If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a couple of dozen great photos of your new listing worth?
Your ability to attract attention to your listings begins with having great photos.
Traditionally, agents have had two choices – pay a professional or take the photos themselves.
The challenge has been that, while the cost of doing them yourself is certainly appealing, the results are not always as good as we’d like.
In this article, I am going to explain how you can take amazing real estate photos – from the equipment you’ll need to understanding the settings on your camera and composing great shots.
Let’s get started. . .
Why great real estate photos matter
Imagine you’ve just signed a new buyer client.
You talk with them to identify their wants and needs – the style of home, the neighborhood, price range and more.
If you’re like most agents, your next step is to use your MLS to search for homes to show your new client.
As you progress through all of the available properties, what gets your attention?
That’s right. The photos.
Now let’s turn the tables and imagine that the agent is searching for homes in an area where you have listings.
How will you be able to get your listings to stand out from the competition?
You guessed it – by having great photos.
Your listings will get more showings online than you will ever see in-person. The quality of your photos will do more to attract, and hold, the attention of prospective buyers, and their agents, than most anything else you can offer at this point.
Take a look at the two real estate photos below; which photo would capture your attention?
To get great photos without hiring a professional, you must have the right equipment.
To get great real estate photos you don’t have to spend a fortune on semi-professional equipment, but you will need something better than your phone.
Having an expensive camera won’t make you a better photographer.
Understanding the settings on your camera, as well as how to use light and compose a photo will make your real estate photos better.
The first piece of equipment you’ll need is a camera, preferably with interchangeable lenses, and with user-controlled settings for the following;
- Aperture – this is the size of the opening in the lens that allows the light to pass through to the sensor.
- Shutter speed – obviously, this is how long the shutter is open and determines how much light passes through to the sensor.
- ISO – this allows you to control the sensitivity of the sensor.
- White balance – this refers to the “color temperature” of your images.
The reason you want interchangeable lenses is because a lot of real estate photography requires a wide angle lens, something along the lines of a 12-18mm.
We’ll get into lens selection and the settings in more detail in a moment.
Most inexpensive cameras with fixed (non-interchangeable) lenses only offer around 24mm at the widest angle.
The Sony Alpha a5000, shown below, is a great example of an affordable camera with interchangeable lenses. At the time of writing this article, the Sony Alpha a5000 sells for $379 (at B&H Photo) and includes a 16-50 mm lens.
If you want more capabilities in your camera, I would suggest a model such as the Canon EOS Rebel T6i, shown below.
It comes with an 18-55 mm lens and currently sells for about $750 at B&H Photo.
Lenses some in either fixed length or zoom lenses.
A fixed length lens, such as a 55mm, does not allow you to zoom in and out on your subject. To get closer, or further away, you have to physically move, something that is not always possible in a home.
Zoom lenses come in three varieties; wide angle zooms, standard zooms and telephoto zooms.
A wide angle zoom lens may be from 10-20 mm. A standard zoom lens would typically cover a range of 28-100 mm and a telephoto lens may offer coverage of 70-300 mm or more.
To get an idea of how the various zoom settings impact your ability to take photos, look at the video below.
The next piece of equipment you’ll need is a tripod.
Tripods don’t have to be expensive, but they do need to be solid and sturdy.
Mounting your camera onto a tripod eliminates camera shake that causes blurry images.
I have used both Manfrotto and Davis and Sanford tripods for both photography and video production.
The Davis and Sanford Voyager Lite tripod, shown below, is an excellent choice for real estate photography. It is also reasonably priced, selling for about $49 from B&H Photo.
Whichever tripod you choose, I do encourage you to select one with a bubble level.
Most tripods have legs with adjustable lengths and even a slight difference can make your photos uneven. A bubble level will ensure your tripod is level and your pictures are straight.
Photo editing software
The last item you will need is photo editing software.
While you should strive to get your photos as good as possible straight from the camera, there are times when a little touch-up can make your pictures look even better.
There are numerous choices – from free services such as PicMonkey to professional-grade packages such as Photoshop.
