Dawn Miller Webb doesn’t make it a practice to list homes on the MLS without photos. But early in 2017, she represented a property that had significant flood damage; it had no flooring, and half the drywall was missing. Her client was selling the home in as-is condition. Webb, a sales associate with Keller Williams Elite Town Center in Virginia Beach, Va., listed the home in the morning, with plans to take pictures of the property herself in the afternoon. But before she had the chance, Webb received a call from Hampton Roads Real Estate Photography. The agency saw the listing online without pictures and offered their services.
“The way they made their pitch was coming more from offering value than selling their services,” Webb says. She hired Hampton Roads owner and photographer Jordan DiCaprio, and despite the condition of the property, his photos highlighted the home’s layout and unique lot. After adding DiCaprio’s photos to the online listing, Webb’s client received six written offers and four verbal ones. “The seller and I were pleased,” Webb adds.
Professional photos not only get more clicks on your online listings but also bring more buyers in the door. “Photos and videos for marketing a property are one of the few items that remain discretionary and can give [agents] an edge,” says Jacy Riedmann, vice president of Amoura Productions Real Estate Photography & Video in Austin, Texas. “Losing a $10,000 to $20,000 commission can and does come down to spending $100 to $200 on marketing media. Top agents understand that kind of leverage and almost never leave it to chance.”
If you’re ready to step up your photography game, you need to make sure you’re hiring a professional with the right equipment and expertise. Here’s what to look for.
The human eye is an amazing instrument that cameras try to mimic. But unlike our natural eyesight, most cameras have a hard time capturing the entirety of a room, and it usually comes down to the lens.
Kurt Hilton, a former real estate agent turned professional photographer in Cary, N.C., shot more than 100 listings in 2017 with a Nikon D610 and 14-24mm, f/2.8 lens. The wide-angle lens is imperative for shooting real estate images because it offers a larger field of view. A wide angle describes a lens with a focal length of 24mm and under. As the owner of Kurt Hilton Photography, Hilton will also use a fixed 50mm static lens—which is a standard field of view—to shoot more detailed photos of appliances, stone fireplaces, and other key selling features.
For aerial shots, Hilton uses the DJI Phantom 3 drone and is considering an upgrade to the Mavic Pro model. “I almost think a drone is a necessity at this point,” Hilton says. Real estate professionals should find a photographer who can do both still and aerial shots as well as video, he adds, so that you don’t have to hire multiple people to shoot a listing.
Daniel Rothamel, ABR, a buyer’s agent and manager with Strong Team, REALTORS®, in Palmyra, Va., is also a fan of DJI drones. As an FAA-licensed drone pilot, he takes all the photos and videos for his team’s listings and says it’s essential for agents to hire FAA-licensed photographers in order to provide a competitive marketing edge.
“Get the best camera your budget allows,” he advises practitioners who are considering shooting their own listings. But the key is being comfortable with the equipment. “The best tool is the one you can use,” he says.
When it comes to equipment, Riedmann says there is some variety allowed. “If you’re talking about MLS listing photos, you need a professional-grade camera,” she says. Nikon, Canon, Sony, Panasonic, and other major brands have excellent prosumer- and consumer-grade cameras. However, Riedmann says, it’s painfully obvious when a consumer camera has been used to take listing photos. “That’s where you see a significant amount of degrading on the image, like inaccurate colors, warping, and grain.” So if you are going to shoot your own listing, you need to invest the money in a professional camera and lens and in the time to learn how to operate your equipment.
On the other hand, for social media marketing needs, Riedmann says a high-quality smartphone or consumer camera can go a long way for showing off a property’s little touches and flourishes. “Social media is a lot more forgiving on the image quality and can be doctored up with graphics and text programs for ‘coming soon’- or ‘recently sold’-style marketing,” Riedmann says. “I love taking a few Instagram-style shots with my iPhone when shooting a unique property—even with expensive gear in my hand. There’s something exciting about that instant posting ability.”
The biggest element that separates amateur and professional photographers is the quality of the lighting they use to shoot the house, DiCaprio says. Everything in a house is affected by light. For instance, natural light from windows can sometimes cast a blue tone on a white room, DiCaprio says. But if you rely on standard lightbulbs, the room will have a yellower tone. Gray is a popular contemporary paint color, as are dark hardwood floors. These darker design elements are difficult to capture with natural light alone.
Professional photographer Jordan DiCaprio says you can't always rely solely on natural light to provide enough illumination in listing photos.
In order to control the light in a home, DiCaprio uses a 600-watt studio strobe flash. It gives him more power than the 40 or 50 watts in a built-in camera flash. Depending on the home, DiCaprio may also use a 500-watt studio light directed toward the ceiling to create light fill in a room. “Regardless of the camera you have, if you shoot a house that doesn’t have good lighting, it’s going to look dark. The camera isn’t going to magically see it better,” he says.
Hilton says sellers and agents often ask whether they should leave house lights on or off during a photo shoot. With an external flash, it may not matter for the color of the shot. But whichever direction you choose, it’s important to be consistent, he says. “The agent or broker should be talking to their clients before the photographer comes,” Hilton says. In homes that mix warm and cool lights in the same room, turn the lights off.
The photographers you hire are likely to interact with your clients, so you want to look for someone who will represent you well. “Outside of the house, I’m just representing me. But when a client hires me to shoot photos of a home, I’m coming in as a contracted employee—as a part of the agent’s team,” Hilton says.
Photographers need to be approachable and engaging, Rothamel adds. Some sellers may want to get involved or try to direct a shoot, and professional photographers should know how to manage those requests.
Workflow is another topic real estate pros need to address when hiring a new photographer, including how quickly they can be scheduled to shoot a listing and how long it will take to deliver the photos. When the images are delivered, it’s crucial that they are in a logical order—foyer, dining room, kitchen, living room—so that potential buyers can get a sense of the layout.