Taking the shot is relatively easy, but for real estate photography there are some key tips to keep in mind that will allow you to deliver the best product possible to your Realtor clients. Before we look at exterior and interior photo tips, let’s come up with an appropriate shot list.
Real Estate Photography Tutorial – File Management – Start to Finish
Real Estate Photography Tutorial – Prep and Settings
Real Estate Photography Tutorial – Shot List and Guide (you are here)
Real Estate Photography Tutorial – Software Setup for Post Processing
Real Estate Photography Tutorial – Editing With Lightroom And Enfuse/HDR
Going into a property shoot you should already know how many photos you need to fulfill your client’s request. In my area, real estate agents can post a maximum of 25 photos to the local multiple listing service (MLS). I base my products/services off that number, so I only deliver 25 photos. Realtors have the option of posting more than 25 photos to sites like Realtor.com, and if an agent requests additional photos I am more than happy to quote them for the extra services. I find the majority expect 25, so I haven’t run into any issues.
It’s important to know how many photos you are going to deliver because that will guide you while you are in the property. For my 25-photo deliverable, here is a general list of what I expect to shoot to reach my deliverable:
- (3) Front Exterior – One head on, one from an angle, and one closeup to show more detail
- (5) Family – Showcasing the family room itself, and also how it may connect to other spaces like the kitchen
- (5) Kitchen
- (1) Eat-In Kitchen Area
- (2) Master Bedroom
- (2) Master Bathroom
- (2-3) Guest Bedrooms
- (1) Guest Bathroom
- (3) Back Exterior – One closeup to show detail an patio/porch, and two at different angles to show the backyard and back side of the home itself
If the home isn’t very big, you may get stuck with the above shot list and have a lot of photos that seem redundant. Shooting 5 photos of the family room and kitchen can seem very boring. But there’s not much you can do when there is little to work with. Some other spaces that may exist in a home can be used for photos to take some of the weight off the ones above:
- (1) Formal Dining
- (2) Formal Living
- (1) Media
- (1) Game
- (2-3) Subdivision Amenities
If possible, schedule your real estate photography shoots at a time when the sun will be hitting the front of the property. You’ll have a much easier time editing the photo and you’ll end up with a nicer image. Some properties never have sun hitting the front, and sometimes your schedule won’t allow you to be picky so we just have to do our best.
I generally set up my camera to the following settings:
- Image Quality (RAW)
- ISO 320
- White Balance (Auto)
- Drive (2s Timer)
- Bracketing (3 frames, -1, 0, +1)
- Metering (Spot)
- Focal Length – Varies, but I shoot the longest possible
- Focus Point – The front surface of the home – a window, front door, eave, etc.
For the majority of the time, I don’t blend my exterior photos with HDR or Exposure Fusion. I don’t like how blurry the trees get when wind is present and you try to blend frames together, so I prefer to use a single frame. While on Spot Metering, I point my camera to a location that appears to be average in terms of overall brightness/light, and I half-press my shutter so I can make shutter adjustments where necessary. I set my 0 exposure of the bracket to be the exposure that the camera is telling me is best. Then I snap a full bracket (3 frames).
I look at the resulting photos and I make sure one of them has enough detail in the darkest portions and brightest portions of the frame. If the front of the home is in shadow, I want it to be bright enough so it’s not black – where I know I can adjust it during post-processing. At the same time I want to be sure items on top of the home like the chimney are not blown out to the point that I can’t recover them. When in shadow, the sky will blow out and be white – we’ll fix that during post-processing. I’ll make a minor shutter adjustment and retake the frames if necessary. Here are two examples of what the shot looked like from the camera, and what I delivered to the client.
The same holds true for all exterior shots, including the backyard. Make sure you get a single frame that’s average light for the features you want to be visible, and then use that frame during post-processing for the final product.
