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Real estate photography snapshot: Composition is salesmanship . . .

Coming back to this, I wanted to spend a few minutes on photo composition techniques. That’s almost absurd: Who doesn’t know how to take a picture? Almost everybody, it turns out. We’re not talking about Ansel Adams levels of perfection, we’re talking about taking real estate photos that sell the property but don’t require a lot of back-end effort on your part. That means that we want to take a photo we’re ready to show off as-is, not one that requires cropping or re-touching in PhotoShop.

Here’s an obvious rule first: A camera is not a gun, and a house is not its target. If you look at published real estate photos, again and again you’ll see the house centered in the frame with miles and miles of do-nothing sky above it. This is wrong. Fill the frame with whatever it is you’re drawing attention to. If you think you might want to crop the image later, why not crop it now by filling the whole frame?

We like drama, so often we’ll get in really close at a point of view much lower than normal (it’s called crouching or kneeling; even old people can do it). In this case we also blasted hard with an electronic flash — even in bright sunlight outdoors — in order to bring out the details that would otherwise be in shadow.

Another way to lend drama to a scene is to go higher than eye-level and look down. Most digital cameras have a video viewfinder, so it’s easy to frame photos while holding the camera overhead.

If the ceiling is interesting, it should be in the photos. The wide angle lens on your camera will include the floor and ceiling of your interior shots, so you should be watching for things to bring out. Here in Arizona, ceiling fans are worth money, so we make sure we show them off.

Here is the value of a very wide angle lens: We can see this whole bedroom in two photographs. The human eye is much more adept at apprehending visual information than any camera. Our eyes-forward range of vision is huge, our peripheral vision is even more immense, and our eyes are darting around all the time, pulling in absolutely everything. Photography is a crude approximation of vision, but the closer you can emulate human sight, the more satisfying the experience.

We sell homes, not houses. We devote dozens, sometimes hundreds, of photos to the little things that make a house a home. It’s not too wide of the mark to say that women buy houses, men buy garages (there’s the title of my real estate book!), but every potential buyer should be able to see every detail that might be important to that buyer in your photographs.

Which implies the ultimate best rule I know of for real estate photography: Take a lot of photos. You might need to throw away a huge portion of those you take, but you will bring great added value by marketing your home with a lot of photos. It argues that you care about what you’re doing, a subtle marketing message. It effects the passive salesmanship of the home — and that may be all the salesmanship you will be able to exert. And a great quantity of photos can cause potential buyers to commit to the home you are selling simply because they have committed so much time to looking at it. At a minimum, the more time they spend looking at your house, the less time they have available for others.

Doing real estate photography this way takes time, and that’s why you want to maximize your effort by taking exactly the pictures you want. But no matter how much time I might have spent inside a home, invariably someone will point out something in a photo that I had not seen. That’s how carefully your prospects are looking at your photos, and that’s why making this effort pays off so well.

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16 comments

16 Comments so far

  1. Michael Price August 4th, 2006 5:13 pm

    GS, Excellent post and great photos. As I commented in the RCG photo post a while back, anyone using a wide angle lens should install the PTLens plug-in for photoshop or photoshop elements and run the photos through it before doing anything else with them. Pincushion and barrel distortion are notorious in wide angle photos and this free tool is indispensable. Get it at http://epaperpress.com/ptlens/ My wife Laurie takes real estate photos every day and is always willing to answer a question or two about flash, composition and digital techniques if she isn’t busy at the time. She can be reached at laurie@sitetraffic.com

  2. Greg Swann August 4th, 2006 6:44 pm

    Excellent! Thank you.

  3. Michael Price August 6th, 2006 7:49 am
  4. CHCollins October 2nd, 2006 12:58 pm

    The only thing I’d like to point out is that culling takes time. Digital shots are “free”, yes, but taking too many of them then has you spending time picking out the best ones for your client to approve, filling up your hard drive, etc… that’s the trap I initially fell into. My advice, for your personal productivity, is to limit yourself to a couple of good compositions per scene at capture-time, and use your “free” digital shots for bracketing purposes (assuming you have exposure control).

  5. Greg Swann October 2nd, 2006 8:02 pm

    > The only thing I’d like to point out is that culling takes time.

    Excellent advice. Thanks!

  6. Sharon Simms December 2nd, 2006 7:57 am

    I’ve always believed in LOTS of photos. You’ve given some excellent ideas in your post. Storage can be a problem, so we burn all the photos of a property onto CDs. We keep one, and also provide a CD for both seller and buyer.

    Even an unselected photo can be useful – proving which refrigerator or light fixture was in place at the time of contract, etc.

  7. […] Reading Jay’s recent post about Bad Real Estate Photography and on how it is done the right way over on the Bloodhound blog inspired me, and so finally I made the plunge and bought a Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 wide angle lens for my DLSR. Yes perhaps that’s too wide of an angle for some, however there have been situations where I wished I had that lens. There is still my 18mm to 70mm lens to pick up the slack. […]

  8. […] There has been a bit of discussion in the real estate blogging world on how best to take pictures of homes that are for sale to place in the MLS or other marketing vehicles. Ardell uses a photo to show a condo is dog friendly. Galen also at Rain City explores some of his tricks to create amazing real estate porn (work safe). And Greg Swann does his typically strong job in getting into the details of composition. […]

  9. Carson Coots - Real Estate Photographer July 26th, 2007 7:58 am

    I love the idea of taking the detail shots … like the planter photo. It really adds a dynamic when someone is browsing through photos on the fly. Is the lens-flair a perk? I think so. One thing I would like to add is about lighting. Try taking the photos at early dawn or late dusk with the white balance set on tungsten with no flash. You will see the drama unfold with those deep blue windows… but you need a tripod.

  10. Robert Foote August 7th, 2007 12:17 am

    Having taken thousands of real estate photos as a location scout in the film biz, the 24mm lens is just about right. The tripod is absolutely necessary and dont be afraid to use longer exposure times like 1/15th or 1/8th of a second to fill the scene the way the eye would. Great blog.

  11. […] Richard Riccelli fingered this New York Times article on real estate photography and related technologies (it’s behind a registration wall to make sure you know they don’t get it). Evidently, Richard had been impressed enough with my ideas about real estate photography to impress them upon the professional advertising photographer he hired to shoot his Boston townhome. […]

  12. […] The headline is address-specific and locale-specific, along with giving the reader a promised benefit for reading the copy: “Are you longing for country living without the commute? Beavercreek’s 517 North Pastoral Lane is a mini-ranch in the midst of everything.” The copy should emphasize those long-tail keywords again, and the photos should be big and beautiful. […]

  13. […] the print stuff, if you lack confidence, but acquire a camera appropriate for real estate work and learn how to take good real estate photos. You should get in the habit of having a good-enough real estate camera with you every time you […]

  14. […] the print stuff, if you lack confidence, but acquire a camera appropriate for real estate work and learn how to take good real estate photos. You should get in the habit of having a good-enough real estate camera with you every time you […]

  15. Sue August 23rd, 2008 7:17 pm

    I see this is an old post and just have to say I love those pictures, the dramatic ones capturing the ceiling and several rooms in the home and the flowers with the rays of sunlight. Look very professional.

    I’m just poking around cause I’m getting ready to buy a camera and doing some research, the pics were a treat!

  16. […] blog is strewn with pictures, as well. Pictures are the porn of real estate and pornography sells.  More importantly, pictures attract; that’s what makes Facebook so […]