Photographing property: Tips for vendors and landlords

Most people rent or sell their property via letting or estate agents, and in a competitive market there is great service to be had – some agents using freelance photographers like myself to market their properties. For those preferring to market their own property here are a few guidelines to help you create attractive images of your house or flat.

What Equipment will you need?

Most cameras are suitable for photographing properties; you do not need gazillions of mega pixels for an image that will be displayed on the web. However, if you want to show as much of a room as possible in a photo, a dSLR camera will enable you to attach a wide angle lens (usually purchased separately).

I find a tripod invaluable for interiors. Photographing rooms in naturally light frequently requires fairly slow shutter speeds (around 1/4 or 1/8 second) to ensure the room is nice and bright.

A flashgun can be handy, especially in properties with small windows. More on working with flash later.

For the classic exterior shot with blue sky and fluffy white clouds, try a polarising filter. Be sure to get one that fits the lens you intend to use.

What shots should you aim to get?

At least one of each room – and two or three images of key rooms such as kitchen, lounge and master bedroom.

You may also want to shoot interesting features – a beautiful (lit) fireplace, wooden beams, built-in kitchen appliances, unusual design elements etc. I once nearly put an offer in on a house just because it had a door disguised as a bookcase – so be sure to grab people’s attention with anything out of the ordinary.

At least one shot of each garden is required, and consider attractive views that may be had through windows.

Corridors connecting rooms do not need to be photographed exhaustively, but capturing a hallway or landing that leads through to a lovely bright space can give an extra sense of what it is like to live in the property.

Which camera angles are best for rooms?

Shoot from a low angle – between waist and chest height – so you do not see lots of boring ceiling. An exception is when you want to show chandeliers or other features that are higher up.

Try to keep the camera level with the floor. Tip it up or down and “converging vertical” distortion (the sloping wall look) will increase.

Shooting from corners can create a greater sense of depth than shooting straight down the middle of a room. But don’t be afraid to centre and square beds and other prominent features. For smaller rooms, you may not have much option but to shoot from the doorway to show as much of the space as possible.

Arrange tables, chairs, sofas etc to make rooms homely and inviting, but also to frame your shots. The back of a sofa in the middle of an image will not look inviting; try framing the shot with the back of the sofa in the bottom corner, facing in.

What about lighting?

Shoot exteriors on a sunny day and try to capture front and back gardens in direct sunlight.

For interiors, the aim is usually to make rooms look light and airy. When using natural light, mid morning or mid afternoon are often considered the best times to shoot interiors, but in reality there is no “ideal” time for any given property, as this will depend on when and where your rooms receive sunlight. Perhaps counter-intuitively it can be easier to shoot interiors in overcast weather. Cloud cover diffuses sunlight, reducing harsh shadows and lighting rooms more evenly.

Opinions differ over the use of house lights in photographs. Some people think they should all be on, others think that is indicative of a house that does not receive much natural light. My personal preference is to keep room lights off, except:

  • where the glow from chandeliers, lamps, wall lights, ceiling spots, etc adds charm
  • where a room has no windows, such as some bathrooms or en suites
  • when you turn on lights in adjoining rooms to avoid dark sinister doorways

If a large television is present in the scene, turn it on to avoid a large black space in your photo.

Flash can help you light a room evenly, reducing deep shadowing. Do not use the built-in camera flash unless you really have to. It produces harsh, unflattering light, and may add more harsh shadows. Flash guns (available for many dSLR cameras) are a much better option as they can be diffused and their heads adjusted so light bounces off walls or ceilings – further softening the light. When “bouncing” flash light off surfaces be careful that the chosen surface is not too colourful, otherwise your pictures may take on some of that colour. Generally you use flash to supplement natural light, so try not to fire it on full power. You want it just strong enough to balance and enhance the light coming through the windows.

A final little lighting trick for suitable for rustic kitchens on sunny days: boil some water and waft the steam around so that it catches the sun beaming through the window.

What props should you use to ‘lifestyle’ your images?

