Take Great Listing Photos
Shoot like a pro with these tricks of the trade
Posted: April 08, 2016 by Honor Rudd
According to the National Association of Realtors 2015 trends report, 43% of home buyers used the Internet as their FIRST step in their home search and 88% of people used the Internet as an information source at some point in their search. 83% of these people found “photos” to be “very useful” in choosing a home. This puts enormous weight on online listings, and most importantly, listing photos.
Many realtors choose to put the important job of taking listing photos in the expert hands of a professional photographer, but this isn’t an absolute necessity. With a little information, a few tricks of the trade, anyone can take awesome home photos, even with your smart phone!
First things first, if you’re using your camera phone, Turn It Sideways! No vertical photos allowed, they just don’t look right in listings!
We generally have the inclination to shoot pictures at head height, because it feels most normal to bring the camera to our face, look through it and take a picture. However, when shooting interiors, professionals generally shoot from somewhere between the chest and naval—around the height of the light-switches on the wall. This perspective will leave less ceiling in your photos and give a more aesthetically-pleasing perspective of the room and the furniture in it.
From where you shoot makes a huge difference in the story your picture shows. When you shoot a room standing in the middle, you’re only telling part of the story, and leaving it up to your viewer to put the pieces together. On the other hand, if you cram yourself in a corner, or stand outside the doorway, you can capture much more of the room and give a prospective buyer a better perspective.
Some photographers suggest using a wide-angle lens to take in more room per photo, but go too wide and the image gets distorted and looks surreal. This technique can also make small rooms look much bigger than they are. Either way the buyer gets the impression that you’re trying to fool them, and that’s not how you want to start that relationship. Avoid the fish-eye-lens look, unless you’re selling the Mad Hatter’s house in Wonderland.
That said, make sure you take wide shots. Especially when shooting parts of a home where people really value space, like an open floor plan or a kitchen, stand way back and take it all in. Close-up shots feel cramped and close in your spaces.
Especially when you’re taking these big interior shots, make sure your horizon lines are straight! Sometimes we’re so busy looking at the thing we’re taking a picture of, we don’t notice that we’re holding the camera at a tilt. Line up the sides of your viewfinder with vertical lines existing in the environment like a doorway or the corner where two walls meet. Also make sure you’re pointing the camera straight-on. A tilt upward or downward will distort your room like a funhouse mirror.
Even though people are looking at photos online more and more to choose their homes, “curb appeal” is still definitely a thing. Make sure you get that great shot of the front of the house. Extra points for taking it at a slight angle to show the home’s depth as well. Back way up so you get a nice wide shot.
Great interior photos have great light. Lots of natural light is a key selling point for a lot of homebuyers. There are many schools of thought on the subject of lighting for interior photos. Some photographers insist on bright sunshine, others on flatter, cloudy days; some insist that you simply cannot shoot indoors without all kinds of flashes and filters, but the bottom line for those of us who are not professionals with fancy tools, is that you need to show a room that is neither eerie with shadows nor blinding with glare.
Leave your camera flash out of the equation. The mounted flash on a basic camera does not throw enough light to fill a room, and you’ll end up with a couple of washed-out objects in the foreground and murky shadows everywhere else. If you insist on using a flash, just make sure it isn’t shown reflecting in mirrors, counter tops, or any other surfaces in the home. A flash in the mirror is a sure sign of an amateur photo.
Start by analyzing how much natural light you’re working with. Throw open the curtains, raise the blinds, see where the light falls. The late morning and early afternoon provide nice bright light—the East side will be best-lit in the morning and the West in the afternoon.
Next, turn on all the interior lights, take some test shots and see what happens. Do the lights wash out the areas around them, or does it make it feel warmer? Are there shadowy places? Borrow lamps from other rooms to fill dark areas. Place lamps just outside doorways to the room you’re shooting so the entrance feels inviting.
When working in darker spaces, a tripod is your friend. If you are using a camera on which you can adjust the exposure time, you can use a longer exposure, letting in more light, and still be in sharp focus if your camera is sitting still and not wobbling in your hands.
Focus your shot on something not-too-light and not-too-dark in frame so the auto features of your camera adjust to the light correctly. The best way to exemplify this is on the touch-screen of your smart phone. Point your camera phone in the direction of a window or light source, but take in as much of the room as you can. Touch a part of the screen that is very bright. The image will adjust to that level of light and everything else in the shot will show as super dark. Then, touch a part of the screen showing something dark, like a piece of furniture. See how the image adjusts to the darkness and the whole screen gets lighter, completely washing out the bright places? When you’re shooting homes with your camera phone, always focus on a part of the shot with a mid-level brightness and your camera will help level things out.
As far as the exterior, aesthetics will change throughout the day. Bright and sunny photos make a house look stately and crisp, while shots taken after dusk, with all interior and exterior lights on, make a home look like a warm and inviting place to end the day.
What to Shoot
The idea of staging a home for photography and sale is a topic for another day, but suffice to say the home should look organized but warm, stylish but comfortable. Any clutter should be removed—no refrigerator magnets, no clothes hangers, no car in the driveway or appliances on the counters, no toiletries in the bathroom. Shoot the space, not the stuff.
Make note of each home’s particular selling points and get bright, clear shots of beautiful yards, elegant entryways, airy floor plans and enticing architecture. Draw in the right buyer with the things that make each home special.
Capture the season during which the home is being listed. Get garden shots in Spring, and changing leaves in Autumn, but leave holidays out of the equation. We all live the seasons in more or less the same way, it’s a consistent human experience. Holidays, however, are very specific and personal and they bring up all kinds of emotions and aversions that distract from the home itself and might leave the buyer with a bad feeling.
Speaking of fall, if the yard is a mess of leaves, take a rake to it! Don’t let a messy yard distract from a beautiful home. Hire a landscaper if necessary or at least take a little time to tidy up outside.
If the house is in an attractive neighborhood, or on a cute block, take pictures up and down the street. Help people imagine living there before they ever set foot on the property.
Most of all, shoot EVERYTHING. We’re all pretty much using digital nowadays, right? Nobody is charging you per-photo so take a million pictures. Take several photos of each thing you want to shoot from different angles, different heights, in different light, standing on your head, whatever you want, just get lots and lots of pictures. Often you don’t know what you’ve really got until you get home and pull the pictures up on your computer, so keep that shutter snapping away—you cannot take too many pictures!