If you ask an architectural photographer to make some beautiful images of a building, he or she will do a few things first:
*figure out which way the building is facing (east, west, north or south – somewhat in between?)
*find out when the sun rises and sets at that spot on the proposed dates of the shoot
*based on that information, the photographer will arrange for a time that puts the client’s desired view in the – quite literally – best light
Depending on the budget and the final concept, he or she may rent boom trucks or sky-jacks, perhaps lights, perhaps close off the parking areas to the building to make sure the views are not obstructed by random vehicles (in extreme cases on high budget shoots the streets may be shut down, etc – just like for a high budget movie production!)
In addition, the photographer will want full access to the building and its lights. Everything is just so, and the final piece – is the weather. Using sophisticated, meteorological reports, a date is chosen. And if the weather plays a trick, the shoot is rescheduled.
A few hours later, a couple of perfect views of a building are captured.
Of course that’s great if you are working with a multi-thousand dollar budget and have complete control over time and all other variables on location… But… Then there is real estate photography. The house needs to be on the market on Monday. The cleaning company was unable to deliver their bins because of a two day bout of freezing rain. You can shoot the house any day of the week you want… as long as it's Sunday. Sunday morning, specifically, because anything after noon is a “no go” with the owners and or the realtor…
And you’re a photographer who is not willing to just say “oh well, it is what it is”, you pride yourself on setting YOUR client apart with exceptional, eye catching photos.
You show up on Sunday. There is a slight wrinkle – it’s a blizzard. Quite literally, visibility measured in feet, not yards, lovely giant flakes of snow falling sideways from a slate grey sky. What do you do?
Well, some variation of this theme happens pretty much all the time in real estate photography. You are not the master of when and how, usually. Your clients understand that it would be better if you were, but that’s just not the reality of the business. From backlit houses and harsh shadows to full on blizzards, it all happens. Sure you could come back and reshoot the exteriors – but you have two other shoots that day (joke’s on you – they’re all facing the wrong way anyway by the time you get there).
This is why you’re a pro – you make it work. Most people could take a decent photo under perfect conditions if they get enough tries at it. A professional is called in to make a great image regardless of what conditions or challenges are presented; to solve problems, to find a way. To put it bluntly, this is what we get paid for.
I was inspired to write this post based on a recent experience. Have a look at the before and after photos. See what an out of the camera shot looked like, and what was delivered to the client. You have to know your craft very well, and when the unexpected happens, you can count on your technical knowledge and artistic vision to fall into place and combine for a result that makes your clients truly happy that they had you on their team.
To Art Or Not To Art
Some people would say that real estate photos live a very utilitarian life, usually quite short and with an almost depressing singularity of purpose. Get people to notice the house. Get people to see that it is a nice house. Give them an idea of what type of house it is, and finally play a role in having them see the house.
As a photographer and an artist first and foremost, I would like to think that these pictures also play a role in showing people a home, not just a structure, and showing it to them through their heart's eye. Not just conveying information but conveying a feeling that will hopefully be the one they feel when they think of the word "home".
As such, I firmly believe that a listing should include photos beyond just: "these are the rooms, this is the front of the house, this is the backyard, shed, pool, what have you".
I think that homes have a character, a personality, a spirit. This is most obvious in older homes: the brass door knob, smoothed by thousands of turns by hundreds of hands over the years! The skeleton key that opens all the old locks in a house. A room that just begs for a piano, or a painters easel - even if they are not pieces that are included with the sale of the property, they speak to the home's character and spirit.
Perhaps a statuette in the back yard, or an old, old tree. Maybe it's a unique piece of trim, a banister lovingly worn to a satin beauty by the people who leaned on it, in good times and in bad.
I think all these things are important, that they're special, that they're something that speaks to us on a level beyond utility and practicality. And I think it is never time wasted taking these pictures, as I don't think it is time or money wasted to include them among the listing photos.
Perhaps I am just a sap. Maybe I am the one who "doesn't get it". But I really think human beings respond to that aspect of making a decision about their greatest single expenditure. And I think it would be foolish to overlook that.
On The Importance Of Art
Maybe it's a bit of a pompous title, maybe it sounds a touch pretentious - neither of those things could be further from my intent. That said, this is going to be a bit of an off-topic post, not directly tied to commercial photography per se, but I hope that by the end of it I will manage to ramble and meander my way to something resembling a conclusion and more importantly, a connection.
Photography, when done right, is an art form. It is a form of expression, it takes skill, and talent, and most importantly vision. As photographers, we all start out from that lofty place, but I fear many of us tend to lose our way. This job is routine, that shoot doesn't pay enough, when it's a higher profile shoot I will go that extra distance but for now this will do... I think we all get mired in this kind of thinking regardless of the profession, regardless of what trade we ply. And it's wrong. It's just backwards if you ask me.
I believe that a true professional should treat every job with the same dedication, attention to detail and creative zeal. There is an old saying: even a broken clock is right twice a day - what sets a professional apart is that they deliver results consistently, every time. That they bring the same preparation and effort to every job, that they wouldn't want to be associated with anything less, and that their clients can rest assured they are getting the best possible value for their hard-earned cash. And yes, when it comes to photography, be it for real estate or for the commercial needs of your business, I believe the same should be true. Anyone can point a camera and push a button - you should expect far more from your professional photographer! And that "something more" should be readily apparent when you see the pictures they made for you.
Let me reference a couple of examples. Lets momentarily remove the "commercial" aspect from our discussion. Lets just talk about art for the sake of art.
