Reader Questions About Shooting Rentals and North Facing Homes

November 19th, 2014


Jason’s Question:  What is the best way to shoot exteriors that have lots of shadows or in complete shadow due to the front-side facing North?

Answer: I would say do a twilight shoot. At twilight North facing vs South Facing doesn’t make much difference. Problem is of course this takes an extra trip or a very carefully planned shoot where you shoot the inside just before twilight and the exterior at twilight. I’ve tried this several times and its hard to get the timing right.

Another alternative would be to learn how to do light painting like Mike Kelley does.

Adrian’s Question:  An agent has asked me to shoot some rentals. Would you charge more for taking rental images or still the same as real estate ones?

Answer: I can’t think of any justification for charging more for rental photo usage, unless it’s that rental photos are typically used much longer than resale listing photos. The problem with trying to get more for rental photos is rental agencies make much less than resale agents so they are probably going to push-back on higher prices.

The problem with pursuing shooting rental properties is there typically isn’t the repeat business with rentals that there is with resale listings. Resale listing agents will list 10 to 50 or more listings a year so it doesn’t take many listing agent clients to fill your schedule. All the rental listing agents I’ve ever met never seem to care much about marketing.

The exception to this is if you live in a vacation area where there are lots of rental properties. I would always try to deal with the rental owners if possible. They seem to understand the benefits of good marketing photos than rental agents.


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12 Responses to “Reader Questions About Shooting Rentals and North Facing Homes”

  • In regards to shooting rentals: For long term rentals, I would charge the same rates as real estate but licensed only for the use of advertising as a rental property. The images may not be a used for the sale of the property without an additional licensing fee. (Full price again)

    Something much more common for me is shooting vacation rentals. I charge at least 50% more than I do for a Real Estate listing. Why? Even though the process is not much different nor are the results, the value of the imagery is greater because it will be used to sell the same product over and over again. (until they refurnish the place in three years.) License is for advertising as a vacation rental only. Then when it goes up for sale, I can license the images to an agent for use in the sale. ( Full Real estate shoot price)

    It tends to work both ways. I often shoot a condo for sale, then re-license the same images to the new owners for use as a vacation rental. It really adds up. Keep your copyright, license and re-license your images based on their value and life is good. Real Estate photography is advertising photography and should be treated as such.

  • @Jacob – If you have having problems with exteriors that face north, plan on doing a sky replacement. Shoot one frame for the home, one for the sky and one for a blown out sky if the first one doesn’t quite do the job. All the images should be photographed from a tripod so they will line up without too much fuss. Some time ago, a tutorial was posted on the PFRE Flickr on replacing a sky using the “blue channel” technique. It works very well and is something that you should be proficient doing. Twilight photos are often done by using two separate exposures, sky and home, which is much faster in post than trying to composite 20+ flashed frames. Each method has it’s pro and cons, but for standard work, a sky replacement is much faster.

    @Adrian- Larry’s right about agent’s not making too much on rentals, so you may want to find ways to photograph them inexpensively. I charge by the image and I don’t lower that price. I have a minimum charge to accept a job since it’s not worthwhile to do a job where the image count is too low. I will do small jobs if I will be in the neighborhood and that could be a good way to offer services to the rental market where they may only want 4-5 pictures of a floor plan/apartment and a couple of photos of the amenities. Expect that the photos are going to be used for years, especially the community images and license for that use. They aren’t going to be managing their licensing well enough to come back to you with a request for an extension at the end of a couple of years. I would put in wording that makes it an additional charge to use the photos if the property is put up for sale so you have some leverage if you find the property does get put on the market.

    For vacation rentals, B&B’s, etc, work up a package to sell the owners on a full spread of photos not only of the property, but the local attractions and lifestyle images too. I’d suggest not licensing the images for more than 2 years/seasons at a time and keep them on the calendar for a follow up when the term is coming to an end. Just like other rentals, prohibit using the images to sell the property without additional licensing. I’d love to get some vacation rental work. If the owner’s are new and running low on funds, setting up a one year license and taking a negotiated trade for some of the fee might work out. Vacation rentals should bring in higher rental rate since there is more risk of a property sitting empty and advertising becomes very important to keep that from happening. Don’t be afraid to ask for higher fees on these properties. They are selling the sizzle and not the steak.

