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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