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Examining the Top-10 Mistakes in Real Estate Photography

I was fiddling around on the internet a couple of days ago, searching for all things real estate photography and I stumbled across an article in which the author described what she believed to be the top-10 common mistakes made in our line of work. After going through it, I thought it would make for an interesting post in a couple of ways.

First, if you’re relatively new to real estate photography, I thought it might be helpful to go through the list to see if you’re committing one or more of the identified errors. For the more experienced shooters, I thought it would be interesting to get your thoughts on the list from a number of different perspectives. For instance: Do you agree with the top-10? Are they in the right order? If not, what would you change? Are there other mistakes that are not on the list that you think should be? And of course, please make any other comments that you think would add value to the thread.

Anyway, here is the condensed list:

10. Closing the blinds or curtains

9.  Not educating your client on how to prepare a space for photography

8.  Crooked lines (i.e., verticals and horizontals not being straight)

7.  Not addressing varying light temperatures--either onsite or in post-processing

6.  Not having terms of service

5.  Not using a shot-list to remember taking interesting shots beyond the standard captures of key spaces

4.  Inefficient editing workflow (e.g., not using pre-sets, batch-editing processes, taking too long editing each photo, etc.)

3.  Shooting ultra-wide all the time (i.e., always shooting at 16mm on a full-frame camera or 10mm with an APS-C camera)

2.  Pointing the flash directly into the room

1.  Not listening to (or being aware of) your marketplace (i.e., not asking clients for feedback on our work, not examining the competition, not being fully aware of MLS requirements and any changes therein, etc.)

So... what do you think?  I’m eagerly looking forward to seeing what everyone has to say!

Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series.

13 comments on “Examining the Top-10 Mistakes in Real Estate Photography”

  1. Well....not going to bang her for the list, they all have value, but certainly not the order I would put them in. Like building a home, you start with the foundation that everything rest on, so I would put a conversation with new clients about what it is they want and an agreement to your terms of service.

    That will save a lot of newbees a ton of grief down the road

  2. That's a good starting list, but I see exceptions. No 10, for instance- I often close the blind if I need to hide something ugly out the window. Or when I encounter the latest fad, picture windows beside the master bathtub, sometimes overlooking the neighbors beside the fairway. Privacy is good, so I may lower the blinds and slat them open, allowing light but suggesting the possibly of concealment. It all depends... and for no. 8, what about the down-the-stairway scene that realtors love so much? I'll correct those converging verticals only about halfway, so it doesn't look unnatural; the mind expects those walls to converge as you look downwards.

    We all have different techniques and priorities. I obsess over barrel distortion in UWA photos, but other successful photogs seem to take that as a given. But there's probably one thing we can agree on, one and all, and it's not on this list. Put the toilet seat down!

  3. There are two top level categories in the list. One is the technical aspects of PFRE and the other is the business side. Workflow issues could be separated too if you want.

    Top Ten Mistakes PFRE photographers make when capturing images.
    Producing images that meet generally accepted RE/Arch aesthetics covers composition, lens corrections, verticals, exposure, correct color treatment.

    The business of running a successful PFRE business and the top ten common mistakes
    As PFRE is a service business, soliciting and incorporating customer input is very important. So is making sure customers now how to prepare a property for photos. Communicating with customers about licensing and your Terms of Service is part of running a successful business.

    The top ten ways PFRE photographers kill their efficiency and their income.
    Time is a huge factor in PFRE. Customers want images back as fast as possible and spending too much time on every job quickly makes hourly income worse than working at the local hardware mega-store. Some topics can be overshooting and coming back with too many frames that are useless. Promising to deliver more images than a home really needs. Not having a good idea about what you want to end up with and how to get there between principal photography and post production. Agonizing over tiny details that non-photographers would never see. Over-editing/processing images.

    You need 3 bottom ten lists. For most of my customers, delivering on your promises such as images being ready when you say they will be and showing up to appointments on time are the two biggies that they care about the most. They are happy with just "good" photos and "Awesome" customer service.

    Ok, now I have to go and edit the two absolute dogs I was hired to photograph today. I'm going to add a hazmat suit to my gear box if I get anymore like them.

  4. 5. Not using a shot list.

    I will takes notes when customers have specific requests that are out of the ordinary and put that on the job sheet when they book. I've been doing this long enough that after I do my initial walk thru, I know what i'm going to photograph and have some idea of where I'm going start with the composition. It's very rare that I miss something and that's usually on really big jobs where it doesn't matter very much.

