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Don't Charge For Real Estate Photography Until Your Verticals are Vertical

Published: 22/05/2012

I had another post planned for today but when my wife Levi erupted in laughter at her computer just now and showed me these photos on an email flyer she got today for a listing in Tacoma, WA, I felt that despite the fact I've already given two beginning photographers a lecture today on verticals I need to talk about this again.

What my wife was laughing about is the row of little photos along the bottom that all have wacky verticals. When you line them up together you get a particularly strange effect. It makes my stomach queasy!

The fact is photographers skilled in other photographic genres that have never shot inside with a wide angle lens never think about verticals. And most never figure out, by themselves, that it's important to have verticals parallel with the left and right edge of the frame. They have to be told. And some will even argue that it's not important. There is a very accomplished and successful real estate photographer in Australia (that will remain unnamed) that it took me several months in 2007 to to convince that verticals should always be rendered vertical. It's just a concept beginners have a struggle with, but once they become believers they end up spreading the gospel.

Understanding the vertical issue is sort of an rite of initiation in interior photography. Once you get your verticals, vertical you can start charging money to shoot interiors!

If you are one of the newbies that still need to know why and how here are some older posts on the subject:

  1. To be a real estate photographer you need to get some things straight.
  2. PTlens: Correct Verticals, Barrel Distortion, Vignetting, Chromatic Aberration
  3. Straightening Verticals and Horizontals with Photoshop Elements
  4. Correcting Verticals -Redux (by Scott Hargis)
  5. Let's Get This Straight (By Scott Hargis)
  6. What Everybody Ought to Know About Verticals
  7. My Mission: To Straighten All Walls in the Realm.
  8. More on Straightening Walls
  9. Another Way to Keep the Walls Straight

Wow, I didn't realize I'd written so much on this subject.

Larry Lohrman

28 comments on “Don't Charge For Real Estate Photography Until Your Verticals are Vertical”

  1. SSHHHH....keep it quiet. I love to as Realtors if the house is structurally unsound with the kitchen walls and cabinets falling over like the pictures they posted. Great fun watching their jaw drop. Also is great fun when the "misrepresentation police" at MLS get on their high horse and fire back about 95% on the photos posted either show perfectly good houses as structurally unsound and throw in for good measure questioning what is hidden in the dark shadows or by the blown out windows. Great shocking eye opener when giving a presentation that gets their attention.

    On a related note, taking a long weekend and attending my son's graduation. Took a side trip viewing a couple on the mansions in Newport, RI. One thing that stood out were paintings on the walls (pre-photography) where the buildings and cityscapes were as vertical as could be. The artist, irrespective of style, had the advantage of the human eye and brain giving an accurate picture. Lens refraction wasn't even part of the vocabulary, much less the picture. I had never thought of the historical context until after I did the tour.

  2. Perhaps the reason leaning verticals give viewers that queasy feeling is that they cause the eyes to send a conflicting signal to the brain. The brain keeps the body in balance through a combination of physical and visual signals. The brain has learned that walls are vertical, so when the eyes see a leaning wall, the brain doesn't think the wall is crooked, it thinks the body is leaning. Meanwhile, the muscles are telling the brain that the body is not leaning. As the brain tries to sort the difference, the viewer is left with the unpleasant sensation of not knowing exactly which way is up.

  3. I'm actually considering relaxing on my verticals a bit. I'd still work to get it close in camera (bubble level close), but it does add significant time to my workflow to get them absolutely perfect in post (less than 1/10th of a degree). Over the years, In my crusade to spread the perfect-verticals word, I've found that, in reality, no one really cares at all... and it doesn't seem to be hurting my competitors either, some of which don't even try to get close. I'll still make them perfect for my architectural work (even though some of my architectural competitors aren't even that concerned about it and lens distortion), but honestly it seems to be a lost cause in real estate, and I could use the time saved.

  4. Casey, if straightening verticals is adding a lot of time to your workflow, you're not using the right application. I use PTLens and I spend about 10 minutes per property straightening the verticals. I use Lightroom 4, export all of my property photos into PTLens in a batch, make the corrections and I'm done. 10 minutes is the max. If you're not using Lightroom, you can open a batch of images in PTLens and do the same thing. PTLens can also correct barrel distortion. Since upgrading to LR4 I've disabled that feature in PTLens and have opted to make lens correction part of the batch corrections I do in LR4.

