Should Real Estate Photographers Modify Staging?

February 3rd, 2015

StagingLast week I got an interesting question from Francesca who is a stager:

I recently staged a house that was supposed to be photographed the day after the staging. On that day I got a frantic call from the seller saying that her photographer “went ballistic” because of two chairs I placed in the family room as well as the bedspread I used in the master bedroom. According to the photographer those items were going to look bad in the photos: the chairs because too bulky and the bedspread because too dark. Note that I used them on purpose to fill a big space and to create some contrast in an otherwise too white space. To make it short, the photographer was able to convince the seller to get rid of the chairs and to replace the (olive green) bedspread with a white one. My question is: do professional photographers do this often? A few months ago I staged a house where the photographer had to move a console table a few feet to fill a negative space and then he put it back to where it originally was, which makes sense and I’m totally fine with. But it never occurred to me to have a photographer that completely changes a staged space because some of the items are not going to work in the photos.

To me, the photographer should not make changes to staging. If an agent has spent the time and money on staging a property it’s not the business of the photographer to “fix” the staging. It might be different if the agent did not hired a stager, but if it’s been professionally staged I say pay attention to the photography and leave the staging alone.

What is your experience shooting staged properties?

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33 Responses to “Should Real Estate Photographers Modify Staging?”

  • I’ve had to photograph a lot of really bad (professional!) staging so I move things sometimes. I never talk badly about the stager but sometimes, especially if they’re new, they don’t have an appreciation for two dimensionality. In the end, if the photos look terrible that’s on me, never the stager, so yeah. If it’s really bad I’ll move things.

  • As photographers, we see the world though a different lens. We owe it to our clients, whom are often not present, to do what we believe will help reduce days on market. Happy Clients. Happy Photographers.

  • Helpful perhaps to look at these challenges individually. “A dark bedspread” shouldn’t be a problem if we can light or post process correctly. And its not our place to second guess a decorator. So, the REP needs to shoot this and move on. Chairs could be a somewhat different concern depending on how they fall “in the frame.” We’ve all been there where a piece of furniture isn’t in the right place in a photo. I move this type of stuff, with permission, all the time. This may, or may not have been out of bounds.

    In the end, if someone cares enough to hire a stager, its our job to shoot their work. I’ve seen lousy staging, but that’s what the buyer will see when they visit the home, so its our job to take the best pictures we can in that situation.

  • I’ve rarely had to touch a thing when it’s been “professionally” staged. Otherwise, I’m moving, adjusting and centering furniture and decor as needed for each shot. If it hasn’t been staged or decluttered, I’ll do my best within reason. If your seller or agent doesn’t care enough to get it shoot ready, it’s your responsibility to educate them.

    It’s not really the stager’s fault. They usually have a background in interior design. It’s also not really the RE photographer’s fault. They usually have a background in some form of fine arts. It’s could simply be a difference in approach and vision.

    Truth be told, some photographers and stagers have no professional education, lack talent and never develop themselves fully. In my experience, it’s one or both of them that cause problems and refuse to work with each other. Not a good thing.

    My best practice is to work as a team, explain your differences, find solutions and be willing to compromise. Its not rocket science!

  • The stager is, generally, staging specifically for live people, not the camera. As far as exposure, the stager’s “camera” is the human eye which possesses far superior specs compared to a camera. As far as photographic composition, it should be left to the expert.

    I’m surprised the photographer got upset, the stager probably had no idea that what works live may not work in print. Sometimes it’s necessary to move/remove or replace. Nobody should get their feelings hurt, the modifications can simply be reversed to work for the other camera/eyeball.

  • Staging is an art and like everything else, some do it better than others. Seems to me that a photographer going “ballistic” over a staged area has their panties wound up to tight in their neither regions. I would be more concerned about that than a bedspread…..

    My pet peeve with staggers is the lack of working lights. They set up a room and half the lights are not working…. go figure. As I tell the agents that paid for the service, you have a novice that needs more training.

  • No way! Once told that it’s been professionally staged (or even if the owner has staged it themselves), I don’t touch anything (including tea towels and tissue boxes), although if something’s definitely out-of-place, like a wad of paper under the bed, I’ll remove it. I’m not qualified as a professional interior designer and am quite happy to shoot the place as-is. Any issues in that area are SEP (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=SEP).

