Now that every prospective home buyer is using a computer or smart phone to review property listings, the quality of the property photos has moved to the top of the list in terms of importance.
In the latest home-buyers survey from the National Association of Realtors, 97 percent of the home-shopping public ranked the photos on a listing as being one of the most important factors.
A study published in the Wall St. Journal some years ago even tried to attach a dollar value to a good listing photo. Their conclusion: Listings with quality photos get more online attention; and the property can sell for anywhere between $934 and $116,076 more than a listing with average photo quality (unless the home is a loser to begin with).
So how can you generate more money from your real estate photos? Keep reading.
THE NECESSARY EQUIPMENT
The study mentioned above found that the type of camera used was particularly important. But that’s not all you need to capture a high-value listing photo. Here’s a list of the bare necessities:
A quality SLR camera – Photos taken with a phone or a point-and-shoot camera almost always lack the richness and detail necessary for a printed marketing document. A quality digital single-lens-reflex camera will allow you to adjust for low-light situations (especially when shooting indoors), take wider-angle shots, generate high-resolution results, manipulate your photos in post-production, plus much more.
A camera tripod – Once you start adjusting the exposure on your camera to account for the amount of light present, it becomes much harder to hold the camera steady enough to avoid blurring. A tripod solves that problem (plus ensures that the camera isn’t tipped at an odd angle). Quality isn’t that important; even an inexpensive tripod will work.
Two clamp lights – You’ll find clamp light fixtures for sale at most big-box home-improvement stores. They’re often used to temporarily light a room while construction work is ongoing. The light housing is made of highly reflective, lightweight aluminum. In the center is the light bulb holder. And attached to the back is a simple clamp that allows the light to be temporarily attached to doorways, furniture, etc.
Two Cree light bulbs – Traditional incandescent light bulbs (100 to 150 watts) have always proven effective for lighting interior settings for photography (when used with a clamp light fixture). But they’re being phased out in exchange for lower-energy alternatives. Plus, they’re too fragile to be used in movable fixtures. A rugged replacement that gets high marks is the Cree 18-watt LED bulb (equivalent to a 100-watt incandescent bulb).
HIGH DYNAMIC RANGE (HDR) PHOTOS
Want to create the same kind of stunningly realistic images you see in glossy home magazines? Switch on your camera’s automatic exposure / bracketing setting, and start using high dynamic range software.
Step 1: Select the right settings
Set your camera to automatic exposure / bracketing. And set the shutter button to rapid-fire or drive.
Step 2: Take the photo
Each time you push the button, the camera is actually capturing three images at various exposures. Needless to say, it’s very important that you use a tripod to keep the camera from moving while the camera is snapping the photos.
Step 3: Edit the photo
After the shoot, upload your images to HDR software (Photomatix is the most popular) and blend the three exposures into the most accurate rendering of all: one image rich with detail, highlights and shadows.
Don’t go overboard
HDR-processed photos can sometimes show so much detail that the final image looks faked. The trick is to find a balance between highlighting the details and bringing out too much detail.
Prospective home buyers will study the interior photos most, because that’s where they’ll spend most of their time if they buy the place. Unfortunately, taking accurate, attractive interior photos is the hardest part of listing photography.
Proper lighting is one of the most important aspects of taking a quality interior photo.
The built-in flash feature on your camera is excellent for lighting things within three feet of the camera but, by itself, it’s hopeless for lighting up the interior of a room. At best, it creates a flat-light effect that makes the room look lifeless. Instead, use the clamp lights and Cree bulbs recommended above. Place the lights on both sides of the camera (as far as 8 feet from the camera in a large room). Move them around to see the effect lighting can have on the space.
Other tips for proper lighting:
- Learn how to adjust the shutter times on your SLR camera to drink in the available light. But remember: Longer shutter times mean the camera must be held perfectly still (with a tripod).
- Try using two different bulbs in the two different clamp light fixtures (one 13.5-watt and one 18-watt) to create a subtle, three-dimensional shadow effect.
- Try using your camera’s built-in flash in combination with the clamp lights.
- Replace the bulbs in the room’s light fixtures with 150-watt versions to not only help illuminate the room, but also make the fixture pop in the photo.
- If the natural light is too bright, wait until dusk. Shooting at twilight is another option. But avoid taking photos after sunset.
- The effect you’re going for is even, balanced lighting, with some subtle shadows. To achieve that, try taking the shades off some of the out-of-frame lights, opening/closing doors to adjacent rooms, opening/closing shades.
You never want to make a room look smaller than it really is. So use the wide-angle setting, and position yourself in the doorway (or tight in a corner of the room).
To avoid distorting the edges of the room, keep the camera lens parallel to the floor – then bend down, or kneel, to get all the furnishings in the picture.
Try also taking a few shots from atop a step ladder, with the camera angled down.
Attractive exterior photos are easier to capture but still require the right lighting and angles.
Use the clamp lights mentioned above to light up outside areas, too – like covered porches/entryways, which can often be too shadowy even on a bright, sunny day.
When possible, choose a camera angle that allows you to crop-out utility poles and wires, not-so-nice next door houses and other things that might make potential buyers think twice.
If the footprint for the home is good-sized, include some shots of the front that also include a view of the side so potential buyers can see the home’s depth.
Use a tripod. While blurring is less of a problem for outdoor shots, a tripod will help guard against crooked, wide-angle shots.
Some houses look better when photographed above ground level. You can use a ladder to increase the height of the shoot, or there are special camera extension poles.
AFTER THE PHOTO SHOOT
Even if you don’t use high dynamic range photography (see description above), you can still edit your photos after the shoot using photo-editing software (adjust the colors, crop the edges, etc.). Photoshop is the software program used by most professionals. But free software is also available online (and may even be included with your camera).
The ethics of editing
Whenever you edit a real estate photo, you want to make sure you do not materially misrepresent the property:
- Removing cars, garbage cans, chairs, children’s toys and other mobile objects from the photo.
- Brightening the sky, removing dark clouds and making other weather changes.
- Adjusting the resolution and contrast to improve the image quality.
Less than ethical:
- Improving the look of fences, walkways, grass and other permanent features.
- Demonstrating what it would look like if the carpet was removed and the hardwood floors underneath were refinished.
- Repositioning the sun in the sky so it appears an area of the yard gets more sunlight than it really does.
- Removing utility poles, power lines and not-so-nice neighborhood houses from the photo.
The best way to learn more about photography is to take a hands-on photography class. But if you’re an agent with a listing that just can’t wait, we’ll leave you with one last bit of advice: Take lots of photos. Try a variety of different angles and lighting techniques. Position yourself – and the furnishings – in different places. Take some multiple-exposure shots, and some single-exposure versions. When all is said and done, and you’re staring at it all on your computer screen, you’ll be glad to have so many options to choose between.