If you’re looking for some real estate photography tips to seriously improve your photos of homes, you’ve come to the right place!
Real estate photography is an art that takes a great deal of skill and careful planning. When done right, your photos provide a listing with a much greater likelihood of drawing buyers’ in and encouraging them to visit!
Realtors want the best real estate photographers on the market to generate such attention. With the following tips and tricks, you’re going to have the upper-hand in the real estate photography market.
Photography Goals to Keep in Mind
Real estate photography has several key goals that it aims to achieve:
- Increase interest in a listing.
- Showcase and document the listing in its best light.
- Allow potential home buyers or renters to imagine themselves living in the space.
Much like commercial photography, the property you are capturing is a product up for grabs. You want to ensure that the images you produce boost the chances of a great sale!
Now, on to the tips!
Real Estate Photography Tips: On the Shoot
1. Use the Right Camera
Although capturing photography is in the eye of the photographer, the right tools of the trade will help you better achieve success.
To start, you’ll want to use a camera that has a full-frame sensor. The cropped image you capture with a crop-sensor (often denoted as APS-C) camera may cut off integral parts of your real estate images and make shooting in small spaces much more difficult. APS-C sensors also narrow your field of view if you are not using a designated crop sensor optic.
Next, look for a camera with a high megapixel count.
Megapixels correlate directly with the amount of detail your camera can record. The more megapixels an image has, the larger you can print and the more you can crop into the image without losing quality. Twenty-five megapixels is a minimum need for great real estate photographs, but going up larger is even better.
Next, take advantage of the full-frame sensor’s low light capability. Although real estate photographers often utilize artificial light, you want the camera to be capable of capturing images without it.
Popular options for real estate photography include the Sony Alpha a7r IV and Canon 5DS, but these come at a significant price. A more budget-friendly option would be a full-frame camera such as something from the Sony Alpha 7 line, the Canon 5D line, the Canon 6D line, or the Nikon D7 line.
2. The Glass Makes All the Difference
To capture an entire room, you’re going to want to focus on wide-angle lenses. Ultra-wide-angle lenses range in length from 10mm to 24mm and wide-angle lenses range from 24mm to 35mm.
Generally speaking, you don’t want a lens that is solely ultra-wide as there will be perspective distortion-whatever is closest to the lens will be too big (like a fishbowl effect) and whatever is furthest will be too far away. 24mm is often favored, as are 17-40mm lenses.
Related Post: Best Lenses for Interior Photography
The more expensive lenses tend to be priced as such due to their wide apertures, which gives you a lot of versatility in controlling how much of an image is in focus. The Sigma Art series offers popular choices without the original equipment manufacturer price tag.
3. Additional Tools to Carry
A tripod will quickly become your three-legged best friend. For real estate photography, it is best to have a tripod that can raise to approximately 4 feet or higher, as you want to take the image from a person’s eye level. You want to make sure both the floor and the ceiling are in the frame, but if you have to choose, choose a bit more floor showing than ceiling.
Make sure that when you set up your camera and tripod, the height is adjusted by the tripod’s legs, not the height of the center column. For maximum camera stability, keep the center column as low as you can.
Related Post: Best Tripods for Real Estate Photography
Because your images need to be perfectly straight, a small bubble level that can sit on your camera is very helpful.
Masking tape is a great way to mark where you’ll want to place the tripod for future reference, and can come off the floor without causing damage.
Lens Cleaning Supplies
Some listings may be dusty, and those little floating particles love to coat glass. As we will discuss in the settings, you’ll likely be using a narrow aperture with a deeper depth of field, in which case much of the dust may be visible in the image if you don’t wipe it off.
Getting a small lens cleaning kit can go a long way in keeping your images crisp and free of spots!
4. The Right Camera Settings
To start, switch your camera to M (Manual) Mode so that you can control all the settings. You can use semi-manual modes such as Aperture Priority, but most will tell you that it is best to use Manual so that nothing is left up to the camera’s brain.
The aperture controls how in-focus an image is. The lower the aperture number, the shallower the depth of field, which means less is in focus. The larger the aperture number, the deeper the depth of field, which means a whole room will be in focus. A great aperture range to sit at is f/5.6 through f/8. The larger the aperture number, the less light it lets into the sensor. Images will be darker, so keep that in mind when doing your other settings.
The ISO is your camera’s sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive the camera is to light (but the less noise the photograph has). The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the camera is to light (but the more noise the photograph has). You want your image as clean as possible, so try to keep your ISO below 800.
Shutter speeds mean more to moving subjects than still ones. As we are photographing a room or house, you don’t need your shutter to be fast. The shorter the shutter speed, the darker the photo will be. The longer the shutter speed, the lighter the photograph will be. Adjust this setting last to correlate with your ISO and aperture and achieve the right exposure.
