Real Estate Photography: The Complete Guide for 2022

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Photography Real Estate & Property

This is the ultimate guide to real estate photography, designed for agents who want to sell faster.

This is the complete guide to real estate photography, designed for real estate agents who want to improve their leads from online listings.

Prelude

For most of 2020 and 2021, Australian property markets have been skewed heavily towards buyers – you know, first-hand, how easy it’s been to sell.  You could take blurry images on an iPhone 8 and still field dozens of calls.  But, as of May 2022, that’s changing.

The RBA’s rate hikes mean housing affordability is slipping, demand is dropping, and property value is set to fall by 15% once the cash rate reaches its predicted high of 2.5%.  Make no mistake: selling will become harder.

Now is the time to make sure your online marketing is as strong as possible, and images are the best weapon in your digital arsenal.  Keep reading to find out how to make your real estate photographs better than good.

What is Real Estate Photography?

Real estate photography can be broadly defined as taking photographs that help sell a property.  It falls under the property photography umbrella, which also includes other forms of commercial photography like architecture photography.

There are two important components to that definition: the photographs are used to sell, and they capture the property.

Let’s look at the first component.  That real estate photography needs to help sell property might seem obvious, but there are plenty of examples online of photography failing to do that.  Always remember that real estate photography’s primary purpose is to catch and hold attention – other uses, such as providing a detailed look at the property, are secondary.

The second component – that the subject of the photographs is the property – is also obvious (but also sometimes ignored).  Real estate photography should capture the building and surrounding land, not humans, animals, or unrelated objects.  Using a cute animal as clickbait or including close-ups of styling furniture is a waste of money.  Buyers understand that, in general, they’re only purchasing the property – unrelated images are confusing, misleading, and won’t help you sell.

The Role of Real Estate Photography in Property Marketing

As an agent, you know there are two primary stages to selling a property:

  • Marketing, where buyers compare options, scour the market, and engage in research
  • Selling, where buyers have decided that your property might be the one for them – and it’s up to you to convince them that they’re right

Real estate photography assists with marketing.  It draws attention to the product, showcases its features, and gives prospects an idea of how their worlds could be transformed if they do decide to purchase.

Let’s go through each of those functions in turn.

Seizing and Holding Attention

Think about the first places buyers look for property.  Online listing platforms like realestate.com.au are the most obvious, but people also discover properties by:

  • Looking at agency window displays
  • Seeing properties on social media
  • Seeing yard signs
  • Exploring agency websites
  • Online and offline ads
  • Receiving agency marketing collateral like online newsletters or direct-mail brochures

With the exception of yard signs, every one of those marketing channels involves your property competing with other properties for buyer attention – and that means you need a way to make it stand out.

Good real estate photography leverages aesthetics to seize attention.  This doesn’t mean you need jaw-dropping visuals.  Rather, your photography should align with the buyer’s ideal lifestyle (we’ll talk more about that shortly).

But holding attention is also important.  This is where clickbait or unrelated images fall flat.  While an eye-catching image might seize attention for a moment, closer inspection will show the buyer that the image is misaligned with their needs, and they’ll move on to the next property.

By holding attention, you create a bridge to the next step – the prospect reading the listing copy, which, in turn, should lead to an appointment booking.

Feature Showcase

In the context of real estate marketing, showcasing the features is something that happens after attention is seized and held.  This is typically where the prospect clicks through to the listing or agency website or opens the brochure.

They’ll typically flick through the other available photographs, possibly while skimming the copy.  The goal here has shifted from attraction to illustration – showcasing the property, its layout, and its features in a way that makes sense.  This is no different from online shopping with 360-degree interactive product images, zoom functionality, or a selection of feature close-ups.  The more information people have about what they’re buying, the more comfortable they feel booking an inspection.

While the property still needs to look enticing, it also needs to actually show what buyers get.  That’s why drone photography and floor plans are such popular additions – they contextualise location and layout in a way that regular images might struggle to do.

In some cases, it may be tempting to airbrush images during post-processing.  Some agents justify misrepresentation by reasoning that they can talk their way out of discrepancies once they’ve lured prospects to the property.  Don’t be those agents.  Misrepresentation in marketing is lying (and, in extreme cases, false advertising).  Lying erodes any trust prospects have in you, and that ‘oh, we got tricked’ feeling will undermine even the best sales techniques.

