Photography matters when selling your home. With online listings from real estate agents and websites like Zillow, Trulia, and Realtor.com, buyers are now getting what’s essentially a “first showing” through the web. This means a seller needs good listing photos to create a positive impression of their house.
We spoke with Harry Lim, professional real estate photographer and owner of Harry Lim Photography, and Austin Harley, professional real estate photographer and owner of SoCo Home Photography, about the impact quality photos have, the difference between professional and amateur photographers, and tips for quality photos.
Professional Photography Use in Real Estate
To get an idea of the importance of professional photography in real estate, we asked our experts to share their thoughts on the use and perception of professional photography by real estate agents and sellers.
The Real Estate Agent’s Perspective
When it comes to real estate photography, the listing agent decides whether or not they want to invest in professional photography.
According to Lim, more often that not, agents decide against hiring a professional photographer. “Most agents don’t appreciate photography, and if they do, they don’t think it’s worth the expense,” says Lim.
Harley says it depends on the market. In Pueblo, CO, for example, it’s more likely that realtors will opt for the DIY route, whereas professional photography is more common in Colorado Springs.
Both experts acknowledged that there are price points where paying for professional photography might cut into already thin margins, so they understand why realtors would choose to not hire a professional.
When real estate agents begin using professional photography in a market, however, others start to follow. “As soon as someone does it, others follow because they don’t want to fall behind,” says Harley.
The Seller’s Perspective
Do sellers think about photography when hiring an agent? Lim says, not usually. “Sellers are thinking about getting the home ready and what the price should be. They usually trust the agent to handle the marketing.”
But, ultimately, home sellers do care. As Harley puts it, “Sellers can be disappointed when their photos don’t look great.”
Proof of that is when sellers go directly to a professional real estate photographer or even switch realtors because of bad photos. “It isn’t common, but I have had sellers come to me on their own because they were disappointed with their photos,” Harley adds.
As Lim also notes in this blog post, if a house isn’t selling, the seller will find a new agent. In this particular instance, with the help of drastically improved photography by Lim, a house that was on the market for eight months sold in eight days after a realtor who appreciates photography and invests in marketing took over the listing.
The Difference Between Professional & Non-Professional Photography
“Right when you get on a site like Zillow, your eye is drawn to houses with professional photography,” says Lim. “They’re brighter, and they just draw you in.”
When it comes down to it, that’s what truly matters. Capturing the attention of buyers and making a great impression. But it’s all the small things that add up to a big difference.
A Focus on Space & Composition
“Composition is the number one thing professionals work on,” says Harley. “This is so important. You need to give an idea of what the floor plan is, how rooms connect to each other. If your pictures show a bed, a toilet, and the kitchen counter tops, the buyer has no idea how the house is laid out.”
Lim agrees: “Agents think about features, and that’s why you see close-ups of counter tops and cabinets. [Professional photographers] think about showing the space. You’ll still see the features, but you want the buyer to know that the living room is right off the kitchen and that the hallway leads to the foyer.”
This is one of the things you’ll notice when you compare quality photos against poorly-shot photos. In professionally-taken photos, doors are opened, and the photos show where rooms are in relation to one another. In photos taken by agents, you’ll often get a picture from the corner of a room that provides no perspective of the space or rooms near it.
No Silly Mistakes
Both photographers mentioned that agents taking their own photos tend to make funny mistakes that leave a negative impression in the buyer’s mind. A common one is capturing themselves in the mirror on photos in the bathroom. Another common mistake is taking photos that include pets.
Not all are so funny and obvious, though. Other simple mistakes that make a big difference are leaving doors shut, preventing buyers from seeing how the space flows together, not turning lights on, not opening blinds or curtains to maximize natural light, and taking photos of unattractive areas of the house like a small, crowded laundry room or the garage.
The Right Equipment & Techniques
It isn’t uncommon for real estate agents to take photos using their phones. Even if a real estate agent does have a good camera, they likely don’t know the techniques for capturing photos the way a professional does.
