First Things First
If you haven’t read the previous posts in this series, do it now. Check out DIY – Real Estate Photography, The Basics, DIY Real Estate Photography, Shoot and Edit – Part 1, and DIY Real Estate Photography, Shoot and Edit – Part 2. Now, let’s get started.
Take it Outside
We have concentrated on interior real estate photography in the previous posts, but it’s time to take a quick look at exterior pictures now. For the most part, the fundamentals are the same. You will be using the same equipment and skills, but exterior photos require a few additional considerations.
Time of Day
In real estate, “golden hour” is a myth. While it is true that exterior pictures taken when the sun is low on the horizon will have a beautiful warm glow, in real estate, shooting in golden hour is normally impractical. When the sun is low on the horizon, it will mean that one side of the house is lit beautifully, while the opposite side is completely dark from shadows. When shooting homes you need to shoot when the sun is high overhead. This will shorten shadows and light all sides of the house evenly. Some homes will have beautiful landscape lighting or views of the city lights at night. While it may be desirable to shoot these homes in the evening, this will require shooting the home twice, because the majority of the interior and exterior shots will need to happen when around noon. If it is really necessary to shoot the home in the evening, plan on coming back.
Light it up – Outside too
Even at high noon, you may still need to add light when shooting outside. I find that shooting under patio covers and porches sometimes requires additional light to properly expose the details under the shadows against the brighter outside areas. When you are lighting outside areas you will need some directional lights. I find using the soft box reflector with the diffuser off works pretty well for this.
Don’t Skimp on the Details
As a rule, you should aim to shoot the whole house. I usually try to capture the exterior of a house from several angles, showing all the the exterior walls. I shoot many angles of the yards, with the aim of highlighting all of the special features of the landscaping and any important details that need to be communicated to buyers. Inside the house, I try to get a few angles of every room. I usually try to at least show a room from its point of entry and from inside the room, looking out. While I may not provide all of these photos to my clients I want to have several options to choose from.
After you have shot dozens of photos of the house you will have to process them. Shooting RAW will mean you have more latitude to process these photos in post. Real estate photography is very different from other types of photography, in that you don’t necessarily want an artistic look. The objective of shooting great real estate photos is to present a house in a realistic, but inviting light, that will attract buyers. While most MLS’s have rules against altering (photoshopping) photos in ways that misrepresent the condition of the home – like adding grass to dead yards, basic post-processing is always necessary.
I find that I usually have to lift the shadows or lower the highlights in most photos. Shooting RAW will allow you to recover many details in shadows and highlights that your otherwise be lost, if shooting jpegs.
Time to Edit
Because the rules of most multiple listing services prohibit drastic editing of listing photos, post-processing on real estate photos is a relatively straight forward process. I will share a few tips to help your photos have the most impact. As I said before, I usually lift the shadows real estate photos. While high contrast can serve other types of photos well, in real estate you don’t normally want details hiding in the shadows. you also don’t want your photos to be overly dark. Bright rooms are more welcoming than dark ones. This requires careful attention to exposure when you are shooting, but don’t neglect to brighten photos slightly in post.
Sometimes it is necessary to lower the highlights a bit, but important to avoid overexposing your photos when you take them. While you can normally push the shadows a bit to reveal details, blown out highlights are usually harder to recover in post. Make sure when you are shooting photos that your skies are blue, not white. Make sure lights and reflections are not completely blown out. You can do this by checking the histogram on photos when you shoot. If areas of the histogram are spiking to the top of the graph you need to adjust your exposure.
Make sure your whites are white. You should be careful to set your white balance correctly when you are shooting, but if you shoot RAW, white balance is not baked in to the file. One of the most obvious mistakes I see in real estate photography is improper or mismatched white balance. As you go through your photos, make sure whites are white, and that photos don’t have a noticeable blue or orange tint. Then, make sure that the overall color tone of all your photos match. This small step will make a huge impact on moving your photos from amateur to professional.
Crop out the junk. For MLS photos there is normally not a good reason to crop photos drastically. You should aim for approximately a 3×2 to 4×5 landscape orientation for all of your photos, but don’t be afraid to crop a bit. Your RAW images be much larger than necessary for the MLS or posting on the web, which means you have some latitude to crop out distractions, or to reframe or zoom in on important details. I normally shoot for a final image no smaller than 2000 pixels on its wide edge.
These basic corrections can be done in almost any photo editor or library program, but the next two tips require a professional photo editor like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. You can get both Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop for just $9.99 per month here.
When shooting with wide-angle lenses, sometimes walls can appear slightly distorted. Lightroom provides very powerful lens correction with built-in presets for most popular lenses. It only takes a few clicks in Lightroom to straighten the curved lines in your photos.
Another issue you can run into when shooting interior shots especially, incorrect perspective. Unless your lens is level when you shoot, walls will appear to appear to lean in or out. Adobe Photoshop has very powerful perspective correction which can make walls look plumb with just a few clicks.
Work quickly, at first. When I am processing photos, I usually import them into Apple Photos first. In Photos I can quickly preview all of my photos and favorite the ones I want to work on. Then I add my favorites to a new folder. This process takes just a few minutes. I find that I can normally do 80% of my processing in Photos too, so I like to start here. You may find another workflow that suits you better. That’s ok.
After I have added my favorites to a folder, I will go through them one at a time and quickly adjust the exposure, highlights and shadows. Then I will crop them if needed and export them. That gets me through the bulk of the photos.
For ones that need a bit more work, I will add them to another folder while I am editing in Photos. If I see that they are going to need more processing than I can quickly do in Photos, I won’t do anything to them. I just get them into a folder so that when I am done editing in Photos I can export them all to work on them in Lightroom and Photoshop. At this point I export them in their original format (with no changes to the files). While this creates additional copies of these photos, it is much quicker than going through them one by one and moving or copying them by name. When I am done processing them in Lightroom and Photoshop, I delete all the duplicates and am left with only my original photos and the edited exports.
At this point I will open these exports in Lightroom and do all of my normal processing (adjusting exposure, white balance, shadows, and highlights), and I will apply lens correction. If no additional editing is needed, I will export them from Lightroom, but if I need to fix perspective or cropping I will open them in Photoshop and finish there.
While this may seem like a lot of work, I find that only a small percentage of my photos need to be processed in Lightroom, and even less need to be processed in Photoshop, so most of my processing is done very quickly in Photos. This is an area where your workflow preferences may be different than mine, and that’s ok. There is no right way to do this. Do what works the best and is the fastest for you.
Well, almost. The last step in post-processing is exporting the photos in a format that is suitable for uploading to the internet. I usually export JPEG’s that are just under 2MB, with a resolution of 3000 pixels on their long edge, as 2MB is a common limit on many MLS’s and web services. At this size, only mild compression is needed to keep the files under 2MB, meaning that the pictures will look very nice and will not show compression artifacts. 3000 pixels is more than enough resolution for any display, so unless you are going to be printing posters you don’t need to go much larger than this.
Once I have exported all my photos I will back up my original files and all the exports to an external hard drive (or two). Then I delete them from Photos.
Now You’re Done
That’s it for the basics. Look for an upcoming article on advanced techniques and equipment. In the mean time, read The Best of The Digital Photography Book Series: The step-by-step secrets for how to make your photos look like the pros’!, by Scott Kelby and start taking great photos!