  • I’m a photographer and my wife’s a stager. I have shown her the view through the lens as we go around a house and she appreciates my ‘point of view’. If I’m shooting next to a large chair, then yes, I may move it 20cm out of view, but it’s easier to just move the camera to start with.
    Dark or light bedspread. Just take the photo. If I couldn’t take a photo because of a ‘too dark’ piece, then I’m not a photographer at all. Know your equipment then there’s never an issue.

  • What works for a live person might not work for the camera. I explain that I may move some items to “play” to the camera’s perspective better and I’ve never had any issues. I move chairs all of the time and occasionally other pieces of furniture to get them out of the corner of the frame. They all go right back as soon as I’ve got the shot. A dark bedspread? I’m not going to have a spaz and rant about it. It is what it is and I should be able to come up with a way to work the exposure.

    The thing I come up with frequently is tall items on a kitchen island that blocks the view into the rest of the room. That sort of thing always seems to me to make a space stop short.

    The best one can do is to let agents know that you might want to move something for a better image from the camera’s perspective. If somebody is going to lose their mind, I’ll do my best to get a quality image, but it won’t be as good as it might have.

    In Mike Kelly’s fStoppers video, they rearranged an entire living room to play up to the camera. That’s beyond what I will do for a basic shoot, but certainly an option for a higher end shoot where the agent or owner is willing to allocate more budget for the photos.

  • So far my experience with stagers is that good or not so good, what they do is a hell of a lot better than having a house empty of furniture with the echoing floors, walls and ceilings. But like with all houses I shoot, I have to move things since, as everyone above has alluded to, the camera sees things differently even a bowl in the middle of a table needs to be moved toward the camera to look like its in the middle of the table. But then when I shoot from the other end of the room, it and chairs and even coffee tables need to be centered or adjusted too look right to the camera. But I would never demand changes of content put in place by a stager. Now a home owners own personal clutter, yes indeed I would. I like to to a quick walk through of all properties with the agent a day or more preferably if the owners are in residence to point out what they need to pack away, and it comes as a shock to them. There are people who specialize in “de-clutter” who may not be stagers but who are pro’s at getting rid of “stuff” and I recommend to the owner to call and work with them. Otherwise a house is what it is when I arrive, and I just have to shoot it doing my best to remove bright hand towels from ovens and work with owners to stow the razors, tooth brushes, tooth paste, oxygen tanks, underwear
    drying in the shower etc before I get to the kitchens and bathrooms. For what I am being paid, I cannot be a stager too.

  • That sounds a bit bold!
    I may shift things a bit….but change a bedspread!
    Wouldn’t do it.

  • I love this conversation! When it all comes down to it, we are being paid to be the photographer and the stager is being paid to stage. Let’s leave it at that! That being said, I’m somewhat lenient on my stance… if a chair or something is detracting in the way of my money shot then yes, I’m going to move it. More often then not I’m moving a plant or chair because I only want to show off 2 walls, giving the impression the room is bigger then what it really is.

    Learn from my experience of my 2nd shoot ever, where it was a huge mansion and the home was NOT ready. I spent 2 hours moving clutter and cleaning, then 1 hour of shooting….. Only got paid $50! Yes, I was a newbie and would NEVER do that now! Lesson learned. We are the photographers, not the stagers or cleaners. Good Luck!!!

  • I have to say that I have never had a stagger who didnt understand that as a photographer I look at things different then they do and I am looking out for t h e end product.

  • I am an agent that typically uses a stager on all of my listings. I will typically meet the photographer for the shoot. Quite often we will move a few pieces around for the photos and then put them back where they were previously. Have done this for years and it works for me. Sometime things get in the way of shooting.

    I guess we all do things differently.

  • I do it quite often. A good stylist should be prepared for the photographer to move furniture and decoration to make the pictures look great.
    Sometimes I take two versions. One as it looks from the beginning and then one where I arrange the furniture…

  • What resources would someone recommend for photographers to read that would give us some idea of the goal of staging and what stagers usually have to overcome?

  • ahhh…. Photographers are like a mystery wrapped in an enigma, except they are an ego wrapped in insecurity. Balistic isn’t an adjective I’d like to be known for.

    That said, I often coach the stagers, in that I just tell them where I will likely be shooting from, and that lets them consider the staging from the POV of the photo. Many rooms only have 1-3 points where you are going to shoot from, and once you clue them in on that, you don’t need to coach them on every house.

    I don’t, however, dictate the choice of comforters… THAT is their business, mine is to shoot their work correctly.

  • I’m calling BS on the “photographer went ballistic” quote. When things sound unbelievable, they usually are, and in today’s drama-addicted culture I can easily see a photographer making (calm, but) disparaging remarks about some lousy staging and it getting relayed from homeowner to agent to stager as “went ballistic”.

