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Don’t Charge For Real Estate Photography Until Your Verticals are Vertical

December 6th, 2016

Recently my wife Levi (a Realtor for 26 years) erupted in laughter at her computer and showed me these photos on an email flyer she got for a listing in Tacoma, WA. What my wife was laughing about is the row of little photos along the bottom that all have wacky verticals. When you line them up together you get a particularly strange effect. It makes my stomach queasy!

The fact is photographers skilled in other types of photography that have never shot interiors with a wide angle lens never think about verticals. And most never figure out by themselves, that it’s important to have verticals parallel with the left and right edge of the frame. They have to be told. And some will even argue that it’s not important!

There is a very accomplished and successful real estate photographer in Australia (that will remain unnamed) that it took me several months in 2007 to convince him that verticals should always be rendered vertical. It’s just a concept beginners have a struggle with, but once they become believers they end up spreading the gospel.

Understanding the vertical issue is a sort of rite of initiation in interior photography. Once you get your verticals vertical, you can start charging money to shoot interiors!

If you are one of the newbies that still need to know why and how here are some older posts on the subject:

  1. To be a real estate photographer you need to get some things straight
  2. PTlens: Correct Verticals, Barrel Distortion, Vignetting, Chromatic Aberration
  3. Straightening Verticals and Horizontals with Photoshop Elements
  4. Correcting Verticals -Redux (by Scott Hargis)
  5. Let’s Get This Straight (By Scott Hargis)
  6. What Everybody Ought to Know About Verticals
  7. My Mission: To Straighten All Walls in the Realm!
  8. More on Straightening Walls
  9. Another Way to Keep the Walls Straight

Wow, I didn’t realize I’d written so much on this subject.

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11 Responses to “Don’t Charge For Real Estate Photography Until Your Verticals are Vertical”

  • Larry, Those photos look like 98% of the listings (or worse) where I live and the agents and brokers love them! Why? Because they will get lots of snaps very fast and for very little money.

  • Don’t forget to level as well. Correcting perspective distorting in post when the image is not level to begin with, results in more queasy distortion. The bedroom shot in the illustration is an example. This, one of my pet peeves in landscape photography, where the horizon is not level, gives me that queasy feeling.

  • While it demonstrates the lack of skill or professionalism of the photographer, Realtors ultimately bear a responsibility for posting them. Misrepresentation is a key word they will get on their high horse and rail about – correctly so – which some even voicing the ‘no Photoshop ever’ argument. Sure, one should not remove permanent objects, however, is not uncorrected verticals misrepresentation. They are essentially taking a structurally sound home and making it look on the verge of collapse as the walls, doors and windows are leaning. Worse, they don’t even tout the custom cabinetry for the leaning walls which should bring more value (that’s a joke). Living in Florida, I’ve asked them if it was built on a sinkhole about to open up as the walls were leaning.

  • And lest anyone think this is true of RE photography, it is just as true for almost any type of commercial photography. I shot so many “pack” shots (products in their packaging boxes) and computers in their beige metal boxes, industrial large machine tools and they all have to be corrected for both vertical and horizontal distortions or your art director will not be calling you again. Then we made the corrections on the swiveling and rotating backs of 4×5″ view cameras, a much more challenging practice since the image was upside down and back to front but we had to get it right at the time we shot. Now it is a simple matter in Photoshop to do the same thing. You just have to give yourself enough extra room in the shot to allow for the resulting loss of visual real estate, so to speak.

    Photojournalists don’t have this problem since it is not an issue. Photographers wanting to use distortion to add to the message of distance for example or drama looking up it is also different. But for us, its vital.

  • I hear this issue of “misrepresenting” property too often. I sometimes wonder if that isn’t just an excuse realtors use to avoid the cost of professional photography. I once had a discussion with a managing broker that was accusing me of false representation of a property. When I asked him specifically what was wrong, he said that it “just plain doesn’t look that good”. We then looked at his pictures and the first thing I brought up was the verticals. My question was, “we’re the walls actually falling down, or did you under represent the property?” Of course I then went on asking if it was really that much darker in the regions further from the camera and other “misrepresentations”. Needless to say, he still uses his Iphone, but he no longer questions my work for other agents.

    I do understand the concern about misrepresenting, but I also wonder what would happen if a client sued an agent for failure to properly market his property – “misrepresenting” it by making it look like it’s falling apart? It’s a shame that so many people will accept less because they list with the wrong agent and don’t know the value of professional photography.

