One of the most common mistakes professional real estate photographers make is over-editing their pictures. Often times, professional architectural photographers look down upon real estate photographers believing them to be amateurish or incapable. This, I believe, is largely due to the two biggest mistakes I see all the time in the world of property photography:
Bad post production (photo editing)
I actually do very little to my photos when editing my real estate pictures. This is mainly due to the fact that when taking my real estate photos, I try my level best to get the perfect shots. Taking really good real estate photos on site allows me to start my editing process with a single image that is perfectly lit and well composed. I avoid Photoshop for real estate photography as much as possible and try to keep all of my post production in Light Room.
Following are the editing actions I take with every one of my real estate photos:
Lens Correction - All camera lenses have a slight barrel distortion. Even if you have the best lens for real estate photography in the world there will still be some amount of barrel distortion. By applying lens correction during my real estate photo editing I ensure that all the lines are straight.
Add a touch of sharpness - Again, a common mistake I see often (especially for those who are learning how to become a professional real estate photographer) is simply adding too much of everything. By adding sharpening way too much during the editing process the image becomes noisy, making what could be a high-quality real estate photo a low-quality image.
Those are the two editing actions I take with every real estate image and that’s it! Obviously, some real estate photos require a bit more touch up, but those two actions are a guarantee. Some of the other real estate retouching I do depends on whether the image is an interior photo or an exterior photograph.
Interior Real Estate Photography
As I prefer to use flash for real estate photography, especially for my interior shots, I have to do very little to my photographs during my real estate photo editing process. Even when using a flash for real estate photography sometimes a certain image needs a little help. Some of the common retouching I may do in order to create the best looking real estate photo includes:
Adding Contrast - Never too much, but sometimes just a touch of contrast can make the blacks blacker and the whites whiter. This can help give the image depth but it can be dangerous to use in real estate retouching if you are photographing a room that has stains on the carpet or marks on the walls. By adding contrast to bedrooms that have carpet and/or wall issues you’ll highlight the defects sometimes making stains or marks appear even worse than they actually are.
Noise Reduction - Rarely do I have to use any kind of noise reduction because I shoot at a low ISO, however, occasionally, if the property is dirty, this can make the house appear cleaner especially for scratched up hardwood flooring.
Bring down the highlights I only need to do this on occasions when I have to turn up my flashes to brighten a room but it causes certain objects in the image to appear too hot. Again, a common mistake I see a lot of real estate photographers do is bring the highlights all the way down and bump up the shadows. Not only will this make furniture and other objects look worn, but it also makes the image flat.
White Balance - This is probably the most common action I take, especially with my interior real estate pictures. Because I shoot my interior photos with primarily flash and high shutter speed, if the ceilings and/or walls are not truly white in color then the light that bounces around the room will carry the paint color around the room. This is why the best real estate photographers always shoot in raw format - never jpg. Shooting in raw format is real estate photography 101 and it allows me to correct the white balance regardless of what colors the walls and ceilings are. Even if I don’t use shoot with flashes and only use natural light for my interior photography, the same rules will apply.
Exterior Real Estate Photography
When retouching my exterior real estate images I’ll often make the following edits:
Add Vibrance - This makes blue skies darker as well as bluer and grass along with trees greener. This can be dangerous however especially if the grass is yellow or the swimming pool in the backyard needs to be cleaned as it will just exaggerate the colors.
Crop - When taking real estate photos it’s critical to keep the camera perfectly level so walls and lines are straight. This often means, when shooting the front of a house, that I have a lot more foreground then I’d prefer. In those cases I’ll still take the shot - knowing later in post-production I can crop the image to remove the foreground or other unwanted items that appear in the image.
Things I do not typically do
I’m not opposed to doing whatever the client asks. This is not photojournalism - its real estate photo marketing. Some real estate photography companies will outright refuse to do certain things based on some moral principle. That makes no sense to me, I’m a professional who was hired to create amazing real estate photos for the client. So when I take photos for real estate agents and get asked by the realtor to make some minor change to the image to improve the photo, I don’t hesitate at all.
With that said, here are a few things that are not a part of my standard real estate packages, but that I can do for an additional fee:
Remove Carpet Stains
Remove any holes in the walls and/or floors and ceilings
Remove marks such as cryons, patch work… etc
Change paint colors
Fix landscaping such as adding grass or removing problem areas.
In general - my real estate photo editing and retouching are very subtle. I think the difference between good real estate photos and great real estate photos is being light handed with the post-production.
The best real estate photos are the ones that require very little touch-up. I’m not one to use a ton of Photoshop actions or filters because I prefer to get things right while photographing real estate.