I recommend using Adobe Lightroom.
It’s easier to use than Photoshop and provides more capabilities than most real estate agents will ever need.
Adobe also offers an affordable “pay-as-you-go” plan of $9.99 per month as well as exceptional online training.
Understanding your camera’s settings
Taking great photos requires an understanding of two basic concepts; exposure and composition.
We’ll get to composition in a bit, but let’s focus (no pun intended) on exposure.
Your camera has four basic controls that influence exposure;
- Aperture – or the size of the opening in the lens. The settings are measured in f-stops. The smaller the number, such as f1.8, the larger the opening – letting in more light. The best settings for most real estate photos are between f11 and f16. This ensures that everything in your photo will be crisp. Most cameras have settings for automatic, where the camera determines the best settings, aperture priority, where you set the f-stop, or size of the opening and the camera selects the best shutter speed, or last, shutter priority where you select the shutter speed and the camera will select the best f-stop.
- Shutter speed – this determines how much light passes through the lens to the sensor. Faster shutter speeds enable you to “freeze” the action and reduce the likelihood of blurry images. Slower shutter speeds are sometimes necessary when there is limited light.
- ISO – The ISO determines the level of sensitivity of the sensor to the light. In most cases, setting your ISO to automatic is your best option.
- White balance – Have you ever seen photos that look too “warm” or yellowish? And others that look too “cold” or bluish? That is white balance. White balance determines how the camera “reads” the color temperature of the light you are shooting in. Typical settings include;
- Incandescent (tungsten) – indoors, regular light bulbs. With this setting, the camera will “cool” the temperature to reduce the warm light.
- Florescent – the camera warms the normally cool light from florescent bulbs.
- Daylight/Sunny – this is considered normal, balanced light.
- Cloudy – with this setting, the camera warms the image a little more than Daylight/Sunny.
- Shade – lighting in the shade is typically cooler, so the camera will compensate by warming the image.
- Flash – we aren’t going to be using flash, so you don’t need to worry about this!
- Auto – using this setting, your camera will make its best guess as to what setting to use.
In the image below, the room looks too warm, giving a yellowish/orange cast to the photo.
In the image below, the white balance setting has made the rom look too cool, giving it a bluish cast.
The correct white balance settings provide realistic colors as shown in the photo below;
How lighting impacts your photos
Lighting impacts the quality of your photos beyond white balance.
Have you ever seen photos of homes where the sun is behind the house, making the front elevation dark so that you can’t see the details?
Planning when you take your photos so that you maximize the available light will help you to get the best results.
I use an app for my iPhone called LightTrac.
It shows for any address, what path the sun will follow from sunrise to sundown.
As shown in the image below, the blue line represents the sunrise position.
The yellow line depicts the sunset position and the red line shows the direction of the sun at any given time between sunrise and sunset.
In the video below, we’ll explore how the sun’s position impacts the light and when you can get the best possible photos of your listing.
When taking interior photos, try to avoid shooting directly towards a window where the sun is bright.
As shown in the photo below, the camera will set the exposure for the bright window, making the room too dark to see any of the details.
By exposing the camera on the wall, as shown in the photo below, you avoid having the light from the window overpower the scene.
To set the exposure of your camera to an inside wall, point your camera at a wall in the room.
Look into the viewfinder of your camera. Depending on the make and model of your camera, it will look something like the image below.
The are shown with the vertical bars, outlined in red, is your exposure meter.
If the meter is highlighted to the right – in the +1, +2 and +3 area, your image is overexposed, meaning it will be too bright.
On the other hand, if the exposure meter is highlighted to the left, your image is underexposed, meaning there is not enough light.
By pointing your camera to an interior wall, away from the window, you can make adjustments to your aperture or shutter speed settings to bring the exposure back the the middle of the meter. If the image is still underexposed, you can increase your ISO setting to make the camera’s sensor more sensitive to the light.
