Over the past four months, I’ve stayed at many Airbnbs and hotels while traveling in Portugal, Costa Rica, and Panama. What I’ve noticed while looking for accommodation is the often unprofessional photos these places use for their listings. Some were so bad that I went straight to the next list, without even looking at the reviews. And it’s so easy to create better real estate photos, even just using a cell phone, which I’m going to show in this article.
Now, I’m not saying you should head for a professional real estate photo shoot with just your cell phone. I use it here for simplicity and to show that equipment is often not the limiting factor. Good preparation, good light, a good eye and some compositional considerations are more important.
I also prefer the cell phone for this type of photography, because the reason I currently capture real estate photos is to document the places where I stay. my travel blog. This means that when I get to a place, tired from my travels, I don’t have hours of walking around with my tripod and the Canon R5 document it. I usually take these photos in less than 10 minutes before I unpack my bags. Keep that in mind when looking at the photos in this article – aside from some minor color, contrast and perspective fixes, they are straight out of my Google Pixel 5. I’ll also point out what worked in the photos and what I could have done better. Mistakes are after all a great way to learn, if identified.
Ingredients for a solid interior photo
The photo above, for example, shows the porch of one of the places I stayed in Costa Rica. I immediately loved this neighborhood because it is very open, it is bathed in beautiful soft light, there is a hammock in the background and above all a lot of greenery and vegetation nearby. Therefore, I wanted to show a lot of them in the photo.
Now ideally I would have closed the doors in the background and taken a darker exposure for the white patch of the sky. The first fix would have been easy if I had taken a bit more time and properly prepared the shoot. And that’s generally something you should do in real estate photography. Before you start taking your photos, take a full tour of the place you want to photograph, and make any necessary adjustments right away, so when you later enter the different rooms with your camera, you can focus only on the photo.
And speaking of the sky: Well, I didn’t want to involve a tripod in my cell phone photography, but bracketing your photos is definitely something you should do for a more professional result.
Now let’s compare this photo with another indoor photo I took a few years ago in Vietnam, at the time using professional equipment because I was on commission. Although the second photo looks more professional due to the way the room was prepped and lit for filming as well as due to the post-production applied, there are similarities. And identifying them will give you the right tools to create solid real estate and interior photos.
It might be a bit cliche, but in my opinion, indoor photos and also many outdoor real estate photos look best when taken with a wide angle lens. Whereas in other types of photography I regularly use normal and longer focal lengths to compress a scene for more interest, with real estate photography my goal is to create space and let the elements breathe. from the photo room. And with a wide-angle lens like the Canon RF 15-35 f/2.8 I can do just that. There’s certainly a place for detailed shots taken at longer focal lengths too, but you’re laying the right foundation for those in your series by going wide first.
The great thing is that even with most modern cell phones it’s possible to get that feeling of space, as they often include a wide-angle lens. The widest my Google Pixel 5 can get, for example, is 15mm.
It helped me a lot to photograph the bedroom of one of my Airbnbs in Costa Rica. There is often only limited space to move around and position the camera in these spots, so going far allowed me to still fit the important elements into the frame.
With the photo above, I also want to point out a defect directly, which could have been easily corrected before taking the photo. I should have taken a minute to get some of the creases out of the bed pillows and flatten the little rug next to the bed. But as I wrote above, these shoots happen quickly and I was tired after a long drive. So for a professional shoot you definitely want to be rested.
What you will also notice in the photo above is that it was not taken at eye level. It’s usually helpful for interior photos to choose a perspective somewhere between waist height and chest height to create a good balance between floor and ceiling in your photos. But be sure to avoid the contrarian view. You still want to see the top of the cabinet in the frame.
Stick to the place
Sometimes I would like to go even deeper than 15mm, but you have to be careful. Although I want the places I photograph to look great, I don’t want to create photos that are completely out of touch with reality. This is a problem I sometimes see with hotel photos, where the photographer has gone a bit too far to make a 10m² room look like a loft.
