Photography tips every aspiring real estate photographer needs to know.
On paper, real estate photography might seem relatively simple. You just have to go into a home, snap a couple of pics, and voilà, you’ve done your job, right? Well, that’s not exactly how it works…
Real estate photography requires a keen eye, a dedication to understanding lighting, and an ability to make even the most lackluster rooms feel bright, inviting, and livable.
If you think you have what it takes, or you’re currently in the process of trying to decide whether or not real estate photography is the right fit for you, read on and we’ll give you all the most important tips to help get your real estate photography business up and running in no time
How to shoot interior real estate.
To get you started on the right foot, let’s go over all the real estate photography tips that every aspiring real estate photographer should have in their back pocket. Not only will these tips ensure you’re producing the highest quality content, but they will also lead to happier clients, more word-of-mouth recommendations, and ultimately, more revenue.
1. Plan your shot list.
When you’re photographing a home for the first time, you’re not going to immediately be familiar with the space. If you’re not prepared, this can easily cause you to skip over important shots. For instance, if it’s a large house with five bedrooms, it would be easy enough to skip over one of the rooms, but this is a beginner’s mistake.
Having a shot list and ticking off each room you shoot ensures you capture all the important rooms in the house.
Not only do you want a shot list of the various rooms you will be photographing, but also include specific angles of certain spaces and detail shots you need to get.
2. Do a walkthrough.
While your shot list will certainly help with ensuring you photograph each room, having a list doesn’t mean you can skip doing a walk-through of the home before shooting. Remember, each space is different. Even if you’ve shot multiple homes, doing a walk-through before shooting will help familiarize you with the space and help you figure out the best angles.
3. Schedule enough time.
There’s nothing worse than having to rush around a space trying to capture all the images on your shot list. Not only can this be stressful and overwhelming, but it will also likely impact the quality of your work.
To avoid this, always ensure you schedule enough time to get all the shots you require. This also means arriving on time, being prepared, and having organized equipment that allows you to go into a space and start shooting without fuss or hassle.
4. Schedule for the right time of day.
Speaking of scheduling…Picking the right time of day to shoot your images can dramatically change the look and feel of the photos. Schedule too late and your images are guaranteed to be too dark, or you’ll have to get creative with artificial lighting, but schedule during the peak hours of sunshine and you might find the photos are overexposed or you’re fighting with harsh, awkward shadows.
Scheduling for late afternoon when the sun is behind the house but there is still plenty of light is often the perfect time of day for shooting real estate photography. Communicating with your clients about the amount and placement of windows in their home is also invaluable. A build with very few windows will result in a very different shoot experience than an open-concept home with a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows.
5. Choose the right focal length for the room.
We recommend that all aspiring real estate photographers have a standard lens in the 24-35mm range. After this, you can start playing with true wide-angle lenses, which will be particularly important when shooting small spaces. You will likely find that even at 24mm you will struggle to capture some rooms properly.
Wide-angle lenses can range from 14-17mm. Knowing which one you need will depend on how small of a space you are shooting and what effect you’re trying to achieve. For extra small rooms like bathrooms, having something that goes even smaller like 11mm might be worth it. Experience will help you determine the right focal length for the room.
Another option, and one that is very popular with high-end real estate and architecture photography, is a tilt-shift lens. Tilt-shift lenses allow you to change the plane of focus effectively straightening lines in the image and making it a more true representation of the space.
6. Get your camera height right.
If you need to go shorter or taller than what you can comfortably do, don’t forget about the use of a tripod. Not only can a tripod help get the right camera height, but it can also help reduce shake and blur, particularly in low-lighting spaces.
Also, remember that lowering or raising your camera can completely change the perspective of the room when you’re shooting, making the room look bigger, wider, and even brighter if you’re using lighting tricks as well.
7. Choose your camera settings.
As mentioned, you can’t just walk into a space, start shooting and hope for the best. You need to consider things like lighting, composition, movement, glare, etc.
Once you’ve considered these things, you’ll be better able to select the camera settings that will help you achieve beautiful photos every time.
Here are some of the camera settings you’ll need to take into account:
ISO: ISO refers to how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light and will greatly determine how light or dark your image is. You will be able to determine the appropriate ISO once you get a feel for the lighting of the space you’re shooting (i.e. generally, a room with less light requires a higher ISO and a brighter room can get by with a lower ISO). We recommend starting as low as possible and working your way up as necessary.
Shutter speed: Shutter speed is exactly what it sounds like. It is the amount of time the shutter on the camera stays open, allowing light in.
