Real Estate Photography: Get Better Results with the Right Equipment

Real Estate Photography: Get Better Results with the Right Equipment

Real estate photography throws many challenges your way, just like any type of photography.

You deal with perspective issues and light and shadow extremes that confound even the best cameras. You also need to be critically aware of your surroundings and probably have very limited time to do the job.

The good news is, creating pleasing photos of interior rooms no longer requires a great deal of investment and experience. Nowadays, it only requires a few specific items, a few pointers, and a little practice.

In this article, you’ll learn how to get better results with the right equipment to take your real estate photography to the next level.

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Which camera to choose for Real Estate Photography

Smart Phones

While the main choices for real estate photography are between DSLR or mirrorless cameras, you may hear an argument in favor of modern smartphones too.

While smartphone cameras are useful for some scenarios, they are not well suited to real estate photography.

Some of the main downfalls of smartphones include:

  • Smartphone Apps process the image for you, resulting in a processed JPG image that you have little or no control over. The ‘lossy’ nature of JPG discards much of the original information, limiting what you can do in post-processing.
  • The sensors are tiny, with the pixels packed in tight, reducing the dynamic range and causing more noise.
  • Lenses are tiny and generally made of plastic. They lack the precision of milled glass lenses, and are easily scuffed or scratched. Lens quality plays a big part in achieving good quality images, so it’s unrealistic to expect the same performance that you’d get from a camera lens.

Smartphones perform well under ideal lighting conditions; however, interior real estate photography presents some of the most challenging light you’ll find in photography.

Use your smartphone as a tool to find great compositional angles, but not as your main photographic equipment.

See other ways a smartphone can be used here.

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DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras

Whether your preference is a DSLR or mirrorless camera, your primary choice is format: Full Frame, Crop-sensor or Micro 4/3.

Each format changes the field of view (FOV) of a given lens. You can think of the FOV as the ‘zoom’ of the lens.

Full-frame equates to the standard 35mm film view of analog cameras and is the standard measurement still used today.

Crop-sensor cameras have smaller sensors, creating a ‘zoom’ effect of 1.5X or 1.6X. Micro four-thirds (M4/3) cameras increase the ‘zoom’ by 2X.

In practical terms, a 50mm lens on a full frame camera produces almost the same field of view as a 35mm lens on a crop-sensor camera. That same field of view results from a 25mm lens on a Micro 3/4 camera.

It’s vital to understand that different sensor sizes impact the focal length of a lens.

When reading advice on which lens to use, always remind yourself it’s the ‘equivalent’ focal length, then do the calculations as described above for your own camera’s sensor size.

The good news is that if you already own a recent model DSLR or mirrorless camera, you likely don’t need a new one.

It’s true that “recent” is a bit vague here, but in my experience, mirrorless cameras up to five years old, and DSLRs made during the last ten years should be more than capable.

Lens choices

Many photographers say prime lenses (non-zooms) produce a better quality image than zoom lenses. A good zoom lens, however, may be more convenient for real estate photography.

A decent quality zoom that starts from a wide angle (say between 12mm to 24mm) provides more compositional flexibility than a fixed lens.

Small rooms inside houses may be a little cramped, restricting the space available to set up a tripod and camera. Using a wide-angle lens of around 12-24mm may be necessary to give the required field of view to capture a small room.

In larger rooms, and when photographing outside, 35mm may give a better view of the property. There’s no definitive ‘right’ answer to field-of-view as it all depends on the surroundings and how much space you need.

If you find yourself with distorted lines and dark areas around the edge of your image shot with a wide-angle lens, these may be fixed in post-production.

Cheaper lenses, especially zooms, have more optical weaknesses, so if you’re going to invest in new gear, you might get more benefit from upgrading your lens instead of your camera body.

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One indication of lens quality is a low aperture number such as f/2.8. A lower number aperture opens the lens wider than lenses with high numbers like f/5.6.

