5 Tips for Capturing and Editing Real Estate Photography

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Capturing and editing Real Estate Photography is a great skill to have as a photographer. It’s a fun way to open your eyes up to new subjects and compositions. Photographing real estate is also a smooth transition into shooting architecture and buildings. I want to share my five tips that will help you capture and edit your real estate photos.

1. Keep Your Camera Level

One of the essential things in photographing real estate is to keep your camera level. This is to ensure that your verticals are straight. By verticals, I mean the vertical lines that run from the ceiling to the floor. If the vertical edges of walls, appliances, windows and many other things aren’t kept straight, it will make your photo look like the building was tipping over. If you have to tilt your camera up to shoot the exterior or if you want to get artsy from a high or low angle remember to keep your camera level. Most digital cameras have a leveling tool built into them, but you can also purchase a hot-shoe level for around three dollars on Amazon. If you look at the examples below, you’ll notice how odd the photo looks when the verticals are crooked. Straight vertical lines seem more realistic and appealing, helping the viewer envision the space.

 

2. Angles, Composition, and Framing

When photographing real estate, it’s also incredibly important to think about which angle to shoot from, your composition, and how you want to frame your photo. Generally speaking when you’re photographing real estate you’re trying to make the most of the space. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are trying to make the room or area seem as big as possible. I like to think of this as taking all of the elements in your scene and framing them in such a way that the viewer can immediately get a sense of how that space feels. Taking advantage of all of the elements within your area will help you to choose how you compose.

Photographing real estate is a lot like taking a group photo. You wouldn’t want to leave someone out of frame or out of place in the shot. In real estate, you’re using this same mindset except rather than people you are dealing with the areas marketable features. Marketable features are the number one thing you should consider when photographing a space. Marketable features include windows, fireplaces, flooring, countertops, etc. Any feature that pops into people’s heads when they are looking to buy a house could be considered a marketable feature. I like to think of them as the subjects in my photos.

When you’re sizing up your space to photograph it’s essential to consider which angles would showcase your subjects in the best way possible. Ideally, you want to compose your photo in such a way that utilizes your verticals for framing whether that be the edge of a painting or a wall or appliance. You also want to bring the viewer into the space with leading lines. You can achieve this by taking advantage of lines from flooring, baseboards, cabinets, furniture, etc.

Let’s take this shot below for example. When I was setting up my camera, I tried to study the space a little to find the best vantage point. I set up my camera in the corner of the room opposite the window which is the most eye-catching area in this space. The angle I chose also showcased the hardwood floors, using their lines to lead the viewer’s eye into the window area. Even though the piano isn’t a marketable feature, it is showing that you can fit large objects into this room very comfortably. Same with the scrolls hanging from the wall; they don’t come with the house, but they show the long side of the room, giving the viewer a sense of how large it is. Another reason I chose this angle was that it allowed me to utilize the third wall. The third wall I’m referring to is the smaller wall on the left which I used to help frame the right side of the frame. The left side of the frame I used the scroll to frame, allowing for some padding after cropping.

Using a third wall can help your photo have leading lines and will give you a beautiful frame to compose. It will also help to provide a realistic sense of the size of that space. Without the third wall in your photo, it’s tough to gauge size. Generally, I like to use the third wall in my photos if possible. I get that all situations are different however and that you can’t always have a third wall. In the picture below I wasn’t able to capture the third wall in my photo, but the angle I was at allowed the kitchen island to become my leading lines. Also, rather than composing the image to have a third wall, I composed the shot to capture a little of each window (marketable feature) on each side of the kitchen to frame my shot.

In the examples below you can see the difference of having a third wall and not having one.

Remember to study your space before composing your photo. Think about what your subjects are and try to compose at an angle that best showcases them. Use verticals to help you frame your composition and remember to keep your camera level.

3. Use a Tripod

The last tip for photographing real estate I have for you is to use a tripod. Tripods are essential in keeping a level and precise photo. They also allow you to take longer exposures which will help you if you come across a tricky lighting situation. I recommend using a ball-head tripod which makes it easy to level your photo quickly.

Also, pay attention to your tripod height. When gauging the height of my camera, I like to think about how someone would be viewing the room if they were in that space and experiencing it. So for example, if I were photographing a living room, I would position my camera at about the height of someone’s eye when they were sitting down. In kitchens, however, you are usually standing, and also there are typically high counters to avoid, so I position my camera about mid-face level. If your tripod is too high, it can make the space seem very small, or it can be distracting from your subject. For exterior shots, I usually raise my tripod to about face level, also.  This allows for realistic height and width appearance for the exterior of buildings and homes. As a tip, if you’re having a tough time figuring out how high to take your photos, take two different sets of photos at different heights and see which one you like best. Just like everything in photography, I feel like playing and practicing is the best way to learn.

In the examples below you can see the height difference in my tripod in the living room and the kitchen.

4. Developing Your Photos

When developing your real estate photos, you’re probably going to have some blown out areas in your shot, especially if you are photographing an interior with a bright window. If you are shooting with HDR, you may not have as big of a problem, but it’s still important to pay attention to highlight and shadow detail. How I start editing a real estate photo is I hold down the J key to show me the true white and black areas in my picture. Any out of place red you’re seeing is true white without any detail, and any blue you’re seeing is true black without any detail. I then pull back on my exposure to get rid of the majority of true white in my photo. Then I pull up on the very powerful shadows slider to reveal the shadow details. Once I have my shadow details in check, I hold the J key again and pull back on the black slider to put some true black into my photo. This should give you a basic tonality and get you started with editing.