  • @Jason, when ever I heard that the property I was going to shoot was facing North I would cringe.
    so, I purchased a graduated ND filter (I think mine is 2 stops), which helps balance the back lit blown out sky.
    I would then (sometimes) shoot 5 HDR images, and try to blend them in Photomatix, or LR infuse (which I am not an expert with), but this has saved my butt many times and fast in post.

    The one thing I always do when shooting a property, no matter which way it is facing, is to stand on my 4′ step ladder so I am shooting from a higher elevation than from the ground, and not shooting up into the sky. but with North facing homes, I always use my tall tripod, so the HDR images align better. also, if you are proficient with lighting, you could use a couple of slave units on stands and fill in some shadows. this gets easier the more you use it. I do this with twilight shoots and filter my lighting the same as the property lights when filling in. But, I too need to learn sky replacement. I would imagine living in the beautiful North West, where the sun is not always cooperating, or seen often, Sky replacement proficiency must be a common thing.

    @Adrian, I live in Florida, in a popular vacation/tourist area. I have a minimum fee to shoot a home up to 3200 sq ft. if someone has a small 1000 sq cottage for rent, I still charge the same. If they want exterior shots of a pool, tennis court, or clubhouse that are on the grounds, I normally wont charge. But if they want inside shots where I have to light, I charge an additional fee, approx. $25 per location. The same thing for shots of near by areas, like beach, shopping or restaurants, it will still be additional shooting fee.

  • North-facing homes in the Northern Hemisphere are tricky (not so much Down-Under where I am originally from)!

    When the days are longer where I am in Northern Indiana, the arc of the sun gives you a small window of opportunity to get a little direct light on the north-side of the house early in the morning and late in the afternoon — often this sliver of light is enough to make a big difference in your image.
    Use this app to track the sun throughout the day on your location:
    Try and spot the home on Google Maps before scheduling the job… because, lets say there is a big garage that sticks-out on the east-side of the house that will block the sun, then schedule the job for the late afternoon to get the glimpse of direct sunlight on the front of the house from the west. Or if the home is on a slight angle, say facing NNE, then the morning will be best.

    The other trick I use, is I shoot 3 brackets at 2 stops apart (hand-held up a ladder is fine as long as you are steady and the slower bracket is faster than ~1/30 sec) and then use LR Enfuse to blend, with the auto-alignment turned-on. The overexposed bracket lights-up the house, while the underexposed gives you enough blue in the sky to work with in LR. You do have to check your results in-camera though as metering in this situation is tricky… sometimes under-expose the bracket set more if you aren’t getting enough blue in the sky, or over-expose the bracket set more if the front of the house is not lit-up enough. Enfuse gives you an image you can further manipulate in LR, especially using the Shadow and Highlight sliders.

  • For shadows-in-the-front exteriors, a hazy overcast day is ideal. This way you get flat even lighting on the front of the house, and then replace the sky. Just fade the sky replacement a tad so it doesn’t look fake.


    I recently had three in a row North facing jobs (two were shopping centers and one was a home). There are a lot of things one can do but the most important (IMHO) is to make sure the client understands the problem! With homeowners, just ask them to take an iPhone shot of their home on a sunny day! They will get the message loud and clear when they see only a silhouette of the house. With the expectations in line, I use all kinds of tricks to overcome this.

    1- Time of day. One excellent way is to shoot the property when the sun is really low in the sky, for me best has been just after sunrise. Not the twilight hour but just after. If that doesn’t work;
    2- Wait for a nice cumulus cloud day (the big white puffy clouds). Shoot when the sun goes behind one. In the winter (now) this might be tough as these types of clouds usually are associated with rain. If that doesn’t work;
    3- Shoot on a very overcast day (perfectly even white sky) that is also bright, not a dark day. Then, as mentioned, do a sky replacement. Be careful you don’t make it look UN-natural (don’t’ use that summer day sky with beautiful clouds while the home show no such clouds in the window reflections). I usually lower the transparency of the cloud layer by a good margin, just to get something in there other than pure white. Less is more here. If this doesn’t work;
    4- See if they will go for a classic twilight shot. If they won’t;
    5- (add your technique here)

    In all cases, I set my camera to the max D-Range possible. On my Nikon is called Active D-Lighting, on my Sony it was D-Range. I’m sure Canon offers something very similar. This is not HDR. I’ve tried that on my D810 (in camera HDR) and have had limited success. This has been the biggest overall help. North facing properties are simply a huge challenge!

