To Be A Real Estate Photographer You Need to Get Some Things Straight

May 5th, 2011

This post is aimed at about 2 to 5% of the real estate photographers out there. If you can make vertical reference lines like the red lines in the photo to the right on ANY (even one) of your photos that don’t line up exactly with walls, window lines etc, I’m talking to you here.

The photo to the right is one of several photos on a e-mail flyer I got recently for a $2.8 million listing created by one of you in that 5%. The red vertical reference lines are my addition. Here are the two points I want to make:

  1. The listing agent should have sense enough to not use this kind of unprofessional photos to market any home, let alone a $2.8 million home.
  2. Anyone doing real estate photography charges to shoot real estate listings should have sense enough to keep verticals, vertical.

These two points should be obvious from all traditional depictions of buildings in all kinds of media like home magazines, Architectural Digest, movies and TV. You have to not paying attention to miss this fact.

Why Converging Verticals A Big Deal?
In architectural photography or real estate photography verticals MUST be vertical, which means parallel to the vertical edge of the photo because vertical walls are an assumed environmental fact. We all live in a world where the walls are vertical 99.99% of the time. We are all so conditioned by vertical buildings that when the eye/brain encounters a photo like the one above where the walls are even slightly out of vertical the brain has a hard time letting go of this visual distraction. That is, you have a hard time seeing this as a lovely bright solarium because you can’t visually get past the wacky walls.

Using Ultra-Wide Angle Lenses Exacerbate Converging Verticals
The fact is that when you use an ultra-wide angle lens to shoot interiors if you don’t have the camera and lens perfectly level in the front-to-back plane the verticals will converge in one direction or the other. So you have three choices to make sure the verticals are vertical:

  1. Use a bubble level to make sure you camera is level.
  2. Use a tilt-shift lens to correct the verticals at the time of the shot.
  3. Use an image editor to fix the problem in post-processing.

Correcting In Post Is The Conventional Solution
You can correct verticals with Lightroom 3, Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. I find a large percentage of people I confront about this issue are just not very adept at fixing verticals so they take their best shot at getting the verticals vertical when shooting and then just don’t do much in post. Scott Hargis just posted a  good tutorial on how to do this with Lightroom 3

I Consider It My Personal Duty To Rid The World of Converging Verticals
Converging verticals is the single most frequent problem I encounter in real estate photography. I’m going to go so far as to say if your verticals are converging you shouldn’t be charging money for your work. Be forewarned, I’m getting pretty obnoxious about getting in peoples face when their verticals are converging.

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21 Responses to “To Be A Real Estate Photographer You Need to Get Some Things Straight”

  • Great topic. It seems so obvious but I see a lot of “professional” pictures on RMLS like this. I remember the day I figured this out, and it was the single biggest improvement I’ve ever made!

  • Topic of the day: Verticals!

    I agree Larry, it’s amazing seeing photos like that out in the wild when you know the realtor paid for professional photography.

    If anyone is curious about completing this in post using Lightroom 3, check out Scott’s video that was just posted:

  • 2-5%? More like 40% around these parts.

  • I love the title.

    A tripod with one or two bubble levels is a must have. Also cameras that have a built in grid in the eye piece are indispensable. My Nikon d300 and d7000 both have it and I leave it on ALL the time and use it for each shot.

    Also here is a BIG BIG trick I use. I have the camera at about my hip. It is about the eye level of a small child. This puts the camera at the center horizon of the room. It is a little uncomfortable to bend over, squat, or get on my kneed but the end result is much better. If you take the picture with the tripod all the way extended and with the camera at your eye level you will have to do much more lens correction in post to get rid of those converging angles.

    Here is my most recent tour. You can see the how the images turn out and the camera is only about 3ish feet off the ground I would say.

    Also I do not shoot the outside or any of the exterior shots at that low of a level. I usually will extend the tripod to about my eye level which is around 6ft.

