Real Estate Photography Part 2


Finally …

Previously I spoke generally of quality and professionalism with some discussion toward Realestate photography. So now we have a photoshoot for a local Realestate Agent, whom we meet at the property they are going to market and have contracted us to photograph for them.

Take good care to be consistently punctual, on time or a tad early, considering both the Agent and vendor who likely will be home at the time. Usually I have given my property presentation guide to the Agent who has forwarded this to the vendor. The document is basically a single A4 sheet, with my business name, logo and contact info, guiding the vendor in point form through preparing their property not only for the photography but for any open home viewings.

It is quite common to arrive at a property that has not been prepared for presentation, either because the vendor has not received any guide or they have not bothered or bothered very much. In such cases the Agent is usually very helpful and we skip around moving items out of a room for each photo, replacing them and off to the next room etc.

This can be time consuming but I consider this a small “value add” service. Some photographers I know arrive to an unprepared property and leave again with a “call me when it is ready”. The photography business is as much about relating to people as it is being a skilled photographer, without either quality you will not be very successful.

As the photographer you will be looked to for the expertise in presentation of each room and as such for the time you are there you are in control, so politely take control in a manner that puts the vendor at ease and makes the Agent want to help you out. Adopt an easy manner, smile and be friendly, instill a sense of confidence towards you from both the Agent and vendor. Be encouraging, complement the vendor on their preparation, decor etc.

Photographing the Property

With a large property and a house with many rooms it can be easy to miss a room or important view, so I do a basic walk or work flow from the front of the property, into and through the house then back outside for the rear and sides (if necessary) of the property.

First impressions are the street view or the frontage, which will most likely be used as the main presentation image but keep your mind outside of the box so-to-speak – the main view could be from the patio with a glass or two of wine in a nice setting on the outdoor table overlooking the beautiful lake or looking towards another cactching view!

Walk around the property first, to check preparation and look for angles, different attractive perspectives, features that should be included in your images. When entering the house I remove my shoes, leaving them outside the entrance (unless the vendor specifically says otherwise) and ask (as a courtesy) if I can look through the house first and as for the outside,  walk through checking for preparation, does anything need moving or cleaning and looking for angles, views, features etc. On the way I point out that which I would like moved or hidden from view that the Agent and vendor are usually happy to help with.

Ok, so now we are happy it is into the photos. The reality is, once you are familiar with what you are doing the front of the house has already mostly been photographed by now but for our purposes here I will start from the front, finishing at the rear with a selection of images from which I can choose 20 good images – more or less – according to the land area and the house size.

Get your frontage shots including any nice gardens, shrubs, trees, features etc, then starting at the front entrance work your way through the house. You will find a natural flow to most houses and following this flow you will not miss anything. When presenting rooms for photographs, less-is-more. Remove as much clutter as possible and distracting coloured mats etc. The viewers eye wants to survey the room and the view outside, not the three cats on the bed and the psychedelic floor mat.

Remember, once you leave – you have left, gone, so be sure you have all the images you need before you go and that they are of a sufficient quality. Check your camera histogram for every shot, make sure there is no, or very little clipping on either side of the graph and that the information is in the middle or biased to the right. This will give you the best image to work with. See my post regarding the camera histogram here (a new window will open)

How you compose your shots is very subjective and in the eye of the photographer. Here I can only suggest that you browse property listings, you will soon form opinions on what looks good and what does not, what catches your eye and what repels you, remembering that you have only seven – 7 – seconds to capture the attention of potential buyers.

Frontage needs to take in gardens and other features that enhance the viewing appeal.

This preceding image also makes obvious one of the reasons I use a monopod. Set the self timer, point and hit the shutter button focusing where you want and hold the monopod high – you easily have a different and attractive perspective. Another reason for the monopod is the following image taken with ambient light at a much slower shutter speed than is possible hand held …

1/5 second shutter speed at f/8.0

The inside images must convey the ambiance of each room. The way to achieve this is balancing the light between inside and outside. Your camera settings need to allow correct exposure of the view outside the windows, doors or openings and the flash will balance the light inside the room – balanced fill flash. Turning on all the lights helps with that bit of extra fill light and is necessary for shots with ambient light only.


Equipment and Settings

Equipment for the task varies for different photographers obviously. I use Nikon and my basic kit is D7000, SB900 flash, Tokina ATXPRO 11-16 f/2.8 lens and a monopod. I use a Velbon Ball head on a Velbon Geo carbon fibre monopod because it is tall and strong – and I already have a Velbon tripod so the mounting plates are already in place.

