New Season of Unscripted Has Started!

Time Out With Tanya

Top 10 Real Estate Photography Tips (and Mistakes to Avoid) for Beginners

By Tanya Goodall Smith on July 21st 2014

Welcome to Time Out with Tanya, where I’ve put my fast paced graphic design career on hold in favor of adventures in motherhood. I’m capturing every moment on camera and you can come along, if you’d like.

Last week I was hired, for the first time ever, to photograph a luxury home for a Real Estate listing. In an industry where a picture is literally worth a thousand words (and possibly several thousand dollars), this was a job I didn’t want to take lightly. I hate to admit it, though, I was very unprepared for the shoot. I learned a lot, and I hope my tips for first time Real Estate Photographers will help you avoid some of my mistakes.

real estate photography tips

Use a Tripod

My shoot was in an out-of-town location and in my packing haste, I forgot my tripod. Oops! I figured it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, since my Canon 5D Mark III can handle low light very well and I had a flash with me. I was able to get a decent exposure handheld, but a tripod would have been nice to have around. Especially if I had wanted to try some HDR techniques. For Tripod recommendations, check out Cha’s latest Gear Talk Episode: OUR FAVORITE TRIPODS!

Bring More Than One Flash

I keep one portable light, like the Canon 530EXII, in my kit at all times. I have a second one that I didn’t happen to have with me at this shoot and it would have come in handy. One flash for small rooms and closets was perfect, but for large areas, like the great room and kitchen combo, two or more lights would have been ideal. In the end, I had to rely on natural light for these large spaces.

[LEARN: Lighting Tips and Tricks!]

Bring Light Stands

On a related note, I was kicking myself for not bringing any light stands. I used the little stand that comes with my speedlite, but it kept falling off (so annoying!) Plus, if I needed light in an area of a room that didn’t have a counter top or furniture item where I could place my light, I was out of luck.

Use a Wide Angle Lens

real estate photography tips

My go-to lens these days is the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 markII. It’s so versatile that I rarely take it off my camera. Plus, the focus is always spot on and tack sharp. I love it! I thought 24mm would be wide enough for shooting in this large house. But I was wrong! If Real Estate photography is going to be part of my regular client offerings, I definitely need to invest in a wider angle lens. While I think photos created with a fish eye lens are annoying (and deceiving, even) something a little wider like the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Lens, if you’re on a full frame body, or the Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6, if you’re on a crop sensor body (and a budget! It’s so affordable) would be ideal. For more info on affordable gear options for Real Estate Agents, click here.

Have a Contract

This is probably a no-brainer for most of you, but in this instance I was working for family and just kind of showed up without knowing the details of the job. What I thought would be a quick 30-minute shoot turned into 4 hours of cleaning, staging and photographing an estate that wasn’t ready at all to be photographed. While this was a unique situation, I could see this kind of thing happening often to naive photographers like myself. Make sure you know what you’re getting into and that you’re being compensated fairly for your time and work. Have a signed contract stating all the details of the job.

Have Insurance

During this entire shoot, I was a little paranoid about touching and moving the property of the home owner. What if I broke something? Am I covered by my standard liability insurance? As a photographer, do you even have insurance? It’s something to think about before you agree to enter someone’s home and start touching their things.

Be Flexible

When the agent and I arrived at this shoot, the light was not ideal for shooting the exterior of the home but I took a few shots anyway. By the time we left the home (four hours later…) the sky was full of beautiful clouds and the light was a little more diffused. Perfect! If weather isn’t on your side or the lighting is horrible, be prepared to come back later. You might also consider learning how to create a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image, which involves taking three different exposures and combining them in order to get an even exposure and detail in the highlights and shadows of a landscape or architectural image. The SLR Lounge HDR Photography Workshop covers everything you need to know about this popular technique for Real Estate Photography.

Use Preset Editing

real estate photography tips

Before Editing

Real Estate Photography Tips

After Editing

Editing the images from this shoot was fast and easy. I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and the SLR Lounge Lightroom Preset System. Before I found this system I was very anti-presets, but this system has saved me so much time and allows me to create my own style, not copy someone else. I love it!

Use Advanced Editing Techniques

For the most part, the editing on these images involved a couple clicks and I was done. A few required just a little advanced editing to make them stand out above your average snap shot. I used the graduated filter with the Sky/Cloud/Ocean preset in the SLR Lounge Preset System and adjusted the Hue and Saturation to make the lawn and trees greener (at the request of the agent). That’s it!

[Free Tutorial: 4 Lightroom CC Features You Need To Know]

Have a Quick Turn Around

The Real Estate industry is driven by location, price and timing. Communication with the agent who hired you is key to making sure you get your images to them in time for whatever deadlines they may have. Generally, the faster the better. I was able to deliver these quickly because I have my editing system in place for a quick turn around.

