Property listings that stand out with jaw-dropping visuals are no longer a nice-to-have. For any real estate professional serious about claiming their slice of the market, stellar real estate photography is a must.
Selling more homes is about creating a compelling vision for future homebuyers.
When your listings stand out from the crowd, you instantly draw prospects in and keep them captivated. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, your real estate photography skills — or lack thereof — definitely say something about the quality of your brand.
Consider this your complete guide to nailing your listing photos, with or without the help of a pro.
Table of contents
- Why stellar real estate photography is a must for modern agents
- Should you hire a professional or DIY it?
- 10 real estate photography tips: A quick-and-dirty guide for agents
- The latest and greatest real estate photography tools
Why stellar real estate photography is a must for modern agents
The right real estate photograph can build excitement, anticipation, and ultimately influence a buyer’s decision.
“Without a doubt, professional photography is the most critical element of your listing marketing strategy,” says Michael Yates, Marketing Director at Virtuance.
According to experts like Michael, “Using professional photography is the number one way to get your listing to stand out from the competition and puts you in the best position to get more showings, offers, and ultimately a higher sale price.”
To put this in perspective, your prospect isn’t just thinking about spending $350K on a 4-bedroom with a pool — they’re thinking about who they’ll become when they live in that swanky house with their new custom-designed pool.
Maybe they’re envisioning themselves prepping organic meals for dinner every night. Or waking up refreshed and ready to follow the fast-track to the C-suite.
Whatever it is, your real estate photos offer a crucial first glimpse into that vision. It pays to get it right.
Should you hire a professional real estate photographer or DIY it?
You can probably guess our answer to this one. Whenever possible, you always want to go with a pro.
In the words of famous photographer Ansel Adams, “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
To put it in less poetic terms, there’s a whole heck of a lot that goes on behind the scenes to create a truly eye-catching photo. Photography is an entire skill in and of itself and we’re guessing you’d rather stick to real estate.
But if you’re still undecided, let’s take a minute to weigh your options.
Pros of hiring a professional photographer
- Sell your properties faster. The right images can draw in and motivate buyers to schedule property viewings, stat. More viewings, more chances to sell.
- Make every room look awesome. Some rooms can be small and tricky to photograph. Others can be plain and lacking in depth. A pro photographer will know how to make the most of any space. They’re trained to have a critical eye and can use lighting, angles, and virtual staging software in ways you never imagined.
- Specialized equipment and software. Professional photographers have the camera, lenses and lighting equipment to handle any challenges a property may bring. They can also enhance the photos to make them look extra awesome through expert editing.
Cons of hiring a professional photographer
- False expectations. Sometimes the photos don’t depict the reality of a home. For instance, if a room is small a professional photographer may use a wide-angle lens to capture the whole room in one shot. But this may also result in the room appearing to be larger than it really is. You run the risk of disappointing potential buyers when they see the property in real life.
- Quality photos take time. When you hire a professional photographer, you’ll need to schedule the shoot and you may also need to wait a few weeks for editing. This isn’t ideal if you’re under pressure to sell the property asap.
Pros of taking the photos yourself
- Fast results. It’s typically quicker to take your own photographs. There’s no major scheduling involved and no need to wait on the photographer to edit and send them back to you.
- Cost effective. If you take the photos yourself, you can definitely save some cash that'd have otherwise been spent on a pro photography service.
- Image ownership. Some photographers want to keep the rights to the photos. In those situations, you post the pics only for your listing and they protect their work so that no other photographer can use the images for their benefit. If you DIY your photos, this is a non-issue.
Cons of taking the photos yourself
- Image quality. Unless you’ve had some photography training, you won’t be able to get the same image quality a professional would.
- Takes time away from other tasks. Yes, taking the photographs yourself means you’ll have the end product quicker. But you’ll have to set aside some time not only for the shoot but also organizing and editing your photos.
10 real estate photography tips: A quick & easy guide for agents
Okay, let’s get real. We’ve all seen the hilariously bad listing photos.
