Fantastic Frank in Stockholm and Berlin – A Model For Real Estate Marketing

June 21st, 2015

FantasticFrank2Ernie in Los Angeles last week said:

I’m a Realtor here in Los Angeles. Since I’ve been a Realtor I’ve used only professional photography in each and every listing. I’m a huge fan of the European real estate firm Fantastic Frank and their amazing photography. I guessed it could be called editorial magazine style. I’m trying to get my photographers in LA to match this style in post processing but their still way off. how would you describe their style and how can I mimic this particular style with my post processing? I’ve searched high and low with countless google search combinations trying to see if anyone has cracked the post processing steps used by Fantastic Frank photographers. I want to be that realtor that brings this type of uniqueness as a result using this type of style in LA. Am I the only one who is interested in understanding how they do it? I would appreciate if you could point me in the right direction. I’m interested in learning post processing myself Just to acieve this.

I agree, I like this Scandinavian style look too. It was just a couple of months ago in the March 2015 PFRE monthly contest that I first discovered this Scandinavian (or nordic) light look in interior photography when Jonas Berg of Gothenburg, Sweden entered this image in the PFRE contest. Jonas’s work looks much like the style of interior photos on the Fantastic Frank site. In this PFRE post Jonas Berg describes this high key Scandinavian look.

Below is Jonas’s description of this Scandinavian look. I think it has very little do do with post-processing and more to do with high key lighting and interior styling. Lots of bright diffuse light and a unique interior design style. Here is Jonas’s description:

In Sweden the (high-end) real estate photos differ a lot from what I see in most other countries. We use less artificial light and don’t do so much HDR and stuff like that. Maybe because we are short of daylight for long periods of the year and want everything to look natural. This reflects in interior magazines as well.

I work almost exclusively in central Gothenburg (Sweden’s second largest city) and most of the buildings are from 1850-1965. For obvious reasons, it is also almost exclusively apartments and very few houses. Most apartments are also quite small, one, two or three bedroom apartments.

I think there’s something you could call Scandinavian (or nordic) light . If you look in the Scandinavian interior magazines, you often see this type of images, often completely natural daylight. I think it has to do with that we have many famous architects and furniture designers who have had great influence on how we are decorating our homes. Light wood, bright, muted colors, etc. Of course, we also have a very special light this far north and Gothenburg is quite famous for it’s raining and is gray many days a year (known as little London).

So Ernie, you are going to need more than just post processing software to get this look. Note that besides registered Realtors the Fantastic Frank team has several interior Stylists, Photographers and even creative directors. I think it says a lot when you see the real estate brokerage office has has as many creative directors, stylists and photographers in the office as they do real estate agents. Clearly the Fantastic Frank team is focused on how their marketing looks! Start out by finding a top notch interior stylist and styling every listing. Maybe even think about hiring a creative director who’s job would be to think through the look that would work best for LA. It may not be exactly the exactly the same Scandinavian look. It could be that there is  a better variation for LA.

How would you go about creating stylish listings? Will Fantastic Frank’s style work in LA? If you have the answer Ernie Espinoza needs your help.

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25 Responses to “Fantastic Frank in Stockholm and Berlin – A Model For Real Estate Marketing”

  • I would agree with the comments in your editorial response. Part of the style of Fantastic Frank site photos is the overcast sky lighting, then the non-use of supplemental lighting and an approach to styling that is typically European. It is a style pushed to the fore by the Coté series of interior and exterior design here in France. I say “here” since I am currently in France but returning to near Santa Barbara today. Sigh. Just as the lavender fields are in full bloom and their scent wafting across the plateau.

    I think the only way to achieve this look is when the shot is taken in the camera. It presupposes having a stylist who understands this look. In LA, which is filled with sun almost all the time, it requires shooting rooms on the shadow side of the building, then in the afternoon shooting the rooms on the other side. It requires leaving all artificial lighting turned off which requires the use of multiple exposures and bringing the images together in a post processing program for a balanced lighting exposure in the light and dark areas. So again I agree, the post processing is standard so special tools over and above the ones we all use are not the answer; the photographer and stylist are.

    Lastly this takes time. Time for the stylist (not a stager but it could be) to find the right props and arrange them from the point of view of the camera position, not the room (that is my problem with stagers). So the stylist needs to be on site with the photographer to adjust the props as the camera position shifts. And the rooms need to be furnished in great good taste that is consistent with both the style of the house and with each other.

    And yes, I would agree that for the photographer a background in photojournalism is a plus but it also calls for a deep understanding of controlling the subject matter which is generally an anathema to a photojournalist who is telling a story of what you find rather than rearranging it. Having been both, I have been blending the two for decades since annual report photography also requires the same sort of blend.

