5 Tips for Photographing Houses - Digital Photography School

5 Tips for Photographing Houses

A Guest post by Joseph Osborn from Online Photo Resource.

photographing-houses-tips.pngMost of us don’t drive through neighborhoods looking for houses to photograph because, let’s face it, houses can be pretty boring. But from time to time we have a good reason to capture a particular house. It might be a childhood home we want to remember or a current home we are trying to sell. Regardless, when the time comes, you may find out that making a house look good can be a challenge. Here are five tips to get you headed in the right direction.

Tidy Up 

This may seem obvious, but mowing the grass and cleaning the weeds out of the gutters will make a house look a lot better. A few minutes with a broom can save you from an hour with Photoshop’s stamp tool.

Pick an Angle

Shooting from an angle rather than straight on gives the house dimension and character. It also gives you at least two choices of what to include in the background, so pick the angle that is flattering to the house and provides the best backdrop.

Watch the Weather

Shooting on a cloudy day will give you the best lighting for a house. The light will be even and diffused so you won’t have harsh shadows to deal with. 

Balance the Light

To make a house look cozy and inviting, there is nothing more important than balancing the light from the windows with the light outside. The key to achieving this balance is picking the right time of day. Even with all the lights blazing inside, nobody will notice them in the middle of the day. But as the sun sets, there will be a window of time when the exterior of the house can be properly exposed while the interior appears to glow with warmth (thanks to man-made lighting.) This may only last for ten minutes, so make sure everything is in place in advance.

Shoot in Raw

Because of the challenge of balancing natural light outside with electric light from the windows, this is a great time to use your camera’s RAW setting. With your RAW converter you can tweak the balance between the lighting and adjust the white balance to emphasize the warmth.

house-photography-tips.png

Compare the picture above to this one to see the difference twenty minutes and a different perspective can make.

photographing-houses-tips.png

Don’t wait to long. This next picture was taken eight minutes after the first and it’s already too dark outside.

photographing-houses.png

See more tips from Joseph Osborn at Online Photo Resource.

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  • http://www.matthewdutile.com Matthew Dutile

    Solid tips. My one comment would be on the angle. I actually prefer house photos from straight on instead of an angle. But that’s really a style choice, less a technical note.

  • http://www.adrianalucchesi.com Adriana

    Hello, great tips! Would like to leave just a comment… about the sky, that is too white in my opinion. What do you think about those 2 solutions for that?: 1- make an HDR photo or; 2- take the last photo exposure and use a flick of flash. Regards, Adriana.

  • http://thomasinstitute.blogspot.com Karen

    Wow! Good tips and SUPER GREAT example photos! This is what all DPS articles should be like!

  • johnp

    Thanks for those tips. I find if taking a photo to sell a house, using the widest lens you have makes the house look bigger and improves it’s appearance. You may have no choice anyhow if you want to fit it all into the photo.

  • http://clogwog.net tom

    you can get the same effect any time of the day by using HDR,
    real estate agencies here in australia seem to love that technique.

  • Guillermo

    Lack of perspective and distortion correction advise

  • http://jasoncollinphotography.com Jason Collin Photography

    A few minutes really did make a big difference in those shots. The sky is still blown out in the best one though, unless the sky was just totally overcast.

    A lot of housing magazines, at least in Florida, want HDR shots of houses now, both interior and exterior.

    I actually just put up an “old house” photo in HDR yesterday:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/7/6/old-florida-trailer-black-white-hdr.html

  • http://ideasasylum.com Jamie Lawrence

    I disagree that houses aren’t an interesting subject… I just shot a whole SoFoBoMo book about old houses in the West of Ireland: “Broken Houses”

    I’d also disagree about shooting at an angle. I shot many of my images straight-on as the old houses had a flat front wall and I wanted a slightly desolate look and to focus on the character of the house. If you’re shooting real estate images, then go with an angle to give a better dimension to the house. Also, I’d sometimes intentionally expose for the house and blown out the sky for a more stark look.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to make houses look pretty!

  • http://www.noregt.com Noregt

    I shot a lot of buildings this week and used either a graduated gray filter (if it;s cloudy) or a polaroid (with blue sky) to darken the sky, so it’s in balance with the rest. This save postprocess time and you can shoot a lot quicker with the same great results as HDR (and also a bit more realistic).