Less is more with interior photography; nobody wants to see clutter. Be sure to tidy as well as clean thoroughly before shooting. If things are poking out from under beds or the tops of wardrobes you are sending a signal that there is not enough storage space. Rooms cluttered with too much furniture can also look smaller.

Remove “personal” items such as slippers, spectacles and family portraits – you want your audience to visualise themselves living in the property, so avoid strong personal stamps.

That said, some carefully placed props can make a house feel more homely:

  • glasses of water next to the bed
  • books or vases for coffee tables
  • flower arrangements on tables

Doors are best left wide open when in shot, especially in smaller rooms to avoid the feeling of a cell. Open windows too, where practical, to make the room look inviting and fresh.

Is that everything?

Nearly. I tend to retouch all property images in Photoshop; handy for adjusting light levels and correcting some camera distortions. You may not have time to do this, but do be sure to only upload low resolution images to the web. Any image editing software can reduce high resolution (printable) images to resolutions suitable for fast web browsing. If you do not edit images at all, consider using low resolution jpg settings in your camera. Web images rarely need to be over 1mb in size, and larger images may take ages to load in web browsers, making people skip on to the next property.

To chat about photography or Photoshop tuition for absolute beginners, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

adrian signature

The Quick and Dirty Guide to Cleaning your Camera

Cleaning your camera may not be the sexiest subject for a tog’s blog, but it is something we all need to do once in a while to ensure maximum picture quality with minimum hassle – by which I mean avoiding having to retouch dark fuzzy blotches from our otherwise fabulous images. We will look at cleaning the whole camera: body, lenses, sensor (for those who can access it), before looking at how to keep your equipment in tiptop condition.

Caveat #1: If you own an SLR, the manual probably recommends that you visit a professional to get the sensor cleaned. Fair advice, but if you are very careful you can save yourself a few quid and still enjoy blemish-fee photos.

Caveat #2: This update features some of the least exciting images you’re ever likely to see outside of www.dryingpaint.com

 

Kit

 A quick shopping list to start with:

  • lens pen
  • soft microfibre cloth
  • camera wipes
  • bellows-style manual air blower (e.g. Giottos Rocket-Air or Matin Silicone Jumbo Blower)
  • lens cleaning fluid
  • OR a complete lens cleaning kit

All are easily available via a range of outlets, and are relatively inexpensive.

 

Dirt Detective

Before cleaning, check if dust is causing dark fuzzy blemishes on your photos. They are usually most visible in areas of an image where there is little colour or contrast – such as a clear blue sky – but you can double check:

  1. Selecting a narrow aperture, take a picture of an evenly lit sheet of white paper. Be sure to fill the frame with the paper.
  2. Examine the photo on your computer, zooming in to identify blemishes.
  3. If you see dust and blemishes (dark fuzzy spots), it may be time to clean the sensor.

image of paper being opened in Photoshop to check for dirty sensor

To make the blotches caused by dirt on the sensor stand out more I have adjusted the RAW settings to increase the tonal range in the image. You can see quite a cluster of telltale blotches on the left hand side. The ‘X’ drawn in the middle of the paper helped the camera autofocus.

 

Body First

Cleaning the camera body first helps keep dust from getting inside your camera if and when you clean the sensor.

Wipe the exterior of the camera body and lens (not the glass, yet) with a soft microfibre cloth or camera wipe. Do not use a household duster, or you will probably end up with more detritus on the camera than you started with.

Be sure to clean around the lens mount, so trapped dirt does not get in when you clean the sensor.

Do not forget to clean the inside of lens caps, where dust can easily collect.

 

Spit & Polish

Clean your lenses next. This might remove all blemishes, and avoid the need for sensor cleaning.

When cleaning the glass at either end of a lens, start with an air blower to remove loose particles. Do not use compressed air.

Place a small amount of lens cleaning fluid on a microfibre cloth and wipe the lens in a circular motion, starting from the centre, to remove more stubborn dirt. Do not put the cleaning fluid directly on the glass or you may damage the lens. Use a dry section of your cloth to wipe off excess fluid.

