Photography For Real Estate

Tips and techniques for real estate photography

Archive for August, 2006

The Importance of Flash Sync Speed

Posted by larrylohrman on August 26, 2006

Marc Lacoste’s comment on my last post refers indirectly to a very significant article on kenrockwell.com for real estate photographers. The article explains several reasons photographers should care about flash sync speed. The most important reason for real estate photographers is flash range. As Ken’s excellent article explains, faster sync speed means longer flash range. The point of Marc’s comment is that the older Nikon DSLRs (D50 & D70) have a flash sync speed of 1/500 and above… good for real estate photography!

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Posted in Flash Technique, Photo Equipment | 8 Comments »

Canon Announces 400D – Latest Evolution of Their Low-end DSLR

Posted by larrylohrman on August 24, 2006

The Canon 300D and the 350D are very popular cameras and widely used in real estate applications. The 400D is a refinement of this already popular model.

The Canon press release says:

Amstelveen, The Netherlands, 24 August 2006: Canon today announces its next generation D-SLR: the EOS 400D. Featuring a 10.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor, new EOS Integrated Cleaning System, larger and brighter 2.5” LCD and 9-point AF, the model is predicted to take the lead as the world’s most popular camera. It is positioned above the EOS 350D, currently the fastest selling SLR camera of all time.

Canon’s EOS 300D, the world’s first consumer D-SLR, kick started a digital revolution in 2003. “We are now witnessing a mass consumer trend towards D‑SLR,” said Mogens Jensen, Head of Canon Consumer Imaging Europe.

Consumer research shows it is not only existing film SLR owners now switching to digital SLR photography. “On top of the existing 21 million analogue EOS shooters, a completely new profile of consumer is adopting digital EOS and driving growth,” said Jensen. “With European household penetration having only just hit 3%, the question now is not ‘will this market be big’, but ‘how big will this market become’.”

The EOS 400D features

  • 10.1 Megapixel CMOS sensor
  • Canon’s EOS Integrated Cleaning System
  • 2.5” LCD screen with 230K pixels and 160º viewing angle
  • High-precision 9 point AF system
  • Picture Style image processing parameters
  • DIGIC II image processor with 0.2 sec start up
  • Digital Photo Professional RAW processing software
  • Compact and Lightweight body
  • Fully compatible with all Canon EF and EF-S lenses and EX-series Speedlites

Canon is the only D-SLR brand to own and manufacture the sensor, processor and lenses in house. “EOS photographers benefit from 20 years of ongoing research investment into EOS,” said Jensen. “EOS photographers have the great advantage of owning a system camera in which every element is designed at a very fundamental level to work as a balanced, integrated whole. It is one reason why more than 70% of registered photographers at the Athens Olympics shot on EOS.” With EOS, Canon aims to provide consumers with the widest and most expandable camera system available, including over 60 EF lenses and Speedlite flash units.

For complete information see the post at dpreview.com

Posted in Photo Equipment | 1 Comment »

Success With My Slave SB-26 Flash!

Posted by larrylohrman on August 23, 2006

I got some reader suggestions on how to solve the problem of a shadow from the wide-angle converter when using my Nikon SB-26 as a slave to my Coolpix-4300’s built-in flash.

Randy pointed out that if the slave flash was firing at the same time as the built-in flash because of it’s power compared to the built-in flash it should make the shadow from the wide-angle converter go away.

 As Randy said:

“I would think the SB-26 would overpower the wimpy built in flash. Are you sure you were using it in the right mode. Most digital cameras fire a pre-flash to judge exposure prior to taking the actual picture. To the human eye it looks like one flash, but in fact there are actually two(maybe even three if you have red-eye reduction on). Standard optical slaves will fire on this first flash and have no impact on the image…”

He was right on. I tried the “delay” feature on the SB-26 but that only made a slight improvement. The slave was still not firing when the CoolPix-4300’s shutter was open. After trying all the flash modes on the SB-26 I finally got the result above when I put the SB-26 on Multiple-image-flash mode. “Multiple flash mode” fires the flash multiple times and at least one of the times is while the shutter is open.

The moral is when using a slave flash you have to make sure the slave is firing while the shutter is open.

