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Composition In Real Estate Photography

June 28th, 2009

Photographic composition is a slippery subject. On the one hand, some like to codify it with a list of rules that if followed will lead to success.

On the other hand, some say, “there are no rules, you know it when you see it.” I think this latter point of view comes from the fact that some people are clearly born visually intuitive and they know what to do intuitively.

I’m in the middle of the road. I think there are some guidelines (not rules) that can help be more effective and then after that composition becomes visual problem solving to achieve your purpose where some solutions are better than others. Because I’m just talking about real estate photography here the discussion and issues become rather constrained. Marketing photographs are about illustrating property features to buyers and making buyers like what they see. All visual elements should be focused on that purpose.

The starting point of all composition is the idea or purpose the photographer has in his or her head. The example I’m going to use to illustrate is the rec room of a personal home we sold a few years ago. Composition 1 is a shot I initially took. After seeing the shot my wife said, “this shot doesn’t illustrate the most important features of the rec room very well.” The features she was talking about were the fireplace with a custom mantle design, the wall of windows and the tile floor. She was more aware of these features than most people would be because she did the interior design for the remodel of this room. She was right. Composition 1 was shot at 16mm at the end of the room with not much consideration of a what the most important features of the room were. There wasn’t much thinking involved.

Composition 2 was taken after we rearranged the furniture and moved the angle of the shot so the custom fireplace design, wall of windows and tile floor was more apparent. Composition 2 was taken at around 24mm and only two walls a visible so much of the bowling alley feel is gone. In retrospect I would reduce the amount of ceiling in composition 2. I think this simple two shot example illustrates the problem solving part of composition that is important to go through to get the strongest marketing photos.

For me, before shooting it helps to ask myself the question, “what are the most important features of this room that need to be illustrated.” You’ve probably noticed that the agent or home owner doesn’t always agree with you on what features are important. This us why I always have a discussion with whoever I’m shooting for about, “what do you think the most important features are in this property?” Many times there are strong emotional feelings around this subject. Frequently, this is the problem when clients tell you they don’t like your photos.

I’m not going to go into the guideline aspects of composition. There’s a good recent discussion on those in the PFRE flickr discussion group. Besides I’ve several previous posts that rant on various aspects of these guidelines.

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5 Responses to “Composition In Real Estate Photography”

  • Very good post Larry. Composition is so important. I like to keep a few things in mind: the two wall rule (show no more than two walls in any photograph – although this is not a hard rule, some rooms benefit from the addition of the 3rd wall. I always try to remember the rule of thirds and finally the so called “golden rule” which is much like the rule of thirds. I find it helps in composing any photograph.

    I also discuss with each agent/builder what they want to show as the most important aspect of the scene. I find this helps a lot and makes me focus on what they want, even if I disagree.

    Michael

  • I agree with regards to the rules that aren’t rules. One of the things I try to do is hit the “4 corners” of the most important rooms in the house: Kitchen, Master, Living/Great room, and maybe another room that shows uniquely and well. It’s no substitute for asking myself “If I were buying this house, what’s the most important feature”. But it is a little insurance for when I get back to the computer. Occasionally I am surprised when one of these “extras” turns out to do a better job telling the story than the anticipated “keeper.”

  • Composition can also be constrained by client request, unfortunately. I shot a house yesterday where on of the appliances in the kitchen was mismatched and the homeowner insisted that it be obscurred in the photo. This really limited me in composing the shot and made me shoot at a much lower angle to the countertop than I thought looked “good.” The end result was a shot that prominently features the backs of bar chairs in the foreground and doesn’t really show off any of the appliances. Client seems happy though, so I’m marking it business one, art zero.

  • Getting good photographs of a home is one of many things we as agents need to get better at to serve clients in a market were the sellers outnumber the buyers by a wide margin. I’m amazed flipping through homes on the MLS how many really awful pictures are used.

    The purpose of most marketing materials should be to get showings. This would dictate that the purpose of the photographs is more to entice than reveal. Few houses are bought based on pictures on-line or in a brochure.

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