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Your Job As An Interiors Photographer Is To Show How The Room Feels More Than How It Looks

Last night I was looking at all the PFRE Photographer Of The Month contest entries that were awarded points by the jury. It occurred to me that all of these 17 entries had for the most part managed to get rid of all the classic interior shot distracting effects like wide angle abuse, lens distortion, converging verticals, chromatic aberration, color and white balance problems. The primary difference in most of these top 17 entries was down to what did the image of the room feel like?  An image feels as it does because of the way the lines, shapes and color work together and what feeling that creates. That's, composition.

Real estate photographers probably don't think enough about composition enough because it's easy to get distracted by all the technical and process stuff and not leave enough time to think about composition. Yet it has a big impact on the effectiveness of a image. I was looking back over many years of blog posts to see how much I'd talked about composition here on the blog. In doing so I ran across Scott Hargis's great little tutorial on composition (video was shot by Malia Campbell) that he did 2.5 years ago. It's a great way to get started thinking about all the various aspects of composition. It is well worth watching even if you've seen it before, or even if you have seen it.

18 comments on “Your Job As An Interiors Photographer Is To Show How The Room Feels More Than How It Looks”

  1. That is a great movie that I have seen before and always a refresher. I have even forwarded the link to those Realtors of the mindset that ultrawide isn't wide enough. Can't say that I have had a lot of success changing their minds, but at least gets the discussion going and hopefully plants the seed in the back of their mind.

  2. I recently worked with a new client who, while on the shoot, was complaining about photographers who shoot ultra-wide. I ensured her that I'm not one of those photographers, and I shot the place confident that they would love the images. I used smart composition and framing to connect rooms without having to show everything in one shot.

    However, after delivery of the images she was quite peeved that I DIDN'T use a friggin' fisheye lens on every single shot. I reminded her both of our conversation and my online portfolio, both of which clearly indicate that she wasn't looking for a "let's try to get that 4th wall in the shot" photographer. Yet there they were, complaining that I was only showing two walls. They also said a couple of images were "unusable" because it was vertical and "I do not post vertical photos in my listings". Whaaaat? What on earth has been fed to these realtors where they not only have no idea what they want, but complain when they don't get whatever it is they think they want?

    Long story short, the place went under contract in under 24 hours. Unfortunately, I still don't think the agent learned anything about photography from that experience.

  3. A lot of realtors don't use verticals because if they do the MLS sites will distort those images, so you really don't want them to use them either. Can't wait to watch the video and pick up come tips. Thanks for posting it.

  4. Thanks for sharing this great, simple video. As a portrait photographer who has become a realtor, I'm still learning the ins and outs of this kind of photography and how to be not only good at it, but also how to be efficient. This will help me to not come back from a shoot and say of some of the images, "What the heck was I seeing in that camera?!" Thanks again, I'm enjoying the re-learning of my craft from a different angle.

  5. Hi Debra
    Would you mind going into more detail on "That's why I letterbox my verticals" not quite sure what you mean,
    David Jones

  6. @Dave

    I think you meant me, but by "letterbox" I mean fitting my original uncropped vertical image into a horizontal frame. It's just a way of fitting one aspect ratio into another without having to crop.

    Think of it like the movies: in the theater you see a very wide image (ie, 2.35:1), but when it moves to Blu-Ray it's letterboxed so they don't have to crop off the sides of the original movie to fit your TV's narrower aspect ratio (4:3 or more recently, 16:9).

  7. Haha - thanks for the reply Jeff! Do you leave white space on the sides to "make" the vertical a horizontal then? My agents don't want verticals either for the same reasons Debra explained.

  8. Lee,

    Yes, most people will leave a white space (as opposed to black or a color) just because most MLS backgrounds are white.

    On that note, I do believe my local MLS no longer distorts images that don't fit within their standard aspect ratio. They've finally made it to mid 90's website technology!

  9. Thanks Jeff! That's a great idea. If I can't convince an agent to allow a vertical for a comp that would be much better that way, maybe I can talk them into this idea. MLS is indeed finally catching up with their technology, but some agents are still a bit old fashioned and just don't want verticals. Not all feel that way though. Thanks again!

  10. No problem... hopefully my tangent didn't drift too far off today's subject. After all, orientation and aspect ratio are a big part of composition, and it would be a shame for either of those things to be limited based on an agent's misconceptions about the MLS.

  11. Thanks Larry,
    I saw this video a while ago, and is a great refresher video. I sometimes get caught up using my Nikon D-300 and 12-24 on 12mm. Then, I think of this video of Scott's and re evaluate my scene and zoom in. it is also easier to light a smaller area, when zoomed in.

    Jeff, years ago I bought a Nikon fisheye lens to shoot real estate interiors (which I figured I could straighten in Lightroom or ACDsee Pro). what a $600 mistake that was.