Well, that wraps up my Top Ten Real Estate Photography Tips (and Mistakes to Avoid) for Beginners. Will you give be giving Real Estate Photography a try? Let me know how it goes.

For those looking to specialize in real estate photography, check out our review of  FSTOPPERS’ WHERE ART MEETS ARCHITECTURE.

CREDITS: Photographs by Tanya Smith are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at workstoryphotography.com.

52 Comments

Please or register to post a comment.

  1. Brian Kowalski

    Great tips here! A week ago I did headshots for a real estate agent and she liked my work enough that she wants me to shoot a high-end house for her listings.  This gives me something to work with!

    | |
  2. Nguyễn Nam

    Hello to everyone . 

    Our team has worked in real estate editing for several years. We’re looking for new more customers. 
    If you need responsible and experienced editors, please contact us.
    Thanks

    -White Horse-

    Photo Editing Service.
    Ha Noi, VietNam

    Tel : +84977048883  Web: http://photoeditvn.com/

    | |
  3. | |
  4. Roman Debotch

    We should have read this before writing our real estate photography tips (https://finallyre.com/real-estate-photography-tips/real-estate-photography-tips/). Really good article! The bit about being flexible is so very important! Clients will absolutely appreciate it. 

    | |
  5. Michael Jerome

    Great post, I actually read this post when I first started my business. It was a great resource.

    http://www.elevateyourtravels.com

    | |
  6. Jim Plessinger

    Thanks for a great article! We offer real estate photography to clients in Pennsylvania and Maryland and appreciate the information you’ve laid out here. It’s amazing what goes into making a great photo — all the things you need to consider between lighting and positioning for real estate photography. This is a great guide that we will share with clients so they understand what we go through!

    Check out our business at http://realestateexposures.com/

    | |
  7. Tony Rushing

    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. Something we should always be mindful of!

    | |
  8. Jackie Kellner

    If you are new to real estate photography, that is the great guide to start you on the right path. Photography has never been more important to selling/renting real estate than it is today. And that why it’s essential to make pictures that make buyers or tenants want visit your property.
    Also I would like to share one more great article https://rentberry.com/blog/real-estate-photography-tips. It has good pieces of advice how to make the best possible pictures of every room in the house.

    | |
  9. Stephanie Rowe

    Insurance? I’ve thought about that.. But I mainly work for one realtor so when something breaks I assume it’s on his shoulders. P.S the only think that breaks are blinds. I hate blinds…. Any recommendations on what company would be the best for a low price?

    | |
  10. Tattey Dronova

    What can make a high quality real estate photo perfect? Virtual staging. Hasten provides sophicticated inteiors of properties using high-end technoligies so that the images look ablolutely realistic. See for yourself at http://www.hasten.me

    | |
  11. Centralpa VirtualTours

    Interested in starting your own real estate photography company? Contact us – http://360tourdesigns.com/index.php/own-your-own-360/

    | |
  12. Beth Saxon

    How about a SLR Lounge Lightroom Preset System for Real Estate/Architecture tutorial??

    | |
  13. Nadia Reckmann

    Thanks for the great tips, Tanya! It’s also important to remember to register your photos and educate your clients about your rights as a photographer. Just recently, we’ve run an investigation at Pixsy (https://www.pixsy.com/) and discovered that real estate photography falls victim to copyright infringement more often than other fields. One reason might be the underappreciation of the work, another – particularities of the MLS’ policies. You can read more here – https://www.pixsy.com/why-is-image-theft-so-common-in-real-estate/

    Hope you never get your photos stolen, but it’s important to raise awareness for this issue nonetheless.

    | |
  14. Spacephoto photography

    We sometimes have a joke, if you want your house professionally cleaned you call professional photographer so be ready for this to happen if your working with agencies as not all ways the Tenants or Landlord cares

    | |
  15. Spacephoto photography

    Great tips, I would add as well when taking images indoors many photographers fall on to the reflections when using flash from furniture and other sources, so more images from different angles and some editing all ways dose the trick, we use some times one angle with flash and without so we can replace the flash reflection for example in a painting with protective glass where it will reflect. Great job keep it up there is a lot to do :)

    | |
  16. Kevin Vitali

    As a professional photographer turned real estate agent you have some great tips here. A little tip I recommend is use tripods as light stands. It is much easier to hide the foot print!

    | |
  17. Chen Case

    Great technical tips but it is just as important to have the business skills as well. It’s important to build a relationship with Realtors that have lots of listings.

    | |
    • Spacephoto photography

      Your right, there all ways needs to be a great communication skills either your meeting the Landloard or the agent who gives you the jobs as better the communication then better chances you have to get more business on

      | |
  18. Ed Kelly

    Not sure why HDR is not viable. I use it all the time. You just have to learn to use it wisely. I work for a few custom home builders,who’s homes win all kinds of awards with my photography. By the way, I charge $ 175.00 per hour for photography, and $ 50.00 per hour for post processing. I don’t always use HDR, portable flashes(nikon) with inexpensive slave triggers also come in handy. I use Photomatix Pro for HDR which is used inside of Lightroom 5 . I also always shoot directly tethered to my laptop when I am shooting interiors.

