Photography For Real Estate

Tips and techniques for real estate photography

Archive for February, 2006

buildatour.com Flash Movies

Posted by larrylohrman on February 27, 2006

Since my post last Thursday on using buildatour.com’s Flash movie tours I created an equivalent of a 360 photo by shooting a sequence of 8 photos of my living room on a tripod that cover 360 degrees. I think this can be a very viable way of showing images of an entire room without the technical challenges of stitching together images.

Another example builder.com tour is a listing we are putting on the market tomorrow. This is the first time that I shot photos of a home knowing that I was not limited to just 16 photos. As a result this tour ended up with 29 photos many of which were photos contributed by the seller, of the yard last summer. When you know you are not limited in the number of photos you can shoot many angles of the most interesting room.

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Posted in Virtual Tours | Leave a Comment »

Don’t be Seduced by Convenience Over Wide-angle

Posted by larrylohrman on February 26, 2006

This is the time of year for new camera introductions. Today is the opening of the annual PMA (Photo Marketing Association) show in Orlando where all the camera manufacturers are showing off their latest products. Lots of new compact digital cameras are being introduced. One of the trends I’ve noticed in some of the compacts being introduced last year and this is very thin cameras that fit in a shirt pocket or purse, have a large bright LCD screen that fills almost the whole back of the camera and are around 6 mega pixels. I know several Real Estate agents that have one of last years models of these nifty little cameras that they use for interior photography. Yet none of the ones I’ve seen are wide-angle enough for interiors and at first look cannot be fitted with wide-angle converters.

If you want to do any interior photography don’t be seduced by the convenience of compact cameras that can’t be fitted with wide-angle converters. Many of these cameras that are great for taking photos of the kids but are not suitable for shooting interiors. All you have to do to verify this is look through the interior photos on real estate sites and see how many look like your looking at a room through a key hole.

Posted in Photo Equipment, Wide-angle lens | Leave a Comment »

Barrel Distortion

Posted by larrylohrman on February 25, 2006

Interior photographers need to be on the look out for barrel distortion. Barrel distortion is a feature of wide-angle lenses that causes straight lines to look outwardly curved like the shape of a barrel. The curving happens more toward the outer edge of the image. Barrel distortion is worse in inexpensive lenses but even expensive zoom lenses have barrel distortion. Only high quality fixed focal length lenses are free of barrel distortion.

Sometimes the barrel distortion can just be cropped out when it’s near the edge of the image. A great way to get rid of barrel distortion completely is a plug-in for Photoshop and Photoshop Elements called PTlens by Thomas Niemann. Check it out at www.epaperpress.com/ptlens/index.html it’s a great little tool.

Posted in Photo Editing, Photo Equipment, Photo Technique | 2 Comments »

Making a Flash Movie

Posted by larrylohrman on February 23, 2006

In the process of converting several of my existing virtual tours to buildatour.com tours I’ve realized the image capacity of buildatour.com tours (75 images) will significantly change the way I photograph a home. Before using buildatour.com tours when shooting a home my goal was to get 15 images that included at least one image of every significant room. Our local MLS has a limit of 15 images and most local web sites that picked up images from the MLS can only deal with around 15 so there wasn’t much point in having more than 15. Some important rooms like kitchen or living room I’d shoot maybe 2 images. But with buildatour.com I can have many more images for important rooms. I can shoot a panning series of images much like shooting a 360 and have them displayed as a series of dissolved stills as a Flash movie. This is revolutionary! I’m looking forward to the next home I shoot to fully utilize this new Flash movie feature. Stay tuned for more developments.

Posted in Virtual Tours | Leave a Comment »

Importance of External flash

Posted by larrylohrman on February 22, 2006

I’ve noticed from flyers, postcards and interacting with readers of this blog that the majority of photographers shooting interiors for real estate don’t understand the importance of an external flash unit. One of the telltale signs of an interior photo that someone was not using a flash is the predominance of red-orange from the incandescent lights. As in my example above from before I started to use a external flash whites are more yellow-orange than white (the countertops and ceiling in this home is white). Some of these color balance problems can be removed with photo editing but its hard work compared to the clean whites and accurate colors you get when shooting with an external flash.

