Real estate photography questions


TPF Noob!
Feb 20, 2008
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I am looking into doing real estate photography in my area. While helping my friends look for houses, I noticed a real lack in quality of the pictures. Grainy, blurry, dutch angled, anything and everything you can think of. There's a real need for this in my community and I'd like to be the first here to do so.

What are some tips? I have a great general idea, I have all the necessary equipment (Wide angle, tripod, good camera) but do you all usually do an HDR style shot capturing the outside as well as the inside? Or keep the windows blown out. How do you stage the area you're shooting? Any ideas are helpful.

Also how do I approach the real estate agents and possible home owner clients? What should I bring and what's an idea of what to say?
Leaving any highlights blown out is generally not the solution for any kind of photography. So yes, I'd say you should use a film or camera with high dynamic range, or employ software and minor bracketing to do so (doing so only to the extent that you have the detail you need, but otherwise looking like a normal realistic photograph).

Or if you have the choice (I don't know how high pressure that job is), simply photographing on a day and at a time with good lighting where it isn't an issue.

Staging the area for real estate should be pretty easy for the outside. Just (with permission) move any big obnoxiously distracting things like kiddy pools or debris out of the shot, take the photo inside the curb so you don't get parked cars... obvious stuff.

Staging the indoors area is much more difficult but also largely out of your direct control. You would probably want to discuss with the owner or real estate agent, however, about how you would like THEM to stage it, if it isn't already looking appropriate. Real estate agents worth their salt will likely know 18 million more staging tricks than YOU do. Owners will not. Just tell them priorities about which things are most important to do to make it look pretty in the least amount of time to make it easiest for them to do it. Obviously, no food or garbage or dirty clothes lying around, minimize clutter and knick knacks, try to have nice centerpieces on the tables, clean surfaces and rugs, and so on (do not intentionally hide major visible flaws, though, and avoid working with people who ask you to and won't back down! That would be fraud)

As for approaching people, I have no idea. Businesses (agents) just call up and ask (have a resume and portfolio available on demand). For individual homeowners, you would probably be best off advertising by word of mouth or whatnot. You could just go around and knock on doors that have for sale by owner signs if you really want (again, bring a hard copy portfolio and resume etc.), although be careful to watch out for "no solicitor" signs. Calling up "for sale by owner" numbers from newspaper or online classifieds would probably be less effort, and fewer "no solicitor" restrictions.
Good luck. Many realtors are clueless. Most are unwilling to pay a reasonable price for a professional job. Sadly, many can't even tell the difference between the crap you mentioned and professional images. Only the very high end homes would be your best bet. Most realtors have major staging knowledge and/or work with a stager. If you can sell your expertise in that area you become more marketable.

We're selling and our Realtor explained they have someone that they hire to come in and shoot. "Oh, she's got a real good camera. She crops and everything and does things in Photoshop". Upon viewing her work; OOF, oversaturated, unleveled and poorly propped, I'm insisting on providing my own shots. Here are a few I shot, down and dirty, using a single speedlight.

$4741_007.jpg $4741_011.jpg$4741_015.jpg$4741_018.jpg

Here are some from a shoot for Starbucks; a little more dramatically processed for the client. Maybe these and the above will give you an idea of at least the minimum level you would want to shoot for. The big boys have extensive equipment and knowhow. You'll make more money doing corporate work.

$old_shep008.jpg $old_shep005.jpg $old_shep004.jpg $old_shep001.jpg $strbx_warren029.jpg
Lol. Heavy vignetting = instantly 3x more likely to be coffee shop I want to drink at. (Not making fun of you. It's a legit tactic that works. Just an amusing state of affairs).

Those are nice shots above, and also remind me of a problem you may very well run into if you try to do this competitively: If a person's house is a mess, getting them to clean it up still won't yield as good as the above results, because they probably won't even OWN the decor items to make it look really nice. Unless you live down the street from a prop rental business, and if you don't have the interior decorating skills to know what to change around in the first place (if their decor sucks), then that might be a significant barrier to entry to the field for you.

Going for commercial clients is a good option as texkam suggested. They've generally already hired designers, or if it's a chain, their decor is largely mandated from corporate.

Another route might be teaming up with somebody who has those skills/resources, but no photography backup. If you have a friend in decorating, suggest a partnership?? You can shoot their jobs for decorating clients more nicely than they could possibly, and at the same time, they can help you stage properties for sale. That could be an awesome business setup potentially.