Posted in Flash Technique | Leave a Comment »

Problems With Using Slave Flashes on Compact Digital Cameras

Posted by larrylohrman on August 22, 2006

Recently I was rummaging through my old film camera gear and ran across my old Nikon SB-26 flash unit that I used to use with my Nikon 6006 film camera. While thumbing through the manual I noticed that it has a slave mode where light from another flash can be used to trigger it. I decided to set it up and try to trigger it with my CoolPix-4300. I a post back in February of this year I recommended using a slave external flash unit when you are using a compact camera that doesn’t have a hot-shoe for an external flash unit.

It turns out there are serious problems with this technique. Virtually all compact cameras need a wide-angle converter to get a wide enough angle of view (Kodak V570 is the only exception I know of) for interiors and it turns out that wide-angle converters block the built-in flash and make a nasty shadow in the image (see the image above). The built-in flash triggers the slave flash OK but there’s not much you can do about the shadow. The image below is what results when you take off the wide-angle converter- the slave flash illuminates the room beautifully but the angle of view is not wide enough for a pleasing interior shot.

I doubt if this is a problem unique to my CoolPix-4300 and WC-63 wide-angle converter. I believe the conclusion is: Don’t expect to use a built-in flash unit to trigger a slave flash unit when you are using a wide-angle converter. To state it differently, if you’re going to use an external flash unit with a compact camera that requires a wide-angle converter you need to have make sure an external flash can be fired on a hot-shoe or with a PC sync cord without the built-in flash firing. At this point, without doing some research, I’m not sure if there are any compact cameras that work well with external flashes!

Posted in Flash Technique, Photo Equipment | 5 Comments »

Photo of The Week – Natural Light Only or Lighting Equipment?

Posted by larrylohrman on August 17, 2006

This last week I’ve been talking to Con Poulos of Sydney, Australia about natural light shooting versus using lighting equipment. Con is a real estate photographer that does both 360 virtual tours and still interior shots. His website is http://www.spinpix.com.au/. Con sent me several recent interior images that he’s shot without using any lighting equipment. The image above and below are the ones I like best. These were created by shooting multiple images, probably one image exposed for the windows and at least one other image exposed for the interior and then combining the images in Photoshop using masking. That is, taking the best parts of each image and combining them into one beautifully exposed image.

Anyone who’s tried to create an image like the one above will appreciate how difficult it is to expose the interior and the view out the window in one image. Con has done a stunning job! But, he’s done it by spending allot of time in Photoshop combining multiple images. I’ve found that sellers of view homes expect shots like this that show both the interior long with the view.

If you are interested in the gory details of combining multiple images I recommend Katrin Eismann’s book Photoshop Masking & Compositing . On pages 225 to 240 she specifically has examples of creating interior and exterior real estate images using multiple images. The rest of the book covers related aspects of combining multiple images with masking.

Con’s question to me was what kind of pro-lighting equipment does he need to use to reduce the amount of time he needs to spend in Photoshop to get this kind of image.

My answer was that lighting equipment will indeed reduce the amount of time you need to spend in Photoshop to get such images as these. Many real estate photographers do work very close to this with external flash units either Canon, Nikon, Metz or Quantum TTL flash systems (typically around 50 watt-seconds). The positive side of these TTL systems is that they are very portable and very automatic. However, there are always going to be rooms that are too big to light. And with artificial lighting systems you will always fight unnatural looking shadows and reflections. The next level of professional lighting systems that have more power (~100 watt-seconds and above) can be fired into transparent umbrellas to get a better quality of light but you must sacrifice portability.

Ultimately you find creating great interior images like these is a balancing act between time spent in Photoshop with the amount of lighting equipment you carry. That is, no lighting equipment means spending allot of time in Photoshop and allot of powerful lighting equipment means almost no time in Photoshop.

Many real estate photographers tell me that they are under time pressure to get in and out of a home in around an hour because the agent they are working for is waiting for them to finish. This is because the agent is personally responsible for the home while you are there. In my state (Washington) an agent can be fined up to $5000 if they leave a contractor unescorted in a home. Other interior photographers that work for builders tell me they take more time per home and spend a half a day to a day shooting a home. If you are going to shoot a home in around an hour, there’s no way you have time to setup much lighting equipment.

I personally take around 2 hours to shoot a home of around 3000 square feet and use a single external Canon 580EX Speedlite that will fit in my pocket. Since I’m a licensed agent I don’t have to be escorted in a home so this removes the time pressure. I also frequently take two or more trips to the home looking for good light or because I forgot some critical shot.

Posted in ReaderProfile, Real Estate Photo of the Week | 3 Comments »

What’s Important When Shooting Real Estate Photos?

