How to Take Real Estate Photos: Sell Faster and for More Money

At HomeLight, our vision is a world where every real estate transaction is simple, certain, and satisfying. Therefore, we promote strict editorial integrity in each of our posts.

Have you ever seen a magazine spread or online feature of a house and thought, is this place even real? That’s what you’re going for when you set out to take jaw-dropping listing photos. Your photos need to be so good that when your agent lists your home, the only thing buyers will be left asking is, “Where are my car keys?”

Real estate listing photos can make or break that vital first impression for home shoppers. According to the National Association of Realtors, about half of all homebuyers start their search online. Photos are your first and best buyer magnet.

Find a Top Agent Who Can Market Your Home for Top Dollar

Our data shows that the top 5% of real estate agents across the U.S. sell homes for as much as 10% more than the average real estate agent.

But great photos do far more than just capture the attention of potential buyers. Their impact and impressions carry through into the transaction. The right images can dramatically improve the speed of the sale and the amount of your proceeds.

According to one study done by real estate photography company VHT Studios, top-notch photos can help your house sell 32% faster than a house with low-quality or average pictures. That’s not just for million-dollar mansions, either — the study took houses of all values into account.

Here are some more powerful reasons to make high-quality photos a priority, as reported by the Washington Post:

  • 87% of home shoppers said that they relied on listing photos to help make their buying decision.
  • 84% of homebuyers said that regardless of other factors, they would not consider a home that didn’t have photos in the listing.
  • Professionally photographed homes can help earn homeowners up to a 47% higher asking price per square foot.

In this post, we interviewed top agents in the business, scoured real estate blogs, reviewed camera equipment, and researched the art and science that is great photography. For those with a DIY passion, we bring you the best and the brightest guide for how to take real estate photos when you are selling a house.

How to get your house ready for listing photos

No matter what your house is worth, it’s possible to make it look like 10 million bucks. But first, to prepare properly for listing photos, all of that extra stuff you have lying around has got to go.

According to Bill Gassett, a top Massachusetts real estate agent with 37 years of experience listing homes, “Buyers want and need to see the full potential of your house to picture themselves in it, but that can be difficult to do when it is covered up in your things — no matter how important they may be to you.”

First, declutter and clean every room

Start with the kitchen and take everything off the counters. That includes your toaster, microwave, blender — any kitchen appliances, utensils, towels, oils, etc., need to find another home. If you have the space, you can neatly organize them in your kitchen cabinets or pantry.

Then, scrub down every kitchen surface possible. That includes any rust that’s shown up over the years, burned substances that make your stovetop look speckled instead of white, and of course, the kitchen floor.

After completing your work in the kitchen, tackle the living room. Remove anything besides furniture and table lamps. Clear shoe racks in the living room or entryway, take down jackets and hats off of any coat racks, and hide pet beds. Then, clean every inch of the space, making sure to vacuum once you give the room a solid scrub.

Now, do the same for every other room. Take away everything besides large pieces of furniture and light fixtures. That means all toiletries in the bathroom need to find a different home.

Get creative with storage

If you still live in the home and need to access things like shampoo, your blender, etc., Sissie Carter, a top agent who works with nearly 80% more single-family homes than average agents in her Georgia market, has a clever solution for organizing it.

First, box it all up and label the boxes so that they are easily accessible. Then, stack the boxes in your garage where your car would normally go. This, Carter explains, allows the “natural flow of the house to stay intact, and visitors can still walk around the boxes to see the rest of the space.”

If you have excess items that you no longer need or want, now is a great time to sell or donate them. It’ll make your move easier, your closets more available for items you do need and have to store for showings, and it will make the home much easier to stage.

Stage your home for its close-up

Now that you’ve cleaned and decluttered the house, you’ll either need to stage it yourself or bring in a professional staging company. Unstaged homes do not photograph well, and according to HomeLight’s Summer 2023 Top Agent Insights Report, well-staged homes sell for 18% more on average.

In addition, the National Association of Realtors 2023 Profile of Home Staging reports that 48% of homes staged prior to listing spent less time on the market than unstaged homes.

To make your house feel professionally staged, you’ll use objects and pops of color to create small “vignettes” in each room. These vignettes suggest how the room might be used. For example, if you have a set of outdoor tables and chairs, put two wine glasses and a bottle of wine on the table. Other popular staging choices include a bowl of fruit on the dining table, bright pillows on the couch, or new white towels hanging in the bathroom.

»Learn more: Check out our tips for home staging for more guidance.

Professional vs. amateur: What’s the difference?

If you decide to take your listing photos yourself, then you need to make sure they look professional. There’s a huge difference between professional listing photos and amateur photos, and buyers will be able to tell. Plus, the professional photos will make your house look amazing online. Amateur photos will not.

