A tried-and-true adage claims that a picture is worth a thousand words. For this exact reason, real estate photography is one of the most in-demand options around for independent image makers. After all, why spend time writing paragraphs about a property’s beautiful granite countertops or spacious backyard when it’s possible to illustrate them in a single photograph?
Most professionals in the industry agree on this:
In the age of the internet and instant gratification, an awesome set of images can attract potential buyers more so than any “open house” signage ever could.
If you’d like to try your hand at real estate photography, you’re likely to find work regardless of location. However, before taking on an assignment, it’s worth reviewing some of the tips and tricks other professionals rely on to get the job done.
✔ The Real Estate Photographer’s Checklist
- Draft A Contract
- Chat With The Homeowner
- Charge Up And Stock Up
- Keep Backups At Hand
- Explore Your Surroundings
B) ON LOCATION
- Perform A Clean Sweep
- Let There Be Light
- Go Wide (Angle)
- Prioritize Your Tasks
- Bracket Your Images
C) POST PRODUCTION
- Seek Out Presets (Or Create Your Own)
- Composite Your Shots
Download the Real Estate Photography Checklist PDF for printout and keeping it handy for upcoming real estate photography assignments.
Real Estate Photography Checklist
1. Draft a Contract
Not every agency has a clear idea of the time and effort that goes into photographing a property. Therefore, it’s important to agree on terms before an assignment starts. Consider the following:
- What sort of deadline will you be working with? Better yet, is it a realistic deadline that you can confidently meet?
- Will you be paid by the hour? By the photograph? Or will you simply charge a flat fee for the entire assignment?
- Are you tacking on fees for the time you intend to spend working in post?
Aside from stating your terms openly, drafting a contract is useful in that it provides an outlet for clients to clearly iterate expectations. Get a clear idea of what sort of shots your client is looking for. Take the time to confirm the number of images desired for a final product. Though the extra paperwork can be a bit of a pain, a contract creates a bit of necessary insurance. Setting in place mutually agreed upon conditions protects both you and your client in the long run and spells out exactly what’s to be expected from a specific assignment.
2. Chat with the Home Owners
Just as with the real estate agency, it’s equally beneficial to talk things out with homeowners. Before breaking out your camera, you want to develop a mutual understanding between parties.
There are certain things that will need to be done to ensure that the property is looking its best. While moving items off of a countertop to reduce clutter may seem like a given for an image maker, the thought may not occur to an individual not working the camera and come off as incredibly invasive. Explaining what goes into a good photograph to the people you’ll be working with. Doing so can clear up any potential conflict before it arises and serves as a good opportunity to set boundaries.
Inform homeowners of details to take into consideration such as tucking cars into the garage, locking pets in a spare room, and stowing away personal items. Even asking for favors such as emptying a garbage can or changing out toilet paper rolls can save you time and create a better end product. Encourage homeowners to ask questions and voice concerns about the process ahead of time. The clearer you can be about what it is that you’re doing, the more comfortable a homeowner is bound to be.
3. Charge up and stock up
Preparation is key to giving off a sense of professionalism and ensuring that a shoot goes smoothly. The night before, do not hesitate to charge up any batteries that you may have lying around. All too often, photographers overestimate their camera’s power and are forced to confront dead batteries mid-shoot. You may want to invest in a battery grip, which can significantly lengthen a battery’s life. However, regardless of whether or not you own a grip, having some extra batteries on hand is a safe practice. They’re easy enough to keep at the ready in a camera bag and require little to no effort to prepare.
Likewise, you’ll want to have a few fresh CF or SD cards on hand when stepping onto a scene. No one wants to be limited by the number of shots they have available to use, especially on assignment. Without some spare memory cards on hand, you may be forced to prioritize which elements get photographed. To avoid the risk of having to omit important details, tuck a few memory cards into your camera bag just as a precaution.
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4. Keep Backups at Hand
In every sense, it’s important to have functional back-ups at hand if at all possible. As is the case with batteries and memory cards, it’s better to bring something along that you probably won’t use than it is to leave it behind and need it in a pinch.
Though real estate photography is quite controlled, a photographer always needs to expect the unexpected. On the off chance that your main camera body malfunctions, having an available backup camera can be a comforting safety net. Drops, spills, and errors happen – should the worst occur during a shoot, you certainly do not want to be left high and dry.