Posted by larrylohrman on August 15, 2006

 

I’m going to pick on realestatejournal.com’s home of the week again to point out a few things I think are important when shooting real estate marketing photos. This week’s home of the week is an $11.5 Million home in the Boston area. I think the lead photo needs some work and given the photos shown of this home I’m not sure I’d have used it as the lead photo.

On the positive side this photo does say “large estate” but other than that it’s uninspiring. After seeing the 10 photos that present this property I did some googling to see if there were more photos available for this home. Yes, there are more and better photos. The listing agents website has a much better presentation of the property. The lead photo here is much more inspiring. It’s brighter, more attractive and it also says “large estate home” with out having the 4 garage doors showing. Why this photo was not used as the lead photo in the realestatejournal.com presentation I don’t know. Probably it’s due to the whim of who ever put together the article at realestatejournal.com. Frequently when you submit photos to any publication the agent doesn’t have control of photo selection or even words. The virtual tour of this property shows even more photos not shown in the still presentation.

The problem I want to point out with the lead photo is the horizontal alignment one. This problem seems all to common with real estate photos. I believe it’s an absolute must that horizontal lines that one would intuitively expect to be parallel with the top and bottom of the photo frame must be horizontal. Roof lines are always effectively horizontal so they should be rendered horizontal. I always use horizontal guides to see how things line up. And then use Photoshop or Photoshop Elements to rotate the photo and re-crop. I’ve drawn lines on a copy of the photo above to highlight the alignment problem.

The second problem is the lighting. The trees tell you this was shot in the winter and good lignt is probably hard to come by in the winter in Boston. However, I find you have to come back many times to get good light. Getting good light outside takes more time and return trips than shooting the interior. Some homes I’ve been back to 4 or 5 times to get good light.

Another issue I have with the series of photos of this home is there is no kitchen. As one of the most used rooms in a home I think it is essential to include a shot of the kitchen. In fact when photos any key rooms are missing on a photo presentation of a home my assumption is that the agent/seller is trying to hide something. Key rooms are kitchen, living room and master and for upper-end homes the master bath. An expensive home needs impressive key rooms or I’m suspicious! The reason I’m suspicious is when we have a listing with a awful kitchen the temptation to leave out a photo is large. However, it’s better to make what ever is there look it’s best. After all that’s your job as a real estate photographer.

Posted in Marketing, Real Estate Photo of the Week | Leave a Comment »

Real Estate Photo of the week

Posted by larrylohrman on August 5, 2006

I’ve decided to start a new feature of Photography For Real Estate. I’m going regularly feature a Real Estate photo that I feel is noteworthy. I think it’s worth while to think and talk about why a photo works or doesn’t work. So I’m going to do a short analysis of why I think a photo works or doesn’t and I encourage readers to use comments to agree or disagree or add to the analysis. It’s always easy to say “yea, I like that photo” or “no, I don’t” but it’s always harder to say why and what factors make it work or not work.

The above photo is my first choice. It came to my attention as the primary photo on an e-mail flyer. The reasons I like this photo are:

  • I like the light. The light feels bright and crisp without being too bright. I think the quality of light is to some extent created by the broken clouds. The shadows are not extensive so they don’t distract.
  • The high angle of view is what first caught my eye. My guess is this is taken from the window of a home across the street. This high angle of view is always hard to get and always enhances the shot. If this home were shot from street level it would probably be ugly and a struggle to get keep the walls vertical. This high angle look is why people pay for heli shots, shots from telescoping masts, shots from balloons and the like. A side benefit of the high angle is you can see the roof material and the fact that the home has skylights, some thing you wouldn’t see from a street level shot.
  • It’s probably an accident but the fact that this is a 3/4 view (that is not straight on) gives the home depth and allows you to see one of the sides of the house.
  • The photo gives a feel of the neighborhood. That is, you can see the spacing between homes the landscaping, a peek at the backyard without these things distracting from the main strong image of the home.
  • The home has a pleasant design. Of coarse the photographer didn’t have control of the design but let’s face it the design or street appeal is a big factor in the feeling of the photo.

This agent is doing a nice job of marketing this home and neighborhood with great images. Here is the virtual tour. I’m partial to this type of flash virtual tour with a series of photos. I’d rather the photos were a bit larger but this is a nice tour.

So what do you think? Don’t be bashful. Use the comment feature.

