Photography For Real Estate

Tips and techniques for real estate photography

Archive for April, 2007

New Photomerge in Photoshop CS3 is a Breakthrough Improvement

Posted by larrylohrman on April 28, 2007

Wow, the new photomerge feature in Photoshop CS3 is a huge improvement compared to previous versions of photomerge. The idea of photomerge is to stitch together a series of photos into a panorama similar to the panorama above. I made this panorama from six overlapping shots that cover about 180 degrees of horizontal view. The six shots were taken without a tripod and in aperture priority mode. Normally you would use a tripod to make sure the shots line up nicely for stitching and use manual exposure mode so all parts of the panorama had the same exposure. But I wanted to test the stitching, alignment and blending algorithms in photomerge.

This second panorama is made from the very same six photos with the older photomerge that is in Photoshop Elements 5.0. I think the same photomerge is in Photoshop CS2 and earlier versions.

Notice the nice blending job that the new photomerge (top most example) did when the shutter speed was increased towards the right side of the panorama that was towards the sun. You have to look closely to in the top example to that there is a change in exposure on the right-hand side. The old photomerge makes kind of a mess and doesn’t even try to blend the different images.

A panoramic shot can be nice on a property brochure or flyer or a web site. Many do-it-yourself virtual tour sites allow you to use this kind of panorama shot. In the past I’ve always used specialized stitching software like PhotoVista or PTgui to make panoramas because Photoshop did such a bad job. Photoshop CS3 has changed that, photomerge finally stitches and blends panoramas as good or better than specialized software.

BTW, if you want to get some more in depth how-to on using Photomerge in CS3 there is a multi-part Video podcast on this subject currently at lynda.com. All you need is a free download of Apple iTunes. After installing iTunes, use iTunes to subscribe to the lynda.com podcast. You can then watch the video on either your PC/MAC or iPod. The Photomerge podcast is #59 for April 20.

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Posted in Panoramas, Photo Editing | 2 Comments »

Expodisc: A Way Get Correct White Balance at Capture Time

Posted by larrylohrman on April 24, 2007

You may have noticed that when M. James Northen was describing his process for shooting the image we featured about a month ago he mentioned that he used a Expodisc. If you are not familiar with with the Expodisc, Ken Rockwell has a great article on the subject. Basically it’s a filter like device that helps you get accurate white balance at capture time rather than make adjustments in Lightroom or Photoshop. There are always some that would rather do more at capture time than in Photoshop. On the other hand some folks are more comfortable in Photoshop and find it easier to image-edit than to buy equipment.

I bring this up be cause Karl was wondering how widely the Expodisc is used and if most RE photographers address white balance at capture time or in Lightroom and Photoshop.

I personally love the way shooting RAW allows you to make white balance adjustments during photo-editing. The less technical camera things I have to pay attention to while shooting the more I can focus on composing and thinking about the aesthetic aspects of the shots. But I know there are others out there that are on the “other side of this fence”. A very compelling feature of both Lightroom 1.0 and Photoshop CS3 (actually I think this is a feature of Camera Raw 4.0 which they both use) is that even if you are shooting to JPG, Lightroom and PS CS3 allow you to adjust white balance in the same way as if you shot in RAW.

Posted in Photo Equipment | 9 Comments »

Lurch From Adams Family is A VR Photographer

Posted by larrylohrman on April 23, 2007

Yesterday Jim Dhaem over at www.dvd-tour.com pointed out to me that Lurch (Carel Struycken) is a VR photographer in Southern California. Check out his work at the following sites:

His VR site: www.sphericalpanoramas.com

His Virtual Tour site: www.sphericalvrtours.com

His acting site: www.carelstruycken.com

Thanks Jim.

Posted in Virtual Tours | 2 Comments »

Shooting Exterior Home Photos at Twilight

Posted by larrylohrman on April 20, 2007

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about shooting exterior photos at twilight. Recently Cherie Irwin a RE photographer who works out of St Louis, MO was showing me some of her twilight shots and remarking how much the her client liked the photos. The shot above is my favorite of the series that Cherie showed me. I find that home sellers are usually dazzled by twilight shots. We frequently have home sellers ask for twilight shots because they have seen others on our web site.