Another thing professionals know is how to use equipment without making the home appear better than it actually is. Lim says this is very important to him. “My goal is to capture the home like you’d see it in person. If you make a space appear larger than it is, people are going to be disappointed when they actually visit the home.
Some of the things professional real estate photographers bring to the table include:
- A high-quality camera and a wide angle lens: Harley says anything above 20mm would qualify as wide angle. This allows the photographer to capture how rooms connect to each other.
- Flash equipment: Though both photographers say natural light is essential, flash should also be used. Quality photographers balance natural light and flash, combining them to capture multiple pictures with difference levels of brightness. Harley says professionals also use techniques like bounce flash, which is bouncing the flash off the wall behind you instead of sending the flash straight into the room being photographed.
Attention to Detail
Another thing you get from professionals is attention to detail. Scheduling shoots around weather is one example of where Lim and Harley really display this.
Lim, being in Florida, knows that people want to see sunshine. He takes getting the right light for his shoots so seriously he uses an app to determine the angle of the sun throughout the day and then schedules shoots at times when the sun will be shining on the front of the house.
Harley, a former meteorologist, says his clients rely on him to take photos during ideal conditions as well. And with Harley offering drone photos, the conditions have to be ideal. High wind, snow, and rain all mean the shoot needs to be rescheduled.
Luxury Real Estate Photography
With incredible mountain views, large plots of land, and expensive homes, Harley has extensive experience offering high-end professional real estate photography services, including twilight shoots and aerial photos and videos via drones. Of course, these are things that a real estate agent won’t be able to offer without hiring a professional like Harley.
“There are three reasons that drone photography should be used,” says Harley. “If the home is above $500,000, the home is on more than two acres of land, or if there is a great view that overlooks the city or mountains, aerial photography is highly recommended.”
Harley adds that realtors should be aware of the laws surrounding drones, though. There are two things that anyone offering drone photography needs to have. The first is a Part 107 Certification. The second is that they need to carry at least $1 million in liability insurance. He says both are required by law for someone to operate a drone for commercial purposes.
Harley says that twilight photography—that is, pictures taken to capture the sunset or sunrise—is common for more expensive homes. For homes around the $500,000 price point, they should be considered. For homes over $1 million, they’re mandatory.
Real Estate Photography Tips for Sellers
Interview Multiple Realtors
Harley says he’s amazed at how rare it is for sellers to interview multiple agents. “It’s not very common. Usually, someone just goes with the first person they meet or hires a friend.”
But if you want your house to sell fast and for top dollar, that’s a big mistake. “After you talk with a few agents, the good ones will quickly separate themselves from the bad ones,” adds Harley.
View an Agent’s Listings & Ask About Photography
If you’re thinking about hiring an agent, one of the simple things you can do is look at their listings. This is something both Lim and Harley recommend. You’ll quickly be able to tell if they’re investing in professional photography or doing it themselves.
“Go look at the listings or interview the agent, asking about how they’re going to market the property,” Lim suggests. “If they don’t mention photography, think twice about hiring them. You’re trusting them to sell a property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. They’re the spokesperson for your house, and they need to represent it the right way.”
The first response from both Lim and Harley when asked about bad mistakes they see is clutter. No matter how great the photographer is, they can’t make clutter disappear. This is the responsibility of the agent and the seller. As Harley puts it, “You need to get your home down to the bare-bone essentials.”
Homes don’t just sell themselves. Great marketing, including great photography, is important. When it comes to photography, it’s best to make sure your real estate agent is someone who understands the marketing side of selling a home and is committed to professional photography.
About Harry Lim
Harry Lim is a professional real estate photographer and owner of Harry Lim Photography in Orlando, Florida. He primarily serves Orlando, Kissimmee, and Central Florida. Lim has been working as a real estate photographer for seven years.
About Austin Harley
Austin Harley is a professional real estate photographer and owner of SoCO Home Photography, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He primarily serves Colorado Springs and Pueblo.