Real Estate Photography Part 1

Real estate photography is one of my sources of income as a photographer. I saw a need as I browsed the local properties for sale and was quite shocked at the poor quality imagery used to market such an expensive product as real estate – even some of those presented as “professional”.

In a nut-shell, seeing poor quality photos out there in the marketing arena makes my teeth itch, so I write here in the hope that these ramblings may help some to professionally prepare and present real estate images to clients, be they agents or vendors.

Of course alot of this post is relevant to professional photography in general. In my next post I will talk about a few more real estate photography specifics.

A couple of basics first off – for the purposes here,  I always shoot RAW and post edit in Adobe’s Lightroom 3, and sometimes using Photoshop CS5.

Real estate photography is presenting the viewers with imagery that will grab their attention. Over 90% of home and property buyers use the internet to search for their dream home, investment property or holiday get-a-way. On average I have 7 seconds for my images to hold their attention – within 7 seconds they will decide to look at more of this presentation or move on.

As a photographer I must understand what makes images pleasing to viewers and what generally does not – what it is that holds a potential home buyers attention. House and Garden type magazines will often present images of homes, inside and out, gardens and other scenes as high-key images. These are stylish images where the sky and highlights of the scene are pure white, including windows and doorways for internal shots.

This stylized look does not work for real estate photography in my experience. A burnt out high lighted window or door opening detracts from the room or scene my image is presenting to the viewer. This is one reason, I believe, that video presentation is hot and getting hotter – buyers can view the videos and get a good look and feel of the property. When they then visit the property, it is a case of … “yes, I remember seeing that on the video”.

My images must convey the same connection and to do that each room or scene must be a very close representation of what the eye would see naturally. This will convey the true ambiance to the viewer – being able to clearly see the room or scene as well as the detail outside or beyond. Balancing the light is the photogapher’s skill as in this next pair of images …

Or outside looking in, once again balance the light …

Both the first examples I have seen the equivalent of, and much worse photos used to present homes for sale to the public.

So without further ado, some considerations and discussion …

Always shoot in camera RAW

Camera RAW files are just that, raw files containing all the information recorded for the image you have just clicked off. Jpeg images can look very good straight from the camera but information is lost in the process of compressing the file to the JPEG format. When it comes to bringing detail out of a dark area or an overexposed area the RAW file offers the best chance of recovery, of course only if the image is not too far overexposed or underexposed.

Image detail is much finer, clearer and cleaner in RAW format than in JPEG. This may not always seem to matter so much but I prefer to always present the best images possible.

RAW file noise reduction is more effective than for JPEGS, as is image sharpening and lighting / colour adjustments. Every manufacturer has their own OEM RAW file formats, and likewise produce their own RAW file conversion software to convert the RAW formats to a generally usable format such as jpeg or tiff. I use Adobe Lightroom 3, which will convert most RAW formats with several updates per year as more camera models come onto the market.

Lightroom 3 has Adobe Camera Raw technology inbuilt, the extact same technology but not as a plugin – as part of the program.

If the images are converted ultimately to JPEG anyway, then why not straight from the camera I hear someone ask? Keeping the RAW format for all of your editing, adjusting and cropping is working with 100% of the data recorded for that image. The final edit is then converted to jpeg for web presentation or printing – the very last thing done is the conversion.

When a JPEG is taken direct from the camera, data is stripped from the image to begin with to achieve the JPEG format. With a JPEG file, each time an edit is made and the file is saved, more data is stripped from the image. Every “save” compresses the image data and degrades the overall image quality but not so with camera RAW files or TIFF files for that matter.

Process the Images before delivery to your client

(I am assuming images imported to your Photo management / catalog software, keepers flagged and others rejected or otherwise tagged and metadata applied)

Post processing is a must, even if you do decide to shoot JPEGs. Using a wide angle lens causes some barrel distortion of the images where the walls and doorways look bowed out in the middle. This is unavoidable and must be corrected for final presentation.

The second image correction is making sure all the vertical lines as in walls and window frames, power poles etc are actually vertical, and there is no vertical or horizontal distortion as can happen if the camera is not quite level in any direction. This is where the top of the room is wider than the bottom of the room or visa versa.

The next adjustment is lighting and colour, darks are not too dark and lights not too light and colour is true colour. Most of the light balance is from the camera and flash settings but minor adjustments can be made here.

I then zoom in to 100% and check for chromatic aberrations, these are the red, blue, cyan or yellow fringes along some of the edges. Lightroom 3 handles these fringes and all the above edits very well.

While zoomed in I apply sharpening and noise reduction if necessary and the final image is ready for export in, usually, JPEG format.

Present yourself as professional both in manner and appearance

Present yourself as a professional, clean, tidy, smart dress, company logo on your shirt etc. Let your manner be friendly, polite and very helpful. Make it a pleasurable experience for the people who deal with you. I know of some photographers who miss repeat business for this very reason. You are the professional, you have the knowledge, you have the skills, your clients are relying on you for those qualities, afford them also the pleasure of your company -

If your face wants to smile, let it – if it doesn’t, then make it!

A property presentation guide

A nice touch is to prepare a property presentation guide as a hand out for agents and vendors to help them prep their properties for photography and for inspections. People living in their own homes are often not aware of their often used items on hand or on shelves looking like clutter to prospective buyers.

Less is more so help them along and most people do appreciate this advice.

Deliver your images to your client on CD or DVD or via FTP

Even if my images are sent via email or uploaded directly to the client website, I still deliver them to their office on a CD. This is a personal touch, and allows further contact with your customer if you are able to hand deliver the CD, and more advertising with your nicely designed CD label with your logo, contact details and services offered. Currently I supply images on CD and via a download link where the client clicks an email download link, downloading a .zip file from my web site.

In my next post I will talk some more about real estate photography specifics. Until then – see you ’round the ridges!

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