I think the crux of shooting shots like this is knowing when to show up for the shoot. Although a Google of the search term “sunset times” will revel a number of sites that will help you with knowing when twilight and sunset is on any given day my favorite is the site for the US Naval observatory site.

By just entering the city and state you are located in it will give you a number of Sun statistics for the current day. For example, for April, 20 in Seattle, WA it says that sunset is 8:06 PM PDT and end of civil twilight is 8:39 PM PDT. My experience is that I get the best shots about halfway between sunset and end of civil twilight. Sunset is not quite dark enough and end of civil twilight is too dark.

Of coarse, you need to use a tripod because exposure times will be 5 to 30 seconds depending on the aperture you use. You also need to spend some time going through the home and turning on all the interior lights to get the most dramatic effect. I frequently use large continuous lights inside to boost the amount of light coming through the windows. I’ve also seen twilight shots where continuous lights were used outside to focus light on the outside of the home. I’ve never done that myself but I’ll have to say I like the results I’ve seen with this technique.

Posted in Photo Technique | 12 Comments »

REALTORS® Required to “Present a True Picture” to The Public

Posted by larrylohrman on April 17, 2007

Jason Soles commenting in the last post poses a great question: “Does anybody (photographers or agents) have/use some sort of written code-of-ethics for these situations?” Since as a RE photographer you are working for the REALTORS® I think  the NAR ethics should set the ethical guideline.

As a  REALTORS® I knew that the National Association of Realtors (NAR) does in fact have a written code of Ethics so I Googled the phrase “Realtor code of ethics” and found the current version at: www.realtor.org/mempolweb.nsf/pages/printable2007Code . Standard of Practice 12-8 says in this code of ethics says REALTORS® have:

“The obligation to present a true picture in representations to the public includes information presented, provided, or displayed on REALTORS®’ websites.”

This is a high standard. How does this relate to the yahoo.com/realestate article referenced in yesterdays post? My interpretation is that the standard set by the NAR is higher than the what John O’Brien is claiming that you can get away with in court in most states.

So, REALTORS® need to “present a true picture in representations to the public” which to me means don’t remove power lines, don’t change the grass or any other material items in the photograph. But it’s ethical to modify non-material things like remove refrigerator clutter, remove garbage cans or cars from the driveway, pump up the saturation or remove leaves from the sidewalk.

Posted in Legal | Leave a Comment »

Advertising is Held to be Boasting and Bragging

Posted by larrylohrman on April 16, 2007

Drew from NJ just pointed out an interesting recent article on yahoo.com/real estate by Vanessa Richardson of Bankrate.com titled- Altered Photos: Taking the Real From Real Estate.

The article bottom line is that according to John O’Brien Chairman of the Illinois state Real Estate Lawyer Association:

“Advertising is held to be boasting and bragging, not to be taken as holy writ in many states. Consumers should have enough sense to know to visit the house and do their due diligence on the condition of the property. At least for now, power lines are not the thing that will cross the line into reason for a lawsuit.”

Via: yahoo.com/realestate

Posted in Legal | 9 Comments »

What About RealPix Point-And-Shoot Aimed At Realtors?

Posted by larrylohrman on April 16, 2007

Recently a company called RealPix announced a point and shoot style camera designed for Realtors. I has 22mm fixed focus lens, 640×480 pixel resolution, “high-powered” built-in flash all for $299. It is expected to ship in July.

Reviews at this point are mixed. Darren Murph at Engadget is not impressed. Nor is Wired’s Gadget Lab.

In my opinion, this camera will not impress Realtors. I have a lot of Realtor friends and very few would buy something like this. All the Realtors I know already have more sophisticated camera’s in their cell phones (minus the 22mm lens).

Via: Wired & Adorama News

Posted in Photo Equipment | 5 Comments »

Photography For Real Estate Blog- Two years old

Posted by larrylohrman on April 15, 2007

Photography for Real Estate blog is starting it’s 3rd year of publication tomorrow. For the first year I posted very irregularly but this last year I’ve been posting more regularly. This is the 201st post. Readership has reached an average of around 1500 unique readers per week.

I want to thank all the readers of this blog for all the great ideas. I learn every day from the constant stream of reader ideas and comments.