  5. We as photographers are getting paid to document a property in the best possible way. To create excuses to not do so is truly a cop out.

    Getting verticals "vertical" is all about proper camera craft. Get it right in the camera and stop thinking "I'll fix that in post". I agree even the best of intentions can end up needing a bit of adjustment in post. But never get in such a rush that you can't slow down and nail the camera craft.

    I too like PTLens, it has a place in my toolbox. But only to fix an oops that shouldn't have happened in the first place.

    One thing that helps get me excited about what I do is to constantly be looking for superb architectural and real estate photography. Both online and in print magazines. I enjoy deconstructing images to expand my setup options for a shot. Find the images that make you excited and ask yourself "why" it speaks to you. I promise they will all be nicely lined up on the verticals and rarely shot wider than 20mm on a full frame sensor.

  6. The real issue I run into is when the verticals truly aren't. Like the walls will be fine but the cabinets are not vertical. Or 3 of the 4 wall joints in the photo (multiple corners shown) are vertical, but one isn't. That can be photoshopped to look vertical, but A) it would take way too long to be feasible for real estate photos, and B) that wouldn't be honest representation of the property.

  7. @Malia/Casey - Yea, I'm puzzled by the argument that because your competitors are sloppy, it's a reason for you to be sloppy. It's a way to distinguish yourself from your competition. No need to obsess over verticals they really do distract if they are not vertical. Have you ever noticed converging verticals in Architectural Digest?

  8. Oh, also, there are select shots where verticals don't have to be vertical, including extreme angles up or down. I've done maybe 5 or 6 this year that way. Usually it's a shot up or down a gorgeous staircase, and correcting for the converging verticals causes so much other distortion that it's hard to understand what's happening. I do usually adjust it a bit, though, so the convergence isn't comical. But the angle is so different from the usual shots of rooms that it's clear it wasn't just a mistake to leave it that way.

    But generally I even correct even if it's just a deck railing in the corner of a shot of the view in the backyard. I do so obsessively, to the point that I've started correcting it in snapshots of my kids.

  9. The walls in your example may not be vertical, but at least the photographer achieved that dreamy HDR-cataract look while still managing to blow out the highlights. Impressive!

  10. +1 on what Scott said about taking away work from other photographers. Casey - Larry did a blog on a brochure I created last Nov. I specifically targeted agents who were known to be using photographers of a couple national chains that delivered substandard photos. I can now report that I gained 4 new clients from a bulk mailing of 200, plus 8 additional as others in the offices saw the the results and were educated on the differences to look for. That is a great return on a single marketing effort!

    Always give your best as it reflects on you professionally, and your competitors appreciate your clients. Getting verticals straight is not that hard. Grid on in viewfinder helps helps get it straight in camera with minor adjustment if necessary in post.

  11. @Carl - What's different about architecture as compared to landscapes etc. is that when you look at an interior or exterior of a building you bring a mental reference to the viewing that comes from living in buildings, so we know what buildings look like (yea, there are a few situations where walls aren't vertical but VERY few). When we look at a landscape we don't bring that expectation of verticalness about that environment because it's more of a random world... there are very few cues to how things are supposed to look.

  12. What I'm saying isn't a random assumption, but a relatively long term observation. I've taken careful note over the years regarding what typical viewers and agents truly care about, and perfectly square verticals and complete lack of barrel distortion doesn't seem to be the concern that we, as photographers, want it to be. Gauging feedback from viewers and agents, there is plenty more that distinguishes me from my competitors and my super-straight, super-square verticals really do not seem to factor in, in most cases.

    The reality is, I'm wasting a lot of time getting it perfect on 25+ images, when getting within 1/2 of a degree is negligible in most real estate viewers' eyes. I'm not talking about reckless tilts and converging verts like the example presented above, but to get it as close as possible in-camera (as I already do, with a bubble level) is more than adequate. I also suspect though, that what I call "perfect", and what some others call "perfect" my be two different things, judging from what I see in the pool here; "perfect" can't be achieved in-camera. I just hear a lot of talk about perfect verticals and lack of distortion, but I'm not seeing it.

