There’s always something to howl about

Archive for the 'Photography' Category

With the right high-end image-editing software, just about anyone can ruin a perfectly good digital photo.

If this doesn’t sell the house, nothing will.


Two old soldiers in the wired world of real estate — and the Flip video cameras — are shuffling off to the hi-tech graveyard.

I’ve loved since it was introduced. I use it every day — mainly to send reminders to myself, but also as my primary interface into Google Calendar. No more. Jott ends five years of gamely trying to get people to understand its value on May 3rd.

A lesser cause for mourning, Cisco flipped the switch on the Flip video camera line today. Frankly, I’ve been waiting for this for a while. The best idea Flip had was easy integration into YouTube — a feature your phone has by now, I should expect. Meanwhile, we switched almost all of our video to our Panasonic Lumix point-and-shoot cameras as soon as we got them.

The first BloodhoundBlog Unchained was clip-documented via Flip cameras, so I am not indifferent to see it go. Just to put extra icing on the Flip’s farewell cupcake, Cisco paid — wait for it — $590 million for the company in 2009.

Ultimately, I won’t weep, though. I can’t remember the last time we used the Flip for anything. Jott, on the other hand, is going to leave a big hole in my workday.


This would seem to be the ideal time to remind people that there are places in this country where there is no snow on the ground…

…with Phoenix being the most beautiful and the most affordable, of course.

If you’re stuck at home with nothing to do but surf the internet, the movie linked below will show you a better way of living…


Lunar Eclipse Winter Solstice 12/21/2010

The last time a lunar eclipse happened on the winter solstice was in 1638. What you you doing then? This just reminded me that we will make a complete orbit around the sun and meet here again next year. See you then. In the meantime,Happy New Year and have a safe and productive transit!

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Ascent to Splendor: Want to really see God’s creation? Make water.

This just in. The photography in this film that commemorates the Space Shuttle program is stunning. Here is the standard for photography. Remember, our listings do not move and do not shed a ton and a half of mass per second. Here is a canonical archive of human ingenuity at its zenith. A million moving parts assembled by humans in search of splendor.

As Ronald Reagan said: “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and “slipped the surly bonds of earth” to “touch the face of God.”

All you have to do is make water with a whole lot of human brain power, courage and a million moving parts.

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A snapshot from my world…


Ubiquitous Bloodhound finally makes his break

All of us, proprietors of this kennel included, have known that Odysseus was destined for the big time. Well, he finally got his break! Look for our pal anywhere a gorgeous face is needed.

It's midnight. Do you know where your Bloodhound is?

True confession: I was hiding in the bushes at a webinar (name withheld to protect the perps) and discovered PhotoFunia while waiting for the inevitable “buy today! Special deal just for our attendees! Super special deal if you get your broker to bring more lambs agents  to the slaughter!”  Well anyway, I found PhotoFunia at this webinar.  It is free and it is fun. There really was a pony in there!  I hope you enjoy.


The Purpose Of Real Estate Photography…

First, an apology.  One thousand apologies, in fact.  On January 20th I introduced myself and expressed my gratitude to Greg for giving me the opportunity to be an occasional contributor to this forum.  I mentioned a photography class for real estate professionals that I teach for brokers in our local market, and that I’d like to focus my involvement here on providing the content of that presentation in small bite-sized posts.  I wrote that I would start by questioning the real purpose of real estate photography and why it’s become more important than ever – and then transition to a number of tips and techniques that I believe will help many readers improve their marketing images very easily.

I wrote those words seven weeks ago and haven’t been back since.  Although I’m not presumptuous enough to expect that anyone else noticed my absence, I do feel an obligation to tell you that I did.  I wanted very much to begin this dialog with Bloodhound readers right away, but frankly, I’ve been shooting and editing seven days most weeks, 12+ hours most days.  Our market, like many others I suspect, has become extremely active since the first of the year and the agents I work for are listing everything in sight.  Today, inclement weather caused a shoot to be rescheduled and left me with a few hours to return to the conversation I started.

I know I risk losing you at the question mark, but I’ll ask anyway.  What is the purpose of real estate photography?  What is your objective when you photograph a new listing?  What are you trying to accomplish?  When I ask this question of agents in my market I usually get the answer you’d expect (with a look that says they think I’m an idiot for asking):  “I’m trying to SELL THE HOME.  Duh.”  Excellent.  And the photos will be used to…?  Now looking at the exit, “ADVERTISE IT!”  Thank you.

