The Top 9 DIY Real Estate Photography Mistakes
With the advent of high-speed internet, wi-fi, mobile devices, and real estate technology a lot of things have changed the way real estate agents market their listings, and themselves, as professionals.
Visuals of tangible items are among the best marketing tools when selling something. We all see photos and images in catalogues, magazines, newspapers, and the internet. Naturally, Real Estate Photography is one of the best marketing tools for real estate agents and their brokers. Images move consumers; the best images can help move them to buy the product or service being sold.
It is still surprising when I visit websites like Realtor.com, Trulia, Zillow, or the local MLS only to find photos of listings which are pretty bad. Yes, there are messy homes and properties which generally don’t photograph that well. However, there is no reason to present any MLS listing in a less than a professional manner.
Even if marketing budgets are non-existent and agents have to moonlight as “Real Estate Photographers” there are a couple of things to be aware of in order to avoid real estate photography mistakes.
Pictures say more than a 1000 words, so if you have to do real estate photography yourself please avoid these Real Estate Photography Mistakes:
Real Estate Photography Mistake 1: Blur
Almost nothing is worse than looking at a blurry image. To this day, I have never seen a blurry image in a magazine or other professional publication. Even with modern digital cameras being set to “auto” and shooting free-handed does not guarantee a tack-sharp image, especially when you take photos in lower light conditions.
Looking at the smaller screens of iPhones or the back of your digital camera the image you just took may appear sharp, but later when it has been imported to your computer and you can see the large image on your computer screen, you might be surprised to see an image which is not quite sharp. The easiest way to prevent this when taking photographs is using a tripod. Even if you take images with a cheaper camera or mobile device it is best to have them on a tripod. This is the main way to guarantee to avoid blurry images.
Real Estate Photography Mistake 2: Verticals
This is one is my biggest pet peeves and I can guarantee you that if you go on any of the major real estate web sites right now you will find images of beautiful listings, but the verticals are not straight. I don’t know about you, but when I look around in a house with my own eyes, all the walls appear to be perfectly straight and vertical. One of the biggest turn-offs is looking at real estate photography where the walls are bowing out and other vertical architectural elements are converging in an unnatural way – that is a fact.
You are not photographing a high-rise building or a cathedral where you need to convey the sense of height in an artistic photographic way. The goal of Real Estate Photography should be to depict the home in a realistic, natural, and appealing way so as to generate interest.
To keep things straight, make sure the camera is absolutely level and the lens is not tilted up or down in the slightest way.
Tilting the camera results in converging verticals, especially when using a wide-angle lens. Try to keep the sensor parallel to the walls. This is as simple as keeping the camera level and avoiding to tilt the camera up or down. (A little bubble level on top of the camera or tripod can come in handy!)
Sometimes this is not possible and must be corrected in image processing software like Photoshop, Lightroom or DXO. If you cannot or do not want to correct verticals in post processing – the only way to get straight walls is to keep the camera 100% level while taking the photograph..
Real Estate Photography Mistake 3: Horizon
Not only are straight verticals important but so are level horizons. Level Horizons are particularly important for front elevation shots. Perhaps the crop tool in the image editing tool does either not get used or entirely misused. Use the crop tool in your favorite image processing software to straighten out your photos, it is easy and one less item to worry about avoiding real estate photography mistakes.
Then again, if you want the result in the camera and to skip step processing in an image editor, then it is time to use the tripod and turn on the grid lines in your camera.
Most digital cameras nowadays have the capability to either have grid lines turned on in the viewfinder or on the live-view screen to help you with composition and alignment of your subject.
For example, here is a link to on how to turn on grid lines on an iPhone or iPad.
Real Estate Photography Mistake 4: Bright Windows and Dark Interiors
The light indoors can vary a lot from room to room, even just moving a couple of feet from where you stand in a room you might find that light can be different. Professionals in Real estate Photography use multiple external flash units since the average built-in camera flash will not give you enough power to light larger rooms or areas with high contrast.
The goal should be to balance the light in a room. If you don’t have enough light you can try and open curtains for more natural light to flow in, but be mindful of bright windows and shoot away from them. If you don’t have additional lights or multiple flash units don’t shoot toward the window. Your camera will never be able to register all the details in high contrast situations like that. If there is no way around avoiding extremely bright windows in your composition, sometimes it is better to close the blinds or curtains.
These are just workarounds and will hardly be an equal substitute for mastering flash photography and/or getting proficient with HDR imaging. There are many tutorials and how-to’s on the internet.
