Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.
And how does that apply to real estate photography? As in any type of photography there are trends, and of course there are competitive individuals trying to convince potential clients why they should hire them and not the next guy. There are two items that particularly stand out: Ultra Wide Angle Lenses and HDR. HDR (High Dynamic Range) photography is a subject that deserves its own post, and I will tackle it in a future instalment, but in the mean time lets have a look at the Ultra Wide Angle Lens.
What is an "Ultra Wide Angle Lens"? Well, its a fairly arbitrary designation for lenses with a very wide angle of view. There is no universal definition for what makes a lens "ultra", and even discussing what makes a lens "wide angle" is a discussion that gets into technical terms and subject matter that really should be of more concern for the photographer and not the people hiring a photographer. You simply shouldn't have to wonder "how?", that's what you're paying a photographer to do.
When you hire a plumber, you don't wonder what wrenches they own - you just need to know they're qualified, have a good reputation and will fix your plumbing. When you take your car to a mechanic, you trust that they will fix your car - what tools they own is irrelevant, you're paying for their expertise.
The same principle applies to photographers.
So how does this relate to "Ultra Wide Angle Lenses"? Well, in a couple of ways.
First of all, some would have you believe that the wider the lens, the better the photos. Your listing will magically look more spacious, and that one bedroom bachelor will appear like a penthouse loft, with enough room to play basketball indoors.
That's simply not true.
Using the widest lens available usually produces very distorted images. No one will be fooled into thinking the subjects are larger than they actually are, but they may very well be put off by the unrealistic proportions, the distorted shapes and uneven lighting. Just think, how many living rooms have you seen in listing photos that look like bowling alleys? The far wall appears like a tiny little square at the end of a long, distorted tunnel? Yup, that's an Ultra Wide Angle Lens, used improperly.
How often do you see a kitchen with a fridge that appears to be 10 feet wide, while the sink at the far end of the space looks like its not big enough to be a cat's water dish? Again, an Ultra Wide Angle Lens, used improperly.
How about that football-shaped clock on the wall? You know its actually circular, but its so distorted it makes the whole room appear like its being viewed through a fun house mirror.
These are the common issues I see, very frequently, in real estate listing photos taken by supposed professionals.
Your client's are not stupid, they know when something doesn't look right. Furthermore, human beings are very visually stimulated creatures, even if we can't quite figure out what is wrong with a picture, we are still put off by an overwhelming sense that something isn't right.
Basically, yes - an architectural photographer will own one or several wide and ultra-wide angle lenses. There are situations where those tools are indispensable. There are photos that simply could not be made without the unique abilities of those tools.
But just as important as knowing that, is knowing when and how to use them properly. That's the difference between knowledge and wisdom.
A distorted, poorly composed photograph is a tomato in a fruit salad.
I firmly believe that a photographer is hired to produce an image that can be used by his or her client to accomplish a task - weather its a portrait or a set of real estate listing photos. The photographer will have a portfolio of their work, and based on that, a client can determine weather or not the photographer's work meets their needs, their standards. A photographer should be open to dialogue, should be able to readily propose a plan of how they intend to serve their client's needs and be ready to answer any questions the client may have. That's what a professional does. Saying "hire me, because I bought this super-duper expensive lens and use industry jargon no one understands in hopes of impressing you" is pretty laughable, its insulting to the client's intelligence and its border-line dishonest.
The "Hero" Shot
There is a trend I noticed when looking through some listings the other day: lack-lustre exterior shots! And I am actually talking about listings where the agents "get it" and obviously (sometimes more...often less obviously...) hired a "professional" to photograph their listing.
I can tell you, as a photographer, sometimes we get caught up in things that are important to us, the things that we find challenging, or things that we think we do better than others. And I noticed that by and large, even properties with decent photos of the interior spaces have... well, sub par exteriors.
I am NOT even talking about TWILIGHT shots for your listing - although, looking through listings I can't think of a better way to stand out above the crowd! It seems that almost no one does these, and I don't know why. You're trying to get people to look at your listing, and nothing combines the qualities of "eye catching" with "inviting" and "welcoming" like a beautiful twilight. But I digress.
Lets forget about twilights for a minute - they are an additional cost, they require an extensive skill set, and are more time consuming. But lets just talk about the standard real estate photo shoot. It looks to me like most exterior shots are shot almost as an after thought, and edited much like it too.
No real creative composition. No understanding of how the human eye views images. No respect for perspective (that's a whole other series of blogs in and of itself). Just an "oh yeah, we need a front of the house!" shot.
It is beyond me why this happens as a front shot of the house is usually the first one shown, and I know that many MLS services in the USA and Canada at least, REQUIRE that the first shot be of the front of the home.
People! You are simply NOT getting your money's worth if that shot is not done well. This is your elevator pitch, this is your one chance for people to want to see more. That's why many real estate photographers call them "the hero shot". Its the single most important image supplied to you because quite often its the one that determines if anyone looks at the rest.
