Photography For Real Estate

Tips and techniques for real estate photography

Archive for March, 2007

Example of a Well Done Property Website – www.kenwandadrive.com

Posted by larrylohrman on March 29, 2007

I just got a e-mail ad for a property in Snohomish (North of Seattle). I get 20 to 30 of these things a day as all Realtors on the Northwest Multiple Listing. The photos most of them put you to sleep. This one grabbed my attention. All the photos are on a property website: www.kenwandadrive.com.

I think this is a stunning example of 1. A good property website and 2. Stunning real estate photography. If you look closely at the images they have the look of blended images and/or HDR processing. The website of the company that did the site (Vista Estate Imaging) indicates these images are done “with natural light”. There are many images that have indications of some manual blending and many have indications of HDR processing. All in all though, this is one of the best jobs of blending images I’ve seen.

Posted in Photo Editing, Photo Technique, Real Estate Photo of the Week | 19 Comments »

What About Photoshop CS3?

Posted by larrylohrman on March 28, 2007

Since Photoshop 3 I’ve been one of the first in line to upgrade my version of Photoshop. This time it feels different to me. I’ve been using the Beta Photoshop CS3 on one machine and I have to say I like the feel of the new Bridge but I haven’t run into a CS3 feature I can’t live without. Lately I feel like I’m being over run by new Adobe software.

Maybe it’s because Lightroom just came out and I’m still learning how to be effective and comfortable with Lightroom. Just after Lightroom came out I got a copy of Photoshop Elements 5 and it has all the features I need. At this point I feel I could get by just fine with Lightroom and PE 5 so when the CS3 media circus started yesterday it didn’t grab me like a new version of Photoshop usually does.

I’m sure there will be some compelling feature in CS3 that will become a reason for upgrade, I just don’t see it at this point.

Posted in Photo Editing | 3 Comments »

An Elegant Image by M. James Northen

Posted by larrylohrman on March 26, 2007


I was recently looking through the images on M. James Northen’s web site after he’s made a comment on photographing upper-end properties. M. James works out of Vero Beach, Florida an shoots for premiere real estate companies, multi-million dollar builders, custom cabinet and kitchen designers and interior decorators in the southeast Florida area.

I chose this image to ask M. James about because I was attracted to the beautiful job of lighting that he’d done on this image despite the obviously very bright outside. It’s always challenging to get such a beautifully lit interior when the windows are so bright. Here is M. James comments on his setup, equipment and post processing:

“This was the first setup of the morning and took about 10 minutes to get right. The setup was very simple – That room faces east to the Ocean, I got there around 9:00 am so the sun was bright in the room. I set up two Strobes ( Alien Bee 800’s – 320Ws) I positioned one to the left of the camera at full power and a little behind me and the other to the right further into the room only half power. I had to watch the angles to avoid reflection in the windows. That was the most time consuming part. I use 48” white shoot through umbrellas most of the time as they are more convenient than soft boxes to move from room to room. The image was custom white balanced using an Expodisk. That typically saves me a lot of time in Photoshop. The exposure was ISO 400 – 1/160 at F11. I used a Canon 1D MKII with a 24mm Tilt – Shift Lens. When not using a Tilt- Shift lens I use an EF 17-40 which does well with the 1.3 Crop factor and allows me to get tighter on the same frame for a more intimate feel. For some really dramatic angles and interesting perspectives I use a Sigma 12-24mm – but only outside.

This was the beginning of a shoot that encompassed around 6,000 sq. ft. under air and a lavish pool and covered lanai. The images were required to be available the next day to be sent to magazines and other marketing venues. I did the whole shoot *.jpg and made fairly minor adjustments in Photoshop that evening. I have an action that I wrote which does the following, Light Shadow recovery, Light Color Saturation and finally basic sharpening. My work flow is to look at all the images in ACDSee Pro select the ones that I like and that also illustrate the home from a real estate standpoint as well as some more artistic shots. I then copy those to a new folder named “In Progress” I then run my action on all of those images in batch. I then go through those images and take the ones that I still like – from there I might have to do some perspective corrections but nothing to dramatic. (I use a hot shoe bubble level anytime I move the tripod) Burn a CD and give to client – with Invoice which I also send via an email PDF.

I like to use natural light whenever possible but on homes where there is a great view I typically light the rooms using anywhere from 1 Strobe to 4 with Morris Slaves as accents and reflectors and flags to control spill and volume. I use Alien Bee Lights as they are constructed well and are a good value. The price of the listing and what the client request dictates how elaborate the shoot gets. I find that keeping things simple works well though.”

I should mention that this image is the second image in his “recent” gallery. M. James said that he believes that the third image in this gallery is stronger than the image above. I’ll leave that for you to decide. I like the image above because it has a more symmetrical composition and I feel drawn into the room with this image where-as the third image keeps pulling my attention towards the glass table to the right.