The photo below is an amateur shot, and there are several ways to tell.

Professional vs. amateur photography: what’s the difference?

The angle: All seasoned professional real estate photographers will use a wide-angle lens, and this is not a wide-angle shot. None of the lines are straight. This isn’t a good angle to shoot the bathroom at either — we can’t see everything, and it feels odd and chopped off.

The lighting: There’s not enough natural light in the photo, and it looks more lit by artificial sconces than by sunlight.

The details: You can see reflections in the mirror and reflections on the shower door. There’s no way to see what the view out of the bathroom window is; the light blows it out.

The mechanics: It looks like this shot was taken freehand instead of with a tripod.

Now, take a look at the professional photo below:

Professional vs. amateur photography: what’s the difference?Image via Ben Heinrich

The angle: The photo is shot with a wide lens, and the angle is perfect: you can see every little detail.

The lighting: There is plenty of natural light, and the colors are warm and vibrant.

The details: You can see the view out of each window, which the photographer has cleverly captured with the mirror reflection.

Though the differences may be subtle, the professional photo is a much better depiction of the house than the amateur photo. If you aren’t sure you’re up to the task, that’s okay! A top real estate agent will hire a vetted, tried, and true professional photographer to capture your home.

If you’re ready to take your own real estate listing photos, let’s continue.

Great listing photos vs. bad listing photos

We sat down with Carter to chat about the dos and don’ts of taking real estate photos.

“I was in a neighborhood, and the exact same floor plan that I was selling came on the market,” she recounts. “The sellers did not use a professional photographer. Their pictures came out discolored. The hardwood floors looked orange, and the cabinets looked a little orange…it makes a huge difference…I think that photos are extremely important in selling a home quickly.”

To show us how to knock real estate listing photos out of the park, Carter shared a few of her favorite professional photos with us. The photos were all taken by an expert professional real estate photographer.

Tips to shoot better real estate listing photos

Must-have materials

You can’t control nearly as much with an iPhone as you can with a high-quality camera. You also need to shoot with a wide lens. So, you need to rent, borrow, or purchase a high-quality camera (DSLR), tripod, and wide-angle lens.

There are many quality, affordable DSLR cameras to choose from these days. For real estate photography, here are a few popular choices that range from $500-$1,600, depending on the accessories you choose.

For more gear recommendations, check out this comprehensive list.

A wide-angle lens is essential for getting proper listing photos. A wide-angle lens is the difference between shooting one image and getting half the room and shooting one image where you can see the full space. You need to use a wide-angle lens for every shot! If you have the Nikon or the Canon, try the Sigma 10-20mm f/4 – 5.6 wide angle lens.

Image Via Content Creators Lounge

Use these settings for real estate photos

For more control during the photo-editing process, you should shoot in RAW instead of in JPEG. RAW photos give you a better ability to change an image — they’re basically negatives that haven’t been finished yet. You have more control over the exposure of the image, the white balance, highlights and shadows, contrast, and more.

They’re much larger files and are unusable without editing, so you will have to do more to finish them. If you want to do less work in post-production and know that you can get the shots right the first time, then shoot in JPEG.

You’ll want to set the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed of your camera. The aperture controls how much light comes in through the lens, and the ISO controls how sensitive the camera is to light. The shutter speed controls how long the camera lets light reach the sensor.

Recommended real estate photography settings:

  • Aperture: Between F/8 – F/11
  • ISO: 400 or lower
  • Shutter Speed: 1/60


Lighting 101: When to shoot

The best lighting for indoor photos is when the sun is bright and shining. Outdoor shots are best taken at dusk. Avoid cloudy, rainy, and overcast days, as they can cause bad lighting and an uneven white balance.

If you want to get even more technical about it, the best time to shoot depends on the way each room (and the house) faces. You want the sun to be behind the camera so that colors are illuminated. For example, when taking photos of an exterior, you can assume that: you should shoot an East-facing house in the morning, a West-facing house in the afternoon, a North-facing house from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and a South-facing house in the early am or just before the sun sets.

For interior shots, consider the placement of the windows in every room, and evaluate the position of the sun. Then, take a few test shots to determine if the light is perfect. You should be able to see the colors and details in the room, but the shots shouldn’t be so bright that colors and windows are blown out.

You should never rely on artificial lighting in a room unless the house is dark itself and every lightbulb in the room is the same.

What colors work best in real estate photos?

If you’ve ever been to an open house or seen listing photos where every wall in a house is painted a bright, neon shade, it can be overwhelming. It also means that the minute buyers get the keys, they’ll have to paint.

If you’re a big fan of bold hues, it’s time to get out the paintbrush or hire a crew to paint the home.

