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Proposed Real Estate Photography Code of Ethics

Published: 25/06/2007

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I don't know how many of you noticed it but it but HighPix Commercial Photography BRISBAN commented on the post I did titled "When Does Wide Become Too Wide?" They quoted article 35 of the Standards of Business Practice of the Real Estate Institute of Queensland (REIQ). Article 35 says:

"Article 35 - Photographic RepresentationMembers must not alter or permit to be altered photographic images of properties, digitally or by other means, such that the images no longer truthfully and fairly represent that property.Notes: Whether the alteration of a photographic representation is misleading or deceptive will depend upon all of the circumstances. For example, digitally adjusting the exposure of a photograph so as to brighten the lighting of the photograph taken on a dull day may well be legitimate. However, removing television aerials or power poles adjacent to the property; brightening up paint work on a house or over-stating the views that might be achieved from the property may well amount to misleading or deceptive conduct. Members may well be liable for misleading representations contained in photographs that have originated from external sources such as an advertising sub-contractor or the seller. The passing on of such photographs by agents to potential buyers can amount to misleading or deceptive conduct by a Member. Members would be well advised to ensure that their contracts with advertising sub-contractors include provisions to ensure that the sub-contractors do not engage in misleading and deceptive conduct, including in connection with marketing representations contained in photographs.”

I completely agree with the intent of this ethics article but I'm find the detail language saying it's OK to "brighten the lighting" but it's not OK to "brighten the paint work" confusing and incongruous... are we to mask the "paint work" and change the level of everything else? I think the problem here is having non-photographers write a technical code of ethics for photographers. There needs to be specific language about whats OK and whats not. But it has to make sense to photographers. I know this is a sensitive and important area the needs to be clarified. So, I'd like to propose a code of ethics for real estate photographers:

Proposed REP Code of ethics- Modification of images of properties

Real Estate Photographers should not digitally modify images of properties such that the images no longer truthfully and fairly represent that property. Images of the house and surrounding environment should not be materially modified in anyway. However, image enhancements that do not material change the house or surrounding environment are allowed. The following is a list of what kind of modifications are considered material and which are not:Allowed

  • Removing temporary objects like garbage cans, cars etc.
  • Changing image saturation, brightness, contrast or color balance
  • Fixing converging verticals, lens barrel distortion or color fringing
  • Removing refrigerator clutter i.e, the photos, post-it's etc sellers typically have on refrigerators
  • Sky replacement or enhancement

Not allowed

Photographic Equipment

Use of any particular type of photographic equipment like ultra-wide-angle lenses, tilt and shift perspective control lenses, or filters will never be considered modification of the image.

So what did I forget? Is this too weak or too strong?

Larry Lohrman

27 comments on “Proposed Real Estate Photography Code of Ethics”

  1. This looks pretty good as a general rule but I think common sense has to prevail. I photographed a house for a brochure for a regular client of mine recently and photoshopped in the sod. I was fine doing it because the sod was not finished being installed. He needed the photos to look right sooner in order to get the professionally printed brochure done in time. I wouldn't have done it for a client that I didn't have experience with and if I wasn't certain the work would have actually been done. (They had already finished the back yard and half the front) Likewise I have photoshopped in a missing shutter because the replacement had not arrived. I think a general code for the profession is a good idea, but for me as a Rotarian, I follow the Rotary 4-way test on everything I do, especially my work. Personal ethics and good judgement are paramount.

  2. I have a question. I'm currently working on a virtual tour for a new client...who is very, very picky. The house has a pretty good view of the ocean, but at quite a distance and in even a partial virtual tour of the deck and view the roof top next door shows. She wants just a still photo, which is fine, but she wants it to focus on the islands, she wants me to zoom in. I can do that with my camera as it has a 12x zoom, but...that isn't what people will see when they come to view the house in real life. Allowed or not allowed?
    Any thoughts?


