I’ve been photographing real estate property for a few years now and have learned some techniques to improve the look of the images I prepare for my clients. It's not just a science, there's an art to it as well. Here are five tips to creating better photographs of interiors.
1. Use The Right Equipment
Shoot in RAW. Shooting in JPEG, data is lost during file compression. RAW allows you to edit the untouched data, allowing the most control over the image giving the ability to retrieve information that may be lost in a blown-out or underexposed shot. You can also adjust the white balance of all your images when using Photoshop or Lightroom when processing them.
Real Estate photography requires the use of a wide-angle lens. Whether you use a crop-sensor or full-frame camera, a wide angle lens is ideal. Use a 10-18mm, 10-22mm or 10-24mm on a crop-sensor, or a 14-24mm, 16-35 or 17-40mm on a full-frame depending on the make of the camera. These zoom lenses can make rooms look spacious without being unrealistically distorted like a fish-eye lens.
Shoot on a tripod whenever possible. Sometimes a tiny bathroom is hard to capture and worth hand-holding and crouching low or shooting from a high angle to capture the features of the room. The use of a shutter release (either remote or tethered) helps stop camera shake which can result in blurry images.
Use at least one good-quality flash, two is even better. I use one speed light on my hot shoe with the flash pointing at the darkest corner or the ceiling, and the other I can handhold and point where I need to. The wireless trigger capability in the camera allows for this to work. When I have a really large home to photograph, I sometimes use them. This makes it possible to place the two flashes in different areas of the room, or in the next room to light the entrance up so the adjoining room isn't so dark, so there is less work in Photoshop later.
2. Prepare The Room
Think of the home as a show home. Clothes, dishes, paperwork...you'd never see it lying around. Remove the clutter and turn on all the lights. Rooms look more inviting and helps fill in the darker recesses of the corners. Make beds, straighten cushions and throws (or remove them altogether), get rid of bath mats that hide a small floor. Clear off the fridge magnets and kids drawings, and remove everything from the top of the fridge and above the cupboards if possible. Cluttered homes still look cluttered, even if the images are well prepared.
3. Know How to Handle Ambient and Flash Lighting
During daylight hours, windows can become overexposed without the use of flash. So even with the curtains open, if you don't use flash to balance the lighting conditions then the room is going to be too dark if you are exposing for the beautiful scene outside. Using techniques such as bracketing (taking an underexposed, overexposed and just right exposure) can help but then needs to be processed correctly. I prefer using my off-camera flash to set the camera to expose correctly for the windows, using the flash to increase the exposure in the room.
4. Master Your Settings
I tend to keep my ISO on 100 or 200 as default to keep unnecessary grain out of the shots. I only raise my ISO if the room is dark and my flashes are already at high power. My aperture is usually at f/8 to give a good depth-of-field keeping the whole room in focus at the same time allowing enough light for the shutter speed. If the room is exceptionally dark, opening the aperture a stop or two helps, but not all will be in focus. Then adjust the shutter speed to expose correctly for the window light. All that is left is to set the flash power and direction. I don't use flash modifiers or diffusers, although they can be used. Personal preference for me is bright light, using the speed lights directional settings to flash light on the ceiling so it can reflect back into the room. The light is then a diffused light. If the image is too bright, adjust the settings of the flash a little lower and try it again.
Shooting into a corner from the opposite corner gives one of the best views. This makes the room look spacious and by not having that third wall in the shot, the room doesn't look like you're in a tunnel. Take different shots in each room to give more choice when reviewing your images.
Keep your camera horizontal. Any tipping up or down creates converging vertical walls, a good sign of an amateur. An exception is when you are shooting staircases or a room from above. Outside, if possible, use a ladder to get a better shot if you are standing on lower ground than where the building sits. Using Photoshop to correct converging vertical lines is totally acceptable and necessary to create a great image.
How high should the camera be on the tripod? It depends on the room. A kitchen looks great shot at chest level, or 12-18 inches above the counters. Bedrooms, lower the camera to twelve to eighteen inches above the bed. The goal is to fill the shot with the features in the room, not a third of the frame being a ceiling.
One last tip: Check out other real estate photographers' work or Interior Design blogs. When you see ones you like, study them, think about what they did to get the shot, and try it yourself in your next shoot, or practice in your own home.
Terrill Bodner, MPA is an Accredited Professional Photographer living in Prince George, BC, specializing in Family Portraiture, Lifestyle, Headshots, Real Estate and Fine Art photography.
Terrill is a member of Professional Photographers of Canada, accredited in Portraiture, Fine Art/Photo Decor, Animals, Wildlife, Nature, Ornithology/Bird, Botanical, Pictorial/Scenic, Travel Illustration, and Night Photography and holds the designation of Master of Photographic Arts from Professional Photographers of Canada.