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DIY Real Estate Photography, Shoot and Edit – Part 3

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

Soft Box Reflector

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.

Shoot RAW

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.

Get Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop for just $9.99 per month here.

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.

You’re Done

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!

DIY Real Estate Photography, Shoot and Edit – Part 2

First Things First

If you have not already read DIY Real Estate Photography, The Basics, and DIY Real Estate Photography, Shoot and Edit – Part 1, read them now.

Light it up

When we shoot a home we light every room. At the very least, you need to open window shades or blinds and turn on all the lights. This will make the room feel open and welcoming, but most rooms need more light than open windows and the lights in the room can provide. Rooms that are too dark will produce noisy images. This is because you have to raise your ISO to properly expose the photos when there is not enough light. This is where extra lights come in. I carry two large fixtures with me that add around 800 watts (incandescent equivalent) of light to the room. I place these fixtures out of my shot and try to light the room evenly, minimizing shadows. I would love to carry even more light, but usually it is tough to keep two fixtures out of the picture, and being able to move freely and work quickly outweighs the desire to have more light.

You may be wondering why you would need 800 watts of additional light in a room that already has the windows open and all of the lights on. Besides just lighting a room to properly expose the room, if you are shooting a room with open windows, you need to really light up the room so that the windows aren’t over exposed. Even if your room seems bright, any shot with an open window is liable to have blown out highlights if the room is not significantly bright.

Daylight Balanced

I use daylight balanced CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) lightbulbs for a few reasons. First, usually the easiest way to get a lot of light in a room is to open the windows. The light coming in will most often be a cool blue color (daylight balanced), as opposed to tungsten balanced (yellow). When I add light to the room I want to match the color of the light in the room as closely as I can to make color correction as quick and easy as possible.

The second benefit to using daylight balanced bulbs is more subtle. I will normally turn on all the lights in a room to make it feel a bit more welcoming. Most often, the bulbs in people’s homes are tungsten balanced. When I light a room with sunlight and daylight balanced bulbs, these practical lights are only acting as accents, rather than the primary sources of light in the room. When I white balance my camera for daylight and shoot these tungsten practical lights they have a really nice yellow tint, while the room is still bright white. It all adds up to make the room feel warm and cozy, while still providing the brightness to see details in the room.

Why CFL?

Why CFL and not LED, or incandescent? There are several reasons why I have settled on the lights I have, but they boil down to four main factors – CRI (Color Rendering Index), price, availability, and energy efficiency. We will look at these in order.

CFL lamps offer pretty good CRI (especially for the cost). While they don’t render colors quite as accurately as Incandescent bulbs (which offer the best CRI of the bunch), they render colors well enough that your images will look natural and you won’t have any problems with color correction. I have shot thousands of pictures and many hours of video using this lighting setup and have never run into color problems that couldn’t easily be fixed in post. That is not necessarily the case with LED’s, especially when you use inexpensive LED’s. Even good LED’s tend to have very spiky color profiles, which can make color correction very difficult and can result in very unnatural colors.

Light Sources CRI

CFL Lamps are relatively inexpensive. The lamps I buy are around $13 (for a set of 4) on Amazon, and around $14.50 at Home Depot. Even cheap LED’s are more expensive than that, and when you factor in the awful CRI of cheap LED’s, it just makes no sense to buy them. Good LED’s with better CRI (usually still not as good as CFL’s) are MUCH more expensive than this. Any benefit you would gain from using good LED’s (long life, energy efficiency) is far outweigh by their extremely high cost, and if I need them right away I can walk into any Home Depot or Lowe’s and pick them up.

Incandescent bulbs may seem to be a better choice on several of these fronts, so why not incandescent? While incandescent bulbs offer the best CRI of these options, and are usually less expensive than CFL’s, there are three issues with incandescent bulbs that make them impractical for real estate photography. first, while incandescent bulbs tend to be inexpensive, they are becoming harder to get because of environmental laws. You can’t use bulbs you can’t buy, and the supply and selection are getting smaller by the month. Second, while the CRI of incandescent lamps is very good, they are usually only available in tungsten balanced colors. This creates color correction and white balance problems when mixing them with sunlight. Finally, incandescent lamps are much less energy efficient than either CFL’s or LED’s. This means that they tend to run hotter and require much more energy to use. While I can plug several CFL’s into a single outlet, only a few incandescent bulbs can be plugged into a single outlet. I run the equivalent of 800 watts of incandescent bulbs when I light a room, but they only draw 184 Watts (around 1.7 Amps on a 110 VAC system).

