What is good real estate photography?

14th September 2013

Recently, I photographed a house which was on a handover from a large corporate estate agency firm, to a leading independent agency. Due to the price-tag (which was not insubstantial) the existing agents had placed this beautiful Georgian village house with their ‘Country Homes’ department, who then proceeded to butcher it with incredibly poor photography.

Who is at fault here? The estate agent? – Clearly, but also the client!

I was having my usual photography rant with (at) my wife and she said “maybe they (the client) don’t know what good photography is?” to which I replied “but they move in ‘Country Life’, ‘Tatler’ and ‘Vogue’ cirles; they know what good photography is!”
Then it dawned on me that perhaps they don’t know what good real estate photography is.
You will never see a badly shot car advert in a magazine – why is this? It is because the manufacturers understand that they are selling a lifestyle, a dream and are prepared to throw vast sums of money at their marketing. Surely this is even more the case with the estate agency business; are they not selling a lifestyle, a dream too? So why is poor property photography in the UK the expected standard?

Why most estate agents fail, is that they have not realised they are in the business of property marketing, not in sales.
Estate agents simply do not have the time to take high-quality images of every instruction themselves, even if they do possess the skills and necessary gear to do so, but most are shortsightedly not prepared to spend the money on a professional to do the job instead.

82% of property searches start online (Zoopla 25/07/13); now that is a huge amount of first impressions, estate agents have to get right! In these days of internet-based, speed-dating-style property searches, quality presentation is of the utmost importance.
When I was in the estate agency business, I had a case where a property we took over from another estate agent was re-shot and subsequently sold to a couple who had received the details from the previous agent, but had put them in the bin as it looked so awful! This situation will still exist, but will be made worse by the clinical speed of the initial online search process.

So, what is good real estate photography?

Good real estate photography begins with the property being ‘dressed’ or ‘staged’ properly i.e. clean and tidy, with fresh flowers, working lights and a tidy garden for starters. This should be carried out by the owners, but professional home-stagers can be easily found. There is an old photography saying (and one of my favourites) that goes “to take better photos, you need to stand in front of better things!”
With the staging complete, the professional photographer can go in and do their work. One of the most important decisions they make is deciding which rooms to photograph; leading estate agents would prefer to see 5-8 great photographs over 15 poor ones; the object is to tease/entice the viewers across the threshold rather than showing them everything up front from the comfort of their armchair.

Next comes selecting the best compositions for each chosen room; there may only be one, or there may be many, with each one requiring additional staging by the photographer to suit their own personal styles. Then the room is shot with the correct white balance, focus point, aperture, focal length etc. and all the editing done once back in the office to make sure that it is processed correctly and crucially that all the verticals are vertical http://foresteyes.co.uk/maintaining-vertical-verticals.

What this time, care, skill and attention gives is a selection of photographs that presents the house and garden at its very best, with carefully selected and photographed shots that sell the lifestyle and the dream whilst being true to the building itself and the current owner’s personal impression on it.

What this means to the estate agent is a higher ‘click-through-rate’, higher offer-to-sales ratios, an improved presence in the market, better quality listings and ultimately, for the agent (and the seller) more money http://foresteyes.co.uk/a-picture-is-worth-1000

So, why do sellers not demand better quality property photography?

With potentially more people through the door, more offers and higher sales figures, I can’t understand it, but I think the tide is turning (slowly) http://foresteyes.co.uk/vendors-demand-professional-photography, but it is a matter of education and I hope that this message goes some way to change seller’s expectations in this industry.

Estate agent or seller? I would love to hear your feedback on this.


Photo comment By Victoria: I completely agree. In my portfolio that is taken to clients houses (I'm an estate agent) I have the proof of our sharp images, and a previous agents 'attempt'. Estate Agents are more frequently doing less and less work and charging more and more. We operate differently, we understand the importance of the right shot, selling the lifestyle and even include 'lifestyle shots'. Although I have been trained in the fundamentals of photography, we do hire in professionals too. I'm a home-stager too, I like to see the potential of every house, in some instances it can prove very difficult to convince a buyer that this is the correct thing to do, but it absolutely is. If they want a sale, they have to detach themselves from the house. A serious seller will always attract a serious buyer. Great read.
Photo comment By Ross Phillips: Hi Victoria, thanks for taking your time to read this post and for your comments. I like how you present your properties and always appreciate estate agents who are inventive and creative. Ross
Photo comment By Clive: Hi Ross Not quite clear which pictures are which, so I am assuming the ones at the top are theirs, and the bottom yours. I like what you have done with the stairs- the lighting in the other rooms makes for real improvement. But I'm not so sure about the dinning room. you've straightened up the verticals nicely but I like the feeling of space the light on the floorboards and the apparent size of the table imparts in their view. Very good stuff. Are you adjusting perspective in Photoshop or using a land camera? Keep up the good work! Clive
Photo comment By Ross Phillips: Hi Clive, thank you for your feedback. The beauty of photography is its subjectivity. The dining room shot was a tricky one. I did not like the composition of the other angle and thought that showing the flow of the rooms was a good idea. I agree the table looks a bit dominant in my shot, but I could not get back any further. The light on the floorboards in the other agent's shots is not good though; from a technical point of view, they have blown out the highlights, i.e. they have overexposed to the point that there is no detail there anymore, that is not good. Re perspective, I was using Photoshop but now Lightroom for correction. I am not aware of a land camera except the old Polaroids...

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