    Larry, we aren't talking about Architectural Digest here, far from it. As I stated in my last post, I'll still do it for my more discerning clients, high-end RE and day-rate work, but I believe the effort is lost on the typical $150-$200 shoot where the agent demands 25+ images in 12 hours, often with 2 shoots per day, including post.

  13. @Casey- I think you are over stating the difficulty in fixing verticals. My experience is that I pay even a slight bit of attention to verticals while shooting I have only a handful that need fixing in post.

  14. I've used the grid view on my camera for a couple years and have always corrected in PTLens. Just recently picked up a bubble level and I'm really impressed with how accurate I can be with it. Most of the time PT Lens is only opened now for barrel distorion and very few images need any vertical adjustments. I agree with Casey though, depending on the type of work you are doing, your level of acceptance will vary. Not that it will ever look like the photos above though!

  15. @Casey I don't known how do you still have a job. You are just giving more work to people like Scott. There are so many things wrong with that mentality that I'm not even saying any. It's just too absurd.

  16. And exactly what "mentality" is that, Pedro? A bit of a strong, knee-jerk, antagonistic statement, for someone who doesn't know what they are talking about. If you are going to go that route, with that tone, then support it; tell me about all those "many things". Any good business model trims waste where it is observed and redirects efforts toward practices that increase business and profits, which is what I am doing. Can you carefully re-read (or actually first "read") my last post and explain to me what is absurd? Because I can support all of it... Oh, and my business has grown from barely part time last fall to full time now, it's so absurd... in fact, I am actually about to make changes that will prune certain disciplines to allow it to expand in a more profitable direction.

    It amazes me how quickly people online attack when someone presents a slightly different angle or "flavor of Kool Aid"... relax your bulging internet muscles, you might actually learn something.

  17. Rick, I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything; you and some others obviously aren't reading what I type, so there's no point in wasting time arguing when there isn't an argument. I just stated what I've observed in *my* market and pricepoint, and I'm looking at making an adjustment for it. As I've stated, I'll continue to split hairs for perfect verticals for markets that it matters in. If my observation doesn't apply to your market, then good for you.

    That said, Rick, your website portfolio has some good examples of what I'm talking about; many of your verticals aren't what I call perfect, and there is even barrel distortion in at least one (didn't go through all of them), but they are fine for real estate. I also recently saw an article by one of PFRE's most popular photographers in which the featured image had a rightward tilt. Had these been my images, I would have obsessed until they were right, but the closer to perfect you get, the more time consuming it becomes... that's what I am talking about relaxing on for $150, 25+ image shoots.

  18. @Casey - In in the end it is all a matter of degrees isn't it? I think we all got the impression you were being more "sloppy" than was actually the case. So I humbly apologize for all of us who made that assumption (there's that word again...). Instead you are indeed just like the rest of us detail crazed RE fotogs!

    When I'm worried about a room needing some post capture alignment love I leave extra room in the image to allow me to crop post-adjustment. This I've had to learn the hard way.

    What I love about RE photography and photography in general is it is always a learning process. The challenge never ends!

  19. So I read this as I'm processing verticals for an 1759 Greek Revival and I'm skewing and turning and rotating and these verticals aren't lining up and I'm banging my head, thinking "this is wrong, I must have vertical verticals" when I remember it's a 250+ year old house. Those verticals ain't vertical to begin with!

  20. it always makes me laugh when i see photography that dosent have it's verticals set properly I just cant help but think how could they possibly let that leave their desk and feel happy they've provided great value to the vendor of the home. this is an absolute must in our industry.

  21. So, if you are taking a picture from a corner (door entry) - like the yellow kitchen picture in the example, how do you straighten out if you want that view? Is there a visual/perception distortion? Can it be fixed? Thanks!

  22. @Derek - Yes, you either hold the camera so verticals are parallel with the image frame (level in the front to back plane) or you fix the image in Lightroom or Photoshop.

  23. It was kind of funny reading this article. I just recently looked back for some my very first photo shoots. I noticed that one of the homes I shot the exterior of the home and the vertical. Because the home sat on a hill I must have tried to correct the sidewalk and make that horizontal that's making my verticals no longer vertical. Thanks for sharing.

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