Real Estate Photography: Making or Breaking Your Listing?

Real estate photography has come a long way since it began to emerge as a primary means of marketing properties on a mass scale with the advent of “listing books” in the 1980’s.

Fast forward a few decades and widespread internet access has changed the way we process and distribute media – and so those listing books have evolved too. As MLS systems migrated online and digital listing photos became the standard – multiple photos of each property even! – savvy agents soon realized that the better the pictures, the better a property was received by potential buyers. Professional photographers who could use their technical knowledge to best showcase, or even enhance, the features of a home began to show up. These people learned from principles used in architectural photography and began to apply these techniques to residential real estate and a new industry was born. At first it was only common on the most luxurious listings, but gradually it spread into more and more sectors of more and more markets. Now professional photos have become the standard in real estate.

In the South Bend area however, that’s not exactly the case.

It could be a product of median home values in our market sitting comfortably below the national average. A couple hundred bucks for photos just eats up a bigger chunk of an often smaller agent commission. It could just be that our market seems to lag behind when it comes to the trends of larger metropolitan areas. But whatever the reason may be, the greater South Bend market suffers from a somewhat low penetration of professional real estate photography. It has also fostered a climate where many of those agents that do contract out to real estate photographers often opt for low skilled, bargain providers. I’ve seen countless photos paid for by local agents who could have delivered a better finished product themselves with an iPhone and a little knowledge of what makes a good image and how to capture one.

The benefits of *quality* professional photography in real estate are well documented. If you don’t believe me then do a Google search. And in a market like ours where not every agent is on board the pro photographer train, I would argue that those benefits increase substantially since the homes that are showcased with great pro photos stand out from the competition that much more. But how are you supposed to know if the photographer your agent sent over is a stud or a dud? I’ve provided a textbook example of a high quality photograph, the type that gets results, to illustrate some things to look for.

  • Proper Exposure: Not too dark, not to bright. Simple enough, right? Photographers who rely too heavily on their camera’s brain instead of their own often end up with dark photos when bright sunlight seen through a window tricks their camera into thinking the entire space is much brighter than it is. The result is an underexposed image.
  • Accurate Color: Notice the white ceilings, trim, and cabinetry and how true the colors appear throughout the image. Poorly shot photos will often have a heavy red or orange color cast that is most easily identified in these areas that should appear white.
  • Straight Verticals: Walls, doorways, cabinets, window frames, and table legs are all straight up and down. You’d be surprised how many real estate photographers ignore this basic rule of composition altogether.
  • Wide Field of View: Notice that you can see all the way from the edge of the living room through to the kitchen in the same photo. It’s tough to really showcase the layout of a home (or get a good photo of most bathrooms) without the right lenses. Not every shot needs to be wide, but your photographer needs to be able to make it happen when it counts.
  • Color Uniformity: Interior photos often contain a mix of natural and artificial light that can sometimes cause jarring color differences in different areas of the same space unless corrected in the editing process or mitigated with flash.
  • Showcasing Features: See the beautiful hardwood floors, open concept, and wooded views? All are great features for perspective buyers who could possibly have a lower initial opinion of this home, or even pass it by altogether, if they weren’t showcased in photos. If your house has desirable or unique features they should all appear somewhere in the listing photos.
  • Window Detail: The hallmark of a great real estate photographer, capturing detail in windows often requires combining multiple exposures in the editing process, the use of flash to substantially brighten the interior of a home, or both.
  • Horizontal Orientation: Some might disagree with me on this one, but I’m a firm believer that all real estate photos for MLS use should be shot horizontally. Most will be already, but when temped to turn the camera on its side to shoot a bathroom or other small space, just don’t. Go as wide a possible or grab that dreaded fisheye lens in a pinch. It’s about filling the screen – and horizontal images display at 225% of the size of their vertical counterparts.

So now that you know what makes a good real estate photograph and what the benefits are, I would strongly suggest that if you or a friend are thinking of selling your home, the quality of the photography provided should be one of the top items on your list when choosing a Realtor, as it is one of the most consistent, impactful, and easy methods to positively influence how homes perform in the market. Just having an agent who uses a “professional” photographer won’t do you any favors unless the level of the work they deliver lives up to that label. Because at the end of the day, not having quality listing photos when you bring your home to market will cost you no matter who your agent is.

About the author

Chris Arrowsmith
For the past decade Chris has worked as a licensed real estate agent, real estate acquisition specialist, freelance real estate photographer, and real estate marketing consultant. Currently Marketing Director and staff photographer at Irish Realty, he puts his experience to use feeding a personal obsession with continuously raising the bar when it comes to how properties are marketed for sale in our local area.

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