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How Images Are Presented Can Either Strengthen Or Detract From Their Impact

November 2nd, 2011

Several things have got me thinking about this subject lately:

  • I’ve seen several real estate photographers websites recently where the presentation of the gallery images detracts from the impact of the images.
  • This principle is my 10th essential of my 10 essentials of real estate photography and I’m rewriting this section in the third edition of Photography For Real Estate.
  • I’ve been reading Steve Job’s biography and one of Steve’s design principles was one he adopted from Leonardo de Vinci which says, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication“.
  • Mike Gardner sent me a link to a property site for one of his new listings on Malibu, California. This is one of the simplest and most elegant property sites I’ve seen. He created it with a template at showitfast.com.
The point I want to make is that if you take the time and go to the expense to present still images in an elegant well designed way it can make a huge difference in their impact and feel. If you are spending time to create great images also spend the time and money to present them in an elegant way. In real estate photography this issue comes up mostly in the area of web galleries and tours. Here are my biggest complaints that drive me crazy:
  • Mixing of landscape and portrait orientation in a slideshow. If you are shooting for a vertical flyer or magazine cover sure, use portrait orientation. If you are shooting for a web slide show use landscape mode. When you throw a portrait mode with big black lines left and right in the middle of a series of elegantly dissolving landscape mode photos in a slide show it just looks like hell! If you have award winning portrait mode images make a composite image with two portrait mode shots combined into one landscape mode shot for the slideshow.
  • Mixing photos of all different aspect ratios into a slide show so the black bars left, right, top and bottom constantly vary. Sure, I understand every image demands it’s own cropping but balance this with presenting them in an elegant way.
  • Galleries or slide shows where the viewer has to do something to start the slide show or worse has to click something to move to the next photo each time. Give me a break, you can find plenty of slide shows that just start automatically and continuously cycle through the images.
  • Photos have more impact when they are obscenely large. 800×600 is a minimum. This is one place where you want to go big or go home! Images just look better big and 99% of people on the internet have broadband so download time is not the issue it was in 2001.
There, I feel much better getting that rant off my chest!
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10 Responses to “How Images Are Presented Can Either Strengthen Or Detract From Their Impact”

  • Great post. In addition, I see far too many RE photographer websites that are far too complicated and present the photos in a difficult manner. Lose the landing pages, the loading splash screens, the progress bars, the fancy doodads and make the photos the center of attention (e.g. BIG and CONSISTENT like slideshows!)

    In addition to the above quote, one I use often is “things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler”

  • “Galleries or slide shows where the viewer has to do something to start the slide show or worse has to click something to move to the next photo each time.”
    Guilty… And something that has bugged me. It was easy and the limitation of the included widget that came with the website design package.

    Since I need to update the photos anyway, may as well update the entire page. Rather than hijack this blog, I will start it as a separate topic on the Flickr group.

  • I was just having this conversation with a Realtor on another blog, (and threw your blog a link). Photos are what sell. Make them big and without distractions. Remember KISS, Keep it simple stupid… Same holds true for real estate photos and their presentation.

  • I think Larry’s opinion about mixing aspect ratios and orientations in slideshows is completely wrong. Don’t believe me? Then just look at the slideshows of any number of top professional photographers, especially architecture and interiors specialists. Yes, ideally, it is nice to have consistency in the viewing format, as long as the subject matter is conducive to that consistency. However, architectural subjects are frequently not that consistent, and trying to maintain such a consistency with these subjects risks either losing valuable visual information or including too much extraneous visual information and creating a less effective, or even bad, composition. While video is forced to use a consistent aspect ration and orientation, it has the capacity to pan around the subject. Anyway, video is a different medium.

    In my opinion, the real problem is that most virtual tour slideshows are not designed to show mixed aspect ratios and image orientations to their best advantage. For me the best way to handle mixed image formats is to present the images against a large, even background, without any extraneous nearby surroundings such as thumbnails or slideshow “windows”. If needed, thumbnails should pop-up on demand and then disappear. This is one of the reasons that I chose a Livebooks design for my website.