    Every job is different, and sometimes time constraints is part of the equation.That is why HDR can be a very valuable tool, if used correctly.

    Ed

    | |
  19. Aidyn Chen

    thank you, you just opened my mind to a whole new field to work in. now Imma look into it

    | |
  20. Christine Lewis

    Hey Tania, love the post! Do you have any tips on how you got into this market? I’ve been looking at getting into some design/photography work for local agents, just wasn’t sure the best way to approach it, thanks :)

    | |
  21. Harry Lim

    Sorry, meant to say Scott Hargiss, not Chuck. doh!

    | |
  22. Steven Pellegrino

    It would be interesting to read more about the business of real estate photography. When we sold our house last year it was interesting to find out how much an agent actually makes, which isn’t that much in some cases. The agent’s commission is negotiable, but on average you’re looking at 5%-6% of the selling price. If there is another agent involved, that commission is split 50-50. But they don’t get to keep all of it as the company, the agency they work for, gets a percentage of that as well. When you start adding up the numbers, you can see why some agents only want to pay $60 – $100 per house depending on the selling price of the house. They’re also paying that up front, before the house sells and the house may not sell.

    If you’re looking to charge $500 – $1,000, as an example, to shoot a property, an agent who only stands to make $3,000 – $4,000 in commission probably isn’t going to pay that amount. The key to success in that industry would be connecting with agents who are selling higher priced & luxury properties, but also with agents who are investing in their business with other forms of marketing beyond just listing a property on RealEstate.com.

    | |
  23. Hayes Peterson

    Thanks for the post! I was recently approached about this kind of shoot and I’ve never done it before. I’m a little more confident thanks to you.

    | |
    • Tanya Smith

      Good luck! I hope it works out well. The nice thing about this sort of thing is that you don’t have the added human element to deal with. Expressions, poses, etc. You’ll totally rock it!

      | |
  24. Harry Lim

    1.) The lines are not straight. In the first image you can see clearly that the verticals are skewed. This is the main reason to use a tripod; not to use HDR but to make sure your verticals are vertical which is a cardinal rule for real estate photography.

    2.) Repeat after me: No HDR for interiors! If you’ve read Mike Kelley’s posts on FStoppers or watched Chuck Hargiss’ tutorials you’ll know that HDR is not the way to go. If you read the Photography for Real Estate blog, you’ll find that the photographers who ares using it have moved to something called Exposure Fusion which is similar but more subtle.

    3.) $60 for a shoot is laughable. Eight-to-ten shoots a day is just sad. There’s no way you can deliver a quality product shooting that many houses in day for $100. If photographers knew their cost of doing business and charged the correct amount, they could work less and make more.
    Let’s assume 10 houses a day at $100. That’s $1000. Also assuming a 25% income tax bracket plus 15.3% in self employment tax, you’re left with $597. With that, you have to cover: gas, car maintenance, car insurance, Photoshop, camera gear, insurance, etc. etc. Oh, and you still have to make a profit and pay your living expenses. Right.

    As Reagan stated: you get what you pay for and you have to account for the post processing time. What are you worth? All that time shooting, driving and editing and after taxes and expenses you make next to nothing!?

    4.) The reason the exterior shot the light was not ideal for the exterior is because you failed to plan. Before I shoot any property, the first thing I do is plot the home on a map and use an app to track the angle of the sun. That way, I know exactly what time I need to shoot the exterior. Nothing is left to chance. My work does not happen by lucky accident. I plan and prepare.

    | |
    • Harry Lim

      What’s up with the hyperlinks in my comment? The FStoppers one leads to a wedding photographer DVD and Photoshop leads to CS6 on Amazon. What the….!?

      | |
    • Greg Faulkner

      What if you shoot weddings and this stuff is bread and butter work?

      There are different types of real estate photography. There’s the houses in Malibu that cost millions and pay someone to spend a day shooting it and 3 days post producing it. Then there are the 400k properties that want something a bit better than the estate agents iphone pictures.

      | |
    • Harry Lim

      So that’s an excuse to deliver crappy images? If you shoot weddings for a living you have no business shooting interiors. They are two completely different disciplines which require different equipment, training and skill. Would you trust a mechanic to give you a root canal? I want a professional who is committed to his craft and knows it inside out; not a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none.
      But never mind that. My real point is that if you are charging enough you don’t have to shoot 10 houses in a day. You could shoot fewer, make more and concentrate on really delivering quality images by taking the time to properly light an interior and learn the intricacies of the craft.

      | |
    • Greg Faulkner

      If the images were crappy no one would be buying them would they?