Demonstrate the Change

Above all else, marketing should highlight the change a product or service will create for the customer. In the case of real estate, the change is the lifestyle that the buyer will gain.  Your prospects need to be able to envision themselves using or inhabiting the property, and that visualisation needs to be more appealing than other, similar alternatives.

Make sure your photography creates a specific vision.  It won’t appeal to every buyer out there, but that’s fine.  Marketing designed for everyone is marketing that persuades no-one.

Think about a beach house.  You’re selling a beach lifestyle, so a photograph that highlights your property’s potential for that lifestyle is important.  Which of the below is more compelling?

Kirra apartment block

The first image is a luxurious apartment block, but it’s confusing.  What is the buyer actually buying?  The block?  A unit?  A level?  We’d need to read the headline to find out.  It’s also unappealing – it doesn’t instantly conjure images of a beach lifestyle, and there’s a mental stretch required to envision the benefits that would come from purchasing it.

Kirra Sur penthouse

Now consider the second image.  The what is obvious: a beachfront apartment.  And such an apartment it is – the Hampton-esque cream and blue styling evokes seaside luxury, and the broadness of the apartment expands into an oceanic panorama.  Outside, the morning sun glistens on the water, the human-free sand seems appealingly close, and we’re instantly able to envision ourselves sitting in that apartment with a coffee as the sun rises, possibly wandering down to the beach for an early-morning swim.  The lifestyle is conjured for us – and that’s compelling.

Amateur vs. Professional Real Estate Photographers

If you’re like most real estate agents, you’ve questioned, at one point or another, the value of paying for a professional photographer.  “I’ve got an iPhone – can’t I just take my own pictures and save myself money?”

It’s definitely possible to take good real estate photos with a smartphone.  The issue, of course, is that having the right gear is just part of the photography puzzle.  The skill required to compose a shot, correctly direct lighting, and edit the photos to a professional level is what distinguishes professional photographers from amateurs.

The following are traits often found in amateur real estate photography:

  • Poor angles. Taking a picture from the wrong angle can highlight unattractive parts of a room, or even close it off and make it seem smaller than it is.  Thoughtless angling can also rob an image of context, making it hard for viewers to understand what they’re actually looking at.
  • Poor lighting. Lighting is critical for all photography, and shooting with the wrong lighting (or not having the skill to correct it in post-processing) can result in dull, flat, or washed-out photos that repel prospects.
  • Poor contrast. Contrast defines photographic elements and creates a visual hierarchy.  Too little, and even a well-crafted image can seem unappealing.  Too much, and the photo comes across as over-edited and unrealistic.
  • Over- or undersaturation. Realism is important – buyers know that the images they see online are edited, but they don’t want to be forcibly reminded of it.  Having photos that are unnaturally oversaturated or undersaturated puts people off.
  • Graininess or poor quality. Sometimes, agents on a budget take and upload photos that are grainy, blurry, or otherwise visually marred.  While the excellent cameras on modern smartphones are making this less common, taking photos in bad lighting or with a shaky hand can still produce unpleasant results.
  • Irrelevant subject matter. Amateur photographers often don’t understand the three functions we discussed earlier, which sometimes leads them to focus on subjects that are irrelevant.  A good real estate photographer uses imagery to showcase the house and tell a story.

Principles of Good Real Estate Photography

Broadly, there are four technical principles that define good real estate photography.  Of course, other elements like camera stabilisation, shutter speed, lens choice, colour balance, and so on all play roles, but the following four principles are the keys to creating imagery that sells.

Angles

Angles are critical.  Both horizontal and vertical positioning can make the difference between a dull, static photo and one that draws the eye with compelling visual flow.

Consider these two unedited photos of the same space.

A Burleigh foyer.

The first, taken from the side, disorients the viewer – the styled furniture is facing the other way, our gaze is torn between the furniture and the bar, and the ceiling takes up too much visual real estate.  It’s still a good photo, but the angles aren’t optimal.

A Burleigh foyer.

