I get many questions from Realtors about taking photographs. So instead of filling up the frequently asked questions page with photography questions, I created this page. My first recommendation is to hire a professional photographer, even if it's only to take one shot of the exterior. The only thing worse than no photograph is a bad photograph......Having said that, here is a typical question I get:

I can't afford to hire you or to have one of your tours done, and I hate those cheap roundy round virtual tours that make me dizzy. Can you just tell me how to take a decent picture of a house for the MLS and a simple flyer.......

Once, I asked a plumber almost the same question. I just wanted to replace my garbage disposal. He gave me some basic plumbing tips and wished me luck........Well, ten hours and a pint of blood later I had it replaced, and it worked......kind of. .........The very important difference between my garbage disposal and your pictures is that my garbage disposal installation doesn't reflect on me professionally.

If you still insist on taking your own photographs after giving the above story some thought; here is a list of problems I found with photos on the MLS and the local real estate photo magazines and a few suggestions on how to deal with the problems.

  • OUT OF PLANE: In my opinion this is a pronounced problem with the MLS photos. Unless you are trying to achieve a dramatic effect, hold the camera level. In photography this is called shooting "in plane". Remember you have two planes or directions; up, down and horizontal tilt. If you have to point the camera up or down to get a shot make absolutely sure it is level horizontally.......Back To List
  • SOFT SHOTS: The most common problems associated with blurry (soft) photos are camera shake and/or missed focus. The new point & shoot cameras are fairly good at judging what you are wanting to focus on, and at making correct exposure settings. The problem is that point & shoot camera lenses just aren't that fast (they do not allow a lot of light in). The camera adjusts the shutter speed to let enough light in to expose the scene. The problem then is you are trying to hold it completely still while the camera exposes the scene. One eighth of a second is a long time when you are trying to hold a camera steady.

    The solution to both of the above problems is to get a tripod. It doesn't have to be a high dollar graphite tripod, you can get a steady aluminum one from Wal-Mart. I prefer to use a ball head instead of the heads that come on most tripods. Nova Flex sells a nice little panning ball head for around $40.00 that will support most point & shoot cameras. If you decide to use a ball head, make sure the head on the tripod you buy is removable. Buy a small bubble level to set on the camera and you are ready to go.

    The reason I prefer a ball head is that I find it much easier to level the camera. Just level the camera with the ball head vs. trying to level the camera by adjusting the tripod legs. The whole setup is less than $100.00 and will improve your shots dramatically.........Just remember this is a minimal setup. For comparison, my ball head, camera supports, and tripod cost a little over $3,000.00..........Back To List

  • WHITE BALANCE: Photos shot with the wrong white balance are the shots that have an odd color tint to them. This is one area where most cameras have a difficult time, especially with architectural photography. Why?......Let's use a kitchen for example. Many times there is fluorescent light coming from the ceiling, tungsten light from the fixtures over the counters, and sunlight from the windows and/or skylight. Kitchens are usually well lit, which is good, but they are lit with several different types of light, which is bad.

    Each type of light has a different color cast and is measured in temperature (kelvin). Technically, color temperature refers to the temperature to which one would have to heat a theoretical "black body" source to produce light of the same visual color.......I have found the study of light to be a fascinating subject, but, for a more detailed explanation I would need to break out the physics textbook, and my wife tells me most people would prefer I not do that.

    Anyway, the kelvin temperature scale of light is why you see those goofy numbers in the custom white balance settings on your camera. Below is a list of "in general" settings for different types of light. These will give you a place to start from; the settings will vary from camera to camera, so it is best to test your camera. Set your camera on your new tripod and turn on all the lights in the kitchen. Then repeat the same shot using different white balance settings. I think you will be surprised at the difference you will see between the shots. With just a little practice, you will be able to achieve some pleasing results.

1500-1800 K: Match Flame
1850-1930 K: Candle Flame
2000-3000 K: Sun at Sunrise or Sunset
2500-2900 K: Household Tungsten Bulbs
3000 K: Tungsten Lamp 500w-1000w
3200-3500 K: Quartz Lights
3200-7500 K: Fluorescent Lights (fluorescent lighting comes in many different spectrums)
3275 K: Tungsten Lamp 2k
3380 K: Tungsten Lamp 5k-10k
5000-5400 K: Direct Sun at Noon
5500-6500 K: Daylight (Sun + Sky)
6000-7500 K: Sky (overcast)
7000-8000 K: Outdoor Shade Areas
8000-10000 K: Sky (Partly Cloudy)

Professionals usually use a calibrated white or gray card, or a great little device called an ExpoDisc. We also shoot in the "RAW" file format which gives the greatest latitude for adjustments during post processing..........Back To List

  • DYNAMIC RANGE: In my opinion this is the most difficult area within architectural photography. The dynamic range (exposure range) of a camera is the range of light intensity the sensor can capture without clipping (losing information). You can graphically see this using the histogram on your camera. All of you have tried to take a shot of a room facing the windows. What happens? If you can see the beautiful view out the window the inside is almost black; if you can see the inside of the room the windows look like big white spots. Even the human eye has a set dynamic range, this is why you can't see anything when you walk into a movie theater on a sunny day, or when you walk out of the theater you are blinded by the bright outside light. It takes time for your eyes to adjust their "f-stops" so to speak.

    The solution to this problem is simple, we need to "balance" the light. In other words we need to adjust the light so the whole scene is within the dynamic range (exposure range) of the camera sensor. But, as with many solutions in life, simple doesn't necessarily mean easy.