The other telltale sign in interior photos done without an external flash is “burned-out” windows. Home sellers with wonderful views are always very disappointed when interior photos don’t show the view. Again there are ways to work around “burned-out” windows but they either involve hard work photo editing or carefully controlling the time of day you shoot.

To quote a recent comment from a reader: “…I just received the Speedlite 430ex from B&H a few days ago and after practicing on my own place I used it on a shoot today. Well, I'm sold! What a difference it makes. It really simplifies the image editing considerably and is a lot less stressful…”

Posted in Flash Technique, Photo Technique | Leave a Comment »

Flash Diffusers

Posted by larrylohrman on February 21, 2006

When using an external flash to shoot interiors I always use the built-in diffuser on my Canon 580ex Speedlite. The diffuser swings down over the flash and diffuses the light out so it covers the same field of view as a 14mm lens. The diffuser also reduces many of the strong harsh shadows that normally result from using a flash. A reader recently asked if there was a way to get the same effect if the flash unit you are doesn’t have a built-in diffuser.

The answer is, yes there is. Sto-Fen Products make diffusers that fit over the head of most flash units. I’ve tried a Sto-Fen diffuser on my 580ex and it creates very nearly the same effect as the built-in diffuser.

I like the results from flash diffusers better than bouncing the flash off the ceiling. I find that when using a wide-angle lens much of the ceiling is visible and comes out too “hot” if you bounce the flash off the ceiling.

Posted in Flash Technique, Photo Technique | Leave a Comment »

Look at Some Good Interior Photography

Posted by larrylohrman on February 20, 2006

With any discipline it’s important to know that the greats have done or are doing. If you are a pianist you listen to good piano music and if you are shooting interior photography you need to look at some great interior photography. My benchmark for interior photography is Architectural Digest. The people who photograph interiors for AD are the best in the business. I highly recommend spending time looking at what their work looks like.

If you can’t get your hands on a copy of Architectural Digest here are some web sites of some top interior photographers: www.krogstadphoto.com , www.erhardpfeiffer.com (Erhard is an AD regular), www.benschneiderphoto.com , www.barbarawhitephoto.com ,
www.dougsalin.com , www.psbphoto.com .

Posted in Photo Technique | Leave a Comment »

Tours with a High WOW Factor

Posted by larrylohrman on February 19, 2006

Since discovering buildatour.com yesterday I’ve built my own buildatour.com tour and I’m still excited about this type of tour. Buildatour.com lets you create an elegant slide show of up to 75 images that dissolve from one image to another with controllable background music track. You can associate text descriptions with each image and jump around and control the slide show easily. It provides a maps.google.com link for your listing address and allows a number of other links of your choice. And the tours are implemented in Flash so 97+% of viewers can see immediately see the slide show without downloading a viewer.

I think the most significant feature of these tours is the large (800×600) images. Large, wide-angle, high quality dissolving images have significantly more emotional impact than the typical images you typically see on real estate web sites. This large image impact is the reason I’ve been using full screen QuickTime images on my custom built tours for the last several years. However, full screen QuickTime is time consuming to shoot and to process and 35 to 40% of viewers don’t have QuickTime on their machine. While I was watching the buildatour.com demo a little voice in my head was saying, “These images have the nearly the same impact as full screen QuickTime but are much easier to create”.

These tours are a great example of why it can be worth the cost for a virtual tour to add impact to marketing your listing. Most of the other tour alternatives out there have little 360 images or movies that give you the feel you are looking through a key hole. Not buildatour.com you feel like you are there because the image nearly fills most screens.

