In this article, whether you want to do real estate photography professionally or just take photos of your own home, you will get some tips to help you out.
We tend to think of real estate photography as architectural photography and, although the principles are similar, shooting homes is quite different.
Our job is to entice buyers to make a viewing appointment with the realtor. The listing with the most appealing professional photographs and presentation is likely to be chosen over the rest.
Therefore, as photographers, we need to look at the home through the eyes of potential buyers and not necessarily as an artistic project. Shooting for the high-end glossy magazines is another level entirely!
Photography Equipment Needed for Real Estate Photography
A full frame camera is preferable, but not essential.
I’ve used a cropped sensor Nikon for years and it does the job just fine. Although if you go this route you will need a slightly wider-angle lens than you would on a full frame camera.
You’ll want a fairly wide-angle lens, but not so wide that you noticeably distort the image.
With a full frame camera, a 14-24mm lens or similar is perfect. With a cropped sensor you’d be better off with a 10-20mm. Although it is tempting to shoot as wide as the lens will go to fit in as much of a room as possible, it doesn’t always look very good!
Another issue is that home buyers tend to be disappointed when they view a home that is not as big as it looks in the photographs. You’ll get a feel for what works best and every lens is different.
It’s a matter of common sense, applying the rules and a touch of trial and error. Composition plays an important role too and we’ll cover that later.
Don’t be tempted to go cheap here, you need a really solid tripod that is stable and secure.
It is essential that your camera does not move when taking multiple images and the better your tripod, the less chance there is of camera movement.
So, spend as much as you can afford on a tripod that will last you many years, you’ll be thankful for this investment.
Firstly, you need a shutter release to avoid camera movement as mentioned above.
You’re shooting at slow shutter speeds and don’t want to disturb that tripod by touching the camera, especially when set up on a soft carpeted floor. So get a remote trigger to fire the camera without physically touching the button. An app for your phone may work if you don’t have a remote.
Secondly, you’ll need something to trigger your flash.
I use a simple radio frequency remote setup (here is one option, Yongnuo remotes are quite affordable, and are available for many camera brands), but some people use something with a Wi-Fi connection, such as the CamRanger. Personally, I find it too time-consuming for the typical small to medium sized property when the agent and homeowner often want you in and out as quickly as possible.
Remember, you’re not creating an art project for a glossy magazine here, just good quality images that will be used for a limited time to market a home to potential home buyers. Or if you’re shooting for yourself, possibly just for practice.
In most cases, one or two speedlights will do just fine.
I use a couple of Yongnuo speedlights set to Manual and adjust their power depending on room size.
They are lightweight, compact and while one can be hand-held, the other is mounted on a stand. When shooting larger homes you might also need a mono-light, like the Godox AD200, AD300 or even AD600. It helps if you have one of these or something similar available.
Again, time and practicality must be considered and this will mainly be worthwhile when shooting large, luxurious properties with huge living areas and views.
Most importantly shoot only RAW!
This enables far greater flexibility in post-production. There are times when you are rushing and under pressure to get the shoot done and you don’t get the exposure quite right in camera. Being able to make adjustments afterward is essential, and shooting RAW gives you the best chance of doing this.
I generally shoot in full Manual Mode and leave the White Balance set to Auto (AWB). White Balance can be problematic when you have multiple light sources in the room as will often be the case in real estate.
You may have natural window light as well as incandescent and fluorescent lights, all in the same room. One solution could be to turn off all or some of the lights, but that sometimes loses the “mood” of the room.
Usually, the flash exposure will take care of most of it when it’s set up correctly, but having a RAW file with the ability to make WB and color adjustments in Lightroom or Photoshop later is also important.
I usually shoot two or three exposures for a flash/ambient blend. The settings below are merely a starting point to use as a guide and generally work fairly well.
The first frame is exposed for ambient room light without flash (above), with the shutter speed set at around 1/8th, aperture at f/8 and ISO 320.
These settings will vary depending on the amount of available ambient light in the home. A lot of dark furniture, drapes and dark wood ceilings can be a real challenge. So open the aperture to f/7.1 or even f/6.3, raise the ISO to 400 and possibly go with a slightly slower shutter speed if necessary.
On the other hand, an empty house with a lot of reflective surfaces on a bright sunny day requires a slightly faster shutter speed of 1/30th to 1/40th. The aperture remains at f/8.
The second exposure will be shot with your flash pointed straight up at the (hopefully white) ceiling.
In this photograph, I held the flash at camera-left and pointed it up at the ceiling. If the ceiling is dark, you may have to use a reflector to bounce the flash.
For this exposure, I added two stops (+2 flash exposure compensation) above the setting used for ambient light, leaving the ISO and aperture the same.
When blended with the ambient shot, this helps reduce/eliminate color cast and glare, bringing out the true color of the walls and furniture. We’ll blend these images later in Photoshop to create the final image below.
You may notice that the right-hand wall in this photograph has a color cast from the sunset through the window and also that the lamp shade is not quite straight.
While I could have spent time correcting these (to be honest I didn’t notice the lampshade and probably would’ve straightened it if I had!), the potential buyer wants to know that the room fits a double bed with space for two pedestals, it has a power point to plug in the lamp, there are wood floors, there is a bathroom with a shower, there is a second power socket, it has a sloped wood ceiling painted white and the room is painted a neutral color making it feel light and bright.