Fast shutter speeds won’t let a lot of light in, but they will freeze action. Alternatively, slow shutter speeds allow a lot of light in, which can be great for low-light spaces. Just be aware that a slower shutter speed can result in motion blur, which is where a tripod that stabilizes your camera will come in handy.
Aperture: Another camera setting that controls exposure, aperture refers to how big or small the lens opening is. A larger opening means more light, while a smaller opening means less light. Again, low lighting without a tripod might require you to have a wide aperture, while a brighter room might be able to get away with a narrower aperture. You have to consider, as well, the effect that a wide aperture will have as this also means a shallower depth of field. You may end up with areas of the image that are out of focus and will have to adjust to correct that, or use a tripod with external shutter controls to ensure camera shake is not an issue.
As you can probably see, understanding all three settings and balancing them out is key to achieving great real estate photos.
8. Adjust and shoot for composites.
Shooting composites in real estate photography ensures that you’ll have the perfect shot, no matter what. And yes, that includes even in low lighting situations. It also allows you to create high-resolution images of a space, even if you have a camera with a lower megapixel count. Consistently adjusting and shooting composites for your photos is so important to aspiring real estate photography. Don’t underestimate the power of composites.
You will need to shoot with a tripod to get the best results for a composite as you’ll have to stitch the images together in post-production.
9. Staging and decluttering.
While staging and setting the space up for photographing might not be solely your responsibility, it is your responsibility to communicate what will photograph well.
In addition, if you’re in a scenario where staging services weren’t hired, it may be in your best interests to do some quick tidying before shooting a room. Of course, this won’t involve completely rearranging a room, but it could mean removing items from the room that are lying around, or simply putting away a coat that is hanging over a chair, for example. These simple tactics can make a big difference.
Consider fluffing the pillows, always removing garbage cans from the scene, and ensuring that no elements are detracting from the overall enjoyment of the entire space.
10. Prep your equipment before the shoot.
As a professional, there is nothing that will make you look worse than being unprepared. This means not only having your camera, but also making sure you have backup equipment, spare batteries, and any other gear you might need to help you take the best photos possible.
In addition, beyond just equipment, make sure you’re prepared by knowing how to get to the property location, knowing the client’s wants/desires, and having your shot list in hand.
11. Watch your lines.
One thing all real estate photographers want to avoid as much as possible is distortion. This often happens when the camera is not kept straight or when using an ultra-wide lens. For instance, vertical lines will look slanted if you tilt the camera up and horizontal lines will make the room look off-balance if the camera is tilted to the side. The use of a study tripod can help you avoid this.
These issues can also be resolved with a tilt-shift lens as we discussed earlier.
12. Experiment with lighting the room.
Particularly as a beginner, you should take the time to experiment with lighting the room. While you certainly can get the lighting right the first time, more often than not, you will need to experiment with lighting to achieve that professional feel. Whether it be moving a lamp, positioning yourself in a different spot in the room, or bringing in some additional equipment, experimenting with the lighting can save you a lot of time during the editing process.
13. Don’t forget about the power of editing.
You can be as prepared as possible and take the most well-lit photos in the world, but almost always, real estate photography will require you to perform some magic with your editing skills. It might involve brightening up a space, removing an object from an image, or creating a consistent light temperature throughout your images. At the end of the day, editing will help give your images that professional edge.
How to photograph exterior real estate.
While most general photography principles will still apply for exterior real estate photography, there are particular “rules” you’ll want to pay special attention to.
1. Be sure the property owner has the home ready.
While most owners are cognizant of the fact that they should prepare the interior of their home to be photographed, they might not be as prepared for the exterior shots.
You should remind property owners that having a well-tended-to exterior has the potential to be a real selling point for potential buyers, considering the exterior shot is often one of the first images potential buyers see when browsing homes.
Prepare the property by tending to weeds, cleaning up the backyard, mowing the lawn, and even putting out some flowers and other decor to help spruce up the property.
2. Plan your shoot around the sun.
When you shoot your exterior shots will generally depend on whether you have an east, west, north, or south-facing property.
- East-facing properties will benefit from a morning photoshoot.
- West-facing properties tend to benefit from afternoon shoots.
- For North-facing, we recommend anytime between 10 am and 2 pm.
- And lastly, for South-facing properties, aim to take photos at sunrise or sunset.
Of course, these are just general guidelines, but having the sun behind your property when you shoot will make for more vibrant photos with less harsh shadows.
3. Keep the horizon level.
Keeping your camera straight on the horizon could mean the difference between a perfect picture and one that looks distorted. If you need help with this, don’t forget to utilize the grid in your viewfinder to ensure that everything is straight and no distortion is present. In addition, in the worst-case scenario, this can usually be fixed in post-production, but when possible, we recommend keeping it in mind as you’re shooting.
