Avoid These 9 Real Estate Photo Mistakes
Avoid These 9 Real Estate Photo Mistakes
Don’t capture your listings in a not-so-picture-perfect moment.
Buyers are increasingly judging homes by a photo. And bad listing photos may cost you not only a showing but possibly a higher sales price as well. The majority of buyers spend 60 percent of their online time viewing listing photos, but only 20 percent on the property description and 20 percent on agent comments, according to research by Michael Seiler with Old Dominion University, who tracked eye movements of 45 people viewing 10 online real estate listings with photos. But the same photo offenses can be routinely seen on the MLS, photographers say. Here’s how to avoid some of the most common mistakes.
Photo offense #1: Poor lighting
“Real estate may be all about location, location, location, but in real estate photography, it’s lighting, lighting, lighting,” says Brian Balduf, CEO of VHT, a nationwide network of real estate photographers, which also offers photo workshops called “Behind the Lens” to real estate agents. Lighting can make a big difference in a photograph. Not enough light? Photos can appear dark, grainy, and blurry. Too much light? The photo is overexposed.
Photo fix: Balance the light
Indoor lighting can vary greatly from room to room, even from where you stand. The pros use an external flash since a built-in camera flash only gives you about 4 feet of light. The rest of the room can then appear dark. Look to balance the light in a room, Balduff says. If you identify a dark spot, add a light. Open curtains for natural light to flow in, but shoot away from the window. If you need to, close the blinds and curtains. Or do what the professionals do: Master HDR imaging, which allows you to layer multiple exposures of a photo to get the best lighting so you can see what’s inside and outside of a window.
Photo offense #2: A room looks too cramped
A typical camera lens only captures about 6 to 10 feet of a room, so the full depth and space of a room can get lost, particularly if you’re taking it from an awkward angle. Partial room shots, like those that are often taken standing in the doorway, offer a view of just a corner of a room and can make a room feel smaller than what it really is.
Photo fix: Aim to capture three walls
Frame the photo so you capture three walls in the room, which will provide greater balance and scale to the image, Balduf says. You will likely need a wide-angle lens camera to do it. Stand in the corner of a room or try different angles to achieve three walls. Another photo trick for framing: Photographers use the “rule of thirds,” a principle of composition in framing photos. Imagine breaking down an image into thirds, both horizontally and vertically. The idea is to place points of interest in your image on the intersections of the lines so the photo feels more balanced.
Photo offense #3: Blurred lines
Blurry photographs usually happen when there’s neither flash nor adequate lighting or the camera isn’t perfectly still, says real estate photographer Daniel Hancock with Showcase Imaging in Cleveland, Ohio. The result? An unprofessional presentation of a room that makes buyers want to move on, not in.
Photo fix: Steady camera with proper lighting
Use a tripod, and set it about chest high for interior photos. Also, use the self-timer feature on the camera. By removing your hands from the camera, you can help prevent blurry photographs. If you don’t have a tripod, one trick Audra Slinkey, president of the Home Staging Resource, a home staging training and certification company, teaches her staging students in steadying your arms is to push your upper arms into your chest as you shoot. Also, spread your legs wide so you have a tripod effect. Or, lean against a wall or door frame to help steady your shot.
Photo offense #4: What are you hiding?
That’s what home buyers may ask if they see only two or three photos of your listing online. Each photo you add to a listing has the potential of boosting the final sales price, according to a study analyzing 4,000 homes conducted by researcher Ken H. Johnson at Florida International University. Adding at least one photo to your residential listing increased the final sales price by 3.9 percent. The addition of interior photos nabbed sellers a 3.9 percent price increase versus a 1.9 percent increase from exterior photos, according to the study. Each photo added to a listing raised the final sales price about $150 to $200, the study found.
Photo fix: Max out the photo limit on the MLS
Show off the house. Mix up photos to add visual interest to your virtual tour or slide show. For example, take a wide shot of the family room and then a close-up of the fireplace, Balduf suggests. Don’t just shoot everything from straight on but explore capturing rooms from various angles and even heights. Consider features of the home that you can highlight too, such as close-ups of the wood floors or kitchen cabinets or the intricacies of a beautiful staircase.
