What’s Important For Real Estate Front Exterior Shots?

May 3rd, 2015

FlyerP1Recently Omar asked:

What can I do to improve my exterior shots?

Good to hear you are aware of the importance of exterior shots. In my time working with my wife listing homes it was very clear that exterior shots are the single most important photo of the listing photo set. The exterior shot is always seen by every buyer searching through listings. It can tell the story of the property and entice buyers to click through and see more details of the property. But the biggest factor is it gets the listing agent more listings. My wife and I would get 2 or 4 listings a year just because someone would see the marketing we did for some other listing (usually a twilight shot) photos and say, “…we want you to list our home and do a photo like that”, referring to a twilight photo or exterior photo that we would feature on our property flyers. Note that this is a BIG deal to a listing agent that is getting 3% of the net sales price! Frequently it was a neighbor that had grabbed a flyer from the flyer box. I always use front shots as backgrounds for flyers and brochures similar to the flyer above.

Here are some key factors in getting good exterior shots. My Photography For Real Estate e-book has a whole chapter on exterior shots and has more detail on each of these:

  1. Twilight shots:  While this could be a more sophisticated twilight photo like Mike Kelley does it can also be a simple twilight photo just shot on a tripod from 15 min before sunset to 15 min after sunset. Twilight photos are hugely popular with home sellers. Here’s how. Recently Tyrone asked, “should I charge extra for twilight shots?” Absolutely, you have to make a special trip to the property and spend about 1/2 hour on site and 1/2 hour processing so most real estate photographers charge $100 to $200 for a twilight shoot. They are well worth it to agents!
  2. Shoot elevated when you can: Some homes, sited above the street require some elevation to get a good front shot. But, 10′ to 15′ improves the look of any front shot. I just use a ladder in my pickup, but a painter’s pole or giant tripod works well too.
  3. Find the best point of view: Shooting from the right angle can take a while to figure out. For our important listings I always end up coming back more than once to get it right. This approach doesn’t always make sense of you are shooting for an agent. The important principle is try a lot of different points of view. It isn’t always the front. The best one isn’t always immediately obvious.
  4. Be there at the right time: Shooting into the sun can destroy everything. Use the Lightrac or TPE Apps to figure out when the best time to shot is. Of course, weather is always a big factor.
  5. Use a circular polarizer: The home owner who’s home we listed in 2004 (see photo/flyer above) was a professional photographer and educated me on the benefit of using a circular polarizing filter in many sunny external shots. Polarizers don’t improve shots in every situation but when it is sunny, like this shot, it can make a huge difference. Always carry a polarizer so you can try it out.

Not all listing agents realize the importance of the exterior shots. Be prepared to educate agents on the importance of the exterior shots. The exterior shot is the single most important shot in a real estate shoot!

 

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7 Responses to “What’s Important For Real Estate Front Exterior Shots?”

  • An elevated photo can give a nice perspective of the exterior or a home. Like all things, there is such a situation as too much of a good thing. RCMA shots from very high up tend to highlight the roof more than anyt other feature. Going too high might also draw attention to a home being packed in very tightly with the neighboring homes. I have an acquaintance from high school that sells property in Newport Beach, CA and insists on having RCMA photos that show just how tightly packed the homes are adjacent to the coast. It’s not his goal, but that’s what he’s doing. I know for my tastes, I would not like to be jammed up against the next home and their ill-mannered and obnoxious family. Been there and it was in Newport Beach. I use a fiberglass painter’s pole with a Manfrotto tilt head and sometimes just my fully extended tripod and hold the folded legs to get some altitude. Getting up 10′-14′ makes a huge difference. The only reason I would want to go higher is if I was trying to compensate for a home on a hill. The area I am in is fairly flat and it hasn’t been worth the investment for a taller and more elaborate set-up.

    Agents where I am now are fixated on making the subject of their front exterior photo the garage door and driveway. A fair few even manage to photograph half of one house and half of another. My approach is to try and feature the front door as the subject and avoid 1pp so I give the home some depth. It’s not always possible due to obstructions or how the home is situated on the lot (or needing to obscure something on the other side of the property), but I try. I use as long of a focal length lens on the front exterior as I can. The narrower coverage angle helps to isolate the home better.

    The Photographer’s Ephemeris (http://app.photoephemeris.com) is a great tool to determine when the sun will illuminate the front of the home. I also check to see if there is a Google Street View image of the home to find out if the front entrance is deep and if there are other architectural elements that might cast awkward shadows. All of my current clients are pleased that I put the work into finding the best time of day to photograph their listings and the results have been good. Sellers have also been impressed that there is the attention to detail being put into marketing their home. It’s very rare that an agent will tell me that a session has to be done at a particular time and usually ask me to get back to them when I know what time we will have the best light. Once they see how much it impacts the finished product, the more they want me to be there at the “right” time.

