When you are helping your client get ready to sell their house, you don’t always have a choice about their staging ideas and effects or knickknacks and furniture. Sometimes this results in less than appealing listing pictures. A good photograph, however, is possible nearly every time you list a home if you follow some of the do’s and don’ts tips for better real estate photos.

To take a good picture, you need good equipment. While it doesn’t have to be costly, a few dollars invested in new and modern camera equipment can make a huge difference in results. Start by getting a travel tripod. This could be one that sits on the ground or the kind that folds out onto a table or stool. What matters is getting your shots level so that your photos don’t look as though they were taken during an earthquake. Make sure your camera will connect to your tripod – that hole on the bottom of your camera screws onto your tripod in most cases, so be sure it fits.

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Next, think about what you are taking pictures with. Smartphones are convenient, but their lenses are not wide enough (even when their MP or MegaPixel capability is large). Plus, they are handheld, which you don’t always want. A compact digital camera will do just fine. You are looking for one with a lens that can zoom from 24 and 28 mm. It does not have to be expensive but try for 14 MP capacity or better.

Turn away from the light:

When possible, avoid using the flash. Natural light looks best and won’t reflect off windows and surfaces. Avoid the “cave” effect a flash can give in long rooms. Learn to shoot photos without too much of the window in focus – bright light through the windows may make the camera compensate by taking darker photos. It is easy to fix this – experiment with taking photos where the light is behind you or to the side. Sometimes a bookshelf to the left or right will provide enough shade for the camera sensor so that it takes appropriate light readings before you make the shot.

Make it big:

Sometimes even a large home will look smaller in photographs if it does not have an open floor plan. This challenge can be overcome in a few simple ways. In the living room, start by walking around the room and looking through the lens until you see the widest possible viewpoint. Make sure that the closest thing to the camera is the carpet or flooring. This can make a room look much bigger, with or without furniture in it.

You may have to lower your tripod or angle your camera, but you can fit in the biggest view this way. Also, avoid putting wall and ceiling intersections near the edges of your viewing frame. This helps avoid a distorted look if you are using a wider lens. In other words, it will keep your walls straight!

Lawn photography:

The same basic rules apply for photographing the property’s lawn. Move out to the edge of the property and take a photograph from the corner in to highlight the space and light. You can also try taking overlapping or panoramic views. Even if your camera does not offer a panorama setting, just take a series of pictures with a small amount of overlap in your view screen. When you put them together on a slide show you can do one long picture, or if you put the original series together from left to right you will get a panoramic effect.

Don’t forget to have the lawn mowed, all extra tools and toys stored away, and if there are family dogs…well, you can guess the rest.

Bathrooms:

The bathroom can be tricky because it is the room with light, mirrors and the toilet. Few home buyers are interested in photographs of the toilet by itself. Try to approach the bathroom by highlighting the focal point of this room too. Make sure mirrors and surfaces are clean and streak free. Toiletries should be hidden away, old towels and bathrobes can be left outside the room. Make sure any towels that are hung are fresh and co-ordinate with the room. You may want to consider adding a flowering plant as a finishing touch.

Exterior:

Some of the best exterior shots of a home can be taken right around dusk. You will have soft lighting and the outdoor lights of the home may serve to highlight its features and outline its boundaries. While you will want to practise first – perhaps on your own home – once you get the hang of it, you will enjoy how easy it is to take natural looking pictures. Think of the photos where the sky is darker blue, night is almost falling, solar lights are winking on and the house is a majestic yet well-lit silhouette against the sky.

Planning:

A photo shoot should take time. An experienced photographer might take two hours to photograph a home. So should you. Plan what you want to emphasise in each room. What is its best selling point? Then structure your photographs around it.

For example, if the kitchen breakfast nook really makes the room look good, try taking several pictures with it in various angles in relation to the kitchen. Choose the best look. Do this for every room, first clearing the room of clutter. You can put the clutter just outside the door to the room for the purposes of your photo shoot and then replace it. If you are rushed, it is not a good time to take photographs. There is a certain calm and patience required to get the job done well.

It is not just a cliché; a picture really is worth a thousand words. You can make your pictures count as an integral part of your listing. It is said that most people rely predominantly on visual cues. Present yours in the right light and your listings will be saying, “buy me” in no time.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, Yvonne. And Rob.
    A few years ago someone on the Net posted the most beautiful picture of opened rose-coloured umbrellas floating down a moss-ladened treed canal. I can’t begin to imagine the location but thought if I could identify the photographer I could then get the location. Would be amazing to see in person.