4. Try various angles.
As with most things in photography, you also want to be open to experimenting and trying out different things. As you become more experienced, you likely will intuitively know what angles are best, but trying out new ones never hurts. This will likely result in images that stand out from the rest. Plus, you might find an angle that adds a new dimension or a different side of the property that is more flattering than the standard straight-on shot.
5. Set your camera settings.
Just like with interior real estate photography, you also need to take the time to consider your settings when shooting outdoors. Doing so will not only ensure that your images are bright enough, but taking this time will also help reduce noise, blur, dark shadows, and under/overexposed images.
There is no one size fits all approach for the best camera settings, but in general, here’s what we recommend:
ISO: For ISO, the lower numbers will mean that your camera’s sensor is less sensitive to light, while the higher numbers will mean it is more sensitive. For exterior shots, we recommend staying closer to 100 on a sunny day, or 200-400 if you’re taking your images at sunset. Trying to aim for these lower numbers will help reduce digital noise in your images. That being said, you should adjust accordingly based on your needs for a particular look.
Shutter speed: Because you are photographing a static object, you shouldn’t have to worry about any motion blur in your images, which means many photographers can take advantage of putting their camera into aperture priority mode. This means that the camera will automatically determine how fast/slow the shutter opens and closes based on how much light is available in the image.
Aperture: As mentioned, aperture priority mode is a popular choice amongst real estate photographers. This is because the sharpness of the image tends to be the most important aspect of a real estate photo, which is determined by the aperture. When we put our camera into aperture priority mode, we ensure that this “sharpness” will be prioritized.
6. Turn on the lights.
If it isn’t obvious by now, shooting real estate photos that stand out is all about those little details, and making use of the exterior lights can help give your exterior shots that extra special detail. This is especially true if light fixtures have been specifically added to highlight features of the exterior, like spotlights, for example. In addition, you might find that turning on some of the lights inside the home could help add an extra dimension and a lived-in feel to the image. This is especially true if you’re shooting at either dusk or dawn.
7. Take night shots.
Speaking of shooting at dusk or dawn… While sunny days do tend to be the most ideal time to shoot, if you have some experience and you feel comfortable doing so, it might be worth taking some night shots.
This is particularly true if you have a property that is well-lit with a lot of external lighting. It could give the image a luxurious feel, but this will only work with a very specific type of house (i.e. modern with a lot of lighting).
8. Use a drone.
More and more, we are seeing a lot of photographers make use of drone photography for their outdoor shots. This allows potential buyers to see a street view of where the property is situated (i.e. what is behind, in front, and around the house). This can be especially helpful when shooting homes in desirable areas, or in situations where there is a lot of land associated with the property.
9. Use a tripod.
Often a tripod will come in handy when shooting exterior shots. In particular, we like shooting with a tripod because it helps eliminate any blur to the image that might come from camera shake, which will result in the sharpest images possible.
If you want to reduce the potential for blur even further, you can make use of your camera’s timer to take the photo. This way, you don’t have to touch the camera at all.
10. Don’t forget to detail shots.
Sure, the interior shots tend to have a bit more detail to them, but let’s not forget about those super-important exterior detail shots. While this might not mean getting up close and personal with the exterior of the space, it could mean being aware of your surroundings and capturing details within your picture.
For example, let’s say you’re shooting a home with a beautiful maple tree on the property. In this case, you might want to consider shooting from an angle that would include the tree in the shot.
11. Avoid distractions.
As much as we want to get those detail shots, in some instances, we might want to avoid getting too intimate with certain aspects of the property. For instance, maybe the neighbors have unsightly items that are spilling onto the property, or maybe garbage bins have been left on the driveway. In these cases, position yourself appropriately to avoid having these items in your photo.
12. Retouching and editing.
Just like with the interior shots, don’t forget about the magic of editing and retouching. Whether it’s a distorted line that’s giving your image an off-balance look, or the lighting just wouldn’t cooperate that day, editing is always a tool you should feel comfortable reaching for when necessary. Just be sure you don’t over-edit your images. For instance, you should never edit out things from your image if they will be present during the showing of the space. For example, if there’s a bird that you want to edit out, that’s fine, but anything that is currently permanent to the property should be left as is.
The ultimate real estate photography shot list.
While every property is going to vary, in general, there are a handful of key shots that almost all properties could benefit from. Be sure to scope out the property before shooting, but when in doubt, have this convenient shot list on hand.