I always use a tripod for exterior shots, but sometimes I “cheat” and point the camera up. If so, the resulting photo will have converging verticals that must be fixed during post-processing! The second home in the above slideshow is a perfect example of this. (Need more info about verticals? Check out my Number One Real Estate Photography Tip!)
For interior shots, there are basics that we’ll follow for the majority of spaces, but some spaces will require some adjusting depending on how you think a photo looks and if you can make some minor adjustments to improve it. Here are our settings:
- Image Quality (RAW)
- ISO 320
- White Balance (Auto)
- Drive (Single Shot)
- Bracketing (7 frames, -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2. 3)
- Metering (Spot)
- Focal Length – Longest possible, and never wider than 22mm (35mm equivalent)
- Focus Point – Something that’s half the distance between your camera and the furthest wall
We are going to end up blending our frames together with the exposure fusion process. Specifically, we’ll be using a plugin called Enfuse for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Exposure fusion is similar to HDR in that we blend multiple exposures of a frame together to produce a single image that pulls the best from each frame. The algorithm however that exposure fusion uses differs from HDR and the process results in a more realistic photo.
My goal when shooting an interior space is to get 5 frames, from dark to light. I listed 7 above because while on-site I take 7 brackets, and then when I pull the images up on the computer I am able to remove two if I think they are either too dark or too bright for the fusion process. (Note: You may only be able to bracket 3 or 5 photos at a time on your camera. You’ll either have to adjust your shutter speed manually and take two sets of brackets to cover the range successfully, or you can get a remote like the Promote Control to help manage the brackets for you.)
Scroll through the example below of an interior shot showing the frames I took, and the resulting edited image:
In the above photo, I set my focus point to the centerpiece of the table. The dining area is the main focal point of this image so I wanted to be sure that was in focus.
Now that we have all of our frames captured for all of the shots for the property, it’s time to do some post-processing! We’ll look at the tools required and how to go about post-processing in the next post.
23 thoughts on “Real Estate Photography Tutorial – Shot List and Guide”
There’s a great program named The Photographer’s Ephemeris that uses Google Maps to show an overhead view of the address you input overlaid with the sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset. You can move a cursor for the time of day and the app will show you the angle of the sun and moon. You can even set a later date. I use it all of the time so I can recommend to agents the best time to photograph a property. Like Wunderground, it also gives sunset/sunrise times along with twilight times. Best of all, the app is free for desktop computers and $5ish for iOS or Android.
I’ve found that for many middle class homes 15-18 images on average covers the property nicely. To keep prices down and encourage some new clients, I’ve been able get some agents on board with providing 12 shot plans. I try to discourage agents from asking for 25 or more images unless it’s a large or well appointed home with bespoke detailing. My approach is to tease the property by showing its best features and steer away from a gallery that is more like an insurance shoot. As I shifted my pricing schedule to a price per image formula with a minimum charge, I’m more than happy to supply as many images as the agent is willing to pay for, I just run out of inspiration for compositions after a certain point. Especially with vacant properties.
My local MLS is planning to raise the maximum number of images to around 75. At a max of 45, agents are already taking close ups of ceiling fans, pool pumps, water heaters, documenting the sellers pets and individual plants in the yard. I haven’t been successful in trying to get the MLS to increase the image size rather than the number.
Your local MLS is 45? And going to 75? WOW! I struggle with 25 in some properties right now. But agents want the max because especially in sites like Realtor.com, they fear people will order homes by “number of photos” and if they don’t have a lot of photos, they’ll get sent to the bottom of the search results.
A lot of the shots are redundant when you get up to that high of a number, but it is what it is I guess!
Ken, thanks for the tip for The Photographer’s Ephemeris. I just used it to plan what time of day to have my outdoor wedding that’s 5 months away! lol. I’m been trying to figure out where the sun will be around 4-6 that evening to decide the final time of the ceremony. (This will also be super helpful with RE photoshoot planning.)
