Basic Real Estate Photography Tips for the Beginning Photographer

Real estate photography is a reliable staple as a source of income for many photographers. The commercial applications of quality real estate imagery are self-explanatory and if you're just getting involved, this video is here to help you with the basics.

Brought to us via Benjamin Jaworskyj, he breaks down a number of simple steps that can help us to shoot better architecture or real estate images either for commercial or personal use. This is an area of photography that is always in demand in some form or another. While many larger commercial projects and now looking for drone imagery to amp up their presentation, strong real estate imagery is always need and is always marketable.

Whether it's basic images for use in a simple property listing or a larger commercial project needing images for an advertising campaign (think hotels, vacation rentals, or even Airbnb rooms), higher quality images can command a higher price point. Jaworskyj's point about treating images like a landscape and being aware of foreground elements is a good opportunity to get a bit creative and bring some artistry into something that you may think as basic or boring. A skill worth honing is the ability to create a scene or desire to visit a location (or possibly purchase a property).

While these tips may be introductory, they can help set the stage for new business or a side hustle for some additional spending money. At the end of the day, it's the basics steps that tend to make the most difference. Furthermore, foundations in real estate photography may lead to larger architectural creative images by training your eye to see images in a manmade scene. Are there any basic tips that you've found useful? Have you ever shot real estate or architecture images for that matter?

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29 Comments

Denis Girard's picture

He lost me at HDR! lol

Michael Jin's picture

HDR is actually an incredibly useful tool on the ground in real estate photography.

1: It's not always practical to take the time to measure and set up lights on a job since there are a lot of times where you are required to be in and out within a specific time frame. HDR is a much quicker solution that lets you get in and out of a property in the time frame permitted by the agent, homeowner, or tenant of the property.

2: Given the economics of real estate photography (mainly that agents are cheap as hell and don't want to pay) it often doesn't make much financial sense to resort to manual exposure blending in post for a more natural look. Again, HDR is the quicker solution that saves you time and money, allowing you to take more jobs.

3. Your job is to produce images that help sell a home and despite the fact that we, as photographer, might turn our nose up at HDR, the unrealistic "pop" of the images is eye catching and a lot of agents actually prefer it to more realistic representations of otherwise mundane properties.

People have a tendency to view these subjects in a romanticized manner and yes, ideally all of us would light on location to get it right in camera or, if needed, use manual exposure blending in Photoshop to achieve a more natural look. It might actually be the case that some people can get business like this, but those people are few and far between.

If you are living in a market where multi-million dollar homes can sell with a handful of iPhone photos taken by the agent and uploaded to Zillow, then standing firmly by such idealistic principles is more likely to cost you a livelihood. HDR is not an ideal solution, but it is an available solution that provides a "good enough" result in an industry where "good enough" is still far more than any agent needs to sell a property. Architectural photography is, of course, a different beast, but real estate photography is far more about finding practical solutions and compromises.

All that having been said, this video is ridiculously amateurish...

Agree completely. Very subtle HDR can be useful. I still slug through the exposure blending process because I've gotten very fast with it and it keeps my window frames from looking smokey. But for certain applications, it's a good solution, particularly if it is not too intense or electric looking.

Matthias Dengler's picture

Please Fstoppers, are you getting paid by him? He has no clue about real estate and architectural photography at all. He did not even have his vertical lines straight.
How can something like that be posted by the same guys who sell fantastic tutorials on architectural photography? You have way better content than that!

Michael Jin's picture

Basic real estate photography tips:

1. Invest in a good tripod.
2. Make sure your verticals are straight.
3. Your job is not to make art for forget this "foreground" nonsense and photograph the home in a manner that doesn't involve distracting elements (unless the foreground is a courtyard or some notable part of the property).
4. Put on a pair of gloves before you start touching things in other peoples' homes. (This is for you, not for them.)

gabe s's picture

Was listening to a podcast about real estate photography. They said the number one thing to remember is that typically only a couple hundred people will see the photos, and once the house sells, they will probably never be seen again.

I thought that was good advice.

Michael Oster's picture

Seriously? I don't want to slam a person for trying. And he may do a fine job at landscape photography. But there is so much wrong with his RE photography tips. Verticals were all over the place and no mention about them. Having that bush take up 1/4 of the frame? +3 stops over exposure? No!

If I was going to share a video it wouldn't be this one. Anything by Mike Kelley, yes! That's who you need to get real estate (and architectural) tips from....

He did mention cleaning up the property. So there's one bit of good info. Sorry for the rant. This video just contains a lot of bad information regarding real estate.

Rob Mitchell's picture

I didn't have audio on, was skipping through the video a bit. I had to scrub back a bit to check the images I saw weren't the examples of how not to do it. They were the final shots. Yoiks!

Hate to knock, but truth is. That's really not a good explanation video of how to do it.
Well, it'd fit well on Petapixel, but I'd expect a little better here. Sorry guys.

Gerald Bertram's picture

There is so much bad advice here!