Anyone can go to their local Wally Mart or the Home Despot in their town or city and buy a framed "photograph" to hang on their wall. It may even be a pretty enough picture, and may even pass the "50/50" rule, meaning it looks good 50% of the time, from 50 feet away... Just as it does in countless motel rooms and office lobbies across the land. The photographer who made the photo has little or nothing to do with the final product, no human touch, no nuance has been put into the making of the actual piece you are going to hang on your wall. At best, it will be neutral and inoffensive, at worst it will look cheap and tacky.
On the other, polar opposite of that spectrum are real photographs, made by real artists. Crafted by hand, each one printed individually in sweat and toil, sometimes after days of making "working prints" to establish the exact exposure, the dodging and burning needed in specific areas to bring the subject into the exact light pre-visualized by the artist. No two are exactly the same, no one can make an exact copy by clicking a mouse button and letting their ink-jet printer do the rest.
Take my friend Chris Baczynski of Silver Soul Photo as an example. A consummate artist and true master of an increasingly rare medium, he creates beautiful photographs on film. His prints, both black and white and colour, are made by hand in a traditional dark room, and are absolutely striking. Each one is unique, each one has a little bit of his soul trapped in its grains of silver. When you hang one of his prints on your wall, you know you are in possession of a one-of-a-kind piece of his life, captured in that photograph just for you. Even another print from the exact same negative will never be exactly the same, as the artist always improvises in the dark room, much like a jazz musician playing a solo. It may be the same song, but if you go to see the show ten times, you will be treated to ten different interpretations. The advantage of a photograph is the fact that you get to keep that moment, and travel back to it every time you look at it.
But lets say photography is just not your thing, sure you may (I would hope, as a meagre shutter jockey, at your service) appreciate it, find it useful and hopefully see its value, but you're just not that into hanging it on your wall. It's ok, "some folks likes pork chops and some folks likes ham hocks, some folks likes vegetable stew", as the song goes. The same goes for paintings. I understand that here the issue gets a little bit muddied, as many "famous" painters are simply out of reach for the vast majority of the population. Only a very small portion of us will ever hang a Picasso in our sitting room, or admire a Vermeer in the privacy and comfort of our own home. And I certainly understand the appeal of the image, the beauty of some famous works which leads us to choosing a reproduction over nothing at all. I get it. But so many of us will go to one of the above mentioned "big box" stores and buy "prints" of paintings that quite frankly... have nothing to say, are mediocre by design, and their only claim to fame is that they were judged not to upset a vast majority of the population. You buy one of these things, printed in some industrial print house, most likely by under-paid, border line slave-labour in a far away land. OK, I don't want to drift off into politics, socio-economics and the like - but I will say, real living, breathing, creative, passionate individuals walk among us. You may see them every day and not even know it. Talented people who toil to produce real beauty out of a calling, a passion for their work, a desire to make our world a more beautiful place, a need to express something real, something profound and enrich our lives by doing so.
I will use an example of another friend of mine, Aga Niemiec, an Ottawa, Ontario based artist. If you had to label her work I guess you would have to say modern realism and abstract impressionism. She works mainly with oils, but I know she is quite adept at other mediums as well. You can even commission a portrait! How regal is that, huh? But really, none of that matters - what matters is that for really not much more than a quality, mass produced chain-store print, you will have on your wall, forever, for generations to come, a real piece of art. Each brush stroke made by a human hand, never to be repeated, unique, individual, beautiful in a way that only a piece of someone's creative soul can be. I can assure you, there is no chain motel or national brand hotel, or walk-in clinic that will have the same image hanging in it's lobby. You can't buy it at the beds, baths, or whatever is beyond... On a tangent, I always found the name of that store somewhat creepy. What do they mean by "beyond"? Do I want to know? But I digress.
The fact is, weather its an original photograph or a painting, I would argue that each one is a better deal than the mass produced "equivalent" (using the term very, very loosely...). I would stand firmly behind the statement that whatever the cost of an original work of art, it is but a small portion of its real value. Whereas that thing you bought from the monster store... well... I would say you overpaid, regardless of how low the price. It's a commodity. A simple wall covering appliance if you will. Its price is roughly four times its cost to produce, and those are the only factors in that equation.
I guess we are getting to that time when I should start making a point, aren't we?
Do you want your business represented by that mass produced big-box store trinket? Or by a work of an individual who leaves a little piece of him or herself in each thing they do? Do you think your business deserves a tired piece of stock photography for its website? Do you think your lobby is best served by an odds-and-ends sale piece?
I would put forth, for your consideration, that no. It is not. That no, you do not want that. In fact, I believe you should strive for the direct polar opposite. Unique work, just for you, from someone who pours their heart and soul into every project they undertake. Find someone who has an insatiable need to do every single job to the best of their ability, who thinks every thing they do is a calling card, a reflection of them. I don't care if it's the guy fixing your car, remodelling your kitchen, or photographing your business. You deserve the best, and your clients will see the difference. You will stand out above the crowd because the people you chose to work with would have nothing else associated with their names.
And buy some art for your home, your office. Something real. Something with a soul, a message, a little bit of someone's irreplaceable spirit forever contained within it. It will make you just a little bit happier every time you look at it.
That, I think, is the tip of the iceberg of the importance of art.
I can't think of a better way to close this post than with an image of an original painting by Aga Niemiec. The pixels of your screen can not fully convey the living beauty of an original work of art, but even in this, digitally diminished form, I am sure it will brighten up your day, make it just a little bit more beautiful. Enjoy.
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.