Real estate photography is a lucrative niche that has great potential. The principal reason for this potential is that so few people do it well. Too many photographers think you can walk through a house, snapping shots of each room, and call it a day. But real estate photography, like any other specialty, requires a particular mindset and knowing the tricks of the trade to be successful. Here are three things you must know to shoot great real estate photography.
Use a tripod
Always. Every shot.
There is very little photography the use of a quality, sturdy, tripod wouldn’t improve. But in real estate photography, it’s not nice to have, it’s critical. The other two tips require a tripod to get it right. But even before we get to those, the tripod performs two basic and critical functions.
It allows you to slow down the shutter speed to include ambient light.
It forces you to slow down and think through the shot.
This article doesn’t cover the use of strobes, as that is a more complex subject. But with the proper shutter speed and use of natural window light and ambient room lighting, you can shoot many rooms beautifully without strobes.
But you have got to use a tripod.
Whatever tripod you have that is sturdy enough to hold your camera steady will work, so don’t buy one just for real estate unless you get very serious about it. You’re not having to battle wind or the elements, you just want a steady platform. Take a test shot with a 1/4 second exposure and make sure your tripod is rock steady.
If you don’t have a tripod, there are two things to consider when buying one. One is the maximum height. You want to be able to crank it up to at least eye level without using a center post. The other consideration is the head. One that allows precise adjustments is ideal. Also, having one with a built-in level is a nice plus.
Shoot level and plumb
Another reason for using a tripod is that every shot in every room must be exactly level and all vertical lines perfectly plumb. This is almost impossible without a tripod. You may be able to get close enough to level without a tripod to fix it in post-processing, but keeping all the verticals straight is another matter. Only the precise adjustments allowed by a good quality tripod and head will give you professional-looking results.
Most photographers use the tic-tac-toe grid in their camera’s viewfinder to compose images. But with real estate photography, you need to use a more compact grid. Once you have your basic composition, use those grid lines to make sure that the room is level and that all verticals are straight. One key factor that will help with this is the camera height. You will use a wide-angle lens so you get in most of the room. But you don’t want to tilt the camera to achieve this. Raise the camera to include the room with no tilt to the camera. The lens and sensor should be parallel with the wall. This will prevent the keystone effect that plagues many architectural photos. If you end up doing this professionally, you will want to invest in what they call a tilt-shift lens to allow the greatest flexibility in composition while keeping the sensor parallel to the opposite wall.
You need to consider the composition of each shot. Think through the perspective and angle for the best view of each room. You don’t necessarily want to include everything; in fact in many rooms that won’t be desirable. But you want to include all the key elements. Consider what to include and what to leave out of every shot. For instance, a master bath will always include at least part of the tub, shower, and sink. But you never include the toilet.
Plus, you need to choose a shooting location that will allow you to photograph the room while keeping level and true.
And, once again, careful composition requires a tripod. To get the best composition, you will make tiny adjustments to the location, height and angle of the camera. Trying to do this handheld is impossible. A tripod will allow you to find a composition, take a test shot, and make a slight change before taking the next shot.
Another factor to consider is directionality of window light and whether or not to include the window in the image. If the exterior is nice and you can balance the light with the interior, that is great. But if it means over-exposing the window light, that adds nothing to the image.
I shoot many images from a corner to include most of the room. If this is the best angle, consider including one of the adjacent walls to that corner to add extra perspective and a nice leading line. Kitchens are usually best shot straight on, with views of the cooking area and appliances. Be very careful to look throughout the frame to eliminate or minimize reflections of you or the camera in the shot.
Whether you are pursuing real estate photography as a profession, or you want to take nice pictures of your own home, these tips will help you achieve the best results. The best news is you probably don’t need any new or expensive equipment. What you need are patience and practice.
And did I mention, you need a tripod?