Let me wrap up by offering up some pointers:
I guess this post is addressed to the real estate photographer as much as to their client, the agent: have the decency not to charge people for a blow off job on the single most important shot of the set. And realtors, know what can be done by an actual professional, as opposed to a guy with a camera who pushes a button so you don't have to.
Real estate photography is actually quite difficult to do well: you have to deliver numerous views, you can't be on site very long, and you have to deliver them quickly! You have to be a competent architectural photographer, but also have the mindset of a commercial photographer. Oh and did I mention you have to do it QUICKLY? Its not easy. Hire a real pro. I promise you will see the difference. And so will your client's. The current ones, and the ones who's business you are yet to earn. Make it right, make it count!
Especially in your "hero shot"!
Lets Talk About The Weather
No, seriously - lets! There are so many misconceptions about the weather and photography, I thought I would tackle at least one of them (or maybe a few... we shall see!).
I recently heard this little chestnut:
"I only want my listings photographed on sunny days because they will look brighter."
OK. First of all, that might just sum up why you NEED to hire a professional photographer.
Sunny weather does not show up on film (or in a digital camera) the way the human mind interprets what the human eye sees. Sunny days mean one thing: really bright light and really deep shadows.
A pro will find a way to photograph a property inside and out on a sunny day and make it look great - that's why you hire us - but it is not only not required, but (dirty little photographer secret coming up!) its really not preferable.
Cloudy, overcast days are the best - the clouds work like a giant soft box. You know, those big square things you see at fashion shoots, pointed at the models with flashes inside them? Those are called soft boxes. Why? Because they make the light "soft" - meaning, shadows fall off gently and gradually (softly) rather than showing a harsh demarcation between highlights and shadows. If you want to see what I mean, just have a look at your own shadow on the gound - on a bright sunny day it will be a dark sharp edged shape. On a cloudy day you will barely see it and what you do see will be soft edged, almost etherial.
Cloud cover is mother nature's soft box. Sure, grey dreary skies don't look very perky or inviting - but that's why your professional real estate photographer knows how to either manipulate or replace them with beautiful blue skies, with white fluffy clouds.
And don't even get me started on the interiors - on sunny days, the light piles in through the window in a gleaming, blinding shaft - everything else is a cave or oceanic trench of shadow, murky and dark.
Again - a pro will know how to handle this with lighting and proper exposure, but it will look no better than if photographed on an overcast day.
That's a little insight into how photos are made, and that with proper technique, anything can be overcome - furthermore - what seems to be the better answer... quite often isn't. That is what professional photographers are for, we figure it out for you, and deliver consistent results every time.
But let's cut to the chase - you, a real estate agent - don't often have the luxury of waiting for the perfect weather, the perfect light. A pro will make sure that your pictures look every bit as good if shot on a sunny day, as they would on an overcast one. And they will probably sweat less (figuratively and literally) if the sun is hidden behind clouds!
Don't hesitate to drop me a line if you would like to learn more photography secrets, just chat or book a shoot. Look forward to hearing from you!
Professional photographers... we have earned a bit of a reputation, haven't we? Let's face it - we are those quirky "creative types". And the whole photo shoot is kind of like a glimpse into some sort of secret society... there is a lingo all its own, and devices that don't immediately make much sense to a casual observer... There is a lot to take in. And if YOU want to learn all that good stuff - drop me a line, will grab a coffee and talk photography. But, chances are, you're busy, you're paying me hard earned money to do what I do best, and you want the best possible value for your dollar, as well as the time invested - both yours and your client's.
With that in mind, I have decided to arm you with an on-line resource, a place where I will periodically add items - be it how-to guides, check-lists, helpful articles - that will help me help you. Like I always say - my success depends on your success! Well, with all the imaginary fanfare (please imagine a drum roll or something fancy), here it is: the new RESOURCES FOR REALTORS section of TwoSixPix.com
To kick things off, I have included some links to articles about real estate photography, studies on its impact on sale price and time on market - all that good stuff! Have a read, its a real eye opener! I intend to add to it periodically whenever I come across good stuff that may be beneficial to you, my clients.
Last but not least - and this is really, truly, something that EVERYONE who is selling a home should read - a PHOTOGRAPHY CHECK LIST FOR REALTORS AND HOME OWNERS!
The camera can be a cruel mistress - it sees all that's in front of it, so getting your property ready is essential to making the most of your professional photography shoot. Selling a home is stressful, INVASIVE, and time consuming - having a stranger traipse around your home with cameras, light-stands, umbrellas, etc., is not the least of that. Give the list a read, once or twice, and the whole experience will be smoother, quicker, more productive, less painful, and better looking in the end!
As always, I look forward to hearing from you with any and all questions you may have!
TwoSixPix philosophies, tips and tricks, and just a little peek into who I am behind the camera.