I have a bunch of ideas for the future. I have a draft for an e-book that compiles all the ideas that I cover in this blog into a more readable format. I just need to get it proof read and stop adding to it. Every day I come up with new and better ideas that I feel I need to add to it before I finalize it. I have to draw the line some place.

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments »

Tour Hosting, Sellfolio.com and More Photomatix Examples

Posted by larrylohrman on April 12, 2007

Ed Parsons of Myrtle Beach, SC (www.photoshowstudios.com) sent me an example of his Interactive Home Showcase for a recent client. This virtual tour has several things I want to comment on.

The first is that it’s an example of a Flash slide-show created by the program www.sellfolio.com which is a bunch of Flash templates that you can use as a virtual tour, like Ed does or burn them on a CD or both. Ed says, “I use SellFolio 3.0 For Client Projects- Merchandising version. The program paid for itself with our first tour www.loristour.myvt360.com

The second thing is that this tour is hosted by www.erealtyweb.net which is a virtural tour hosting service that hosts a variety of tours that you build for a monthly cost. Apparently, this service is easier than maintaining your own web site from scratch.

After I studied Ed’s photos Ed had to endure my lecture on converging verticals and barrel distortion… I think Ed is now a believer in avoiding these mortal sins. I also was telling Ed that for my taste his images were a little under lit. He obviously was not using any lighting. He told me that he was a Photomatix user and all the images in this tour with Photomatix. This surprised me because I’d never been able to get images I did with Photomatrix to look this good. Mine always come out “dirty” looking. Ed says he shoots 10-to 12 shots per scene and carefully chooses the images to use. I need to go back and try to get Photomatix to make images that look this good.

Posted in Photo Editing, Virtual Tours | 7 Comments »

Using Multiple Images and Masking to Make a Composite Image

Posted by larrylohrman on April 11, 2007

After my post about Photomatrix I wanted to make sure beginning real estate photographers know that there are other, better ways to deal with the problem of shooting in a situation where the brightness range is more than you camera can handle. Ideally you want to get the darkness of the sky and still get crisp whites. It’s almost impossible to do this with out making a composite image.

The image above is one I shot of my son’s 1880 Dutch Colonial farm house last week. The weather was broken clouds and the north facing front was brightly lit with ominous clouds in the sky. This is a classic case where it takes one exposure for the home and foreground and a second exposure to get the darkness and delicateness of the clouds. If I’d exposed for the nice greens and yellow of the home the sky would be burned out and boring. On the other hand, if I’d exposed for the sky the the House and foreground would be too dark and the yellow and white wouldn’t have been crisp. This is the very same situation that you run into when shooting interiors where the windows are bright and the interior is not as bright. In the interior situation a flash can be used to light the interior so it’s the same brightness as the outside but outside this won’t work.

When I was taking this shot I took several exposures in anticipation making a composite image example. To create this image I opened both shots in Photoshop and shift+dragged one image over the other to exactly register them. The crux of doing a composite of these two images is to select the complicated edge between the sky and the house/foreground. There are many ways to do this but I like the way described in Katrin Eismann’s book, Photoshop Masking & Compositing. This is a great book that has everything you need to know about using Photoshop to make composite images. On page 225 she describes a technique she got from John Warner to select the sky by duplicating the blue channel and then using curves to increase the contrast of the the blue channel copy so it is a solid mask for the sky. This is the technique I used on this image. This technique is a quick and relatively painless (took me about 15 minutes for this image) way to select the complicated edge between the sky and the trees. After selecting the sky, you make a layer mask that allows the sky from one layer/image show through to the layer/image of the house and foreground.

You can usually spot composite images of this sort because there is a temptation to take shortcuts in making the sky selection mask. Frequently, there will be a “halo” between the sky and the rest of the image because someone took a shortcut in making the sky mask. If you look very closely at a large file of this image there are still defects along the lacy edge where the trees meet the sky but in sizes used for the web it’s difficult to see the defects. The mask is delicate enough to let the dark sky show through the lacy trees on the far left and middle-left.