While this allows more light to enter the sensor, the focus plane becomes narrower, causing some of the room to be out of focus, which is not ideal for real estate photography. Use an aperture of f/8 or f/11 to allow more of your room to be in focus.

Chromatic aberration (CA) is caused by light dispersion as it travels through the lens. In plain English, it’s that pink/green color fringe you sometimes see around the edges of objects, most noticeably in areas of high contrast like window frames. Cheaper lenses have more problems with CA.

Using a better quality lens shows less CA, but the laws of optics means fringing can still happen occasionally. Most photo software includes functions to reduce or remove this, although it’s great to avoid it as much as possible in the first place.

Camera features to look for

Camera features to look for buried in just about every modern camera menu are the five features and functions that can seriously help for real estate photography images.

The first four of these features help you overcome the problems posed when photographing scenes with a high dynamic range (HDR). In these situations, all cameras struggle because they can’t match our eye’s adaptive responses.

The fifth, the digital level, helps with the challenge of perspective. Inside and out, houses have vertical and horizontal lines. If they’re just a little off-center, the whole photo looks lopsided and uncomfortable to the viewer.

1. AEB (Automatic Exposure Bracketing)

Automatic Exposure Bracketing is a specific setting that instructs the camera to take multiple shots of the scene while changing the shutter speed of each shot – all with one press of the shutter release button.

You can change the shutter speed for each shot manually, but it is faster (and potentially more precise) to let the camera’s onboard technology do it under your guiding hand.

2. EV Range (Exposure Value Range)

The reason to take this automatic series of shots is to capture all details, from bright windows to darker interior areas, although some cameras have more limited AEB capabilities than others.

Here are the two camera features to consider:

  • The number of bracketed shots: This is the number of exposures the camera takes when you press the shutter release in AEB mode.
  • Exposure Compensation: This is the spacing of exposure compensation between each bracketed exposure taken in AEB mode. These two factors combine to determine the total exposure range possible.

You need to look at both features to determine whether the camera’s EV range capability is sufficient for your needs. For real estate photography, look for AEB settings that let you choose five shots in 2-steps or nine shots in 1-step.

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3. Continuous shooting

It is important that your camera can shoot continuously to minimize the number of times you release the shutter manually. Doing so avoids accidental camera movement or shake.

4. Luminosity histogram

The histogram offers clear information to ensure we cover the full dynamic range. While it may seem confusing at first, it’s straightforward once you know what it’s showing us.

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Having an EVF (electronic viewfinder) somewhat reduces the need for a histogram but not entirely. Even with an EVF, it’s hard to determine highlight or shadow clipping by eye. Capture all the bright and dark areas correctly by using histograms.

5. Digital level

If your camera has a digital level, it’s quite handy. Not all camera models do, so you may need to look in the manual to find it. Once activated, a horizontal line runs across the scene in your viewfinder.

You can instantly see if the camera is at an angle and if so, make the needed adjustments to avoid a sloping room.

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While you’re checking the horizontal lines, don’t forget the verticals. Tilting the camera up or down causes vertical lines, like walls, to look slanted.

Pro tips on using the digital level

  • Take time to inspect the scene in live view, making manual corrections if necessary even if they contradict the digital level.
  • Use a tripod so you can step away from the camera while seeing the live view screen and the room.
  • Double-check your composition for framing, height, and perspective.
  • Shoot from below eye level. An excellent place to start is between your chest and hip height, but there may be times to raise the camera. You might, for instance, want to show a particular view or other details you wish to highlight.

Flash and Lighting Equipment

Speedlights

The built-in flash on your camera is unlikely to be strong enough to balance interior and exterior light levels because of the high dynamic range present in most real estate interiors.

The built-in flash may create unwanted, deep shadows in the room. You’ll get a better effect by mounting a Speedlight flash on the hot shoe, then bouncing the light off the walls or ceilings.

With some practice, it becomes easier to find the right bounce position for each room.

