Real Estate Photography Basics
In this post we are going to dive into the fundamental principles of real estate photography in addition to the gear you’ll need, how to set up your camera and basic techniques on how to shoot and edit your images.
So the idea behind this post is to outline the foundational concepts that are essential to shooting real estate photography and also what I think is the most basic way to shoot using the least amount of gear possible. We are basically talking about just a camera and tripod and shooting bracketed shots not using lights or any extraneous gear. I will get into shooting with lights and other techniques in future posts but for this post I just wanted to focus on the most simplistic approach possible.
So who is this post for? Obviously this video will be a great guide for anyone who is just starting out or looking to get into real estate photography as it covers the essentials and an approach to shooting that doesn’t require investing in a bunch of equipment out of the gate. Additionally, this post could be helpful to any photographers who are maybe looking for a more streamlined workflow. The information outlined in this post will be really all you need to know to be a working real estate photographer. As I mentioned, you certainly can get more advanced than this if you want to but you definitely don’t have to. You can build a full time business shooting in the manner I’m about to lay out and absolutely be successful. It just depends on what you're going for and if you are interested in exploring other methods in the future, this information will be a great foundation for you to build from. I personally built a full time real estate photography business by shooting this manner so believe me when I say that it is a proven method!
Ok so let’s talk about gear. First up, camera. I am using a Sony a7iii which is a full frame camera. I love my a7iii and highly recommend it if you are looking to go the full frame route. The main reason being is because it's great at both photo and video shooting. It's a fantastic all in one compact solution. You can certainly shoot real estate photos with a crop sensor camera, especially if you are just starting out and may be on a tighter budget. When I, myself, first started shooting I did so with a crop sensor camera. In the Sony world, this would be something in the a6000 series such as an a6600 or a6400. Whatever camera you decide to go with I highly recommend it have an articulating screen because if you have to bend down all day to try to look at your screen you are going to be hating life!
Now let’s talk about lenses. I am using the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM. If you are shooting on a full frame camera I do highly recommend the 16-35mm focal range. Every full frame camera brand has a 16-35mm option that I know of. I prefer that range because it is wide but not too wide and 35mm is nice to zoom into for certain things as well. I did a whole video on lenses that you can view here:
If you are shooting crop sensor then I’d recommend something like the Sony 10-18mm or something in a similar focal range for your brand of camera. You could of course use a prime but I feel zooms are just more versatile in this line of work. If you use a prime you’re going to be moving your tripod around a lot to compose your shots which will slow you down and get annoying real fast.
Next let’s discuss tripods. There are a lot of fancy tripods out there but in my humble opinion you really don’t need anything fancy. I mean, you don’t want a piece of flimsy crap but you don't need to be buying some $1000 carbon fiber tripod either. You just need something that is stable and has a half decent build quality. I use this $100 Slik 700DX tripod. Nothing crazy. Why this particular one? The main reason is the long center post it has. Most tripods don’t have a center post that long. This is great because I have a lot of range to adjust my camera height before I have to resort to adjusting the tripod legs which is annoying and takes a lot of time. I’m all about anything that makes my job faster and allows for more efficient use of my time. Also, this tripod is very sturdy and reliable. I’ve been beating the hell out of mine for years and it’s still going strong.
Ok so let’s talk about tripod heads now. So personally, I use this thing called the Nodal Ninja EZ Leveler which mounts in between your tripod legs and the tripod head. The purpose of this is so that you can level your tripod head easily and precisely by turning the 3 wheels around it. As far as the head that goes on top, It almost doesn’t matter what it is as long as it's halfway decent and has an accurate bubble level on it that you can see easily when you are looking down. I use the Benro S6 tripod head that is actually a video head which comes in handy if you want to use it to do any fluid pans or tilts if you’re shooting a RE video. It’s not the greatest head in the world by any means but it gets the job done. A lot of real estate photographers instead go with what's called a geared head such as the Benro GD3WH which eliminates the need for the EZ leveler I mentioned because it allows you to make precise leveling adjustments using the knobs on the head. Both of these approaches are just slightly different ways to achieve the same result and are equally fast so it’s just a matter of which way you want to go. I like my approach because it’s more versatile as it allows you to put whatever tripod head you want on top if you want to use it for video work or something like that as I mentioned. You’re not going to be doing any video pans with a geared head but if you don’t care about that then it’s a great option.
The last little piece of gear I want to mention is a remote shutter trigger for your camera. We are going to be shooting bracketed photos (or multiple exposures of the same image that will be blended together later in post) so we want to try to avoid pressing the shutter button on the camera as it may move the camera slightly and the bracketed photos may not line up perfectly later when we go to edit them. Yes, you can align the photos in post if they are off a little but this just eliminates having to worry about it at all and save you time in editing. I use these cheap little remotes by this company called Foto&Tech. They work great and I definitely recommend buying multiple of them because you will lose them a lot, put them in the washing machine by accident and drop them in people’s pools. Yes, I’ve done all of those things, multiple times.
So that about covers the gear. Not bad right? Just your camera, lens, tripod and tripod head that has some sort of leveling capability. If you are interested in any of the gear I mentioned I will link to it down in the description below. Now let’s talk about camera settings.
