What Does Quality Real Estate/Interior Photography Look Like?

February 26th, 2014

QualityIt occurred to me that if you look at the compilation of photos that have won the PFRE monthly photo contest there are some important lessons to be learned. The reason this compilation of photos is important is because they are by some of the best interior photographers and they are carefully judged and selected by the jury of past winners. Many of these photographers have progressed beyond real estate photography into upper end interior photography. So this compilation of photos is as close to a definition of quality real estate/interior photography as you will find.

Here are some real estate/interior photography principles that come to mind when I look over the several year history of PFRE contest winners:

  1. Removing lens distortion, converging verticals, chromatic aberration color and WB problems is fundamental: Photos that have any of these problems don’t even make the cut for further consideration. Removing all these distracting effects is just basic post processing.
  2. The majority of the winners use restrained artificial (small flash) lighting: There are very few of winners that used bracketed shots processed with HDR or Exposure Fusion software. But the photos that do use HDR/EF are completed with careful attention to final finishing to reduce unbelievable color and all the classic issues that HDR and EF can have. In more recent years there is less HDR and EF than just several years ago. Winning photos are lit so that the artificial light adds to and complements the the natural ambient light.
  3. Ultra-Wide angle lenses are used with restraint: The effective focal length for most are not very much wider than 24 mm or 20 mm.
  4. Composition is a big factor: Seeing and visually illustrating the story of the space is very important. Positioning of the camera and careful consideration of what’s included in the frame and what’s excluded excluded is important. Winning photos show careful attention to detail in the area of composition.
  5. Staging: This has to do with how the furniture and other items in the room are arranged. This arrangement contributes to the design and feeling of the room. Great interior images are usually staged and this many times doesn’t happen in real estate photos. However the real estate photographer can do minor amounts of staging themselves.

The collection of monthly winners illustrate all these principles. I think they are a definition of quality real estate/interior photography. What do you think? did I miss anything?

16 Responses to “What Does Quality Real Estate/Interior Photography Look Like?”

  • Very good post that should be read (and techniques written here practiced often) by newbies and anyone wanting to take their imagery to the next level.

  • Great points I wish I could always abide by if time weren’t so often limited. I think a mention to white balance should be included in some form, it’s so crucial to quality photography, and often very challenging in interior scenes.

  • @Gill – Thanks, I added it explicitly…

  • Excellent post Larry.

    If you take a look at the PFRE groups photographs from several years back, compared to today, the progression is incredible!
    Clearly this group has evolved into a collection of some of the best in the industry.

  • Great post Larry. I would add that the feedback from the POM is invaluable in achieving those goals and like to thank those that commented. Probably the biggest lesson learned is look at every sq in (or mm) as I totally missed the lens distortion in the mirrors until it was pointed out in the feedback. I looked AT the mirror…frames and wall vertical, etc…but never IN the mirror. Barrel distortion isn’t something normally thought of with that lens, even prior to normal lens correction, but the diffraction through the mirror and the extended distance of the reflection really did a number. Just as in photo composition, you start large and come down to the sub-components for perhaps a better composed picture, it is the same afterwards where you have the actual photo and crop instead of lens zoom. While I caught some small areas, like bringing out shadow detail, pulling windows, cropping, and even cleaning up a sloppy paint job on the wall, those only serve as distractions from the need to keep reviewing it where the mirror was hiding in plain sight.

  • The primary question, of course, is whether there is any difference between the ‘quality’ of juried real estate photos and the ‘quality’ of photos which effectively attract real estate clients. Unless there’s empirical evidence to the contrary, juried ‘quality’ certainly doesn’t strictly imply attractor ‘quality.’ That is, two real estate photos of unequal juried ‘quality’ may, in fact, produce the same effect size in terms of attracting real estate clients.

  • @Gary – Good question and effectively impossible to answer. I wasn’t thinking of this objective for quality when I wrote the post… I was thinking more about the fact that many photographers start out shooting real estate and move up to shooting for designers and architects where you make more, and the quality bar is higher because the clients you are working for are trained in the visual arts so you can’t get by with all the things you can in real estate because the clients are not as visually sophisticated.

    I would say that there are many, many real estate photographers running extremely successful businesses that don’t do any of the 5 items I list in this post. This is actually why I used the term “real estate/interior photography” through out… by “interior photography” I mean the level of work Scott Hargis does… He doesn’t shoot much for real estate agents any more, yet he started out shooting only real estate photography.

  • awesome list. if you reverse it you can almost use it as a check list as you shoot and process your images.

    @gary This is a very good point. I’ve always wondered this myself. I’ve seen a lot of photos that I believed to be quite effective that might not win in the this contest. They are usually of spectacular homes and or views that just have wow factor. A good example would be travis’ shot #42 from this months contest. Which I actually like as is and I can tell he put a lot of work into it. But it got some mixed reviews. I would venture to guess that very few potential buyers would see the “flaws” picked up on by our group. And if they did, I don’t think they would cross it off their must see list. Regardless of the points made on the photo, the home and view are quite obviously bad ass. Could the photo have been done a little better? Maybe, but it does a fine job of getting the point across as is. Then we look at the winning shot this month and see a room with nothing very spectacular about it. This is where your work really needs to be on point. Flaws will be magnified. Ryan nailed it and thats why he won. Most RE photographers are not working with wow factor and Larry’s list above has good guidelines for any level. I feel like I learn a lot from reading most of the feedback on all photos in the contest. Things that I didn’t see wrong with my work in the past stand out to me and I strive to make them better.

