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Interior real estate photography for either a residence or a commercial property can be separated into two common situations, empty rooms vs furnished or staged rooms.
Knowing how to photograph vacant properties uses mostly the same skills as photographing a furnished place, but the techniques may change up a bit in order to optimize the images for viewing by potential buyers or renters.
What is Different?
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How to photograph an empty house is different from shooting staged or otherwise furnished spaces is different in that the large expanses of sameness can be misleading to the viewer’s perception of the property.
What this means for our photographic techniques is that we must keep straight lines as undistorted as possible and also maintain an evenness of illumination. Some simple composition tips will also be involved.
Watch Those Lines
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While keeping straight lines from having distortion is important to all real estate photography, commercial, residential, interior, and exterior, when there is nothing else in the view to break up lines or large spaces it is critical.
Curved lines in a room image scream out “wide-angle lens!” so loud that a potential realty client may be put off by what they could view as an attempt to deceive about the actual size of the spaces involved. So, even though we likely are indeed using a wide-angle lens, maybe even an ultra-wide-angle, our imaging should show as close to the reality of the space as possible.
So, how does one photograph an empty space with a wide-angle lens and not seem like we’re ‘stretching’ the truth? One of the more important real estate photography tips for how to photograph vacant properties is to use a tripod and a spirit level.
When the camera is level and even, any straight lines in the image will be true, provided your lens is a modern, well-corrected example of a wide or ultra-wide-angle lens. The lines will still recede, but it won’t look unnatural. We want to use our wide lenses because they show more in one image than normal lenses, plus these lenses allow us to use an important compositional tip outlined below.
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When a room is furnished, we expect to see some variations of lighting because we know that objects cast shadows or obscure what is directly behind them. How to photograph vacant properties, though, requires us to be well aware of any lighting variations within the scene’s view that will be much more pronounced in the pictures of an empty room.
In addition to the ceiling area which we’re always concerned about looking natural, in an empty house or office, we have large areas of blank wall space and floor area. So, we use one of our standard real estate photography tips to even things out, exposure-wise, bracket and merge HDR photography.
Seeing things with the naked eye, our brain instantly and automatically compensates for both subtle and great variations in brightness levels and color temperature. As we scan the room, up and down, side to side, we may notice that brightness levels or colors change, but it all blends seamlessly together.
In our photographs, we have to work in order to capture the view so that it looks natural. It’s not hard work, but it does involve careful exposure calculation and special processing to blend the multiple images in the bracket and merge technique in order to achieve an appealing and natural appearance.
Here is a YouTube video that explains some of the details and the variables involved in this very useful method. In addition to exterior, residential, and commercial real estate photography, our product photography, landscape photography, and other creative photography can benefit from this method.
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How to photograph vacant properties involves another technique in common with photographing staged or furnished real estate properties. It’s a composition technique that I call the 3 Wall Method. Others may label it differently, but the idea permeates interior real estate photography.
What it is and how it works is that we should try to show parts of three walls in our interior rooms and spaces. This is true in a small residential home and in a large factory or an office complex.
Here’s how it’s done: go to one wall of the room or space, set up with your back against that wall, camera facing out. Being closer to one corner or the other often looks better than being centered along that backside wall, but anywhere along that wall works.
With our wide-angle lens mounted and our camera rig on a tripod, we level out the camera and adjust our view to include at least part of 3 walls. One side wall may dominate the image over the other side, that’s okay.
We don’t want to shoot out from the corner and try to get all 4 walls in the image, unless that’s a shot that’s specified, because the apparent perspective distortion of the lens required for capturing that much may overwhelm the view, making it appear unnatural. But 3 walls show off the spaces involved very well.
As with all of the rules of composition and exposure, this is more like a guideline than a strict command line. If the space has a shape that involves more or less than 4 walls in rectangle or square, then adapt the technique as needed.
photo by AndreyPopov via iStock
Since we’re firmly entrenched in the world of digital photography, we can also take advantage of another neat technology that has recently become more cost-friendly than when it first came on the scene, virtual staging.
Virtual staging is adding in digital versions of furniture, wall art, and other furnishings, without them actually being at the property itself. You may want to use a version of the software yourself or you can send your images to an online service to have it done for you.
The pricing models are surprisingly budget-friendly either way, but you want to add the costs to your billed charges to make it worth your while and to differentiate the services to your real estate photography clients.
Before attempting to use virtual staging, having your techniques perfected for how to photograph vacant properties with even illumination, good color balance, and undistorted lines will allow for more realism in the finished images with virtual staging added.
Using the three steps listed above for how to photograph vacant properties will get you going in the right direction. You may wish to add virtual staging to your services if you want to give your clients more options.