  3. This is a hard but important topic. Reminds me of trying to write the “dress code” for a large busy office. I think the code should spend more time of what the RE job/purpose is. Because, like we’ve already seen, people will come up with real life situations that aren’t and can’t all be covered. In some way or another, we are all trying to emphases the positive and minimize the negative. The other problem we have is: cameras don’t see like people do. And on top of that, we have technologies like photo stitching and Java/Flash animation that make tours spin in ways people do not. I have started using Pole Aerial Photography (PAP). When people arrive at the house, they will never see it like my camera did from 30 feet above street level. Does that make PAP “not allowed”. I hope not. I ask you: have you ever seen an actual McDonnalds burger look like one on their posters? Do you feel deceived?

  4. Linda,
    Excellent question. I think a telephoto shot Susanne's Rotary 4 way test see link above.

    My advice to your client is to never over-sell the view. Better to undersell the view and have buyers be pleasantly surprised than to over-sell and have buyers disappointed when the go to the trouble of coming out to see the home and it is less than was advertised. Over selling never gets you anyplace in the long run!

    I would try to convince your client to not exaggerate the view or perhaps label the shot as a telephoto shot. Better to have a medium shot that shows the view with something in the foreground like a table on the deck or whatever.

  5. I recently came across a post written by a REALTOR and suggesting that using a wide angle lens is misleading in that they tend to make rooms appear larger than they are? Any thoughts on this Larry? Thanks.

  6. Great points that you are raising I think I'll add something to the proposed ethics statement for each.

    I did a post on this subject last week:
    be sure to take a look. My opinion is that despite the fact that there are may people that object to ultra-wide angle it cannot be considered deception. It is widely used in the industry and people are getting more used to seeing wide-angle shots.

    Shaun & Tony,
    I believe that use HDR is clearly not a problem. Expanding the dynamic range is just making an image look MORE like the human eye does on the fly.

    Yes, I'll have to admit modifying the grass is something that I've done quite allot and back I April when I first did a post on this subject "Real Estate Photography and The Truth"
    I made a case for it being OK. However, several people objected and argued that it was clearly deception. It very close to the line so I think you'll find people come down on both sides on this particular issue. I your example, grass may eventually grow but will it look as good as your rendition?

  7. [...] Larry Lohrman is one of the best photography for real estate bloggers out there. Increasingly I’m hearing posts raising ethical questions about photos used in marketing. Larry writes a Proposed Real Estate Photography Code of Ethics [...]

  8. Shaun,

    I too am a huge fan of HDR for interior images. Some of my recent work can be found here...

    Since HDR more acurately reflects dynamically what they eye sees, I can't imagine this being a "violation of the code".

    To Norm Fisher... love your site and the "bad photo gallery"! I had an agent comment to me today that the wide angle photos at had their client disappointed because the actual rooms felt smaller to them than the pictures made them feel.

    When you consider the opposite effect many poorly shot photos have, I will always prefer a photo that causes the buyer to view the property rather than one that causes them to stay away!

  9. I'm not quite sure regarding your grass point Larry, I often shoot newly built houses that don't have grass yet like this one:

    and I often do this:

    now, is it allowed or not? grass will grow.. eventually...
    Matt Stec Photography -

  10. Matt,

    Nice touchup work with the grass. I did the same thing for a client, but ended up having to show the house the next week...sans grass. Decided then and there that I'd stay away from 'shopping grass ever again.

    Also Matt, I have become a huge overnight fan of your work thanks to this site and the pic they featured a few days ago. Awesome job with angles and wide lenses.

  11. Great topic Larry...

    HDR is one of those subjects that has to taken on a case by case basis I think. To make the blanket statement that HDR opens a huge can of worms. As long as the HDR maintains it's realism then your fine but I have seen numerous examples of HDR's that look nothing like the scene they portray. They seem more like a painting than a photograph and have that sort of "graphic" look. It will never look like that in real life.

    As far as instantly growing grass and sampled skies, the scene really could like that given a relatively short period of time.

  12. I think any alterations to permanent fixtures is fine as long as there is a note stating that alteration. "Grass added. Photo taken before sod was put down."