Photo offense #5: Showing the unsellables
That close-up photo of a bowl of fresh fruit sitting on the kitchen table or lavish vase on a nightstand may be beautiful, but if the tables aren’t staying with the home, why are you highlighting them? Look through the lens with a more discerning eye.
Photo fix: Focus on what stays
Stage the tables, but keep a photo’s focal point on what is being sold with the house, not the accents or furniture that the home owners are taking with them. Also, stage your photo shoot for privacy and security in mind. Avoid shooting the home owner’s valuables, such as expensive artwork, big-screen televisions, pricey vases, or the home’s security panel.
Photo offense #6: Poorly framed exterior
Taking a photo directly in front of a home isn’t usually a home’s most flattering view. Also, don’t take the photo of the exterior from so far away that you end up getting too much of the surrounding area. If you go too wide with your photo, you also risk making the home look small and having it swallowed up by a long driveway or a big yard, or you may get too much of the neighbor’s house.
Photo fix: Step aside
Try moving to the side of the house. Tighten the focus so the home doesn’t appear small and so you don’t see the neighbor’s house. Use a tripod to keep the camera level. Another tip for capturing the exterior at its best: Watch what time of day you shoot. It’ll depend on what direction the home faces, but you want to avoid the middle of the afternoon. Try two to three hours before sunset, Hancock suggests. Also, don’t write off a cloudy day — an overcast sky can diffuse light and cut down on glares, and may end up giving you even better light than a sunny day.
Photo offense #7: Reflections
A common mistake in MLS photos: Seeing the photographers’ reflection in the mirror. Also, a glare of the camera flash may reflect off shiny metal objects in the room, casting a distracting highlight in your image.
Photo fix: Change your angle
Watch for glares on windows and shiny surfaces like drawers and counters, particularly when using an on-camera flash. Beware shooting around mirrors, glass, or metal. Keep yourself out of the mirror by snapping the photo from the side or by kneeling instead of taking the photo from straight on.
Photo offense #8: Not staging for the photograph
You wouldn’t get a professional head shot taken without brushing your hair; same thing for a home. Don’t leave clutter or so bare a slate that you leave buyers unimpressed. Also, Hancock says the biggest offenses he spots most often in MLS photos: pet items, toiletries like hair rollers on a countertop, and open toilet lids.
Photo fix: Style for the photo shoot
“Don’t go to the extreme of removing everything off kitchen countertops so they’re completely bare and devoid of any personality,” Slinkey says. “Merchandise the space to work with the home’s integrity and resonate with the buyer online so they’ll want to see more.” Add visual interest with color pops like fresh flowers and throw pillows on a sofa, for example. VHT provides a checklist on preparing for a real estate photo shoot, including straightening up the pillows; making sure the bed is crisp; removing magnets from the refrigerator; adding flowers or a plant; removing all children’s and pets’ toys; and making the beds and having pillowcase openings turned away from the camera.
Photo offense #9: Not hiring a pro
Amateur photos of your listing taken with a point-and-shoot camera could lead to a lower sales price, suggests a 2013 study conducted by the real estate brokerage Redfin. Homes listed between $200,000 and $1 million that had photos taken with professional DSLR cameras tended to sell for $3,400 to $11,200 more than their list price. What’s more, in the $400,000 and $500,000 price range, 64 percent of the homes shot with DSLR cameras sold within six months, compared with 46 percent of homes that were shot with point-and-shoot cameras. In general, the study found that professionally photographed homes in the $400,000 range sold three weeks faster than homes with amateur photos.
Photo fix: Hire a professional
If photography isn’t in your skill set, you may want to invest in hiring a professional. “This is a type of photography to move or motivate people to take action. It’s marketing,” Balduf says. “You need to create a wow factor and make an impact. It’s likely worth the investment.” Hiring a professional photographer usually costs about $100 per home, perhaps $300 to $500 for more high-end homes. Search for photographers in your area who specialize in real estate photography so they understand the tight time frames you work under, the photo formats you require, and the intricacies of capturing a house.