- Front exterior: This will likely be the image that is used to sell the property, so be sure that it shows off the property in a positive light.
- Back exterior: Even if the backyard isn’t anything special, most potential buyers want to know what they are working with, so be sure to include a back exterior shot.
- Family room: This is the main hub of the house. It should feel welcoming, friendly, and warm. You can achieve this by using natural light and decluttering the space.
- Kitchen: Don’t forget to always photograph the kitchen from multiple angles. This includes shooting the eat-in kitchen area, if applicable. Five angles tend to work well.
- Master bedroom: The master bedroom should be a top priority when shooting a home.
- Master bathroom: While not every house will have a master bathroom, there will likely be a bathroom that is the “main” bathroom, which should be highlighted.
- Guest bedroom: You don’t need to spend too much time photographing multiple angles. We would say one image to help show potential buyers how many bedrooms are in the house should be sufficient.
- Guest bathrooms/powder rooms: The master bathroom tends to be the highlight, but buyers also want to know that they have other options.
- Formal dining room: More modern spaces might not have a formal dining room. If not, this likely means you need to consider shooting even more angles of the kitchen/eating area.
- Formal living room: This is another area of the house that we’re not seeing as often, but when there is a formal living room, you must shoot it.
- Front foyer: Buyers want to know the feeling of the home upon entering, making the foyer important. This is particularly important in large homes that have grand entries.
- Mudroom: While not nearly as important as the front foyer, you will find some homes with impressive mudrooms. Use your discretion if this should be photographed.
- Laundry room: If the laundry room in the home consists of a washer/dryer in an unfinished basement, it’s probably fine to leave this out, but in situations where there is a nice, fully finished laundry room, be sure to shoot it.
- Media/game room: Larger homes might have a secondary family room, which we also might call a media/game room. These are often located in the basement.
- Drone shot: A drone shot will help give buyers insight into what is around the property. This can be particularly useful for sellers who live in desirable neighborhoods.
- Garage: If the garage is run-down it might not be worth shooting, but when the garage is a key selling factor in the home, it should be included.
- Amenities: If you’re shooting a condo, there might be amenities associated with the building. For instance, a workout area or a pool. Don’t forget to shoot these spaces.
Bottom line: Taking more photos is probably better. In some cases, when a room is a little run-down or doesn’t add anything to the home, it is likely fine to leave it out, but in general, the more information you can give to potential buyers through quality images, the better.
Is HDR good for real estate photography?
If you’re wondering, is HDR good for real estate photography, to put it simply: Yes, HDR is good for real estate photography.
HDR stands for high dynamic range, and it is a photography process that uses several identical images that are all shot at multiple exposures. These various shots are all combined, and then result in one image that is evenly exposed and professional looking, with a wider range of tones than you would be able to achieve otherwise. In other words, we broaden the difference between the darkest and the lightest spots in the image. This way, you don’t lose any detail or clarity.
With that in mind, it probably makes sense why we think HDR is great for real estate photography. As we’ve mentioned, sharp images and detail shots are highly important in real estate photography. When we use HDR, we increase both of these, which makes HDR highly appealing to the real estate photographer.
How to build a real estate photography portfolio.
So you want to build a real estate photography portfolio, but you’re not sure where to start. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Try implementing these five tips to get started:
- Showcase your best work: If you have a lot of experience, you likely have a lot of images to work with; however, be cautious about how many images you display. Too many will likely be too overwhelming. Similarly, if you don’t have a lot of experience, too few images will be underwhelming. In this case, ask friends and family if you can photograph their homes and include those images in your portfolio.
- Feature a range of shots: While showing off quality work is important, you also need to ensure you have a variety of different shots. In almost all cases, real estate photographers need to shoot a variety of rooms. If your portfolio only showcases kitchens and bedrooms, you’re not giving potential clients the full range of your abilities. Be sure that all different types of rooms are shown in your portfolio.
- Show off your style: If you’re new to real estate photography, you still might be trying to find your style, but in general, there should be a style that helps to make your work identifiable. Perhaps you shoot luxury homes, or maybe you shoot eclectic homes in a trendy neighborhood. You don’t have to be married to this, but having a general style will help you with finding the right clients.
- Create a website: All of these images need to be housed somewhere on the internet, and they should be done so on a website that makes it easy for potential clients to contact you. Having a contact page and an about page are two key components of a good portfolio website.
Use a professional template/website builder: If your website is slow, difficult to navigate, or continuously crashes, this will impact the user experience. It could mean people don’t take the time to look through your portfolio, or it could give you an unprofessional reputation. The quality of your images should match the quality of your website.