Would you agree with this definition of the word advertise found at dictionary dot com?  “To announce or praise (a product, service, etc.) in some public medium of communication in order to induce people to buy or use it.” The fact is this:  many of us are excellent photographers but in the wrong genre.  We approach our listings with the keen eye of a documentary photographer, capturing every fixture and every square foot of space rather than one who understands that we are not, in fact, documenting the home.  We are advertising it.  When I was asked to be on the selection committee for a new MLS vendor last year I was elated at the thought of finally increasing our per listing photo limit from 10 to 25.  In retrospect that decision turned out to be a double-edged sword, though.  When I ask agents how many photos they feel they should use to advertise a listing the most common answer is 25 – the greatest number possible.  When I ask why, I’m almost always told we should use as many as possible because buyers want to see as many as possible.  Of course they do.  But we work for the seller, no?  Do you suppose the buyer would also like us to photograph (document) all the material defects in the home as well in an effort to make their home search more efficient?  The key is to provide the buyer with as many photos as possible that serve our seller well by advertising their home in a way that will induce a buyer to request an appointment.  No more, no less.

While I’m no expert, I think most would agree that a successful advertisement of any kind elicits an emotional response on the part of the target audience.  It makes them want to take action.  Does a photograph of a secondary bedroom, showing two walls meeting, part of a bed and a small window cause this kind of reaction?  How about a photo of a half bath with standard grade fixtures taken from the hallway so the prospective buyer sees the door frame, vanity and toilet – and that’s about it?   These kinds of photos do a terrific job of documenting that the two bedroom walls do indeed meet at the corner, or that the half-bath does have a door, but do they cause the buyer, surfing a surplus of listings at hyper-speed to pause…and linger.  Do they make the buyer want to see more?

For many years we’ve been told by marketers that buyers tend to make large purchase decisions based on emotion – and then justify them later based on logic.  If this is the case – and I think most of us who have helped buyers find the right home would agree that it typically is for all but the most analytical of clients – are houses that much different from cars, plasma televisions or other expensive products?  Can you imagine the art director of an ad campaign for Lexus telling the photographer to document the vehicle well so they’ll be able to use as many photos as possible in their ads?  No, in practically every other industry large-ticket products are advertised using images that have been very carefully created to elicit an emotional response and action on the part of a buyer with a lot of options to choose from.  In fact your new listing might have ten (or one hundred) times the number of competitors that Lexus has for any of it’s models.

Let’s explore another question of motive.  It’s long been said that sellers sell houses, but buyers buy homes.  Agree?  When a buyer buys a home, what are they really buying?  The answer to this question should have an impact on how you reach out to them visually.  Are they buying four walls, a roof and something to keep their feet from touching the dirt?  Are they buying something tangible or does it go deeper than that?  When I ask this question of agents attending my classes I tend to hear that buyers are buying something far bigger than the structure – something that speaks to a much deeper emotional need or desire – things like neighborhood or community, safety, financial security, pride, respect, family.  In short, they’re buying the dream!  Do our photos speak to the dream or simply document the structure?

When I photograph a home I try to ask myself one question about each space I consider.  Is there a photo here that will speak to the buyer – that will cause them to put the brakes on and linger – that will touch an emotion, and that will cause them to request a showing.  Are three images of a beautiful kitchen more valuable than one of a secondary bedroom painted in strong gender-specific colors and with no redeeming qualities like a cathedral ceiling or large, arched window?  If we live by the motto “First, do no harm.”, do we occasionally use photos that could actually turn off a subset of our buyer pool because they see work that will have to be done.  (“Two of the bedrooms are pink, and we have boys.  When will we find the time to paint before the moving van gets there?”)  Sometimes it can’t be avoided (wallpaper in the kitchen for instance), but sometimes it can.

One last question – this time for the veterans.  How did you use photographs o market homes in the 1990’s?  In my local market (Kansas City) it was typically one black and white image used in the newspaper classifieds and possibly a homes magazine.  Total viewership was probably in the hundreds at best.  Now how do you use photography today?  In most  areas you have the ability – and some would say the obligation – to show as many high resolution color images as you could possibly want (and that benefit the seller).  We’re talking screen-filling, interactive images with tremendous detail.  And best of all, through the magic of syndication, your images are made available to a massive international audience.  Your viewership is greater than that of many respected photographers!

