How to Photograph Real Estate: Lessons Learned

Anyone who has read Improve Photography for a while knows that I’m not a real estate photographer, but this week I had the chance to do a real estate photography shoot and I learned a lot of tips and tricks that I hope to share.

My parents are selling their home, and I couldn’t bear to let the real estate agent take the photos of the home I grew up in. I am firmly convinced that real estate agents intentionally make houses look terrible in MLS listings.  Terrible, and terribly small.

When I purchased a home a year ago, I wasted a tremendous amount of time looking at homes that I would have known weren’t a fit for me if the photos had done a better job of showing the layout of the home. Also, the home we eventually bought wasn’t even on our short list of homes we saw online because the photos made it look very small.

I set out to accomplish three things in this shoot: (1) I wanted the home to look large. It is a large 5 bedroom home, but the layout is not open. (2) I wanted to capture photos that were unique from what most real estate photos look like so as to grab attention of potential buyers, and (3) I wanted the home to look bright and clean. This home has many large windows, so I wanted to show off the lighting in the home.

The following are some of the photos I took in the shoot and a step-by-step guide of how I made the photos. I don’t claim that any of them are perfect–after all this was the very first time I shot real estate–but hopefully it will provide you with helpful pointers if you are asked to do real estate photos at some point.

Bright and clean living room in a real estate photo

Living area photo

Photo of the Main Living Area

The living room photo is probably the most important photo in a real estate listing. This is where people spend most of their time in the home, so they want to see that it is open, attractive, and functional.

I walked around the room for a few minutes looking through the viewfinder until I found the best angle for making the room look as large as possible.

TIP: I found that placing an area of carpet closest to the camera (instead of furniture, a wall, etc) made the room look extremely large because the super wide angle lens distorts distances to make things closest to the camera look larger than they appear in real life.

To avoid distortion from the wide angle lens, I avoided putting the intersection of the vertical walls and the ceiling anywhere near the edge of the frame. On wide angle lenses, the areas nearest the edges of the frame distort far more than the center of the frame.

Last, the lighting. I opened all of the windows to let in bright clean light. Since the light bulbs in the room were warm incandescent lights, it produced ugly competing color temperatures in the areas further away from the windows. To fix this problem, I used a YN-560 flash pointed at the ceiling that matched the daylight from the windows. This illuminated the darker areas of the room and made the room lights look like small warm accent lights while still leaving the room with a neutral daylight color temperature.

The photo of the back yard shows a little distortion, but I think the advantage of seeing the entire yard in one photo is more valuable than avoiding the little bit of distortion.

The photo of the back yard shows a little distortion, but I think the advantage of seeing the entire yard in one photo is more valuable than avoiding the little bit of distortion.

Photo of the Yard

To make this photo, I used the typical real estate photography recipe: Smash yourself up into the corner so as to take advantage of every inch of the space, set your lens to the widest possible focal length, and fire the shutter.

The area in this photo was a bit too wide even for the real estate recipe, so I shot three photos in vertical orientation overlapping them by about 30% and later stitched them together in Photoshop. The wider the lens you shoot, the more overlap you need to overcome the distortion.

The sky was quite overexposed in the original photo, so I used the HSL tool in Lightroom to bring down the luminance of only the blue colors in the photo. This brought down the exposure of the sky to bring out more color and more closely match the exposure of the rest of the scene.

Aerial photo of Idaho home at sunrise

I must admit that the sunrise lens flare was an accident, but I really like it.

aerial-real-estate-photo

This high view shows the neighborhood. Taken with a DJI Phantom and GoPro Hero 3.

Photos of the Neighborhood

One of the main selling points of this home is that it is in an established neighborhood with large mature trees, a park, and wide streets.

I chose to capture this selling point in a photo using the DJI Phantom, an RC helicopter that is strong enough to lift a GoPro Hero 3 camera. In the United States, the FAA prohibits the use of RC helicopters for commercial purposes, but this shoot was not a paid shoot. I only use the helicopter for aerial photography when doing non-commercial projects.

I shot this photo early in the morning so that it would benefit from the sunrise lighting. I set the GoPro to time lapse mode so that it would take a photo every two seconds. Then, I simply flew around at different heights and distances from the house until I got the shot I wanted.