I would never recommend to shoot real estate handheld. Always shoot on a tripod so you can easily get your verticals straight and would even recommend a geared tripod to make that even easier. In camera HDR is rarely good at all. Shoot bracketed exteriors and inside shoot a single flash shot (or maybe more depending on size of the room), one ambient and then maybe one exposed for the windows. Blend in Photoshop which takes little time since you were locked down on that tripod!

The foreground advice was bad as well If I sent that flower shot to one of my agents they would absolutely ask me if I had another shot without the distracting flower. If you are wanting to spice things up with foreground elements you should be incredibly subtle with it and make sure it doesn't distract from the focus of the property like that shot did.

My advice would to be friendly. People like to work with people they enjoying being around. Show up when you say you will show up. Dependability goes a long way. Get in and out within 1 1/2 hours max unless shooting high end properties. Get the images back to the agent quickly. Within 24 hours if you can. Just my 2 cents and what works for me.

Darren Loveland's picture

This is insulting. I shoot luxury real estate for a living, it's about 1/2 of my photography business each year and literally nothing this guy says makes sense. First of all, the property needs to be cleaned and prepared before you arrive, we're photographers, not maids.

Auto HDR is LAUGHABLE. Take the time to exposure blend or learn ambient flash techniques.

Verticals... *facepalm*

Composition, exposures, oh my. There is literally nothing to take away from this video, did anyone at fstoppers actually watch this first?

I've seen this guy post videos before and they are usually all wacky and filled with poor advice, this is definitely a paid placement if I've ever seen one.

No offense, but if this dude showed up at my house to take photos, I would probably not let him in. One key advice for real estate photography, dress professionally and clean, you're most likely dealing with people in there 50s+ in age that live there, they don't want a hip-hop star dancing in their living room.

Michael Jin's picture

I wouldn't say that it's insulting. It's certainly ill-informed, but a beginning photographer is probably not going to be shooting luxury real estate where things are neatly staged when you get on location. Most likely, you're going to be shooting some grimy co-ops or condos or, if you get a home, it's probably occupied by hoarders. Doing stuff like flambient, window pulls, and manual exposure blending are effectively a waste of time for such throw-away jobs.

As far as clothing, I shot up to every job wearing jeans, boots, and a clima-cool t-shirt. I've yet to have anyone say anything about it. From my experience, just because a house costs 9 million dollars doesn't mean it's going to be clean or that I'm not going to have to move a ton of crap around. The last time I walked into a 3-million dollar home, I had to walk around worn underwear and dog feces on the floor (it was an interesting Photoshop job as there was no way in hell I was going to touch that stuff).

Darren Loveland's picture

It's insulting to share poor advice and dress it up as professional, I stand by my comment there. It's also insulting to treat the genre as if it's just a run and gun job. Why not take the co-op or basic condo and treat it as an opportunity to improve your skills? Unless you want to just shoot condos and shitty houses forever, your point makes no sense to me. Years ago I started out shooting small homes, condos, etc. I put in the time on those jobs to do it right and people quickly noticed the quality of work, despite the properties I was working with. As a result my business grew.

As for dress code, I hear you. I'm not saying you have to show up in a three piece suit, but there is a level of decency that should be reflected. A half buttoned shirt with chest tattoos blaring and a backwards hat would probably put some people off (an no, I'm not against tattoos). I agree with you though, casual is just fine, but at least be presentable.

Michael Jin's picture

Again, markets vary quite a bit. You'd be hard pressed to find an agent willing to pay much for photography where I am. Even companies selling $90 Million properties are listing with either cellphone photos or with photos by Zigna (the bane of my existence). Feel as insulted as you want, but people like that guy in the video in conjunction with re-touchers working overseas are likely going to end up being the norm in the industry just because of the bang for the buck they deliver. They're basically the Godox of real estate photography.

Real estate photography has always been a side gig for me and I enjoyed the times that I was able to do it right because it's always a challenge, but I am finding that as time progresses, those are becoming fewer and further between. Also, more concerning than companies like Zigna, I am increasingly seeing people offer photography for a full home + video tour + floor plans for $150. It would be one thing if they were trash photographers, but their work is actually very good (flambient, window pulls, exposure blending, blue hour photos, sky replacement: the whole nine yards). I have no idea why they would be willing to price themselves that way, but I sure as hell am not interested in competing with that. The sooner I can transition away from doing this, the better.

Glad to hear that there are still people who can actually make a reasonable business doing this without being driven down by talented people with no sense of self worth. Good luck to you and I hope it lasts.

Darren Loveland's picture

Thanks man. I hear you, it's a difficult market and the big tour companies offer incredibly cheap rates. I worked with one for a couple years and I know a guy who runs one in a neighboring city. My experience has been that those companies barely hold their operation together, it's a really thin line they run to stay afloat financially and operationally. Good luck to you too, cheers.

Sky Simone's picture

"we're photographers, not maids" - yes yes yes and amen!

