Text and images by Deon TerBlanche Photography
I have been a real estate photographer for a long time. As such, I have had many notable experiences on-site. Hopefully, I can share some valuable insights and timesaving tips with you.
The most important part of a real estate shoot is in the planning done before the shoot. I am aware that time is often a constraint, so I use Google Earth and sun plotting apps to understand site conditions and to then book the best possible time for the shoot while keeping an eye on weather tracking apps a week or two in advance.
I also send the client a checklist of tasks and follow-up on these regularly to ensure they action the tasks which would include items like:
- Declutter the property. This is notoriously tricky for clients as they have grown accustomed to the clutter and no longer see it. My declutter rule-of-thumb is this: declutter a room until you are happy, stand back and then remove 80% of the items you can still see.
- Check that all globes are working inside and outdoors, and also balance the temperature of the globes (preferably only use warm-toned globes).
- Lock your pets and all their paraphernalia in the backyard.
- Remove hosepipes, swimming pool cleaners, tidy the garden, mow the lawn and clean the windows.
- Remove items that are seasonal, too personal and overly religious.
Invariably, the client may ignore all of the above, resulting in me digging in my box of spare globes and fishing the pool cleaner from the pool while balancing on one leg because the “don’t worry he doesn’t bite” Jack Russel is hanging from my other leg.
The actual shoot
- Lighting is critical. Try to avoid harsh sun and dark shadows. A soft, even balance of light makes for the best photos.
- Keep angles to a minimum. Images with crooked walls or sloping floors turn buyers off (albeit subconsciously), so try to keep things straight and balanced.
- Get the ideal height. Every room has a different height at which it looks most pleasing, so I recommend centring the camera between the floor and the ceiling, or otherwise just above the horizontal surfaces such as tables, couches, etc. in the room as this will keep the vertical lines straight and edge distortion to a minimum.
- Everything should be in focus, so stick to apertures between f/8 and f/16. In a long open-plan room, I would focus on a range of items (front, middle, back) and focus-stack them during post-production.
- Use anchor points (furniture or details) to connect one photo to another as this creates flow and a sense of space for the buyer. Remember that you are their eyes.
- Educate yourself in the techniques (on-site and in post-production) of window-pull, balancing ambient light with fill-in flash and exposure bracketing.
My take on gear
For the homeowner or estate agent not wishing to splash out on a professional photographer, my advice would be that you really should. It has been researched and proven time and again that you will attract more buyers, sell at a higher price and sell quicker if you use professional photos. But if you insist on shooting your own pics with a cellphone or compact camera, I would highly recommend that you invest in a tripod like the Manfrotto Element Small Aluminium Traveller with a MeFoto SideKick360 Smartphone Tripod Mount to hold your phone. If your phone allows it, shoot with a self-timer to avoid touching/moving the phone during the exposure.
On the pro side, the debate is legendary. I would insist on a full-frame sensor as many interiors like bathrooms, dressing rooms, etc. are just too small and cramped and there is not enough space to work with a cropped sensor camera. I opt for the Sony A7 III as, in my humble opinion, its value for money to spec ratio is unbeatable. It also offers a dynamic range of 14.7 EV, which is a great plus for the often dark real estate interiors one regularly encounters. To accompany your Sony A7 III, I recommend the Sony FE 16-35mm f/2.8 GM, which is a wide-angle zoom lens that achieves exceptionally high corner-to-corner resolution and contrast for real estate photography.
A quality tripod is an essential piece of gear for a real estate photographer. I am a lifelong convert of Manfrotto tripods. My pro version has seen near-daily use for almost 30 years, it has travelled the world, it has stood up for me in the Namibian desert, in dams and lakes and the Vaal River, while hanging from a cliff and even acted as a gimbal on a zipline excursion and it is still as good as new – all I have ever had to replace were the three rubber feet that got worn down with excessive use. I always carry two tripods with me to real estate shoots. The professional heavy-duty tripod with a raised height of 2m (not unlike the Manfrotto 057 carbon-fibre 4-section geared tripod currently on the market) and a tabletop tripod, namely the Manfrotto PIXI EVO 2-section mini tripod. I use the tabletop version in confined spaces. I don’t like ball heads for my tripods as they cannot handle the weight of heavier cameras like the Canon 5D Mark IV or the Nikon D850. I would thus highly recommend using a Manfrotto XPRO Geared 3-Way Pan/Tilt Head as they are much more stable and precise which helps to compose straight vertical lines. Regarding manual lighting, there is nothing that a Godox AD200 Pro with a softbox cannot handle.
Good luck with your real estate journey and forgive me for not waving next time you see me balancing on one leg near a pool.