You will need a wide angle lens. As a basic rule of thumb, I would suggest 11mm-12mm min focal length lens for a cropped sensor camera and 16mm min focal length for a full frame camera – this will give you enough coverage for most rooms to be able to take in a full two walls and a bit more maybe. Some popular cropped sensor or DX lenses for this purpose are: 11mm-16mm zoom, 12mm-24mm zoom, 10mm-24mm zoom, 10mm-22mm zoom get the picture? For FX or full frame then: 14-24mm, 16-35mm, 17-35mm etc.

I use the M “manual” setting and A “aperture priority” mostly with an aperture setting of around f/8 or f/10 which allows a good depth of field for interior shots. The view finder has an exposure indicator at the bottom, so as I dial in a different aperture and shutter speed the indicator will show if the settings are under or over exposed for the shot. Just like the old exposure metres I guess but this one built into the camera. Of the three preceding shots, the first is taken with no flash and the next two with fill flash, that is TTL setting or Through-The-Lens metering for the flash output levels.


The next image is using ambient light only – using the house lights and outside light for fill light …

1/4 seconds shutter speed at f/8.0

Once again, 1/4 seconds exposure possible with the monopod. If I were to have used a flash in this room, the heavy roof beams and the uprights in the middle of the room would have cast distracting shadows and this being a very large room would have had a very bright roof immediately above me to allow for sufficient flash fill light in the far corner.

Remember the image on your camera screen will look alot lighter than it does when it gets to the computer so I cannot stress enough – check your histogram after each shot. Adjust your setting until you get a nice graph on your histogram and you won’t go too far wrong. No one minds if you take a shot, check and adjust and take another shot or two.

Onlookers are admiring your work, not being critics so relax and concentrate on your task, they need not be a distraction.

All of these tips are from my own experience and have happened to me at some time, the wisdom being – learn and don’t let it happen a second time.

If your shoes are left at the front door, move them out of view for your shots!

Carefully check your equiment, clean lenses etc. One shoot went pretty well until I got back home to the computer. Several shots had flaring that I just could not get rid of. Checking the lens, the inner glass has a very light smudge mark! I must have rubbed my finger over it lightly when fitting it to the camera. This one cost another trip for some more photos.

Ensure you have spare batteries for your flash, don’t trust that they are newly charged.

Don’t burn out windows – overexpose the outside view, this detracts from the image for what we are doing. Balance the light, ensure the view outside is what you would see with your naked eye or as close to.

Try to get two full walls into most of your room or bedroom shots, giving a good view of the room itself.

Some rooms I don’t photograph: toilet, unless it is in the bathroom; laundry; inside the garage unless it has been converted to another room.

Look behind you. Go to the other side of the room and see what the view is from there, you may find quite a worthwhile view by looking in a different direction to the images you have just taken.

Outside tables can enhance an image with a nice wine setting, a bottle, two or three glasses and a nice centre piece.

Evening shots can be particularly attractive, only this time you balance the light inside the windows …


Take your shots as the sky darkens and the light balances between the sky and the ground, obviously with all the inside lights on and it can help to have outside lamps to direct at the house. Use a tripod for this one and a cable release helps too. Take a series of shots as the light changes.

Editing and Publishing

Talk with your Agent about the images and how they want them, are there any specific size requirement, lighter or darker, colour space etc? Most agencies do something different. For example some I supply to at two image sizes, first set at 4000px wide at 300dpi, AdobeRGB for printing; second set at 800px wide, 72dpi sRGB for web presentation. Another agency only require prints images at 3000px wide. It varies so talk with them about this which is also builds rapport.

Mostly I deliver the images on CD, with my business details on the label etc. I also supply a link from my web site that the agency can click to download a .zip file containing the images which works well.

First pass for me is import into Lightroom 3, adding keywords. Then select and flag my final images, rename them in order to give a flow from the front, throughout the house and to the rear.

Step through those 20 or so images now, one at a time, removing the barrel distortion, and straighten the images so walls, doors, window, fence posts and poles are all vertical; lighten shadows, darken highlights, recover overexposed areas, all the while trying to to get an image that is not too “flat”, some contrast is desirable. Once done, apply a batch sharpen. I use sharpen to 40, detail and masking to 50 and noise luminance to 10, this usually works pretty well.

Now export them to your publish folder as 100% quality jpegs to the specifications you have already discussed with your agent and burn them to your custom label CD. When I deliver them it is also another chance to say hi and keep my friendly smiling face remembered in their office. If your face wants to smile let it, if it doesn’t then make it!

Well … that is a wrap! Please contact me with any questions or suggestions, in the mean time enjoy the following images … see you ’round the ridges!


Small cottage


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