Switch to RAW Format
Most photographers start off by shooting in JPEG, but quickly become limited by this file format. This is because JPEG images are compressed and lose some of their data. This data is naked to the human eye, but when you throw your photograph into an editing software, the issues begin to run rampant. You may have trouble recovering dark shadows or fixing overexposed highlights.
RAW files contain the direct image data from the camera sensors with no compression, which equals no loss of quality and alteration. With RAW, you can save your shadows, make your highlights brilliant, and play around with color to your heart’s content.
Capturing real estate photography in RAW format will save you hours of frustration.
Keep in mind that RAW format causes images to be much larger and can only be opened with editing software that supports the RAW format.
Related Post: RAW vs JPEG – Five Reasons You Should Shoot in RAW
Interior Versus Exterior
What settings you use depends on whether you are shooting exterior or shooting interior. You can gauge how well your settings are doing with your shooting location by using the camera’s built-in light meter.
As a rule of thumb, exterior shots will have more light to work with (so your ISO will be quite low and shutter speed higher) and interior shots have less light (higher ISO and a lower shutter speed).
5. Get a Flash Unit
Many of the homes you walk into may be dark no matter how many windows you open or lights you turn on. Using a flash or strobe unit is the way to go! These are tools that emit a very powerful white light when synchronized to your camera’s shutter button.
Look for units that are TTL (Through The Lens). This means that the flash itself will adjust its intensity based on the lens you use and how big the space is (how close you are to the subject). Otherwise, you’ll have to adjust the intensity of the flash, and that can be quite time consuming as you’re going through a home.
Most flashes come without any sort of diffuser or cover. Diffusers are accessories that you can place on a flash unit to soften and spread out the light.
Without a diffuser, the light is harsh and unnatural. Big softbox diffusers with white fabric are great, they help capture a room without making it look like a flash was used.
When adjusting the direction of your flash head, never point it directly at the subject you are photographing. Instead, aim the unit towards the ceiling or a wall. This helps the light bounce around and softens its impact, rather than cause harsh reflections and glares when pointed directly.
6. Become Acquainted With High Dynamic Range (HDR)
When taking images, you have to prioritize what to expose for as you cannot expose everything at once. HDR, short for high dynamic range, is when you take multiple images at different exposures and then stack them together. This offers more clarity and vividness in every part of the shot. Here are the steps for creating an HDR image:
- First, place the camera on a tripod, since all the images need to be taken in the same spot.
- Then you’re going to want to check your light meter (aim for the meter to read 0). When you’re ready, take your photograph.
- Once you’ve done that, adjust your exposure until the meter is showing that the settings are exposing the image to the left of the scale (‘-2’ is a good place to sit). Capture an image here, too.
- Do the same in reverse, for the meter to show to the right (‘+2’).
- Finally, load these images into your editing software and stack them. Programs such as Adobe Photoshop actually have an HDR option already built in, you just select your images and the program will merge them for you.
Tips for Using High Dynamic Range in Real Estate Photography
1. Three or More Images are Required for Bracketing
A minimum of three images (a shot for the shadows, a shot for the highlights, and a shot for the mid-tones) should be captured to produce an HDR image. However, if you can capture more than 3 images, you can get better results. About 10 frames is a significant number.
2. Adjust Your Exposure with Shutter Speed, Not Aperture or ISO
When doing your exposure brackets, make sure you are changing your exposure using the shutter speed setting, not the ISO or aperture settings. Adjusting your aperture will change your depth of field and adjusting ISO may add unwanted noise to the shot.
3. Understand When to Do HDR and Use It Sparingly
Not all spaces need HDR rendering. You will usually use HDR for exterior shots to express all of the details that may hide due to the lighting, or in a room that has a very bright window.
Make sure to practice moderation when adjusting the settings of your HDR shot. You don’t want your photograph to look like a video game or a 3D rendering – it still has to look natural. A good trick is to leave just a bit of darkness in your shadows!
7. The ‘Flambience’ Technique
If you’re using a flash unit, you can utilize a technique called “flambience”. The term “flambience” means combining ambient light (the light that is naturally present) and a flash unit. The benefit of this is preserving the natural light feel of a space while still illuminating the entire room effectively.
“Flambience” utilizes a mixture of HDR and flash usage.
First, turn on all of the lights in a space and capture an HDR image of that room with the lights on. Next, while keeping the lights on, take a photograph of the room with a flash unit. In post-processing, when stacking images for an HDR, put the image taken with flash right in the middle of your stack of images. This should yield a result in which the room has both a sharp illumination from the flash paired with its own natural light.