    I often do this approach for many of my real estate clients who understand it and are willing to pay the extra cost. But I have yet to find a stylist who can achieve the Fantatic Frank look. I had the same problem with US food stylists when shooting food stories in the US for the French Magazine “Saveurs” whose stylists also had the food version of FF’s interior stylists. It is a different mind set. In France the stylists just swung into their work while in the US I had to try to explain to them what I wanted and they never quite got it. But with an interior you don’t have the pressure of ice cream melting or sauces glazing over, bees discovering the dish or the sun setting and the stylist still messing around with the last details as it drops below the horizon.

  • Whoops, The web site has exceeded its allocation of resources.

    Ernie, Going by the one image here and the article, Fantastic Frank is not a one man, in and out in an hour, delivered by 9am tomorrow photo shoot. To get the same look you are going to need an art director that has a very similar look AND a photographer that can capture the look. Simple and elegant often takes a considerable amount of work. It’s more than just post processing, it’s shooting the scene to arrive in post with the right images to achieve the look.

    Choose your art director, get a photographer that works well with them and expect to spend time and money up front to develop the look and workflow to get there. Just like developing a menu for a unique restaurant, it is going to take time and talent. Most anybody can do burgers and fries.

  • IKEA

  • I had a realtor hire me to reshoot one of his listings. The seller was complaining the photos didn’t have enough “pop”. The realtor & I were thinking maybe due to the home being shot in the dead of winter, with no nice window views, was the problem. We get to the home, the seller started showing us a comparison to this listing & the condo he had listed in another state that had a lot of “pop”. This listing I photographed is in Georgia on a sediment filled lake, a lodge style house decorated in soothing tones of green, gold, creams. The house he was comparing it to was a condo in Naples, Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. The house was mainly white – whit walls, furniture, cabinets; with ‘pops’ of bright blue, hot pink & orange & bright green throughout. Window pulls were of a brilliant blue ocean. I don’t care how good of a photographer you are, you aren’t going to get the same look in those two houses!

  • “I’ve searched high and low with countless google search combinations trying to see if anyone has cracked the post processing steps used by Fantastic Frank photographers.”

    and a typo from Larry I think “So Ernie, you are going to need more some post processing software to get this look”. Probably meant to say “So Ernie, you are NOT going to need more some post processing software to get this look

    This style has 0 to do with post processing.

    Since a lot of it has to do with the shape of the rooms (high ceilings) , the size of the windows, the weather, the color of the walls, the furnishings, it will be hard to replicate in LA with ambient light! There are some folks in PFRE that are getting a similar look by blending multiple bounce flash frames. And don’t forget about the amazing tight compositions too.

  • @Mel – Thanks for point out the typo!

  • I have to agree with the answers here.
    I am a huge fan of this look. It is also the current fashion in many shelter magazines.
    The fact that overcast skies dominate combined with white, minimalist interiors allow the Nordic vibe to come through well. That style has been adapted to other interior styles but is profoundly hard to do easily here in Southern California.
    I work mostly inland on higher end homes and my clients are older and have very brown interiors.
    When I can get a mid-Century modern in Palm Springs I am in heaven. The irony is that so many want to shoot those houses they low ball the price for portfolio fodder.
    The fact that I can see beautiful work by Ling Ge and Matt Davis with minimal lighting just tells me that I need to develop clients on the coast (June Gloom) or get field trips to Europe. 🙂

  • This question is a very modern reaction to the skills required for “Professional” photography. By searching for software to create a look or a magic piece of equipment or app it is felt that knowledge and training are not needed.
    “I’m interested in learning post processing myself Just to achieve this.” is a very sad statement indeed. This is like saying “is there an app that I can use to be a successful real estate agent?” I don’t want to put in the time to learn the ins and outs of the real estate sales business, just give me the web and Google and I am set.

    As for the look and style of the FF listing images, I am a huge fan. It would be a look that can be recreated even in Southern Cal but would involve the simple act of using a scrim on the windows and thus creating a huge softbox type of lighting. This would of course be for angles that do not include the window. It does help to have the white interiors that the Europeans are known for.
    A quick look at Scott Hargis’s current blog post will show that the look is possible even on this side of the pond but as was earlier stated, it would not be possible for $85 run and gun shoot.

    Although Ernie stated that he has always used professional photographers (I applaud that) he might need to audition several new ones whose portfolios suggest they can achieve the look he is after. Also as stated above, styling is an art in itself and would require spending extra for the appropriate talent.

