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Basic Real Estate Photography Shooting and Workflow

Published: 31/07/2008
By: larry

This post is for Enkay, a reader that asked me to go through  basic shooting considerations and post processing workflow. Great idea, I written about shooting and workflow for a while. Here are the things I do when shooting:

  1. Keep in mind the results you want. Things like, how many finished photos do you need? Our MLS only allows 15 but I supply a slide show of at least 20 photos. I also make a horizontal flyer with a full bleed image as a background so I'm always looking for a strong horizontal image that best characterizes the property for the flyer background.
  2. Talk to whoever you are shooting for to see if they have strong ideas about the property. When shooting for my wife I always talk to her about what she thinks the major selling points of the property are so I'm sure to cover them adequately. This saves me time going back to re-shoot.
  3. Spend more time shooting the front shot than most of the interior shots because the front shot that is most likely to grab a buyers interest an make them look farther.  In some ads there's only room for one shot and even on web sites the front shot gets a prominent location or it's larger. I try to get at least 3 or 4 good front shots so there is a choice. Some opinionated clients will want to participate in the choice of the front-shot. Sometimes the best "front-shot" is the back of the home.
  4. When you are shooting rooms remember that you are selling the home and it's architecture or features, not the decor. This usually means taking wide shots that show whole rooms, room features and room relationships.
  5. When shooting be aware of horizontals and verticals. Keeping verticals as vertical as possible when shooting will save you time in post processing. Align the verticals with the left and right edges of the view finder. Verticals must be vertical! Horizontals don't necessarily have to be horizontal but strange angled horizontals can be visually distracting.
  6. Shoot from a height of between 36" and 48". This low height will help keep your verticals vertical. When shooting kitchens or rooms with a counter surfaces make sure you are shooting slightly higher than the counter height.
  7. Composition: there are no simple set of rules to get you to good composition. The best way to improve your composition is to look at interior images. Hang-out in the PFRE flickr photo discussion group and look at the images in Architectural digest.
  8. Use of shutter speed, aperture, ISO and whether you use a tripod depends on your lighting technique. See the post on the Beginners Guide to Lighting. Also see Scott Hargis's discussion of Interior Lighting with Multiple Strobes. Lighting technique is somewhat personal, there is no one right way to light. I recommend that beginners start with a on-camera strobe in automatic mode and then progress towards multiple off-camera strobes like Scott's post describes. You'll find that on-camera automatic strobes work OK for most small to medium sized rooms. For large rooms with big bright windows you need something more. You will eventually feel the need to move to more complex lighting as your experience and awareness of light expands. I highly recommend attending one of Scott and Thomas's lighting workshops to "get your lighting together".
  9. Shoot in RAW because it gives you the ability to recover from mistakes and adjust white balance in post processing. Storage is cheap and getting cheaper everyday.
  10. Be hyper-sensitive to details like "stuff" sitting on kitchen counters, drawers and cabinet doors that aren't closed, refrigerator clutter and towels hanging on oven doors. You don't need to move furniture but you need to think like a stager... simple and uncluttered usually looks better.

Post Processing: My philosophy is to do as little post processing as possible. That said, there's always a little work that is required to create strong images after they come out of the camera. I work mainly in Lightroom/Aperture (note Lightroom and Aperture are roughly equivalent.. each one has it's pluses and minuses) with PTlens and here are post processing steps that I do:

  1. Import into Lightroom.
  2. Select the best shots and put them into a collection.
  3. Use PTlens to make sure all verticals are perfect and to remove barrel distortion (you can also do this with PS and PSE)
  4. Adjust the exposure, white balance on a calibrated monitor. My goal is to have the image look brighter than reality. Marketing is not the place for dark and moody. You want buyers to say, "I want to go live there!" People are naturally attracted to light bright spaces.
  5. I adjust the saturation, clarity and tonal curve for each photo to give each image a little more "pop" than the way it comes out of the camera. You want the images to standout and grab the buyer that is browsing through the gazillions of images on real estate sites. I don't sharpen images for the web because an increase in clarity has a sharpening effect.
  6. Use the web module to create a online slideshow.
  7. Downsize the images for delivery. I downsize to around 800 x 600. Actually I export from Lightroom to a width of 800 and let the height scale proportionally. I find that 800 x 600 sized images work just fine for web sites and laser printed flyers. The only time I use bigger images is if I make a brochure or postcard that needs 300 ppi.

