How to photograph a home for sale

Photographing propertyThe digital camera is an essential tool for real estate agents, architects, designers and others who regularly take photos of real property. They can also be an important tool for individual sellers who want to photograph their own home for fliers, ads or posting images online.

Whether a professional or not, the importance of taking well-composed and exposed photos of real estate can not be understated. Using a few tried and true techniques can produce near-professional looking images without the need to buy expensive equipment.

Wide angle zoom lens recommended for real estate photography

While a wide angle lens isn’t required for taking real estate photos,  using one can certainly be a plus since more of a scene can be captured than is possible with a standard width lens. Most compact cameras start at the equivalent of about 35mm, but there are a number of models available that have the equivalent of a 28mm lens or wider.

Not only can more of an area of the scene be photographed with a wide angle lens, but wide angle allows you to stand closer to the subject and still fit it in the frame. By moving closer, you can take photos free from unwanted foreground objects such as mail boxes, trees and shrubs.

Two highly praised wide-angle compact digital cameras that do well in low light are the Canon s95 and the Panasonic LX5. They have larger sensors than most compacts and do quite well in low light, though not as well as a digital single lens reflex camera.

If your camera doesn’t have a wide angle lens, check it your models accepts a wide angle converter lens.

Related reading: low light pocket digital cameras – these convenient-to-carry small cameras have wide angle, fast lenses with sensors  They are known for their ability to take low light photos better than most other compacts.

External flash

If you take a lot of inside photos, consider getting a camera with a hot shoe so an external flash can be used. External flashes are much more versatile than tiny built-in flashes. Many can bounce the flash off the wall, providing more natural and diffused light, free from harsh shadows.

Composing real estate photos

Make a habit of checking the composition in the viewfinder or on the LCD prior to taking a photo. There are no hard and fast rules for composing real estate photos, but do keep in mind a few principles.

  • Stage. Before taking a photograph, temporarily move distracting items from the scene such as a car in the driveway, a garbage sign, even the “For Sale” sign. For interior shots, tidy up the room so it looks uncluttered.
  • Highlight positive areas of property.
  • Before snapping the shutter button, review the scene so vertical or horizontal line are perpendicular. This is not always possible when shooting at wide angle due to barrel distortion (see below).
  • Take shots from different angles so nothing obstructs an important part of the scene.
  • Move slightly to the left or right, or back a few steps, before taking a photo. This method can significantly improve composition. Watch composition changes on the LCD, or viewfinder, before pressing the shutter button.

The house shown above was photographed at an angle where too much of the driveway shows; plus the front doors are covered by the shrubs.

A slight change of angle improves the overall presentation of the house: less driveway, front doors are showing, and a few tree branches in the upper right foreground add some depth to the photo. Also note that this photo was taken when the shadows were less harsh.

Photographing real estate outside

The real property should be well lit and devoid of stark shadows. Ideally, the source of light should come from behind the photographer, not behind the house. Try to shoot on a day when the sky is blue and contains clouds. Shoot when a cloud covers the sun so the light is diffused, and dark shadows are barely noticeable. Even bright, overcast days can provide good lighting for outside shots of buildings.

Photographing real estate inside

Photograph the interior on a bright, but overcast day. This prevents streams of stark sunlight from entering the room. Get room well-lit, even when using a flash.

Turn on as many room lights as possible, though make sure none will be in direct view of the camera lens. For the best possible inside illumination, combine lighting. Let natural light from outside enter the room to augment the artificial light. Adjust the white balance setting accordingly.

Issues when photographing real estate

Real estate photography can be challenging. Take a few moments to learn how to address the main problems you may encounter when photographing real estate.

Barrel distortion

barrel distortionWhen taking photos of real estate using the widest lens angle of a digital camera, you will often  encounter barrel distortion. The wide angle lens position causes the edges of an image to look curved or skewed. Lines that you’d expect to appear perpendicular are not.

Barrel distortion is most noticeable when photographing a straight edge near the side of the frame, such as taking wide angle shots of angular buildings, doors and edges of walls. In the illustration, notice how the curvature of perpendicular lines is greatest near the edges of the photo.

Minimizing barrel distortion

To minimize barrel distortion, zoom in the lens closer and move back to get more of the subject within the frame. Watch the effects change on the LCD.

Barrel distortion can be adjusted with many photo editing programs, though avoid distortion as much as you can at the time you take a shot.

Camera shake

Camera shake causes images blur. To prevent camera shake when shooting in low light, place your camera on a tripod or other support such as a tabletop. If you don’t have a remote control, use the built-in self-timer to trigger the shutter.

The Jaggies

jaggies closeupPhotos taken of scenes containing lines at angles or at a diagonal are prone to the “jaggies.” Jaggies occur when lines are in high contrast to the background, such as a roof line against a clear sky. When a large image is reduced in size using a photo editing program with anti-aliasing, the “jaggies” should visually disappear.

To help avoid jaggies when actually photographing subjects with strong angles, change your position or the distance you’re standing from the subject.

Photographing reflective surfaces

When taking photos of items with reflective surfaces, shoot at an angle so reflections are minimized. Avoid using a flash as its light will be recorded in the image and ruin it.

For many more tips on this subject, purchase our popular ebook, How to Photograph a Home. It’s only $3.95 and available for immediate download.

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18 Responses

  1. Gail Bjork says:

    Klh, I’m sorry to hear about your disappointment, but as noted in my Oct. 19, 2011 comment to you, I recommended you contact the real estate site(s) where you want to upload a 360 virtual tour. Nowhere did I say that any camera that produces 360 degree panoramas would be compatible with those sites. You need specialized software to put the individual panorama photos into a virtual tour. Do a search for “virtual tour software” to find out what’s available. Some offer a free trial.