We know we need a pro photographer to show off our listing’s true potential and get the best possible deal for our clients. But there are times when, for whatever reason, you just have to roll up your sleeves, pick up the iPhone, and snap your own photos.
Here are our tips for going the DIY route and still getting great results from your real estate photography.
1. Remove all clutter
Clutter is the common denominator in so many bad real estate photos and it doesn’t have to be hoarder-level to leave the wrong impression.
That’s why it’s essential to start with a blank canvas.
You may need to go as far as emptying the kitchen sink, clearing the counter tops, and removing other unnecessary items that may look distracting — like extra chairs or shoes on the floor.
When in doubt, imagine yourself as the customer. What kind of photos would you expect to see from a professional real estate agent?
2. Prioritize using natural light
It’s time to let the light in.
Open all curtains and blinds to get as much sunlight into each room as possible. Natural lighting is a best practice for both DIY and professional pics and unless you’re using a professional flash, it’s downright crucial.
Speaking of flash, while this tool may come in handy, you’ll almost always get crisper and cleaner photos with natural light. Natural lighting also helps emphasize a homey environment, which can help prospects envision themselves in the property.
Source: Douglas Sheppard
3. Strike the right height balance
Aim for a natural height when shooting your photos.
Photos taken from an awkward height not only look amateur — they can also create a strange “fun house” effect.
You don’t want to go too low as this will likely reveal too much of the furniture. You also don’t want to go too high as you’ll get too much of the ceiling.
A good rule of thumb is to keep all vertical lines (think walls and cabinet edges) straight.
Source: Naomi Hébert
4. Plan your shot list in advance
Create a predetermined shot list so you can arrive at the property knowing exactly what you need and waste no time taking awkward pictures of the bathroom sink.
Here’s an example of a solid shot list:
- One to two photos of the front of the home (try to get different angles)
- One to three photos of the backyard
- One photo of the bathroom
- Two wide shots of the kitchen, bedroom, and living room
- One shot each of any additional features around the home
Of course, each property also has its own unique selling points, so be sure to leave room in your photoshoot schedule to photograph any special amenities.
5. Fall in love with staging
To make each room appealing, you’ll need to get serious about staging.
Start by removing overly personal or controversial items, such as items that indicate political affiliations, sports team preferences, or religious icons.
Next, consider people’s pet peeves (think: fridge magnets, dirty mirrors, wrinkly sheets, etc.). Your goal is to make sure the property looks as close to perfection as possible.
Once you’re done staging each room, do a full walkthrough before starting your shoot. Ask yourself: Is there anything that could turn a potential buyer off the property? Is there anything I should add?
Remember, you’re selling a lifestyle. If your property is the perfect fit for newlyweds with no kids, go ahead and set up a dining room table for two and add some candles and fresh flowers.
Focus on creating an inviting space that helps prospects imagine what it'd be like to live there.
Pro Tip: Some of the latest virtual staging tools are super user-friendly. Check out some options in tip number 10 below!
Source: Good Housekeeping
6. Shoot using the “rule of three”
The “rule of three” in professional photography is a composition rule that helps viewers focus their eyes on a target subject in the photograph.
In real estate, the target subject might be a lush backyard garden, a custom fireplace, or a gorgeous new roof.
To follow this rule, take a look at a room or exterior and decide where you’d like prospects to focus their eyes when viewing your photograph. Then, position your subject matter so it falls on at least one of the four middle corners on your camera’s grid lines before shooting the image.
Here’s an example of the four corners we’re referring to:
Source: The Lightening Bolt
In this example, the core subject matter would be the top right of the house's front exterior, highlighting beautiful Spanish tilework on the roof and a second floor balcony.
7. Pay attention to white balance
It’s a bit of a misnomer, but the “white balance” of a photo refers to the overall color or hue of the image.
For instance, if you notice a photo has an overall greenish tone, it has a cool white balance. If it has an overall reddish tone, it has a warm white balance.