  • +1 for Robert’s recommendation of using a grid. I use the EF-D focusing screen in my 50D’s, and it’s a big help in speeding up pp since I can get the verticals closer to begin with. Unfortunately, grids are not an option for Rebel series cameras.

  • I am one of those real estate agents who take their own pictures. Thanks to Larry’s ebooks and this blog I seem to do OK–probably in the top 5% of agents and NOT in the bottom 5% of pro photographers. I always shoot inside with a tripod, and like Robert Barr shoot quite low to the floor. I really liked his tour–great staging. The last thing I do with a picture in Photoshop Elements is to use the square selection tool to check the virticals. The rotate and especially the skew tools do a great job. I have a quid pro quo arrangement with a great interior designer. She helps me with staging and I take pictures of her work for her web site. Yes, she tried 2 other pro photographers but didn’t like them. They must be in the bottom 5%. Of course, taking her pictures is different than taking my pictures for a listing. All she cares about is her decoration. I take great care on my virticals and the view out pictures. She didn’t care about either. Over time we have both come arround. She now wants all her pictures to have the great views out of the window–rather than a white blur. On the other hand, I have come to realize that some shots of her furniture are better if taken from a high angle–with the result of a great deal of virtical distortion. When I have adjusted the virticals for one of these shots she always rejects the adjustment. She now does agree that shots taken at mid-hight level should be straight. I looked at several of her “decorating” magazines. These were not architectural magazines–the focus is on the furniture and the decorating. About 1/3 of the pictures in these high-end mags have skewed virticals. About 1/4 have blurred views out of the windows. So for real estate pictures STRAIGHT is a must, but for decorating magazines a little SKEWING is OK.

  • Excellant discussion.You really make the point here! Always enjoy your discussions and point of view! Good work!

  • I try pretty hard to keep the verticals vertical. In general I am on a tripod and use a small level to keep the lens positioned correctly. Is that overkill, I kinda figured that I was getting a better result as my tripod does not have bubble levels. I am using a Manfrotto are there add-on bubbles? Do you get the same accuracy as a 6″ hand level?

    Secondly, this is a timely conversation for me because I just called Canon about my 10-22 and the calibration. I have just lived with it the way it is, but knowing now that Larry might “get in my face” I feel a need to strive for perfection. When I am in Lightroom doing the Vertical corrections I have to pick a center vertical and pick an average for the two side verticals, or if there is not dramatic center vertical I will adjust for one side or another. It seems that the vertical and horizontal corrections are having opposite effects within the same photo. The tech at Canon said I was free to send it in for Calibration, but that I should first take some photos with another lens to assure it was not the CMOS. Has anyone sent in a 10-22 for calibration, and know what the cost is? Are there any procedures or self calibration and measurements I can prior and post sending to Canon for verification?

    @Larry I am assuming these are virtual “in your face” discussions, you wouldn’t fly across the country to teach me a lesson would you? 😉

  • I actually like seeing converging verticals in listings… it’s one more thing that makes me look good ;~)

  • I agree with Casey! Makes my job easier to win jobs and new clients. When I am prospecting I am going to keep a closer eye out for those agents who look to be hiring someone to shoot their photos. Any that are converging I am going to add to my list of people to contact. Thank you for the topic, it is a very important one.

  • Vertical lines are important! Its an easy fix if you don’t get it right during a shoot. If using Photoshop you can use, EDIT- TRANSFORM- DISTORT. Its easy to correct verticals that are barely off. But its much easier to get the verticals right when shooting.

  • I enjoy some dramatic shots like a loft or stairwell view looking down, looking up at a downtown condo building,or the very high or low shots to show beamed ceilings or furniture as mentioned for interior designers, and of course the verticals are very skewed. I leave them that way when the position of the viewer is obviously distorted: what’s the consensus on these non-standard shots?