In addition to an alternate camera, supplementary light sources are an absolute must on real estate assignments. There are a few rooms in every apartment or house that could use a strobe or speedlite to fully show off their best qualities. Not every room is graced with beautiful window light, and oftentimes a single overhead can prove to be unflattering. Though it’s not always fun to carry around, bringing a portable strobe kit can make a huge difference on a shoot.
B) ON LOCATION
5. Explore Your Surroundings
It’s important to have a plan of action when photographing a home. Take a walk around before setting up your gear to get an idea of what you’ll be working with. Take note of every room in the house and create a mental checklist of the property’s best features. Don’t leave anything out – when it comes to deliverables, it’s better to have too much than too little!
- When explicitly planning a shot, it’s good practice to position yourself in the corner of a room so as to capture as much as possible in a singular shot.
- Be sure to plan compositions with vantage points capturing the “highlights” a property has to offer.
- Take note of elements you may have to adjust when you actually go to make photographs of your own.
- You may even have to prioritize and choose which details to include or omit from a shot.
In addition, take note of any areas that could use a little bit of TLC to really shine. A bowl of fresh fruit or well-placed bouquet of flowers can instantly make a room more inviting and add a much-needed bit of color.
6. Perform a Clean Sweep
If you’re looking to sell a house, being spotless is a non-negotiable issue. A messy space simply isn’t going to wow potential buyers the way a clean, neat environment can and will. Yet, all too many photographers overlook the importance of straightening up ahead of time.
Don’t be shy to work side by side with the hiring realtor and homeowner to make a place look as good as it possibly can. In the end, you’re all seeking the same end goal. Speak out if you see something that could be problematic to a photograph that might not be immediately obvious to others.
Check these points to make sure your photos turn out well:
- Aside from general vacuuming, dusting, and sweeping, clearing away clutter and moving waste bins out of sight is an excellent place to start.
- Don’t overlook the outside appearance of a property, either. Trimming shrub and tucking cars away inside of a garage is easy, effortless ways to create the semblance of neatness instantly.
- Most importantly, you’ll want to remove as many personal effects as possible.
Taking charge of a property’s cleanliness seem a bit excessive and silly. However, it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll likely have to remove the troublesome elements you miss during post production. Save yourself hours of time fiddling with the clone stamp in Photoshop by cleaning as much as possible ahead of time.
7. Let there be Light
As is usually the case for any photographer, the more light you have at your disposal, the better. While you’ll likely want to enlist the help of a portable strobe lighting kit, don’t overlook the power overheads and lamps can offer to a scene. In addition, you shouldn’t hesitate to open up any blinds and curtains that might be blocking out the sun. In the case of real estate photography, natural light holds equal value to artificial.
It’s common for photographers to struggle with some of the issues that stem from mixed lighting scenarios such as strange color casts. However, when shooting large indoor spaces, the benefits that come from being able to properly expose every corner of a specified area far outweigh the comparatively benign issues of potential color casting. Nevertheless, you’ll want to be aware of the look of your image and correct any such issues in post production.
8. Go Wide Angle
There’s no doubt about it – real estate lends themselves to wide angles. Especially pertinent when shooting interiors, you only have a limited amount of space to work with. Consequently, this can inhibit a person’s ability to stand back and capture every single inch of a place. The shorter the focal length you work with, the more you’ll be able to capture without backing up. Invest in a sharp prime lens such as the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 or the Nikkor 28mm f/1.8 if a significant portion of your income stems from shooting real estate.
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That being said, be wary and research the results that come from a lens before making any payments. Though a wide angle can be incredibly beneficial to a photographer, it shouldn’t come at the sacrifice of accurate perspective. Fisheye lenses distort photographs, making them a poor choice for real estate photography.
If the proper lens for the job simply isn’t an option, all hope isn’t lost. It is possible to create a wider view in post production by stitching together two or three images together (if you use a tripod to maintain perspective and match up image elements). Only employ this strategy as a last resort – it can significantly increase your time spent on location and editing afterward.