      Honestly Harry, “If you shoot weddings you have no business shooting interiors”

      Putting to one side how arrogant that sounds for a second.Thats like saying an athlete who competes in the decathlon has no right to run in the 200 metres.

      Your real point is not really valid. People who shoot 8 or 10 houses a day are in a different market to people who shoot 1 a week.

      | |
    • Tony Rushing

      Great advise, care to share the application you are referring to?

      | |
    • Bryan Lemke

      Mr. Lim, I don’t know you, but you seem irritated with everyone who isn’t as good as you are (or think you are). There’s always more than one way to make a living doing the same thing, and there’s no reason to belittle those who see things differently than you. I’ve hired plenty of photographers who were $150+/hour and gotten little better than iPhone quality (even though they tell me how creative their angles and lighting effects are), and I’ve paid $50 for an entire shoot that was better than anything the know-it-all put out there. 

      Price rarely reflects quality as much as it’s a litmus for a gigantic ego. This is the perspective from a paying customer and not a novice or expert photographer. I’d gladly pay more money for someone who took okay shots and was pleasant to work with.

      | |
  25. Reagan Jobe

    I can say that I spent a number of years as Director of Photography for a very large luxury real estate firm and I can tell you that depending on the market you are in determines the price. The agents I shot for realize that if they pay $60 for a shoot they will get what they are paying. I don’t just fly through houses, it’s not good business and it doesn’t produce work that excites people. I may spend 2 hours shooting but I also realize I have 4-6 hours of post work to be done.

    | |
    • Tanya Smith

      Reagan, I’d love to hear more about your job in that field. Would you be interested in an interview for a possible article feature?

      | |
  26. Steven Pellegrino

    I’ve only shot one property and it was my own. Last year when we listed our house the agent took the worst photos. Since I stood to make a lot of money when the house sold, I reshot the house with my old Nikon D3200 and the 18-55mm kit lens (the widest lens I had at the time). I used a tripod and natural light. A flash would have helped. It took longer than I thought it would, not only shooting, but editing afterwards. The agent told me that several months earlier a photographer had contacted their office and offered to shoot houses for them at $60 a house. Unbelievable.

    | |
    • Tanya Smith

      This is a good point, Steven. The one and only photographer I know who is actually making a living doing this shoots 8 to 10 properties a day and makes about $100 per property. A lot of work.

      | |
  27. Cy Sawyer

    Great tips, Coincidentally, I learned the same ones in the same way. You are helping others avoid learning through error. Nice job!

    | |
  28. Herm Tjioe

    I think the number one item to first acquire is the superwide lens. All other things will fall in place after that.

    | |
  29. Chris Nigul

    I’d consider a wide TS lens as well

    | |
  30. Matt Walsh

    Sounds like it was a rough shoot day. We’ve all got ’em. You’ll nail it next time.

    | |
    • Tanya Smith

      Live ‘n learn. That’s what I love about Photography most. Always learning. Always improving and exploring…

      | |
  31. James Matthews

    Some good tips there Tanya. I always throw everything I don’t think I’ll need in the back of the car because you never know :) The contract and insurance are good points.

    I’ve seen Mike Kelley’s real estate DVD and it has a lot of really valuable information packed into it. If anyone is serious about this kind of photography it’s definitely worthwhile.

    | |
    • Tanya Smith

      Honestly, I normally haul everything but the kitchen sink with me, too. This was a rare instance where I was in a hurry and forgot a bunch of my gear going out of town and then regretted it later. Lesson learned, LOL.

      | |
  32. Greg Faulkner

    I’m doing a fair bit of this type of work now. I’ve just made a preset I import with that’s a modidied version of the vivid import preset. Recovers the highlights and shadows etc etc. I then just straighten everything up with the perspective sliders on each image and make the exposure adjustments and I’m done, no messing about.

    | |
    • Tanya Smith

      Nice! That’s what I love about the preset system, you can customize it to your needs and save it for later. So convenient.

      | |
  33. Nick Viton

    Nice images Tanya, and all your lines are straight! Do you correct for inevitable wide angle lens distortion?

    | |
    • Tanya Smith

      Thanks Nick. I do use the lens profile correction feature in Lightroom and it works great! I was surprised I didn’t really have much distortion with the 24mm, though.

      | |
  34. MARTIN MIANO

    Thank you for the great tips ……… I just hope i don’t have a shoot on a dull day with one flash ;-[

    | |