Somebody had to point out to me that one could view listing by how many photos is has. I had never thought about looking at listings that way. I filter my searches by specs (rooms, baths, etc) and then list by price, with a price bracket. When I am researching listings, I search by location and highest price on top.
I have yet to see any property with more than 35 images be worth the effort. Usually it’s as you say, many of the shots are duplicates or nearly duplicates. I remember one listing where they uploaded a set of nasty images and the same set again with too much sharpening and the saturation pushed.
Ken I need to look and see if any of the bigger sites (realtor.com, trulia, redfin, zillow) have stats on how buyers search for homes. I would be curious to see just how many search off the quantity of photos. I know I wouldn’t if I was looking – I would filter off specs like you, and price.
Realtor.com has a max of 36 photos if you have 36 uploaded they give preference to that listing and 35 photos gets preference over 34 so on. For that exact price point of a house
Realtor.com uses this tactic as a selling feature to agents it’s not a search criteria. It’s automatically populated that way.
Most east and west coast Mls have at least a max of 36 photos. But local Mls that still have 24 or less must manually load 12 more photos to gain the top search spot. It’s a gimmick since a 199k house and a 200k are not considered the same for photo counts. But it sells to realtors and brokerages that pay premiums to be featured agents. Realtor.com keeps stats of this stuff and uses it to market to other brokerages and monthly reports to current clients.
Realtor.com swears that homes with 36 photos will get more hits and inquiries which will lead to more showings and quicker sales. Creative analytics is the name of the game for the big 3 .
Lance, just wondering about your ISO setting when bracketing. Before I got into real estate photography, I spent a lot of time doing UrbEx photography using HDR. And the norm seemed to be the lowest ISO setting your camera could support…either ISO 200 or ISO 100.
How did you arrive at using ISO 320 for your bracketing?
Lance, like Jake I too would be interested on your ISO choice.
Also do you give preference to exposing for the highlights or shadows when calculating your bracketed starting point. i.e which one (exposing for highlight or Shadows) is exact and which one do you let the camera shoot beyond when the range is not in full stops?
I used to use ISO 320 simply because I don’t produce noise on my 60D at that level, and it offers a bit more light than ISO 100. It allows for slightly quicker shutter speeds, which for HDR aren’t important, but if I ever switch to using speedlights it will be beneficial. So it’s more of a practice thing.
Last week I switched to using a 5D Mark III, and I have kept it at ISO 100. For the brackets I am now setting the camera to Av mode for Aperture Priority. I set the 5D Mark III to take 7 brackets, and I literally just hit the shutter and let it figure out the exposure range. I have found I get better results in the processing portion, because it’s mathematically (?) figuring out the exposures instead of my guessing. I think this makes more sense and aligns better with the processing software (PhotoMatix in my case) and ends up in a better output. My darkest and brightest exposures, to my eyes, are way below/above what I would ever do if I was just doing it by eye and guessing. (My brightest exposure is extremely blown out.)
Thanks for your response Lance, very much appreciated. Just to delve a little deeper if i may.
When you were doing the brackets manually did you prioritise exposing for the highlights or shadows and did the process change depending upon whether you were using Photomatix or Enfuse? Photomatix recommends prioritising exposing for shadows but I have seen Enfuse users expose for the highlights first and let the shadow images be driven from this start point and the calculated number of brackets 1 EV apart. Did you find one or the other worked best?
Also Photomatix recommend 2EV, did you find your 1EV process worked best for you?
Finally and just so I’m clear because it sounds great. The 5D Mark III analyses the scene and based upon the number of brackets you want it actually selects the start and end points and the number of stops between the images itself? You don’t spot meter the highlights and shadows any more? You must spend less time shooting now right?
When I was doing it manually I would set my camera to video mode so I could see the live preview on the LCD. I would adjust my shutter to the point where I thought I was at my brightest frame. I would then use that shutter speed and dial it in to my Promote Control so it would be the last (brightest) frame taken in my bracket. It was literally all by eye.
