6 Ways to Take BETTER Photos of your Listing (if you have to)
Sooner or later it will happen. Life is messy. Business is messy. Your photographer will get sick. Your seller’s kid will need a tonsillectomy. Or they haven’t cleaned up the ketchup (we’re hoping) spots on the wall in time for the appointment. Or—as has been happening in Colorado Springs and Denver recently—the market is so hot that you need pictures of your listing immediately, no time to wait for a professional, because by the end of the day you know you’ll have 4 or 5 competing offers on the place.
You find yourself forced to take pictures of your new listing with your iPhone. Sure, you can point and shoot and hope for the best. You know they’ll come out at least OK. But if you find yourself here and want to get the best possible results, the following should help. (And hopefully you have an iPhone, because they’re awesome! But even if you don’t, most Android camera and processing apps are similar, and you’ll benefit from this guide too)
For comparison, these were taken with a full-frame DSLR and a wide angle lens, processed HDR…
This becomes obvious immediately. Depending on your model of iPhone, the focal length equivalent on the camera will be somewhere between 28mm and 35mm—or not short or “wide” enough to capture a full room or interior scene. Most professionals shoot interior spaces with lenses that are at 14mm to 20mm, allowing for extreme wide angles and broad captures. To compensate for this, get as far from your scene as possible, cram yourself into a corner, maybe even set the phone against a wall and use the timer function. A few feet can make a big difference. The best way to overcome this problem, however, is with a PANORAMIC shot (More on this later though).
The difference between a good picture and a bad one is often proper lighting, or a camera’s ability to compensate for the improper. This is especially true in real estate photography. Taking a good picture of an interior space is actually pretty hard during most times of the day. If a camera is focused on what’s inside then the outside, lit by the sun, is usually too bright for details to easily be seen. This is why windows in most pictures you’ll take with your phone appear blazing white or “blown out” in detail-less highlight. The term “dynamic range” refers to a camera’s ability to capture both dark and light in a single image. Our eyes have really good dynamic range, better in fact than even the best, most expensive cameras. The trick here is to get the interior space as close to the lighting level of the exterior space. Turn on all the lights inside. Bring in more lights if you can. Or wait until a time of day when it isn’t as bright out, or maybe some clouds roll in.
You might think that closing the blinds or drawing some curtains would help, right? In my experience, no. You might be removing a bit of the exterior “bright,” but you’re also taking away the natural, ambient light provided by the window, and darkening your interior space further. It’s not scientific, but in my experience the “contrast ratio” or difference between light and dark spaces, stays the same, regardless of the covering on the windows. I like natural lighting, and usually leave blinds up and curtains open.
HDR stands for “High Dynamic Range.” If you use a professional real estate photographer most likely they shoot “HDR” photos. Professional DSLR cameras allow photographers to take multiple images of a scene, each at different exposures or lighting levels. One shot would be set at the lighting level of the outside as seen through the windows, and another is set at the lighting level of an interior space, for instance. These shots can then be combined with software into a single HDR image. The problem with true HDR is that it requires a LOT of computer processing power. But your phone’s processor is probably pretty good. It can do HDR too. A little bit. Make sure the “HDR” option in the camera settings bar at the top of your screen in camera-mode is activated (it should be yellow if this is the case).
Your iPhone will then take multiple pictures, at different exposures, and combine them itself, without any special software. The results aren’t going to be spectacular. But they’re a definite improvement.
4. IPHONE POST PROCESSING
The post processing or “touch-up” and editing capabilities in iOS are pretty extensive. Although the process isn’t the most efficient, you can do anything you really need in order to finish a photo, preferably one already taken with the HDR feature.
The goal in “post” here is to make the photo even more “HDR” than it already is. Put simply, you want to lessen the bright, and lighten the dark. Lower highlights, and raise the shadows. “Brilliance” raises mid-tones, and that always looks good. Play around with the settings, but you’ll notice that if you go too far in one direction, the colors (especially of any artificial lights) start getting weird. Post processing can make a picture look better, but again, there isn’t any magic here and usually when something is gained, something else is lost. So don’t go crazy.
5. BE CREATIVE
Tricks and strategies, sure. And the results can be pretty good. But you can’t always get by with lipstick on that proverbial pig. The camera in a modern iPhone is really, really good. But it’s still tiny. And attached to a device that is meant to be a jack of all trades, and certainly a master of none. One way to defeat this limitation is by using your iPhone camera in a completely different way. Don’t have it compete with a big old DSLR with a wide-angle lens, massive aperture and full-frame sensor — because in the end it can’t; it can’t compete.
But really, why should it? Take different pictures. Step out of the paradigm. Be creative. Instead of the wide angle HDR shot, take a sweet shallow depth-of-field picture of the cool painting on the wall, with the kitchen suggestively in the background and slightly out of focus. Take a close-up shot of flames flickering in the gorgeous gas fireplace, or a shot of your own reflection in a bubbling fountain in the backyard. So much of real estate photography can seem merely documentary, maybe a little lifeless and dead. If you’ve ever spent any time scrolling through albums on a social media site like Instagram, you’ll rapidly see that the most popular pictures aren’t necessarily those that are the most “technically robust.” They’re the pictures that have meaning, context, and a bit of artistic and creative juice.
This is the iPhone trump card, the secret weapon, the joker up the sleeve. And it’s why I saved it for last. Have you ever played around with the Panoramic or “Pano” function on the iPhone camera? It’s amazing. And it does something incredible that a DSLR can’t do…
The feature uses software to “stitch” together multiple images into one, single panoramic photo. And without distortion, for the most part. Sure, your windows will show blown “highlights,” but you can completely cover an entire interior space with one photo!
An entire floor, covered, in 360 degrees. A voluminous entertainment space, covered. Big, drool-worthy man-cave, covered. The possibilities are endless.
So much of the marketing of a home today is social-media based, for good reason. Facebook is still the king, and actually offers a pretty cool (and under-utilized) feature here to directly interface with your panoramic photo and display it in a 360 degree, virtual-reality interface.
All you have to do is upload the photo directly from your phone, and Facebook does the rest.
Doing the best with the tools that you have—sometimes it just comes down to this. Your camera phone is certainly a useable tool if it has to be, and now hopefully you can use it to its FULL potential. Comments or questions—YES! Cheers, and good luck!
*All photos here were taken with my iPhone 6S+ and processed only as described. They have, however, been optimized (shrunken) for the Web*