Joe Black's picture

Mike Kelley should take notes. New competition in the field. 😂😂

David Wo's picture

I just shot my first house. I used to do virtual tours so I had some experience. I used my a7iii with a 16-35 f4. I ended up using 18-24mm for all but the smallest rooms. It took me a while to figure out a process I liked. I bracketed five exposures of each shot. Once in Lightroom I did hdr for a base exposure. I used the headless option to save time. I believe it’s control-shift-h. This saved some time. I then created a preset averaging 3 edits and applied to the remaining selected hdr images. From here it was time to export to psd. I exported the hdr and an exposure for highlights and windows. From here I created some photoshop actions to first auto align layers in case of any movement, second create a highlights luminosity mask. I would then use levels or curves to adjust the mask. Apply this to the exposure for highlights then add some fuzziness to the layer mask to smooth out the selection like Mike Kelley. Any windows I would punch out with polygon selection and then add some warmth to the area to color balance with the interior light. Overall the client and realtor were happy and I think I went above and beyond their usual guy. I think for successful real estate you have to limit your investment if they are not paying much in your area. Streamline the workflow as much as possible. This job was $125 for a house that just sold for $475k.

David Wo's picture

Here are a few. The wb isn’t perfect between the natural light and the house but I feel I adjusted it enough. I also tried to listen to what the realtor and the client wanted and didn’t want me to do. Some shots were off limits etc.

Jim Bolen's picture

Beginners, please do not listen to this. This guy should not be teaching how to shoot RE photography. Go to Photography for Real Estate (https://photographyforrealestate.net/) and devour as much info there as needed. Look up Rich Baum, Nathan Cool, Scott Hargis, Mike Kelley, etc. if you want to see how it is done the right way.

Hell, I shoot RE stuff WAY better and I don't feel I'm ready to teach the craft just yet.

Learn how to light a space, too. This image is flash blended with an ambient layer.

Darren Loveland's picture

Well said Jim, I'm on that site every day, probably see your posts there :)

Spyros Karvounis's picture

Unfortunately, another one youtuber who has no idea what he does, but he teach others..

Vaidotas Darulis's picture

lol that part with his tip to get inside the bush was very funny

This guy is full of what belongs in the can he left on the back patio... the garbage can.

Wide angle is fine. Extreme wide angle (16mm) is stereotypical bad real estate photos. Unless there’s a VERY good reason, stick to 24mm or longer.

HDR looks like HDR. Good photos of interiors uses lighting.

What about shooting angles? This guy seems to think standing eye height is fine. It’s not! Good interiors photos are shot from a height of 3-4 feet off the floor.

How about white balance? Nothing says amateur and bad interior photography like color casts. If a space has white cabinetry, it should be white... and VERY EASY to balance.

Then there’s perspective adjustment. Unless you’re shooting a funhouse, walls should be vertical.

There’s a lot more to it, but if you want to waste your time and money on this guy’s video, it’s your money to waste.

Sky Simone's picture

I completely agree about the best shots of rooms 100% being shot from the squat position. it enlarges the room.
I also agree with you that HDR is overkill when you can expose camera for the windows, and then bounce flash off the ceiling, and that will flood the room evenly if your camera is on the right settings.. -
As for perspective adjustment, my understanding is this must ALWAYS be done in post, as there is no way to do it in camera. If your wall is straight your room will be crooked and if your room is straight your wall would be crooked so fixing in post is essential

Sky Simone's picture

I'm confused by people pushing HDR saying that it's the only way to expose correctly. If you expose for highlights, then you can expose correctly.. Right? I mean why not expose the camera for the windows, then bounce flash off the ceiling to light the room? then everything is exposed correctly and you're in and out in 20 minutes...

I DO have a question about "verticles" - the comment "make sure your verticles are straight" makes no sense.. In camera if your horizon is straight, and you're shooting wide, you will always have distorted vertical lines unless shooting with a tilt shift..
so my question is what are the best methods to fix this in post production?
For example if I'm standing in the corner of a hotel room, and I have the roof lines straight, the wall lines won't be straight.. if I line the camera to straighten the wall line then the room will probably look crooked

This is why they sell courses teaching you how to fix room distortion in post

Mike Leland's picture

Hi Sky,

About "verticals":

"you will always have distorted vertical lines unless shooting with a tilt shift.."

A tilt shift lens has no function whatsoever in "fixing verticals" or capturing straight lines. This is a function of the relationship between the sensor plane and structure you're photographing.

Photographing built spaces and maintaining plumb vertical lines requires that the camera be perfectly level. You do not need a tilt shift lens for this.

Photographers will use the shift functionality of a tilt shift lens to shift the image sensor in order to expose it to a different section of the image circle. This allows placement of the camera in a specific place in order to satisfy perspective needs (ie seeing over a countertop) while having greater control over the elements of the scene that are exposed by the sensor.

Most professional architectural photographers will use a technical camera which offers movements. The plate style cameras are most popular because they are compact and easier to maintain. I prefer a view camera style of tech cam because it offers full movements.

But no matter what camera we use, the absolute most important consideration is that the camera is perfectly level during capture. This is how you obtain straight verticals.

Also, accurately fixing keystoning in post without distorting other compositional elements is not possible.

Sky Simone's picture

the guy in this video is crazy.. he's waving a camera around without any sort of camera strap, for the wrist OR neck, while standing almost on top of a swimming pool... lose balance? bye bye $6000

I really hope my competition watches this video. What a joke.