    Also, with a polaroid filter you can diminish reflections if there is a lot of glass.

  • LM

    Noregt, you mean a polarizer filter, not a polaroid :)

  • http://www.noregt.com Noregt

    Sorry lm, you’re absolutely right!

  • sillyxone
  • Barbara Louise

    Oooo perfect timing. Tomorrow I have to photograph a building, I have a wonderful cloudy day today, but I do not have my camera with me. Darn, but tomorrow I will. I am going to try to photograph the building in the day and then again just as the sun is setting.

    I was just given a polarizing filter to play with too, so I might give that a shot tomorrow as well !

  • http://rpcrowe.smugmug.com/ Richard Crowe

    I would also add:
    1. If possible, shoot with a longer focal length lens from a distance rather than an ultra-wide from up close; unless you specifically desire the distortion inherent in UWA shots.

    2. Keep the camera as level as possible. Tilting the camera up causes poor perspective.

    3. If you have keystoning effect wherein the vertical lines converge toward the top of the building (caused by tilting a wider focal length lens up); you can easily cure this in Photoshop (and perhaps other editing programs):

    reduce the size of your image view so you can see background all around it
    select> all
    edit> transform> perspective
    Grab the upper corner of the image and expand by pulling out until the perspective looks good, Often a little keystoning looks normal. You could place a grid over the image to assist in getting the lines vertical but, I just eyeball it.
    You then need to crop the image. When you select the crop tool, you will be asked to apply the transform. Check yes!

  • http://martinsoler.com Martin Soler HDR Photos

    Wow – some of these tips are great but I can’t say they all apply. There are a few more:
    1. Turn on all the lights.
    2. Shoot at twillight and shoot in HDR so you get the sky as well.
    3. Take a wide angle lens but make sure your camera is horizontal or be ready to fix it in post processing.
    4. And once in a while break all the rules and take an exceptional shot.

    http://martinsoler.com/category/buildings/

    I have been working with photographers for hotels and there are plenty of tricks. Now one thing you need to know is that shooting in HDR will give you some amazing results, the trick is to only use HDR in order to get the entire range of light and not to get some “grunge” look which can be quite horrible.

  • Larry

    Great tips and photos. I never would have thought an 8 minute window could be so drastic. Thanks.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/dereksbeard/ Dirk Smith

    This is the back of my house and my first attempt at an HDR image. I couldn’t get far enough back to get out of the way of my reflection in the patio door.
    http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4014/4699904738_edb37e90ea_z.jpg

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/dereksbeard/ Dirk Smith

    This is the back of my house and my first attempt at an HDR image. I couldn’t get far enough back to get out of the way of my reflection in the patio door.

  • http://jeffelkinsphotography.com Jeff Elkins

    When I shoot the front of a home no matter which angle is best, I like to see the front door, and if possible the door knob. For me it is a subliminal thing that I can reach in and open the door. Or another way to think of it is, if this was an architectural sketch, you would definitely see the front door.

  • Tyler G

    I agree with some of these tips but many more important ones were left out.

    I like the ones Martin Soler added, very important to have a UWA lens. Shooting with HDR will produce a better image. The twilight shots are not always best. I like in Colorado where we have some of the bluest skies in the country. Waiting until dusk, when you are on the Front Range, ends up leaving you with your lens pointing right at the sun. This is not ideal for view shots. Front Range view shots are always best in the AM.

    With that said, it is very hard to shoot for a specific time of day when you have more appts than days in a week. I typically average 50 + shoots a months during the busy months. There’s no way to hit each one at the same time of day and certainly no way to wait for cloudy days. Speaking of that suggestion, I completely disagree with it. Waiting for cloudy days will leave you with a lot less ambient light for interior shots. Even with HDR, all you would end up with is window views of grey skies. Who wants to see grey skies in their photos? I just had an appt today reschedule because there were clouds out. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but here in Colorado the blue skies are a big deal and 90% of my clients WANT clue skies in the photos.

  • http://www.g1mp3r.com mark

    great tip!

  • http://www.dcandmdmobilenotaryservices.com Norman Rosenzweig

    I love all of the wonderful comments. Can anybody offer how to use two Canon 580EXII flash attachments in indoor shoots.

    Many thanks from someone who is slowly staring out.