These steps are the basic ones for shooting stills. Feel free to point out if I've missed something.

22 comments on “Basic Real Estate Photography Shooting and Workflow”

  1. This workflow suggests that the first step is through CS or PSE, then through LR? BTW I was told by Adobe that CS2 and PSE5 were not compatible with Vista, but I have read that people have it working. CS2 requests a reregistration with every restart.

  2. John- Thanks for pointing that out. I'll make it clearer, that was not my intent. I meant to say PTlens or CS3 was invoked after importing into Lightroom.

  3. Larry- Was is a straight install? Did you have to do anything special or custom? I just got off the phone with Adobe and they again confirmed that PSE5 was not compatible with Vista. Are you talking about a work around. Did you reformat your drive for a clean Vista install or was it an upgrade?

  4. I have PE5 with Vista home premium. A couple of minor glitches, but nothing major. No problems with the install. Also have LR with no Vista problems.

  5. I would suggest purchasing a 18% grey card for quick WB adjustments and correcting color balance. They are cheap and can be found at your local photo store. I find that I cant always remember what tint a white wall was and so on. You can quickly set your white balance point by placing the grey card in your shot after you have found the exposure you want. Helps speed up the PP for me quite a bit.
    Tutorial on setting WB with Photoshop and a Grey card:

  6. I love photography for Real Estate. Thank you so much for offering it now. I started doing virtual tours for agents since 2000. And since then, particularly in the past year or so, the competition has moved in with low low prices. Now I basically feel I have to give my work away in order to get any in order to survive. Now that I have read your workflow, after all the work that you do listed above, how much do you charge? How do you compete? And survive? Thanks for listening, Sarah

  7. Sarah- This shooting and processing workflow may sound elaborate but it's not. With practice the shooting things become second nature. The processing things are fast too if you use Lightroom or Aperture. The major benefit of these new applications is to get things done quickly. These post processing steps take a fraction of the time in Lightroom that they do in Photoshop.

    Most high volume RE photographers shoot any home in 1.5 hrs (2 hrs max) and spend around and hour per shoot doing post and delivering photos. Current market conditions are what forces everyone to be efficient.

    Also, work towards dealing only with the top 10% of Realtors in your market. They are the only ones that will appreciate and demand quality.

  8. Thank you very much for this Larry, it's going to be alot of help!

    The only thing I'm still wondering is if you usualy try to keep the camera level or angled up/down ?

  9. Enkay- Since the goal when shooting interiors is to keep the verticals perfectly vertical in the finished photo you have to keep the camera body perfectly level in the front to back plane. With a ultra-wide angle lens very slight out of level in the front-to-back plane will cause the verticals to converge. There are generally 3 ways to keep verticals perfectly vertical:

    1-Use a double bubble level in the hot shoe or one built into the head of some tripods to carefully level the body before each shot.
    2-As I described above, line up verticals in the scene with the vertical edges of your view finder to keep the body level... this is generally equivalent to 1.
    3-Straighten verticals in post production.

    If you get good at 2 it saves time during shooting and during post.

  10. David- Good suggestion. Printing a wordpress post comes out ugly (many pages of junk). I just Goggled for a wordpress printing plugin and it appears that there is one that sounds like it does what you are suggesting. I'll try it out and see how it works. Give me a couple of days to install it and try it out. I'll get back to you.

  11. Thank you very much once again. I'm going to print this out and use it as a reference for shooting. Hopefully this will solve the verticals issues I've been having!

  12. GIo- Thanks. Yes, I know. This is not the first post they've stolen. I've asked them to stop doing this.

  13. Hi larry,

    As i said before, by the end of this week I will put the hyper links to your posts. You know our intention is not stealing as it is believed, but contributing with the tips these articles offer to the latin american community. Because we are new as Bloggers (4 months or less) we dont really know the bloggers etiquette. However, Larry has been kind enough to show me how it is done for the next time i am interested in sharing part of his articles.

    Sorry, and i mean it sincerly, for all of those readers who think we took the articles (posts) with a vague intention.

    We will fix what has been done.


  14. Larry, I have been asked by the local board of realtors to teach a large group of agents on the basics of real estate photography. I would like to use this article as a reference and as a handout. May I copy this article for limited distribution?
    David Davis

  15. Just curious - does anyone shoot available light and process multiple images for High Dynamic Range?

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