Light the Room Behind as well

Many times when you shoot a room you will see the room directly behind it, through an open door. Don’t forget to light that room as well. You don’t want the house to look like a foreboding cave or haunted house, and nothing gives that impression quicker than a pitch black space behind an open door or down a hallway. Because of limitations in the dynamic range of cameras, when you light a room and expose your camera for that room, even rooms with a bit of light tend to look really dark in photos.

Clean Up

Scan every room for clutter and out-of-place items. Remove any distracting items from the room, but don’t take out items that help the room to feel homey. Remove cat and dog dishes, trash (and trash cans), magazines, clothes, cleaning supplies.

Remember, you are not a maid or a housekeeper. Have your clients clean the house before you get there. While you shouldn’t be doing the majority of the cleaning, you will still need to scan each room carefully before you shoot it and move or discard any items that will detract from the photos.

Stage the Home

If the home you are shooting is empty because the sellers have already moved out, or because the house has never been occupied, it may be necessary to stage the home. This will not make financial sense for every listing, but in cases where the commission will cover the expense, you should stage every room. Empty rooms tend to look unwelcoming and many times buyers find it difficult to picture themselves living in an empty home.

Even if the home you are shooting is furnished, you may still need to move items or add touches to present it in an appealing way. Open window shades, turn on lights, and move decorations or furniture if necessary. Do whatever you need to do to make the home look welcoming and bright.

Compose, Expose, Focus

Remember the fundamentals of good photography. While every shot of every room of every house can’t be a work of art, every shot needs to be carefully composed, properly exposed, and in focus. While composition and focus are relatively straightforward in real estate photography, your understanding of the exposure triangle (ISO, aperture, and shutter speed) will be critical in capturing indoor shots without extra noise and sufficient depth of field. Even with additional lighting, rooms are still relatively dim, and understanding all the elements of exposure will allow you to shoot with the an acceptable f-stop to achieve appropriate depth of field, without raising the ISO to overly noisy levels. Sometimes this requires relatively long exposures and consequently a good tripod is a must.

I don’t think focus requires much discussion here, but I will say that unless there is a very good reason to do otherwise, you should try to put as much of the room in focus as possible. Real estate photography is not shallow depth-of-field portraiture. luckily, your wide-angle lens is going to offer deep depth-of-field and will usually work fine on autofocus. Just don’t forget to check periodically. Review photos and zoom in to check that focus is tack-sharp. This is especially critical on long exposures.

Composition requires a little more thought than focus in real estate photography. Normally, eye-level shots look most natural. However, sometimes you have to raise or lower your camera to keep the walls looking straight and plumb. As you compose, try to accentuate the positive features in the room, while minimizing distractions. I find that if possible, shooting the room from an angle will usually yield more pleasing results than photos taken straight on. A few simple composition tools can be used to add interest to your photos and draw buyers in. The “rule of thirds”, leading lines, diagonals, natural frames, patterns and repetition, and symmetry can all be used at different times to make your photos stand out.


Take three minutes to watch this excellent video to familiarize yourself with the basics of composition.

Not warranting its own section, but correlated to composition, exposure, and focus, is white balance. You need to pay careful attention to the white balance when move from exterior shots to interior shots and as you enter every new room. You can not simply “set it and forget it”. Varying amounts of sunlight from windows and skylights, the number of practical light fixtures in a room, and your ability to augment the room light with your own fixtures will mean that white balance settings will drift and if you are not careful you will have to try and fix yellow or blue tinted photos in post. While this is not impossible, it will add time and effort to post-processing.

Tripod and Ball Head

Real estate photography requires a very specific tripod setup. You need a sturdy, relatively light, tall, tripod and a fast and solid ball head. This is one area where you might be tempted to skimp, but in the end buying a good tripod will save you time and energy, and will offer the flexibility you need to get every shot. In my opinion, only one type of tripod and head setup is really appropriate and I will explain why.