Carter recommends: “If they’ve got a bright color like a lime green, it does not shoot as well as a neutral color does. Even a darker color shoots a little bit better than some of those brighter colors: the pinks and the purples that they use in some of the bedrooms for the kids. They just don’t turn out as well. So the lighter shades seem to work better and make the room feel larger.”

If you need a light and neutral shade, opt for an ever-popular off-white like “Silky White” by Behr.

If you’re all about color, then do pops of yellow. According to Carter, yellow is a bright, warm, and welcoming color that can ignite a sense of feeling at home. Try yellow throw pillows on the couch, a bowl of lemons, or a bouquet of yellow flowers (if you plan to refresh them any time there is a showing).

Get a Free Home Value Estimate

Get a near-instant real estate house price estimate from HomeLight for free. Our tool analyzes the records of recently sold homes near you, your home’s last sale price, and other market trends to provide a preliminary range of value in under two minutes.

Create the perfect composition

There are many different schools of thought on the best way to create the best composition for each photo. Some photographers believe in head-on shots, others stick by shots from the corner of the room, and others say to mix it up and find the most creative angle you can.

Since every space is different, try shooting at each of those angles: take a shot head-on, take one from the corner of the room, and then take a photo from another spot in the room you think will come out well.

If you want to get technical about it, take a shot at a 1-point perspective and a shot at a 2-point perspective. Basically, a shot at 1 1-point perspective will have a central focal point like the corner of the room or the fireplace. A 2-point perspective shot will have two “vanishing points” or points of focus.

Make sure that all vertical lines in the image are perfectly vertical. This is where your tripod comes in handy!

In the living room and family room, the camera should be set anywhere between 36” and 48” high, or about the height of a person sitting down while watching the entertainment system. The reason there’s such a large gap is because there’s a large variety in furniture height.

The optimal camera height depends on your space and the way you have it set up. You need to use your best judgment so that you get as much of the room as possible. Don’t focus as much on your furniture: you’re selling the house, and features like crown molding and built-ins should take priority over personal items.

In bedrooms, the camera should be 15”-20” higher than the bed, and in the kitchen, the camera should be 15”-20” higher than the kitchen counter.

A good rule of thumb to stick by is that you want to capture more floor than ceiling. Floors are often patterned and interesting, especially if you have decorative tile or hardwood.

A note about fixtures: When shooting photos of each room, keep in mind that buyers may fall in love with a “fixture” such as a chandelier. In real estate terms, a fixture is defined as “an object physically attached to the property” that would require tools to remove it from the home. The buyer may expect it to be there when they take possession of the house. To learn more, see our post, “What is Considered a Fixture When Selling a House?

Tell a story with your real estate photos

If a buyer finds your listing online, the photos are what you have to win them over. So, the photos need to create a compelling story of your home.

The best way to tell this “story” is with great photos (of course!) and the order you present the photos with the listing. Expert agent Kathleen Caponigro recommends putting the photos in the order you would enter the home.

The order should be: the exterior, then the entryway, kitchen, dining room, living room, master, and then any additional bedrooms.

Anyone who finds your house online should then feel like they’re walking through the home just like they would at an open house or if they lived there.

A quick guide to post-production

Adobe Lightroom and Box Brownie are about to be your best friends. First off, if you’d like to do all of the editing yourself, you can do a free trial of Adobe Lightroom and change everything manually. If you go the Lightroom route, you’ll need to adjust: exposure, white balance, clarity, contrast, HSL, highlights, and shadows. You’ll also need to straighten the image if it’s crooked.

Or, if you want to pay for a service to perfect your photos for you, Box Brownie is affordable, and you’ll be surprised at just how great the before and after shots look. Box Brownie charges $1.60 per photo, and they’ll make all the right enhancements so that every one of your images looks professional. Plus, Box Brownie is specifically a real estate tool, so they’ll edit the images with a buyer’s eye in mind.

You can also submit exterior photos to Box Brownie and have them change daytime photos to dusk photos. This is amazing since it might be difficult to get that perfect sunset shot yourself.

If you can get a workable collection of photos done yourself, then they can do the rest to make your images ready for your listing.

Market your home right from day 1

According to research by the National Association of Realtors, 89% of younger Boomers and Millennials — some of the largest homebuyer segments — say that photos are the most valuable feature when they are shopping for a home online. If your house doesn’t show well online, there’s less reason for these potential buyers to come see it in person.

The photos of your home set the stage from the beginning for how much activity and what kind of offers your house will get.

If you don’t feel up to it and want a professional to take over, then don’t worry. HomeLight can connect you with a top real estate agent in your market with expert photography contacts to help get your home sold fast and for the highest proceeds.

Header Image Source: (Feverpitch/ Depositphotos)