A lens pen is a great investment for location photographers. They boast soft bristles that shift loose specks, and a small non-abrasive pad for cleaning more stubborn dirt from your glass. I usually breathe on the lens and then apply the pad in the same manner as the aforementioned cloth. It will fit in your pocket, so even if you’re not taking a camera bag, you can still clean your lens on location.

 

The Scary Bit

You may be able to avoid cleaning the sensor altogether if your camera has an auto sensor cleaning function. It usually only takes a second or two, and may do the trick.

You can check by taking another photograph of your piece of paper and comparing it to the first. If you still see dark fuzzy blotches in the same locations as before then you still have some work to do.

boring-image2
It is only the fuzzy blotches that are of interest – the sharper spots are part of the grain of the paper. In Photoshop I created a new blank layer above the image layer and used a thin red brush to highlight the blotches . Clearly the auto sensor cleaning function in the camera did not do the trick this time.

If sensor cleaning is required, ensure you are in a light, dust-free room and roll up your sleeves so fibres from your clothes do not get into the camera.

Ensure the camera battery is fully charged, or connect the camera to a mains adaptor. You are going to be sticking things into the belly of your camera with the mirror locked up, and do not want that mirror to come crashing down mid-operation!

Mount your camera on a tripod if you have one, and angle it face downwards so gravity works in your favour: the dust falls out and no more dust falls in.

Remove the lens from the front of the camera (remembering to place caps over the glass at either end).

Follow the instructions in your camera manual to put the camera in sensor cleaning mode (this raises the mirror up).

Carefully blow air onto the sensor using a bellows-style (squeezable) air blower.

Do not touch the sensor with the air blower.

Do not blow air from your mouth incase you accidentally spit on the sensor.

Avoid compressed air; it can damage the sensor.

There is not usually any need to clean the mirror; it is fragile and does not impact image quality.

When you think you have done enough blowing, remove the blower from the front of the camera body and follow the instructions in your camera manual to take the camera out of sensor cleaning mode (this drops the mirror back down). Then replace the lens you removed earlier.

Check your progress by replacing the lens and photographing the same piece of paper and comparing the results to the image you shot previously. It is fairly obvious if there is stubborn dirt as the blotches will be in the exactly the same place as before, even if you have not lined the shots up 100%.

boring-image3
After a bout with the blower I took another shot and added this image as a new layer above the original image layer and beneath the layer of red brush mark. This enabled me to see where my blowing had been effective, and where it had not quite done enough. If you do not use image editing software, or are not au fait with layers then perform a manual comparison of the images.

 

Sometimes it takes two or three goes with the blower to remove all the dirt. If the sensor is still not clean enough, you have two options:

  1. Wipe your sensor with a sensor cleaning brush (risky)
  2. Take it to a pro (much safer!)

I only recommend option #1 if you are completely confident that you know what you are doing and have the steady hand of a surgeon. If so, a sensor scope or magnifying glass will help you examine the sensor in more detail. Option #2 will be expensive, but not as expensive as replacing a damaged sensor.

 

Don’t Do It Again (For as long as possible)

  •  Keep your camera in a bag when it is not in use, and when it is dangling from your neck, keep the lens cap on!
  • Vacuum your camera bag regularly to keep dust out. If you have been to the beach, vacuum again – that sand gets everywhere.
  • Wipe the area around the lens mount regularly to decrease the chance of dust getting inside your camera.

 

To chat about photography or Photoshop tuition for absolute beginners, call me on 07757 259390 or send me a message via email.

adrian signature

 

Property Photography: Real Beauty is on the Inside – Part 2

Many of the concepts I touched on in the previous case study (residential property interiors) apply to photographing commercial property. However, there can be some extra demands, and more diverse environments whose inner beauty, sometimes more elusive, still needs to be captured. This study actually encompasses 3 different cases, each with different challenges and requirements.

hotel reception area

 

Sometimes photographing a commercial property provides more scope for creative expression than residential properties. For example, I allowed the shot of a Hungarian hotel reception area above to remain much more dark and dramatic than I normally would when photographing a property for an estate agent. A brief burst of flash from an off-camera flashgun lit the foreground flowers without impacting the overall lighting.