    And I don’t agree that vertical images must always be presented as diptychs or triptychs. By all means, do that with images that are visually related, either by similarity or contrast, and that perhaps are not exceptionally strong on their own. But I think that just placing vertical images side by side, by rote, is counterproductive.

    As for large images, they are great if they are really sharp and really strong. However, most virtual tour slideshows I have seen considerably reduce the sharpness of the images when showing them very large. This is the case with the example you present. A certain “factory”-type virtual tour company’s property websites are a more familiar example of this.

  • I totally agree with what David said above…

  • I think what Larry meant was that you can “compose” images in a canvas with mixed aspect ratio’s to show it’s optimal impact. Just like a coffee table book. Never saw a photography book where you have to rotate 90 🙂
    Personally I choose for a liquid design with a fixed width where landscape images fit within the viewport. Portrait images stretch the height of the wrapper. Small screen users will have to scroll down a bit. Images are cropped with “longest width” setting.
    In practice for a design with no thumbnails (or collapsed) horizontal under the main image I size my image to 900 x 600 [3:2]. For a design with vertical thumbnails next to the main image (best for tour pages) I size to 800 x 530 [3:2] or 800 x 600 [4:3]
    For big Flash slideshows I use Full HD, 1920 x 1080 and manage to keep filsize around 300 Kb each.

    Great topic Larry. As a designer but also developer, unfortunately I have to disagree with 2 of your points…
    # automatic slideshows: as an end user these bug me tremendously. It’s like the skip intro in the Flash 5 days or the ‘where is the stop sound’ button. I want to walk through the images at my pace, not the interval the designer set for me.
    I agree a play slideshow option should be provided, but it’s only an extra, if the user wants to lean back and run. I did usability experiments with heatmaps and the next and previous buttons, big and bold on top of the main image are the most important in your presentation. Thumbnails are used next, usually when the user is getting bored (example same room from differnt angles) and is scanning for other colors and contrast. You literally have only seconds to keep a users attention.
    Another problem with automatic slideshows is loading strategy, which will bring me to my next point:
    # bandwidth: it’s wrong that it’s all broadband now. Why? Mobile. And a lot of times mobile means remote locations, weak signals,.. welcome back smallband.
    I see a lot of JavaScript slideshows out there that completely have no idea. They preload an array of images lagging any use. The good slideshows, sliders, viewers, presentations load the images on demand with Ajax. Click ‘n Load. The best viewers use a technique where you always have 1 or 2 next/previous images preloaded so there is no visual interruption. Sites should be tested with a bandwidth throttler. I use charlesproxy for that.

  • I agree with Larry’s premise that how the images are presented can help, or hurt, the impact they have on the viewer. The challenges that agents face, however, is finding a way to elegantly marry a great slideshow with all the information we typically have to convey about the property itself. As a marketing person I know that you don’t have to tell about every single detail about the property but then the question is what info do you leave out to maintain a simple and clean format. Just as photographers juggle the expectations of their clients, agents have a similar dilemma in managing both the seller’s expectations and those of potential buyers. Leave out too much info in favor of a cleaner presentation and the seller could think you aren’t pitching all the benefits, cram too much info in and the viewer feels the presentation is cluttered. I suppose you could build a custom site for each listing but most agents are not going to go through that amount of work for each listing. I would love to find a template that was easy to customize and able to go from plain vanilla simple to info overload, but most of the single property sites I have found just don’t have that flexibility.

  • Great Post! I constantly strive for the balance between information and simplicity. I will be checking with the local FMLS to see showitfast.com can be incorporated.

  • Hi Larry,

    What are your main considerations when posting images to your own website with regards to copyright and the old (RMB -> save image as…)

    I get my pictures online at 900×600 and at 72 DPI, would you suggest a higher resolution or keep it like this to discourage people from nicking the images?

    Thanks a bunch,
    Rindert
    Uw Huisfotograaf

  • @Rindert- I think 900x600x72 as you are using is just fine. The slide shows that use flash on platforms where flash is available make it harder to nick images but If people want to nick your images they will find a way. If you have images that you don’t want stolen, don’t put time online.

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