Many of you are taking photos of your own listings. Sometimes on a lower-value home, there isn’t much wiggle room to hire a professional to get to the property and photograph it for you. Don’t despair, there’s hope for your little camera after all. Let’s face it, you’re a real estate agent, not a photographer – that’s okay. Remember, by following some simple rules, you’ll take better photos just by reading this article. Let’s assume you’re shooting a small property, say less than 1400 square feet, using a small $150 point-and-shoot digital camera. Any good photographer will tell you an expensive camera helps, but it’s not always case. Take heart to these small tips I assembled for better photos in your listing:
Get to know your camera
In most cases, cameras have advanced settings that you probably haven’t fiddled with. Learn a few of the advanced features such as apeture, shutter speed, and bracketing. Aperture is the space or hole in which the light passes through to get to the camera’s sensor. Shutter speed or ISO is the speed in which the shutter opens and closes to allow light to enter the camera. Finally, bracketing is the operation on the camera that will take several photos in succession from low exposure to brighter exposure.
Use a tripod – always.
Because interiors are inherantly dark, how you physically shoot with your camera is very important. The camera must be as still as possible to get a good sharp image. Also, when the lighting is dim, your camera will need more time to take the image, leaving the shutter open for an extended period of time. And let’s face it, you’ve had three cups of coffee and your hands are shaking. Use the tripod!
The self timer isn’t just for sneaking yourself into a family portrait! It’s an excellent tool to use if the room your shooting has mirrors or you find yourself in the photo (for whatever reason.) Set the timer, angle the camera and leave the room while the camera takes the shot. Bingo, perfect photo. Oh, and turn off the flash!
Bring the ISO down!
The shutter speed on a camera, or ISO, is how fast the shutter opens and closes for your shot. Typically a lower end camera will have settings from 100 to 1600. If you’re using a tripod and self timer, set it as low as possible and get out of the room. This will allow the camera to absorb more light and create a sharp image. Adversely, if you’re shooting your child kicking the soccer ball into the net, you’ll want to increase the speed to capture the action. So why not leave all photos on the faster speed? The faster the shutter, the grainier the photo will be. You’ll actually see multicolored grain in the photo – not good for real estate. Did I also tell you to turn off the flash?
Bracketing – Multiple exposures
Read your camera’s owners manual to learn how to set your camera to shoot with “bracketing.” Once set, your camera will actually take three photos in succession, from dark exposure to light exposure. Not only will this give you a choice in the best photo, it’ll also set you up to blend them together to capture the best parts of an image and make one great image. (Read more below in Post Processing).
Time of day
The time of day in which you shoot photos is actually very important. This depends on many things. For the outdoor front photo (most likely your main cover photo for the set) – do not shoot when the sun is up above you. Look at the shadows – you’ll want the sun to be on an angle, not directly shining down. The best time for these photos is just after sunrise (before 10am) or in the evening sun (from 4pm to 7pm) depending on what time of year it is. Oh and turn off your flash! For interior shots, there are two schools of thought: Does your home have excellent lighting? Soft and indirect incandescent lighting can make for amazing long-exposure photography. If this is the case, shoot the interior after the sun has gone down. Remember to use the tripod and self timer. The other school of thought is bracketing during the day. Ever take a photo with a window in the room and the rest of the room looks incredibly dark? The window light is washing out the rest of the room – You’ll need to take several exposures and blend them. Natural light is fantastic for interor photos, but it’s also harder to work with. Master the bracketing and blending and you’ll have great photos to show.
Lets face it, you may have gone to the listing property and taken 100 photos, but only a few of them are acceptable. You’ll need some photo editing software to make your photos better! My first choice in photo editing is Photoshop Lightroom. Lightroom is easy to use and will allow you full control over your photos and will even allow for fast batch processing when you have a lot of photos to edit. You’ll be able to brighten the photos, blend them and increase the color saturation making for outstanding photography even if you didn’t do a great job shooting it. There is a learning curve for software like this, but once you know how to do it, you’ll take that knowledge with you for every photo shoot you do. Impress your friends and family too! Other great photo editing software includes Photoshop CS, GIMP (free) and even windows photo editor (free). However, we highly recommend Lightroom. Try it free for 30 days and buy it if you feel it’s useful.
Use the rule of thirds
When looking at the back of your camera, imagine tic-tac-toe lines of equal thirds on your screen (some cameras actually have this built into the viewfinder). Never center anything in the middle, use the horizontal lines to line up landscape images. If the sky looks better, include the sky in 2/3 of your shot. If the lawn is more the focus, let that take up 2/3rds. Same with the vertical lines. If a vase on the center of the table looks awesome, put that on the 1/3 or 2/3rd of the vertical lines. Never center anything. (I shouldn’t say never, some rules are meant to be broken.)
When you’re shooting interior shots, you’ll want to show as much of the room as possible. Zoom ALL THE WAY OUT – always. Most point and shoot cameras only have “DIGITAL ZOOM” and not optical zoom. There is absolutely no advantage on zooming in when you have digital zoom. You can zoom in later in post processing. If you do, you’ll just degrade the image anyway. If you have optical zoom, zooming in is a bit safer, since the resolution of the photo remains intact. However, show the whole room – you can always change the crop later. Wider is better – zoom out! Close-cropped shots of coffee tables, taken from a knee-high may work great for Ikea ads, but for real estate photography, the focus should be on the overall living space rather than the furniture. This means backing up and trying to show as much of the room as possible. Yes, there are times when you want to zoom in to show details, however your primary shots should be taken with the intention of displaying as much of the homes living space as possible. Buyers want to get a sense of the overall feel and dimension of the home, not the coffee table in the living room.
Lose the flash!
As you heard me several times above, the flash will do you absolutely no good whatsoever. Turn it off. It’s only going to wash out the farther reaches of the room. It will also wash out the color of anything in the room with white blinding light. If your camera is still and the ISO is set low (typically 100-200) you’ll get a great image with soft light all around the room. As always, use a tripod to avoid blurry and shaken photos.
Know your white balance
Do your photos look too blue? too yellow? Your white balance is off. Many cameras have a setting where you can adjust this. Read the manual of your camera to see how to set this. Auto white balance does’t always do the trick. Tinker with different settings. Remember, your whites should be white. Your blacks should be black. Remember these tips and you’ll see a great improvement in your photos.
Using YouTube as a resource
YouTube has literally hundreds of videos on how to take great interior shots. Search for interior photography for beginners or real estate photography. I also wouldn’t rely too heavily on using a smartphone for your photographs. Many phones, such as the iPhone compress the image, therefore making them grainy with colored artifacts in the image. Use a dedicated camera for your images.