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First Steps for Getting Started in Real Estate Photography

July 8th, 2018

Jessica in California says:

I am a real estate agent and just started to shoot interior images for my listings. I am practicing ISO, exposure, and aperture. Any advise you can give me would be appreciated.

The first step when you are getting started is to understand the various approaches to interior photography and decide which approach you are going to learn to use.

Shooting interiors presents a problem that you will have to decide how you are going to solve. The problem is how do you deal with the difference between the dark areas in the interior of a room and the brightness of the sunlit windows. So your camera settings are driven to a large extent by which process you choose to solve this basic brightness range problem. In general, this brightness range is wider than cameras are able to capture. There are many different approaches used to solve this large brightness range problem inherent in interior photography:

  1. Do your shoots only around sunset when the brightness inside is very close to the brightness outside. When I started out, I actually did this and it works but the scheduling logistics are very awkward. You can only do one shoot a day using this approach.
  2. If you are shooting with a modern camera and shooting in RAW format, depending on the window brightness, you can frequently use the Highlights and Shadow sliders in Lightroom or Photoshop to make the windows darker and the interior shadow areas lighter. This is a very limited approach.
  3. Use one or two manual flashes to raise the brightness level inside to match the outside brightness. See this post for more detail.
  4. Shoot a series of bracketed exposures and then use LR/Enfuse or some other bracket processing software to blend the bracketed exposures together into one finished image. See this post for more details on this approach.
  5. Use a single, manual flash and shoot one image exposed for the interior brightness and one image exposed for the exterior brightness and then layer the two images together in Photoshop. For more details, see this video.

Most real estate photographers use #3, 4, or 5. Each of these approaches requires different camera settings. Getting good interior photos requires practicing and mastering one of these approaches.

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15 Responses to “First Steps for Getting Started in Real Estate Photography”

  • The first question should be to ask if it’s worth your time to learn how to shoot interiors. Technically, it is not a simple genre of photography to pick up. First of all is how to set your camera to get the best exposure you can. You further need to learn software such as Lightroom and Photoshop to take those raw exposures and post process them into a finished image that is useful for your marketing. You will find that most of the people that read this blog are real estate photographers and there are still all sorts of things we are all trying to learn how to do better. There isn’t a magic combination of equipment or settings that will produce good quality images and every home is a new combination of challenges.

    If you enjoy photography and want to combine representing the homes and creating the visual marketing, that’s fine. If you are thinking that you can save money by doing your own photography, you are probably headed down a frustrating path. Think of a song writer that buys every instrument they want to have in their songs and spending the time to master each one. There won’t be any time left to write songs unless they happen to be very good at learning and mastering new instruments very quickly.

    A good place to start is getting a subscription (or checking to see if your local library has access) to Lynda.com and watching the “Foundations of Photography” series presented by Ben Long. You can also check out Scott Hargis’ series on real estate photography although Scott’s course presumes that you are proficient with the basics of photography so it might be tough to follow. Another good course is by John Greengo at CreativeLive. It’s a complete beginners course on digital photography and photography in general. Both companies have very high production quality and the teachers are very good. You could try and find stuff on YouTube for free, but much of it will be chaotic and some of it misleading.

  • I’ll share an original quote of mine instead of doing a detailed well thought out business analysis of what you are trying to do…

    “Swallowing a sword looks easy. It takes about 15 seconds. Go ahead try it yourself.”

    PS: no disrespect intended and don’t use a sharp sword. That would just be real stupid.

  • I agree with Ken.

    My question is, what do you want to be, a Real Tor (RT) or an Interior photographer? Or do you just want to try and save money by doing the images yourself? I have seen so many images taken by RT’s on their websites, most of which have been made with their smart phones. Also bear in mind, you would need to make quite an investment in a decent camera and lenses. For example, my Canon 24 mm T & S was over $2000. Then you need a decent camera body after which you would have to learn how to use same. In addition to this, your images would need post processing. As a beginner I cannot imagine you could use the images straight out of the camera. So learning post would also be required.
    If you are a successful RT then you probably wouldn’t have time to take pictures. Your time would be better spent running your business and let a professional take the photos for you. If you are not very successful as a RT then my Q above refers, RT or interior photographer? By being a successful RT your photography would suffer. By being a successful photographer, your RT business would suffer. Don’t try to be a jack of all trades. Yes, take pictures just for enjoyment and run your RT business to provide the income. If you just want to try and save money then you are going the wrong way about it.
    My experience with RT’s is they don’t want to spend money on quality work – just something cheap. That is why I haven’t done any RT work for some time.