Thanks M. James for sharing the setup and details of your image.

 

Posted in Photo Technique, ReaderProfile | 8 Comments »

How Host Your Own Virtual Tours

Posted by larrylohrman on March 17, 2007


Cherie Irwin mentioned that “…I’m not a Virtual Tour provider, but I am curious about what kind of options there are for building your own tours, hosting them and then posting to Realtor.com through their Picture Path program, without using a Big Box Virtual Tour provider or hosting program.”

Hosting your own tours is not difficult. There are several bits of technology you need to master above an beyond photography:

  1. You need to have your own web site with the space to post the tours. There are hundreds of places have you web site. I use www.vario.com and subscribe to their $19.95/mo hosting plan that provides 10 GB of web space and 400 GB of bandwidth. I’ve never come close to using up either limit but I only host tours for our own listings. If you host tours for hundreds of Realtors you may come closer to these limits.
  2. You need to learn HTML and a web site maintenance application so you can control what your web sites looks line. There are many good web maintenance/HTML apps out there but my favorite is Dreamweaver.
  3. You need to come up with a design for what your tour looks like and how it works. I think this is the crux of a good virtual tour. I’ve worked at this over the years but never been totally happy with a design. One of the major decisions you’ll need to make in this design is what display technology to use. The major available technologies are: QuickTime, Java, Flash and Shockwave. They all have their upsides and downsides. If you are only going to do slide shows Flash is probably your best bet. If you are going to do 360 VR you’ll probably want to offer several options and let the viewer choose their favorite.
  4. If your clients are going to want to post tours to Realtor.com you’ll have to go through Realtor.com to post Picture Path tours. I’ve never needed to post tours to Realtor.com because in our area the brokers sites are more important. However, the importance of Realtor.com varies around the US. Brad at buildatour.com says the posting to Realtor.com is not a big problem. Brad says it costs $19.95 to post a non-showcase tour to Realtor.com and it’s free to post a showcase tour. There is a Picture Path information page here but I don’t know how up to date is it.

One of the things that motivated me to host my own virtual tours is that it gave me total control over the content and allows me to put links to flyers, legal descriptions, floor plans, local sites and I don’t have to make a special tour to burn on CD for the seller and buyer. Sure, creating your own tours is extra work but the extra work is mostly setting things up. Once you have a tour template you can just copy it to a new folder on your web server and change the appropriate items.

Here are some of my attempts at designs for tours:

Lately I been doing mostly full screen 360 tours and Flash slide shows. I really don’t know how important 360 type tours are. They tend to be more complicated for viewers to figure out. The great thing about Flash slide shows is the viewer doesn’t have to do anything. The tour works even if the viewer does nothing.

Posted in Virtual Tours | 11 Comments »

HDR Image Processing with Photomatix

Posted by larrylohrman on March 13, 2007


I’ve been having an interesting discussion with my friend Kevin Caskey about HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing of spherical panoramas. Kevin is a photographic savvy Realtor in Bellevue, WA that shoots his own spherical panoramas. Kevin discovered and pointed out Photomatix software to me. He showed me his QuickTime VR panorama of his living room that he processed created with Photomatrix.

The typical problem encountered when shooting panoramas is that since you have to shoot all shots being stitched together at the same exposure settings so that you can stitch them together so you have a hard time dealing with scenes that have an extreme dynamic range.

Here’s some background on HDR and Photomatix. The way HDR works is that in addition to the normal exposure you take one or more exposures with less exposure and one or more exposures with more exposure than the normally exposed image. You then combine the multiple images together in a way that takes the “best” parts of each image and results in an image that has a dynamic range of all the combined images. This combining process is what Photomatix does.

Why would you want to go to the work of taking multiple images and combining them? For interiors, it’s an alternative to artificial lighting. For outdoor shots it’s the only way to get the shot if you are faced with a wide range of brightness.

So Kevin used HDR processing with Photomatrix on this QuickTime VR shot of his living room. To appreciate this use of HDR, compare it with this panorama which is some of the same files from Kevin’s panorama only without HDR processing. This second shot is just one shot in each of 3 directions stitched together. Whereas Kevin’s shot is 3 shots in each of 3 directions and all 3 images in each direction combined with Photomatix and the final 3 HDR image stitched toghether. In comparing the two panoramas you will quickly see that Kevin’s HDR panorama has more even lighting around the whole 360 view much like you would get if you’d used a flash unit. In the non-HDR version of the panorama the lighting is more uneven around the 360 degrees of view. The windows are well exposed but the opposite direction is quite underexposed.

When working inside I’d rather use a external flash unit and take one shot in each direction since it’s a lot less processing work than using Photomatix and shooting 3 times more images. However, when you are shooting outside where you can’t can’t control the lighting there is no other way of capturing the total brightness range of a scene with a bright sky and not so bright foreground.