  • http://ravncat.deviantart.com/gallery/ Joseph

    get your verticals parallel and straight.

  • David

    Nice article. But I think about the suggestion of shooting in a cloudy day that is not 100% right because in my opinion a blue sky with just 1-2 clouds is much more nicer.
    in some places (for example: here in Israel) that in the summer are no cloudy days almost exist I think that shooting in HDR would be the best solution, but RAW can even be better.

  • romas13

    I’d also add plan ahead and take time for preparation. Many rules for landscape photography applies here as well.

  • Dave

    Try adjusting the exposure down by appx. 1 stop and ramp up the flash 1 stop (use hotshoe flash not pop up) it creates a nicer darkened sky, and deeper colors throughout while still lighting the subject home(experiment with various settings based on this technique). This is a good option for middle of the day sunny conditions to avoid the harsh effects mid day sun creates. And always make sure all exterior lights and if possible interior window lights are on for added drama.

  • http://fromthepast.printroom.com Carol

    The town I live in dates back before the Revolutionary War and I shoot homes around here because there are so many houses of different periods of the town. Some homes are so beautiful from Antebellum Mansons to 1700’s log cabins. I think photographing houses are fun.

  • Abhi

    Thanks 4 the clear good tips.. got to try them today itself.

  • http://www.blegerphotographyblog.com Bart Leger

    Good post and great tips. Thanks. Keep it up!

  • peter kovak

    Funny thing, but I like best the last shot. I’m more interested in the impact the picture might have than in the richness of detail, and I think the last one is more interesting.

  • http://www.photobooster.blogspot.com Daniel Morrison

    You’re not kidding about what a difference 20 minutes (or eight!) can make. You need to be set up and rerady to wait. Here’s a short tutorial I wrote on ‘Glowing Architectural Exteriors’ — http://photobooster.blogspot.com/2009/03/glowing-architectural-exteriors.html

    How about a post on shooting interiors?

  • http://www.photobooster.blogspot.com Daniel Morrison

    You’re not kidding about what a difference 20 minutes (or eight!) can make. You need to be set up and ready to wait.

    Here’s a short tutorial I wrote on ‘Glowing Architectural Exteriors’ —
    http://photobooster.blogspot.com/2009/03/glowing-architectural-exteriors.html

    How about a post on shooting interiors?

    Dan

  • http://ideasasylum.com Jamie Lawrence

    I’ve just written a quick article on why I think the new Sony NEX cameras are ideal for real estate photography:

    http://nextended.com/blog/2010/7/15/5-reasons-why-the-nex-is-the-best-camera-for-real-estate-pho.html

  • Bonak

    Cool. Please provide more info on house photograph in terms of lighting.

  • Phillip

    Hi!, this house its like our dream house. How can i get more images about it..?
    Please give me some link or something

    Great Article Thanks.

  • Earl J

    * * *
    any recommendations for the interior. . .?

Some older comments

  • Bonak

    July 21, 2010 12:22 am

    Cool. Please provide more info on house photograph in terms of lighting.

  • Jamie Lawrence

    July 15, 2010 09:14 pm

    I've just written a quick article on why I think the new Sony NEX cameras are ideal for real estate photography:

    http://nextended.com/blog/2010/7/15/5-reasons-why-the-nex-is-the-best-camera-for-real-estate-pho.html

  • Daniel Morrison

    July 12, 2010 01:36 pm

    You're not kidding about what a difference 20 minutes (or eight!) can make. You need to be set up and ready to wait.

    Here's a short tutorial I wrote on 'Glowing Architectural Exteriors' --
    http://photobooster.blogspot.com/2009/03/glowing-architectural-exteriors.html

    How about a post on shooting interiors?

    Dan

  • Daniel Morrison

    July 12, 2010 01:35 pm

    You're not kidding about what a difference 20 minutes (or eight!) can make. You need to be set up and rerady to wait. Here's a short tutorial I wrote on 'Glowing Architectural Exteriors' -- http://photobooster.blogspot.com/2009/03/glowing-architectural-exteriors.html

    How about a post on shooting interiors?

  • peter kovak

    July 10, 2010 11:35 pm

    Funny thing, but I like best the last shot. I'm more interested in the impact the picture might have than in the richness of detail, and I think the last one is more interesting.