Another technique for using Speedlights is taking them off camera via a wireless connection. This way, you can position the lights just where you need them.

Studio lights

Finally, there are studio lights.

While these are effective and give results that look professional, pro lighting equipment is expensive. The lights are also bulky and heavy and often need a power supply. Moreover, using them correctly requires considerable practice and skill.

The exposure bracketing technique, where you use the camera’s AEB features listed in the previous section, offers a less demanding way of achieving light balance for an interior scene.

Taking bracketed exposures becomes a natural part of your photography workflow, and you don’t have to worry about carrying heavy lighting equipment, or learning how to use it.

The bracketed exposures are then merged to HDR in post-processing to get a correctly exposed image. While Photoshop and Lightroom offer HDR merge, many real estate photographers prefer using Photomatix Pro.

This specialized HDR software offers natural-looking presets optimized for property interiors.

A tripod

If you get good, sharp results from handheld shots, using a tripod may seem unnecessary. However, no one can hold a camera steady for the slower shutter speeds used for interior real estate photography.

The minimum shutter speed for handheld shots is normally1/60 second as a rule-of-thumb, while interior scenes require much longer exposures.

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What to look for in a tripod:

  • Ball heads – These let you quickly change angles and orientations without having to fiddle too much with either camera or tripod.
  • Rubber feet – When you’re working on slippery, polished floors there’s less chance of the tripod sliding out of position. Rubber feet also protect fragile surfaces.
  • Lightweight and sturdy – Look for solid construction with tight joints and rigid legs. Top-of-the-range tripods (such as carbon-fiber models) carry a higher price tag, but less expensive aluminum versions do the job equally well with a little care. Any tripod is better than no tripod at all.

A good tripod gives you more compositional freedom, as you can position them just about anywhere. Attempting to keep the camera perfectly still without a tripod limits you to existing stable surfaces.

A remote shutter release

A remote shutter release untethers you from the camera, providing freedom of movement.

 

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While the most obvious function of the remote release is preventing camera shake when you press the shutter button, there are other, less apparent advantages too:

  • The tripod stays steady, even on a soft surface.
  • You can step aside to avoid casting shadows, or to remove your reflection from windows or shiny surfaces.
  • Your hands are free to hold distractions out of the frame, such as cables or plant fronds.
  • You can move around to assess composition from different angles or spot potential distractions.
  • You may need to monitor the road so you can shoot during a gap in traffic.

As an alternative to a remote shutter release, you can use a cable release or the camera’s automatic timer.

Some other helpful equipment

Beyond the main equipment needed for real estate photography, there are a few other items to make your job easier and more efficient:

A traditional bubble level – While the digital level is handy, some people may prefer external units that slot into the hot shoe or some tripods that have bubble levels built-in.

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Gaffer tape – Use it for quick cleanups such as removing pet hair or holding back a curtain or cable. Use tape to mark the position of your tripod once you find a good composition.

Avoid using duct tape as the adhesive is too strong and it doesn’t peel off cleanly. Gaffer tape leaves no residue on most surfaces.

Cleaning cloths – You need a cloth for your lens, but also one to remove dust specks from surfaces or to polish water marks off bathroom fittings.

A lens hood – Use a short hood on your wide-angle lens to cut down the flare from windows or other bright lights.

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Conclusion

Despite its challenges, anyone can learn to take great real estate photography photos by starting with the right equipment. Using the right equipment also sets you up for success, and with just a little bit of practice, you can discover what works best for you.

If you have any questions to ask me about equipment for real estate photography, please ask me in a comment below.

HDRsoft is a paid partner of dPS.

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Ron Pepper Ron Pepper is a commercial photographer, author, and teacher in San Francisco. His professional work includes interior homes and businesses, aerial photography, portraits, and HDR backgrounds for virtual reality. “I try to balance my business by creating photographs, and teaching others - the best way to learn is to teach!” See more on his website.