  • I think those images can teach us an important lesson though, the lesson being that our clients certainly aren’t obsessing over or checking verticals in the photos we deliver. Verticals actually take a long time relative to other parts of post production, and getting them “right” in the field is a huge all around time saver. I now believe in getting them right in the field and not even correcting them unless they look off to my eye. One points will usually need a little help, but I’ve found many non-one point comps can easily slide by uncorrected and straight from the camera. I like to compare it to cooking, you will see the best chefs in the world and they are doing things extremely fast. The plate may not look or taste as perfect as if the chef prepared it for a presidential dinner, but it’s perfectly acceptable even at a higher-end fine restaurant.

  • If you look closely, the photos seem otherwise pleasing. There are photographers and whole companies who take good otherwise photos and NEVER adjust for verticals or horizontals. They know this, because I’ve mentioned it to the principals of the business, but they never bother. As Jerry said above, the agents don’t seem to care either which is frustrating.

    When I teach general classes in Real Estate photography to agents, I now have a small section that covers: “Please us a professional, but, PLEASE use a good one.

    @Gary, I always ask agents who question professional home photos as ‘misrepresentation’ to show me their business cards. I ask them: “was that done by a professional?” “Did he/she use professional lights?” “Did you have your hair specially done for the shoot?” Makeup? “Well, then, Do you carry those lights around with you every day?” Does your hair look like that every day? (I do refrain from asking them why, if they’re so worried about misrepresentation, that they carry around a photo of themselves that was taken 25 years ago…)

  • Another place where verticals are vertical is movies and TV. It’s only rarely that a shot will be looking up or looking down and it will be done for a specific reason and not just sloppy camera placement. Jibs and cranes are made in such a way as to keep the camera level when moving up and down. There is a certain aesthetic to moving pictures that makes it very easy to spot home movies; they do all of the wrong things.

    Before there were cameras, real estate images were done with paints and a brush. I’m sure there was lots of misrepresentation going on, but the verticals are vertical and unless the castle was sinking into the moat, it wasn’t rotated. Much of the work was 1pp so the horizontal lines were horizontal as well. It was found very early on that upright geometry was much more pleasing.

    If an agent is going to go to the expense of hiring a professional photographer, they should be insisting good quality work and maintaining verticals should go without saying just as good exposure and colors. The best agents that represent high end listings are more likely to “get it” so photographers that would like their business should be making images that a top agent would approve. Even if agents are not obsessing over geometry, it does make a difference in quality.

    The more self-critical about my work that I am, the less I’m going to hear about something from my clients. When I’ve been happy with a gallery I usually get a nice email from the agent about how great the photos look. Even when I find a few things that I don’t like, they don’t catch them at all. I’m playing to an easy audience right now, but my goal is to be working for much more demanding customers and I want them to have very little to criticize when I deliver images. If it’s just the art side and not the technical, I can live with that.

  • I call these type of RE Photographers…. Semi Professional. Agent pays but gets only half of the deal… . They can say that they’ve hired a professional Photographer, but the only thing they’ve got is a… fee.
    I am sure their client will not be “Wowed!!!” by these Photos, so the homeowner will not become an “advertiser” for the Agent that they’ve hired to sell their home.
    Besides the verticals, I would not consider these photos very good anyway and the fact that verticals are not adjusted or taken the right way from the start makes them just a poor quality photographs.
    Years ago, when I was setting up my Post-Processing Office (by the way… now available to other RE Photographers that are NOT based in MA… PhootProcessingServices.com) I made it very clear that Verticals have to be Verticals… and…that’s is just a start, but the most basic adjustments that my Processors have to be 100% fluent in adjusting. Of course if you shoot with a wide lens and small spaces, there are challenges, but… there is no excuse for a Photographer that charges for their work to deliver these kind of photographs.
    Then so many photographers wonder why they aren’t busy…. well that’s why… because if you deliver poor quality product, agent will find a true professional that will deliver a quality Real Estate Photographs. Yes… it takes time to do post-processing, but if RE Photographer is concentrating on not spending any money or as little as possible…. now they have to worry about increasing their fees… .
    I think that if a true Real Estate Photographer will pay the most attention to the quality of the final product… Real Estate Photographs… they’ll be always begging for business.
    With high quality Photographs, a real Real Estate Photographer can charge a higher fee without warring about loosing much business.
    No quality Real Estate Photographer should charge less than $200 for their Photography… we charge $250 and don’t have any problems with being busy.

  • Googling this exact concept is what led me to find this great website, forum and group of contributors a while ago. U all are extremely talented. Thanks for sharing your craft.

  • @ Marek How much time and expenses do you have in your typical $250 customer?
    If buyers were complaining about non-verticals, correct color balance, out of exposure shots then the agents would take notice and maybe demand PFRE. Buyers can figure out if the house meets their criteria and decide to make an appointment to see it.
    Right now the “problem” in retail real estate is low inventory in most areas, it is not uncommon the that house will be sold before the pictures are uploaded and that is probably why a lot of agents are holding off on hiring photographers.

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