A beginner’s guide to real estate and architecture photography

Did you ever wonder how real estate photos look so pretty?  Photography architecture and real estate is as much as an art form as taking everyday portraits. It is also fun..really it is! And personally, I don’t mind having a subject that sits still and not having to worry about getting anyone looking at the camera.

However, real estate and architectural photography comes with its own special challenges. And if you aren’t prepared for them? They can be just as frustrating as getting a toddler to pose! With these tips and tricks you will be well on your way to taking beautiful pictures of any home or building.

Choose your equipment

Of course anyone can take a picture of a building as long as they have a camera (and all of us have one of those in our pockets these days!). However, to get the professional quality images that most businesses are after and that you will want to take as a photographer, you will need a few more things.

Your most important equipment will be your camera, lens(es), and tripod.  In my experience, a full frame DSLR camera works best. While a crop sensor camera can work with specific lens pairings, I have found that having a full-size sensor makes all the difference in this unique genre.

Why does a crop sensor fall short here? A crop sensor, is just that: a cropped version of the full frame. This means that you will essentially be cropping a percentage of the frame out with any given focal length every time you take a shot.

Will a full frame camera, you will be able to see everything that the lens can see and will thus be able to take in the full scene. And when photographing a room or a building, you want to see every last detail! In real estate photography, you really have to be able to tell the whole story of a room in one shot.

All that said, there is a significant price difference between a crop sensor camera and a full frame camera. If you are on a budget, you can absolutely work with a crop sensor camera. You will simply need to be more mindful when choosing your lenses as you will likely have to pick something that is super wide to get the full scene in.

On a full frame camera, the perfect lens is a 16-35 mm lens. It’s crop sensor equivalent is a 10-22 mm lens.

You will want your photos to have as much in focus in possible (ie: a deep depth of field) and as little grain as possible (by keeping the ISO low). Unlike some genres, there isn’t as much room for creative focus techniques and noise is generally unacceptable.

To accommodate this, you will likely need to shoot at a very slow shutter speed. As even the smallest moments in your hands will cause blur, a steady tripod is a must.

A tripod will help to keep your camera steady and your picture in focus. In my real estate photography, I usually shoot at F/9 for a greater depth of field and an ISO of no more than 800 to keep the noise down. At these settings, my shutter speed is often well below what I consider to be a “safe” hand-holding speed.

On a tripod, my camera stays still while the shutter moves allowing me to get those crisp photos full of detail that clients love. Most homes look most appealing in natural light and without a tripod your pictures will be blurry and dark.

Prepare the house

Having the house looking extra clean and uncluttered is so important. Those little messes that you might notice in day-to-day living will really stand out in a still photograph.

Take the time to walk through the home before starting.  Make sure all the blinds are open, the TVs are off, and trashcans are out of sight. The kitchen should be sparkling clean and the counters cleared of small appliances.

Clear the bathroom counters of everything but soap. Mirrors should be spotless and for heavens sake, put the toilet seats down! Don’t let the clutter of charging cord and mail distract the viewer from what you want them to see. Remove these items so that the gleaming hardwood floors, the beautiful granite countertops, or any other desirable feature takes center stage. Even if the house is currently lived in, viewers need to be able to imagine themselves in the space.

Take the pictures

Exterior

The first picture the viewer will want to see is the exterior. Just as when you are physically arriving to a location, this photo serves as the first impression for the home. Take the time to get the absolute best shot.

You will wan to accentuate the most important and desirable features of the property. Things such as porches, pools, and landscaping are all attractive details to highlight. Be sure to shoot from angles that allow these features to shine rather than disappear into the scene.

I tend to get a full length photo from a couple of angles and then a few detail shots of the most enticing features.  Maybe the front door is pretty or the house has a wrap around front porch.  This is what makes the property unique and is a great selling point.

Interior

For interior photos, you want to create a logical flow of the home. I normally start with the room right inside the front door and work my way around. The idea is to give the viewer the illusion of the layout of the home as if they were walking through it themselves.

Try to avoid shooting with large objects in the foreground. These can make a room feel more crowded and can inhibit the flow of the space. Again, you want the viewer to imagine themselves in the home. Let them see a wide open space into which they can immediately. Allow them of envision themselves sitting on the sofa curled up under a blanket sipping coffee while binge watching their favorite show. It’s your job to create this ideal!

You will want to level the camera between hip and chest level. Wide angle lenses naturally have some distortion and when shooting from above or below this spot, the room will appear uneven. The area between the hip and chest allows you to avoid distorted vertical lines and give you a broad view of the room.

In general, you want less ceiling and more floor. The room will appear larger with the floor taking-up a larger percentage of the frame. You only want more ceiling when there is something special up there like a coffered ceiling or special trim detail. For bathrooms get even lower to get in the floor/tile.

A good rule to follow is the two-corner rule. Essentially, you should try to include two corners of each room per shot.  This allows the viewer to understand the layout of the room more easily and removes some of the mystery of what is outside the frame.  This simple practice will give your photos a much more professional look.

Of course there are many styles and techniques to use with architecture and real estate photography. I encourage you to experiment with your own home. Take a look around you and see what might be distracting. Look at the light in the house and see what times of day the best light is coming in. Using the settings I suggested above, experiment with taking a photo with or without your tripod. Shoot a room with more ceiling than floor.  Compare the pictures and see which one looks better.

Once you start shooting more you will recognize what works and what doesn’t. More than anything, don’t be scared to try new things and see what works for your style! The more you practice, the more you will develop a workflow and aesthetic that works for you and the spaces you are invited to photograph.

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About the Author:

Elise Cellucci is a natural light photographer, wife, and mom living in the suburbs of Philadelphia, PA. Her main subject is her daughter and loves documenting their everyday. Elise also takes clients for both lifestyle and film sessions. Her passion is lifestyle photography and capturing the little fleeting moments that warms her heart and the heart of her clients.

One Comment

  1. Sally Cojocariu Nov 05 2018 at 12:49 am - Reply

    Great article Elise. I really enjoyed reading it.

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