Real Estate Photography 101

The BIG THREE problems most agents and photographers face are these:

  1. Color Accuracy
  2. Hexagonal Lines
  3. Balanced Exposures

Let’s start with the basic understanding that good real estate photos should make a home look very much like the human eye would see it.  That’s the goal, right?  We want people to look at the pictures and imagine themselves in the home.  Anything that distracts from that is bad.  Things like color accuracy and room temperature become very important.  Composition and leveling becomes critical, as the human eye does not look down or up… it looks straight.  Well, actually, our eyes are spherical, so it doesn’t matter if humans are looking up or down… the thing to keep in mind is that the human eye does not see hexagonal lines, and real estate photos shouldn’t either.  Lastly and most important is exposure.  For the most part, interiors should be bright and evenly exposed.  I’ll explain what I mean by “for the most part” later, but I think we can all agree that the interior of the home should be as bright as the human eye sees it, and always making use of the the available natural light and shadows, which give a room it’s ambiance.  Anything else is either a bad photo, or a fake interpretation of the room.  Let’s compare…

Below are pictures taken by a very good San Diego Realtor.  He uses the same wide angle lens as many professionals and a prosumer camera, like the Canon Rebel.  He told me that he also used a photo enhancement tool to brighten up his photos, as he thought they were too dark.  So, I’ll address the effects of that first.  There are three primary problems in the “before” shot.

First, notice how grainy it is.  That happens because proper light was not used.  A a results, the color is off, too.  And to make matters worse, using a photo enhancement tool to make the darks brighter, degraded the photo with [necessary] noise… making it look grainy.

Second, notice the diagonal lines on each side of the image?  This happens when the lens is not level; usually pointing up or down.  But remember, the human eye does not look up or down.  So, to avoid this nasty distraction… level your camera.  Make sure the lines on each side are vertically straight.

Third, besides the color difference, and the room temperature, one of the biggest problems with this picture is the “flash mark” on the ceiling.  It’s important to balance your flash, with the natural light and shadows, to create an image that looks natural.

Many of the same principles and techniques apply to each photo comparison, so I won’t continue to point out the obvious over and over.  Notice that the next image is very similar.  It looks like each photographer (agent and pro) had the same composition in mind here.  But notice how much the ceiling is emphasized in the agents photo.  This is what happens with lower ceilings in a large volume room.  To get a better composition, move back as much as possible, and zoom in to capture the same living area.

Again with this next photo, both photographers had the same idea.  From this perspective, a zoomed out (wide angle) lens is needed in order to capture the whole room, as there is no more space to back up.  So what did the pro do differently?  He lowered his position to limit emphasis on the ceiling.

Here is another example of too much ceiling AND standing too close to the subject.  Notice how much more is captured by stepping back several feet and zooming in a bit.  Of course… the straight lines make a big difference too.

In my introduction, I said that “For the most part, interiors should be bright and evenly exposed.”  Obviously, right?  Well, the reason I say “for the most part” is due to the varying challenges and opportunities that windows give us.  If there’s an ocean view, you may want a perfectly balanced exposure that displays the exterior as well as the interior.  If there’s a trash dumpster on the other side of that kitchen window, may be you want to blow out the windows on purpose.  But the kitchen is the most important part to expose, so get that right.  The comparison below is a very good example of what can and should be accomplished.  The windows aren’t perfect, but they’re good, and what you can’t tell from this image is that the kitchen was actually VERY very dark.  So, getting this much balance is fantastic.  Of course, any picture could always be better.  😉

 Lastly, this photo comparison displays many of the problems discussed.  Notice each of the following points.

  1. Zoomed all the way out vs. stepping back and zooming in.
  2. Position of camera is about 1 foot higher in the before image.
  3. Flash marks vs. even exposure, color accuracy, natural light, clear windows.

The photos above are those taken by a Realtor vs. a Pro.  However, it’s interesting to note that this home was unknowingly photographed by 8 different PreviewFirst photographers and also compared for peer review.  At PreviewFirst, we have a systematic approach to photography that “should” provide our clients with a consistent experience and quality images, each time.  Our goal is to deliver the same quality, regardless of who the photographer is.  As part of our ongoing training and quality control, we wanted each photographer to shoot the same house, so that we could compare the results and figure out where we could improve.  I’m happy to report that we were amazed by the results, as each photographer delivered very nice and similar imagery.

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Post by Steve Carroll


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