Now, look at the second image.  See how the photographer uses lines – both horizontal and vertical – to frame the image.  The subject is clear, with the styled furniture contrasted against the surrounding space, and the lower angle of the camera hovers more evenly between the ceiling and floor.  We don’t feel disoriented; instead, the house seems to be opening up before us.

When you take your photos, think about what your angles show, and what they hide.  Make sure the content you display is as valuable as possible (no-one wants a photo that’s mostly wall or ceiling), but also remember that context and clarity are important.  Don’t overwhelm with too many details.

Lighting

Lighting is perhaps the most obvious technical principle for amateur photographers.  Most buyers can instantly tell whether a photo is too dark or too bright, so getting it right is important.

If you’re shooting indoors, it’s generally a good idea to turn your overheads on.  Similarly, good natural lighting can seriously simplify things, so open up those blinds and curtains.  The problem, of course, is that natural lighting is typically more powerful than artificial lighting, which can create glare – it’s also a different colour.

A Burleigh bedroom.

In this photo, for example, we can see that the white natural light dominates; the yellow overhead fan light is almost drowned out.  This is corrected during editing – the room becomes brighter, the yellow tint of the overhead disappears, and the colour temperature of the overall image balances out.

A Burleigh bedroom.

Other common lighting issues real estate photographers face are:

  • Low lighting, which can be combated with artificial lighting or by blending different exposures
  • Grey skies for outdoor shots, which, while unavoidable, can be leveraged to create interesting, well-textured photos

Composition

Composition is, by the most basic definition, the things that are or are not in a photo.  It’s a choice that can have a big impact on the story that the photo tells.

Sometimes, composition is just about aesthetics.  Think about a wide-angle shot that accidentally captures part of a door frame.  The viewer’s gaze is immediately drawn to the door frame, which triggers subconscious thoughts (why is it there?  Where does it go?) that distract from the image’s subject.  The obvious solution is to move the shot forward slightly so the door frame is excluded.  There’s no point to it being there, and any decent editor would likely pick up on it and crop it during post-processing anyway.

At other times, composition requires more thought.  Does excluding this item from the shot hide useful information from the viewer?  Does including this item distract from the main subject of the photo?  Before, we defined composition as elements that are in or out of frame – but it’s also the way included elements are arranged.

Consider the following:

Fred walks up to the door.  He knocks on the door.  He waits.  A man opens the door.

Now consider this:

Fred walks up to the door.  He waits.  He knocks on the door.  A man opens the door.

The two paragraphs have very different implications.  In the first, Fred is an unexpected visitor at a stranger’s home.  In the second, he arrives with a purpose – the arrangement of sentences indicates that he needs to wait for some reason, and that he is expected.

Photos are similar.  The way an image is composed means different information and different implications are conveyed.  When you’re shooting real estate, be mindful of how your composition helps demonstrate the change we talked about earlier; exclude items that distract from that narrative, and make sure the ones you include are arranged in the best possible way.

Context

Context is strongly related to composition and angles, but it really deserves its own section.  In real estate photography, which needs to accurately showcase property features, properly contextualising images is key.

Viewers should be able to understand what the photography showcases, where each shot depicts, where rooms sit in relation to other rooms, the relative size of spaces, and so on.  Here’s an example.  The image below is an image from realestate.com.au.  Note the fridge on the left.

Gold Coast apartment kitchen.

Here’s a cropped version of the same image.  The fridge is gone, as is the floor.  The effect?  The whole room feels larger – because the context has changed.  The viewer no longer knows that the kitchen stops at the edge of the frame, so the space feels more open.

A cropped photo of a Gold Coast apartment kitchen.

Real estate photography should aim to accurately contextualise, but it can also use context to its advantage.  Shoot from doorways and angles to show how rooms flow into each other, take shots from corners to accurately convey expansiveness, and omit contextualising features that may not come across well in photographs.

What to Expect From a Professional Shoot

If you’re thinking about booking a professional photography shoot (and you should), it’s worth asking: what exactly does that look like?

How Long Does Real Estate Photography Take?

