On the surface, it might seem like photographing real estate would be a breeze.
After all, you just show up with your camera, take a few photos of the exterior, snap pictures of every room in the house, and go on your way, right?
Good real estate photography requires that you have the right tools, the right preparation, and the right workflow to get the best results.
Since the vast majority of prospective buyers see homes for the first time online, there's never been a more important time to step up your real estate photography skills than today.
That being the case, here are a few critical tips on how to get started in real estate photography.
Real Estate Photography Gear Tips
I have an iPhone X and I love it. It's been a great phone and an even better camera.
But despite that, there's no way I'd use it to take professional real estate photos.
There's just too many limitations with using your phone, so instead, you need to pick up a DSLR or mirrorless camera.
This doesn't mean that you need to spend $3,500 on a camera body, but getting a solid camera that has interchangeable lenses and manual controls is a must.
You'll also want to invest in lenses that are appropriate for real estate photography.
When considering what lenses to use for real estate photography, one of the most important features is focal length.
Shorter lenses like a 16mm wide-angle are traditionally better suited to interior photography because they can capture more of the room in a single shot. You can see how much of the room a 16mm lens can capture in the screenshot above.
Small rooms and compact city dwellings may benefit from even wider lenses, such as 12mm or even 10mm. Be sure to use a true wide-angle lens, rather than a fisheye lens, however.
Though these lenses often also have similar focal lengths, they generally won’t work well for real estate photos.
A disadvantage of some wide-angle lenses is that they distort the image.
That is, some lines that should be straight are not, as you can see above.
Fortunately, this problem is easily corrected in post-processing.
Another issue you might run into is photographs that are blurry. This often occurs because of camera shake when the camera is held in your hands.
To circumvent this problem, a tripod is a must for real estate photographers.
Tripods give your camera the steady base it needs to take crisp, sharp photos. What's more, a tripod allows you to vary the height your photos are taken from, adjusting from low-angle to high-angle shots as needed with ease.
Additionally, using a tripod enables you to get your camera into corners of the room and other tight spots where you might not be able to go while holding your camera. Using the camera's timer function or a remote allows you to capture those types of photos quite easily.
Another features that is often mentioned of lenses is their aperture.
Lenses with wider apertures, like f/1.2 or f/1.4, allow more light into the lens because the hole through which light passes is bigger. This means you can use shorter shutter speeds to take photos of dark areas like room interiors.
However, using wide apertures can also result in not all of the room being in focus. And you will need to use a tripod to take the photos anyway, so the shutter speed is less important.
Since lenses with wide apertures are usually more expensive, something with a mid-range aperture like f/3.5 is probably a pretty good point to aim for.
Watch this video to learn more about lenses, as well as helpful hints for getting sharp photographs like focusing correctly and keeping the camera steady.
Real Estate Photography Tip: Create a Shot List
Each house that you photograph will have a different layout, different features, and different amenities that you'll need to photograph.
That's why it's so important to develop a shot list that way you don't accidentally miss something important.
Naturally, your shot list will include the "hero shots" - the front and back of the property, the landscaping, outdoor entertaining areas, and so forth.
You'll also need to include photos of the kitchen, dining room, living room, and other public spaces, as well as each bedroom and bathroom.
Also on your shot list should be special features that the home might have. This might include a detached garage or workshop, a pool, or even a garden shed or storage shed.
Capturing photos of the view - if there is one - is also important.
The goal with your shot list should be to hit the high points, but also document the smaller details that help set this property apart from the others.
If there's interesting woodwork, ceiling details, a fireplace, or other custom touches, don't be afraid to get in close so prospective buyers can see those details in your images.
Creating your shot list should occur when you first tour the home with your clients.
You'll get a good idea after walking through the home and around the grounds of what you'd like to feature in your photos.
But don't forget to solicit their input regarding what they think should be photographed - after all, they know the place inside and out and might be able to provide interesting perspectives on photo possibilities.
Real Estate Photography Requires Practice
Just like any type of photography, honing your skills as a real estate photographer will take time and practice.
But it's best not to practice on clients' homes. Instead, it's a better idea to work on composition, framing, lighting, and processing your photos using images of your home, your friends' homes, and so forth.
Putting in the time and effort prior to diving into real estate photography will only serve you well.
Not only can you become familiar with all your gear, but you can also ensure that you have the right gear, that you develop your eye for composing interior and exterior shots, and learn the best methods of processing your images as well.
Be Prepared for Challenges in Real Estate Photography
Interior image taken with auto exposure - the dynamic range is too high for a single exposure and the bright window biased the camera towards underexposure.
Perhaps the greatest challenge for real estate photographers is the difficult lighting situations that you'll find inside a home.
Not only will some rooms be very dark, but you'll encounter situations in which you have to photograph a room that includes a window (or multiple windows).
The bright view through the window combined with the darker interior space can cause your camera all sorts of problems because the dynamic range is so wide.
What you'll find is that you can get a well-exposed shot of the room, but the window is nothing but bright white. Alternatively, if you expose for the light in the window, the room itself will be too dark, as shown above.
7 exposures merged to HDR in Photomatix Pro - the interior is well lit and the window properly exposed.
Some pro photographers get around the problem by using sophisticated lighting equipment, but many prefer the exposure merge technique which works with natural light.
That's because merging multiple exposures together is much, much easier and less time intensive than setting up lighting equipment and taking it down in every room you photograph.
As you can see in the image above, everything in the room is now well-exposed, from the once-bright windows to the once-dark ceiling, walls, and furniture in the room.
Bracketed photos from 1/500 sec. to 1/4 sec. (f/8, ISO 400). Each exposure is exposed for a different part of the scene.
That's because four different images were taken, each exposed for a different part of the room. Then, by blending each of the images together into one, you get a final result that's well-exposed throughout.
Editor's Tip: If you're struggling to get the exposure of interior real estate photos just right, make it easy on yourself -- take bracketed exposures and let software do the rest.
The technique involves taking multiple exposures, which is greatly facilitated by the Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) feature that most DSLR and mirrorless cameras include.
You can see an example of AEB setup in this video showing how it is done on a Nikon D850:
The AEB capabilities differ depending on the model of camera that you have. For real estate photography, choose a camera with AEB settings that allow you to take 5 shots or more in 2 EV steps, or 9 shots or more in 1EV step.
With that, you have a quick introduction on how to get started in real estate photography.
Again, the key is to practice your craft, and using these real estate photography tips, you can do just that.
For more details on taking great interior real estate photos, check this article on pro techniques to photograph interiors.