Real Estate Photography Mistake 5: Unnatural Colors & Hues – bad HDR
Another big pet peeve of mine and one of the biggest real estate photography mistakes – Unnatural Colors and Hues. Since HDR photography has become mainstream, a lot of agents and professionals use that technique in real estate photography. Unfortunately there is not one general recipe for making realistic and plausible HDR images.
The beginning step of HDR Imaging of taking several photos (bracketing) with different exposures is not the problem, the problems start with the processing of HDR images. There are many different software programs available with a myriad of different features and settings. A lot of times, we can get carried away processing HDR images because they look “cool”, but please don’t forget the purpose of your image. Consumers want to see natural beauty and not something which makes your eyes bleed. To get a good taste of bad HDR just look at this. In my opinion that is a huge real estate photography mistake.
Halos, colors not found in nature, dirty whites, unrealistic textures and black clouds in the sky may be cool but really have no place in Photography for Real Estate.
Real Estate Photography Mistake 6: Wide angle too wide
Let’s time travel back to 2007, the real estate bubble was peeking and the use of wide-angle lenses was evangelized by Realtor.com. The magic bullet which made your listing look “big” and “great” and with this propaganda the use of wide angle lenses became more and more overused. This is another very common real estate photography mistake.
Wide angle lenses have the advantage to get “everything” in the shot when you don’t have a lot of room to back-up. However the use of extreme wide-angle lenses comes with a price. The perspective can start looking exaggerated and strange. Hallways don’t have to look like bowling alleys and coffee tables don’t have to appear as big as monster trucks. Have you ever seen those standard size 36 inch doors which look as wide as a barn door? You get my point. Everything does not need to be shot super wide. I prefer to shoot not wider (lower) than 24 mm with full frame cameras and not wider (lower) than 16mm on APS-C cameras.
Of course there is an exception to this rule when it comes to really small areas like small bathrooms or powder rooms.
Real Estate Photography Mistake 7: Objectionable Objects
It is a wise idea to explain to your sellers that the best possible success comes from appealing to a broad range of buyers and that photos should appeal to as many people as possible by being “neutral”.
The best practice is to remove provocative artwork, religious symbols, political photos, posters of sports teams, etc. There are just some things which do not belong into Real Estate Photography.
Just take a look here….
Real Estate Photography Mistake 8: Uploading Low Resolution Images
You did not go all of through the trouble and effort creating nice photos of your listing, perhaps you even hired a professional photographer just to diminish the impact of your best marketing tool. Technology has changed and resolutions of you computer screens and mobile devices have vastly improved. High Resolution Display are becoming the standard. Retina Displays and bigger computer screens with insane resolutions are starting to become more common and consumers want to consume big.
Nowadays nobody wants to look at a small, unsharp or pixellated images. ARMLS allows uploads of large images the size of 1024×768 pixels and a file size of up to 10 megabytes, Zillow allows images up to 2048 x 1536 pixels and a file size up to 25 megabytes. To put that into perspective, Apple’s newest 27 inch iMac can display an images of an eye-popping resolution of 5120 x 2880 pixels.
Pixel Density, DPI, PPI, image size and file size are terms which can be confusing and that topic in itself will be a blog post for a later time, but my biggest advice regarding uploading images to the web is to understand that different real estate websites require different image sizes. Listing syndication is a convenient thing, however it might be worth your time to upload images of the largest acceptable size and quality to the sites most important for your marketing efforts. A great option is also to have a separate virtual tour platform you can link to in order to make sure your prospects have the option to see large images in the best quality. If you like to dig into this a little deeper then check out this post about understanding DPI resolution and Print. vs Web Images, or this post: Understanding Pixel Density, Resolution and Retina Displays.
Real Estate Photography Mistake 9: Aspect Ratio
Since the days of 35mm film until today the most common aspect ratio is 4:3. Most MLS systems and real estate websites are designed around this standard. It is tempting to upload panoramic images or images cropped in portrait format, however it seldom looks good. Perhaps the convenience of holding an iPhone in the vertical position is the biggest temptation when trying to photograph small spaces. There are very few exceptions when shooting portrait format in real estate photography. Shooting for details going into print, blog/website design or brochure lay-out, for example. In general Real Estate Photography is shot in landscape, which means please hold your iPhone or Tablet sideways when taking a photograph.
So, even with minimum equipment (perhaps you only have an iPhone or other consumer pocket camera), a little bit of practice and knowing what to watch out for when photographing a listing can make your real estate photography a whole bunch better.
After all you are a professional and want to look like one.
Source for some photos: ARMLS