Posted in Real Estate Photo of the Week | 1 Comment »

Telescopic Mast – Another Way to get a High View

Posted by larrylohrman on August 4, 2006

A few days ago I heard from another Australian reader Adam Maurer in Brisbane. Adam uses a custom built telescoping pneumatic mast to get a high point of view for real estate shots. He attaches the mast to a trailer hitch and is able to hoist his remote controlled camera 40 feet in the air. Take a look at Adam’s website to see his mast and camera setup. Adam describes his mast as follows:

“It’s a 12m (40 foot) QT12 “Clark Mast”. Clark is based in the UK, and virtually invented the pneumatic mast.

To purchase a brand new QT12 here in Australia is just under AUD$7,000… but I picked mine up second hand off a fellow amateur radio operator for $800. It’s 10 years old, but works a treat, especially after I gave it a basic overhaul & clean (taking less than 1 hour).

It slots into a standard “Hayman Reece” type towbar hitch receiver.
I have an ARB 12V air compressor that lifts it up (with 2.5kg camera
payload) in about 65 seconds.”

This is taking Marc Lacoste’s idea of holding your camera on your tripod over your head to the next level!

Adam does standard interior photography and panoramic photography as well as specialized 40 foot aerial shots.

Posted in Aerial Photos, ReaderProfile | 4 Comments »

Are Bad Photos Worse than No Photos?

Posted by larrylohrman on August 3, 2006

In our area agents send e-mail flyers to other agents to promote their listings. Since I’m a licensed agent and have my e-mail address on the mailing list of the companies that distribute agent flyers I get at least 10 or 15 of these e-mails a day. Since I’m interested in real estate photography and the each have 3 or 4 photos so I critique the photography before I delete the e-mail from my in-box.

Most (probably 80%) of the photos are pretty reasonable. Every once in a while there are some stunning shots. And about 5 to 10% of the photos are awful! Today an e-mail flyer showed up in my in-box that totally amazed me. I used to be of the opinion that nothing was worse than having no photos on a listing. But after seeing these photos I have to reconsider.

The photo above was the lead photo. The other 3 photos on the flyer were of equal quality and effectiveness. At first I thought maybe this was a joke. But after realizing that the agent had to pay between $100 and $200 to distribute the flyer to the 2000 or so agents in our area. I took the time to go look at the other listings on the MLS. All the photos were similar to the ones on the flyer.

I’m thinking that photos like these not only don’t promote the property but they detract from the professional image of the agent.

Posted in Photo Technique | 2 Comments »

Using Video in Real Estate Photography

Posted by larrylohrman on August 2, 2006

As an agent or real estate photographer you should be aware that the options for using video on your website or to market yourself or your listing are increasing. My belief is that the wider use of video is coming about because

  1. Its easier and easier to create video. New cameras can frequently create video as an added feature. Video is written directly to the camera memory and are limited only by the size of the memory card you are using.
  2. More an more network users have highspeed connections to the net.

I’ve been thinking about writing a blog entry about this for some time. Mainly to point out that http://www.video.google.com and http://www.youtube.com will host video’s for free. All you have to do is upload the video then others can link to is, you can e-mail the link to the video or embed it in a webpage. Here’s my little test of http://www.youtube.com. This little video is just 13 seconds but you can post up to 10 minutes of video. One way to use this is to promote yourself or a listing much like a virtual tour.
Recently Sharon Nyman of Key Largo sent me an example of how she is using video. She uses http://www.spotrunner.com to use stills that she has shot to create TV spots. Here are two examples of spots she has had created. Example 1. Example 2.

Sharon says:

“…I supplied the photos and the narration. Century 21 has special pricing with Spot Runner for $349 to produce the ad including the voiceover. Once the ad is produced, it can be used over and over. The air time is paid separately. I recently ran 100 spots (all daytime) over a one month period for $950. I used only three networks CNN, HGTV and The Weather Channel.(poplar with boaters here in the Keys). I think pricing would be higher in certain areas like Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. I was going to do an “Agent” ad but the listing ad really says it all without specifically promoting myself. This is my second TV ad…”

This is quite a sophistocated and effective use of video. But you don’t have to be this sophisticated. That is you can create and post the video yourself. One example of this I really enjoy is the www.rocketboom.com/vlog video blog with Joanne Colan. rocketboom.com is a video blog that posts a 3 minute video every day. It’s one of the most popular video blogs on the net. I’m not saying anybody can do this. Joanne is very talented and backed up by a number of other folks.

I’ve just discovered these uses of video within the last few months. This technology is developing rapidly.

Posted in Marketing Yourself, Virtual Tours | 2 Comments »