    Most of you don't have a medium format camera and two assistants with 1600 watt strobes in each hand following you around. So how do mere mortals deal with the dynamic range problem?

    •The first thing that comes to mind is don't point your camera at the windows......I'm not being a smart b*** so don't get all huffy.........Use the light from the windows to your advantage. Put your back to the window and look around the room, you might be surprised at the shots that are available to you from this angle. Open the doors and shoot into the room with the light behind you. Then turn on all the lights while doing this and take another set of shots. If you pay attention to your white balance you can get some very pleasing shots.

    •Most point & shoot camera flashes are useless when it comes to photographing a room. But practice with it anyway and learn how much coverage your flash gives you; it could come in handy in certain situations.

    •Close all the drapes and window coverings if you can and take a set of shots. What looks dim and dull to you, the camera will expose very nicely. You will definitely need a tripod for these shots. Try this with different room lights on and off. Again, pay attention to the white balance.

    •OK, so far we've done our best not to shoot those big beautiful windows with the gorgeous view. It's time to face the music (or window in our case). Remember, we need to balance the light. We have two choices; we can brighten up the inside light or we can darken the outside light........You can go to Home Depot and get some of those contractor lights, the ones with two to four halogen lights mounted on a stand. You will be surprised at how well these work. Just remember to point them at the ceiling or a light-colored wall that will not be in the shot. Bounced soft light is much better than harsh direct light. Be careful to watch for reflections in those big windows. With a little practice you will get some very nice shots.........The other option is to darken the outside light, in other words wait for the sun to go down. It will take a little practice but soon you will be able to judge when the light outside is balanced with the inside. This is usually a very doable option during the winter because the sun sets so early. Your clients may not want you hanging around until 9:00 or 10:00 o'clock in the evening during the summer..........Back To List

  • COMPOSITION: The lenses on point & shoot cameras are simply not wide enough for most architectural photography, so literally speaking, your back should be up against the wall. Try to get as wide a shot as possible......Shoot from the corner of the room when possible. If the camera is level you will get some good shots, especially in the larger homes. Shooting at an angle vs. straight on will also work on the exterior of the house. You will be able to get more of the house in frame and you will find that shooting at angles will give a more pleasing effect to the shot. It is critical that the camera is level when shooting at an angle.........Back To List
  • MORE IS NOT BETTER: I want to drive this point home......It is better to have a few good shots vs. several bad shots. Looking through the MLS I thought I was browsing through a home furnishing site. There is really no need to shoot "the bed". If you can't get the shot then you just can't get the shot. Don't ruin your good shots with silly ones. Any marketing professional will tell you that one good shot is much better than a hundred mediocre or bad shots. So learn a little about your camera and concentrate on getting a few good shots...........Back To List
  • HIGH QUALITY SETTING: Another problem that stands out to me is that many of the photos on the MLS are very low quality. I think much of this problem stems from the misconception that because the photos will only be used for the web, real estate agents think their camera should be set on the medium or low quality setting. I've had several agents brag to me about how many photos they can get on their memory card. It really doesn't matter that you can get fifteen hundred low res photos on your card, what we need is three or four good shots. Your camera should be set on the highest quality setting it has. Photo processing software has become very adept at downsizing photos, but, the higher quality the photo is to start with (more information for the program) the better the software can downsize it. Shooting with your camera set for the highest quality will also allow you to crop the photo and still have enough resolution left in the crop for it to look good............Back To List
  • POST PROCESSING: Digital photographs are not that much different than film photographs. We are just using a different medium to capture the image. In the old days we used different types of film and chemicals. Today we use flash memory and computers. Digital images need to be processed just like film needed to be processed. The general rule still applies; the better photo you start with the better photo you will end up with. Don't rely on the post processing software to salvage a bad shot.

Some of the photos on the MLS aren't that bad, but it's obvious they have either had no processing or the wrong processing. I don't mean you have to become a nerd; hitting the auto correct button would improve the photos substantially.

There are numerous versions of photo processing software available. I recommend Photoshop Elements to beginners. It is reasonably priced (about $100.00) and easy to use. If you decide to get more involved, Photoshop Elements will use most of the add-on programs and actions that Photoshop does. Later if you really get fired up and upgrade to Photoshop it won't be a totally new program to learn..........Back To List

•CONCLUSION: To write this page I thought I should "walk a mile in your shoes" as an old saying goes; so I borrowed several point & shoot cameras and photographed a house I have access to.

I was impressed with some of these cameras. A couple of them had IS (image stabilization) which did help with the low light shots. I still recommend using a tripod even with the IS cameras. A couple of the cameras had a "wide angle" add-on lens. I found these to be mostly useless. The photographs were terribly distorted, even after using "defish" software on these photographs the quality just wasn't there. Using the suggestions in the above tips I was able to get some nice shots. As I mentioned above, the two most pronounced problems with these cameras are the slow lenses and the the fact the lenses just aren't wide enough. The tripod took care of the slow glass, and if you use your imagination to get as wide a shot as possible you will end up with some usable shots.

I used the MLS photos to critique because these photos are seen worldwide; Realtor.com, the public side of MLS, etc. The photos on the MLS are a direct reflection on you and the way you do business, so get out there and practice with your camera.

There are many areas of photography I haven't covered on this page. But if you will try the above tips and practice with your camera, you will get some pleasing shots.

Thanks for visiting my website,

Good Luck & Good Shooting................Back To List