  • Of course for 99% of my work my verticals are straightened. However, what’s the consensus for non-standard shots such as a loft or stairwell view looking down, looking up at a high-rise downtown condo building, shooting very low to show high ceiling beams, or shooting high to show an interior designer’s work as mentioned above? When the position of the viewer is dramatic resulting in skewed verticals, I leave them like that.

  • @Emma- Yes, absolutely, there are a handful of exceptions to not having verticals, verticals. Scott Hargis shows a good example, in his video that I link to in the post, of a case where the verticals are not made perfectly vertical. Scott talks about not making the verticals vertical because that’s what viewers expect when seeing a 4 story building from a low angle. This is exactly the point, you are making verticals, vertical when the viewer expects it and not making the verticals, vertical when the viewer expects that. Making photographs is all about controlling the viewers visual experience.

  • “making verticals, vertical when the viewer expects it and not making the verticals, vertical when the viewer expects that.”

    Bet you can’t say that five times fast.

  • Scott, you maniac, I can’t say my own name five times fast. If the people who put out low quality work with bad lines in it can not see that they are charging for something that has almost no value, then they probably aren’t reading this to get better at their craft. It does not matter how you fix anything, whether in pre or post. It also does not matter if you actually take photographs, you can make drawings that look like photographs if you want to. Nobody really cares how it is done, just make sure you do it. Thanks for bringing this up again, Larry. Back to the basics is important;, I have had a recent experience reminding me to start at the start, proceed properly to the finish and make sure all the work in the middle gets done.

  • thanks for this article, it’s reassuring to know I’m doing the right thing. i take care of the photography for our office and although i am in no way a professional i do the best i can and take pride in my work to make sure not only my listings but the rest of the boys look as best they can be with the limited equipment and editing software i have. it’s interesting to note we lost a listing because the owner, who ran an underwater baby photography business, didn’t like the angle i used in the bedrooms and bathrooms i.e. keeping the verticals vertical, as she felt by shooting from an an angle downwards towards the corner of the room it made them look bigger, and she was a professional photographer, albeit in a different field. life goes on.

  • Thank you for this article and for the link. This is something I need to work on. I didn’t realize that it was that easy to fix in post processing. I try to get the shot as straight as possible in camera, but when I’m at a wide angle…such as a bathroom…it’s tough. Thank you!

  • A local firm of about 150 agents just hired a “professional” photographer to shoot all of their listings over $350K at no charge to the listing agent. This particular photographer also shoots for another large company in town with the same deal. I want to SCREAM when I see his work, the walls are always crooked – always always always! (I shoot for about a dozen of the agents who refuse to use him even tho their company does not pay for me, they do.) To boot, the agents don’t even get the photos for 2 – 3 weeks AFTER the listing hits MLS. Nothing like seeing a $700K house with walls that are caving in. What makes me want to scream even more is that they company didn’t even give me the chance to put in a bid to do their work even they know I shoot a lot for them already – sigh. I will never understand.

  • I always notice converging lines on the local listings and wonder why some of the agents still use these photographers. Especially when the property is close to the $1 million range.
    The first thing I do when setting up my camera for the shot is to set the height and then make sure the camera is level (I like to shoot low angles unless the ceiling is beautiful or important). I use a Really right stuff type grip on all my cameras, and a quick release head which has a bubble level, then, I only have minor corrections in Lightroom.
    The only time I break the converging line rule (mostly) is taking hi angle shots from inside the kitchen, looking out towards the balcony to see the pool or the beach depending on the location. If not, you only see the sky and not the beautiful view. But sometimes, I shoot very high from outside the Kitchen, looking in, to show the sink and base cabinets, depending on the layout. Many times, I find the converging lines add impact and brings your eyes into the shot. So, as Scott so eloquently states, which I agree with, make your verticals vertical, when verticals, should be vertical. But when they shouldn’t be vertical, (as we say in NY)……..Fohgeddaboudit

  • Totally agree, it’s one of my obsessions, just like the straightness of the lines…

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