  • @Gary, I will try and answer that. It is apples and oranges where there is no comparison, but the semblance of standards still apply as you present a professional image. APPLES – With the pressures of quantity, timeline to deliver, and (low) budget compromises are made but still with the end goal in mind – to engage the buyer, and satisfy the realtor and seller. ORANGES – Totally different as you are taking it to the next level for your own personal/professional development where it is your time, and budget doesn’t apply. Two different goals where the only commonality is the source material and while both demand a professional level, the expectation of the public (APPLES) is different from the juried (ORANGES).

    Expanding on the Apples side, professional photos that you give a Realtor do make a difference. On the particular house I submitted – it went to contract in 4 days and sold above asking price. It was a corporate relo and my client was in competition with 2 other Realtors for the listing with my photos a component in her listing presentation. One of her competitors for the listing is a team that shoots their own (DSLR and UWA on camera flash) who haven’t a clue what a vertical is and one of the few in the area that shoots true video, but a drunken sailor sways less than their stabilizer. Essentially, you can’t get away with low quality as it is glaring, but it doesn’t have to be contest extreme. Another example, a $600K home I shot last week – went to contract on day1 before I could even add the tour to Realtor.com as they accept active listings only. Did I clean up every flash hotspot on the glass wall with the pool and lake view? No, but it was at an acceptable non-distracting level, and a quick cleanup may have been distracting. If I submit one in the future, will I clean it up ABSOLUTELY.

    I guess in summary. The list that Larry gave is spot on. Flexibility exists through the expectations of the audience, but the deviation range that is generated through the flexibility is narrow – 95% there for the Apples vs 110% there for the Oranges – where 50% there flat out will not cut it.

  • @ LarryG….I disagree with your “apples and oranges” comparison. If you consider yourself a professional then you should be striving to do the best you can regardless of the subject matter or what the image is going to be used for. I’ve said it before on here…if it wasn’t for the time and effort I put in to photograph a two-bedroom shit hole….I would not have gotten the opportunity to shoot the $1M+ properties that I have. Your name and reputation is on each and every image you create. Thus, you should make each one the best that you can. I agree that not all subjects that we photograph are portfolio material or worthy of entering in a contest. But, in my opinion, you should approach each image just as if it was worthy of being in your portfolio.

    @Larry L….Great list that you have put together. Thanks for posting this.

  • @Larry L. – A great list to follow. I do my very best no matter how much the home costs and with each home I photograph I learn a little more. Last Tuesday I made a cold call on one of the top five agencies in my area that I’d like to work with. The only person that was there was the office manager. I showed my samples and explained how I work. She loved my work and she talked with the owner on Wednesday. Next week they will give me a try on a home that’s been on the market 6 months with very poor photos. I’s a 3 bedroom staged home for $172 thousand and my job is to make it beautiful enough to capture the attention of a buyer. I’ll have 3 hours before sunset to do just that and it will give me enough time to practice Scott’s lighting techniques. I’ll end it with a beautiful twilight image. By the way, the photographer they’ve been using has been late many times on the job and it takes him 3 to 5 days to upload the images. The agency is very unhappy.

    I’ve been a professional photographer for fifty years and of all the types of work I’ve done, I love real estate photography the most. Every home I’ve photographed I get a very nice feeling of joy doing my best to bring out the beauty of it. I may never get rich off of it because I refuse to do a snap and burn job.

  • @ Anders … your point about taking Larry’s L’s 5-point list and reversing the order so as to use it as a checklist to use at the shoot and then in processing when we get home is bang-on and all of us on this site — newbies or veterans — would be wise to use that checklist!

    @Kerry … I think your point is the most poignant one made so far. A commitment to excellence is a commitment to excellence — end of story! I’m always troubled by the comments that I read on the Flickr site periodically where the photographers seem to imply that just because they’re shooting smaller and perhaps less attractive homes, they can ease up a bit — especially if the realtor is watching the clock. I’d bet cash money that these are the same folks who complain that they can’t distinguish themselves against their competitors! I’ve have the good fortune to shoot everything from a $3.4M mansion on the high-end, to an old, beat-up trailer with a $35,000 asking price on the low-end … and I worked my ass off equally for each! Incidentally, both sold within a week and the respective agents now use me exclusively. I don’t mean to sound “preachy” but I believe with all my heart that it’s about professionalism, accountability to a paying client and a commitment to ourselves, our reputation and our “brand” in our marketplace. Thanks for hitting the nail on the head, Kerry!

  • This is a really great post! I do find it interesting that the #1 lens that people use on the site is the Canon 10-22 when the effective focal length on the majority of pictures is less than 24mm. I’m thinking it might be time to trade up for the 17-40 until I can get a TS.

  • @greg – the Canon 10-22mm is effectively a 16-35mm since there’s a 1.6 multiplier… the Canon 10-22mm is just a 16-35mm lens for APS-C sensors.

  • Just about all of the photos presented on this forum are inspiring but most of them are of very nice properties, I want my photos of smaller less expensive properties to be every bit as good as those but its a real challenge.

    I’ve only been on this blog a couple of years and the improvement during that time is amazing.

  • […] Staging: This has to do with how the furniture and other items in the room are arranged. This arrangement contributes to the design and feeling of the room. Great interior images are usually staged and this many times doesn’t happen in real estate photos. However the real estate photographer can do minor amounts of staging themselves.” ~ Photographyforealestate.net […]