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Taking Advantage of Detail Shots in RE Photography

Published: 11/09/2019

Author: Tony Colangelo

Jeanette, in Salem OR, writes:

“I’m wondering what you think about the idea of including detail shots as part of the package of photos that I deliver to my clients. I love doing them. They allow me to use more of my own creativity and I find them quite challenging. Are there things I can do to get better at them?"

Thanks for the question Jeanette. It’s an interesting one because I’m seeing them more often in the PFRE world--whether it be within our community’s Flickr group or with my own coaching clients. And, yes, I think that in certain circumstances and with certain agents, they can be a valuable addition to the package of photos that we submit to our clients. So, let’s take a closer look (pun-intended!)

What Makes a Good RE Detail Shot?

To start us off, let's first discuss what not to do when taking detail shots in an RE context. Generally speaking, Jeanette, I think you should try to avoid taking shots of the “décor” within the house. Yes, you might be smitten with a beautiful piece of furniture or a really elaborate set of decorative cushions on the master bed but these things won’t be coming with the sale of the house and, as such, likely won’t add a lot of value to the agent’s listing.

Typically, I think a detail shot for RE ought to be focused on capturing physically permanent elements within the house (e.g., building materials, high-end kitchen/ensuite hardware, custom built-in shelving, distinctive architectural features, elaborate landscaping, etc.) For instance, let’s say that we walk into a DR and we see that, in behind a DR table on the other side of the room, is a 5ft. section of recessed wall with a demi-lune window. The current owners have decided to take advantage of this recessed section by placing a funky hutch that matches the table. In this situation, you might consider trying to capture a vignette that shows off such that recessed section of wall as a distinctive and functional architectural feature/element. Indeed, you might even get “artsy” with it! For instance, you can pull out a longer zoom lens (e.g., a 50mm f/1.8, a 70-200mm, f/2.8 or even a 24-105mm, f/4.0) and, standing back a ways, you can open your aperture quite a bit and zoom-in to try and blur out the DR table a bit, so as to make that recessed section of wall the star of the shot.

Value of Detail Shots in Your RE Photography

When done well, detail shots can add a great deal of value to our photography, to our clients and to our  photography business. Here are some quick points to highlight how this might be so:

For our clients: Using detail shots, regularly, can distinguish a client’s brand insofar as they can communicate to their current and prospective clients that they are incorporating unique images as part of their marketing efforts, so as to generate more intrigue in the house and the value that the prospective home buyer will be getting for their purchase. Even if detail shots don’t end up in the actual MLS photos, they can serve to augment any corollary marketing materials that they might use to promote the house (e.g., glossy brochures handed out at their open houses). They can also augment our client’s website in the form of header/background images and/or to support advertising on social media.

For our photography:  Looking for and “seeing” detail shots is a great (and fun!) way to stretch our creativity and imagination. I also think they can be useful in helping to get out of a rut, which can happen from time-to-time with many RE shooters, over the course of a career. On related note, in a recent article, I wrote on the value of diptychs and I have to say that pairing a couple of well-executed and thoughtfully arranged detail shots can create a great image that can convey a very powerful message about the house’s style and/or craftsmanship.

For our websites: Detail shots serve to break the pattern (monotony?) of always seeing the same “type” of shots (using  the same aspect ratios), within our website galleries. As such, they can make our galleries much more interesting and thus, might contribute to a viewer staying on our site, longer.

For our business: While a small number of my coaching clients have shared with me that they actually charge extra for detail shots within their RE pricing structure, most of my clients tell me they take detail shots because they know that their run-and-gun competitors don’t/can’t shoot them and, thus, detail shots help to distinguish them in their respective marketplaces. Finally, Jeanette, if you have aspirations to shoot for designer clients, then shooting detail shots is a must-have within one’s “tool-kit”. Judiciously sprinkling a few detail shots into your website galleries/portfolio will go a long way to highlighting to these clients that you’ve got the chops to satisfy their requirements in this area.

I could go on and on about detail shots but, instead, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic, as well as any tips-and-tricks you use to capture them, so as to give Jeanette more to chew on!

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.


10 comments on “Taking Advantage of Detail Shots in RE Photography”

  1. Depending on the property, detail shots can be the icing on the cake for your clients experience. Sometimes you get properties with hardware, plumbing, amenities, etc that run into the tens of thousands and to overlook that as part of your coverage of the property would be lacking.

    We decide if these details need to be captured and usually do not charge extra for them with our main clients. We do offer an option on our services and fee's for those that definitely want them at an additional fee....if we charge them is something else as it is a nice gesture to them that we value their business.

    One issue I have with this thread is the "run-and-gun competitors" statement. It comes across as demeaning that anyone who can do more than one shoot a day is not of the caliber of those that take 2+ hours to complete a shoot on a 2,500 sq ft home. Maybe the "run-and-gun competitors" just know what they are doing

  2. Detail shots are usually pretty simple to make if you are just capturing images of plumbing hardware or bespoke cabinetry. If you have a an odd number of vertically composed images, a couple of detail photos can be used to bulk out the 3:2 display space where your images are going to be shown. You may even want to create 2 triptychs instead of one composition with 2 vertical photos.

    I will usually include detail photos at no extra charge. The tight frames only need a quick bounced speedlight for a good exposure, if that. Often they can be made with the same lighting you have set up to photograph a whole room. If a customer is requesting a bunch of detail photos, I'd start thinking about needing to charge extra for them, but 1-3 simple ones at no-charge can make me a hero.

    It's good to get to know your area so you are better at spotting upgrades that have been done to a home. If a home has been over-improved for the neighborhood and the owners are asking for a high listing price, get good detail images for the agent will be key to their being able to attract some interest.