    Sorry to be so direct but I think it is better to be direct and point out the facts. This alone should save you money. Whichever way you choose I wish you all the success and best of luck.

  • Jessica, don’t get discouraged by the folks that appear to be trying to discourage you from photographing your own listings. There are many successful Realtors that are excellent photographers as well. Larry Gray, Randy Henderson and Iran Watson (who was the 2012 PFRE Photographer of the Year} to name a few.

    There are plenty of resources available on this site and I highly recommend that you consider purchasing all or most of them. They are lined up on the left bar of this site.

  • @Kerry – Thanks for pointing that out! About 16% of PFRE readers are Realtors that shoot their own listings. See the second poll down on the poll page: https://photographyforrealestate.net/poll-results/

  • Jessica I protect REALTORS on my FaceBook Group from Real Estate Photographers . I remind them that the group is for everyone who wants to learn how to do this job. https://www.facebook.com/groups/PhotographyForRealEstate/

  • Home owners are quite capable of selling their own homes and Realtors are quite capable of taking pro interior and exterior photos. Everything is a learning curve.

    The questions are; do/will your photography skills match your client’s expectations and help justify your commision fee? Will your photography skills compare favourably in the eye of prospective clients to the agents who use pro-photographers? Is the time you spend on the photography not better spent on getting listings and selling homes?

    To be honest it is kind of ironic eh? I’m sure you would go to considerable lengths to convince a FSBO they need your professional services to sell their home for top dollar and yet you come to a pro-photography firum specialising in real estate photography to ask how to use your camera rather than hire a pro.

    I spent 8 years in real estate sales as a salesperson and a broker. My advice to you is to focus …. and I don’t mean your canera 🙂

  • ….please pardon the typos – fat fingers on an iPhone, outdoors ????

  • I get asked this question all the time Jessica. If you want to go all out and produce the best images possible, as fast as possible, I would suggest option 5 above.

    The first step is going to be camera settings though, as it sounds like you are working on that. I do not change any settings but my shutters speed for entire real estate shoots, so settings certainly don’t have to be too complicated.

    Good luck, and feel free to get in touch with me if you ever have any questions!

  • Thanks Kerry for the kind mention of myself and other Realtor/photographers who frequent here. Another I might add is Charlie Dresden, impressive as a Realtor, photographer, videographer, and even web designer. Look at his website, particularly “about me” and “blog” in addition to actual listings, and see how he blends the skills as he develops his brand. As you develop your skills as a photographer, it becomes a powerful component of your listing package and name recognition. Excellent suggestions in other posts for learning, such as Lynda.com, and even use the search function on this blog to find discussions on various techniques. Things like Rule #1 – Verticals must be vertical. With that in mind, and UWA (ultra-wide angle) lens is one of the hardest lens to use. I tell that to Realtors all the time. You can’t just slap it on like you might a telephoto, but you need to master getting it right in camera where the slightest movement off level can impact horizonal and verticals, plus developing techniques to control edge distortion. Lighting is a whole different issue – but master the camera first. It takes a lot of practice and one area that may become your friend are new home builder’s sales offices. Realtor to Realtor, they may give you permission to photograph their well staged model homes – but hauling in lighting might be a bit much.