    When starting out it might not be a bad idea to print out a 4-up page of check box items and tick them off as you go until you establish a routine. My preferred tactic is to work from the entrance/foyer through the common areas, master suite and on to the less marketing-value spaces finishing up in the back yard and sometimes going from there to community photos. Multi story homes I work from bottom to top.

    When I think I'm done, I do a quick review on the camera LCD and talk my way through the house as a double check before I pack up and leave. The final review will remind me if I had to leave something off of my normal sequence for one reason or another.

  5. Not cleaning your sensor! Guilty here of course. If you don't clean it at least use the magic healing brush in LR if not those dust smudges stand out on walls and ceilings. They look like picture hanger marks or leaks that were not covered up well.

    Not using a dual card camera and simultaneous shooting to both cards. Then using cheap SD cards. Then not having a spare with you at all times.

    Not realizing that good WB does not mean perfect white or pure color walls. Open your eyes when on site and look at the color variation on the ceiling and walls. That's what you will want to get close to and it's the easiest to get close to vs. pure white or pure color walls. (boring)

  6. I could think of more mistakes, but the one I disagree with is #10 Closing the blinds or curtains. I'll often partially close blinds or sheers completely to "white out" the view if there's an issue. That said, I rarely close the blinds unless the view is really bad.

  7. I'm with Ken and John. I think the priority order is dependent on each individual shoot but I also agree business practices and shooting practices are too mixed up in this list if it needs to be set in order of importance. Good business practices are continuous while how you shoot depends on the issues that each shot presents to you. Blinds, views, verticals are all dependent on what you are shooting and what you are trying to communicate.

    I use a "How to prepare for a photo shoot" leaflet that I send to my clients to give to their clients as a PDF. It does not cover everything I have ever encountered but deals with family photos under magnets of fridges, uncoiled bright colored hoses in the yard, decluttering and so on. On my basic price list I have my terms of business at the bottom. I periodically send it out even to my regular clients and always to new clients.

    I am guilty of #4 perhaps as a result of working for advertising art directors most of my career who want the hell shot out of a place for annual reports, facility brochures etc but not for carefully designed ads where only shooting tightly to a comp is acceptable. So I still shoot the hell out of a place when no art director is directing me, getting every shot that I think shows the room, structure(s) and property well and covers all possible sales and marketing points. So indeed I shoot much too much. Guilty. But even after shooting for over 40 years I still don't know when I am shooting just how the image will look once I get through post. Some shots that I don't have much hope for suddenly sing in post while others that I have hope for just die. So much more to learn every day. Keeps photography alive for me. And yes, my clients hire me for my attention to detail. And just as true, they seldom notice the finer points of processing that drive me nuts to achieve; but I do. I am not a perfectionist in any way except my photo work. And it is also true that if the bottom line is the main criteria, I am a hopeless waster of time on my images. But I could not live with myself if I did not solve every visual issue in front of me. So I will never become wealthy shooting RE. Drives my wife crazy.

    But then my business model is not based on volume but on quality shooting less but charging more for each job. That may not last as many agencies are now setting prices and making themselves the client not the individual realtors. I am bumping into this right now. Driving down prices and they are also wanting to own the copyright and all usage rights while at the same time insisting on making the photographer take on all the responsibilities and expenses of what should be an employer situation instead. Perhaps gist for a separate post.

  8. The order of the list is way off base. While Number 1 should probably be number 1, number 8 should be number 2.

    It's a basic list, I just think the order could be changed up to make more sense.

  9. I'm right there with John McMillin. Blinds, 2 thoughts. First is, depends on what's behind them. Second is, if they even slightly look dodgy, don't touch. After having a blind or two fall when all I did was twist the stick...

    Yep, very surprised toilet seats wasn't on the list.

    A number of these belong to the photographer, many to the seller (agent and/or owner). I prep them beforehand, have a nice checklist available, yaddi yaddi. I'll also emphasize key points if they seem like they're interested (many don't care).

    Things like same-temp lighting. I've considered carrying a few bulbs with me but, reality is, my business isn't carrying around 30 light bulbs. Funny thing is, I've come to appreciate that, commercial or residential, how well lighting is maintained is typically reflective of the rest of the site as well. An extra bulb or two won't make a material difference.

    I'll throw out one of my own early lessons: Do not wear bright or high-contrast clothing. In once case, had to shoot a new-construction with no window dressings on a mid-Summer day. In two shots (one a black-tiled shower enclosure) I was annoyed by a orange smudge. Uh, yeah, I'd worn a bright orange shirt.

    There's first time and a last time for everything. Including that shirt.

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