  13. Personally, I think that fixing grass (or other temporary features) would be okay in some cases. Yet in other cases, I'm not so sure that it would be as acceptable. For instance, if you are photoshopping grass into your photo because the sod hasn't gone in yet, that might be okay if the seller actually has a plan for sod to be installed in the relatively near future. However, you are photoshopping in an entire lawn for a property that does not have a plan for sod to be installed, and the responsibility for installing sod would lie in the hands of the buyer, I feel that it would be wrong to do so. I also think it would be wrong digitally spruce up a lawn if the entire yard were nothing but crab grass and clover. Do you see my point?

    But, I must say that I frequently fix lawns that have "temporary" problems. Let me give you an example. I don't know how many readers here have dogs, but when dogs urinate on grass it results in yellow or brown spots. This is a temporary problem. Once the grass has grown and been cut a few times, the grass will be green again. So I often times fix small patchy spots such as this.

    So in short, I think that there is a clear line that should be drawn, and I believe it was discussed in the one of the posts that Larry referenced above. If there is a definite plan to repair a certain fixture of the property, then it will likely be okay to digitally repair that item for the photo. However, if we are just anticipating that "grass will eventually grow", I would think twice about adding a full lush lawn to a photo that will be used to market a property for sale.

  14. Respectfully, I must add my angel's advocate position and say being being photo police is a bad idea.

    As I've said before, real estate photography is solely for the purpose of advertising and marketing. When you unwrap the triple decker grease burger with 12 slices of bacon, does it ever look anything like the photos on the menu? Does anyone think the clothes they see in photos of models (where hidden pins and pieces of tape pull out wrinkles & puffy areas) will ever look like that on them? Heck no!

    Except for the Realtors who do their own photography, this should be a question of personal ethics - not a code of rules. The Realtors already have their own "true and accurate representation..." guideline to follow and they are the ones selling the property. The magazines like Homes & Land, Harmon Homes, etc. don't try to tell the Realtor the wording "a spectacular view..." in a description of the property is misleading. If there is a problem, its on the Listing Realtor and maybe Seller to deal with accuracies.

    And, if a wide angle photo has a larger hfov than a human eye does, then tough. Otherwise, what would be the purpose of wide angle and telephoto lenses.

    These discussions are good for the awareness but lets get back to ways to make the photos look better.

    Just my opinion.

  15. I think we all make our own decisions about what we will or won't do. However, the fact of the matter is, that for the most part, we all work for Realtors! So leaving out their code of ethics and telling them "tough" is horrible customer service. It's also a great way of widdling down the amount of business that you do. The worst thing an individual in a service related industry could do is have a disposition of "it's not my problem, the responsibility lies in your hands".

    I don't think that anyone is demanding that we follow a hard and fast set of rules, rather this code is being proposed as a guideline that those who are providing services to Realtors should try to follow. Following a code of ethics such as this, allows one to provide a great service and still maintain integrity. The purpose of photographing properties for sale is help market them...yet, they should accurately portray the offering. You cannot simply remove power lines or provide a lush green lawn in order to get people in the door. These practices may be acceptable in a magazine layout, but not for the sake of marketing a property. If Realtors must adhere to providing an accurate portrayal, we should likewise...since they are paying us to help them get their job done!

  16. Please accept my apology for not being clear. I wasn't saying to leave out their code of ethics, only that they already have one for their specific purpose and I didn't see why we might want to develop one for us too. Hopefully my comments didn't indicate I was saying "tough" about the Realtors - I said tough in reference to the horizontal field of view on a wide angle lens being greater than the hfov of our eyes when people say the photos make a room seem bigger.

    But, lets see what others have to say.

  17. Mike,
    My whole point in this post is that like it or not, photo modification is becoming a significant issue of concern these days (Adobe is working on technology that can will detect modified photos). So much an issue that Real Estate associations like the REIQ that I sited above are beginning to put language (weak and strange as it maybe) in their code of ethics trying address this issue. So as photographers in this industry we should be prepared to have a clear position on this subject an be able to discuss it intelligently.

    For me, and others as well, I think simply discussing the various technical aspects of this issue is valuable. For example, in the last discussion we had in this area the readers of this blog made points that lead me to re-think the advisability of removing power lines from my photos. I don't do it anymore. In the end we are all going to make our individual decisions but hopefully we can each do that better decision if we've had a discussion with lots of varying points of view.