Last April I did a post on some ways to do image blending for interiors as an alternative to using lighting equipment. Photomatix is another piece of software that goes works in a similar way to the techniques I described in that post. However, with Photomatix you have much more control over the combining of images with a process that’s called “tone-mapping”. For a complete tutorial on HDR and using Photomatrix see www.naturescapes.net.

Posted in Panoramas, Photo Editing, Virtual Tours | 14 Comments »

Follow-up on Barrel Correction with DxO Optics Pro

Posted by larrylohrman on March 13, 2007

Here’s follow up on the subject of correcting lens defects. My “curved wall” article I did recently was intended to highlight the issue of curved walls caused by barrel distortion. Many beginning RE photographers don’t seem to understand this subject. Several comments brought up the fact that there are more lens defects than just barrel distortion and DxO Optics Pro will not only automatically fix barrel distortion but other lens distortions like vignetting, color distortion and other lens defects automatically for you particular lens and camera body. I wanted to make sure everyone interested in DxO takes a look at Michael Reichmann’s reviews of DxO. Michael was a alpha tester of DxO and has great information and insight on these products. He has done two reviews, one in 2004 and one in 2005. DxO has a 21 day trial so you can see if you like the way it works. Since DxO has the ability to fix a whole folder of files at a time this could save you a bunch of time if your wide-angle lens has noticeable distortions.

Posted in Photo Editing | 1 Comment »

Zigview Remote View finder and Trigger for Mast Shots

Posted by larrylohrman on March 13, 2007

Scott Hargis pointed out an interesting little piece of gadgetry. The Zigview S2 lets you plug a remote viewer with a 40′  extension into the eye-piece of many digital SLRs. This looks like an easy way to put you camera on a long monopod or mast. It looks to me like this remote viewer and shutter release for my Canon body would cost under $400. Now all I have to do is find a mast or tall monopod.

Thanks Scott.

Posted in Aerial Photos | 6 Comments »

DVD Tours from www.dvd-tour.com

Posted by larrylohrman on March 9, 2007

Today I got 2 DVDs in the mail from Jim DHaem over at www.dvd-tour.com. Jim offered to make me a demo of his DVD making service. So I just e-mailed him 20 photos of a listing that just closed last week and he created a DVDs slide-show complete with Ken Burns style panning over the still shots and a subdued music sound track. I normally shut off sound tracks on most tours because I find them annoying. But I like Jim’s because its minimal. Jim puts his DVDs in a clear, thin style DVD case and makes a printed cover that is a composite of the external shot of the home with a Realtor photo, listing info and contact information. These DVDs are suitable for a seller or buyer gift sending to prospective buyers. I’m going to give these to the seller and her daughter that helped get the home ready for market.

I was actually trying to create my own DVD using Photoshop Elements 5 and Premiere Elements but Jim’s DVDs came before I was able to get mine working. Frankly, I rather order the DVDs from Jim (2 for $19.95) than spend the time making my own since it will take a fair investment of my time to learn how to make DVDs as good a Jim makes.

Posted in Virtual Tours | 6 Comments »

16-9.net Lens Tests

Posted by larrylohrman on March 9, 2007

I want to highlight another contribution by Marc Lacoste, of Nantes, FR. Marc has pointed out a number of very significant items of interest to readers of this blog. His comment on the last post that referrers to the wide-angle lens tests on www.16-9.net . These tests are a real gem! Very detailed and complete. A valuable resource for real estate photographers purchasing a wide-angle lens. I think Marc has referred to these tests before but I didn’t pick up on the significance of the site. I’ve added this link to the right sidebar. Thanks again Marc.

Posted in Wide-angle lens | Leave a Comment »

How To Prevent Curved Walls

Posted by larrylohrman on March 6, 2007

Another common mistake Realtors make with marketing photos is to use images in which the walls don’t appear to be straight. Inexpensive wide-angle will lens and converters have what is called barrel distortion. That is, distortion will make straight lines near the edges of the frame look curved.

Why Not Having Perfectly Vertical Straight Walls is a Problem
Not having straight walls is very similar to having converging verticals. Curved walls distract from the purpose of real estate photographs. You want people to say “wow, that’s a beautiful room; I’d like to buy this home!” Anything in the image that takes attention away from this purpose is a problem.

 

How to Minimize Curved Verticals
Curved verticals result from inexpensive wide-angle lenses or wide-angle converters. For example, I have a Nikon WC-E63 screw on wide-angle converter (cost about $180 new) that screws on many older Nikon CoolPix cameras. It produces images that have a noticeable barrel distortion. On the other hand my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM cost $1,300 still has barrel distortion if you look for it closely but most people will never notice it because it’s so slight. When you purchase a wide-angle lens or converter find out how much barrel distortion it has before you buy it.

