How Do Real Estate Photographers Handle Empty Homes?

March 15th, 2016

EmptyRoomTimothy in Indiana asks:

I am very new to the art of real estate photography and photography in general for that matter. At the moment I am just shooting some homes for realtor friends when I get the chance simply for the experience.

My question is how to handle empty homes. What are the do’s and dont’s of shooting an empty house when staging is not an option?

There is usually very little real estate photographers can do about empty homes. Top listing agents understand that staging empty homes is important but since good staging can cost $1000 and above, it’s only going to make sense in some situations.

Another possible option is to check out virtual staging. Here is a recent post where we talked about virtual staging. You could outsource some images to a virtual staging provider if you don’t feel up to doing virtual staging yourself and make it an extension of your services and pass on the expense to the client. Virtual staging is relatively expensive but it’s not as expensive as real staging. Many agents would probably like to have a virtual staging option. The biggest downside of virtual staging is that when the potential home buyer gets to the property they can be disappointed, thinking, “this is not what I saw online!”

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15 Responses to “How Do Real Estate Photographers Handle Empty Homes?”

  • There’s nothing to be done for empty homes. Just shoot it like it is. At least the rooms look bigger! =)

  • I run into this a lot and unfortunately there’s nothing that I can do and nothing that the my agents are willing to do. I’m not sure that I have any do’s or dont’s but I do know that I hate shooting them. Most of the times it’s hard to tell rooms from one another so do your best to distinguish them and highlight a specific feature if it has one.

    One of my biggest issues when shooting vacant properties are the ones that have lots of large windows and hardwood floors. I shoot brackets and merge through Enfuse and from my experience it doesn’t do a great job when you get them nasty highlights and glares on the floors. If anyone knows a good way to solve this issue PLEASE share 🙂

  • Glare on floors – Depending on the light source a polarizing filter will be effective, not in every case, however.

  • I’ve grown to like glare on the floor… To me it says ‘sunny & bright’ – a big Northwest plus 🙂

  • Part of my service is virtual staging. I use software to do my own work. Here’s the link.

    Costs $10 per room and an additional $1 to have the company remove the watermark image that is embedded in the photo when the final product is ready. My fee is $50 per room. Takes me between 30 to 40 minutes to complete one room. Most of my agents who use this service I offer usually order 3 to 4 rooms (Family Room, Kitchen, Master Bedroom, Dining or Living Room). Kind of fun to play with the different furniture offerings and arranging them in the room, so you need to be careful about your time should you go this route. It’s easy to get carried away. The final product can look a little “cartoon-ish” but agents would much rather have something than nothing in a room. So far, only one very fussy agent. She was very specific about how she wanted the room to look. I diplomatically told her that I was a photographer and not a stager and she is more than welcome to find a true stager or pay the $200 to $500 fee some guys out there charge and that do brilliant virtually staging work. She got the message. There is also I guy I use in India. He is $20 a room. But man, is he good! Problem is if the agent doesn’t like his work, I got to pony-up another $20 for edits.

    The other cool thing about this software is unlimited revisions. So, after you download the final version and you don’t like it or the agent wants a re-do, eazie peezie. You can go back to the software and make the edits for no additional fee. HUGE DEAL MAN!! The trick though is to make sure you create “photo albums” in the software under the agents name and upload the photos for virtual staging.

    As for the glare on floors and such, no solutions on my end. I just roll with it. Agents don’t seem to mind.


  • Taking photos of an empty house isn’t art at all. I would say it’s boring and none of these photos can ever enhance my portfolio either. However, going from room to room & taking photographs is very fast as I don’t need to move or change anything. Sometimes I need to photograph 3-4 houses a day & having one empty house is a joy as I can get it done quickly & then relax until next house. In the end I get paid the same as it was a normal house, so I kind of love empty houses from that point of view 😀

  • Empty homes give you the unique opportunity to look at architecture instead of living. So you start to look at homes as three-dimensional boxes, and you can either light it accordingly, Or you can make use of natural light that’s going to play on that geometry anyway. A lot of beautiful stuff can be done with an empty pallete.

  • I shoot non-staged homes for my agents and clients the same as new construction.

    We like to remove or hide the abandoned furniture and dated decor. We also don’t halfheartedly try to add more decor.

    We prefer to open the curtains and blinds, leave the front doors open and turn on all the lights.

    We want to give the impression that it’s move-in ready, clean, fresh, light and bright (unless it’s something like a FLW).

  • When I photograph empty homes, I try to aim for capturing features of the room (doors, windows, closets, etc) while keeping to the basics. Don’t shoot UFWA just to get more in the photo, this tends to never really look that great.

  • UFWA – lol nice one Christian 😉

    I don’t mind shooting empty spaces at all. It’s a break from monotonous flow oriented compositions. An opportunity to fully play with geometry. Minimalism is not a curse!

  • @Dan, Vacant homes are a great place to use flashes. It’s easy as there is no furnishings to get around with the stands or the lighting. This can help the glare issue since you will normally be exposing the the brightest thing (the window, sunlight on the floor, etc) and lighting everything else with the flash.

    I like vacant homes from time to time. I will often use them to try out different shooting techniques since there isn’t anybody there. Agents just give me a lock box code for those since they are usually rehabs with contractor’s lock boxes and not just the Supra card-key boxes.

    UFWA is a trap on these since there isn’t anything in the room to give it scale. You can make the place look several times larger than it really is, which makes buyers unhappy when they come to view it in person and find that their ultra-king four poster that they thought would look tiny in the room isn’t even going to fit.

  • I’d take an empty home over a cluttered or home where ppl didn’t bother to do any cleanup (usually due to being a rental with tenants or something).

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