The good, the bad, and the ugly- What makes and breaks good photography.

Scott · July 18, 2016 · Uncategorized · 0 comments

The goal of my blog posts is education…I want to help you learn what makes good real estate photography.  But, I also don’t want to take up your whole day reading my nerd-out about photography, techniques, and equipment.

Today, in the golden age of the cell phone, we are essentially all photographers with a camera at our fingertips.  Even though there are so many photographs being taken, are those photos necessarily high quality?  Most of us are happy if our cell phone photos are in focus and we didn’t cut off our friend’s head in our selfies.  In my blog, I want to help you understand the massive differentiation between blurry cell phone photos and professional photography.  I want to cover some of the elements that make good photography great, as well as what makes it not so great.  You can then analyze the photography in your listings and find a professional that delivers a top quality product.

So, to start, let’s talk a little about the basics of photography and why shooting interiors can be tricky.  I’ll try not to get too ‘tech nerdy’ about it also.  Essentially, real estate photographers’ job consist of these few things:

  • Photograph a home or property to show exactly how it will look to a potential buyer.  Photos should be color correct, natural looking, and not Photoshopped or over done to make something look better than it actually is.  If photos don’t look like the home will look in person, that is misrepresentation and will mislead home buyer as to the home’s actual condition.
  • Deliver top notch photos: with compositions that are interesting to look at; convey the space well; show how that space flows and feels; that are highly detailed, focused, and exposed properly (avoiding over and under exposures).

Seems simple enough, but we’re working with a lot of elements as well as the limitations of our equipment.  Knowing your equipment, how to compensate for lighting, and knowledge of composition are just a start of what a good professional should employ in every shoot.

To illustrate this point, I took some shots in my house to give a quick example of some of the common issues in real estate photos.  Most of these are things you’ll see in listings.  Identifying it and fixing it is my goal with this information.  Although you may find that some of these can be found in your own listings,  you will be armed with the knowledge to get the results you need in today’s market.  Even if it might mean finding a new photographer.


The most common issue you will see is over-exposed and under-exposed photographs.  The biggest problem with improperly exposed photos is color imbalances: under- and over-exposed photos do not show the space well at all.  Over-exposed photos are too bright and are harsh to look at: over powering white spaces bleach out colors, while outside details and views are lost.  Loss of outside views can be problematic when you have a home that relies on it’s location as a selling perk.  Those views of the outside, in some cases, are just as important as the interior of the house.  If your big selling point of a home is the great view of Lake Michigan from the living room and the only place that is conveyed to a buyer is in the description, the photos are NOT doing their job!

Under-exposed photos make rooms look dark and cave-like, no matter how much light is available in the room.  This too, can create terrible color imperfections.  Wall and floor colors may not appear as they would if you were actually in the room…if that is the case, then what’s the point of the photo?  Capturing the proper exposure is pretty basic photography and if they struggle with these issues then maybe it’s time to choose a new photographer.  A good photograph should be well lit, inside and out, and details like textures and colors should be visible and correct.  These examples show the large differences an exposure can have.

overexposed    underexposed   my living room shot



The next issue is shooting verticals and horizontals improperly.  Shooting from a tripod at the proper height is essential to ensuring vertical and horizontal lines are straight and square.  Shooting down on a room causes a disorienting effect.  Look at the the vertical lines of TV stand as well as the column in between the living room and dining rooms.  These distortions make the house look tipped or out of square, which may make some home buyers pass on a property because the feeling of imbalance in the photos.   The second shot taken down on the living room shows the layout of the furniture effectively, but doesn’t show the flow of the rooms.  Taken at such an extreme angle, it doesn’t show the true size of the room as much as a sense of vertigo.  Overall, these shots can be more confusing or disorienting than conveying any sense of space and size.

bad verticals    bad verticals_2My_shot


These two shots demonstrate horizontal issues.  The first shot looks as though the room might be tipping.  Shooting from a tripod and making sure everything is completely vertical and horizontal makes the house look more sound.  The eye is pretty attuned to straight lines, any that are off become pretty apparent and make the house look unstable and crooked.

bad horiz     corrected horiz



Now we move on to some perspective and composition choices that can inhibit the flow and feel and interrupt the spacial relations between rooms.  This is a bit on the technical side, but something you can learn more about in my upcoming posts.  Most trained photographers should have a good working knowledge of this as well.  In the shots below, camera position plays an important role in how this shot turns out.  Photo A is shot wider and shows more of the space, but is somewhat cut-off by the couch.  Photo B still shows the same space, but by coming into the room a little more it brings the room together better.  You still understand where the couch is in the room, but it no longer bisects the shot and draws all your attention.  Small camera angle decisions like this can make big differences in how the shot feels.  Again, taking a good shot and making it better.

bad composition    corrected composition



Photo A, below on the left, is a one point perspective; while an easy composition choice, it also presents several issues as well.  The biggest issue with one point perspective shots is their inability to convey flow and space as well as other shot choices.  Shooting the 3rd wall is a real estate photography no-no: it shrinks the space and makes the room feel small.  Compare the two shots below: Photo A has three walls visible, while Photo B does not.  Which seems like it has more space?  In Photo B you get a better sense of the the space and flow from the dining room all the way into the kitchen, which gives it a bigger feel.  The big composition issue of a one point perspective is the presence of things in the foreground (such as the kitchen table in the left photo) which blocks off the eye’s ability to look deeper into the photo.  Try to look into the kitchen in Photo A.  The table and lights are blocking your view right?  If you took a few steps to the right, you could see into the kitchen more easily, correct?  Coincidentally you would end up with a view just like in Photo B…clearly the better shot of the two.  Yet many photos are taken in one point perspectives, and they often times are not the best shot options.  Shooting a large room in multiple shots may take a little more time, but it will show the size and space off more effectively than the one point perspective shot.

bad one point      fixed_one_point




This next set of shots is what I call the ‘black hole’ conundrum.  I’ve already talked about the spacial relationships, and flow between rooms.  Being one of the objectives of a good real estate shot, what happens when the next room isn’t lit well enough?  This!  A black hole.  You can’t see into the next room, you can’t tell what it is, or whats in there.  Lighting it properly shows you what is in the next room and gives a better idea of what rooms flow together.  This one is pretty common, it takes more equipment and time to remedy this, so it is not always a priority for most photographers.

black_hole     black hole fixed


Lastly, and this topic is on the tech nerd side of things, but is something I’ve ran into in my own work and see it in others as well.  Many real estate photographers shoot using a technique called HDR (High Dynamic Range).  Simply put, you use multiple shots, blended together to give you a photo that is closer to what your eye sees than what is achieved with one shot.  It usually requires special software to combine them together, giving you a highly detailed and well lit photo.  But there is a pitfall: you can push it too far and get some really weird looking photos.  It is easy to have color distortions happen, such as appearing too blue and very fuzzy or blurry.  This is pretty apparent in Shot 1 and 2:  over-done, has a dreamy affect to it, and is very blue and green.  The white surfaces of the 3rd shot remain white.

bad hdr    bad_hdr

my living room shot


This was a quick overview covering some of the common issues in real estate photography that should be avoided.  They all have large impacts on how the viewer sees and reacts to listing photography.  As a paid professional, it is my job to make sure you are getting the best results for your marketing.  Thank you for reading and stay tuned for more to come, the better educated you are ensures you know what to look for in great real estate photography professionals.  Until next time, happy selling!!

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