The time needed to perform a real estate photography shoot depends on a number of factors, including:

  • The number of requested photos
  • The size of the property
  • The photo-readiness of the property
  • Interior layouts and space
  • The shoot conditions

Generally, a real estate shoot with 24 deliverable photos takes between one and two hours.  Bad weather, hard-to-shoot interiors, and having other people on site will all add delays.  If you only have access to the property for a limited time, help your photographer work effectively by following our pre-shoot list.

How Many Photos Should Your Photographer Give You?

Your photographer should give you the number of images you paid for.  Most real estate photographers on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane use package pricing, which means you’ll choose your photo quantity while booking the shoot.

In an ideal world, your photographer will take enough photos to capture attention, showcase the property’s features, and demonstrate the change for potential buyers.

For example, at Chevron Editing, our photography packages are labelled based on the number of rooms – our package for one-bedroom properties delivers eight images, whereas our package for premium homes with four or more bedrooms delivers 25 images.  Why?  Because we know that a four-bedroom home is too difficult to properly capture in just eight images.  By the same token, eight images suffice for most one-bedroom homes – and they’re affordable for agents and sellers with smaller budgets.

Are Professional Real Estate Photos Worth It?

Yes, professional real estate photos are definitely worth it.  If you’re a veteran agent, you know the impact good photography has on lead generation – and, if you’re new to real estate, talk to someone more experienced at your agency about the importance of quality images.

The numbers agree.  A study by America’s largest real estate photography network, VHT Studios, found that online listings with professional photography sold 32% faster than those without.  A Redfin study yielded similar results, with professionally photographed homes selling four to 25 days faster and for 1–1.5% more than homes marketed using amateur photography.

If you’re not convinced, try it yourself.  Ask a family member or friend to scroll through listed properties in a given price range.  Tell them to click on properties that they’d theoretically be interested in buying.  See which listings they view – odds are that they’ll pick ones with great photographs.

How to Take Good Real Estate Photos

Unless you have extensive photography experience, it’s generally a good idea to hire a professional photographer for real estate shoots.  The difference in quality is obvious enough that both sellers and potential buyers will notice it.

Sometimes, though, the seller won’t sign off on photography spend – which means you’ll need to conduct the shoot yourself.

What You’ll Need for Shooting

Theoretically, you can conduct a real estate photography shoot using a smartphone.  For quality, though, you really need a proper camera, an appropriate selection of lenses, and a tripod.  Some photographers also use lighting equipment, although good natural light, light fixtures, and strong image blending skills are often enough to produce well-illuminated images.

Top cameras that work well for real estate photography include:

  • Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. While expensive, this top-of-the-line DSLR has plenty of capabilities, including 4K video, inbuilt WiFi, and a 61-point AF system.  It’s arguably one of the best cameras on the market, and is one of our favourite options.
  • Sony A99 II. Sony’s flagship DSLR is aging (it debuted in 2016), but it’s still a solid choice.  Like the Mark IV, it comes with 4K video, and makes subject capture easy with a 79-point ‘Hybrid Cross’ AF system.
  • Sony Alpha 7 IV. The Alpha 7 might be mirrorless, but it’s arguably a better choice than the A99.  Released in 2021, it combines exceptional photography and videography capabilities with a compact frame and surprising ease of use.
  • Nikon D3500. If high-end cameras are out of your budget, the D3500 is a great entry-level choice.  Retailing at AU$1,149, its Guide Mode simplifies photography for beginners – not quite as easy as a smartphone, but nowhere near as complicated as more advanced DLSRs and mirrorless cameras.

Preparing the Property

To prepare the property in question for a photography shoot, make sure it’s clean, well-maintained, and properly styled.  Here’s a checklist of things to do before you conduct a shoot:

  • Mow the lawns, weed the gardens, and conduct other necessary landscaping activities.
  • Remove loose items and clutter from the interior and exterior of the property.
  • Clean the floors, windows and walls.
  • If possible, get the interiors professionally styled. Interior styling is almost always a good investment; research indicates that styled homes sell for 3–10% more than un-styled homes, and sell 2.4 times faster.
  • Open windows, curtains and blinds to let in as much natural light as possible.
  • Turn off all lights (you can turn them on as needed throughout the shoot).

