the window which lets you see what was behind me in the above photo.

Example Living Room PhotoExample Living Room Photo

The rule of photographing from the corners of the space or the mid-points of the wall makes for better composition. Note that in rooms like this living room that are divided into different "zones" you may want to isolate just that one area. In the top image my focus was on the seating area and its view. With very large rooms you may want an overall view from one of the corners then one or two detail shots from the corner or mid-point of one of the zones or areas of the room.

Smaller rooms, such as bathrooms, can present a bit of a challenge. They often have mirrors which you can end up reflected in and since they are so small there is little choice for composition. Usually a shot looking in from the door is best. Make sure all of the lights are turned on. Try to position the camera a foot or so above the level of the sinks and countertops. Set the lens to its widest angle of view and try to avoid pointing the camera up or down too much as it will cause perspective distortion (where the vertical lines are not straight, causing objects to be wider at the bottom than the top).

 With the design of many bathrooms  you are going to have the door handles in the photo, which is OK. The biggest thing is making sure the full size of the room is captured to the best of your ability. The above example follows the corner rule. Below is another bathroom where it was more practical to photograph from the midpoint of the wall.

Keep in mind that I have already cropped the images used in the examples above. When you have the lens set at its widest angle you will be capturing even more of each room. But since digital cameras capture so much detail, the images can easily be cropped in post-processing to make them look great.

Exteriors:

For exteriors the same basic rules apply. Photograph from the corners of the property and, in the case of exteriors, the mid-point of the house. For exterior photos raise the tripod to it's maximum height (if it has a center column, do not raise it more than 2/3 up as it may become less stable). 

The main listing photo: Often I find it is also good to photograph directly in front of the main entrance to the home. Stand at least 50-70 feet (15-25 paces) away from the house, 100-120 feet (30-40 paces) is better for larger homes. Zoom in so that the entire house is visible, but eliminate uninteresting objects off to the sides. It generally provides a better perspective if you are farther away, so if your lens permits you may be able to back up a little farther still and zoom in more. If there are distracting objects in the foreground see if you can move forward or back or a little to the side and make them less prominent. 

House by Carlton Homes in Jamestown, NYHouse by Carlton Homes in Jamestown, NYTwilight photograph of a house built by Carlton Homes construction near Jamestown, NY

This image was taken using a 50mm lens on a tripod across the street aligned directly in front of the house's entrance. If your wide angle lens does not let you crop in as tight as this, do not worry. If you have a 12-mega pixel camera or better you will be able to crop in tight in post-processing. As long as you are far enough away from the home it will produce a pleasing perspective. 

Here is an an example of an image before cropping it:

Pre crop examplePre crop example

And after cropping and post processing:

Post crop examplePost crop example

As you can see, what you will see through the camera will look different. If there is enough room you can zoom into the image some. Just be sure to capture enough around the house to allow for post-processing.

Property detail photos: For an overview of the property you may want to take photos from the corners or mid-points of the property as if you were photographing a room. Exterior spaces, like decks and pools, can photographed in the same manner. The photo below was taken from the front right corner of the property. Be sure to capture more space around the home than in this post processed photo.

House by Carlton Homes constructionHouse by Carlton Homes constructionFront exterior of a house built by Carlton Homes construction

 Overall view from corner of property:

Corner of propertyCorner of property

Detail showing distance from lake:

Zonal view of propertyZonal view of property

Step 7: Post-process the photos and make them great. This is where I come into the picture (no pun intended). Post-processing in Photoshop and Lightroom is where much of the magic occurs. The learning curve is steep to do it well. If you are a tech savvy person you may wish to do some Googling and you will find many tutorials on how to better your photos. But I think this step should be left to the experts. 

Contact me and we will make arrangements to share a folder via your prefered Cloud storage service (i.e. Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google Drive, Box). Upload all of your photos and I will process them, usually within 24-48 hours into natural looking HDR images that will grab your customer's attention. I stress that these will be NATRUAL LOOKING HDR photographs. Not everyone knows how to do HDR right. Some images look unrealistic and are not fit for real estate advertising. I use HDR only to expand the dynamic range of the camera. The lights will not be too light, and the shadows will not be too dark.

My post-processing service only costs $30 for up to 20 images ready for the MLS. That's only $1.50 each. And you also get a free hour of telephone support up front and an additional hour with each 10 houses you have processed. Truly a great deal. Would you like to try my service for free? Contact me and I will process an image for you at no cost, just deliver me a set of properly bracketed exposures and I will show you what I can do.

Things to Remember

Buy a good camera, ultra-wide angle lens and a solid tripod.

Photograph from a tripod. For interiors set the tripod between 4.5 and 5 feet from the floor or a foot higher than counters. For exteriors set the tripod close to its maximum height.

Set the camera to f/8 and shoot bracketed exposures.

Photograph from the corners or mid-points of the area and avoid tilting the camera up or down if possible.