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What Is the Best Camera Angle for the Exterior "Hero Shot"?

Published: 13/04/2019

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Ray in Newport Beach asks:

I’m guessing that pretty much all real estate shooters have to submit at least 5 or 6 exterior shots when delivering final photos to the agent. Is there a rule of thumb in terms of camera angles to include for the exterior shots?

It’s a tough question Ray, because the camera angles we can use to compose our exterior shots are so dependent on what the house’s surroundings allow us to capture. Typically though, my clients usually want 2-3 really good shots of the front (i.e., one each from the right, left, and straight-on) and 1-2 of the back yard. After that, they trust me to take any other shots that I see fit.

That said, on the assumption that your local MLS is like mine, an exterior shot has to be the first shot in the listing. If so, I do have some thoughts on which image should be the first of our submitted exterior shots--let’s call it the “hero shot” exterior. If trees/landscaping permit, I think there’s something about a shot taken from an angle that does the trick. And, yes, I understand that one-point/straight-on compositions often work great--especially if there are some very interesting architectural elements involved. However, capturing the home on an angle allows the viewer to get a sense of depth that a straight-on shot often does not.

So, the key question then becomes, “Which angle do we take for the exterior hero shot?” I’d like to propose that, if possible, choosing an angle which places the front entry door closest to the camera, rather than the garage doors, is the way to go. Doing this makes the entry door physically closer to the camera and therefore will make it appear disproportionately larger relative to the garage doors… and we see an example of this in the attached photo.

While I have no scientific evidence to back me up, it’s my hunch that subconsciously, making the entry door more pronounced like this, somehow makes the house feel more “accessible” to the prospective buyer. Symbolically, it’s almost as if that doorway represents an entryway to a new life, so to speak, and making the entry disproportionately large makes it easier for the prospective buyer to “walk right in”.  And yes, we’re likely going to end up including a shot taken on an angle where the garage doors are closer to the lens (which will make them look huge!) but for many agents, this will be okay as they’ll probably want to show off the fact that the house has a large garage.

Another key variable to consider for the exterior hero shot is camera height. I know lots of great shooters who lower their camera. To them, looking up at the house a bit makes it look grander. For my eye though, I prefer my camera much higher. In fact, I always bring a 10’ collapsible ladder to a shoot as I believe adding some height adds distinctiveness to the exterior hero shot because it presents a view that people aren’t familiar with, as they’re not that tall!

Do you have any additional advice for Ray in regard to nailing the exterior hero shot, or any other exterior shots for that matter?

Tony Colangelo

11 comments on “What Is the Best Camera Angle for the Exterior "Hero Shot"?”

  1. I agree about the height. I find the camera on a pole can often get a nice angle, especially for 2 story homes. Getting the camera closer to the mid level of a 2 story home gets a more eye to eye feeling when looking at the house. Looking up at a house makes it look more imposing/intimidating, and what you want is welcoming.
    On the other hand, single story homes in older neighborhoods with power poles in the back yard, those can look worse as you raise the camera and show more wires.
    In the end there is no single solution. Just got to do what works for the particular situation.

  2. I'll echo Tony that the front door is the key element and being off angle is often the best composition. My local MLS requires that the front exterior is the first photo. A good architect (and there 6 or 7 in the US that are good) will make the front entrance the focal point of their design. I don't set a requirement on myself of delivering a certain number of exterior photos. The house and property dictate what is required. Sometimes I'm only delivering one if the only other comp that isn't occluded by trees/landscaping just features a garage door. If the dominant feature in the frame is the garage door, skip it. There isn't much value in the image. HUD requires (or the regional HUD main contractor) a Left, Center, Right set of exteriors front and back regardless. When I'm doing those homes, I make a gallery specifically for HUD/MLS and a better curated set for T,Z&R for the local agent to use.

    A pole can be a great tool for exteriors. Just getting up to 10'-14' can make a huge difference. Many times it gets the top rail of a short front fence out of the way of the house, compensates for a minor grade or centers the frame up on a two story home to make a solid one point perspective. I've also used the higher POV to give a peek of the solar panels so if people aren't reading the blurb, they will see them. Getting out the drone isn't always an option around here with 3 military and 5 civilian airports. I also do the pole photos at no extra charge since it only takes 1-2 minutes to rig the camera on the pole. I charge extra for the drone.

    The photo with this post is a great example. Nice angle, nice framing by the trees and a good exposure. Unless there is something on the other side that is really special, this one shot captures it so why do 4 more? If the agent is requiring a certain number, wing it on the balance but nail the one you think is the hero shot and sit down with them and go over the images together. They should be hiring you for your take on what images show the property the best. I'm not saying you ignore their requests, but you don't want them thinking they are just hiring somebody to push the button.

  3. Yes, except for older ramblers, some height is generally good I think. One trick I use for the 'main' front exterior is to draw a radial filter around the entry and then bump the exposure a bit. Not too crazy. The eye tends to travel to lighter areas, entries need to look friendly and warm. The main front shot is by far the most important (initially at least) with less than 4 seconds get get clicked on. And of course, twilight covers are king. Although the fake ones are working hard to change that... imo.

