Photographing homes and buildings presents a unique set of challenges for a shooter. There are any number of variables that affect each project, this is an outline on how to make the best photos possible under any circumstance.
First, let’s talk about equipment. This is a basic equipment list, the ‘gotta haves’, if you will.
12mm lens (18mm after sensor accomodations). I use a Sigma 12mm, this lens provides zero barrel distortion.
Tripod with geared head. Making fine adjustments is critical for producing top quality images.
Hotshoe bubble level. Keeping things nice and level will improve your images greatly.
Flash Units. I use six SB-800‘s, but you can get away with just one.
Expo Disc. White balance is a huge pain in situations where there are several mixed types of lighting. An Expo Disc will solve this.
Let’s get into some specifics. The list below is more about the nebulous aspect of architectural photography, technical details will follow.
Taking fantastic photos of homes and buildings is less challenging if you remember these few things:
Let the building/home tell it’s story. Your job is to provide an accurate representation of the unit to your customer. If the home is dark, don’t try to blast it with light. If the home is bright, don’t shutter up the windows. A client will prefer images with dark corners or blown out windows to heavily flashed or shaded areas.
The house IS what it IS. You will inevitably run into a real estate agent or seller that sees the home as something it is not. You simply cannot make a $120k condo look like a $5 million dollar estate. Once again, your job is to provide an accurate representation to the customer. You may find yourself acting as a diplomat trying to explain this to an anxious seller.
Always remember that you are in someone’s home, not a studio or an office. Being formal and cordial is essential. You will be accessing all areas of a home, and you want the occupants to feel comfortable. Always be well groomed, and wear clean white socks every day (you will be removing your shoes in many homes). I have over 100 pairs of socks that look brand new. Clean socks that have discolored soles may as well be dirty.
Nature will always win. If you take pictures on a cloudy day, the images will show it. This is true of interiors and exteriors. There is a myth that cloudy days are better for shooting interiors, I have found this to be demonstrably false. If your client can wait for clear weather, then wait.
Over shoot. Take pictures from any angle you can find, as you gain experience, great shots will present themselves.
Here are some technical tips to ensure that you are getting the best shots possible:
Use wide apertures and long shutter times, this will provide warmth and will keep the shots from looking like crime scene photos. Add a touch of flash (1/64th) to combat color shift and to add highlights to the scene. I generally keep my ISO at 400 or 640. Anything faster is too grainy, anything slower shifts the colors too much.
Take advantage of the wide angle. A 12mm lens will allow you to get great shots of even the smallest powder room, and will show large spaces very accurately.
Stand back. Hold the camera to your eye and back up until you have the widest shot you can get, then you can set the tripod down and compose your shot. Don’t be afraid to include doorjambs into the shots, it will give the viewer a natural sense of depth.
Keep the camera below eye level of an average person. I have mine set to around 4.5ft, the lower angle will take the images out of the ‘snapshot’ category.
Keep your sensor clean.
Take light measurements from the darkest part of the scene and adjust your exposure from there. It is always better to underexpose than to overexpose.
When shooting exteriors, think of the building as the center point of a large circle. Walk the entire circle, shooting every time you see an appealing angle.
Here are some tips regarding computer processing and data management:
Edit the images as little as possible, get the best shot you can while on site. People are getting very savvy and will be able to pick out a heavily manipulated image in a heart beat. Limit your edits to color correction and resizing, if possible.
Develop a data management strategy. Shooting is only half of the job, you will need to keep your images organized and safe. I get calls several times a week from agents asking for images from last week, last year, or the year before. Being able to find them quickly will make you look more professional. I have 1 TB of space that holds my images in Aperture libraries, finding an image is as simple as doing a search for the home’s address.
Develop an efficient workflow. The last thing you want is to be spending more time at the computer than you did actually shooting. Use an application like Aperture 2 or Adobe LightRoom to manage your files, you will not be sorry.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. Just like all types of professional photography, you will need experience to define your style, and it’s your style that will bring in the $$$. So my advice is to shoot shoot shoot. One last note, be passionate about your images. People ask me all of the time if I get bored shooting houses everyday. They don’t understand the satisfaction I receive from the work, and that’s the way it should be.