The Shoot Process

Once you’re ready to start taking photographs, start thinking about the property from the buyer’s perspective.  As a buyer, what features would you be interested in seeing?  What angles would appeal to you most?  Draw on your sales experience – you know what sells well, so make those aspects the subjects of your images.

There is no ‘right’ way to shoot a house.  Every photographer has their own preferred order.  If you’re struggling, try taking shots as you move through the house in an organic way.  Start out the front, and work your way inside.  Finish up with shoots of the backyard, al fresco spaces, and utilities.

How to Edit Real Estate Photos

Almost no commercial image is ever used in its raw, natural state.  Instead, extensive post-processing (editing) helps bring down costs, produce better-looking photos, and make buyers more likely to click.

If you want to take your own real estate photography photos, you’ll need a good grasp of modern image editing software.  Even basic editing can improve how your photos perform in an online setting.

What You’ll Need for Editing

Every photographer has their own software preferences, but the industry standard is Adobe.  Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom are both suitable for editing photos, but they do have slightly different capabilities (which we’ll talk more about in a minute).

If you’re not interested in paying $14.95 per month for an Adobe Photography plan, there are cheaper alternatives like Affinity Photo, Photopea and GIMP.  The problem, of course, is that using lower-grade software results in lower-grade editing – not ideal if you’re trying to sell in a cool market.

The Editing Process

Developing an editing workflow is extremely time-consuming.  It’s also too complex to cover in a single article.  Instead, you can use the following checklist as a way to make sure you’re ticking all the post-processing boxes.

editing a real estate image in Photoshop
Changing the colour balance in Photoshop helps eliminate the yellow colour cast in this HDR photo.

If you’re not sure how to do something (and a professional editor is out of your budget), you can search for the technique on YouTube or Google.  Most Photoshop techniques have extensive online tutorials that are easy to follow.

  • Image blending
    • When lighting isn’t perfect (and it normally isn’t), the easiest way to achieve a high-quality photo is to take a number of photos at different exposures and blend them into a single composite.
  • Crop and adjust angles
    • Strategic cropping and image straightening can drastically change the appeal of an image.
  • Colour correction
    • Colour correction is the process of adjusting an image’s colour and tones to make them appear more natural.
  • Colour grading
    • Colour grading is similar to colour correcting, but it involves making an image appear more desirable (think enhancement versus correction).
  • White balance
    • White balance means correcting the colour temperature of light sources in your photo so that white objects appear white (rather than hued).
  • Shadow reduction
    • Interiors of houses can be dark, so reducing shadows to properly showcase features is important.
  • Clarity adjustment
    • Changing your image’s clarity or sharpness can create a subtly sleeker, more powerful shot.
  • Highlight control
    • Highlight control involves softening highlights in photos to reduce contrast and make the image more coherent.
  • Noise reduction
    • Image blending will help you remove noise (graininess) from photos, but manual noise reduction may also be required.
  • Local editing
    • Often, parts of a photo require further editing. Local editing, like contrast and colour control, can help smooth out an image.
  • Item removal
    • If you’re not shooting in a perfectly styled house, you might need to manually edit out unwanted items.
  • Screen replacement
    • Live TV screens are very hard to shoot, and blank screens look boring. A Photoshopped screen can help add a lively feel to your image.

Summary

A property is one of the single hardest things to sell.  It’s a long-term choice requiring massive upfront investment, and most prospective buyers will undergo an extensive decision-making process before committing.

That means you want as many prospects as possible calling you – it’s a numbers game, and agents who get more leads sell properties faster and for more.  Having exceptional photography helps you get there.

Good real estate photography captures attention, tells a story, and, ultimately, drives clicks on your listing.  In this guide, we’ve gone over concepts like:

  • Seizing and holding attention
  • Showcasing features
  • Demonstrating the change

We’ve also covered the principles of good photography:

  • Angles
  • Lighting
  • Composition
  • Context

We’ve even answered the most frequently asked real estate photography questions and given you checklists for taking your own photographs.  By now, you should have all the information you need to get the most out of real estate photography – whether you’re conducting a DIY shoot or directing a professional photographer.

By Duncan Croker

Duncan is a copywriter with a background in editing and storytelling. He loves collaborating with brands big and small, and thrives on the challenges of hard marketing.

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