  • Just watched Nathan Cool’s video supplementing this thread. While involved, great info with insight into various techniques in post and setting up for post which takes it ‘beyond the basics’. Good to know even if you don’t use them as it sets the stage for less intensive advanced techniques. A couple of suggestions to save time – get a second (or third) YN flash but don’t mount on stand, using the foot that comes with it. In addition to becoming you “statue of liberty” flash, also a backup if accident destroys stand mounted flash, and while lesser used than primary flash(s) is a supplemental to light adjacent rooms, showers, etc. The primary reason I wrote this is to relate my latest DIY which I have used on two shoots thus far but impressed with the results and may create another one, keeping the umbrellas packed. Got away from full bounce, preferring umbrellas as diffusers due to color contamination of the walls as Nathan noted – but his wall colors were not that bad as have experienced in field. For about $5 each created modifiers modeled after the relatively expensive (for largest size) commercially available light benders. In RE with a wide angle lens you don’t need benders/snoots like would in portrait so that function wasn’t critical. Available at arts and crafts stores got white and black foam (9×12) for the remote flash and the larger (12×18) for primary stand mounted flash, wire mesh cut in 2″ strips – full length on bottom and two angled upper corner to lower center. Glue (aerosol spray) foam together with mesh sandwiched in place. Now, width of flash punch holes through the lower mesh and insert velco straps to secure to flash without bending. While not a true angled bounce wall and ceiling, more reflective wall with ceiling bounce as the double bounce would require some sort of rail system. While amazed at the light modifying quality in addition to being far more portable than umbrellas which remain in the bag, the unexpected benefit was using the black side as a scrim, particularly in a small room such as a bath. With the black side facing towards the subject, it tones down the light and virtually eliminates reflections. All for around $5!

  • A twist on the single-shot ambient workflow that I have found works crazy good for bread-and-butter re work is this:

    Underexposed. A LOT. And use ISO 100.

    You need a camera that is a low-light killer in order to make this work. Sony a7s2 or the a7iii would be the weapons of choice these days.

    Shoot in a-priority. Level camera on tripod. Dial up exposure (prob to +1ev) and dial in focus. Wheel exposure down until windows look translucent. Interior will likely look crazy dark. You should be afraid that the photos won’t turn out well. Take the shot.

    Load your set into Lightroom and Then, in post, hit the image with you favorite interior preset and then start pushing the exposure up up UP. Typically it will need about +2 stops of boost. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. If you have a low-light camera…then you will be amazed at how the image just comes to life.

    At this point the windows will be blown. Use the radial adjustment tool and put circles on the windows and knock down highlights to -100. Usually is is all you need but if the window detail is not translucent enough work the dehaze and exposure sliders for the radial adjustment tool as well.

    You can use the radial too in reverse ad bring up shadowy areas like those wells of darkness between kitch islands and the cabinets attached to the walls.

    Done. On to the next.

    You end up with HDR-type results without waiting for the “long” bracket to finish on site and you cut out the HDR merging process completely. The grain in the images is 100% acceptable for MLS images…esp after exporting out to the sizes most of us seem to deliver at.

    Note: this approach will have all the problems of other natural light only approaches. Namely that color casts are going to be something you have to manually correct for. That can be done in LR too.

    This is likely not an approach you want to use for any home that is going to go to print. The reason is that the grain from the boost…you never know how much there will be. It will always be fine for MLS use and printing of 8.5×11 brochure and flyers. But magazine inclusion may get some objections. Because there is no way to know how far you are going to push up exposure when you take the shot.

    The workflow overall is lightning fast…and honestly…it does not even require a tripod if you pay attention and keep your shutter speed faster than 1/30th by working aperture size and ISO. It is one of the few workflows where you can just walk in with the camera alone and blaze.

    Finally, I suggest shooting with manual focus. But if you want to use auto-focus for speed and convenience…always shoot focus and shoot twice. Focus shoot. Focus shoot. Auto focuse will sometimes “miss”. ESP at f-stops lower than f8…but I have ever had it miss twice in a row.

  • Jessica, after leaving 25 years of RE sales almost 4 years ago and photographing about 3000 homes since it’s hard to imagine you can spend the time on both. I work 12- 15 hours a day 6 or 7 days, and still feel like I’m learning on almost every shoot (with a lot more learning to go!!) If photography’s your passion – I say go for it! If you are trying to save money or think you have a knack, don’t waste your energy. It’s a very busy, very competitive occupation. If RE sales agrees with you (didn’t me) the income for effort is far greater. Just my 2c

  • I have a D5600. I am trying to determine which lens is better, the Tokina 11-16mm and Tamron 10-24mm for home interiors. Budget is in the $400-$500. If I am missing one, please let me know and any overall opinions.

  • David, exactly the point I made in my comment above. Have a great day.

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