  4. Agree woth Tony... the environment dictates the angles and what’s possible.

    So many times a great angle may not be possible due to power lines or some trees or a busy road that is nit safe to be in to get the shot so creativity and careful consideration for the comp is key. It helps to really study the situation ... i often take a look at the house as i’m pulling up and finding a parking spot ... gives me some idea of what angles it looks good at and saves me some walking but often the home may look great at a certain angle but the neighbors home encroaches in the scene and may have clutter or cars or poor upkeep etc... so some finess is required to edit the idea or choose another angle all together. i try to show as much usable info as possible but it always has to be a good looking shot. i will pass up a side angle if we are seeing nothing but a giant bush taking up the scene ... nit always possible to show the side so shoot what is possible and what looks great! if it’s an older home and maybe not in such great condition then try to find some landscaping or show more of the lot to enbhance the photo overall... like in the shot above although that home is nice...

    anyway just let the subject show you where it looks it’s best but don’t just feel like you have to shoot all sides just cause.

    also, height is good sometimes but i see it overused so many times ... i’ve only elevated in rare circumstances where the homes elevation is raised from the cameras pov so much that it obscures the actual home... but generally i think more important than elevated is how close you are in relation to the subject... backing up enough to give yourself some crop room as well as enough to see the roof and zoom in to diminish distortion and stretch will give you a pleasing and accurate perspective. i see it all the time - extreme wide angle standing 10’ from the house... you lose all the roof and make it completely unrealistic ...

    anyway it can be a challenge!

    sorry for the long winded reply lol!

  5. Each home is so unique, it's impossible to define a single angle that works best for a hero shot. For example, if there's a tree located in the front yard then the angle options become more limited. I would agree with Tony that the front entry is the most important feature. I find that angles with leading lines (walks, driveways, etc) that take you to the front door are the best. Height wise it all depends on the elevation of the home and (again) the trees surrounding it. The height I like is halfway up (middle of 1st/2nd floor on a two story, etc), but it can be challenging to do with taller homes.

  6. +1 on what the others have said about the entry.

    I have a background and education in architecture, and I use that to shape how I shoot... going into it, I first focus on the composition of the architectural design, it's features and it's strengths and weaknesses, and if I can get a strong shot without the garage, or at least one with the garage played-down. Then I look for leading lines, like walks, driveways, landscape borders/forms, and try to use those to draw the eye to a strong angle of the home, preferably the entry with the door visible; sometimes the driveway can work if it isn't too wide, and if it is free of tire marks, cracks, etc.

    However, those are under ideal circumstances, and usually only higher-end customs come close to working out that way. When it comes to production homes, even the higher-end ones, all of that kind of falls apart, as it seems the one tree that was planted blocks the middle of the otherwise best angle, garage doors are much more prominent, if not dominant, architectural design may be ill-proportioned, driveways are straight and 12'-25" wide, or other challenges like extreme topography... In my area, many of the nicest homes are built on steep hills, with retaining walls that keep you from being able to move back far enough for even the widest lenses (I try to avoid going wider than 24mm unless totally necessary).

    In summary, every home is different, but I go in with an ideal formula, then compromise and adapt as needed.

  7. I think this is being overthought. I really don't think there can be any rule other than some basic first approaches as has been well listed above. But when it comes down to it, the best exterior is the one that makes the house look it's best and every house will be different. I tend to leave that choice to my clients since they know better than I do what will best sell the property, or at least, what will appeal to a browser to look further. And it also depends on whether the image will be on MLS, Tourbuzz or another property site or in small and large print ads.
    So to be sure start with the suggestions above, but just move around and shoot each angle as it appears to look great and choose the best of the lot in post. And what you do in post can make all the difference between a dull image and a great one.

  8. I've been shooting real estate for a long time (14 years?) and the hero shot, as with pretty much all real estate photography is an exercise in creative problem solving.

  9. Regarding external photos, I shoot one photo at the front and one at the back, and get ithe photos confirmed by the agent onsite. If the house is going to be knocked down then shoot both ways in the backyard. There’s no point submitting photos the agent isn’t going to use. Maybe it’s just different in Sydney as they usually only need 6 photos in total.

  10. @Adam, I'd love to get away with only having to make 6-8 photos of a home and spending the time to really craft them to get the best composition, exposure and staging. Unfortunately, a microscopically small number of agents would let me get away with that. If they were paying attention, they'd see that the photo layouts in the glossy magazines are generally around that image count. I do try to make sure that each image has some value, but frankly, about half of what I deliver could be tossed out and buyers would still be equally as interested. I believe that goal of the photos from a selling perspective is to get buyers to reach out to their agent or the listing agent. Too many images may scare people off or they may get tired of the first dozen front exterior images and never get to the photos of the best features later on in the set.

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