Have you ever seen a magazine spread 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 will be so good that when your agent lists your home the only thing buyers will be left asking is, “Where are my car keys?”
Amazing real estate listing photos actually do have a major effect on your home sale, so don’t you think that blurry iPhone photos will cut it.
According to one study done by a real estate photography company, top-notch photos can make 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, conducted by VHT Studios, took houses of all values into account.
This past year, 51% of buyers purchased a home they found online. That means that your bang-up real estate photos could cinch the deal before a buyer even sees the house. Photography newbie? We’ve got you.
We interviewed top agents in the business, scoured real estate blogs, and did a ton of research on the art and science that is great photography. With that, we bring you the best and the brightest guide for how to take real estate photos that are just as good as a professional.
How to get your house ready for breathtaking 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 Bill Gassett, a top real estate agent expert, “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 entry way, 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 Horne, the #4 top real estate agent in Newnan, Georgia, 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 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. Un-staged homes do not photograph well, and according to our research, staged homes can fetch an offer 1-5% higher from buyers.
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.
Check out our tips for home staging for more guidance.
Professional vs. amateur photography: 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 ones, 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’s several ways to tell.
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:
The angle: The photo is shot with a wide lense 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.
A real-life comparison: Great listing photos vs. bad listing photos
We sat down with Carter Horne to chat about the do’s and don’ts for real estate photos. She shared,
“I was in a neighborhood and the exact same floor plan that I was selling came on the market and they 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 Horne shared a few of her favorite professional photos with us. The photos were all taken by an expert professional real estate photographer.
Think you have to have an expensive listing to take stellar photos? Think again, and check out these professional snapshots:
Think you’re up to the challenge? How to perfect the science of real estate listing photos
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, which iPhones don’t have.
So, you need to rent, borrow, or purchase a high quality camera (DSLR), tripod, and wide angle lens.
There are a ton of DSLR cameras to choose from, but for real estate photography the Nikon D750 ($1,700) and Canon 5D Mark III ($3,000) come highly recommended. 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.
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 were 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 the bold hues, it’s time to get out the paintbrush or hire in a crew to paint the home. Top agent Sissie Carter Horne 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 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).
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 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” – 48”. 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 judgement so that you get the most of the room 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.
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 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 photo. 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.
Why great listing photos are so important to buyers
According to the National Association of Realtors, 95% of buyers searched for their dream home on the internet. So, if your house doesn’t show well online, there’s a very slim chance that a buyer will come and 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! A top real estate agent with seasoned photography contacts can hire a talented professional photographer for you.