Ok so now we are going to set up our cameras to shoot real estate. The first thing we are going to do is put our camera into aperture priority mode and set our aperture to f/8. We are using f/8 because we want a large depth of field and everything in our frame to be in focus. Also, most lenses are typically pretty sharp at f/8. Since we are using aperture priority mode, our camera can then calculate shutter speed on its own saving us time for having to adjust it manually from shot to shot. Since we are shooting on a tripod, we don’t ever have to worry about what the shutter speed is because the camera is staying completely still the whole time. One thing you do have to watch though when shooting in aperture priority is the exposure compensation dial because it will be active and will effect your exposure. Just keep it set to zero unless you want to use it to adjust your exposure a bit. Lastly concerning exposure, we are going to set our ISO to 100 in order to capture the cleanest image. Sometimes I will bump it up to 400 if I need to speed things up a bit and there’s hardly any perceptible difference between the two.
Next we are going to go into the camera menu and set the camera to shoot JPGs (you can certainly shoot RAW brackets if you so choose but I find JPGs to be sufficient and will be going that route for this demonstration). For detail, we are going to set it on X Fine to get the most detailed image and for size we are going to set it to large for the full 24MP image. If you have a high MP camera like the a7r series then you may want to set this to a lower setting so you’re not working with gigantic files. RE photos mainly all just end up online so they don’t need to be huge.
Now we are going to set the drive mode, or how we want the camera to shoot photos. As I mentioned earlier, we are going to be shooting bracketed photos that will be blended together later during the editing process. I am going to set the drive mode to continuous bracket, 2 stops apart, 5 frames. So now when I go to take a photo, the camera is automatically going to fire off 5 JPG photos that are exposed 2 stops apart. This way we are capturing a wide range of detail throughout the shadows and the highlights so when composite these frames together later we will end up with one highly detailed photo.
Next thing is we want to make sure our camera is set to auto focus and I am going to put my auto focus setting on wide. The wide setting will work just fine 98% of the time. You may run into a situation where it's not working for you and you may need to change it to something more focused like single point or zone.
For white balance, I have mine set to auto white balance. I feel like the Sony cameras like I’m using do a pretty good job with auto WB but if you try it and think your camera is not doing well with it you may want to set it manually. Certain times I will set it manually when its obvious that the camera is having trouble getting it right.
Ok so just a few more things. First I’m going to make sure my camera is set up to communicate with my remote. If you are using a Sony camera and these little remotes that I mentioned, you need to go into the camera menu and go to IR/Remote Control and set it to on to allow it to receive the infrared signal from the remote. Another thing I suggest doing is turning off the steady shot or in body image stabilization if you have it in your camera. For one, we are shooting on a tripod so it’s unnecessary and secondly I’ve run into problems where my brackets didn’t line up correctly when it was on because it moved the sensor around during my shot thinking it needed to stabilize the image for some reason. The last 2 things are that we need to do is display our in camera level and my rule of thirds grid because I find it useful sometimes when I am composing my shots.
Alright, now that we have our gear in order and all of camera settings taken care of let’s talk about shooting!
Ok, so before we get into actually shooting some rooms let’s discuss a few general things first. The first thing I want to discuss is camera height. I typically have my camera on my tripod at about waist height for interior photos. Why? Because I want the right balance of floor and ceiling in my shot. If I’m shooting at eye level for instance then there will be a lot of ceiling in my shot and conversely if I'm shooting really low then I’ll have a lot of floor in my shot. I find around waist height is the sweet spot for most homes. If the ceilings are really high then you may want to raise it up a little. There are a few instances where I will deviate like if there is a piece of furniture blocking my shot or for certain rooms like kitchens where we need to raise the camera high enough so that we are not seeing the underneath of the cabinets because that is unattractive and also so we can see the countertops. So it depends on the situation and the room but unless there is a reason to raise it, I'm keeping my camera around waist height.
I always provide a wide shot of every room. All agents want the wide shot to show how big the room is. Whether or not the room needs additional detail or tighter, more composed shots of certain things is a case by case basis and up to your discretion. Most main rooms such as living rooms, dining rooms etc I’ll get a minimum of 2 angles. I always try for those 2 angles to be opposing angles; one from one corner of the room and then the opposite corner. By shooting the opposing angles, you are covering the whole entire room and what other rooms connect to it basically. Shooting from the corner of the room (or even better standing outside of the room and shooting from the entrance) will allow for the widest angle and make the room look the largest. From a compositional standpoint though, throwing some one point perspective shots in are a nice touch. The room won’t look as big but they are nice looking shots and it's good to have some variety.
The kitchen gets the most shots. I will typically shoot a minimum of 4 angles, one from each corner of the room if possible. Usually I will even get a couple additional shots as well depending on the kitchen. Most of the bedrooms and bathrooms will get one wide shot usually from the doorway unless they have something really nice that's going on that deserves additional shots like nice tile in the shower or something. The master bedroom I usually do a minimum of 2 shots of if it warrants it and the master bathroom will usually get more than 1 of if its nice. For the exterior, I’ll typically get 3 composed angles of the front of the house (off to the left, center and off to the right), one shot of the front entrance and also one wide shot from the street to show how big the front yard and property is. For the back I usually do two wide shots from each corner of the back yard facing away from the back of the house to show how big the back yard is. I will then do one shot of the back of the house and get shots of any features of the backyard such as decks, patios, pools and so forth.
To see a demonstration of some of these shots, please see the video posted above.
I hope this post gave you a good understanding of the fundamentals of shooting real estate photography. As I mentioned earlier, there are other methods with using lights and more gear and I will get into that in future posts but for this post I just wanted to cover the basics and supply you with a solid foundation to build from. You certainly don’t have to move to using lights at some point, many REPs have made a career of shooting without them. There are multiple methods for shooting real estate and they all have their merits and my recommendation would be to try different ones and see what works best for you. Photographers love to argue about which one is better but at the end of the day it really comes down to personal preference as they all can achieve great results. There’s no right or wrong answer.