  • Here’s a guideline to tell your photographers:

    Majority of images are in 1 point perspective, tight cropping (compositions aren’t flow oriented), diffused lighting, subtle artificial fill where needed, increased contrast (you’ll have to lift the shadows and lower the highlights to balance images after contrast boosts), localized white neutralizing (for any subtle color casts), localized dodge & burn (correct any hotspots or deadspots), global dodge and burn (change the luminosity artistically afterward), localized color filter/layers (enhance light fixture glow or remove blue cast in shadows). NO HDR (subtle hand blended compositing okay).

    I could elaborate even further on my personal techniques, but honestly no RE photographer is going to put in the time to craft images to this level. (it takes me a little over an hour per photo under these guidelines) Which is why you’re not finding anyone satisfactory. You might have more success with a startup architectural photographer in your area (LA is a great place to find one) that are used to this workflow. They won’t advertise doing RE work, but if there’s not a whole lot on their plate, they’ll definitely take the job. Best of luck.

  • You talk about a “style” of RE photography- and I get that. However my first “tool” is the vendor when I ask them what attracted them to the property in the first place, and what do they really love about the place. I do get some interesting answers! Some things that I have completely missed in my assessment of the property, others that I take into account since they “sold” the place in the first instance.

    In New Zealand we live a good deal of the time outside, bar-b-que areas and outlooks so the idea of blown-out windows is anathema to me- I want to see the view just as I would see it with my own eyes. We are fortunate indeed to be blessed with blue skies for most of the year so I make the most of that to lift a viewers experience- I want to turn a “viewer” into a “buyer”. That makes the Agent happy and in turn makes me happy as I get more commissions.

  • Agree with George. Also, would consider leaving the house lights off if you prefer the editorial/interior design look, especially the European style. And, would suggest using experienced interiors photo stylists to do the staging/styling, although perhaps some of the top real estate stagers might work, though they might have to supplement their furnishings stock with some additional rentals to better accommodate the style. However, be prepared to spend considerably more on all of this.

  • Give me an overcast day and I can shoot this way no problem. I do it all the time.

    Although, this time of year, grey skies are hard to come by in Los Angeles, and often realtors want to skip, or reschedule on these [ideal interior] days. I know of some photographers who include styling in their packages. But of course, the additional time, and production comes at a premium.

  • I looked at the site too. I’d say a lot of the pictures are what I’d consider lifestyle shots (tight framing). I have to think that most are taken with a tilt-shift as well.

  • Hi Ernie –

    Definitely editorial & lifestyle! I love this and try to do this when I have more creative freedom with my clients. I have a couple of agents who give me a little more “creative” space, but for the most part, it’s often cookie cutter and making this type of photo for the MLS is rejected. When I can, I try to wait for the best ambient light, the tightest shot that will still give the idea of a room, as well as the ability to read the property to determine the right tone for the home. I think it is important to feel the way the home speaks, and edit accordingly. I think it’s also important to communicate to your photographer that this is what you are looking for. (This mid century modern home I photographed a couple of months ago is the type equation of “House+Feeling=Shoot+Edit I’m thinking. – http://bit.ly/1fvnitI)

    PS – Your site is quite different from many LA Realtors – I love it! … Please reach out to me if you’re still looking! Also, another photographer here in LA that this feels like is Laure Joliet (@ http://laurejoliet.com) I’m not sure if she is taking SFH work or only doing commercial work.

    Best Wishes –

    ~dana
    310-648-9576

  • I think these photos would undoubtedly work in LA.

    I don’t claim to look at every listing photo, but I honestly rarely see one that I like. I find there to be a very strange phenomena when it comes to listing photos. Listing photography seems to march to the beat of only its own drum. The photos are like a completely isolated collection that don’t take any styling or aesthetic cues from anywhere. I could go on and on about why. Think this is the case in America, but people would get bored.

    In my estimation, the bottom line is Europeans are ahead in this front from what I can tell. The thing that throws me off is I do see very nice video productions for high end properties in the U.S., but that same sophistication just refuses to be used on the photos for even the same listing.

  • @Andrew

    Capitalism at its leanest here. Your quality becomes irrelevant to a majority that can ‘get the job done’ 3x cheaper than you. I tried extensively to brand the editorial look to agents/brokers in my metropolitan area without success. Whereas architects–reach out to me–for this look. It ends up that all my clients are architects and I’ve only ever marketed to real estate agents. This might provide some perspective on why there are quality issues here…

  • You’re not going to duplicate the look anywhere here in the US, except maybe in NYC lofts. The lighting is basic, the style is minimalist modern. You’d have to paint every house interior white, and as someone said above, stage it with IKEA furniture… (white cabinets, a brightly colored chair) If you are relying on what you get when you show up, in the USA, you’re going to predominately find beige walls and oversized brown leather furniture for fatties.

