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Commercial real estate photography is similar to residential real estate photography but with some significant differences. The differences are primarily in how the property is presented.
When looking at how to photograph office spaces, two specific techniques are making a huge impact: spherical panoramas and HDR photography. But, in order to know best how to photograph businesses, all of the regular interior photography tips apply first.
Interior Photography Tips
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To begin with, commercial real estate photography is more like residential real estate photography than it is different. So our photography tips for commercial properties begin with general ideas of what works as regular interior photography tips.
First tip involves gear choices. A high-quality camera, usually either Full Frame format or APS-C format, is definitely preferred. Beginning with the highest quality RAW files is paramount to delivering outstanding images to the client.
Next gear tip is to use a high quality ultra wide-angle lens, which could also be a zoom lens. Many commercial real estate photographers actually prefer a zoom lens to prime ultra wide angle because of the workflow advantages.
Instead of moving around to get the best field of view from a given position, zooming in or out a little bit speeds things up. If you do choose an ultra wide zoom lens, it will have to be very high quality.
Third gear choice tip is to use a heavy duty tripod and a spirit level. The heavy duty tripod will really be needed once you start making spherical panoramas, but it is advantageous in general for all real estate photography. The spirit level is used to ensure straight lines don’t get all squirrely with ultra wide lenses.
Bracket and Merge HDR
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One of the best tips for how to photograph office spaces is the same fantastic tool and technique we’ve been using for real estate photography, bracket and merge HDR photography. HDR, high dynamic range, photography is a tool and technique used to create usable images without resorting to placing a lighting rig in every room.
In HDR bracket and merge, we meter for a mid range starting point exposure value of a neutral color wall with an average light value falling on it. A well lit interior wall is a good place to meter. If there is no neutral color large wall space in average light conditions, having an 18 percent gray card can be used as a metering point.
From that average value exposure reading, we set our camera to also capture exposures above and below that value. For most commercial real estate photography, that will usually be a bracketed set of 5, 7, or 9 exposures, separated by 1 or 2 stops.
Most of the prosumer and high level cameras have AEB, auto exposure bracketing, modes readily available, often with a specific control button and dial input. Many entry level and enthusiast level cameras will also have this mode, though it may be in a deep menu and possibly not allow as many options for number of exposures and stops of difference.
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Go to the website for almost any 3 star and higher hotel, chain or single hotel, and you will see what is known as a virtual tour.
In addition to the standard wide angle views of the rooms, grounds, and amenities, there will also be embedded interactive panoramic images that allow to see areas in full 360 degree views. They are interactive in that visitors to the website can drag the image view around and move from area to area.
It’s like Google Street View that then takes you inside the business. It’s one of the largest and fastest growing aspects of commercial real estate photography and is being used by businesses to promote themselves as well as in listings for selling these commercial properties.
If you have the gear and programs to make HDR wide angle images for real estate, you’re already mostly ready to start creating these panoramas. The three extra things you will want are an ultra wide lens, preferably a fisheye, a nodal point mount, and stitching software.
A 180 degree fisheye lens makes the job of creating panoramas simple, since you won’t have to stitch together as many rotations in order to make a full 360 degrees. The Sigma 8mm fisheye will allow you to do in only 4 rotations with both APS-C and Full Frame format cameras.
What is a rotation in this context? A rotation is the point of view needed to be able to stitch to another point of view. You will be shooting all around, 360 degrees. A 180 degree fisheye lens lets you stitch together from only 4 rotations, 0, 90, 180, and 270 degrees of a circle. With lenses other than fisheyes, you may be required to have 6 or 8 rotations, plus a straight up shot, in order to stitch together a 360 degree view properly.
These rotations should revolve around the nodal point of the lens for best results, which is accomplished by the nodal point mount. The NN6 by Fanotech is a superb example of a panoramic mount that has preset positioning and repeatable click stops for rotation steps though there are many excellent options by various manufacturers available.
Stitching software is essential for creating any panoramic image, especially so for interactive spherical panorama. The basic software tools are often in full featured post processing suites, such as Adobe Photoshop.
In order to make the interactive part and also to simplify the workflow of creating the panorama from all the files, specialty software is used, PTGui is the industry standard, but it requires a lot of user input. Other software is available that has certain presets and features to make the stitching and creation semi-automatic.
There are also many web based services that you can subscribe to that will do it all for you, some with a lot of user input, others without. A few of these websites and programs have their own nodal hardware that they recommend using.
The end result of all of this extra work for how to photograph office spaces is an amazingly intuitive and simple interface for clients and viewers to see the business space in a full 360 degree view.
With People or No People?
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A huge variable in considering how to photograph office spaces, department stores, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, factory floors, and all sorts of commercial properties is whether to include people in the images or not.
When photographing residential real estate or empty commercial spaces, the obvious answer is to not have any people in the shots.
Bit when offering promotional types of commercial real estate photography, showing the business in operation will sometimes result in showing people. In fact, we can even script out a plan and direct the people to be doing something in a pose for the images.
Whenever we try to include people in the images, though, it’s a good practice to have them remain motionless throughout the entire HDR or panoramic shoot. Otherwise they'll be ghosted or streaked.
When shooting a busy business, it’s inevitable that there will be subject movement, so many times the procedure is to digitally obscure them. A simple blur command of subjects that are ghosting is standard in most HDR and panoramic software.
A ghosting subject is any person or object that is not in the same place for each exposure, causing them to appear and a ghost that can be seen through. You can actually take advantage of this phenomenon and plan it out so you can digitally remove ghosted people from the view altogether, which is great for making images of busy places without a lot of people showing in the images.
Unless you are ghosting out people or digitally obscuring them somehow, it is standard practice to have a model release for each recognizable person in the field of view so that the images can be legally used commercially.
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Commercial real estate photography is also different from regular residential in that you can, and should actually, charge more for all of the extra services and features in your package.
A full virtual tour with interactive spherical panoramas requires skill, talent, and specialty equipment and processes, so please ensure your business viability by getting paid enough for the fine work you do.
And that is a general overview of how to photograph offices and businesses with commercial real estate photography.