Photo Modification Ethics For Real Estate Photography

July 11th, 2008

I ran across a wonderful little video about Hany Farid, a Dartmouth professor who is doing research on how to algorithms for detecting altered photos. Hany is working with Adobe to make his algorithms for fake photo detection widely available.

It’s amazing to me how much photo modification is goes on in advertising but even more amazing that most of the population is oblivious to the fact that you cannot trust a photograph to be an accurate record of reality. Daily examples of modified photos are posted and analyzed at I find this site a great source of entertainment.

At various times over the last 3 years I’ve done posts on photo modification ethics for real estate photographs. I have a page that summarizes previous posts and discussions on this subject and after watching the above video I reactivated the page so it has a link along the top of the blog header image. It’s called “ethics” to save space.

Everyone seems to agree that material, physical characteristics that buyers care about (like removing telephone poles, power lines etc.) should not be modified. But disagreement usually arises over issues like should the grass or landscaping be modified. I have no problem removing cars from the driveway or “making the bed” or “moving furniture” but when Levi wants me to “fix the grass” and make it look lush and green rather than brown and ratty I always push back but I don’t always win this argument. Others seem to have trouble deciding if it’s OK to fake the grass grass too. Grass seems to be on the fuzzy border line. I’d much rather not fake anything but it’s hard to agree on that hard line of where to stop making a shot look perfect.

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4 Responses to “Photo Modification Ethics For Real Estate Photography”

  • Honestly, unless the landscaping company is waiting for me to finish my exteriors before they start rolling out the sod, I have a hard time with turning a dirt front yard into a putting green.

  • For homes that are under construction one compromise is to adjust the lawn to give the impression of grass without giving it the look of a prefect lawn. Think along the lines of an artist rendering instead of a perfect photo.

  • I come from a land where folks routinely spend hundreds of thousands of dollars installing and maintaining lush resort like landscaping. To install beautiful landscaping with “Photoshop” where none exists clearly strikes me as misrepresenting a material fact.
    In California we take a fairly extensive course on ethics in order to become licensed. I am sure other states have similar requirements. Because we learn then that we are not to “misreprepresent any material fact having an effect on the value of the real property,” you will not find too many listings offering a verbal description of a beautiful green lawn where no such lawn exists.
    If we simply follow the same ethical test regarding our lisiting images, we should be fine, shouldn’t we?

    For those who need help but are not inclined to do it themselves, there is at least one service available to improve listing photos, who will pledge never to cross the ethical line and get you into ethical trouble.

  • I have a general idea about what this article is trying to say. If only the writer had taken the time to read over his article before publishing or posting it.
    I was unaware that the term “algorithm” became a verb?! I checked again and it’s confirmed that “algorithm” is defined as a noun.

    And this: “how much photo modification is goes on in advertising…”
    I am not a writer. But, I can recognize good english when I see it.

    This is an awesome forum for this type of photography by any means. Unfortunately, I found this page after I started my real estate photography endeavors. I learn something from it every time I look it up. In fact, it’s so great, that it has become my Safari Home Page.

    I am aware that this is not an “English critique forum”. But, having to read an article several times in order to get the gist of the article is a bit much to ask of the reader. We need to put some thought process and consideration in the writing before posting.
    Just a thought.

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