    As for moving things — I literally cannot remember the last time I DIDN’T move stuff during a shoot. There’s no way I’m making a crappy photo and then blaming the stager. My photos are my responsibility and if moving a chair or carrying a flower into a different room will improve things, then so be it. The camera’s unique perspective is the only one that matters to the photo, so I frequently “cheat” furniture or accessories into positions that look “correct” through the lens.
    I don’t re-arrange entire rooms on real estate shoots. I wouldn’t endanger my bad back, if I had one. I don’t pick up 5th-century Ming Dynasty ceramics. But yeah, I scoot chairs and coffee tables and adjust blinds and fluff pillows etc. all the time.

    Dean Francis says most stagers have a background in interior design, but my experience has been that it’s the other way around — most stagers ASPIRE to become interior designers. As such, they don’t always have a very good eye and frankly I’ve often got better instincts than they do.

  • While there are exceptions to every “rule”, I hate it when agents or owners try to tell me how something should be shot, so I show the same respect with other professionals.

  • Thank you everyone for your responses. I agree that the scenario a stager works on could be completely different from the photographer’s. We have to place ourselves at the door and see what the buyers see as they enter into the room, and then stage accordingly. However, that doesn’t mean that I disregard the situation the photographer will encounter, which is why I always make sure that (please let me know if I’m missing something here):
    -There is enough light. Whenever possible I create the famous “triangle of light” bringing in lamps of different kinds.
    -There is contrast. I try not to place a beige sofa against a beige wall.
    -There are some splashes of color, possibly red, which apparently works best for photos.
    -There is nothing obstructing the view. I try not to place tall items in front of a window, but I do use them when there is a wall behind.
    -I try not to overfill a room, and especially not to show the back of a piece of furniture.
    So I do work with the photographer’s perspective in mind and, as I said, I’m totally fine when they move things around to ensure a good shot. But then they have to put them back because as stagers we spend a good amount of time on the perception of the space and on what the buyers will “feel” when they are inside the house.

    To finish my story, I also have to add that the house went live mixing photos from the old listing (it was listed a few months ago and then they removed it from the market) with photos of the new one. So now buyers see online some rooms that will look completely different once they get to the house. What do you think about this?

  • I think that the photographer went too far. Even if they are also a stager, if it has been staged by someone else, they should respect their work and leave it alone and never make disparaging remarks about any other professional. If you play nicely with other professionals, they will remember you and if you don’t they remember that too. This is a referral business and you never know when what you say or do will either get you new business or discourage someone from using you and tell everyone they know about their bad experience.

    Having said that, I do move items because of how they fall in the frame, block a view or need to fill a negative space. Stagers are looking at how a room looks in 3 dimensions and how a person moves through a space as opposed to 2 dimensional views. I keep it to a minimum, ask first and move things back when I’m done.

  • Staging for onsite tour is not the same as staging for a photograph. Some items that look good in person can interfere with a good photo. A good example are tall flower arrangement in the center of the room. They look great in person, but block a good portion of the photo. So sometimes a photographer needs to move items around.

  • love my stagers. I had lunch with Set to Show owner Janet Lawrence today ( http://www.settoshow.com ) and I talked to her about this. She has no problem with me moving stuff if the picture would be better that way. That being said, she stages with photos in mind, so I rarely need to move or Putz with anything. As a matter of fact, I was a winner of last year (I thing) photographer of the month with her furniture and staging in the bedroom. My ideal client = a REALTOR who uses a stager, hires me and prices the home properly.

    BTW, the photographer should chill, not go ballistic.

  • I never give opinions to clients about staging unless they ask me for them. When I respond to such a request for an opinion, I tell them I that I am not a stager or interior decorator, and that the only truly expert opinions I can offer would relate to how the staging works for the photos, which is not necessarily the same as viewing the staging in real life. My clients and the stagers that they work with understand that I may do a bit of rearranging of some of the staging to suit the camera. I may even move a light piece of furniture, or maybe a cushion, out of a particular composition, but I would never change bedspreads or rugs, or other things of that nature. I always try to put things back where I found them, but can’t guarantee I can put them back in the exact position they were in before I moved them.

