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How To Deal With Small Bathrooms On A Real Estate Shoot

Published: 21/10/2015

FirstfFloorBathBill in Southern California recently asked:

Helping an agent complete her interior decorating in a 2 bed/2-bath mid-century newly remodeled home earned me the invitation to shoot it for her upcoming listing. Searching through the PFRE blog postings, I couldn't find anything on how to shoot problematic spaces like the REALLY small 5' x 8' guest bathroom (with commode, sink, & shower) in that home. I know I could say it's too small to get a good, meaningful photo out of it but I don't think the agent would forgive me without at least trying. One thing I'm considering is taking the bathroom door off so I can squeeze my camera & tripod into the corner where the bathroom door opens into. Wondered if you or your readers have any other tips.

We have had some discussions about small bathrooms in the past. See this one about a year ago. But this is probably important enough to recap again.

I always shoot these little baths or powder room. Every home I shoot has one or two. And yes the are important. Here's how I shoot them:

  1. I almost always shoot from the doorway. Tripod is usually half in and half out of the door... never seems to be a problem. Height of the camera should be the standard 36" to 48".
  2. You need to be able to shoot wide (16 or 17 mm effective) to get everything that's important in. I have 16 mm effective lens and I haven't found a small bath I can't shoot with that.
  3. I find about 50 percent of the time I have to Photoshop my camera and reflection out of the mirror. This is not difficult if you plan ahead on doing it. Don't shoot below the mirror to avoid reflections just face up to removing yourself and the camera if necessary - it's not that hard. I always find that using the clone tool in Photoshop to be the best way to remove my reflection from the mirror. I remember that on the last post on this subject Bill asked for a tutorial on cloning your reflection out of the mirror. I'll see if I can find time to do one, I can't find any good ones on YouTube.
  4. For lighting, a flash on the top of the door set at 1/3 to a 1/2 power bounced off the ceiling/wall joint always works and sometimes a flash in the shower, depending on the situation.
  5. I think one should always show all the features, vanity, some small part of the toilet, and most importantly the shower setup.
  6. Oh, yea, and I always shoot in horizontal format so the photo nicely fits in with other horizontal format photos in a slide show. I hate it when photos flip from horizontal to vertical and back. I find I can always can easily present small baths with a horizontal format.

I'm sure other have advice on this subject.

Larry Lohrman

19 comments on “How To Deal With Small Bathrooms On A Real Estate Shoot”

  1. As always, good guidelines!

    I save the small baths and powder rooms for last in my photo shoots -- abandoning tripods and, in most cases, flash -- which tends to be too harsh in such small spaces -- and the ambient light is usually adequate.

    I frequently stand in the shower or tub to get the right angle of the vanity. I never show toilets - ever (everyone knows what a toilet looks like). This is where my Canon t3i flip-out and tilt active view screen is crucial since I hand-hold the camera against the back wall waist high to compose the shot. If the fixtures are special, I take detail shots of the faucets or high-end showers.

    See if you can clone brush this: -- I kept this as a self-portrait.

    Here's one taken from the shower:

    And an example of what I mean by a detail shot

  2. Mirror tip #2 when cloning could be complicated:

    If your gear is visible in a mirror, take a second shot from the mirror's perspective (same height, back of camera touching the mirror) and composite that image over the original reflection. Use PS Auto-Align Layers--backplate layer LOCKED--for quick alignment. Then mask that sucker right in 😉

    The real power of this technique is the ability to control the reflection's composition, even if it can only be shifted/zoomed subtly without looking odd.

  3. Evaluate whether having a photo of secondary bathrooms is important or not. The purchasers of the home are getting the master bathroom, so photographing that is a given. If you really must get an image of the smaller baths/powder rooms, see if you can put the background behind the reflection of your camera/tripod on a piece of plain wall that is easy to clone/patch. For medicine cabinets, you can try opening the mirrored door slightly to keep from having your gear show up there. The reverse shot/clone works pretty good. Just remember that you will need to flip the image when you paste it in. It doesn't have to be perfect. I've never heard of people comparing the photos that are posted online at the home with a mobile device.

    Other tips can include placing a vase of flowers or some other decoration on the vanity to mask your camera. If I know that I'm going to have to patch/clone, I raise the center column of the tripod and try to keep the angled legs out of the image if possible. The less you have to cover up, the easier it is.

  4. First, if a tripod is too clumsy, consider using a monopod.

    Second, consider using a fisheye lens. Yes, they produce a lot of distortion. But I bought one exactly for these situations - small bathrooms - and frequently you'll like the results. At least I do.

  5. I use Tourbuzz for my photo videos and like to keep all my photos horizontal, so when I photograph a small powder room or secondary baths I take the photo from the door using the door in the image to make it seem like you're walking into the bathroom in order to show sink, shower, or tub and flooring. I hate taking the vertical photo since I don't like seeing a different size in my photo video and yes I usually press the door back as far as it will go and have to photoshop out my camera, but no REALTORS have said they like all the photos being the same size and liking like your walking into the bathroom is fine.

  6. I don't use tripods, too much weight for me to carry around, but I have no problem taking these photos. I use multiple flashes all the time, in small bathrooms of course only 1 on a light stand. Usually just like above, 1 flash in the corner door joist point into the ceiling. 1/2 power is way too much though, unless a dark red or black bathroom. Usually 1/8 is suffice. I try to show the top of the vanity and the light fixture, if a shower is in there, the reflection is in the mirror. If I feel I need more of the shower, I take a separate photo of it. If there is a mirror in the corner now, that is a problem!!

    I really don't mind the vertical look at all. If its needed, I do it. I get no complaints from my realtors at all.