 

The thing with barrel distortion is that it occurs most at the outer edges of the lens so if you keep straight lines away from the edges of the image you won’t be able to see the distortion.

Read the whole article

 

Posted in Photo Editing | 5 Comments »

What Real Estate Photographers Should Do When They Go To Realtor Meetings

Posted by larrylohrman on March 5, 2007

I’ve mentioned before that one of the best ways to get clients is to attend Realtor meetings. All offices have a sales meeting about once a week. If you call the managing broker they will usually let you come make a presentation to all the agents in the office. Better yet get a Realtor that you’ve done work (and likes your work) for to invite you the the meeting. Referrals are very powerful.

I had a question today about what to do when you get a chance to go to such a meeting. Here is my response:

Put your presentation on hand-outs and give everyone a copy of everything you are going to say. Also, have your name, phone # and website URL all over the presentation.

There are several reasons for this approach:

  1. You don’t have to worry about getting through the presentation since everyone will have a copy.
  2. Frequently you end-up not having enough time to get through the presentation… actually it’s better that you don’t get through it all since agents have short attention spans. If they have a copy of your material they will take out of it what they need and want.
  3. Your main purpose it to connect with the agents and to appear confident in the area of real estate photography.

A couple more suggestions:

  1. Base your presentation on the NY Times article that I referred to a few weeks ago .
  2. This article has some of the most compelling arguments for using a RE photographer I’ve seen for a long time. And who’s going to argue with the NY Times? Include copies of this article in your handouts.
  3. Feel free to handout copies of my 10 essentials of Real Estate photography. The point in using this is that Realtors will see that these are important items that they are not equipped to do… but you are.
  4. Just relax and be yourself  and you’ll do fine!

Realtors will appreciate the NY Times article. Our managing broker found it on her own and recommended it to everyone in the office but most Realtors have probably not seen it.

Posted in Marketing Yourself | 13 Comments »

Staging, Styling and Good Marketing Photography

Posted by larrylohrman on March 4, 2007

I like to look through the Wall Street Journals real estate site occasionally to see the upper-end homes that are marketed in their home of the week feature. Considering that these homes are moving slowly these days (Ben Casselman reports that only 14 of the 46 these homes of the week have sold in 2006; all at big discounts) and that Internet marketing is even more important with these upper-end homes you would think that they would all be beautifully staged and presented with the very best professional photography.

Not so; as an example look at Joan and Ted Waitt’s (Ted is co-founder of Gateway Computer) home in San Francisco listed at $25.9 million. Vacant homes are just not appealing. Large cavernous spaces tend to look like warehouses instead of warm inviting living spaces.

So far this year we’ve sold three vacant homes. We used a stager to decorate all three homes and it’s very clear that the staging/styling was a big factor in making the homes sell quickly. This is not rocket science! All you have to do is walk in to a vacant home before staging and then after staging to be conviced. I think it is the place of RE photographers to give agents advice and push back when asked to photograph a vacant home. In our case it cost in the neighborhood of $1,000 to have a home in the $500,000 price range staged. This is well worth it in the scheme of things. It cost agents and sellers when a home sits on the market for a long time.

Make contact with a stager/designer in your area so you can quickly refer them to agents when you are asked to photograph a vacant home.

Posted in Staging & Styling | 2 Comments »

#1 Real Estate Photo Distraction: Converging Verticals

Posted by larrylohrman on March 2, 2007

I did a post last April on this subject but this is such an important subject that it needs to be raised over and over. This time I’ve done a longer article on the subject in PDF form so Realtors can easily pass it around. In the complete article (link at the bottom of this post) I’ve included some examples of how to fix converging verticals and put in some tips on how to minimize the effect when you are shooting. In the process of doing this article I discovered that Photoshop Elements 5 has a great new “Correct Camera Distortion filter similar to the one in Photoshop CS2. Also, I’ve decided not to add links in the “Interior Photographers” list on the right sidebar unless I feel the photographer’s work is a good example of following my “10 Commandments” of real estate photography.

One of the most common mistakes Realtors make with marketing photos is to use images that have walls that don’t appear to be vertical. This problem is caused by not holding the camera level in the front-to-back plane. When using a wide-angle or ultra wide-angle lens this problem is exaggerated. This effect is also referred to as “converging verticals”.

Surprisingly many real estate photographers don’t understand the negative aesthetic impact of having converging verticals in real estate images. I think part of the reason is that many times we see images of buildings that have converging verticals that are being used for other non-marketing purposes and the impression is that these images are creative or arty. Quite, the contrary, images like this occur when the real estate photographer is in a hurry, not paying attention and is not willing to take the time it takes to correct the image.

Read the whole article

 

Posted in Photo Editing, Workflow | 5 Comments »