  • Whether or not the stager or photographer was not happy with the situation is not the problem in this example. The problem is the total lack of professionalism in the way the situation was handled. Whether we like it or not. We are not the person in control here. it is the Broker, yet we are responsible for expressing our point of view in a reasonable manner, especially if we want to work for that broker in the future. one of the best pieces of advice I received long ago If you want someone to do what you want them to do then, get them to think it is their idea. These people need to read – no study Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People”

  • @ Scott Hargis –

    Sorry to hear that your experience with stagers has been less than ideal 🙁

    I’d be glad to refer you to my stagers 🙂

  • From the description, the photographer went way over the top on this. Having said that, there are some aspects of staging that can interfere with the photography. As others have pointed out, what’s great for the showing may or may not be great for the photographs. I will move small things, but I don’t like to make a big deal about it and I certainly don’t rag on color schemes. A photographer should be able to light the room correctly or manage the situation in post-processing if the furnishings or bedspreads are “too dark”. That’s absurd.

    Having said that, I will move the odd lamp, chair or flower arrangement if it interferes with the photography. However, I make sure I put things back the way I found them. I am NOT a stager. I don’t even play one on TV….

  • I don’t hesitate to move things around and in fact its often essential! Staging is one thing but if it doesn’t look right through the lens then the only person who is going to get the blame is the photographer. Anyone staging a room should understand……and if they don’t so what!?

  • I can’t imagine a photographer going ballistic over a chair or bedspread! If something needs to be moved then I move it. I would suggest the next time the stager “coordinate” with the photographer and be on site to approve or disapprove any change. If they are not there then it’s the photographer’s responsibility to know what looks best through the camera’s eye.

  • 100% if I need to tweak a few things after a property has been styled I will. A stylist is presenting the room for the eye and for open homes. Not for how my lens is going to see it. In saying that, it’s rare that I have to do much at all and even when I do they are only very small things. One thing that does drive me nuts though is why stylists seem to think that every single cushion in a home has to be placed on it’s corner making it a diamond instead of a square. It never looks good. If only they would realise this hahaha

  • I don’t mean to sound like a jerk, but I’m stunned this is even a debate. I’ve read several (paraphrasing) “I’m not a good photographer if I can’t shoot the space as is” enough to post here, as I think we have a responsibility to our clients, and to the profession of our fellow photographers.

    I’ve practiced architecture for 15 years and have been a professional photographer for the last decade. Staging and photography are totally separate things with the exact same responsibility – increase marketability for the client. Yes, unequivocally, 100% of the time SHOOTING PHOTOGRAPHY IS DIFFERENT THAN STAGING. Experiencing a space in three-dimensions is inherently different than viewing that exact same space presented in a two-dimensional medium. Nobody’s saying completely change out bedsheets and buy new curtains, however, rearranging furniture and household items are a normal, accepted part of taking a photograph. Things need to be visually separated or moved to guide a viewer’s eye through any image.

    Since the real-estate market involves some of the lowest budgets in the wide world or professional photography, perhaps the question should be, “Does the client have the BUDGET for me to take the time to adjust the staging?” With real-estate I don’t rearrange things as much because the budgets are lower, but with architectural photography (which I also do) we drastically move things around all the time, however are budgets are in a 4-5 figure range, at a rate of hundreds of dollars per image. Sometimes we’re required to shift things in a way that couldn’t possibly be livable in the real world, guiding the viewer’s eye into inferring three-dimensional proportions and scale in the two-dimensional world we control.

    The ONLY exception I’d make is if the stager or stylist IS the client, then you make sure they’re on hand during the entire photography shoot. Here’s the truth when it comes to marketing, advertising, and portfolio work – it doesn’t matter if you’re talking architectural, real-estate, product, or modelling photography – ALL COMMERCIAL PHOTOGRAPHERS STAGE. It’s part of the job, the end.

  • @S.E Stevens

    “ALL COMMERCIAL PHOTOGRAPHERS STAGE” as in architectural or listing photographers? At what point do you draw the line on moving things? Do you do any photography for $200,000 listings?

  • @Tour Guide

    As in professional photography that’s being used commercially, -including- architectural and real-estate. To what you’re referring to, pending market, I’d exclude personal home listings under $800K. Those reliant on that market segment need high-volume and quick turnaround to just break even and don’t allow for more than shoot’n’go. If the client has higher expectation, that takes time and -should- come with increased cost.

    You mentioned where the line should be drawn, so this is my opinion. I do recognize doing listings means dealing with a budget-conscious crowd, but however a photographer’s fee structure breaks down internally, don’t ever go below your personal threshold of profit margin. That’s how businesses fail and it does a disservice to the entire industry. No point busting your ass off for free!

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