  • Bart Leger

    July 10, 2010 05:22 am

    Good post and great tips. Thanks. Keep it up!

  • Abhi

    July 10, 2010 02:17 am

    Thanks 4 the clear good tips.. got to try them today itself.

  • Carol

    July 10, 2010 01:34 am

    The town I live in dates back before the Revolutionary War and I shoot homes around here because there are so many houses of different periods of the town. Some homes are so beautiful from Antebellum Mansons to 1700's log cabins. I think photographing houses are fun.

  • Dave

    July 10, 2010 01:02 am

    Try adjusting the exposure down by appx. 1 stop and ramp up the flash 1 stop (use hotshoe flash not pop up) it creates a nicer darkened sky, and deeper colors throughout while still lighting the subject home(experiment with various settings based on this technique). This is a good option for middle of the day sunny conditions to avoid the harsh effects mid day sun creates. And always make sure all exterior lights and if possible interior window lights are on for added drama.

  • romas13

    July 9, 2010 11:39 pm

    I'd also add plan ahead and take time for preparation. Many rules for landscape photography applies here as well.

  • David

    July 9, 2010 11:02 pm

    Nice article. But I think about the suggestion of shooting in a cloudy day that is not 100% right because in my opinion a blue sky with just 1-2 clouds is much more nicer.
    in some places (for example: here in Israel) that in the summer are no cloudy days almost exist I think that shooting in HDR would be the best solution, but RAW can even be better.

  • Joseph

    July 9, 2010 11:22 am

    get your verticals parallel and straight.

  • Norman Rosenzweig

    July 9, 2010 08:25 am

    I love all of the wonderful comments. Can anybody offer how to use two Canon 580EXII flash attachments in indoor shoots.

    Many thanks from someone who is slowly staring out.

  • mark

    July 9, 2010 07:44 am

    great tip!

  • Tyler G

    July 9, 2010 04:43 am

    I agree with some of these tips but many more important ones were left out.

    I like the ones Martin Soler added, very important to have a UWA lens. Shooting with HDR will produce a better image. The twilight shots are not always best. I like in Colorado where we have some of the bluest skies in the country. Waiting until dusk, when you are on the Front Range, ends up leaving you with your lens pointing right at the sun. This is not ideal for view shots. Front Range view shots are always best in the AM.

    With that said, it is very hard to shoot for a specific time of day when you have more appts than days in a week. I typically average 50 + shoots a months during the busy months. There's no way to hit each one at the same time of day and certainly no way to wait for cloudy days. Speaking of that suggestion, I completely disagree with it. Waiting for cloudy days will leave you with a lot less ambient light for interior shots. Even with HDR, all you would end up with is window views of grey skies. Who wants to see grey skies in their photos? I just had an appt today reschedule because there were clouds out. I don't know about the rest of the country, but here in Colorado the blue skies are a big deal and 90% of my clients WANT clue skies in the photos.

  • Jeff Elkins

    July 9, 2010 03:59 am

    When I shoot the front of a home no matter which angle is best, I like to see the front door, and if possible the door knob. For me it is a subliminal thing that I can reach in and open the door. Or another way to think of it is, if this was an architectural sketch, you would definitely see the front door.

  • Dirk Smith

    July 9, 2010 03:55 am

    This is the back of my house and my first attempt at an HDR image. I couldn’t get far enough back to get out of the way of my reflection in the patio door.

  • Dirk Smith

    July 9, 2010 03:49 am

    This is the back of my house and my first attempt at an HDR image. I couldn't get far enough back to get out of the way of my reflection in the patio door.
    http://farm5.static.flickr.com/4014/4699904738_edb37e90ea_z.jpg

  • Larry

    July 9, 2010 03:24 am

    Great tips and photos. I never would have thought an 8 minute window could be so drastic. Thanks.

  • Martin Soler HDR Photos

    July 9, 2010 03:22 am

    Wow - some of these tips are great but I can't say they all apply. There are a few more:
    1. Turn on all the lights.
    2. Shoot at twillight and shoot in HDR so you get the sky as well.
    3. Take a wide angle lens but make sure your camera is horizontal or be ready to fix it in post processing.
    4. And once in a while break all the rules and take an exceptional shot.

    http://martinsoler.com/category/buildings/

    I have been working with photographers for hotels and there are plenty of tricks. Now one thing you need to know is that shooting in HDR will give you some amazing results, the trick is to only use HDR in order to get the entire range of light and not to get some "grunge" look which can be quite horrible.