    Now (thankfully), I find myself using it for fine art and some portrait/wedding work where the distortion adds drama or impact. But for real estate, and after watching Scott's videos, I started shooting tighter. I wish Nikon made a fast, lightweight 14mm DX prime...................................... sometimes you just cant please a narrow minded or un educated client.

  12. Some realtors want to see it all and you can still shoot wide with showing the feel of the room if you know what you're doing. If you're shooting for interior design magazine spreads obviously it's not required to "show it all" but in real estate specifically, they want to show as much of a room as possible which is why 360° virtual tours became so popular. Now that's taking wide to the next level and video is quickly killing 360° in most areas but nonetheless, there are too many variables to say what is the right way to shoot a room. Every realtor has their own idea of what they want to see and are you going to sit there and argue with them why you shouldn't shoot it wide? If you try to educate them you're only telling them no to what they want and wasting their time which means you won't get called back again. The best way if you really want to show them the difference is to shoot it both ways and provide both sets of images to them and if they still like their wide shots....who cares as long as you're pleasing your client and getting paid. We're not shooting real estate to win architectural photography awards, we're shooting to show the home to prospective buyers and this subject is getting way out of line. If shooting tighter shots and verticals is your thing, go try and make a living shooting for design magazines...good luck. Real estate is much more consistent and reliable work and if you don't abuse the wide angle it can offer great opportunities to be creative and get some really nice shots....not perfect, but perfect is a very subjective thing.

  13. "Every realtor has their own idea of what they want to see and are you going to sit there and argue with them why you shouldn’t shoot it wide?"

    When did I say I was arguing with them? The realtor made it clear that they didn't like "ultra-wide", but later complained that I didn't shoot ultra-wide. It's not my fault that they contradicted themselves.

    "If you try to educate them you’re only telling them no to what they want and wasting their time"

    Take the money and run, right? Excellent idea. Screw what's best for the realtor both in the short term and long term. Why bother educating a client and giving them a superior product when I can take advantage of their ignorance and give them the same old crap that fills the MLS already!

    "We’re not shooting real estate to win architectural photography awards"

    I'm not interested in mediocrity. If I wanted that, I'd go work for Obeo.

    "If shooting tighter shots and verticals is your thing, go try and make a living shooting for design magazines"

    I'm doing work for designers as well; thank you for the suggestion. And are you implying that verticals have no place in real estate photography? Really?

  14. Jeff, clearly you're frustrated because you want to do one thing and your clients want another. I take my job very seriously and for you to say "take the money and run and take advantage of their ignorance" is insulting not only to me but to realtors in general.

    I've been doing this since 2007 and currently shoot for over 70 realtors so I think I have some credibility when talking about what it is realtors want. I get requests that range from wanting very wide shots fitting everything in, to keeping each room shot a little tighter but the single biggest request, to answer your question regarding verticals is to "not shoot verticals". No realtor wants a vertical shot unless they are shooting to have a magazine cover done in which case they let me know ahead of time, but is it coincidence that not one of my 70+ realtor clients wants verticals? Should I be educating them all why they're wrong?

    I can honestly say that almost every new client I shoot for asks me "please don't shoot ultra wide and distorted like you see on some of those listings out there that make the room look like a tunnel" and each time I take that with a grain of salt because the most overly used words when a non photographer talks photography is "fish eye lens". Everyone has seen an incredibly wide fish eye shot and they are only saying that's not what they want, but WIDE is in fact what they want, just not that wide.

    When I said "arguing" I guess I should have worded it differently but when a realtor asks me not to shoot verticals and to keep the shots wide, I say "you got it". I'm not going to try and educate them as to why they should have verticals or tighter shots because that again is totally subjective and they already know what they want. Realtors for the most part, want to show as much of a room as possible without it looking as if it was shot with a fisheye lens and my point is, this can still be done in a creative way without abusing the wide angle lens. So to recap: if a realtor asks me to shoot wide and I then turn around and tell them why they don't want wide and all the reasons for it, all they're going to hear is that I don't want to shoot wide, which they will then perceive as me being difficult or not capable of giving them what they want and have asked for. This is why I said you could try shooting both ways and show them the comparison if it means so much to you, then if they like it your way, great, if not and they want wide, well I guess you're in the wrong profession.

    Believe me I've tried educating many realtors over the years why they don't want to use HDR photography, but those that want it, want it I realized. It made me realize it's not my call and everybody is different and obviously there's a market for it because all of my competition does it and they're paying the bills.

    I also shoot for interior designers and home stagers that really like the tighter shots and focused shots which is perfect for the style of photography you're referring to. Perhaps you should get out of real estate all together if that's what you're doing? I can't tell as you don't share your website in your posts.

  15. Thanks Scott for this freebie. I bought your video series - it's been one of my most valuable learning resources. I love the challenge of lighting now.

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