I took another shot from the doorway to show the window. While it still showed some of the elements in this shot, the view out of the window was not appealing at all and the photograph didn’t show the bathroom which is far more important than a boring window. Thus, I opted for Image 3 (above).
If a third exposure (above) is taken, it would usually be for a window pull to showcase the outside view. However, we won’t cover the window pull here.
In some cases, however, it may also be necessary to light up a really dark area of the room with your flash and that third exposure would simply be blended in using Photoshop.
In this case, the bathroom was very dark (see Images 1 and 2 above), so I took a third exposure with my flash set to quarter power inside the bathroom (Image 4 above). In Photoshop we can simply set the blend mode of that layer to Lighten and bingo, the light comes on! (See Image 3)
It is usually best to follow the two-wall rule of composition for real estate photography.
Rooms can tend to look longer and/or narrower than they really are when you shoot down the length of the room showing three walls converging. There may be times you cannot avoid this (see image 6 below), but then try to keep the focal point as close and short as possible so you don’t end up with the room looking like a corridor.
Next, decide on the most important features of the room and concentrate on those.
What is most important to the potential buyer?
They want to know what type of floor coverings the room offers, will their furniture fit, how much cupboard space there is, does the house have air conditioning, a fireplace, external light and windows, views, access to outdoors and many other considerations.
Look at the room from this perspective before composing your photographs. Unfortunately, you cannot always show everything the room offers so decide on the most important features and go with those.
In some cases, for example, larger living areas, you can always take additional shots from different aspects of the room if necessary. Naturally, that wouldn’t be worthwhile for a kid’s bedroom, but I recommend doing so in the main bedroom if there is a master bathroom, or large living rooms and entertainment areas. Just use your discretion.
Camera Height for Interior Photos
Set up your tripod between waist and chest height.
Kitchens: You should be able to see the tops of the counters, not just their edge. Tilt-shift lenses can be helpful here so you don’t show too much ceiling, but they are costly and not essential unless you have one already (Image 7).
Bathrooms: Same with bathrooms, just above counter/sink height (Image 8).
Bedrooms: In the case of bedrooms, you want to be a little higher than the bed so waist height is usually fine (Image 9).
Living rooms: Can be a challenge sometimes, but I generally shoot just above waist high unless there is something blocking the view (Image 10).
Choose a focal point of interest or use leading lines to draw the viewer’s eye into the room (Image 11).
Things like a fireplace, a vase of flowers on the table or a bowl of fruit on the kitchen counter are usually good options.
Remember, at f/8 you won’t have too much depth of field to worry about unless it’s a huge area. In that case, it would be best to consider splitting the room up into more than one shot.
Getting the Verticals and Horizontals Right
This can be subjective, but in real estate photography it is important that the vertical lines are as straight as possible and do not converge (Images 12 and 13 below).
To go with this, the horizontals should also be correct (Image 14). It is more difficult to see the horizontals, particularly when using two-wall composition, but you’ll soon tell if an image is not level.
I use the viewfinder level on my camera to set both horizontal and vertical levels. Some photographers use a spirit level on a tripod.
Whatever works for you. Because you’re shooting with a wide-angle lens, distortion will always be a problem, particularly in bathrooms where you would shoot wider than usual.
Lightroom is particularly quick and easy to correct your horizontals and verticals.
It is one of the first pre-sets I apply to my images.
As you’ll likely have picked up by now, I use Lightroom and Photoshop for all my editing.
No matter what your software of choice, to achieve the flash/ambient blend you will need the ability to work with layers. That said, I won’t go into the detail of the technique here, more on that later.
Let’s just go through the typical basic workflow.
Firstly, import your RAW files to Lightroom.
The beauty of Lightroom is the folder and catalog structure, the ability to tag, filter, and rate your images. It is extremely helpful in culling and deciding on final images to keep.
Secondly, once in Lightroom, make the basic adjustments.
In the Develop Module, start by setting the Camera Profile, Lens Corrections, and Verticals. Then tackle the White Balance and make minor exposure and other adjustments as necessary.
Having completed the basics, the third thing to do is to open the ambient and flash images as layers in Photoshop (select them both, right-click inside LR and choose open as layers).
- With the ambient layer on top, apply a black mask to reveal the flash layer below.
- We then use a soft white brush with the opacity set to 6% or 8% and paint in some of the ambient layer as necessary or to your taste.
- After any additional editing, flatten the layers then save and close the file.
This sends the image back into Lightroom where a few final adjustments are applied.
For details on processing the flash/ambient blend, see Nathan Cool’s YouTube tutorial below. This video also covers a few techniques in addition to shooting and processing the blended image.
The final images are then exported as Jpegs, saved in a folder and either emailed to the agency or saved to DropBox for them, depending on the requested resolution. The most common dimension I use is 1200px on the long edge at 150ppi.
Some Final Thoughts
In closing, I must mention that I’ve learned almost everything I know about real estate photography from a true master of his craft, Nathan Cool.
He has a comprehensive range of tutorials on his YouTube channel and I owe him credit for sharing his brilliant ideas and techniques, many of which I use. He also has a series of eBooks on real estate photography, not only about photography techniques but also about the business end of real estate photography.
I highly recommend subscribing to his YouTube channel if you’re interested in learning more about real estate photography.
Please remember that this article is intended as an introduction to how I currently approach real estate photography. We are all learning daily and we learn by sharing. Please feel free to share your experience and ideas, we’d all love to take our craft to the next level so let’s do that together.