I do 1EV steps, so I end up going -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3. Although if I get a “3” that doesn’t look bright enough because some shadows are really dark, I’ll bump up a notch so I’m covering a greater step range.
With the 5D Mark III it’s literally just taking in the whole scene and setting the 0 exposure to the shutter speed that produces an even balance of shadows and highlights. When I hit the shutter, it then takes the -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3. So I’m not spot metering for anything – as the camera is evaluating the whole frame.
This has tremendously sped up my shoot time! I literally just get the frame I want, and hit the shutter. Off to the next! Before I had to play with the exposure and look at the LCD, set the Promote Control up properly, then hit go. And the extra benefit is the Promote isn’t there any more so I don’t have to lug it around.
All clear thanks. The new Canon and process sounds great. Unfortunately my Nikon D700 does not even have live view so its very manual and at times time consuming. Hoping for an upgrade soon. Thanks for your help.
Maybe look into the CamRanger? Not sure if it’ll help at all, or if it’ll work with your D700, but worth looking into!
Camranger does help but without live view I still need to chimp. It is what it is upgrade soon I hope.
I never use the screen to judge an image because it’s not an accurate representation of exposure. I have the histogram display on the back screen on my D600, I set the focus point half to three quarters into the room and the matrix metering centers on the focus point, aperture priority on f16 and then auto bracket -2 0 +2 I then check the histogram to make sure I have an exposure to balanced to the left one spread across the graph and one balanced to the right, the ff sensor gives me enough density latitude with the 3 images processed in enfuse.
Yup, I do this now as well, relying on the camera to get the range that’s needed. It’s also extremely beneficial using the histogram when shooting video outdoors when it’s too bright to clearly see the LCD.
I was wondering, how do you choose the height at which the camera will be positioned: are you choosing it depending on the surfaces of tables/boards or are you looking at the floor/celling?
Thanks in advance and thanks for the already made tips 🙂
For most spaces like living rooms/bedrooms, most of the furniture is lower to the ground, so I shoot around waist height. For spaces like a kitchen, I shoot higher up, closer to shoulder height. The upper cabinets of a kitchen make the kitchen taller and better seen from a high vantage point. Plus it allows you to see countertop space, instead of shooting directly into them. Lastly, it allows me to avoid seeing the underside of the upper cabinets, which I don’t like.
Hi Lance, I can’t tell you how much your tips have helped me. I have one question and was curious if you ran into this yourself. Shooting an interior with light colored or beige walls with a bright window visible or say a front door with those little decorative vertical stained glass windows along side it. When I process photos like these using Photomatix Exposure Fusion / Interior setting they come out with some pretty dirty/ muddy areas around the windows (Perhaps noise). I’m assuming Photomatix is having a hard time with the harsh contrast between the interior lighting and exterior lighting and attempting to retain the shadows correctly. To fix these I usually have to go to the raw photos and using lightroom export those to HDR. Whatever method Lr uses doesn’t seem to create that dirty wall look that Photomatix ends up doing. I bracket 5 shots at 2 EV spacing. -4 -2 – 0 + 2 + 4. Do you think the -4 & +4 are too extreme for most interiors?
I don’t think it’s too extreme, but I would definitely test to see if you get different results using perhaps a smaller range. I think at the end of the day it’s just a flaw that comes along with having software trying to do everything. It’s just really difficult to get things perfect. You may improve one aspect, but struggle with another. A lot of folks use a combination of ambient and flash to blend frames together so they have greater control for these situations.
I was taught to use the highlights function. To set my 2nd bracket at the cusp on the blink meaning if I have a slight blind take my speed up more time.. How do feel about the highlights ?????
Lance you did a great job summarizing everything, it’s definitely not as easy as some people make it look. Bookmarking this page to make sure I try to mimic your interior/exterior settings. Thanks for all the input!