So You Want To Be A Real Estate Photographer
So you want to be a Real Estate Photographer. What does it take? Do I have the expertise? Anyone can enter the field of Real Estate Photography, or take Real Estate Photos. All it takes is any camera off the shelf, or use of your cell phone or pad. Right? Absolutely wrong!!
In my years as Professional Real Estate Photographer, I have seen all kinds of photos of Real Estate taken. Some were done expertly, and most were done with a cell phone or pad. Those taken with the cell phones and pads were absolutely, atrociously horrible, and yet the agents who took them thought these were the best in the world and even convinced their clients they were no better, until, the house sat on the market with little or no activity for over 30 days, when other homes in the neighborhood were selling and closing within 1 to 2 weeks.
If a person wishes to enter the lucrative world of Real Estate Photography, they must know a bit about photography, such as the "4 basic concepts of photography", have the correct equipment to do the job, the "know how" to use and be creative with that equipment, and be damn good in the edit room. Not any camera and lens will work!! Not any tripod will work and not any photo editing program will work!! Too many times, again, I've seen a mediocre camera used with a standard lens and no editing of the photos, come out looking like crap. And, this type of work was by a supposed professional, but mostly with real estate agents, who have zero knowledge of a camera or how to use it, except in automatic mode. Real Estate Photography is just like any other field in the photography industry. If you don't have the "know how" and creativity, you won't survive the first year!! Ok, now that I have done my preaching, lets start talking about what it takes in this industry.
First of all, the "4 Basic Concepts of Photography". These include, composition, camera angles, lighting, exposure. Composition is how you set your shot up, using the best angle and position to give the best possible photo of the subject matter, in this case is generally a room of the home. Camera Angle is how you take the shot, from above or below, using a high angel or low, or possibly both as in the case of shooting a huge family room with a "birds eye view" from the second floor. Lighting is the ambience that you can give the room to make it look inviting and natural, thus using flash should be out of the question, except for fill. Finally is Exposure. This is the actual aperture settings in regards to shutter speeds used. This is where you must have a camera capable of shooting multiple exposures of the same shot. The number of exposures should be no less than 3 and may be as many as you think will produce the best photo. I generally shot 9 different exposures of the shot with a 1 f-stop differential, keeping the aperture setting the same. This brings us to the next topic, the type of camera and lens.
The Type of Camera used is not as important as the Type of Lens. Any camera of most any brand will work as long as it is capable of shooting multiple brackets(exposures) with 3 being the minimum. The camera can either be a cropped sensor or full frame. The full frames give you more range of view, than the cropped sensors, but the lesser will still do a great job if you know how to compose the photos. However, either way, you must use a tripod and external shutter switch, be it hardwired or remote triggered. And these cameras which can spit out HDR by taking 2 or 3 exposures are not the way either. They are good and can be used in some situations but generally should not. The Type of Lens is the critical part of this. You cannot use a standard kit lens (a medium ranged lens which usually comes with your camera purchase if you buy both). The lens necessary to succeed in Real Estate Photography must be a "wide angle" lens capable of a minimum focal length of 15mm. This would be a 10mm lens on a cropped sensor camera. This same 10mm lens on a full frame camera would yield a focal length of 10mm and give more range of view to the photo itself. A wider angle lens, such as an 8mm fisheye, can be used as long as you are familiar with the inherent distortion of all wide angle lenses along the edges of the photograph. This distortion can be with a good photo editing program like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. I preferred the 10mm-24mm Tamron wide angle lens, although my backup was the Nikon 10-20mm wide angle lens. Here are a few camera makes which fit the necessary requirement. The models are dependent on the number of exposures they can do. Nikon, Canon, Olympus, and Sony are the better brands. There are others in the marketplace which will also do the job.
The Tripod you decide to use, as there are many on the market, must be steady and strong enough to hold your equipment securely. I prefer the Manfroto's but these can get costly so shop wisely. Also you need to invest in a 3 way tripod head or even a 360 degree gimbal head to keep you camera level while shooting at whatever angle you choose.
A manual style camera mounted or remote activated Flash which lets you control the amount of light necessary for fill only is a good idea as well. You don't want to blow the room out with too much added light as this takes away from the ambience of using natural/room light. You only want enough extra to act as fill in to soften or eliminate the hard shadow.
Photo Editing is a vitally important final process of Real Estate Photography. First of all, you are going to need to blend all of the exposures of each and every room you have photographed. So after a shoot each home, you might possibly have up to 300 or more photos to blend and then to edit to the final product. Using a good blending program is fantastic, instead of trying to do it manually. Adobe Lightroom is a good candidate but there are better ones out there. I prefer Enfuse GUI, in which I upload all the photos at once into the program, then tell the program how many photos are to be blended into a single photo and click start. The program does the rest. With Adobe Lightroom you have to group each set of photos before clicking start which takes a bit longer. After the blending process, if there are any photos of a panoramic nature, I prefer PT GUI for blending the panoramas together before starting the actual editing process. This program works in much of the same way as Enfuse GUI as you can upload all the photos needing to be stitched together for the panoramas, click start and wait for the final outcome. If you've kept your camera still and level, these photos wont need to be altered before final processing. There are many other shareware programs out there to be used, just pick one you are comfortable with and can do multiple tasks to save you a lot of manual labor. Now for the final Photo Editing process. Once you have blended all your photos and stitched those panoramic shots, you're ready for the final process in Photo Editing. Choose a program you prefer. Mine is Adobe Lightroom or Lightroom CC. This program allows me to upload all the photos and panoramas into the program in one batch, go through and highlight the exterior photos, click my preset for exterior real estate photos, and sync them to the same setting, then highlight my interior photos and click and sync to my interior real estate photos setting, and, for the most part, I'm done. The final step is to the tedious step simply because now you need to go back through each individual photo and tweak those needing to be tweaked if necessary. If you have set your presets in Lightroom with tight enough tolerances, this tweaking process may just be for inspection only. Over time you will learn how to set the parameters tighter to avoid the tweaking process, but regardless, you still need to inspect each and every photo and panoramic you have shot before letting your client see your final product. Sometimes I do this final inspection in Adobe Photoshop to add more ambience if needed, or to eliminate the harsh sunlight glaring through a window, or to change the sky if the photos where taken on a cloudy, overcast day where the was no sun or blue sky. Finally I might use Photoshop to green up the grass, provided it was originally winter brown and paint the sky for those fabulous sunset/evening photos.
In final, as in every aspect of photography, you must possess the skill, have the proper equipment and damn sure know how to use an editing program that "fits the bill" for the type of photography you chose to shoot. So to be a successful Real Estate Photographer, you can't just pick up an everyday point and shoot style of camera, or use a cell phone or I-Pad style of camera, its using a camera and wide angle lens combination which can have a bit of cost to them, and knowing the types of editing programs designed for this type of work.