Selecting a Real Estate Photographer (Part 2)

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Go to Part 1 here.

In Part 1, we answered why you should use a proven professional to photograph your real estate listing instead of doing it yourself.  In Part 2, we will talk about a few basic hurdles that EVERY professional real estate photographer must clear.  I’ll show a couple of examples of show-stopping defects, and show two examples demonstrating why natural light photography is your best option.

First a disclaimer.  The examples of questionable photos I present going forward are not meant to disparage any particular photographer, real estate agent or broker, property owner or lifestyle.

An example of angled walls. This is an unacceptable defect in real estate photography.

I selected these bad example photos from real estate listings active as of the date of this post.  The homes are all priced well above the median for their markets.  The point here is to show how sub-standard photography detracts from the attractiveness and perceived value of an otherwise really nice home.  You would never guess the homes shown in these poor examples are VERY expensive homes offered by market-leading agencies.

Any photograph, whether taken with a film camera or digital, is ‘developed’ before you have an actual picture.  With film, developing involves chemicals and a darkroom.  With digital, developing can take place inside the camera or by using a computer to post-process the image saved on the memory card.  Many people use the term ‘Photoshopping’ to describe digital image post-processing.

If the angled window and wall doesn’t scare you off, the overexposed window view and bathtub should.

But just like in real estate where you make money based on how you buy, not on how you sell, in photography you set yourself up for success based on how you take the picture in the first place.  There are a limited number of exposure, composition and technical deficiencies that Photoshop will correct.  If you don’t take the picture right in the first place, doom awaits.

Is the glass door frame on the left really curved or is this another example of poor vertical composition?

Photographic composition is a broad subject that would take up many pages.  But there is one element of composition that should tip you off to a problem waiting to happen in real estate photos… lack of vertical lines.

No one would buy a home built with walls, windows, doors and cabinets tilted at angles, or curved in a ‘C’ shape.  But the composition in too many listing photos show walls, windows, doors and cabinets at an angle, tilted, slanted or bowed.  This is an unforgivable sin in real estate photography.  No professional photographer worth his or her lens caps would submit a photo with anything less than vertical walls, windows, doors and cabinets.  This expectation is so fundamental, the Real Estate Photographers of America, the industry’s trade group, won’t grant membership to photographers whose portfolios contain this defect.  Run away from any photographer who presents photos like this to you.

Those pesky kids next door keep setting off A-bombs. Who wants THEM as neighbors?

Another fatal defect described by the Real Estate Photographers of America is uncontrolled window exposure.  This is when views out of windows are so overexposed and blown out, it looks like an atom bomb detonated next door.

There are a few valid reasons why you may not see blue sky in every window.  The two-story home next door may be so close that it blocks the view of the sky.  Photography may have been scheduled on a cloudy day, or at a time when the sun was shining directly into that window.  But if a window is a prominent element of the composition, detail should be visible through it.  As with slanted walls, don’t waste your money on a photographer who can’t properly expose for daylight window views.  And pass on photographers who charge extra to get clear window views.  Clear window views come standard with natural light photography.

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Poor flash technique creates unnatural shadows on the ceiling behind the fan and behind the curved ceiling arch. Natural light prevents this defect.

Any professional photographer you consider must consistently exhibit proper vertical composition in their photos.  If not, look elsewhere.  If their verticals are correct, next look at their window views.  Overexposed windows are evidence of improper technique and/or lack of understanding how the camera works.

Camera flash reflects off of the shower door frame and glass. Natural light prevents this defect.

Walls, windows and other vertical lines are straight up and down in this properly composed natural light photo. There are no unnatural shadows behind lamps and no odd reflections in the glass.

Unnatural shadows caused by an external flash unit is another rookie mistake.  You typically see these on walls or ceilings behind ceiling fans, hanging lights or end table/nightstand lamps.  The photographer uses flash to offset a bright window.  But shadows caused by flash units do not occur naturally.  The result is a room that does not look naturally-lit.

Another common flash error happens when the light from the flash reflects off of shiny surfaces like windows, mirrors, picture frame glass and shower doors.  Again, that reflection is not natural and their presence in a listing photo is an example of carelessness or poor technique.

Moving to the right of the bed shown in the proper vertical bedroom example above, the crystal clear view from these bay windows showcase an important selling feature of this home. Natural light photography is the best way to capture the actual view up for sale.

Window views are important selling features of many properties.  Single-exposure, natural light photography is the most reliable way to capture the view the homeowner enjoys every day.  But for those who haven’t mastered natural light techniques, a post-processing software work-around makes it possible to digitally simulate a natural view that often doesn’t measure up to the task.

This is why I feature so many window views in the photos on my website and in my marketing materials. I am proud of how they look using natural light photography.  And you don’t pay extra for them.

In Part 3, we examine High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography and how to be a wise consumer of this photographic shortcut upon which so many self-proclaimed professionals rely.

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