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I'm trying to sell my home, so I took some property photos this afternoon. But the cold, blue-white light of December makes everything look...dead. Is there a way I can improve these photos to bring out more of a warm, happy summer look?

I'm also open to any other improvement suggestions. (I know they're crooked -- I was cold and rushed too fast.)

I have Photoshop Elements 12, and am shooting with a Sony NEX-6. I used the 16mm-55mm kit zoom lens.

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    Oh yea, white balance. Won't make it look like summer, but can improve the bleakness. – JDługosz Dec 12 '16 at 6:58
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    Wait for a sunny day with blue sky! This is not about summer vs winter. It's overcast vs clear weather. – Szabolcs Dec 12 '16 at 12:05
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    Not related to the question, but if you were able to make it actually look like summer and put them into a listing with a winter first-listed date, sharp-eyed buyers or agents might wonder if your house was on the market before and why it didn't sell. – Blrfl Dec 12 '16 at 12:45
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    Put leaves on the trees in the background, edit in a pool in the front yard, and some people sunbathing. – Count Iblis Dec 12 '16 at 22:04
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    Hey everyone, please remember: comments are for clarifying the question — not for short answers! – mattdm Dec 13 '16 at 16:55

10 Answers 10

29

Well, you could play around with the white balance and give the pictures a more warm tone. You can also tune the saturation of the colors to make the grass look greener, shift some of the yellow into green, stuff like that.

enter image description here

Other than that, maybe wait for a sunny day and shoot during the golden hours or so.

Edit: Oh, and shoot raw, that way you have more headroom in post-processing. The sky for example already clips and the JPG leads to some ugly artefacts if you lower the highlights for example.

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    +1 for waiting for better lighting and shooting in RAW – veryRandomMe Dec 12 '16 at 18:30
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    You can spray lawn paint so that it looks greener. It's cheaper than putting on new turf. Make sure it is actually for the lawn and not for walls... – Nelson Dec 13 '16 at 8:22
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You aren't going to be able to make your yard look like summer, in winter. What you can do is slow down (you said you were rushed), properly frame and compose the images, shoot in RAW, and shoot at a few different times of the day - try the hour after sunrise and hour before sunset. You also could just wait for a sunny day - although in most places that is less common in the winter months.

11

Apart from what others have suggested (shooting raw, playing with white balance and saturation, shooting at golden hour...) I would try and change your composition a little.

  • Try taking a shot from a little further to the right, so that your driveway creates something like a "leading line" to guide the view into the picture. This is a tip very commonly given to beginners; and in this case I think it would be a good one!
  • Also keep in mind the "rule of thirds", in this case meaning: The gras/sky shouldn't cover more than a third of the lower/upper part of the picture (maybe even less), it doesn't really add to the picture.
  • If you do choose to go for the very symmetrical center/front view, try moving as far from the house as your lens (and maybe a street) allows you, and also making sure you are really centered to the house and the horizontal lines are straight.
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    You know how humans tend to see faces in everything? This particular house has an aspect with an unfortunate resemblance to 😱, and I'd do everything I could to downplay that — get a little closer, shoot from an angle, play up the little bit of landscaping you have. – mattdm Dec 12 '16 at 15:19
  • You're right, I didn't see that! Maybe an angle a little higher (big ladder/monopod) might help. Like taking a hous-selfie! ;) – smow Dec 12 '16 at 21:00
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Don't stand directly in front of the house. That angle is boring. Move to the side if possible to capture the angles of the structure. You may have to get a lens with a low focal length (14mm or 12mm) to capture the yard and the house in one shot (without capturing the neighbors' property too).

Wait for a clear or partly cloudy day with lots of blue sky. Take photos with the sun to your back as much as possible. This helps greatly.

And this may sound a little silly but I swear it works. I did this myself and it made a huge difference in the photo. Get the tallest step ladder you can find, or a really tall tripod or climb a tree or whatever, and take your photo from 10 or more feet off the ground. Just don't get sent to the hospital. You want to be looking at the house on a level, not looking up at it. For a split level, you probably want to be level with the top of the front door if you can. Being closer to the house with a wider lens may help get this done.

And since it's December anyway, you might try a few Christmas decorations on the house if you're so inclined. It might help compensate for the deadness a little. Wreath and garlands only, very plain, no colored lights. Don't go nuts and preserve the symmetry. If you try this, definitely take two sets of photos, with and without, because it's a bit of a risk.

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After and before shots of a cosmetic makeover in Photoshop This is how to sell your house, but it's just wrong.

Taking photos There's so little light that it barely casts shadows. Regardless of how much light there is in winter, taking the photo when the sun is at your back and not too high in the sky will maximize the light on the building.

You can try standing back farther and using a long lens (telephoto), and compare the effect to getting closer and using a short lens (wide-angle), to see which is more flattering. With people, it is usually the telephoto.

The choice of lens will affect the framing. Here's an example of a small change in framing having a big effect on the photo. Commenters were entranced and inspired by the shot on the left. Though they like the one on the right quite a bit, they aren't fantasizing about buying it or moving in.

Two photographs of Cragside, framed differently

Ethics of Altering Shameless fakery, if done slightly better than I did here, can do wonders. It's a matter of degree of course. My foray went too far. Also, isn't very skillfully done.

The ethical issue can be debated. A doctored photo will lure people to the property, and, especially in winter, will disappoint them. What they see in person will be bleaker in comparison. That's not fair.

But, if you had pictures that were taken in the summer, the same thing would happen if they appeared in ads during winter. Arguably, Photoshop™ fakery is no different from season-shifting, a sort of fakery, given that people assume a new listing is advertised with new photos.