So lesson one is that we are advertising photographers, not documentary photographers.  Sounds obvious, but as I look through listings in our MLS with the the definition of advertising in mind,  I’m sorry to say the concept is not universally understood.  As a real estate agent you probably don’t think of yourself as an advertising photographer, but if you take your own listing photos – you are.  Just ask any listing prospect who is even mildly web-savvy how important they think photos are to the process of marketing their home and you’ll know.  You’re an advertising photographer and you have to think like an advertising photographer – which is where I come in

I’m eager to get to the nuts and bolts of better real estate photography – to start sharing tips and techniques that will help you if you feel your images could use some improvement.  But before we go to the how I though it would be good to address the what and the why.

Thank you for sticking with me while I stood on my little soap box.  I’m sorry this post has been longer than “bite-sized” but moving forward we’ll be able to look at one image-improving idea per post that is presented in a way that is much more efficient with your time.


Swanepoel’s Trends Report is not useless. It makes a dandy prop!

Cathy’s listing Friday, a classic North Central Phoenix luxury home. I was shooting interiors for her today, and saw this as a part of her staging:

Building the single-property web site for the home, tonight, I realized that in six months or fewer, I’ll be repurposing content for single-property iPhone/iPad apps, as well. I doubt you will have read anything like that in any repackaged regurgitant from self-styled real estate experts, but it’s where we’re all headed.


Honored To Be Here…

So the problem is this:  When Greg Swann visits your blog, comments favorably and asks if you’d like to write for Bloodhound, you get excited.  In a good way.  You consider how Greg and the other contributors to this forum have helped shape your thought process as a real estate professional and you feel a sort of rush come over you.  Greg has invited you to write anything you like and assured you that it will be published and consumed by a large national audience.  You feel an obligation – to yourself, to your industry, to your mother.  You hit the reply button and type “Yes!  Count me in!”, because that is the right thing to do.  And it feels good.

A bio and a headshot later you get another email from Greg:  “You’re up.  Post at will.”  Again, excitement – but this time different.  More like anxiety, really.  More like “everyone – and I mean everyone – who writes for Bloodhound is so literate, so intellectual, so experienced…so prolific and poetic, both!”  It’s easy to wonder what you can possibly write that won’t pale in comparison to the posts being submitted by everyone else.  It’s easy to wonder what you can write about that anyone will want to read – or that hasn’t already been written more elegantly by someone else.

My name is Harry Bisel, and I am honored to have been asked to contribute occasionally to this space.  Honored and just a bit terrified.  I am a professional real estate photographer, which is the perfect mash-up of my two previous careers – commercial photography and residential real estate, where I had the pleasure of serving as an agent, a managing broker, an MLS Board member and a coach (although I was never comfortable with that title).  Real estate has been very good to me and I am grateful to those who gave me the opportunities I enjoyed so much along the way.

Having followed my passions away from the management side of real estate and back to photography, I now have two missions.  To create a profitable business, clearly.  But more pertinent to this conversation, to raise awareness within the real estate industry about the need for much better marketing photography, and to help educate those who need and want to improve their skills – or direct them to a professional if they prefer.  So, I do have something to say.  Something I feel very strongly about and that I’m eager to write about in the coming months.  A dialog I hope many will enjoy – especially as the ROI for the time you spend is fully understood.

To that end, I think most will agree that the photos we frequently see in the MLS – the photos that are meant to advertise products worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and that are syndicated to a world-wide audience larger than many respected photographers enjoy…some of these photos are not so very good.  And that’s a shame, because as agents, we owe our clients better – and because outstanding real estate photography can easily be leveraged into more listings.  Win.  Win.

I want to be clear that I don’t think it’s the fault of the typical agent – especially those that would frequent this blog – that we have some questionable images representing our listings out there.  Many of us remember when one black and white photo of the front of a home was all it took – and frankly it didn’t have to be that great for its intended use or audience.  Even now as listing photos have become the new curb appeal for real estate consumers surfing the web (you know the statistics – I won’t bore you), most of us have missed the message that, along with all our other responsibilities we need to be architectural photographers as well.  No one is asking us to raise our right hand and swear that, with regard to real estate marketing photos we will “first, do no harm”.

With this in mind, I put together a photography class tailored to the needs of agents which I’ve presented for a number of brokers in my community over the past two years.  The class tends to be a very enjoyable conversation centered around the questions of what the purpose of real estate photography really is, why we need it and most importantly how we can produce it.  At the core of the presentation are a series of techniques that will help any agent create better images straight away, day one.  The response to the class has typically been very positive, so I thought I’d focus my contribution to BHB on providing the content, broken down into bite-sized posts for your consideration.  If your feedback indicates that there is some value and that I didn’t waste your time, I’ll continue.  If not, I’ll bow out as gracefully as possible.