Also, if you end up making enough off doing this to justify the investment, a tilt shift lens would be helpful.
Lol. Heavy vignetting = instantly 3x more likely to be coffee shop I want to drink at. (Not making fun of you. It's a legit tactic that works. Just an amusing state of affairs).
:thumbup: :thumbup: :thumbup:

their decor is largely mandated from corporate
As is the heavy vignetting. :salute:
I do some real estate photos from time to time when my schedule permits for a real estate agent friend; as far as exposing for windows goes, using a simple speedlight flash (or slaves) is a very effective way for properly exposing both indoors and out. creating HDRs for real estate photography can be very misleading due to the increased saturation, and an overall unrealistic photo. even if you keep from over-saturating the HDR, I still think that a flash is more realistic, and makes your post processing workflow more efficient.
Good luck getting a Realtor to pay for anything, let alone photographs. Your best bet for this type of work is through the owners and with homes in the +$500,000 rage. If you want to get a jump on that whole market, target the builders in your area who are much more likely to use your services and are influential with both owners and realtors.

Blown out windows, etc. will not be tolerated nor will unfaithful colors so if you can't create natural, color balanced HDR photos it won't be an option. There are ways to do it, experiment. In any case be well versed in the art of lighting with both incandescent and strobe.

Go buy a copy of Architectural Digest or something close and look at the photos to get an idea of what level you need to shoot (and edit) at and then shoot your house and see how you compare. It's actually easier to 'borrow' a friends house for this exercise.
As has been mentioned, most realtors don't know and don't care about the difference between quality photographs and P&S POS photographs. Agree with the others that blown windows, etc are a no-go; I use a LOT of speedlights and gels (as many as six) tucked here and there, hidden behind things, etc. Gel to the colour of regular tungsten lighting as that tends to show a warmer, more inviting sort of look. Your best bet for a lens will be a T/S, but if you don't have & can't afford one, do lots of small panos.
What DSRay and tirediron said.

Good luck on getting this to work out! Ordinary real-estate is not where the money is, nor even potential money. See DSRay's second sentence.

Yes, I know it is a shame that they don't know the difference between good and bad photography, but the average real-estate sales person just wants a picture right now, and any camera will do. Without any particular training in photography, they will assume that the pictures they take from the curb will be fine. That is really all they want, and they want to be able to post it today, not wait for a couple of days for you to do something fancy, and then send them a bill for your services.

Let us know how it works out.

I am not trying to talk you out of it, just laying out some reality for you.

And I really would like to know if it works, because then I could attempt it in my area. :D
All great info and realistic expectations. I'm aware it's going to be hard getting rural agents to even consider this. Like some of you said, most are content with sub par. If only they realized the potential of a good presentation.

It's still very much worth a shot, there's not much to lose in asking and trying. I've seen one prominent real estate photog website based in a large city several miles away. So I know it can be done, it's just how to go about it. It's like building clients for portrait and family photography.

Thanks a bunch for the help everyone, also "Designer" why not try it?? You don't need me to try it first lol.
I know this is a lot more detail in a reply than you asked for, but it's important. Make sure your vertical and horizontal perspective stays true. Simply put, straight lines need to stay straight. You can accomplish this via several methods: always shoot the original image plum and level, having one of the hot-shoe mounted bubble levels is a Godsend for this, another option is to shoot wide enough that you can use perspective correction in post and crop down later.

One of the cardinal sins in poorly done real estate photography is intersecting verticals. There's probably no faster way to look like a complete 'tard with a discerning client than when the straight lines aren't straight.

Lastly, I'll second what John (TiredIron) said about the T/S lens being a great idea. If you've never shot with one, do some research, rent one for a weekend and be amazed.
also "Designer" why not try it?? You don't need me to try it first lol.

I've thought about it, but I'm not really looking to start another career.
Coming from a business perspective you need to prove your service adds value for them. The value add can be many things depending on what they are expecting the purpose of the photos to be.

As an example, if the purpose of the photos if for a brochure/website that is designed to drive viewings then prove better photos = more viewing. If it is to yield higher conversion ratios to sales then you will need to prove better photos = better sales.

One way would be to offer your services for free for the first 10-20 houses. Then, using another 10-20 houses without your photos, track the amount of viewings each house gets with and without your photos to hopefully show with your photos they get more viewings. If they do then you have leverage to start charging. If they don't then maybe better photos don't help sell houses for that realtor's type of house (that wouldn't mean it wouldn't for a different type of house, i.e. 1m+, as others have mentioned).

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