We live in a world of images. From the hundreds of photos of impeccably poured lattes swirling around our Instagram feeds, to the stylishly appointed Airbnbs vying for our hard-earned vacation funds, quality photography dominates the modern web. House hunting is no different. The vast majority of home searches start online, according to a 2018 National Association of Realtor’s report, and in crowded online marketplaces like real estate sites, great photography stands out. But what’s the difference between great and so so when it comes to real estate photography? Are professional real estate photos really worth it?
To answer that question we looked at the research and asked a few professional photographers how they achieve their results. But first, let’s try a little test. Can you identify the professionally shot kitchen?
If you guessed the one on the left, give yourself a pat on the back. The bright and inviting picture on the left is courtesy of Getty Images, a company that commisions pros to produce stock photos, while the one on the right was taken by the realtor herself. In this one she wanted to call attention to how much counter space the kitchen features, but the lighting could be better, and the shot doesn’t give the viewer a sense of the overall flow of the kitchen.
Alright, now let’s take a look at the numbers.
Redfin, a techy-run real estate brokerage site with lots of sales data at its disposal, found that homes in the $400,000 range that were listed with professional photos sold three weeks faster and for $10,000 more relative to their list price than homes listed with non-professional photos. Those numbers sound impressive but hang on a sec. You already know that real estate sales are tied to the health of the economy, mortgage interest rates, that mysterious collective feeling known as consumer optimism, time of year, and good old supply and demand. Still, if data-crunching Redfin insists all the homes its agents sell be photographed by professionals, there might be something to it. So what exactly do professional photographers offer that non-professionals typically don’t?
What Do Professional Real Estate Photographers Do?
A professional real estate photographer’s job is to craft a set of photos that will make an impression and tell a story, drawing a potential buyer in, helping her imagine herself in the space. Staging and decluttering go a long way toward transforming your home into a sparkling version of itself. The photographer’s job is to bring it all together in a coherent, inviting way. Professionals who specialize in real estate photography understand how to showcase a home in its best light. (In some cases literally: full sun and just before dusk — photographers call it “the golden hour” — are great times to shoot a home’s exterior and sunrooms.) But let’s break it down a bit more, since the distinctions between professionally shot photos and non-professional ones aren’t always apparent to the untrained eye.
When photographing a home, you might be tempted to focus on features, taking close-up shots of countertops and fixtures. But that doesn’t give potential homebuyers a feel for the space. Professional photographers focus more on the big picture. A good composition accentuates a home’s design and structure, evokes a feeling, and gives a sense of how the rooms of the house flow together. In advertising and other creative industries we call this art direction. Projects without art direction tend to feel unfocused and arbitrary. You want your photos to convey a unified first impression. One behavioral researcher who studies home buying habits found that we become invested psychologically in a property before we’ve reached a rational decision. In other words, our emotions get ahead of us. First impressions, and the feelings they evoke, matter with real estate photos as they do in other areas of life.
Another thing that distinguishes professional photographers from non-professionals is camera quality. Put simply, the pros have better cameras. Specifically, we’re talking high-end DSLR cameras that cost in the thousands, with resolutions measured in the megapixels, wide-angle lenses, and flash equipment. High-end DSLR cameras produce crisp photos that can’t be duplicated by lesser cameras. But, I hear you saying, the camera on my new iPhone is next level amazing. I think I got this. Not so fast. It’s one thing to own a decent camera and yet another to use it well.
Professional photographers put their knowledge of lighting, angles, and exposure to work, making photos that are superior in ways that aren’t always obvious. And by superior I mean photos that are compositionally sound, rich in detail, true to life, and evocative. As I mentioned earlier, we consume thousands of good to excellent photos a day. We know quality when we see it, even if we don’t know exactly why.
Even photos taken with high quality equipment don’t turn out perfect. Getting the color balance right is essential in real estate photography. Professional photographers make sure the colors in the photos match with the way the house actually looks, and this takes skill.
And now, a note on what professional photographers don’t do. They won’t use Photoshop to make your house look better than it actually is. Freshening up the paint and making needed repairs should happen before the photographer gets there. (We’ve written about making your home look expensive on a budget, so check that out for some inspiration.) The photographer’s goal is to give a sense of the home as a potential buyer touring the house in person would see it.
OK, I’m sold on professional photos. Anything I should do to get my house prepped?
Glad you asked. Decluttering, deep cleaning, making minor repairs, touching up walls, and landscaping around the front of the house are all recommended prior to the photo shoot. For tips on decluttering, check out our article on getting organized. Professional photos are included when you list with Rabell. So don’t hesitate to speak with your agent to get a better sense of the game plan for photographing your space.
Bottom line: Online homebuyers are used to seeing quality photos and forming judgments based on a mix of emotion and price point. Though professional photos aren’t as crucial in a seller’s market, data indicates that they add value and speed up sales by making properties stand out in crowded online marketplaces. Now I’ll let you get back to photographing your food/kid/pet/self with that fancy new iPhone!