In closing this first post, I’d like to ask a favor of any who have been kind enough to read this far.  Please know that I don’t come from a place of being “all that”.  I consider myself competent in my work as a real estate photographer, and certainly my goal is to be one of the very best, but at this point I am far from it.  There are photographers out there who make me look like a true beginner – photographers I’d be embarrassed to show my best work to.  Likewise, I have no doubt that some readers of this blog are very accomplished in their own right and produce images that far surpass mine.  That’s alright.  In fact, that’s terrific because your comments to my posts will serve to make the content richer for everyone – myself included!  My hope is simply that we will raise the bar – the quality of the average image seen by prospective buyers – and that we will help those who have the desire to improve their own skills.

Again, thank you Greg, for the opportunity to share.  I’m grateful and I’ll do my best not to bore – if I haven’t already.


Adding two hounds to the pound: Introducing Harry Bisel and Scott Schang

As promised, I’m adding two new writers to our pack today.

Scott Schang is a long-time contributor to our comments threads. Scott has come to both of the BloodhoundBlog Unchained events held in Phoenix, and he may be the best success story to come of Unchained so far. Scott has devoted his attentions to honing his prospecting and conversion systems, and he’ll be talking to us about that and more.

Harry Bisel has led a rich, full life. A commercial photographer who made the shift into real estate, and then shifted aback out into real estate photography. Harry’s photos are simply breathtaking, awe-inspiring, everything real estate photography should be.

Both of these gentleman have a ton to teach us. I’m delighted to have them writing with us.


Ustream brings us live video streaming from your iPhone — and the world of video podcasting just got a lot more interesting…

Don’t let anyone tell you that I never say anything good about ActiveRain. I saw a passing note yesterday about’s new iPhone app, but I ignored it in the crush of business. But this morning there was a post about the Ustream client in ActiveRain’s daily spamletter, and that led me to download the app.

What does it do?

Live video streaming from any iPhone 3G or 3GS. No kidding. Ustream quality, of course, compounded by the cheesy little lens on the iPhone, all compounded by WiFi or 3G transmission speeds. But still…

Live video streaming from your phone…

Practical applications?

Well, for one thing, Rodney King now has nothing to fear. Abusive cops are a thing of the past, and I would love to see a Ustream/YouTube channel devoted to abusive government functionaries everywhere. Especially in Iran, by the way, and I can’t think of a better antidote to bad behavior everywhere than instantaneous, live, streaming video for all the world to see.

But what about real estate applications?

Don’t throw away that video camera. It’s still Ustream, after all. But when you’re doing a home inspection for an out-of-state buyer, a live video conference with the inspector may be just the ticket. With a second phone, the client and the inspector can talk as you are shooting live video of the repair issues. Is that more sizzle than steak? I say it’s good salesmanship.

Are there other uses you can think of in your day-to-day real estate work? I’m never a big booster of new-for-the-sake-of-being-new. Mission-critical is all that ever matters to me in judging a new tool or idea. But I’m thinking that live or easily-recorded lo-rez video might serve a host of mission-critical functions.

Two (bad) videos as examples, as I learn to play with this new tool:

First, a bad demo recorded to the phone, then uploaded to Ustream.

Second, a live stream saved directly from Ustream.

In both cases, the iPhone shut off on me. To make this software work, you will have to change your auto shut-off setting in the main iPhone preference app. Then you have to remember to switch it back — or risk butt-dialing and battery loss. Presumably Ustream will override this setting while recording in a future release.

Meanwhile, the Ustream Live Broadcaster app is completely social-media savvy, with hooks available for Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. It seems reasonable to me to create a separate YouTube channel for these videos, so as not to have them conflated with your better-quality clips.

But — every conceivable caveat aside — the world of video podcasting just got a lot more interesting…


A first look at the Panasonic Lumix ZR1 as a real estate camera

Just a real quick look at the Panasonic Lumix ZR1, in use with the dogs this week as a real estate camera. When I get time, I’ll do some side-by-side comparisons. This is just a quick look at some photos and a demo movie.

First some pix:

These are good, nice and wide, nice and bright. No distortion on the straight lines. A little bit of lens flare, but this ain’t Life magazine.

Here’s a huge benefit: Even with the flash on, the ZR1 is fast. Refresh time is maybe two seconds, essentially no delay at all. The auto-focus/auto-exposure systems need a little time to do their calculations, so it’s possible to rush the camera. But a wide lens has a huge depth of focus, so it’s hard to get into real trouble.

The movie is not so pleasing. The wide lens is great, but the AF/AE issue is much more serious on-the-fly. I don’t like house videos, anyway, but, if you plan to do them with the ZR1, you need to make sure you have a lot of light.

