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Updated: November 3, 2014

The 10 no-no’s of real estate photography (and how to fix them)

A real estate picture paints a thousand words, and yours may not be saying the right ones. Find out what you're doing wrong with your property photos and what you can do to fix them.

Selling your property online takes more than just flowery words; images are a huge factor in having potential buyers check out your listing. Your photos are your ticket to a possible sale, so you want these images to do your property justice.

Unfortunately, not all property owners have gotten the memo about the importance of good real estate photography. We still see horrendous real estate images that look as if the seller doesn’t care whether or not they find a buyer. If you’re planning to advertise your property online, here are some real estate photo crimes you want to avoid:

1. Blurry
What do you get when you cross a camera with a shaky hand or a dimly lit room? A blurry photo, which is unacceptable in real estate. It’s hard to get prospective buyers to focus on the good qualities of your home if your photos aren’t, well, focused.

That’s the last time you’re taking a photo, Grandma.

Stay as still as you can while taking your shot. Brace yourself against a wall or a piece of furniture if you have to. When in doubt, hand the camera over to someone with a steady hand, or perch it on a tripod. And remember to increase the room’s brightness by turning on more lights or opening the curtains.

2. Poor lighting
Taking interior photos can be tricky business, and the problem is almost always lighting. The amount of light varies from one room to the other, depending on how bright the artificial lights are, as well as the number and size of the windows. Too much light will create a washed-out look, while too little makes it look like you took the photo in the dark.

Power outage, maybe?

If you want to take advantage of natural light, play with how much the curtains should be pulled back until you get the brightness you need. Set up a lamp in areas where sunlight doesn’t reach to even out the amount of light throughout the room.

If it’s still too dark, use an external flash while taking photos to brighten the entire room. Got time to polish your photography skills? Learn high dynamic range (HDR) imaging, which takes numerous photos at different levels of exposure and then combines them into one image to imitate what you’re actually seeing in real life.

3. Animals in photos
You may have the cutest dog in the world, but he has no business being in your real estate photos. If anything, your furry friend only serves as a distraction from what your property has to offer. Not only that, people who aren't pet lovers might assume your home has lingering pet stains and smells they'll need to deal with should they buy your place.

Almost made it out, Spot.

Prevent your furry friends from photo-bombing your images by keeping them caged or leashed during your shoot. Make sure you also put away any indication that you own a pet, like food bowls and chew toys.

4. People in photos
These are, again, distracting elements you can do without. In fact, the only living things that should be in your photos are plants. No exceptions.

“Are you done taking pic- oh, uh, I guess not.”

5. Clutter
Does your home look like an episode of "Hoarders" with the leaning tower of old newspapers in the kitchen or piles of clothes in the bedroom? Try to keep in mind that you’re trying to attract buyers, not scare them away, which is exactly what clutter does. Not only that; having too much stuff on display makes your property look small too, and that’s another minus on a buyer’s score card.

House? Looks more like a furniture store.

Before you start clicking away, clean up your home. Remove anything that’ll divert a buyer’s attention, and add small items that accent the room instead, like a vase of flowers or a throw rug. You can also do away with the side tables and the extra bookshelf; these bulky pieces will just make the room look cramped.

6. Wrong object in focus
Which are you really selling: the house itself or the hand-crafted table in the living room? You might be taking creative liberty by showing off a flower vase and blurring out the background, but it might set off alarms with potential buyers. Are you deliberately training their focus on something else because there’s something about the home you don’t want them to notice?

Oh, good. I was worried there wouldn’t be a sink in the house.

When buyers check out listings, they want to see what the home looks like, not what kind of furniture you own (unless you’re selling the property fully furnished). Take wide-angle shots, capturing a room in its entirety. If you want to focus on anything, make it the crown moldings in the dining room or the neatly laid out stone walkway in the backyard. Unlike your other things, these are interesting focal points that are staying put once you’re out of there.

7. No or bad exterior shots
You know the expression “it’s what’s on the inside that counts”? Not all seekers will be that understanding. When people purchase a property, they’re also buying the exterior, so you want to give them an idea of how the property appears on the outside. Besides, don't you think it would appear suspicious that you can't even take a photo of the property you're selling?

House must be behind this church. Maybe we can find it in that aerial map.

A façade photo assures buyers that the outside looks just as good as the inside (assuming you uploaded some interior shots). Not only that, it also lets them find your property more easily when they agree to see it for themselves.

Take a photo during good weather and at the time of day when lighting is best. You don’t want anything distracting the buyer, so put away the garden hose and the trash can in front, and park your car somewhere else for a while. An even better idea is to capture factors like the well-paved street or the nearby park into the frame to give the buyer an idea of what the surroundings are like too.

8. Watermark placement
We get it: you want the buyer to call you right away if they’re interested. They don’t need to see your name and phone number smack in the middle of the image. How can they focus on how beautiful the property for sale is when all they can see is your brand in a matinee?

So there is a doorbell? I guess your phone number must be blocking it.

The purpose of the other ‘contact details’ field in your listing page is for you to put in your name and phone numbers. This means you don’t have to pepper your images with the info, which can take the buyer’s attention away from the home’s details. If you absolutely need to include your information on the image (which I still strongly suggest you avoid), keep it small and place it in one corner so it hardly obstructs any element in the picture.

9. Tiny photo
Your property might be far away, but does the photo need to look like it too? Small images make it difficult for buyers to see the important aspects of the property you’re selling. Zooming in will just cause it to pixelate so it won’t help, unless your home actually resembles something out of Minecraft.

I’m sorry, how small is the bedroom again?

Always use large, high-quality images. This ensures that the image remains sharp no matter what size the buyer views it in and no matter what device (desktop or mobile) they use.

10. No image
The beauty of advertising online is your can include multiple photos to showcase your listing. So when you upload information about a property and don’t take advantage of the photo upload feature, you’re not maximizing the potential of your ad. People respond better to visual stimuli, so even if you hire the best writers to describe your property, it won’t mean anything to them if you don’t have the imagery to back it up.

No photos? Next!

Most people judge properties based on the photos accompanying the listing, since it’s going to be their first encounter with that home. You want them to have a good first impression, so you need to share as many great photos as you can to let them know what’s in store for them when it’s time for an actual tripping.

More tips
Take as many shots as you can of every room and part of the house to increase your options. Don’t be afraid to have someone else look at your photos to get some input. If the images are met with a squint or a furrowed brow, you may need to take more.

It’s OK to use a bit of Photoshop to edit your images a little (color correction, cropping, etc.), but avoid too much alteration or buyers will think you have something to hide. Be careful with how you resize your pictures too. If you want landscape-oriented photos, take them that way instead of stretching out portrait images and making your home look elastic. And please, fix the orientation of your photos so buyers don’t get a crick in the neck from looking sideways.

If all else fails, get a professional photographer to do the work for you. You may have to shell out a bit of cash, but it’ll be money well spent if you sell your great photos lead to a sale.

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