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What equipment is necessary for real estate photography, and what is preferred?

I'm starting into real estate photography, and I'm trying to figure out what I need and what I will want to plan on adding to my kit as I go.

I'm thinking especially along the lines of lighting equipment and lenses (focal lengths).

For example, is an ultra-wide actually necessary? Or is a general walk around sufficient.

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"Or is a general walk around..." is it possible to banish this term from the vernacular? –  Shizam Feb 3 '11 at 20:25
    
@Shizam: Haha, fair enough, I don't love the term, I just don't know a better one :) What term do you prefer? "Wide angle to short telephoto zoom lens?" –  chills42 Feb 3 '11 at 20:43
    
Hah, yea I know, there isn't a good option. The aversion is fallout from all those 'Can somebody suggest a good walk around lens?' –  Shizam Feb 3 '11 at 20:57
    
I noticed some real estate agents use wider angle lenses to make things look bigger than they really are.. trust me i viewed a few placed because i thought the gardgen was massive.. if i was not an amatuer photographer i would have thought they photoshopped it. –  ppumkin Jul 7 '11 at 22:24
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How not to do it: terriblerealestateagentphotos.com –  Helm Hammerhand Aug 5 at 22:58

5 Answers 5

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Necessary: Any sort of camera, including that on a phone. But then, I've seen some really bad real estate photos.

It seems to me that a good proportion of agents & sellers simply do not care how their listing photos look. It seems crazy, given that a house is very visual and very expensive. When I was house hunting, I saw lots of low resolution, mis-exposures, poor color, bland lighting, flat angles, yuck. When I was selling, my agent snapped photos with a $100 camera from Best Buy.

But consider that many (most?) listings have photos taken by someone with little skill or interest in making nice-looking pictures. And the agents aren't in a rush to spend money to improve upon that. So extra equipment would go wasted in those hands.

Now... I'll assume that you're not working with agents like this, since you're talking about making it a part of your career. Presumably you're photographing higher-end housing, and so have higher-end skills and thus can make use of higher-end equipment.

I'd recommend:

  • A (ultra) wide-angle lens, ideally zoom. Nothing makes the angles of architecture stand out like perspective distortion. It'll make the rooms look larger too, which is a big boost for real estate. A lot of times you'll be in close quarters too (think: closet) and this is what ultra-wide angles do. I have a 10-24mm on my Nikon D90 (EFL 15-36mm) and it seems exactly right for walking around the house.
  • An off-camera lighting kit: Light stand, flash, wireless trigger of some sort, and probably an umbrella. Natural light might not always be in your favour, and on-camera flash looks flat and harsh. I'd go with a radio trigger so that you can hide the flash around corners without hassle.
  • A DSLR, so that you can use the wide-angle lens and off-camera-lighting to their fullest. However, there's not a lot of need to get fancy here; the camera will be tertiary to the lens and the lighting in order of importance. Remember that your photos are going to be shrunk down to fraction-of-screen-size (unless you're doing big prints or magazines; that's a different story); you don't have to be tack sharp necessarily. A non-DSLR (esp. micro-4/3) would be OK too, as long as it can support the lens and lighting.

Beyond that, I don't think there's much else. A tripod might help but it's probably more hassle than it'd be worth.

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I'll second the notion of not spending a lot up-front and expecting that the equipment will pay for itself rapidly if you're planning on marketing your services to agents in any way (may be a better market opportunity in FSBOs, but I don't know from experience there)... I used to do real estate photography and from experience I can say that real estate agents (on the whole) are some seriously cheap bastards when it comes to photography. –  Jay Lance Photography Feb 3 '11 at 21:43
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Quantity is always valued over quality. Always. The prevailing attitude is that 'pictures only need to be good enough to get the client in the house, anything above that is a waste of money.' To some extent I think they're right... The best that photography can do is get someone interested enough to go do a walkthrough, and considering that many people can't tell a good picture from a bad one, mediocre really is good enough... –  Jay Lance Photography Feb 3 '11 at 21:45
    
Again, my experiences may not apply to FSBOs, custom home builders, etc., so your YMMV. :-) –  Jay Lance Photography Feb 3 '11 at 21:47
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+1 ... except that I'd probably go bare bulb on a high stand rather than an umbrella for most interiors. You get the directionality of the ceiling-level fixture you're simulating, but there's usually better fill, since the wall color will influence the fill hue. A Lightsphere or Omnibounce on a higher-end speedlight will do for a start, but going to a Quantum kit for TTL or a Norman, Lumidyne or similar kit for metered use will let you use smaller apertures and higher ISOs in smaller spaces if this becomes a significant income source. Side benefit: they work better in softboxes too. –  user2719 Feb 4 '11 at 4:16
    