Your tripod needs to be sturdy but light, because you will be moving it A LOT! I usually shoot a few pictures of every room in a house and can shoot over 100 outside, if the lot or landscaping warrant it. In a typical shoot I may move my tripod 300 times. This requires a tripod that will not fall apart, but will also not wear me out from moving it constantly. It should also go without saying that your tripod must be built to support the weight of your camera package. Don’t expect to go to Walmart and buy a $30 tripod.

Your tripod needs to be tall. While you will rarely shoot pictures from above eye-level, sometimes a tall tripod is necessary to get eye-level shots on uneven ground or stairs. Just as important, your tripod needs to be easy to lower. Sometimes the only way to capture a room and keep the walls straight is to lower the tripod.

Read DIY Real Estate Photography, Shoot and Edit – Part 3

DIY Real Estate Photography, Shoot and Edit – Part 1

First Things First

If you have not already read DIY Real Estate Photography, The Basics, do it now. In that guide I tell you exactly what to buy if you want to take great real estate photos. In this article I will tell you what to do to take great real estate photos.

As I said in DIY Real Estate Photography, The Basics, very few marketing elements make the impact of great pictures. Great pictures sell houses, BAD PICTURES KEEP BUYERS AWAY! While I would love to get paid to take pictures of every listing in our market, I know that that isn’t feasible for many reasons. Some listings just aren’t going to support the extra cost of professional photos and some agents really want to do it themselves. In those cases, the listing photos still need to be good. They need to draw buyers in and accurately represent the house (without accentuating the flaws). I have been licensed to sell real estate since 2006 and in that time I have seen so many bad house photos I can’t even count them. Sadly, it seems like there are 100 bad photos for every one good one – and this matters. Buyers care what the pictures look like.

If you follow our guidelines your real estate photography will make a huge jump from amateur (or worse) to very good (and eventually great). Remember, it takes time to learn these skills, but you can do it. If you take your time and think like a home buyer you will be in great shape.

Remember, great real estate photography takes time. A typical professional photo shoot takes a few hours. There are several steps that you need to take to make sure your pictures are the best they can be.

Shoot it Wide

A good wide-angle lens is irreplaceable in real estate photography. Wide-angle lenses allow you to capture the widest view of a room. This means that you will see more of the room (or the landscape) in every shot. while this is helpful in medium to large rooms, it is absolutely necessary for small rooms. There is no way to capture small bathrooms, laundry rooms, mud rooms, or similar spaces without a wide-angle lens. I personally use a Canon 10-18mm lens (which on my APS-C camera equates to 16-28mm on a full-frame camera). This lens allows me to stand in the doorway of a bathroom or laundry room and capture almost the whole room.

Another benefit of wide-angle lenses is that they exaggerate distance. This can make small spaces look larger than they actually are. While the aim of your photography shouldn’t be to falsely represent a home, these lenses prevent homes and yards from feeling cramped or claustrophobic in photos.

With a DSLR

It is because you need to shoot wide that I recommend a DSLR camera for real estate photography. While camera manufacturers have made incredible advancements in point-and-shoot, mirrorless, and even smartphone cameras, none of these options give you the ability to shoot with a wide enough lens to effectively capture real estate photos. Because of the smaller sensors these cameras offer, even with very short focal-length lenses, these camera offer a narrower field of view that a DSLR with a wide angle lens. Crop-factor can be deceiving. There are plenty of 7mm lenses available for Micro 4/3 format cameras, but because of crop factor these are actually capture a narrower field of view than a 10mm lens on an APS-C DSLR or a 16mm lens on a full-frame camera.

READ MORE – DIY Real Estate Photography, Shoot and Edit – Part 2

DIY Real Estate Photography, The Basics

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200th Street East

A desert gem of a property, featuring over 15 acres of land and a 5 car garage. This desert retreat is listed by Mike Bennewitz (CalBRE #01764779). For more information visit AVMike.com or call 661-433-2771.

For aerial video of your luxury listing call Rob 661-674-9232 at or submit an information request form.

DIY Aerial Real Estate Video
REALTORS®, Get the look for yourself! Shoot beautiful aerial video with a DJI Phantom 4 or DJI Phantom 3 Advanced Drone.