  7. I take an additional series when shooting small spaces by using a monopod and placing the camera in a far corner almost touching the ceiling with the camera angled down. A slight aerial effect; a lot of the time it works, but not always.

  8. I rarely use added flash in really small bathrooms, unless power is off. There's plenty of even light bouncing around inside from the lights over the mirror. One click with Lightroom's white balance selector on sink, toilet, or TP roll usually corrects the too-yellow color perfectly. To deal with camera reflections, I drop the tripod a little lower and take off the Yongnuo flash controller then stand off to the side of the door frame. That minimizes the amount of cloning needed. It helps that small powder rooms are usually in a hallway with a blank wall opposite the door.

  9. On really small bathrooms I generally shoot vertical then crop to a 4:5 ratio. Works really well and looks just fine in virtual tours and my local MLS.

  10. I don't think I'll ever understand the hatred for vertical images. Does it flow as nicely as ALL horizontals during a slideshow? No. However, I would rather show a buyer an actual bathroom and not the last 1/8th of the top of a vanity and a mirror. I shoot most of my bathrooms vertical and have never heard a complaint, ever.

  11. I think Larry and the comments pretty much cover what I do. I find each situation calls for a combination of those solutions mentioned above. Trying to get it all in in one still shot even with the Sigma 10-20mm lens on my reduced size CMOS sensor is tough. I just do my best to get the important features in and take a couple views so my client has some choices. But if you are using a Virtual Tour like TourBuzz that has been mentioned here, I often shoot a short video, usually a pan horizontally that can be added to the tour as a video and seems to fit right in. Even master bathrooms can benefit from this like the one I was shooting yesterday that had the tub, shower and one vanity that all fit in a single shot. But the 2nd vanity that was on the opposite wall did not. So I shot it and the bedroom through the double door way. But that made two shots. So I also shot a 300 degree panning video sort of walking into the bathroom and slowly turning. It was still only a 4 second video clip but gets the whole bathroom covered and shows the relation of all parts in a way only a video can. Much depends on what the client is willing to pay for the coverage.

    With the 2015 iMovie, the "stabilize" filter negates the need for a steady cam or having the fine gymbal system of the DJI new stand alone video camera. So you can use your good glass and video feature that most DSLRs are equipped with today.

    Regarding not showing up in mirrors; indeed a problem especially when the bathroom has mirrors on all walls each reflecting into each other. So sometimes I just get the camera below the bottom of the mirrors. Often the different viewpoint can make a more interesting shot as well. But other times when fixtures and bowls are important I too just have to swallow and Photoshop out my self portrait and even if it is only my camera that shows (I usually use a cable release for these) I also shoot from the perspective of the mirror reflection. Again, what I am earning from the shoot usually is also a factor.

  12. Bathrooms like this should be shot from the room they are in, in many cases in my opinion. What do we really need to show? Maybe the tile, maybe the sink. Certainly not the toilet. Sometimes this will mean getting another angle of the room but I think it's the best way to do it. A toilet in your face just isn't the best marketing photo in my opinion, but a room with a door to the bathroom slightly ajar showing how the bathroom is situated in the space is a much better marketing tool.

  13. While difficult, and sometimes not limited to small bathroom - but large with wall to wall mirrors. Have stood in linen closes with just the lens peeking out. Sometimes have to close the main door as it hides the shower when open. Occasionally will handhold if tight, but generally on tripod and many times use the leg of the tripod to prop the door fully open. If I use a flash, handhold the stand, snaking it at the top of door out of view and up to bounce off ceiling. Typically use ambient and about the only time I pull HDR/Fusion out my bag of tricks.

    One creative approach is getting down in the tub and staying below the vanity mirror with near field focus on the tub faucet. Gives a unique perspective. Generally don't take pictures of toilets but in small baths may be unavoidable, such as primary wall is vanity and toilet, with tub/shower on opposite wall. There, I may show top of toilet but use the vanity mirror to reflect the tub/shower.

  14. First, avoid shooting those rooms altogether. They're not exactly the "money shots" of any house.

    Secondly, as a rule, the smaller the room the longer the focal length I'm likely to use. Small rooms and wide angle lenses are a recipe for outrageous distortion (a function of field of view and distance to subject). The camera shouldn't be in the room at all - back away and let the doorframe be about 1mm outside the picture on both left and right.

    What's to be shown by going wide? A toilet -- seriously? We have to show the (entire) toilet or people won't know it's there?

    Zero in on what's important -- vanity, mirror, maybe a sconce. Beyond that it tends to be superfluous.

  15. Stand in the doorway and shoot down from eye level for a small bath. If necessary hold the flash close to the ceiling over your head pointing at the ceiling. A small space doesn't take much flash power and the light bounces all over. For bizarre dark colors use a diffuser and direct light.

  16. Somewhat off-topic, but several mentioned "No to Vertical Orientation". I believe that composition is the foundation of a good (or bad) photo, that no amount of great lighting or post-processing can fix. Many of the spaces and architectural elements we shoot are vertical. Two-story grand foyers, high ceiling family rooms with two-story fireplaces, and up-scale furniture-quality bath vanities, all call for vertical orientation for the best composition.

    The argument is that verticals don't fit into the MLS displays or the tour slideshow formats. Here's how I handle this in my tours where all images are the same pixel height:

    I even combine two or more verticals for the low resolution, tiny sized versions I upload to the MLS for my clients. I get more views than the MLS allows that way -- an extra!

  17. How do you shoot really small power rooms (1/2 baths)? The are usually 3 feet deep and about 6 to 8 feet long. Sink at one end and toilet at the other end. The entry door is usually in the middle of the two fixtures.

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