Posted in Photo Editing, Photo Technique | 4 Comments »

Making a PDF Slide-show With Adobe Album Starter Edition 3.0

Posted by larrylohrman on April 9, 2007


Have you noticed Adobe Album Starter Edition? I frankly don’t even know how I got Adobe Album Starter Edition 3.0 on my machine. It could have been when I installed Lightroom 1.0 or when I installed Photoshop Elements 5.0. I think I even removed it once since I didn’t recognize it or know where it came from.

A couple of days ago M James Northen sent me an example of a PDF slide show that he’d made with Adobe Album Starter Edition. It turns out this pesky little application actually has a good use. M James made this slide-show for one of his clients, Dale Sorenson Real Estate of Vero Beach, FL.

I’ve made similar PDF slide shows with Adobe Acrobat but had no idea you could also make similar slide-shows with Adobe Album SE 3.0. PDF slide-shows are handy because they can be emailed, put on a CD to give to a client or played without an Internet connection.

Thanks M. James for passing this idea along.

Posted in Marketing Yourself | 1 Comment »

Real Estate Photographer Directory is Working

Posted by larrylohrman on April 6, 2007

Bruce Vinal of Aerial Perspectives reports that he just got a job photographing a $9.5 million estate directly as a result of being listed in the Real Estate Photographer Directory.

If you want to be listed in the directory leave me your contact information  as a comment at: www.larrylohrman.wordpress.com/re-photographer-directory . If you are a Realtor looking for a real estate photographer check out the directory for a photographer near you.

Posted in Marketing Yourself | 1 Comment »

Real Estate Photography and The Truth

Posted by larrylohrman on April 5, 2007


Earlier today I was talking to a Realtor about where the line is for how much photo-editing it’s OK to do on a marketing image. I’ve done a post on this subject before over a year ago but I think it is worth re-visiting. The composite image above shows an image that I modified to market one of our listings. I sharpened up the edge of the grass and changed the foreground perspective somewhat.

How much editing on a marketing image is OK? Is there a line that shouldn’t be crossed?

My take on this question is as follows: Marketing photography is different than photojournalism or documentary photography where accurate photographic recording is assumed by the viewer. The purpose of marketing photography is to make a product (in this context a home) look good. So I feel it is ethical to replace skies, remove power lines or what ever you can do to make the home look good? Some of these “modifications” are done before the photo is taken like controlling the light, moving furniture, adding attractive furniture removing clutter and generally styling the space to look attractive. Other modifications are easier done after the photo is taken in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements.

You frequently see architectural drawings used to market new homes. Architectural drawings are very stylized, have dramatic skies and don’t show power lines or other ugly, realistic details so why not think of your interior/exterior photographs of a home as architectural drawings?

John Dvorak over at http://www.pcmag.com did an article on this general subject that’s worth looking at. John’s bottom line is:

Photos are representations, nothing more and nothing less. Sure, taking a head from one picture, dropping it into a porn photo, and saying that it’s real is obviously wrong. But enhancing and interpreting photographic data has its place and is an important communications tool. Just stop believing everything you see.”

Posted in Photo Technique | 11 Comments »

Shoot Low to Give a More Spacious Feeling

Posted by larrylohrman on April 3, 2007

Click photo to see examples

I want to highlight an important tip raised recently in comments by Cherie Irwin and Scott Hargis. Last week Cherie sent me some examples of the same image shot from different heights above the floor (see Cherie’s examples above). Cherie pointed out that she’d been viewing some interior images shot by a tall person standing up straight and that she thought her images (shot lower because she was short) worked better.

About the same time Cherie and I were discussing this issue Scott Hargis commented that:

“Almost every room will benefit from shooting from a kneeling or squatting position – putting the camera about 30″ to 45″ off the floor. This emphasizes the floor more than the ceiling (making the room appear more spacious), and in my opinion, more readily mimics the human eye’s perception of the room.”

I think Cherie and Scott have raised an important observation. Too much ceiling can be distracting and having more floor in an interior image does give a feeling of spaciousness. Of course, in kitchens counter tops force you to have the camera at least counter-top level (usually bout 37″) so the images shows the top of the counter.

Thanks Cherie and Scott for pointing this out. Many times I’ve found myself shooting low but I’ve never given much thought to why it worked better than standing up straight.

Posted in Photo Technique | 10 Comments »