A few other things to keep in mind when processing your photos is to pay attention to the temperature. If your photo is very warm compared to when you shot it (this happens a lot with HDR), then you can decrease the temperature to cool it down and bring some white back. As another tip, if you’re not getting your photo to pop as you want it, try increasing your mid-tones slider a little and adding some structure. You don’t have to be shy when adding structure, and I usually add about 20-30 to keep everything in frame sharp.

5. Retouching

The last tip I have for you is to retouch your photos to clean them up. Since there are so many large tonal areas (walls, floors, etc.), it’s easy to see dust spots, lens flares and other things that can be distracting to your viewer. You may have also missed some things when shooting or didn’t see something on a counter that you can remove easily in Photo RAW. Cleaning up your photos will get you in the practice of going above and beyond. Even if it’s tiny and you think they may not notice, get into the habit of cleaning your photos because your work will only keep benefiting.

Using the perfect eraser should do the trick to clean up your photo from dust or lens flares. If the perfect eraser doesn’t work for the distractions, use the clone stamp tool to remove or cover up them up.

The rule is generally to avoid having your camera in a reflection, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Another tip if you don’t have any choice but to shoot into a mirror or reflective surface and need to remove your camera later; try to position your camera so that a blank wall is behind it. This makes it easier for you to remove the camera in post-processing if there is a large wall of similar tone behind it.

I hope you find these tips useful. If you have any questions for me, please let them in the comments.

5 comments on “5 Tips for Capturing and Editing Real Estate Photography”

  1. On August 6, 2018 at 6:46 pm Kevin King wrote:

    All great tips. I’ll add a few more: 1) always bracket (I shot two over, one over, on the meter, one under and two under); 2) shoot natural light (with the home’s lights on)… flash can be tricky and there is usually no ‘do over.’ 3) combine your natural light, bracketed shots with a post-processing HDR tool (like in On1 RAW) and compare it to any/all of the individual exposures and choose the best; 4) white balance will change from room to room… I used ExpoDisc in EACH room before shooting it; 5) showcase each room’s best features; 6) make sure your final shots all resemble each other in color balance/saturation/exposure so they look coherent; 7) take some shots of details… if there is an attractive monument sign at the subdivision entrance, shoot it. If the appliances are a high-end brand, get a closeup of the brand name. If the street is hard to find, take a shot of the corner street sign showing the name of the intersecting street, too. If there is a whole-house alarm, shoot the wall panel. If there is a neighborhood clubhouse and/or pool, get them too. These can be throw-aways, but I usually ended up using them in the brochure and/or slide show. Your job is not to take “pictures,” it’s to draw the prospect into wanting to pick this house out of the clutter of houses… to go see it.

    1. On August 7, 2018 at 12:19 pm Dylan Kotecki replied:

      Great tips! Each of the shots in the tutorial were only one exposure but I do usually shoot in AEB. I do the same thing when it comes to neighborhood and community shots, better to have and not need.

    2. On August 7, 2018 at 12:38 pm Terry Thomas replied:

      There is another trick to capture room lights:
      * camera on a sturdy tripod
      * remote shutter trigger plugged in (US $6 on eBay)
      * set the exposure for a relatively long time such as 1/2 or 1 or 2 seconds or more
      * frame and focus your shot
      * turn off autofocus
      * use the Mirror Up function if your camera has it
      * trip the shutter
      * have the Realtor or home owner flick the light switch on then off quickly
      * the shutter will close
      * review the image on your digital camera’s display
      * repeat if needed

      Once you learn how to do this, you will have zero time in post-production blending lights because it got it all in one shot!

      This works because most lights do not instantly come up to full intensity.

      //////////////////////

      Another blending technique to use is when you have a very bright area in your frame such as a window or parking lot lights in a night scene:
      * camera on a tripod
      * remote shutter trigger plugged in
      * set the exposure time for a couple seconds, if possible
      * set your camera to Mirror Up if you have this feature
      * frame and focus your shot
      * be sure autofocus is turned off!
      * trip the shutter
      * move a black piece of felt through the image area blocking some of the light
      * the shutter will close
      * review the result on the camera’s digital display
      * repeat if needed

      This works because the moving black piece of felt won’t be sending any light to the camera’s sensor or film. (Yes, I still photograph architecture with film in large format cameras.) You will be blending overly bright areas with darker ones.

      You can find 12-inch squares of felt at art supply stores such as Hobby Lobby here in the USA for about $1. Every one of my film and digital camera cases has a 12 inch square of felt in it for just this purpose.

      Terry Thomas…
      the photographer
      Atlanta, Georgia USA

  2. On August 7, 2018 at 12:14 pm Terry Thomas wrote:

    “The third wall I’m referring to is the smaller wall on the left which I used to help frame the right side of the frame.”

    Actually, I believe you meant the smaller wall on the right.

    Terry

  3. On August 20, 2018 at 2:43 pm Ed Adams wrote:

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention using a tilt-shift lens?

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