The magic minute
One of the most dramatic shots you can use to promote your real estate listings is that perfect moment at dusk when the sky is a royal blue and all of the lights are on in the house, including any landscape lighting as shown in the images below;
There is a limited window of opportunity each evening to create these images.
Although it’s called the “magic minute”, you really have about 30 minutes where you can get the desired effect.
To start, have all of the lights on in the house and have your camera mounted on your tripod.
This is critical as the shutter must remain open for anywhere from 10 seconds to 30 seconds to gather enough light.
The best time to start shooting is about 15-30 minutes after sunset. The sky will still be lit enough to appear a rich blue and the lights in the house will provide a warm, welcoming appearance.
General rules for lighting
Here are a few general rules for lighting that will help you create professional looking photos;
- Use the available light whenever possible.
- Don’t use the flash on your camera. Most on-camera flashes are not powerful enough to light a room adequately and you’ll most likely end up with a very bright spot in your image while the rest of the photo is dark.
- Horizontal lighting is preferable over vertical lighting. Whenever possible, reduce or eliminate overhead lighting in favor of lamps and natural light from the windows and doors.
- If necessary, temporarily replace lower wattage bulbs with 100 or 150 watt bulbs to light a room.
- Early morning and late afternoon light works best for exterior photos.
- Clouds will diffuse light and reduce harsh shadows on the exterior elevations.
Setting up your shots
The composition of your photos will not only make them more appealing, but it also reflects on you.
Poorly taken photos don’t do anything to help your reputation.
In composing your photos, there are three basic concepts to remember;
- The rule of thirds. This rule states that if a photo is divided into nine equal parts, the elements of the image that appear along the lines or at the intersection of lines, are more visually pleasing, as shown in the image below.
Notice how the bottom of the lantern sits right at the top horizontal line.
The clock is positioned at the intersection of two lines, as does the leg of the island.
Most cameras have a feature that enables you to turn on the grid lines so you can compose your photos.
- Setting up the shot – Too often, real estate agents attempt to take a photo that includes too much of the room. As a result, the finished image either looks distorted, as shown in the image below, or there is too much ceiling being shown.
Instead of trying to include 3 walls in your photos, compose your shot to include only two walls as shown in the image below;
- Verticals and horizontals – If you want your photos to look professional, pay close attention to the vertical and horizontal lines in your pictures.
As shown in the image below, the camera was tilted to the left. The solid orange line represents a true vertical line where the dashed line aligns with the edge of the fireplace and shows how the image is tilted.
In the example below, the photographer was attempting to include too much in the image and had to hold the camera too high, causing the vertical lines to become uneven.
The image below shows a dining room where all of the vertical lines are even with the walls, table legs, door openings and more, making a much more visually pleasing image.
Show the details
While most real estate agents want to show the exterior of the home as well as the main rooms, it is also important to take several photos of the details of the home.
Especially with higher-end homes, the details are often what make the home unique from the competition.
In the photos below, close-ups of the details help the potential buyer, and their agent, see the unique qualities of the home.
Editing your real estate photos
Most of the editing you will do to your photos will be limited to the following;
- Cropping images to remove unwanted elements or to focus attention on a specific feature.
- Resizing images to make them load faster on your website.
- Adjusting the white balance for a more accurate color.
- Straightening out slightly crooked images.
- Adjusting exposure or contrast.
- Sharpening the image to remove “noise”.
Tools such as Lightroom, and even the free tools from sites such as PicMonkey, Pixlr and GIMP, make it easy to edit your photos for near professional results.
The key to using any photo editing software is to not go overboard.
There are lots of cool tools you can use to change your photos, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
Overly processed photos look fake and often unappealing.
Stick to the basics of good composition, lighting and color and your photos will not only help you get listings – but sell them!
The photos of your listings not only represent the homes you sell – they are a reflection of you.
Great photography shows you care – about the client, about their home and about presenting it to its best advantage.
Whether you decide to become the primary source for your listing photos, or you just want to know how to take great photos should the need arise, the quality of your pictures says a lot about you.
By following the steps outlined in this article, and with a little practice, you can become an accomplished real estate photographer.