In real estate, we want the white balance in our images to look as clean, natural, and balanced as possible. In other words, aim for a neutral/slightly warm overall color tone when shooting your photos. You can strike the best balance by choosing the right time to shoot your photos.
For instance, if it’s too late in the day, your white balance might come across overly blue. If it’s too early in the morning, you may end up with a brown or gray tone. If it’s too sunny outside, you may have red toned images.
The solution? Photograph during white balance friendly time windows, such as an hour after sunrise and an hour before sunset — though you may need to play around with this depending on where you live. If all else fails, a warm tone is better than a cool tone.
If you miss the target with your white balance, don’t worry. While it can be a bit time consuming, you can clean up the white balance during the editing process if necessary.
8. Make sure the windows are clean
A simple way to let more light in and make the home appear bigger from the outside is to prioritize having squeaky clean windows.
Go above and beyond by hiring a professional housekeeper to make sure your windows sparkle. The same rule applies to other details, such as fixtures, moldings, and ceiling fans.
Source: Francesca Tosolini
9. Harness the power of photo editing software
If you made it this far, you might be thinking this real estate photography thing is no big deal after all. But don’t be fooled.
The editing process is major. And it’s where pro photographers really work their magic. But lucky for you, there are a number of tools that can make editing accessible for those of us with no formal photography training.
For the purpose of this guide, we’re going to concentrate on the one must-have: HDR (High Dynamic Range).
In essence, HDR photography takes different photos of the same image (one light, one normal, one dark) and then merges them to create an incredibly dynamic photo, using the contrasting shades of light from the different images.
Source: HDR photo editing service, PhotoUp
This software has been around for years in the photography world and was recently introduced to iPhones and some Android devices.
Here are three HDR editing software programs for real estate photography, according to Skylum:
All of the above have their strong and weak points. For instance, Adobe Photoshop allows you to merge the different exposures into one image and edit every little detail of an image — but it can also be pretty complicated to wrap your head around.
If you’re new to this, you may have an easier time with Aurora HDR or Adobe Lightroom.
10. Wow prospects with next-gen real estate photography tools
You probably already know about the jaw-droppingly cool AR and VR tools out there, but you might be surprised to find out that some of them are much more affordable than you think.
Here are some of the high-octane options you can use to make your listing photos even more powerful.
Virtuance is one of the leading real estate photography companies in the country. They provide HD still images, HD virtual tours of the property, and free marketing tools.
Pricing depends on your zipcode. Use this tool to find out how much prices cost in your area.
iStaging is an affordable DIY staging solution you can use to create 3D tours, panoramas, and showrooms. You can also use it to customize tours.
Prices range from free to custom depending on the tools, packages, and add-ons you choose.
Square Foot Productions a professional virtual staging service that offers robust solutions, such as:
- Occupied-to-vacant edits
- Clutter removal
- Image editing
- Virtual and commercial virtual staging
- Virtual daytime-to-twilight editing
- Aerial spotlight
Prices range from $1.50 per photo for basic editing to $150 per photo for commercial remodeling edits.
Matterport creates impressive 3D and virtual reality models to help buyers digitally experience a home. To use the service, all you need is a plan and an iPhone (or digital camera).
Monthly subscription plans range from free forever to $69 per month. Custom pricing is also available for enterprises.
Ready to nail your next real estate photoshoot?
With the right tools and expectations, shooting your own real estate photos isn’t so scary after all. In fact, we’re willing to bet that with a plan in hand (and our fabulous tips 😉) you may even get excited about your next listings shoot.
And if not, it’s never a bad idea to hire a pro to do the job for you — especially now that you know what you’re looking for.
Whatever you do, don’t neglect this part of your listings package. Because in the new game of real estate, great photos are no longer an option — they’re your first digital handshake with future customers.
Whether it’s hiring out or DIY-ing it, be sure to follow these tips and always put your best photography foot forward. Happy selling! (And snapping!)