    As to the MLS situation and photo copyrights, in my case I hired and paid for, myself, a terrific professional photographer, and with him as with other suppliers (and agents should note the importance) I had a “work for hire” arrangement. That is a legal term that bypasses the copyright for his “work for me.”

    (Correct me if I’m wrong, but at one time way back in caveman days, submitted photos to MLS then became the property of the board, then that rule changed.)

    A work for hire arrangement can be whatever you agree for it to be. Likewise, the agreement with my printer and my freelance graphics prep people. With that in mind absolutely, agreed to in writing in one instance the graphics design prep fellow, although having agreed to such, and in fact did a beautiful (expensive) job, but made unauthorized changes to my rough. I said no, and refused to sign off on, “put it back they way I ordered it,” but he wanted to charge me for those additional hours of his creativity.

    He also “edited” my copy, uninvited, because he didn’t approve a couple of copy lines (he wasn’t being paid or hired “to edit.”) Copy supplied was not an error, he just didn’t like it, personally, and thought his words were better. And then argued with me that because he was “replicating” my rough (mine) design HE had the right to implement changes. NO. Absolutely not (just a smaller print version of what I had previously successfully used in earlier years), and my material represented the specific property.

    Sadly I had to end that relationship. Because I fired him. He told me the “new” design was his, to do with as he pleased. He wanted the copyright of my beautiful design to “sell” to use for other agents he worked with, so he could promote “his work.”

    It was very sad, but his wife told him I was wrong. NOPE! Next. He got paid, but not for his extra hours creative. And, “no” he could not have the copyright. Apparently his wife did his billing, (but had nothing known about his “contracts). I never had communicated with or through her. I hired “him.” (Lesson learned, just like in real estate: find out who “all” you are engaging with.)

    “Quantum meruit.” [Google def: Quantum meruit is a Latin phrase meaning “what one has earned”. In the context of contract law, it means something along the lines of “reasonable value of services”] or: [in contract law: Latin for “what is deserved.]

    He got paid as what the original job was arranged, (wasted his time and mine putting things back they way I had first instructed), and he lost a very valuable opportunity to do my work in the future.

    But I couldn’t have his (unknown) wife dictating how I hired out “my” work. Sadly, next.

    This should be another good shared example of how real estate or any other business is dealt with, behind the scenes. Large corporations pay plenty to advertising agencies (under contract), to do such work. But as an independent and with my personal work history, I know how to (rough out) design for what I had in mind. Just needed the physical artwork for the printshop.

    More than once an artist’s rough was so great, I instructed my printer to run with the rough because it “spoke” volumes, and served a perfect purpose (including book cover art that in some of my prior career days, I got to approve).

    And when I made such a decision I expected it to be followed: exactly. No need to discuss further, or argue. And if you find an error, by all means let me know, or if you think there is a better way, I’m all ears, but no right to “change my rough” without discussing with me, and then bill me for extra hours. Not clever. But sad. (Again reminded me a little of the happy with my work widow lady seller and her son, as I wrote about recently.)

    Carolyne L ?

  2. How does one discover the owner/copyright holder of a photograph, when such is not noted with the photo, on the internet? Is there a master original photo tracing program out there someplace?

    Also, what is the MLS process, when an agent posts photos paid for by a listing agent, and a couple of years later the property reappears as a new for sale property on MLS, and the then new listing agent uses the original pictures paid for by a prior agent?

    Carolyne L

    • In most cases, the copyright remains with the photographer. The user is normally granted usage rights that are mostly non-restrictive (Maybe excluding re-sale). Sometimes, you can find who the photographer was by downloading the image and right-clicking on the images to view the properties. If you are not the photographer or the person who commissioned the photographer, It’s unlikely you will have permission to use the image.
      I hope that may help?

    • You can search sites such as “tineye.com” but it searches for an exact match of your file, rather than an identical photo. I would just assume the pics are copyright the person who took them. You would have to check if MLS has a policy about photos displayed and rights. It could be part of the MLS system that you must list the name of the photographer when submitting your listing?