Posted in Virtual Tours | 1 Comment »

Buildatour.com

Posted by larrylohrman on February 18, 2006

My previous two posts on virtual tours caused Google to add several virtual tour provider ads just above. I noticed ads for several do-it-yourself tour providers that I had not seen before so clicked on an ad for buildatour.com and checked out the demo and am very impressed with the simple elegance of the tours you can build with series of large still photos with a music background and the ability to have comments on all photos. I particularly like the large, nearly full screen format that is implemented in Flash. Using a Flash virtual tour means the tour can be seen by a maximum number of viewers. This vendor is a great example of how a simple series of still shots can be used to show off a home in a very elegant way. I now have a new favorite DIY tour provider! I’ll show you the next tour I build.

Posted in Virtual Tours | Leave a Comment »

Do-it-yourself Virtual Tours

Posted by larrylohrman on February 17, 2006

Do-it-yourself Virtual Tours are an easy, inexpensive way to get started using virtual tours. For from $30 to $50 for each tour you provide the photos and the Virtual Tour vendor provides the tour template and hosting for as long as your listing is on the market. One of my favorites is tourfactory.com.

I think the big benefit of using Virtual Tours is providing 180 or 360 degree photos. These panoramic type of photos give the viewer with a better sense of the space. The type of 360 photos used for these Virtual Tours are easy to shoot and don’t require any specialized equipment. Just shoot a series of overlapping photos and stitch them together with software like PhotoVista. You then upload the result just like a regular photo.

Posted in Virtual Tours | Leave a Comment »

My setup for 360 Virtual Tours

Posted by larrylohrman on February 16, 2006

I received a reader question about what setup I use for 360 photos. I use a Canon 1Ds with a Sigma 8mm fisheye lens and a simple homemade bracket for my tripod that mounts the camera so it rotates around the entrance pupil of the lens and has a bubble level to keep the camera level in two planes while rotating. When shooting a 360 photo this setup allows me to quickly shoot 4 fisheye images that can be stitched together to create a complete spherical image. Click here for a more detailed example. I use PTGui to stitch the 4 fisheye images together. Using this setup the shooting time is about 30 to 45 seconds per 360 image. When I'm not shooting the interior of a home I don't bother with the tripod so I can do 360 steet images etc without dragging around a tripod. I love to shot street 360 images this way.

I put 5 to 10 – 360 photos together to form a virtual tour for a home that looks like this. I host the 360 photos in two formats: FlashVR is the format you see initially. This is a Flash based format that 90+ percent of visitors can immediately see. Since these Flash tours are not the highest quality possible I also provide a link to a QuickTime tour of the same images for those viewers that either have QuickTime installed or are willing to install it to see the tour.

Posted in Panoramas, Photo Technique | 2 Comments »

Making a 4-in-1 Composite Photo

Posted by larrylohrman on February 15, 2006

A way to make maximum use of the single photo that is propagated from MLS sites to other real estate websites is a 4-in-1 composite photo. This used to be more important in our MLS a few years ago. Now all photos you put on our MLS make their way to most major real estate websites. However, I noticed there are still some real estate websites that only manage to get the main photo from the MLS so this is still a useful technique.

Here are the steps to creating a 4-in-one composite photo in Photoshop Elements:

  1. Open a blank image 8” x 5” at 72 dpi in landscape mode.
  2. Use the line tool to divide the blank image in half vertically and horizontally with a black 3 pixel wide line.
  3. Open one image at a time that you want in the composite dragging it to one of the 4 empty quadrants of the blank image.
  4. Scale each image to fit exactly in each quadrant.
  5. Make sure the layers with the black lines are the top most layer.
  6. Flatten the image and save as a JPEG.

As in the example I like to up the front photo in the upper left and have the other images be the strongest images of the most important rooms (kitchen, living room and master bedroom). Now you have one image that gives a feel for the four most important views of the home.

Posted in Photo Editing | Leave a Comment »

Use Google Earth as your Sky Camera

Posted by larrylohrman on February 12, 2006

Think of http://www.earth.google.com as your digital camera in the sky. Google Earth gives you a satellite photo of any given address. This is a great feature for marketing properties. You can save the google earth image as a JPEG file for use just like a image taken by a digital camera. The image is just like you were flying over the property at 600 feet. At 600 feet you can see each of the flower pots on my back deck! We currently have two land listings that I superimposed a plat map over a earth.google.com satellite photo to help show characteristics of the property (see the accompanying image).

