Photography For Real Estate

Tips and techniques for real estate photography

Archive for July, 2007

How Do Lightroom Users Fix Barrel Distortion & Converging Verticals?

Posted by larrylohrman on July 29, 2007


A discussion going on in the Flickr PhotographyForRealEstate discussion brought to my attention that other Lightroom users are going through the same evaluation of Barrel distortion and vertical fixing that I’m going through after my recent addition of a MacBook Pro to my tools.

Here’s the problem:

If you are a Lightroom user you need an application to correct barrel distortion and fix converging verticals since Lightroom currently doesn’t do either. You’d like to find an application for your platform that is easy to use but doesn’t cost a bundle. Photoshop CS3 is the obvious choice but is expensive. Using PS CS3 to correct verticals and barrel distortion is like cracking eggs with a sledge hammer.

My first reaction was that I just need to bite the bullet and get a copy of DxO since the newest version apparently works with Lightroom. So last week I downloaded the DxO trial and started checking it out. After a few days of use I began to realize that 80-90% of the functionality of DxO is an overlap with Lightroom. So, much of what you are paying for with DxO you already have with Lightroom. Also, fixing barrel distortion and perspective was not as smooth as I’d hoped it would be. It seems to work all the time with JPGs but doesn’t want to display some RAW files… not sure why yet. Also, I don’t like the fact that I have to pay a premium for the version that works with my 1Ds and 16-35mm zoom and yet that version doesn’t work with files from my old CoolPix (or any other camera) which has worse barrel distortion than my 16-35mm.

I decided to see what other options are available these days. I’ve been compiling the results of my search here. This list is probably not complete but I think it has all the most popular lens correction applications. Right now I’m leaning towards using LensFix for the Mac which is essentially a Mac version of PTLens. I’ve used PTLens by Tom Niemann on Windows for quite a while and seen it get better and better over the years. Tom has an extensive library of lenses that PTLens is calibrated for and if your lens is not in the PTLens database (not likely) you can calibrate PTLens for your lens. LensFix apparently uses the same lens library as PTLens. Both PTLens and LensFix use Panorama Tools to do the mathematical calculations.

Hugin (last application of my list) appears to be a perfect solution but for my taste it’s a little difficult to use. It’s free so you have nothing to loose by giving it a try; you might like it.

If anyone has an alternative that I’ve missed be sure to leave a comment. I’ve report back after I’ve tried out LensFix for a while.

Posted in Photo Editing | 8 Comments »

Great Client Closing Gift Idea From Susanne Hayek

Posted by larrylohrman on July 26, 2007


Susanne Hayek sent me a great suggestion for a product to market to your Realtor clients as closing gifts. Susanne says she uses mypublisher.com to make beautifully printed coffee table style books. These books also work nicely as an elegant way to present your portfolio of images. Another similar site that a portrait photographer friend of Susanne’s uses and likes is www.digi-labs.net.

Posted in Resources | 8 Comments »

Interior Lighting With Multiple Strobes: By Scott Hargis

Posted by larrylohrman on July 23, 2007


First of all I need to point out that this is Scott Hargis’s post. Like many of you I’ve been admiring the way Scott uses a hand full of strobes to light a room to look like an Architectural Digest shoot and still keep the time to shoot a hole home within a few hours. Like the kitchen above. Scott has adapted the lighting techniques that David over at Strobist.blogspot.com teaches (don’t put strobe on camera, use manual flash, use Cactus radio flash triggers, etc) to light interiors. So recently I tried to summarize the lighting explanations that Scott puts on his flickr images into a description of how to approach lighting a room with multiple strobes in a systematic way. I sent it to Scott and he re-wrote it and added a bunch of detail. Here’s Scott’s description:

  1. Set the ISO to 400 – this gives you much greater latitude with the strobes.
  2. Set the aperture to f/6.3 as a good starting point. With wide-angle lenses, DOF is not really a problem.
  3. Adjust the shutter speed to expose for the windows. Generally, for a “blown-out” window effect, 1/80th or slower will work. To bring in a view completely, dial up to your camera’s maximum sync speed (usually 1/250th) and only then start stopping down the aperture. Once the windows are exposed properly…..
  4. Add an off-camera light to one side or other of the camera. Bouncing from a wall or the wall/ceiling joint results in a much larger apparent light source, and thus yields softer shadows. However, watch for hot spots! In particular, reflections in windows, mirrors, and glass cabinets are problematic. Hot spots on the ceiling are also common, but can be fairly easily dodged/burned out if the light can’t be re-positioned.
  5. Flash power settings will be highly variable according to the light level in the room, the size of the room, etc.
  6. Most wall colors are fine for bounced light with no noticeable color cast. However, deep, bold colors will result in a tint to the light that bounces off them. In these situations, an umbrella or reflector is very useful.