The shot below – another room in the same hotel – might be too clinic or minimalist for residential imagery, but in the context of a spa hotel communicates cleanliness, simplicity and a sense of style.

colour coordinated spa reception area

 

Some locations I am asked to photograph are not quite so grand as the hotel above, but the tone of the imagery is still required to one of aspiration.

 

boiler in outhouse

 

A series of images I created for a local supplier and installer of biomass boilers took in a range of challenging locations from garden sheds, through dusty workshops, to barns and out-houses where the boiler took up almost all the space in the room.

 

boilers in outhouses

 

Where space is plentiful I could use props to help tell the story – such as the wheelbarrow of discarded pieces of wood that would be chipped to fuel the boiler – but sometimes the lack of space required shooting through a doorway just to get an angle on the main subject. In the latter example (image on right above) I placed a flashgun on a small tripod inside the room to provide ‘accent’ light on the front of the boiler housing. By firing the built-in flash on my camera at very low power I was able to trigger the flashgun without actually lighting the subject from the on-camera flash.

As with residential properties, a bit of flash is sometimes required to supplement the ambient window light.

 

showroom display

 

Although the high building opposite blocked some of the sunlight in the image above, I didn’t want the displays to be entirely back-lit, so a touch of flash bounced off the ceiling threw extra light into areas that might otherwise be too shadowy.

 

Small spaces can be tricky to capture in their entirety with a single shot – even with a wide angle lens. The image below captured a room in one Essex University’s iconic towers of residence. The bedrooms on one floor had received a period make-over as part of their 50th Anniversary celebrations.

 

small room Panorama

 

Shooting through the doorway of this bijou dorm, it became evident that lens distortions from my favourite wide angle would be impossible to correct satisfactorily. Therefore I switched to a longer focal length lens (fewer distortions), put my camera on a tripod and shot two images – each taking in half the room, with a good amount of overlap. I later stitched these images into a panorama; there were still a few converging verticals (a very common distortion where walls appear to lean inwards), but they were much easier to deal with, and I was able to show three side of the room in a single image.

I also took a few ‘detail’ shots of the retro life-styling the students had undertaken in the rooms.

 

period university room

 

Other spaces, such as meeting or conference rooms, require a different compositional approach to the student dorms; key elements still need to appear in frame in order to ‘tell the story’ (i.e. show the facilities available in the room), but the overall feel will probably be much more formal.

 

meeting room

 

Sometimes, at the end of a long and demanding shoot, I get to enjoy some perks (no pun intended) of this fascinating and fabulous job, such as drinking the freshly created set dressing…

 

cup of coffee in cafe

 

Some more examples of my location photography can be found here or to discuss your own unique requirements, just drop me a line.

adrian signature

Property Photography: Real Beauty is on the Inside – Part 1

I was originally planning to cover several cases in this study – including residential and commercial properties – but found there was more to say than I realised. So this first of two posts focuses on photographing residential property interiors for letting agents, estate agents and people renting out holiday accommodation.

lounge with wine and fire

Preparation begins long before any photographer turns up of course. If preparing holiday accommodation you might employ an interior designer. If preparing a flat for letting, you may refit kitchens and bathrooms or splash out on funky new furniture. But even if you are just preparing to sell one property as you move to another, a bit of ‘sprucing up’ will not go amiss:

  1. Keep it clean. Even ‘wide angle’ shots of rooms show up dust and grime.
  2. Keep it tidy. Clutter makes rooms look smaller, and is distracting and unattractive.
  3. Hide effects that are very personal (e.g. family photos) during the shoot.
  4. Consider a lick of paint if you haven’t redecorated for over five years.

twin attic bedroom

Most of the time it is desirable to make rooms feel bright and spacious (without distorting the reality of course). People assume wide angle lenses are used to make small rooms look spacious. This is true in the sense that wide angles capture more of a room than telephotos would.

bedroom with towels and lights

Another misconception is that photographers turn on room lights to brighten rooms that are too dark. Room lights do not generally light a room sufficiently for cameras to achieve an even exposure across the entire space. The same is true of window light – even large windows rarely light a room evenly. House lights are also not as powerful as window light (even on a cloudy day), so do not serve to create that bright airy look.