  3. I would hope that no one runs out and buys a camera, based on what they’ve read in this article. The author would seem to be advocating for a decent point and shoot camera. No mention has been made of DSLR or interchangeable lenses. The standard kit lens for a DSLR is 18-55 mm., — with 18 mm being wide but not ultra wide. There is also the question of sensor size FX verses DX, but when, of course, you are talking just about point and shoot cameras the aforesaid doesn’t come into it. Decent photography starts with the right equipment and from there one needs to learn how to shoot in manual mode — not presets. A flash is used to create back-lighting, as may be needed. It takes a fair bit of time and effort to learn about digital photography. These subjects can only be broached fully by the real experts, who can usually be found in the shops that specialize in selling cameras. The large camera shops also offer courses in photography — which is what the average person will need to take, if they are serious about learning.

    Professional photographers like to shoot architecture using ultra-wide angle lenses. This is fine for magazine shoots, but as Mr. Martindale so eloquently pointed out, over-marketing tends to have an undesirable effect on prospective buyer’s! Professional photographer’s know how to operate their equipment, but this doesn’t mean that they would shoot the same angle as a REALTOR would, and there in lies another potential problem.

    Great photography is very important, and if the listing REALTOR knows his or her way around a decent camera the value added is substantial.

  4. I once took a buyer client to a cold showing of another brokerage’s listing that my client had seen on the internet. The rooms looked large in the photos, especially the loft bedroom. When we entered the house I thought that we were inspecting the Hobbit’s den. All photos must have been taken with a wide angle lens. It was a joke. The loft bedroom (the attic) was only six feet wide (with six feet of headroom) before one hit one’s head even harder on the 45 degree angled roof/ceiling (it was a wannabe storey and-a-half house). My clients asked me why the listing salesperson would do such a thing as photographically/visually misrepresent the size of the rooms that way when as soon as one entered the premises the absurdity of the ruse would be obvious. I told them that the room dimensions on the listing were fairly accurate (except for the attic bedroom which listed the so-called useable floor space all the way out to the four-foot-high knee walls on both sides of the cave), but that pictures are what people primarily rely on, and sales people know that (read the last lines of the article). We left the house in disgust. My clients said that they would remember the listing salesperson’s name…for all of the wrong reasons. Why do I mention this true story? Read the paragraph entitled “Make it big” again, and pay attention to the third and fourth lines. The last line of the final paragraph also mentions using a wider lens, aka wide angle lens. The author is subtly preaching the merits of easily missed misrepresentation. These photos did not say “buy me”, but rather, they said, “Stay away from this Realtor; he is a gamer”.
    Moral? Don’t make something out to be more than it actually is. You will only make yourself look smaller for doing so.
    P.S.: My client (the wife) did say something interesting though as we left the property, and it was thus: “I bet he uses the same camera to photograph his penis”.

    • Yes, I appreciate the comment. I certainly meant to make large spaces look as large as they are. This can be difficult without taking a series of shots or a panoramic view, depending how much space you have to back up with your camera in order to get it all in. For example, a huge solarium might have a door with a hallway immediately behind it, restricting the space you can back up to get it all in the picture. I would never recommend it for small spaces. I’ve seen listings where it looks as though you are looking through the wrong end of a front door peephole. I think they were trying to make the kitchen look larger than it was but it was cringe worthy.

    • Absolutely correct. A true necessity no matter how good you are. As I wrote the copy below, I took professional photography into consideration.

      It “takes a team” (read support-team) ~ and or it “takes a village” (read “your farm”…) And yes, no one can do it alone. But my belief is that real estate is not a “team-sport,” in any sense of the word or by any definition.

      But I acknowledge that those who manage to function as a success in a team operation need a medal. Question: is any one team person assigned risk management?

      And is each underling responsible for their own COGS? including licensing, mandatory insurances, and course related costs? Or does everyone on the team share costs equally?

      If you want to be a team-leader, perhaps take a job with a regular paycheque yourself: perhaps be a brokerage or office manager. To be a sales team leader and still maintain a private client base is no different than being a selling broker of record. So much responsibility and no continuum guaranteed paycheque.

      There’s a crying need for good ones throughout the industry. The attrition rate or rate of recidivism is far too high a price to pay to lead a team. In the end if analyzed, costs far too much in real dollars. How are income taxes filed?