8. Make Sure the Home is Prepared
Staging is very important: If the room is chaotic, no one will notice the home.
Sellers often have no idea what they need to do to prepare a property for sale. Tell them to declutter (simplicity is best) and remove excessive decor. Remove all personal items. Dust the surfaces and sweep the floor, dirty is not a good look. A hotel room is a great guide for how a space should look.
The easy rule to fall back on is to have decor at a minimum and just enough furniture to explain what a room is.
Staging can also aid the photographer in photographing the character of a home honestly. One of the goals of real estate photos is to show off a property in its best way. Preserving the style is really important in setting a mood or selling a lifestyle idea.
9. Vantage Point is Important
The perspective at which you take photographs makes all of the difference.
For rooms that have a lot of large things in them, try to shoot from a bit higher up. If the furniture and fixtures are tall, the higher vantage point works to solve this compositional difficulty as well. This works especially well in kitchens that tend to feature countertops and bar stools.
On the contrary, for places with lower or shorter furniture, position the camera at hip height. The goal with your perspective is scale, you want the room to feel comfortable and well-composed.
10. Identify the Highlight
Every space has a “wow” spot in it, often seen as the focal point. Find the selling point of the space and ensure your photographs heavily highlight it!
For a living room, a beautiful custom-built fireplace might be the highlight. In a kitchen, it may be a marble island. If you’re unsure what the big hoorah of a location is, consult the agent.
Related Post: How to Take Real Estate Photos with Your iPhone
Your photograph compositions should revolve around the highlight of the room. Try to keep the highlight centered, and when capturing other angles, allow it to peek into the sides of the photograph – you want it visible as often as possible.
11. Reduce Reflective Glare
Reflections can be distracting and take away from showing off a window or shiny marble countertop.
Use a polarizing filter to remedy this problem. Filters are thin panes of glass that screw on to the front of your lens. Polarizing filters aim to reduce glare from surfaces that can reflect. They are a great helper when capturing images of windows or shiny elements in a space.
If that isn’t working, see if you can change your shooting angle to reduce reflections. Worst case scenario, you can use photo editing software to remove the glare.
12. Pick the Right Time of Day
For exterior shots, picking the right time of day will help you tremendously. Try to photograph when the sun is not too high up in the sky (as that causes heavy contrast with dark shadows and bright highlights). The closer you are to the sun rising or setting is great.
For indoor shots, photograph during the daytime so that daylight can flood the room. Open all of the windows and blinds to allow the sun to work its magic. Light and airy is a trendy style right now!
13. Turn On All of the Indoor Lights
Turning on all of the lights in a room makes the space look inviting (and also showcases where the lighting even is). Keep the lights on, even during the daytime!
Keep in mind that the temperature of indoor lights often clashes with the natural temperature of outdoor lighting. This results in an image that looks unattractive, as indoor lights tend to be warm and outdoor light is cold. Try to color match the temperature of all of the lighting in post-processing.
14. Edit Efficiently
Real estate photography will cause you to have a lot of images to edit while time is of the essence, so finding ways to edit efficiently is a secret to success. Use batch editing software as offered in Adobe Lightroom to apply your adjustments.
The primary edit you are going to do has to do with color temperature. Color temperature, as the name implies, refers to whether an image looks warm, cold, or neutral. Make sure the lighting looks fairly neutral and is not too washed in color (for example, being too yellow!).
That being said, make sure you are not doing deceptive retouching. As much as we want a property to look perfect, using editing software to heavily alter a room is deceptive and fraudulent. In some cases, it can even have legal ramifications. Don’t edit a photograph to hide something that buyers would need to see.
Bonus Tip: Don’t forget to enable “Lens Corrections” to ensure there is no perspective distortion! You want the images to have the most accurate proportions possible.
Real Estate Photography Business Tips
1. Don’t Skimp Out on Contracts and Insurance
Mitigating your risk and liability is a crucial concept in running a successful business. As such, make sure that you have a contract in place and hold liability insurance.
Contracts outline all of the information about a photography job by setting the expectations and guidelines in writing, while equally protecting yourself and the client from not meeting the mutually discussed goals.
It is best to have a contract written by a lawyer in your state, as nabbing one off of the internet may have clauses that are not legally enforceable in your area. This can be a hefty upfront cost, but it will save you later on in the event of an unfortunate situation.
As for liability insurance, you’re playing with fire if you don’t hold coverage. Anything can happen at a property, your equipment could fall and damage the floor of a home, and this is just a minor example. Insurance will help protect you in the event of a claim.
2. Use a Shot List
A shot list is a detailed checklist of the images you need to capture during a property shoot. This helps organize the photo session and ensures you aren’t missing (or forgetting!) to capture any important photographs that the client may need.