The GoPro has a lot of distortion, so I usually try to point the camera up so the horizon is in the middle of the photo. This is terrible for composition, but it minimizes distortion. I reduced the distortion in this photo using Photoshop, but I didn’t completely straighten the horizon because I actually like the “small world” look in this shot.

Last, I put text on the photo to show which house was the one in the listing.

Conclusion

Shooting real estate or architectural photography is a real skill. I learned quite a few tips, but I’d like to do a few more shoots before I could call myself proficient in this area of photography. I don’t have any interest in pursuing it as part of my business, but it was a fun challenge.

To see the MLS listing with more photos from this shoot, check it out here.

Gear I Used for this Real Estate Shoot

tinyCamNikon D800 – Honestly, any DSLR or camera with manual exposure controls would capture photos of excellent quality for a real estate listing, but I’m most comfortable with this camera so that is what I used.  View my camera recommendations here.

 

14to24TinyNikon 14-24mm f/2.8 Lens – This lens is extremely wide on a full frame sensor, but it definitely distorts the edges of the frame. Still, it did well and the resulting photos were acceptable. View my lens recommendations here.

 

phantomSmallDJI Phantom – I used this RC helicopter to capture the aerial photos of the home.  The DJI Phantom has GPS in it, so if it loses contact with the controller or goes out of range, it goes to the initial GPS location where it took off and then lands itself.  It’s an amazing innovation in aerial photography.  Read my review of the DJI Phantom.

goProTinyGoPro Hero 3 Camera – This camera was used for photos from the aerial rig.  The GoPro Hero 3 is very lightweight and good for mounting in small locations to get some footage.  It had a lot of bugs in the camera when it was first released, but a recent firmware update made it much more stable.

 

tripodTinyInduro AT-313 Tripod – This is an extremely sturdy tripod that has extra long legs for achieving a high perspective in some of the photos.  Induro Tripods are incredibly sturdy and very fairly priced.  View my tripod recommendations here.

 

ballheadTiny Vanguard SBH-300 Ballhead – This ballhead costs about $99 and is strong and durable.  This one has lasted me many years and still does the job.  View my ballhead recommendations here.

 

flashTinyYN560 II Flash – This is my favorite flash. It only costs $60, is simple to use, and in my opinion is just as good as the expensive Canon or Nikon brand flashes.  There is a new version of this flash available now (YN560III) that has a built in radio receiver.  View my inexpensive flash gear list here.

 

Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. Mark Reibman says

    Real estate photography has gotten increasingly competitive and successful re photographers have become very, very good at their craft. These photos would not make the cut in this increasingly competitive market. White balance much too warm and wide angle is a bit over done. Agents have really been raising the bar on quality over the years as photographers compete for their business.

  2. says

    As someone who has been looking for a new home for several months, I can attest to the fact that most real estate photography is embarrassingly poor. I think they snap a few with the cell phones- sometimes with the person’s reflection caught in the mirrors! Ugh! Love your shots- even with the distortion. It’s nice to see the whole room and get a good idea of the layout of the house more easily. Cute house. Why on earth would they ever want to move?? :)

  3. chris says

    Hi, when I shoot, any detail that you would normally see through the window, for example scenery, sea, trees mountains seems to disappear and the window space comes out white. What can I do please. Thanks

  4. says

    Chris, when you are photographing real estate interiors, you can avoid overexposed windows by taking multiple exposures. One with the shutter times for proper interior exposure, and a second photo for proper window exposure. Then, using a photo editor such as Photoshop or Lightroom to merge the images, masking out the over exposed areas. Properly lighting the interior and shooting early morning or late afternoon can eliminate the need to do the above post processing.

  5. says

    As others have said, some minor improvements could be made that would go a long way for brushing up the quality in these photos. Although it’s important to show a space and make it appear large, we have to be careful not to mislead buyers. The last thing we want is to shoot so wide that a space is out of proportion and when the buyer gets to the property they are disappointed because the home “appeared larger online” than in person.

    I absolutely loved the way you put the address on the Phantom shot – going to have to try that myself!

    P.S. I see the property sold rather quickly. Great job!

  6. Rodney says

    commercial use (FAA) means you are being paid. has nothing to do with subject. the policy has been taken to supreme court by a photographer and FAA is appealing the loss. they have sent cease and desist letters to photogs but it’s not a law…yet. lets hope

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