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Real-Estate or Interior Photography – The Ethical Challenges

By Leo Hoang on September 3rd 2013

Real-Estate Interior Photography

Real-Estate/Interior/Property/Architectural photography has many challenges. Issues you face when trying to create a stunning image of a property could vary from dynamic range, converging lines, mixed lighting, and general room presentation. However, you also face a challenge which can sometimes be overlooked, and that’s having a true representation of the property.

Typical complaints you will commonly hear is “The room looks a lot bigger in the photos”. As photographers, we know the reason why rooms look bigger in photos is due to the ultra-wide angle lenses and how they expand an image, so shooting too wide can be misrepresentative. However, with the same respect, you also want to show the entire room which cannot be squeezed in with a standard lens.

As a real-estate photographer, you do have to deal with ethical choices on a daily basis. With the power of Photoshop, creative lighting and angles, we could be misrepresenting a property.

[REWIND: Learn HDR Photography from SLR Lounge with our HDR Tutorial]

To Remove or not to Remove?

Check out the images below. A noticeable water stain was removed for the listing. Is this ethical or unethical?



What about the image below? The image taken is facing South, yet we see a gorgeous sunset in the background of the home. Is that going too far?


“ABC News – The Lookout” has done a video on these issues. Check it out below.

This video discusses and illustrates how an image can be misrepresented and shows you how far a photo can be manipulated!

We will all be affected by these issues as at some point in our lives as we’ll either being buying or renting a place and will be viewing these property photos for ourselves.

Comment below with your thoughts on this situation…

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Leo Hoang is a professional photographer based in London who shoots Weddings, Events and Real-Estate.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Lance

    I was actually shooting a property once and I pulled out my phone to look up other properties for sale in the neighborhood to see what the photos looked like. To my surprise, a home across the street looked kind of funny in the photo. I drove down to take a look, and when you stand in front of the property in person you see a HUGE water tower right behind the property. The photographer removed it and put in a fake (horribly done) sky. I would never do that no matter how bad my clients want me to. I run my business with ethics in mind, and so should my clients. If they don’t want to sell real estate ethically, then we aren’t a good fit for each other.

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  2. filmaren

    Removing water stains without fixing the house is probably illegal on the part of the owner of the house regardless of how it was done, real paint and brush or photoshop.

    Lying about how the property or building is situated is probably also a criminal act and plain stupid on the part of the seller. A disappointed buyer might very well call an army of lawyers or bikers to solve the matter.

    By entering the premises you manipulate the property.

    Choosing one angle over the other is manipulating the mind of the prospective buyer.

    By using a flash and a central perspective(or not) you manipulate the state of the property.

    By choosing the perspective, lens, height, time of day, what is lit and how, if the home is dressed up or if there is 7 sick children running around, you manipulate the mind of the viewer.

    Hell, it’s our job as real estate photographers to show how fantastic the property really is eventhough the present owner doesn’t know shit about how to make anything inviting.

    Photos of real estate aren’t legal documents to base a purchase upon.

    It is marketing to create interest in a property.

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  3. LEG

    Looking at that “sunset” photo, it may not be manipulated. It may be a sunrise rather than sunset as that compass shows East in line with that big ball in the sky. Also, time of year creates a major challenge for a true south facing house (technically, north facing with photographer shooting south). During the winter, the sun is much lower in the southern sky as it arches from east to west, making early morning or late afternoon preferable.

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  4. LEG

    While we see articles similar to this quite often, typically painting the photographer as the bad guy, and the mindless comments calling for no Photoshop, period. Since I shoot in RAW, no Photoshop (Lightroom or other converter) would be impossible to post.

    Typically, there is a glaring omission in articles such as this. The omission would also highlight inferiority of the camera sensor/lens to the vastly superior human brain/eye that Photoshop attempts to correct. What is missing? Photos Realtors take with their P&S cameras or worse, cell phones. I am not talking about the humorous bloopers that are everywhere, but serious efforts. Photos of blowout (over-exposed) windows and dark rooms – what are they hiding outside and do I want to live in a dungeon. Slanting kitchen cabinets, walls, doors, and even floors (horizonals and verticals off) – why are they misrepresenting the house as structurally unsound (yes, the ‘misrepresenting’ word, and it only takes 3 seconds to correct in Lightroom), Front photo with more street or garage than house, or shot wrong time of day into the sun – blowing out a blue sky and heavy shade on the front of the house demonstrating their lack of skill – personally, I expose for the sky, then lighten the midrange in Lightroom, bringing out the details of the house – an advantage of RAW over jpg, more closely showing what the eye/brain would see. Perhaps even worse is the Realtor with a DSLR and ultra-wide angle lens without the skill to use it leaving barrel distortion, or object distortion – extra wide objects on the edge, like lampshades or refrigerators wider than anybody manufacturers.

    Finally, what is the role of the Realtor? Marketer is job ONE for the listing agent, just as creating the livability, personal identity with the property is for the buyer’s agent. If the $1.50 can of dog food in the WalMart ad looks better than the photos of the $300k home, that’s a problem. Likewise, did you ever get a Big Mac that looked like the marketing photo. Or how about that new car you were looking at and the photos in the brochure. Companies know the value of presentation, have professional marketing departments, and don’t want you buying the same product from their competitor. Unfortunately sellers don’t have the business mindthink, focus on the word “commission” when they really should be focusing on what it is – their marketing budget – and question if it is being used for the greatest return on their investment. Without that mindthink, mediocre expectations prevail and research shows that it ultimately costs them money with lower sales price – if it sells. Raising that level of consciousness would actually be a good article.