But as I said, this example goes too far, because it's more than seasonal changes in the plants, it's a cosmetic overhaul.

I did a few things that wouldn't cost very much in real life. In order of cost, yard first: I planted begonias, pansies and sunflowers along the driveway, planted Phormium and Gladiolus in the corner, planted a hydrangea in the lawn-planter, which I painted white. I improved the lawn, and made sure the trees and shrubs were in bloom. (That is just timing, so it was free. Even if the trees don't bloom, just being leafy green would be a bonus.) On the house, I changed the light above the door and added four more, I repainted, changing the the color of the shutters and door trim, and I re-roofed.

In real life, some attention the lawn would go a long way, as would anything planted in the strip along the drive way.

You don't want to wait until spring, but there is something you could do right now. You could consider putting up decorative holiday lights and aiming some spotlights in a flattering way, and photographing the exterior of the house in the evening. You can rent all kinds of lighting at some photography shops.

As a last resort, you could use a striking interior shot as the main photo in MLS, running a slight risk that buyers would think you were selling a condo.

4

Start by shooting camera raw files. Even if the following is beyond you (or your tools), make the full raw file available in dropbox or something like that, referenced in your post: people may help you out with example adjustments, and will do far better than with the jpeg that’s already been processed “all wrong” for the look you want.

Also shoot a grey card at the same time, under the same light.

In the camera raw processing (I suppose Elements is similar to Lightroom and ACR, or maybe it uses ACR directly?) set the white balance according to the test target. This will start off with more realistic colors and not capture the “mood” like the built-in automatic processing does.

Then, further tune the color/tint sliders if the result is unnatural or too clinical.

Then adjust the individual areas of house, sky, and grass. The grass color may be shifted. The house may be more vibrant. The sky might need replacing with a nicer looking sky or at least a lower exposure, so it’s not whited out.

Also, crop the picture more like the lower one—the wide expanse of a wide angle lens shiws the near foregroud and makes the background (where the house is) look like an afterthought. Try using perspective correction, possibly under-correcting slightly, if you can’t get far enough back to use a long lens.

You’ll straighten a hand-held photo against a horizontal guideline at the same time you are cropping.

Finally, consider that if your display is not calebrated, and it’s being viewed on a web page of normal consumers, it might end up looking blue to some anyway (and amber to others).

4

Ideally, go back in a summer month to photograph it. But if this is what you have to work with some starting points:

Replace the sky with something blue and has some clouds. Get rid of the barren trees using clone stamp.

Shift the colors towards the Yellow a tad but make sure to pull it out of the sky - don't want to end up with yellow clouds.

Then burn light parts of the lawn to make it darker and push some green and yellow into them.

This is obviously very, very quick as its not my job but here's a quick idea of where you can take it.

enter image description here

If I were to continue this I'd of course finish removing the tree on the left, do a better job cleaning up the two trees behind the house, and probably add some color to the reflections in the windows. I might then look at adding some colored folliage or at least pushing the colors in the existing foliage. Maybe tone back the sky by lowering the opacity a little more than I did here as well. Etc.

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    Would you really suggest such extreme alteration for a real estate photo? – mattdm Dec 12 '16 at 22:15
  • @mattdm I'd encourage a client to shoot when the light / sky is better to begin with, which was my first sentence. But if not an option - than ya I'd fix it in post for sure. Sky replacement and color correction is hardly extreme. I've shot million dollar homes before - cleaning walls, glass, fixing lighting, removing distractions (like AC units or fire alarms) is all part of it. – RyanFromGDSE Dec 12 '16 at 22:29
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    Removing trees, though? – mattdm Dec 12 '16 at 22:45
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    @mattdm If the goal is to make the house look like summer than you have to either remove it or crop it. There's really no way around that, IF that's the goal which for this question it is. And its really not different from Smare's answer except they didn't suggest pushing blue into the sky. – RyanFromGDSE Dec 12 '16 at 22:49
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    Using these sort of manipulations to sell a house seems dishonest, and I wouldn't be surprised if its illegal in many jurisdictions. – bdsl Dec 13 '16 at 0:11
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In addition to what others have said, here are some suggestions. Just as with landscapes, shoot at sunrise/sunset to get golden light on everything. One trick I've seen for outdoor shots of houses is to open all the shades, turn on all the lights inside, and shoot just after sunset. This will get a blue-ish outdoor light with a warm indoor light. I'd also try other angles. Try a worm's-eye-view looking up from the right corner of the house, for example. And if it's not too dangerous, try climbing one of those trees and getting a bird's-eye-view, too.

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I'm not sure this is necessarily feasible, but I'd give up the idea of making it look like summer. And, if you have the time, money, and effort to put into it, learn to light the house, and then shoot it at blue, or golden hour, or at night.

Obviously, this is not going to be easy or fast or simple. You have to master composition and exposure first. And I'd highly recommend being comfortable being able to shoot in M mode on the camera before learning to light. And then you have to get a flash and radio triggers (possibly for your shutter, too, if you can't rustle up an assistant). But your camera has an M mode and a flash hotshoe, so this could be possible.

During blue hour or at night, you could put the camera on a tripod, and set everything for a long exposure to get the sky and surrounding ambient light to be what you want, and then walk around with a cheap manual speedlight and light paint in the bits of the house that are too dark in the frame.

You could go nuts and try to do it full-on Michael Kelly with multiple frames and a lot of mask'n'layer compositing, but if you're not a Photoshop whiz, that may be just too much of an ask vs. doing a single long exposure in-camera.

See also:

-1

change the white balance to sunny if you are reshooting else for post processing use histogram to change the RGB curve to standard S surve to highlight green and red.

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