Besides, estate agents know that indiscriminate use of room lights may imply that a house is dark without them.

So, room lights are better off unless they are an attractive feature that deserves focus, or they help draw attention to another feature in the room. Our eyes are drawn to bright areas of images. With interiors, the brightest area is often a window; turning on a bedside lamp on the other side of the room won’t balance the light levels, but it can help lead the eye to that side of the image.

The simplest rooms to light are small windowless rooms that can be illuminated using just the ceiling light(s). A long exposure may be required to compensate for the relatively low power of household lighting, but with a tripod that is not a problem.

Most other rooms – that boast one or more windows on the world – are more complex – especially when the window is part of the scene being shot, as outside is invariably much brighter than inside. This often results in images where the room looks bright but the window area is ‘blown out’ (pure white), or where the window area is well exposed but much of the room (especially corners and ceiling) looks dark and dingy.

This is where flash can help. It brightens up areas the windows are not lighting adequately. At the correct settings you can achieve a perfect balance between the indoor and outdoor light levels (although I prefer to keep outdoor light a little brighter – it looks more natural).

window lit room

The flash built into most cameras is not suited to this purpose. Its light is harsh and unflattering, and can produce strong unnatural-looking shadows that distract the eye and ruin the image.

At the other end of the scale, if I were spending several hours getting shots of a single room for a high end property magazine, I might employ a number of portable studio flash units, each lighting a different part of the room or a different feature in the room.

That solution isn’t going to work for estate agents photographing a two-up two-down for their website. It might look fabulous, but few agents have hours to spend photographing a single room.

The compromise is ‘bouncing’ light from a flashgun off the walls and ceiling to supplement the ambient window light. Areas the window light doesn’t illuminate are brightened but because the flash is bounced you avoid the new (and harsh) shadows of direct flash.

It might be argued that this risks making a room look brighter than it really is, but in truth it is simply compensating for the fact that the camera is much more sensitive to varying light levels than are our eyes.

bathroom

Lenses – especially wide angles – are prone to geometric distortions, such as converging verticals where rooms can end up looking like a set from the 60’s Batman series – acute angles with sloping ceilings and walls. Some of these effects can be corrected with Photoshop, although it is not always possible to correct every distortion as correcting one can emphasise another. Sometimes you just have to make a call on which distortion is most innocuous.

The degree of lens distortion is effected by the shooting position; corners may provide the most expansive view of a room, but they also result in more distortion. Sometimes a central view is better – especially if there is something like a bed or dining table to provide a ‘centre piece’. I also keep the ‘horizon line’ level and avoid angling the camera towards floor or ceiling.

A final point on angles: shooting from a standing position may seem natural, but it will likely include more ceiling than floor in the shot. I prefer to shoot from around waist height; unless there is a particularly diverting feature high up, ceilings tend to be less interesting than what is beneath them.

dining room and lounge

Usually there are one or two rooms in a property that I want to make a bit more of a fuss over – the living area, kitchen or maybe a master bedroom. That fuss may take the form of a bit of life-styling such arranging books / magazines / flowers etc on a table or worktop. It may simply be taking some extra close-up shots of something like a roaring fire or quirky features like a built-in coffee maker. If a large screen television dominates a room I usually turn it on – preferable to a vast expanse of blank screen. Recently I even pulled out my macro lens to capture the details of a keyless front door, ingress through which was granted by finger-print identification.

keys - detail of property character

Where there are no ‘stand out’ features, a bit of light life-styling in the lounge or kitchen can help give an idea of a property’s character. And that, at the end of the day, is what most property photography is about. You are not simply showing the structure and space, you are inviting people to imagine what it would be like to stay or live in that property.

The next case study will focus on photographing commercial properties and few more unusual interiors.

Some more examples of my interior photography can be found here. However, due to the nature of the work I do not put many examples of residential interiors on my website; they may, however, be viewed on request.

adrian signature