    I mean, you could do it, but you’d have to be willing to re-furnish every property, and even then… the bigger problem you’d face is that only 1 out of 50 US buyers would find that specific style appealing to live in, even if they appreciate looking at it in a magazine.

    I think instead, a commitment to “less is more” might be a more practical approach. You show up, identify the pieces of furniture in each room that could be present in the photo, and take everything else out, then place the furniture for the right geometry. BUT, by all means, do it before the photographer shows up. 🙂

    The other thing you’ll notice, is that they favor 1 point perspective, which tends to be far more dramatic geometrically then 3 point perspective, but it does require a good eye for composition, as well as a good eye for interior design.

  • It does not take a day to make this look. I live in Copenhagen, Denmark, and so many homes already look like this. The accent is on the ‘messy, arty bits’. My wife is a home stylist and does work for an agent here who is working along the lines of Fan Frank. I shoot after she works her magic. A normal shoot takes about 1.5 hours, where as this type takes only an hour more. Its all about having a good ‘base’ to work with. Thats the Scandinavian style….. Not full of cheap dark wood and stacked full of old style furniture..

  • Ok, so I just visited your website and I must say… you are already ahead of the curve. The green house photos are awesome, if a little bit inconsistent. Some of the shots look like some top instagram shooters (saying that in a good way), possibly that generation is your target market. You have selected pretty good thumbnails on your landing page. All you photos should look like that.

    Ok so there is some over saturated HDR thrown in there, maybe tone that down a bit. If nothing else, think about desaturating the blue skies some. Don’t be afraid of shadows or nearly blown highlights… I think that should be your biggest take-away from the Nordic photos.

    Shoot tighter and lower, more 1PP and I keep working your style. Why copy someone else’s style when you can create your own?

  • “Shoot tighter and lower, more 1PP and I keep working your style. Why copy someone else’s style when you can create your own?”

    Couldn’t agree more! 🙂

  • Kelvin, I see you are in Billings, Montana. I would guess that is a very different market from LA, SF and NY. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the more desirable markets, it is not uncommon to do a lot of work on the houses themselves to prep them for sale, including repainting and re-landscaping, and even doing a fair amount of updating of the interiors, as well as completely staging the homes. However, I am talking about locations where simple bungalows can sell in the millions of dollars. So, there is a bit more of a marketing budget to work with if real estate agents choose to do that.

  • “You’re not going to duplicate the look anywhere here in the US, except maybe in NYC lofts.”

    Kelvin, just because it doesn’t exist in Billings, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist *anywhere* outside Stockholm and New York. The architecture, the styling, the furnishings and the creative goals of the shoot are perfectly common, at least in urban centers.

    I’d also echo other comments about photography vs. post production. We don’t know for sure what processes go into these photos, nor do we know if it’s the same process every time (Fantastic Frank uses multiple photographers, multiple stylists), but to assume that it must be all about the Photoshop is misguided at best.

  • Interesting discussion.

    I try to shoot a similar style and it’s not about the software or how to process them a lot depends on the house/apartment.
    First of one thing you should notice right away in this pictures is that all artificial lighting is switched off, so these images are shoot only with ambient daylight (maybe some light fill flash is used sometimes), but contrary to the “scott hargis”style flashlight never becomes the main light source here.

    Another important point is the way these interiors are decorated. Scandinavian interiors tend to be more “bright” (white wall, bright floors, heigh ceilings, big windows). If you shoot these on an overcast day with long exposure you will get some beautiful bright images.
    The decoration usually seems to be more “natural”, a lot of wood material, white, grey, black colors with a few touches of different colors.

    So from my personal experience I would say that 70% of this look depends on the architecture and decoration of the house/apartment and the rest of the photographer knowing how to pull of this style (lights off, long exposures, shot on overcast day,…)

  • Thanks for the comment George. That does make sense.

  • I am new here, interested in possibly pursuing RE photography. My specialty has been photographing commercial buildings and interiors for developers, architects, & brokers. I have never done the high-key effect, but I’m pretty sure this can be achieved by using big white flex-out reflectors (60 x 78″) with multiple bounced flash units (the equivalent of diffuse window light) on both sides of the camera, combined with local lightening in post. It looks to me like over-lighting with diffuse light so there are few shadows or dark tones, letting highlights from windows and reflections blow out, and desaturating any hint of color in neutral-colored areas. It’s not my style (I prefer to see detail in broad highlights), but just out of curiosity, I plan to try this on my next assignment — photographing a residence with all white walls. For efficiency, the big reflectors could be popped open and placed up against any wall or furniture object, and multiple portable radio-controlled flash units (at least 3 per reflector) mounted on a light stand could provide shadowless bounced light from different angles (high, mid, low). Softbox-type light modifiers would not create this effect, no matter how large, because the single flash source would still cast shadows.

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