Here’s the video as recompressed by YouTube:

Not great. The original is better. You can see it by clicking “Play in Popup” in the links at the bottom of the post.

My one complaint with the camera, so far, is that it’s so tiny. I have big hands, so it’s taking some getting used to. But it’s wicked easy to get a lot of very good photos very quickly. And the 25mm lens is very, very wide for a point-and-shoot camera.

Further thoughts when I’ve had more time to play.


New cameras for the Bloodhounds: My take is that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1 offers a lot of bang for the buck

“If your car keys are with you, your camera should be with you.” That’s one of the mantras I preach at Realtors when I speak in public. The language of real estate is photography, and you cannot do your job properly if you can’t communicate what you’re seeing to your clients.

Having a camera along solves a multitude of dilemmas. I see a lot of houses for out of state buyers, so the web sites I build for them can provide invaluable details about candidate homes. But there are all kinds of other benefits to always having a camera with you when you’re out of the office: Documenting benefits and drawbacks of specific neighborhoods, capturing on-the-spot images of red flag issues before the inspector transmits his report, etc.

“But,” you may be be straining to expostulate, “my phone has a camera.” Believe me, I know. I see its output in the MLS way too often. Your phone has a bad camera, with a cheesy little lens — its focal length much too long for real estate — and a cheesy little image size. Someday phone cameras may be adequate for day-to-day real estate work, but that day is not today.

We have a Kodak Digital SLR for listings and other high-end work, but, until lately, we have each carried a Fujifilm Finepix E500 for everyday photos. This was a reasonable price/performance compromise when we got them. They’re light in weight and they’re powered by AA batteries, so there was never any threat of running out of juice. The lens is only 28mm at its widest, which is adequate but not ideal. But those cameras were workhorses. Cathleen and I both rolled them over, call it around 15,000 photos each over the past four years.

But all things come to an end. Cathy lost her Finepix recently, and mine is exhibiting the kind of noisome behavior that argues that it’s about to fail permanently.

Time to go shopping. I’ve been following the Panasonic Lumix line of point-and-shoot digital cameras since I first heard about them in a post by Jeff Turner, a long time ago. I got to see one in action just lately, with buyers. Everything’s a trade-off, and we’re tossing nickels around like manhole covers right now. But we needed to upgrade, and the Lumix DMC-ZR1 seems to offer a lot of bang for the buck.

What are we buying? The picture above is worth a thousand words: We want that 25mm lens. There are 24mm lenses out there, but they cost more. And, of course, on DSLRs you can get down to 10mm — but that costs a lot more. What we’re buying are everyday cameras intended to ride around with us every day. We need small, cheap and reliable, not the biggest, best and most budget-busting. We have the big Kodak for high-end work. These cameras are intended to pound out thousands of photos a year.

But guess what? With a 12.1 megapixel maximum resolution, the Lumix cameras can deliver the high-end goods, if we need them to. And they will shoot HD video, as well, so we can leave the Flip video cameras at home.

On, the price was about $222 each, not bad for the feature set. Not a huge financial heartbreak if you drop it or lose it, for that matter. The cameras should be here next week. I’ll post some photos to give an idea of image quality.

More on real estate photography from the BloodhoundBlog archives: Choosing a camera, Composition is salesmanship, More on camera choices, What do you do with great property photos?, Photos from the whatever-it-takes school of listing. There is plenty more organized under the Photography category.


Flying beyond flyers, here is our first full-color brochure for our first million-dollar listing

A week from today, we will list our first million-dollar residence. (The web site is a placeholder as I write this. We’ll begin to populate it next week.)

But the home is a spectacular specimen, and we wanted to do something more to bring that out. So yesterday we put together our first full-color brochure for a home.

That’s the outside face. Full-size is 17×11″, with a fold in the middle to permit it to fit into our flyer boxes. You’ll have to imagine where the fold will split the image.

And here is the inside face. If you click on either image, you can see the full-size, full-bleed pre-press files. Fair warning: They’re 87 megabytes each.

Here’s the text from the inside front panel:

True luxury, true elegance is not a
vast accumulation of shiny trinkets,
a mass of dazzling distractions.
The artifacts of genuine wealth are
streamlined, refined, stripped down
to the essence. Simple. Unaffected.
The best expression of your limit-
less lifestyle is a home that serves
as the jewelry box for the precious
treasure that is your family…

And that’s why god made Lord & Taylor…

This is going to be a fun one for us, a chance to put every idea we’ve been playing with to the test.


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