  • Richard Crowe

    July 9, 2010 03:20 am

    I would also add:
    1. If possible, shoot with a longer focal length lens from a distance rather than an ultra-wide from up close; unless you specifically desire the distortion inherent in UWA shots.

    2. Keep the camera as level as possible. Tilting the camera up causes poor perspective.

    3. If you have keystoning effect wherein the vertical lines converge toward the top of the building (caused by tilting a wider focal length lens up); you can easily cure this in Photoshop (and perhaps other editing programs):

    reduce the size of your image view so you can see background all around it
    select> all
    edit> transform> perspective
    Grab the upper corner of the image and expand by pulling out until the perspective looks good, Often a little keystoning looks normal. You could place a grid over the image to assist in getting the lines vertical but, I just eyeball it.
    You then need to crop the image. When you select the crop tool, you will be asked to apply the transform. Check yes!

  • Barbara Louise

    July 9, 2010 02:41 am

    Oooo perfect timing. Tomorrow I have to photograph a building, I have a wonderful cloudy day today, but I do not have my camera with me. Darn, but tomorrow I will. I am going to try to photograph the building in the day and then again just as the sun is setting.

    I was just given a polarizing filter to play with too, so I might give that a shot tomorrow as well !

  • sillyxone

    July 8, 2010 11:55 pm

    or find interesting houses :-D

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/07/07/the-craziest-upside-down_n_637570.html

  • Noregt

    July 8, 2010 09:58 pm

    Sorry lm, you're absolutely right!

  • LM

    July 8, 2010 09:23 pm

    Noregt, you mean a polarizer filter, not a polaroid :)

  • Noregt

    July 8, 2010 08:43 pm

    I shot a lot of buildings this week and used either a graduated gray filter (if it;s cloudy) or a polaroid (with blue sky) to darken the sky, so it's in balance with the rest. This save postprocess time and you can shoot a lot quicker with the same great results as HDR (and also a bit more realistic).

    Also, with a polaroid filter you can diminish reflections if there is a lot of glass.

  • Jamie Lawrence

    July 8, 2010 08:27 pm

    I disagree that houses aren't an interesting subject... I just shot a whole SoFoBoMo book about old houses in the West of Ireland: "Broken Houses"

    I'd also disagree about shooting at an angle. I shot many of my images straight-on as the old houses had a flat front wall and I wanted a slightly desolate look and to focus on the character of the house. If you're shooting real estate images, then go with an angle to give a better dimension to the house. Also, I'd sometimes intentionally expose for the house and blown out the sky for a more stark look.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that you don't have to make houses look pretty!

  • Jason Collin Photography

    July 8, 2010 01:38 pm

    A few minutes really did make a big difference in those shots. The sky is still blown out in the best one though, unless the sky was just totally overcast.

    A lot of housing magazines, at least in Florida, want HDR shots of houses now, both interior and exterior.

    I actually just put up an "old house" photo in HDR yesterday:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/7/6/old-florida-trailer-black-white-hdr.html

  • Guillermo

    July 8, 2010 12:39 pm

    Lack of perspective and distortion correction advise

  • tom

    July 8, 2010 11:53 am

    you can get the same effect any time of the day by using HDR,
    real estate agencies here in australia seem to love that technique.

  • johnp

    July 8, 2010 10:16 am

    Thanks for those tips. I find if taking a photo to sell a house, using the widest lens you have makes the house look bigger and improves it's appearance. You may have no choice anyhow if you want to fit it all into the photo.

  • Karen

    July 8, 2010 07:39 am

    Wow! Good tips and SUPER GREAT example photos! This is what all DPS articles should be like!

  • Adriana

    July 8, 2010 07:11 am

    Hello, great tips! Would like to leave just a comment... about the sky, that is too white in my opinion. What do you think about those 2 solutions for that?: 1- make an HDR photo or; 2- take the last photo exposure and use a flick of flash. Regards, Adriana.

  • Matthew Dutile

    July 8, 2010 06:49 am

    Solid tips. My one comment would be on the angle. I actually prefer house photos from straight on instead of an angle. But that's really a style choice, less a technical note.

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