It’s time to sell your home and you’ve completed inspections, made repairs, de-cluttered and are ready for real estate photography. The final step before welcoming potential buyers to view the home is to create marketing materials that will convince them to show up. Online ads, print brochures and the Multiple Listing Service listing all require high quality photographs that showcase the best features of your property. We’re going to review what sellers and their agents can do before, during and after the photo shoot to create compelling images, whether they hire a professional photographer or take the photos themselves.
Before The Photo Session
Start by creating a scene list that identifies special features of property. Those features can be anything from a functional item, such as hot tub, to a panoramic ocean view. Real estate photographers typically have a “shot list” of standard photos that are a good starting point and should be augmented with your scene list to make sure all special features receive special attention during the photo shoot. Provide the scene list to the photographer when booking their services to help them understand the scope of work and time required.
On the day before or day of the photo shoot, follow the steps described in our Cozy Charming Crazy Real Estate video “Home Selling Tips – Getting Ready for Showings.” These final touches make your property shine just prior to an open house or scheduled showings and are also beneficial to making the property look the best it can in photos.
During The Photo Session
Sellers typically have little to do during a photo shoot, especially when the property is vacant, so most of the time they do not need to be present. If you will be present, ask the photographer before the session starts how (or if) you can help – then follow their guidance. Photographers usually have their own “workflow” pattern, which typically starts with a walk-through of the property to turn on lights, align furniture, open or close doors and windows, arrange pillows, etc. If a scene list has been provided, the photographer will confirm updates to their shot list and determine if any special equipment (e.g. lighting) is needed. I recommend not disturbing the photographer during the session, as most of the time they will be thinking through each scene and adjusting their equipment on-the-fly while trying to work as efficiently as possible.
Many photo shoots require multiple shot lists based on the type of photos and equipment used. Here are four typical real estate shot lists used by Downpour Media LLC (an owned affiliate of Cordon Real Estate) for a typical home or business facility photo shoot.
Still Photos. This shot list includes almost all the images that will be used in MLS listings and brochures. Below is a typical shot list for a still photography session. Note that shots 29 and 30 capture the home’s exterior at night and feature exterior and interior lighting. Shots 31 and 32 are taken off-site at local points of interest.
Video. Shooting video captures the flow of movement from room-to-room as well as the look of each area. Therefore, a floorplan sketch or script is often created to guide the action. If the listing agent is featured in the introduction, closing and/or during the tour, or provides voice-over, that will be written into the script. Videos are usually taken just before or after still shots.
Overhead. Overheads are exterior shots typically taken from a drone. Prior to availability of affordable drones for real estate photography, many overhead shots were taken from nearby elevated vantage points (tall hills or roof tops) with a zoom lens. Some photographers shoot overheads from boom vehicles, which can be rented for $300 to $600 per day and provide 30 to 60 feet of stable elevation. Shooting drone photos for commercial purposes, such as marketing real estate, requires an FAA license and many restrictions apply. Care must be taken to ensure overhead shots do not violate neighbor’s privacy or FAA regulations.
Floor Plan. Some photographers offer professional-quality floorplans created by scanning the interior of the property. Commonly used systems require an uninterrupted walk-through, so the scan is usually performed on the same day as still and video photography.
After The Photo Session
Photographers typically spend several hours editing and formatting photographs and video files to prepare them for use in marketing media. Powerful editing tools can make the job a snap, but there are some do’s and don’t that limit how much photos can be changed and how they should be formatted during editing.
- Photographs must show the property as it is. Items should not be deleted from original images to improve the look of the property, especially if those items are fixed. Here is an example of how a photo can be edited to remove background features buyers might consider negatives. Removing such items is a firm don’t.
- Actual colors should be preserved in all real estate photography. Different sources of light can result in color shifts in digital images that can be corrected. For example, an interior wall illuminated by sunlight shining through a window will appear its actual color. In a corner of the room where sunlight is no longer the primary source of light, the wall might be illuminated by a table lamp. The fluorescent bulb in the lamp may produce a different “temperature” of light that makes the wall appear a soft shade of orange or brown. Editing the photograph to show the wall in its actual color in the corner is considered appropriate since the lamp is not a fixed item.
- Don’t include feature photos of items that don’t convey with the property. It is common for MLS listings to include several photographs of useful or attractive items that make a positive emotional connection with potential buyers. However, if those items are not included in the sale of the property, featuring them could be false advertising. For example, if a lakefront property has a dock on the water, it would be appropriate to share photos of the dock. If the seller has a nice boat and the boat is normally tied up at the dock, it would be appropriate to have the boat in the dock when pictures are taken. If detailed photos of the boat’s motor, control panel and seating are published in the listing and the boat is not included in the sale, that could be a problem.
In the photograph below, we see a blender jar found in a kitchen cabinet in a vacant house listed for sale in the San Francisco Bay Area’s East Bay. I was about to throw the jar in the trash, then I discovered it was part of a fixed feature of the home. Look closer and you’ll see it’s seated in a counted-mounted blender installed in the 1970’s. The dial next to it controls the speed and the disk is the cover for the drive when not in use. The blender still worked great and I featured it in the MLS listing when the house sold in 2019.
- Photographs should have a consistent orientation, aspect ratio and size. MLS systems and property marketing sites (e.g. Zillow, realtor.com) have photo viewers that work best when all uploaded images are formatted identically. Standard format is usually landscape (horizontal) orientation with an aspect ratio of 4:3. If a property feature is shown best in portrait (vertical) orientation, such as stairs or tall windows, the image should be sized to the same vertical dimensions as the landscape photos. This keeps the photo viewer from having to shrink and expand as photos are displayed, which can be distracting. Systems may have minimum or maximum size requirements, usually expressed in pixels. Images to be used in other media, such as in printed brochures, may be delivered with quality improvement edits and in the orientation and aspect they were shot in so they can be easily formatted for their eventual use.
- Do understand that submitting photos to the MLS and most other real estate listing sites grants those businesses certain rights to display and distribute your photos to support your listing and to promote their business. They commonly watermark photos with their own information and will not accept photos that have been marked with information by the photographer, broker or homeowner. Granting these rights are usually a condition for posting a listing. Photographers may also request rights to your photos, but usually they just want to use the better photos to advertise their services.
One final consideration is that photographers may schedule several photo shoots to make best use of natural light, especially brief sessions to capture sunrise or sunset views. They may also want to take exterior photos during hours of darkness to capture lighting that showcases architectural and security features of the property. Night shots are enhanced by proper interior lighting, so be prepared to support these photo sessions from within the home.
If you have any questions regarding real estate photography, please drop us a line using Contact Us.