How To Photograph Real Estate
Tools and techniques for better interior architectural photographs
|This Article Features Photo Zoom|
My real-estate agent recently asked what camera and lens I used to photograph my Homes For Sale listing. These tools and skills can be useful for lots of people, so I decided to write about it here. Even if you never plan to sell your home, keep reading for my suggestions on making better photographs of interiors and exteriors of any kind of real estate.
- Start with a full-frame camera and a wide-angle lens. Why full frame? Because the crop factor of a smaller sensor will make it harder to get ultrawide, which is necessary for interior photographs—and especially necessary for small spaces. Wide-angle lenses expand scenes and help make rooms look larger too. I find that 20mm is great for most home interior spaces, though I can get away with 24mm on some larger rooms. Even wider 17mm or even 15mm lenses are helpful for the tiniest spaces you're faced with if you hope to render them in any meaningful fashion.
- Consider adding a specialized lens like a tilt/shift for minimizing distortion and controlling perspective. I regularly use a 24mm tilt/shift lens when I'm photographing architecture and interiors because I can use it to approximate the traditional movements of a view camera. When a wide-angle lens isn't held perfectly parallel to the vertical planes in a room, the room will appear to distort dramatically. That means pointing a lens up or down to show the most important areas in a room can cause unpleasant distortion. The perspective control of a tilt/shift lens eliminates this distortion in camera, without the need for any post-production adjustment.
- If you're purchasing a kit to shoot architectural interiors, you'll definitely want to add a sync cord to your shopping list. Though I primarily use my flash on the camera, I sometimes tether it to a TTL sync cord to get the flash off axis, and/or point it directly at specific too-dark areas within the scene. Need to add an edge of highlight to the dark dining room table? No problem; just hold the flash low and fire away for a splash of fill until it looks perfect.
- Watch your white balance. While you usually want every light in a room to be illuminated, if you're struggling with matching white balance perfectly you may be able to get away with turning off interior lights and relying on the fill flash and window light to create a bright and airy look in each room. I use a simple gray card photographed in each scene—especially if I left on lights—to ensure that I could make one-click white-balance changes in post-processing. The other approach is to simply match the white balance preset to the type of light you're using—like daylight with a flash. Either way, automatic white balance adjustments can be fooled in many mixed lighting situations, so I recommend using manual settings for maximum accuracy.
- I didn't use a tripod. That's probably not great advice for most of your photographic needs, because a tripod will allow you to really make precise compositions and to shoot at small apertures and longer shutter speeds. But for my purposes, I cranked the ISO knowing that the small size my pictures would be printed would hide any noise, and I shot at wider apertures and faster shutter speeds. In the end I was able to work more quickly and make more compositional variations in each room. This helped me to create an overall beautiful, natural, light-filled impression of my home. It did require that I contort myself into some tight corners to get just the right angle, but that was easier done without worrying about positioning a tripod too.