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  5. Ken

    Using an image processing program like Photoshop to materially alter an image is time consuming and takes a fair amount of skill to get a final product that looks realistic. Real estate agents don’t pay much money for the photographing of a standard single family home and they are very unlikely to pay somebody with the photo manipulation skills what they charge. It certainly does happen, usually winds up pretty obviously changed and the agent winds up just shooting themselves in the foot. It’s probably a breech of contract with the seller and could lose them the listing.

    Competent professional photographers use photo software to take the file from the camera and adjust various aspects to make the image match real life for real estate listings. Muddy, out of focus, orange or green pictures straight from an agent’s point-and-shoot camera is not a true representation of a property and has never seen the workings of Photoshop.

    Cameras are different from human eyes principally due to the supercomputer attached to the back end of our eyeballs. Until somebody comes up with a camera that can mimic the human eye/brain combination, there will always be a difference. In the mean time, photographers will have to adjust camera images to match what they remember the scene looking like.

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  6. David

    My philosophy for running my real estate media company has always been, and will always be, to show the property in the most realistic way possible. I take great pride that our clients respect the fact that we don’t alter images with unnecessary retouching…..Having said that, every image we take goes through photoshop. We correct perspective, remove sensor spots, saturation & curve adjustments, and dodge and burn. We never ever replace window exposures or remove anything. If something is in the scene, like a bucket, we remove it before shooting. All our window exposures are created with multiple exposures and then processed with NIK HDR Efex Pro 2, but with the goal of it not looking fake. Usually we keep the windows just a tad on the bright side for more realism. The over processed HDR real estate photos are an insult to the industry. Our ultimate goal with retouching real estate photos with photoshop is to make the property look exactly the same as it was when it was shot in person.

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  7. DB

    Photoshop used to remove/add things can be valid for a few reasons.

    I use photoshop to:

    – perspective correct my images, to make the walls perfectly straight (Like they are, in the house). An example of this is: Photoshop was only used for PC, (you can still see a lighting hotspot in the splashback.
    – Balance my exposure, as the camera does not see the room as the human eye does, it is important to make it look as natural as possible.
    – remove my light stands that support lighting, again, in order to illuminate a room enough to make the inside exposure match that of outside – lighting is required, sometimes it gets in the way, and should be removed, because it’s not a part of the house.
    – I don’t mind cloning lawns/gardens if it’s a tiny patch of dirt or a tennis ball, or something stupid that could be removed or will naturally disappear in a matter of days/weeks.
    – Sometimes a sky replacement is needed, because the room you’re shooting is just purely too dark in contrast to the exterior, some people use bracketing for this too, to match what the human eye sees.
    – will sometimes add an image onto a big tv screen, as they’re often reflecting my lighting.

    What I don’t (and I think is illegal) do:
    – Use photoshop to remove cracks in walls, change colours of walls, remove/add furniture, (It happens… check: ) (I also don’t have that skillset!!)
    – Replace skies to show a sunset that doesn’t happen. (as above). That is beyond unethical…
    – Fix fences, pavement, driveways, doors, ceilings, fans, etc. This should all be done by the owner before the shoot. If you fail to prepare… you prepare for failure.. right?

    Face it – some people do this to blatantly show the house in a different ‘light’ altogether, and have no problem with using every trick in the book to do so. Whilst some just try and make the house present the best it can by using lighting, choosing good angles and having it neat and tidy.

    Some people look at my work and say that it’s too ‘hollywood’ and that no house looks like that. But I’m sure all of you pro’s (or near-pro’s) have had people comment in disbelief as to the authenticity of your work, only for you to reassure them that it’s real, just shot well.

    *shrug* my 2c.

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    • Ken

      I saw a photo from a photographer that spent well over an hour fixing a driveway. It came out looking great. The problem was the owner kids had a fun time drawing pictures all over the driveway the day before the photo shoot and there wasn’t time to get a power washer to clean it off. Apparently, trying to wash it off with the hose didn’t do a very good job. I wouldn’t see that as being unethical.

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  8. Greg

    Waste of time photoshoping the plants trees etc into the scene like in the example. First thing anyone would do before even going to look at the property would be to look at the streetview on google, no?

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    • Ken

      Looking at Google Street View is a good idea, but that image could be a few years old. The last time I looked at the main street going through my town, the sign at the gas station listed the price of regular as $1.99/gal.

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  9. Simon Newbury

    No photoshopping should be allowed. It is pointless and a waste of time on all parts anyway as people will just view the house in its true form and then have low respect for the seller and agent.

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  10. Rich Newnham

    Well it’s false advertising in both of the images above. The first will most likely be spotted by the viewer when they look around the property (which could mean a waste of their time and an angry client); the latter maybe not, depending on time of day – although this is less likely to be a purchase make or break. As someone who has bought property, I’m more likely to sack off an agency whose photography doesn’t represent their properties for wasting my time, so no one wins in that situation. Make the property look good in real life, then take representative photos.

    p.s. everyone knows that rooms look bigger in photos with the wide angles, but as a buyer I preferred to see the whole room and then rely on floor plans to understand the size of the property.

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  11. moop

    NO photoshop is okay. I don’t care if you’re just brightening colors to make it more appealing… it’s not okay.

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