    Funny enough, I just did a blog post for agents about twilight photos. I was motivated to write the article after seeing some agent produced examples that should have been deleted straight away rather than being used as the lead image of the gallery. Extra charge? Yep, every time. Twilights are time consuming, especially if you have to make a separate trip to the home or wait around after you have finished photographing the interior for the proper light. The scarcity factor comes into play. You only have 2 opportunities a day to make twilight photos. I’m allergic to sunrises, so for me, it’s only once a day. One unique image from a session is typical if you are shooting a single image or a 2 frame composite. If you are really good, you might get as many as three, but don’t blow the evening trying to get three and winding up with junk instead of nailing one and being happy when you get to post. If you go for a “Mike Kelley” multi popped approach, one is all you’re going to get and you need to make enough money to compensate for having to stay up late to post process the day’s jobs. Mike is extremely fast compositing in PS. The first time I tried a large composite, it took me all day in post and I still wasn’t completely satisfied. If you land a large property where you will be working one full or more days, twilight images are going to be expected in most cases. I suggest not putting the twilight images on the invoice as a separate line item to avoid pre/post job haggling. Fold the cost into your quote/invoice and note the images in the Description of Work. If the customer grinds on price, offer to delete the twilight images to knock off $50 (where you had built in $150 or so). The’ll probably keep the twilights and if they don’t, you can eat dinner at a more reasonable time while still making $100.

    I use a circular polarizer all of the time. Get a really really good one for the largest diameter lens you have and a set of step-down rings for any other lenses you might want to use it on to save some money initially. Quality costs money and I have never seen any review of an inexpensive CPL that performed anywhere near as well as a top of the line name brand (from a reviewer I trust). At night, I don’t use any filters on my lenses to avoid strange flares. For some twilights, I use Cokin graduated Neutral Density (ND) filters. I love the ease of use and how quickly I can add or subtract and adjust. They’re excellent for landscape photography as well.

  • I have a shoot coming up in a wooded lot, with the front of the house at the bottom of a 200 yard steep slope from the road down to the front of the house. The afternoon sun faces the front of the house. but probably gets hidden by the high sloping landscape a couple hours before sunset. By “wooded” I mean the trees are spaced, maybe 15 to 20 feet apart, but there are a lot of them. I’d love to get a great exterior shot of the place, maybe even a twilight shot. I’ve been looking for great examples of shots taken in wooded lots like this, and have yet to find any. Any suggestions?

  • Scott, have you considered shooting at dawn?

  • I don’t take my polarizer off my lens anymore. I love everything it does that much. And yes that means interiors too. Anybody reading this, try an interior at midday with view with and without polarizer. You will be sold quick. I glued my polarizer to my lens, figuratively, when I recently got more a powerful light though. When I just had speed lights it had to come off.

    I agree Larry I think you have to get “up” on so many occasions. I think “real estate” when I shoot exteriors now, and if a boring, black street is taking up 30% of the “real estate” in my photo, I am not doing my job yet.

    The other thing I really like to do is try my best to add depth. Those straight on views are the depth killers I find. The situation I love is when light is striking the front of a house, and another side is in shade, you can really get a lot of depth feeling that way of you get the right angle. Think of homes like a show box; what is more interesting to look at, the box straight on and all you see is a square, or looking at the box from one side and seeing shadow cast on the side. If you are going for a very plain, gridded look though, the straight on comp is great of course.

    The last thing I will add is I worked for one realtor who I thought was VERY savvy, and she deemphasizes exterior shots when appropriate, in favor of places like kitchens. The exterior is usually required I believe, but that does not mean it has to be first in the slide shows. I think this is a very savvy move as it is different and it can definitely catch people’s eye.

  • @Andrew, I agree, sometimes you may not have an exterior. Condos, high rises an other multi-tenant properties might not have any curb appeal and you have to find an interior photo composition that sells the home.

  • I feel 1 point perspective should be given fairer consideration here. 2pp surely increases the dynamics and could be the best path for less interesting homes, but the power of 1pp comes from the absolute distillation of geometry. Just like nobody wants to read multi-page resumes, adding (often weak) supporting elements like a sliver of the side of the house does little to strengthen the subject (the front of the home). My Houzz profile offers a bit of anecdotal evidence of this (click name for proof). For every 1 like I got on a 2pp, I was given 40 more for a 1pp of the same home. Also when I submit a set of images to publications, almost always the editors choose the 1pp over the 2pp. If you’re in the ‘more is more’ HDR camp it’s somewhat pointless discussing, but if you’re uncertain of your path give 1pp a shot. Just choose your vanishing point wisely…

  • I thought this image I did many years ago for my own home would be perceived as tacky but it got at least fifteen inquiries from Realtors asking me how I did it. When I looked at it in a list view with competing condo thumbnails it really stood out from the crowd. https://www.flickr.com/photos/132367955@N04/17210927009/

    I think it’s important to have the first photo stand out when viewed as a thumbnail because initially that’s how it’s going to be displayed when a buyer first searches for their home. The MLS also will display results in a list view of thumbnails rather than large images. Any sort of callout will catch the eye and get the viewer to want to look closer. BTW, I used Snagit 9 Editor for this example.

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