      My evaluation and sense of collaboration is that, if as stated in another post, a team is like running a brokerage within a brokerage, that what might be the more efficient scaling is what certainly worked for me. And my fixed expenses were minimal and my ROI generous, allowing me to feed my marketing frenzy. An unsolicited call one day from a huge franchise original broker/owner led to his saying that at the end of the day he was sure I had more left at corp year-end than his highest producing agents and their teams. That was a huge compliment that didn’t come easily for him, but he was most gracious. I was forever seen as an anomaly.

      I won’t repeat what I have written at REM ages back, but “my team” was not a group of agents. “MLS” provided us with the most spectacular “team-advantage” by co-oping with the membership at large (by design that is what MLS was put in place initially for – a business sharing helping device), but for me personally, I would advise anyone who considers themself a team leader, to consider “hiring” a personal support-team; superior highly-skilled support “staff,” (under contract).

      Up till now at least (subject to change if and when, with the recent ministry passing Bill so far just read), only the key master brokerage could issue team “agent” paycheques. But I don’t think that applies to agent subset (or contracted) staffers, and “suppliers” (no different than home inspectors or independent sign company installers.) Send an invoice. Get paid.

      And surround yourself by other specialists in supporting careers; people for whom their own personal success, or brand, does all the things you don’t have time to do, or you don’t have the necessary skills to do. They are worth every penny. And they got free advertising through me, too. In my listing presentation binder, I carried copies of their congratulations letters on their letterhead, that provided me the opportunity to discuss “my” support team.

      Hire a professional office set-up organizer (we’re not talking closets), a “professional” on-call photographer at a fixed appointment fee, (I met mine personally at every listing – the best in the business). Nothing sells like professional photography (except a sold sign; the best advertising and selling tool for “next”), and hire a stager if you find it necessary and don’t have that skill-set yourself.

      Cleaners, repair people, office staff; the works. Build a team by hiring professionals in all supporting categories. Aside from training them or teaching them your own personal preferences, they will come to you already (business) trained.

      They don’t need to know how to sell real estate (that’s your job), but they must understand customer-service. An important office organizer makes your day work like clockworks, make sure your diary and trigger files are up to the minute. Books all your appointments, business and personal, freeing up your time to concentrate on business. And I never door-knocked or phone canvassed and neither did my people. But the phones rang off the hook.

      And mine even helped with personal life: In the early nineties when my ex was in hospital for several months locally I drove 35 minutes each way twice a day for five months. (I wrote transactions in the hospital parking lot. And somehow managed to write typical twelve month’s worth of business in seven. My clients came to me, and my private secretary became a sealed envelope delivery person. I was home by ten pm most nights, in time to review the day’s activities, and back in the office by about 8 am.

      Then transferred to Toronto General for surgery, you can imagine the parking issues. Just finding allocated parking was a nightmare. It was less hassle to drive into the city in my car, send my private secretary back to the office for a few hours, driving my car,
      and then to collect me again. Plus we could talk en route. (Pre cell phone days.)

      And the most important hire is your own unlicensed personal assistant; if you can find one who understands boardroom skills, client care necessities, and has shorthand skills, bonus her or him big time. They are literally your business life-line. And never let that person leave. I was blessed beyond measure and mine each even had keys to my house.

      I couldn’t have done it alone and I didn’t. But I was never able to hire a clone-“agent.” Agents thought I was too detail-oriented. They didn’t want to do what I did, or how I did it, but resented my paycheques. I tried three separate ones and for me it just wasn’t worth it. I decided I didn’t want to be a babysitter. So that was my personal success work-around.

      You have to give credit where credit is due. None of my in-house staff ever did any real estate work per se. I planned it that way, specifically. Inside, my (outside) people wanted my success as much as I did. It meant more business for them. And they respected how I worked. And they were appreciated!

      My longest term employee is even in my will. That speaks to her importance. And her value. She knew what file I needed seemingly before I asked. It was like she read my mind. Money can’t buy that vision or ever substantially pay the worth.

      Carolyne L ?

    • Don, that is actually almost a whole other article. I’m sure it’s like hiring any photographer, you really have to know their credentials and see examples of their work. We’ve all heard the wedding photographer stories. How do you know, just based on a few photos and the person’s word, that they can really make your listing shine? Worthwhile if you get a good one, a waste of money if you don’t. Thanks for the idea. ;-)

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