In Pursuit of The Money Shot

August 22nd, 2008

In real estate photography there’s one shot that is as important as all the others put together. It’s also called the primary exterior shot. Most MLS’s require it to be an exterior shot. It’s the shot that grabs the buyers attention and motivates them to look at the home in more detail.

To understand why this shot is so important  think about how real estate web sites are designed. They always feature one photo larger than all the others with bunch of thumbnails for the rest of the photos. As buyers search through large numbers of properties in their location and price range of interest the buyers search process becomes a visual contest to see which primary image is attention grabbing enough to get the buyer to look farther. In this contest you have a split second to grab attention. It can be a fantastic property but if the front shot doesn’t grab the buyers interest they are not going to look farther. They will click to the next property. All real estate photographers should spend time searching through real estate sites to see how this works and feels.

These two photos are of the same home. The lower one is the front and the upper one is the back view high on a hill behind the home. It took me a while walking around the home to discover this angle. But clearly in this case, the shot of the back makes the best money shot! It turned out on this listing it was in fact this shot that motivated the buyer to physically come look at the home. I was able to talk to the buyer at length about the whole process.

There are a number of things to do when creating a strong primary exterior shot:

  1. Increasing camera elevation always looks better than shooting from the ground. It is truly miraculous how a little elevation adds to interest.  Use a vehicle, a ladder or a painters pole to get some elevation.
  2. Large expanses of driveway or street or straight on views of garage doors always detract from the strength of the image. These are just not architecturally interesting features.
  3. Three quarter shots, where you are shooting at a slight angle to the front of the home are are usually stronger than shots taken straight on.
  4. Front shots are not the place to use ultra-wide-angle lenses because lenses wider than about 20mm will exaggerate perspective so it’s objectionable.
  5. Try to show as many home features as possible. For example, the top photo shows, the view, the garden with a pond, the potting shed all from a high angle of view.
  6. Take lots of shots from many angles. You don’t always see everything in the finder. You may discover the best shot later in Lightroom.
  7. Sometimes the back or side view looks better than the front.

Then there are some homes that are simply “butt-ugly” from every angle and there is nothing you can do to help them. They are harder to sell. The is an old Realtor saying, “if you can’t see it, you can’t sell it”. It’s true!

Another thing worth pointing out is that the really good agents will want to participate in choosing this all important shot. This review and feedback process can take much more time but can be done with a review slide show and phone call. Be sure you understand your customers desired level of participation.

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6 Responses to “In Pursuit of The Money Shot”

  • Well said, Larry. And so true.


  • Great post Larry. I agree with you on everything except #4. I find that it’s often a necessity to use an ultra-wide to get the exterior shot. If a home doesn’t have an extra large front yard or backyard (very common in modern housing developments, and metro areas), you simply can’t back up enough to fit the house into the viewfinder. Solution; Ultra-wide lense.


  • Bryce- Every time I use the 16mm end of my 16-35mm zoom for front shots I get complaints and I don’t like the results. So I like to stay up towards the 35mm end.

  • I shoot a lot of homes that the front really is nothing special and the rear of the house is not going to cut it either. So we do a change up and go the view shot – hopefully there is a shot across a lake or ocean that will generate some interest. I also obviously do this with vacant lots and tear down homes.

    For lots where there is no view we take Google streets view sometimes. In fact if I could get those a little sharper I would start putting them in some brochures to illustrate how homes sit on the lot or if you tore it down what you might be able to do with the lot.

    M. James

  • Great points Larry. The picture that is used as the first picture on the web is the single most important picture. I always try to make this shot stand out from the rest. You can have great interiors, but if the real estate buyers don’t click on the listing they’ll never see them.

  • I’m with Bryce on #4.
    Ultra-wides can be very handy for shooting the front of a home, as you can stand on the footpath (you call it the sidewalk?), and shoot from there.
    With a longer lens, you will need to stand back, and because the sense of depth is compressed, this will probably introduce extra clutter into the foreground, such as the footpath, and possibly the street itself. Sometime you may not even be able to get far enough back.

    If distortions are introduced, then compensate accordingly. In this situation, I generally compress the X-axis of the image and crop back to the required aspect ratio.

    At the end of the day, use what ever tool is required to capture the image, and then PP it to ensure it is an accurate representation.

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