  2. Klh says:

    I used your information regarding ‘low light, less inexpensive cameras that work for real estate photography’. I bought the Fujifilm F500 EXR because of it’s 360 panorama feature noted on your site and how 360 panoramas are in demand for Realtors. The 360 panorama feature on this camera can’t be uploaded to Realtors site in a professional looking manner. I really feel like your information grossly mislead me.
    I’ll read the information you have on this site, but won’t take your recommendations or links on equipment again.

  3. Gail Bjork says:

    Jennifer, I agree that there are downsides to selling a home without a real estate agent. But the fact of the matter is that some people give selling their own home a try, particularly in this difficult housing market. These basic photo tips can be useful to both individual homeowners and real estate agents. I was commissioned to create ebooks about this topic for two large real estate entities. Why? Because they wanted their agents to take better photos of real property.

  4. There are some downsides to selling a home without a real estate agent. Another reason is that buyers realize you don’t have an agent and can try to do some hard negotiating with you and drive your price below market level because you are already “saving money” from not paying a commission and they think they should benefit from those savings as well.

  5. Gail Bjork says:

    Klh, The best thing to do is contact the site you plan to upload the panorama shots. They may recommend software for real estate agents to make to 360 tour that is compatible with their site. They can also tell you how to upload it. Good luck with your photography business.

  6. Klh says:

    This is great information, thank you. I’m trying to start my own photography business by starting with real estate photography. I purchased a camera, recommended here, with the 360 panorama feature. However how do I upload the panorama to a site to offer the 360 tour as seen on most Real Estate sites? Is there special software I need to send the photo in or does the site I upload to need special updates or software?
    I have tagged this page and refer to it often.
    thank you,
    Klh

  7. policeman0077 says:

    useful guide!

  8. bruce says:

    This article is quite helpful. One needs all the help they can get in this terrible housing market.

  9. Gail Bjork says:

    Robert, you are absolutely correct. 35mm is just fine; it is not outdated at all.

    But many find digital more convenient: no waiting for film to be developed, can edit images yourself if you’re so inclined. So much selling of homes is done on the internet today, you can upload images relatively quickly and in some cases, depending on equipment features and broadband availability, almost instantly. While the initial investment for a digital camera is more expensive, it isn’t once you own it. You can take literally hundreds of photos on a memory card. and pick the best ones. Not limited to a 24 or 36 roll of film.

  10. Robert says:

    What about film cameras, you know, 35mm. Alot of comments Im reading are talking like it cant be done without digital. Contrary to popular opinion, 35mm film is NOT outdated.

  11. baba_zi says:

    We are photographing property with wide angel 10mm lenses and the clients are satisfied. For more detail shots we use 18mm. I recommend using the wide angel to convey the space. This is what real estates are after: see sample.

  12. Gail Bjork says:

    Yes, see this article about some of the things you should know about renting lenses and other camera equipment. I’ve rented lenses and glad I did.

  13. Matt Waldon says:

    any suggestions on places to rent any equipment?  i am an avid photographer and one looking to get into real estate photography, however I do not have the means to purchase right away to handle immediate jobs.  thanks in advance.  matt waldon, 601-473-9261.  text me if you are in this business as I have some questions that I need answering.    Matt

  14. Get light bounce box for your external flash, and stand on a chair to take shots, this will make your room larger

  15. Gail Bjork says:

    I certainly can appreciate what you say SoCal but the equipment you mention is geared primarily to pros or semi-pros. The cost of the lenses are prohibitive for most.

    Information at Digicamhelp is geared for novice and intermediate digital camera users. Many of our site visitors don’t use digital single lens reflex cameras. They use compact cameras, which have fairly deep depth-of-field because of their small sensors. I have a wide-angle compact camera with a 2.0 aperture. There is relatively little shallow depth-of-field compared to when using a DSLR lens at a wide aperture, particularly when taking photos at a distance.

    Most compact cameras have zoom lenses so there is no requirement to use wide angle in every circumstance. I will make it more clear in the article that I’m talking about compact cameras with wide angle zoom lenses.

    Thanks very much for your input. From a DSLR standpoint, I can’t fault your recommendations. The information will be very helpful for some who pass this way. If they need more in-depth information about lenses, etc., I recommend they visit sites like the one run by Fred Miranda.

  16. SoCal photog says:

    Contrary to what has been posted, a fast, wide-angle lens is NOT an ideal tool for the job.  When shooting property you will be shooting in the f8-f11 range to achieve an appropriate depth-of-field.  Shooting faster will indeed let in more light, but not enough of the scene wil be in focus.  It is IMPERATIVE to use a tripod.  Shutter speeds may be as slow a 1-second and as such will be impossible to shoot hand-held.  As far as corner-to-corner sharpness is concerned, Canon has introduced 2 new tilt-shift lenses that have really raised the bar for wide angle lenses.  The 17/4L TS-E and the 24mm/3.5L MKII TS-E are both superb lenses.  At $2000+ each they are pricey, but they will create images others simply cannot.

  17. Gail Bjork says:

    Fortunately, there are increasing numbers of digital cameras with wide angle lenses, 28mm equivalent and even wider. The good news too, is that manufacturers such as Panasonic, Canon and Samsung are making wide-angle compact cameras with larger sensors that perform very well in low light. The high ISO performance is not on par with a digital single lens reflex camera, but they do very well compared to compact cameras with smaller sensors. A good example is the Canon s90, which I own.

  18. I agre that a wide angle lens helps a lot and I would add that having a wide agle lens with a low f-stop would help even more. The lower the f-stop the more light will hit the sensor so the situations when you need a extra light will be less frequent. So I would adves to invest in a wide angle lens with a low f-stop.