Finding the sweet spot is important and for me it’s mostly between 15mm and 18mm. For some parts, 14mm or even 12mm would be nice to have to avoid cutting furniture like you see in the photo below. But as I said at the beginning, equipment is usually not the limiting factor. Sometimes it can even promote your creativity if you have to respect certain limits. You will be forced to find different perspectives, which you can make work with your equipment and this can lead to more interesting photos.
And if furniture cutting is necessary, do it intentionally and avoid the few cut pixels. If you cut correctly, you can make the viewer feel like they’re standing in the room instead of looking out.
Avoid keystone distortion
There’s one thing that will make most architectural photos look unprofessional and that’s the key. While there are exceptions where it can be used to create very dynamic perspectives and make photos look more artistic, there is no place for perspective distortion in professional real estate photography in my opinion. So to create professional looking photos, be sure to avoid or correct them.
My main camera has a level meter, so I use that to avoid perspective distortion. On my cell phone, I use the edges of the frame as well as a 3×3 grid to guide me when composing my photos, ensuring that the lines created by walls, windows, doors and furniture are straight. In the presentation video, I show you how I do this.
Sometimes the perspective I want to shoot doesn’t allow me to get everything without distortion in the camera. If I manage to minimize the distortions, there is usually no problem correcting them in post-production.
By the way, there are lenses that give you more flexibility in the perspectives you can create when shooting architecture and real estate. And these are Tilt-Shift lenses like, for example, the Canon TS-e 17mm. The shift mechanism of these lenses can be used to change the perspective while keeping the camera upright and therefore the image free from perspective distortions.
Use the right light
Light is a great tool for real estate photographers and I like to use natural light for my shots or if I’m using artificial light I work with whatever light rigs are available to keep it realistic. You can also do light painting to take it to the next level. But it depends on the type of filming you are doing.
For the examples taken with the mobile phone, where I wanted to keep it simple, this was not an option. Instead, I tried to wait as much as possible for adequate natural light despite my sometimes tight travel schedule. As a general rule, morning or late afternoon light usually offers the most flattering conditions, if the goal is to create an inviting atmosphere. For a clean, minimalist look, you might not want the directional light and an overcast sky might provide the right softbox for your shot.
But once you know what your style is, you need to time your shots accordingly, which is what I did for the next shot. In such lighting situations you can often see the technical limitations of a mobile phone due to the enormous dynamic range. The Google Pixel uses an HDR algorithm in its camera app, which does a pretty decent job, though.
Prepare the space
Remember the photo above where I didn’t remove the creases from the pillows and carpet. These little things make a difference and they often only take a few minutes to fix. If you’ve read my article on retouching, you know that this falls into the category of things you can do to avoid any retouching or at least make it easier.
In the kitchen photo below, I made sure to prep the counters and arrange the units so they don’t look too cramped. It didn’t take long and makes the picture more balanced. For some properties, you may even want to rearrange certain pieces of furniture like chairs to position them properly within your setting. But if you’re on commission, be sure to check with the landlord or real estate agent first. It’s possible that they want the furniture arranged in a certain way and so that’s how you should photograph them.
In the presentation video of the article, I show you how I did the shooting for this apartment. This is an overview of the points I mentioned above.
To mix together
By mixing, I mean two things. First, you need to get a good mix of perspectives, showing the rooms you’re shooting from different angles. You can also get close to rooms for some shots, while shooting from the doorway for others. While you’re there, make every minute count and don’t hesitate to take plenty of photos, of which you may only use a small selection at the end.
Besides getting different perspectives, I usually also mix some vertical frames. Most of the photos I take with a horizontal orientation, but since I like to make little collages of my real estate photos for my blog, it’s good to include vertical photos as well. Depending on the shoot, it might even be something you have to do. Think of a shoot for a magazine, where they definitely need some variety for their layout and maybe even a cover. And yes, editorial photos are best taken with a proper camera using a tripod. For my travel articles, the mobile phone is enough.