Posted in Aerial Photos, Workflow | 3 Comments »

An Example Slave Fash Unit

Posted by larrylohrman on February 10, 2006

A couple of days ago I mentioned slave flash units. This is an item of interest to interior photographers using digital compact cameras that have built-in flashes but have no facility to control a bigger more powerful external flash unit required to adequately light interiors. I have a little CoolPix-4300 that falls in this category.

I found a great example of a slave flash unit that would be appropriate for using for shooting interior shots with a digital compact camera. It's the Metz 28 CS-2. It has a built-in bracket to attach your camera and it will work with a 24mm wide-angle lens. Just mount your camera with a built-in flash on it and the light from the built-in flash will trigger this flash. Thanks to Gordon in Salt Lake for bringing up the subject of slave flash units.

Posted in Flash Technique, Photo Equipment | 1 Comment »

Ebay has a ton of Wide-angle Converters!

Posted by larrylohrman on February 8, 2006

A wide-angle converter (or lens) is essential for interior photography. A reader recently pointed out that Ebay is a great source for wide-angle converters. To find them just go to ebay.com and click on Cameras & Photo along the left side of the screen. Then search for "wide angle lens". My search got 1975 items most of which are wide-angle converters for various camera models. There appears to be more wide-angle converters here than are routinely available at some of the big camera sites like B&H Photo and 47th Street camera. And the ones I found on Ebay I couldn't find at B&H Photo.

One interesting item the reader pointed out is for sale on Ebay is a 67mm .5x wide angle converter that screws on the front of a Nikon D50 or D70 that would turn the standard 18-55mm lens that comes with the D50/D70 into the equivalent of a 14mm lens for between $89 and $99. Not bad if the quality is acceptable. I'd like to hear from someone that has experience with one of these to see how the quality is.

Posted in Photo Equipment, Wide-angle lens | 2 Comments »

External Flash Unit Questions

Posted by larrylohrman on February 7, 2006

In the last few days I've had a couple of great comments from readers regarding the use of of external flash units. In my previous post regarding "6 steps to shooting great interior photos" I claim you need and external flash.

The first question is can't you just get by with a tripod? Yes, you can as I did for years but as I will show with examples in my up coming book, most of the time interior shots look better when using a external flash. Built-in flashes just don't have the power to brighten a whole room. Also, an external flash helps with the pesky problem of burnt-out windows because a flash unit boosts the interior brightness level to closer to the outside brightness.

Second comment is that if your camera doesn't have a "hotshoe" for mounting and syncronizing a flash, you can use what is called a "slave" flash. Slave flashes are fired by the light from a built-in flash units but are more powerful. Some come with a bracket to mount your camera on or you can just set the slave close to your camera. Either way the light from your built-in flash triggers the slave flash. Slave flash units can be purchased online at places like www.bhphotovideo.com for as little as $49. Typically the more expensive slave flashes are more powerful.

Posted in Flash Technique, Photo Technique | 2 Comments »

Importance of The Front Exterior Photo

Posted by larrylohrman on February 6, 2006

The front exterior photo in real estate marketing is very special since it is the single image of the property that is propagated to many websites and used for ads where there can be only one image of the property. Consequently, you want to put extra care and thought into taking and preparing this image so it catches viewers attention and inspires them to take action to find out more about the property.

There are many ways to make this single image look good. One of the best ways is to make sure the light is good. Bright direct sunlight is usually attractive but not always possible. Another, alternative is twilight with all the interior lights on. At twilight the light has a beautiful blue glow that is complemented by the interior lights.

Try to illustrate the setting as well as the architecture. If there are special features like view or water front try to find a way to show those features.

I take many trips to the property to see what it looks like in different light and shoot from as many angles as I can find. Try to find an interesting, unusual angle.

Posted in Photo Technique | Leave a Comment »