    RENTALS; Same as for sale. No difference for me. One thing I have noticed, for some strange reason, is Rentals seem to care more about good images that For Sale properties. I’m sure there is an explanation for that.

  • About Rentals:
    I am a property manager of single-family homes for the past 32 years and have been photographing them digitally since 1999. We photograph these properties between residents due to seasons and interior changes. We shoot between 15-25 shots per property. They are shot VACANT, clean and rent-ready. We use a DSLR with super wide lens and flash mounted only on the camera. (Nikon D300/Tokina 11-16-2.8/Nikon SB-900 or Canon 5D-MIII/Tamron 16-35-2.8/580EXII). Since there is not any furniture in the way, shadows are not a problem. Through doors into other rooms we handle more quickly with touch up in LR than with setting up remote flashes. It takes up about 15-20 minutes per property or quicker depending on size. Staging is only addressing blinds. I usually chimp each shot and only take back one per scene. I use the iPhone app LightTrac to determine best time of day for the front photo as it is the most important. In the ATL market, our photos are usually the best in the market and we regularly get feedback from potential residents about that fact. We also create a YouTube video from our stills in LR and add it to our postings.

  • When I shoot north facing homes, I make sure to have the lens shade on, I use a 1/2 ND 2 filter over the lens, and I typically shoot using a pole. That higher angle keeps flare out of the lens (somewhat). On some homes, it just isn’t possible to avoid flare at certain times of day, so earlier or later is the key, or if they will pay for it, a dusk exterior. However, I try to have a solution regardless of the problem.

    Another solution if the property allows, is to use a longer focal length with a lens shade, which will greatly reduce the potential for flare.

    I have also become pretty proficient at removing flare via editing. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, and not worth a return trip.

  • Thanks Larry and all.

    Terrific advice from a terrific group.

    Looking forward to trying some of these techniques.

  • Yes, thanks everyone for the great bunch of advice an insights!

  • hi! I am in Australia and I shoot a lot of rentals.. it is big business in my area. Believe it or not i actually charge a smaller fee for rentals. This is mainly driven by competition, i work in a highly competitive market and i am not the cheapest, but have still found the need to offer a lower price in rentals to actually get the business.. but i see many benefits for me:
    1) I dont fluff as much setting up the space, and i have trained the property managers to help. They are time poor too so the less time they are on site the better… they all know walk in turn on all the lights and fix the blinds and put anything away while i am setting up. they are much more hands on then my sales agents. there is also rarely the owner of the property present, usually no tenants either. just me and the agent. Property managers are more accepting of “it is what it is” just take it.
    2) Picking up keys to vacant properties can be great as you can use it to fill gaps in your day. i pick them up first thing in the morning, shoot in breaks and return the keys last job of the day. the property managers love it, and it means less wasted time for me
    3) it allows you to showcase your work to the agency without doing freebies. I have had several calls from sales agents who wouldnt talk to me when i drop in then calling and saying “our rentals look better than my sales, can you shoot for me”
    4) in my area the rental and sales markets operate on different cycles. Rentals get buys in winter when sales are a bit slower. Also now most of my sales agents are holding off their listings until the new year, so for example next week i currently have 9 rental shoots booked and only 1 sale. I expect it to be like this until mid January.
    5) Property managers are a wealth of information on their sales department, they will tell you who calls the shots, who you need to speak to about using you instead of them, and i have had several property managers personally deliver messages to sales agents for me… great way to get past the reception desk 🙂 also the receptionist have got to know me as i am dropping in to pick up keys or see the property managers…so when i come in with my sales pitches they are much more accepting..
    6)I charge less, but i also do them in about half the time. Alot of my agents will book two back to back, which ends up actually working out more than one sale listing and completed in the same time.

    as you can see i treat my rentals as a marketing opportunity, i look after them and they look after me!

  • Thanks a bunch for all your great answers everyone!

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