  18. I see your point of view. I hope I didn't offend by my comments, but I always feel like the end result of our work is only good if it is well suited for the purpose in which it was intended. Because I worked for quite some time as a listing agent, I understand what a Realtor needs to effectively market a listing. For instance, your aim is not only to get people in the door, but essentially to sell the house to someone on the property once they arrive.

    Thus from an agent's perspective, if you WOW someone with your photos, but the house doesn't're in trouble! Setting buyers up to be disappointed when they arrive at the property will surely have a negative result. An agent may well have difficulty selling a house to a buyer that feels cheated when he walks through the door. And this is not an isolated incident...these are things that we hear all of the time. Of course, as a photographer, we aren't responsible for dealing with disappointed buyers and sellers, but our primary clients are. Agents are rarely dissatisfied when you intensify color saturation or make small editing adjustments to help draw attention to the house, but you will hear about it if your photos look distorted (this includes making rooms and yards appear larger than they really are). In fact, this subject comes up often comments in this very blog. Again, my point is to give consideration to your audience/primary client and aim to please. We are only as good as our reputation in this industry.

  19. Larry, I think you will always run into problems when you're focusing on behaviour and not intentions.
    Your examples are regulating Conduct, not Ethics. There is always an exception to conduct.

    For example, if I use studio lights, I'm photographing something that does not exist in the property. The house is never that bright, but we can make an exception since it's done to compensate for the lower tonal range of the camera can capture. But what about when the lights are arranged to shine through an exterior window? Maybe it can be that sunny, so we can make an exception. But is it a northern exposure? Does a neighbour block the light? That would be deceptive. Strobes can also be arranged to give the impression of a window that isn't there -- even done blatantly with a window-frame GOBO. So are strobes okay, but not with GOBOs? How about the barn doors that let the photographer get light into the kitchen on a look-through shot, or just highlight the back wall? That's simply good photography.

    This particular what-if game can be played with everything.
    (for what it's worth, I've lit a room through a window, but never used a GOBO.)

    If we have a unified code, it needs to focus on intention and responsibility. Ideally it would be applicable to all product photography, which is what real estate photography is, even if the language is tailored to our niche.

    A commercial photographer's obligation to accuracy and fair interpretation is never higher than in photography for web and catalog sales. At least we know that nobody will buy a house on the strength of a few photos, and if the wall colour is a little off, or the perspectives a little exaggerated, there's no real misrepresentation. Perhaps our specialty can look to the broader experience for guidance.

  20. As a realtor and photographer, I just want to add that our code of ethics states nothing about the photos we use to represent our listings - at least not in Florida. The use of realistic HDR, and wide-angle lenses help the agent's properties stand out from the other billion realtors.

    With so many people starting their RE search on the internet, photos are the new curb appeal, so it's very important to use whatever tools we can to make the photos stand out.

    That being said, I think this code of ethics lays the ground work for RE photography standards. It doesn't seem restrictive, and would give photographers the ability to produce outstanding marketing tools for the agents.

  21. Would you be comfortable using a picture of a different house altogether? Every photo shows a different house than the buyer will see. So what differences should the buyer expect?
    Perhaps what needs to be done is figure out what IS to be expected. Photographers can understand what is happening in a photo. We still need help as the flicker REphotos attests. How much can we expect from buyers who don't know photography?
    With a reference page that buyers could click to know expectations and variance, the ethics would be minimized for the photographer. Right now the photographer bears all responsibility for the ignorance of the buyer. This is only because photographers have to assume (or not), the ignorance of the buyer. If there was a place they could find and go to. The assumption of the buyers ignorance would be greatly reduced.
    This would include things like:
    Perspective will vary, do not assume size from photo.
    Any picture of the property will show what is there within the parameters of the camera or will be noted.
    The lighting of a property is meant to show the property and does not neccessarily represent the actual lighting.

    I think all advertising should be honest. This is what happens in medicine commercials already.

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