Shot lists also open the door for effective communication with a real estate agent, architect, or any other individual that is hiring you. To generate a shot list, you need to have your client disclose all of their wants, goals, and needs. This gives you a good foundation so you can capture all the right photographs.
Your shot list should include a mixture of wide-angle images of an entire space, medium shots of sections of a space, and detail shots of any prominent features.
3. Set Reasonable Expectations
Managing expectations is the balancing act of all business owners. Make sure you don’t stretch yourself too thin by consulting your client on what is and isn’t possible to do. Don’t give an editing deadline that is impossible to commit to! This makes sure no one is disappointed at the end of the job.
The best way to set expectations up correctly is to understand what you, as a photographer, need. How long does it take you to finish a batch of images? What do you need your client to provide you with?
Equally so, make sure that your photography style (and quality) is consistent so that the expectation boundary sits at the specific look of your work. If a client wants you to change your style drastically, that is not a reasonable request.
Having a contract and written correspondence helps maintain expectations and outline what each side intends to deliver the other. You can certainly use this as a guide or scapegoat if the client begins trying to push you beyond the realm of reasonable.
4. Be Fully Prepared in Advance
Don’t walk into a photoshoot blind; ask if you can do a walk-through of the property before the day of your shoot. This helps you plan the gear you need to bring and the compositions you need to capture.
Always prepare in advance, the night before or the day before is great. Make sure batteries are charged, memory cards are packed, and equipment is clean. Rushing in the morning can easily result in forgetting something crucial to your shoot.
5. Consider Expanding Your Repertoire with Drone Photography
When you think of real estate photography, your mind often lands on still photographs from ground level. However, as technology has advanced, drone photography has found itself becoming a staple in real estate photography. Immersing yourself in this tool can be beneficial for growing your photography business.
Photographing a property from above is a great way to express scale, property size, and the wondrous aesthetic of seeing something from an unusual vantage point.
Although it can be simple to learn how to fly a drone and capture still images, there is a lot of legal know-how required in order to avoid trouble. Because drones are aerial vehicles, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) governs the use of these machines.
In the USA, drones that weigh between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds require registration with the FAA. In order to fly your drone under the FAA’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107), you must obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate.
Once you have the legal ability to let the drone leave the ground, you need to have a Commercial Pilot license in order to be hired in the first place. Some locations require advanced notice to the FAA and the drone has to be “unlocked” in order to fly it there, primarily if the location passes overhead of a road or is near an airport.
These restrictions may sound discouraging, but like any new endeavor, you’ll learn what you need to know and can get on going!
Tips for Getting Into Real Estate Photography
1. Research and Study Other’s Real Estate Photographs
If you’re new to the craft, studying how others do things can be very beneficial to your own work. Review the photographs of other real estate photographers, paying attention to their framing and composition. There is so much you can learn from observation alone!
For example, all professional real estate images have no crooked lines. Images with tilted horizons look sloppy.
A great place to find real estate images to reference is on multi-million dollar property listings. Homes that have invested in the best-of-the-best photographers will have exceptional images.
2. Use Your Friend’s Homes to Build a Portfolio
Everything comes down to having a solid portfolio. A solid portfolio in real estate photography is defined as showing images with high quality, a variety of rooms and lighting situations, and an adaptability to capture different size spaces.
Reach out to your friends, family, and acquaintances and ask if you can capture photographs of their homes for your portfolio.
This allows you to not only capture images without the pressure of a paid job (giving you room to experiment and try new things) but to also build a great portfolio with excellent images.
3. Shadow an Experienced Real Estate Photographer
There are seldom more beneficial opportunities than working with a seasoned pro. Start reaching out to local real estate photographers and ask if there is an opportunity to shadow them while they work, assist on a real estate photo shoot, or pay for them to mentor you. The experience you build on the job will get you quite far in the world of photographing buildings.
Don’t be discouraged if the agents say no – not everyone is interested in teaching a newbie. Keep reaching out until you find someone willing to share their knowledge!
4. Reach Out to Real Estate Agents, Architects, Interior Designers, and Other Home Pros
Once you feel confident in your ability, begin marketing yourself. Reach out to professionals that may have a need for your shutter-clicking services! These may include agents, brokers, architects, designers, and professionals in any other industry that does well having professional photographs.
Make sure you have your pricing, work process, and business requirements all in order prior to making contact. The last thing you need is to scramble to get all of these fundamentals figured out on the job.
Real Estate Photography Tips: Wrap Up
Once you’ve built up your gear arsenal, studied the proper lighting techniques, played with effective compositions, and ensured your business know-how is top-notch, you can dive into the world of real estate photography with full confidence!