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9. Prioritize Your Tasks
While it is important to capture every inch of a property while on location, it will be beneficial to all parties involved if you can identify the best qualities a place has to offer and prioritize getting great shots of those spaces. The fact of the matter is, your client is unlikely to showcase every inch of a house in a photo album. Most agents subscribe to a “less is more” philosophy and will only want to show off a “highlight reel” of sorts to prospective buyers.
Though it may seem contradictory, this is the reason why providing plenty of options for a client to choose from is essential. They’ll want to curate the best possible combination of images in order to sell a property. The look of a half bath does not hold the same weight as the layout of a kitchen when it comes to making a sale. Therefore, if faced with a time crunch, you should be able to recognize that getting stellar shots of a kitchen is a greater priority than perfecting the lighting in a half bath.
10. Bracket Your Images
In real estate photography, the goal generally is to show as much as you can in as few shots as possible. Losing shadows and highlights can significantly hinder a photograph and unintentionally mask important features. To avoid over or underexposing, many photographers utilize a technique known as bracketing. Rather than try to capture every detail in a single exposure, bracketing instead uses multiple exposures to accurate expose for the lightest and darkest areas of an image.
The only tool absolutely necessary to properly bracket is a sturdy tripod. This is because you want each frame to be as close to identical as possible. Ultimately, you’ll want to composite each exposure into a single image – but we’ll get further into that later. Because your goal is consistency, you should adjust exposures using ISO or shutter speed, as adjusting aperture could throw off your depth of field. The more exposures used in a bracketing sequence, the greater your final tonal range will be.
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11. Seek Out Presets (Or Create Your Own)
The last step to any real estate assignment is working in post. Often times, it can prove to be the most time-consuming and taxing step of all. If you find yourself editing large image batches frequently, downloading Lightroom presets can save you hours of labor.
A preset is a set combination of image adjustments applicable to a program such as Lightroom or Photoshop. That means with the click of a button, you can potentially make changes to a photograph’s exposure, color, sharpness, and more simultaneously. Some preset provide subtle cosmetic changes. Others apply vibrant filters that completely alter the appearance of a shot.
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It is possible to apply a preset to an entire group of images instantly, drastically cutting down edit time. Better yet, it can create a greater sense of consistency between your shots. Most presets are completely free or cost very little – considering the amount of time that they save, they’re certainly worth investing in. However, if you can’t find one that fits your exact tastes, they’re relatively easy to create. Presets are most effective when used as a launching point for edits. Once you’ve applied a preset to an image, you’ll likely want to go back and make a few tweaks.
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12. Composite Your Shots
As stated above, attention to detail is vital to real estate photography. Losing elements to over or underexposure can be disastrous to your reputation as a competent photographer and significantly impact snagging gigs from a client in the future. Luckily, innovations in technology have made it easy to render bracketed image sets into high dynamic range (HDR) photographs.
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Why opt for HDR? The more a photograph can show, the more inviting it becomes. Subsequently, inviting photographs cultivate customer interest in a property. Dark, shadowy images can make a room look uninviting at best. Ultimately, this makes your client’s job much more difficult. Conversely, it’s easier to make out the elements of a bright picture with pops of color. Agencies seek out HDR imagery for this reason.
Creating an HDR shot takes only a matter of moments. Programs such as Photoshop do a satisfactory job of auto-aligning and merging photograph. However, there is also a plethora of HDR plugins and programs available online. For more information on mastering the technique, check out some of the tutorials popular companies like Adobe provide.
The beauty of real estate photography is this – no matter the circumstances, people will always need a home to call their own. Whether you’re looking to make a career in the real estate industry or just prepping for a one-time assignment, factoring in the elements that make for a successful shoot is a worthwhile endeavor. Above all, they’re sure to strengthen your abilities as a photographer.
Regardless of whether you’re photographing a living room or a stunning model, considering factors such as lighting and peripheral detail is essential. Understanding the purpose of certain tools and safeguards can protect you from running into a slew of future issues.
No matter what your motives as a professional happen to be, the lessons this niche genre has to offer can make a significant difference in the way you make an image.
Meghan is an artist and writer based out of Boston, MA. With an interest in everything from instant film to experimental videography, her work has been featured internationally in a variety of photographic exhibitions and publications. As a regular contributor, she uses her broad background in fine art and varied professional experiences to inform her articles.
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