    I agree that the 'in 'n out in 30 minutes' shooters aren't as likely to be looking for or delivering detail photos. It's hard to look at more than the whole room at once if you are making an image every 45-60 seconds. I'll do that for a basic bedroom or bathroom and the laundry room if the agent wants a photo of that, but I don't think it's long enough to do a good job in the main areas of a home and the master suite. I DO take about 2 hours on a middle class home from arrival to packed up and leaving. I still find myself working quickly in that time frame to make all of the images in a fashion that isn't going to have me doing lots of heavy lifting in post. If the space is very challenging, I take longer and I try to keep a schedule that gives me the flexibility to do that. The hard ones are where I earn my oats. Very often those are the ones where an agent or the homeowner tried to make images and they came out so bad they knew it was not a good idea to post them. When I come in and make a set of killer images, they know I earned every penny of that check. (The metric of "killer" is in comparison with what they did, btw).

  3. I always do detail shots, on every property. Not only does it help set me apart vs my local competition, but it's also the most enjoyable part of the shoot since I get to be creative.

    It really only takes a few minutes, and if your main lens is fast enough (like a 16-35 f2.8) you can open it up and get some nice background blur without ever needing to swap lenses. At the end of every job I run through shooting wide aperture high(ish) ISO natural light detail shots, and my clients love them.

    They're a great way to deliver more images, fast and easy to edit, and help give a personality to the home.

  4. If you watch movies, commercials, or practically any high end productions out there, details are almost always a major part of it.

    It is very common in Hollywood for example to establish with a wide shot, move in, and move in yet closer and closer toward the end of a scene.

    Instagram, Facebook and the rest make details even more valuable in my estimation. Very good venues to throw up a detail and remind their potential clients of a listing with an eye catching image.

    We do not think of it this way, but if the next movie you watched or the next commercial you saw did not show any details, you would probably feel it was ineffective and not even be able to pinpoint why. It is because wide angles are very uninspiring for the most part. There are tons of great quotes about details, but the best ones essentially say that details are everything. Maybe that is an overstatement for us, but by not delivering details you are certainly doing somewhat of a disservice in my estimation.

  5. Funny timing, I was thinking about starting to offer those type of shots (1 or @) in my photo package as I more than agree with all the benefits highlighted by Tony.
    What I want to avoid is changing my lens.
    I use a Sigma 10-20 on a Nikon 7200 and this is the one I use 99% of the time for interior and exterior.
    I am not worry about not being able to create a nice blur as I can do that in post.
    My question is related to creating the base picture. Do you think that my set up (Sigma 10-20 on a Nikon 7200) can create a decent base detail shot (meaning no distortion., etc..)?

  6. Well done Tony. I'm also seeing more detail shots creep into the mainstream REP world, BUT many of these ARE focused on decor. I think that what you've defined "ought to be focused on capturing physically permanent elements within the house" is right on. That said, I do think it's important to include certain areas where something could be placed. For example, an odd corner of a room where it's nicely decorated with a floor plant or similar. I also include detailed shots of those small corners in the main entry of a split level where someone might have a placed a small table (if it's done well).

  7. Agree that detail shots of furnishings shouldn't be part of your listing photos - but if you want to also work for other clients like stagers and designers than it is a good idea to take them when you get the chance.

  8. As Tony noted, should be of permanent features with about the only exception - and pushing the limits of 'detail' - would be a tight entry foyer that also shows supporting furnishings accenting the door. I always enjoy looking for the detail shot rather than (yawn) another kitchen, master bedroom, etc. Some Realtors like it an will throw the detail photo in, others just don't care and elect not to use them, but it is better to take it and not have it used than overlook and have them suddenly request it. Actually, now that I think of it, may be a good alternate theme for POTM. The equivalent in video is the focus pull - a close flower then bring the distant front door into focus as a transition entering into the home. But back to photography...on my website I have 3 photo galleries - Exterior, Interior, and Detail but also include Community amenities to build out the livability theme. A couple example that stand out is a wine rack built into the slope of the stairs or water trickling over the rocks into the pool. Another, I walked onto the golf course putting green hole and flag with the property in soft focus in the background which also gives the message that is in one of the safest areas for a golf course home, not subject to being peppered by errant balls. That is what I like about the detail shot, as it makes you think.

  9. @Rom, Don't be afraid of changing lenses. You can save up your detail shots to the end of the session and just make one change. If you are making an image of a chrome plated tap, you want to back up and use a fast telephotos. If you just use your wide angle lens, you won't get the same depth of field but what you will get is a reflection of you and your camera that you will have to clone out. If you can back up with a tele, any reflections may not be noticeable or super easy to clone out in a couple of seconds. Lighting is also very easy. If the background is dark, you don't even care about the quality of light to bring it up, just the luminosity as a shallow DOF is going to cover a whole bunch of sins. All you need is to have your subject lit well. A hand held speed light is often all you will need if the ambient isn't enough.

    Detail shots should be exciting. I see "detail" shots of the range in the kitchen where the range is nothing special and the composition is boring. I scream "why did you take that image?" when I see it. A little creativity and an upscale range can be much better. How about a pan of boiling water with a handful of spaghetti in? If the job is special, plan on staging the scene further with sauce in another pan and a loaf of French bread on the counter next to the stove. If the house is occupied and the owner is game, go for it. Find your comp and let them prepare the food while you are off making photos elsewhere. When you get back, the sauce is bubbling nicely and the pasta water is at a rolling boil with wisps of steam rising. That should conjure some interest and it gives more story to the appliance.

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