@Stan: And they'd definitely be less of a hassle than an ungainly umbrella. I was hesitant to recommend it over a softbox... but I figured that lower-price would probably be better. On that note, I'd guess he'd probably still want to stick with a speedlight for better cost and portability... if it's even worth getting into at all, given Jay Lance's comments. –  Craig Walker Feb 4 '11 at 6:16

I briefly flirted with doing real estate photography after we sold our house several years back (and I photographed it). It came down to:

an ultra-wide rectilinear lens like the Canon 14mm L to capture an entire room w/out distorting it (much)

a perspective correcting lens for outdoors (24mm Tilt-Shift)

a really tall tripod for both indoor and outdoors to present a level (if not above) perspective

Can't comment much on lighting, and those focal lengths are based on full frame.

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I'd be interested to know if distortion correction in PP is good enough for real estate photography. If so, this could potentially save a lot of money in terms of start-up costs. –  D. Lambert Feb 3 '11 at 21:42
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+1 for the tall tripod. Add "remote shutter release" to that as well. –  Craig Walker Feb 3 '11 at 21:48
    
Think about where the images will be used. If they are going to a glossy, then post may not make the grade. If they are going to Web, then whatever pixel bending you do in post will go undetected. LR and ACR do some lens correction that factors perspective distortion in, but if you look at what happens, the results can be a bit odd. Beg, borrow, or otherwise obtain a fisheye and jam out a few images. Then stick them in Lightroom to see what happens when you turn on Enable Profile Corrections. –  Steve Ross Jul 7 '11 at 22:46

One thing I think is a must-have is an Ultrawide lens. For shooting small spaces, the only alternative I can think of is making a stitched photo (pano style), but this requires so much pre and post work to get a good stitch.

Here's an example of a standard/small office taken from the same spot with 28-135mm @28mm and 10-22mm @10mm on APS-C camera:

28mm

10mm

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I just wish agents didn't love the ultra-wide shots so much; they can be so misleading. –  staticsan Feb 7 '11 at 6:41
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From my experience if there's anything an estate agent loves more than billing, it's misleading people! –  James Snell Aug 4 '13 at 11:44

I find that a 20-28mm lens (full frame) or a 14-20 (cropped sensor) to be the most useful focal lengths. I am a real estate agent that was a professional photographer for 12 years. I shoot primarily my own listings, listing for some of my agents and the occasional paid shoot for various other agents.

I personally own a 10-20mm Sigma on a Nikon D7000. I have found 10-14mm provides to much "perspective distortion" for real estate photography.

As a real estate agent who shoots real estate photography, I have to listen to the buyers. There is definitely a balance for getting the feel of the room with out making it look way larger then it is. Buyers get extremely annoyed when they walk into a home and it does not feel like the photos.

You want to use the widest angle lens possible with out too much perspective distortion. The objective to maintain is you want to get a fairly accurate rendition of a room so you may attract the right buyer to the property. If you inaccurately portray a home either thru real estate photography or its description buyers get pi$#!d! and will walk out angry and not seriously consider the home.

Finding that balance is an acquired skill. When I first got the 10-20mm everything was shot at 10mm... so great, I could get everything in.... :( not so great I heard a lot of complaints. As I work on my skills, I find I rarely shoot below 14mm on a 1.5 crop sensor and try to get closer to 17-18mm.

As far as lighting goes. My two typical scenarios are an available light shot blended with a multiple flash shot or an Exposure Fusion shot (not to be confused with HDR) with up to 7 brackets blended with a flash shot. I use up to 4 flashes.

They wouldn't let me post this image but here is a link to it. http://merrimackvalleymarealestate.com/wp-content/gallery/33-tomahawk-drive-tewksbury-ma-01876/living-room-2.jpg

This was shot at 14 mm you can still see perspective distortion especially in the lamp. I wanted to show the fireplace and the window with this particular shot. Though overall this shot did not really make the area look much larger than it is. This was 7 exp fusion with a 3 flash shot blend with a separate exposure for the scene out the window.

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Welcome to Stack Exchange. I've voted up your excellent first answer, and now you have enough site rep that you can include images if you so choose. –  mattdm Aug 3 '13 at 17:10

A tripod for long exposures to capture ambient light, a very wide lens for small spaces (e.g. 14/2.8), a wide for medium spaces (35/1.4) and the 50/1.4.

I advise against any HDR manipulation as it will change the look of the space, unless the HDR is artfully applied.

If you would like to augment ambient light, then as large a softbox as possible (6x4) or a very large scrim to provide fill light. Small light sources, like a flash, will provide sharp shadows which will detract from the photo.

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