In my opinion, if you’re accustomed to shooting with one on-camera light, the best way to ease into shooting with off-camera lights is to start SMALL. Try a bedroom, turn off your on-camera light and use only the remote one, placed a few feet away and bounced off the wall, to get used to the idea and discover the tricks of “hiding” the light source from the camera. Then, add in the on-camera light with a diffuser for fill.
For more complex rooms, like kitchens and living rooms, start with an ambient-only exposure and then add lights one at a time, chimping every step of the way. Remember that aiming the strobe directly at the subject will result in harsh light and hard-edged, deep shadows. For me, this is the last resort.

Because flash duration is extremely short (about 1/20,000 of a second), it is not affected by the camera’s shutter speed. For most rooms, it is possible to make the strobes the dominant light source, with only the windows truly lit by the ambient. At this point, control is completely in the photographer’s hands: shutter speed will control the windows/ambient, and aperture will control the strobes. Once I have the lighting evened out, I often fine-tune a shot by adjusting my aperture to move the histogram up or down as desired.

When I walk into a room, I’m looking at the surfaces and dividing them into two camps: surfaces the camera will see, and those it won’t see. The ones that aren’t going to be visible are all candidates for bounced lights. Then it’s just a matter of taking a few seconds to plan out the lighting. It’s amazing how quickly you can gain an intuition for this. Also, many rooms (like bedrooms) are pretty standard – the same setup will work again and again with minor changes.

A note about gear: To learn about ways to remotely trigger strobes, the Strobist blog and Flicker site are invaluable. Nikon CLS and Canon IR are problematic for shooting interiors as the signals will not travel reliably around corners and into distant rooms where we often put our lights. With regard to “hiding” lights in a room, a light stand with a small footprint is very helpful. I use the Slik SVD-20, which can remain upright and stable with a footprint less than 4″ across. Most of the time, my lights are about 24″ off the floor. I also keep a strobe in my hip pocket with the little “foot” attached so it can stand upright on its own. This light is incredibly useful for tucking into small places, on top of mantles, bookshelves, etc.

There you have it. The complete Scott Hargis lighting approach. Thanks Scott for being willing to share all the details with us!

Posted in Lighting | 19 Comments »

Who Owns The Photos? Not All Realtors Understand Photo Licensing

Posted by larrylohrman on July 21, 2007

Do your clients think they own the photos that you shoot for them? Mike over at www.martinvirtualtours.com told me about an misunderstanding that he recently had in which he shot a tour for a new construction agent where he included some neighborhood photos in the tour. Later, he provided the same neighborhood photos to a different agent for a resale listing in the same neighborhood. When the first agent saw “her” photos being used by a different agent on the resale listing she “went ballistic” because she thought the photos BELONG to her!

Mike asked me for my opinion on the subject. Here’s what I told him:

In my opinion I don’t think you did anything wrong. The problem is most agents have no experience with photographic rights issues and in real estate photography most times there is no explicit contract so everything is implicit, leaving opportunity for assumptions. Some photographers (not usually real estate photographers) make clients sign a statement that defines what the client usage is allowed. For real estate photography it may be a good idea to hand out a statement that describes client usage and the photographers rights.

I’m not a lawyer and don’t give legal advice but here is my interpretation of the conventions for real estate photography:

  • Photographer owns the photographs i.e. owns copyright
  • Photographer licenses the client to USE the photos on the MLS and flyers for a particular listing until the listing is sold. It use to be common in our MLS for agents that listed the same property in the future to use some or all of the photographs. Recently our MLS made it more difficult to get the listing photographs from a listing.
  • Photographer may use the photos for marketing their own services or re-license them to other clients if the photos are general in nature.
  • If the photographer licensees the photos for MLS use, the agent cannot use one as a cover for Homes and Land magazine or other use without paying the photographer for the additional use. This is easy to control by just giving agents downsized photos for the MLS so the won’t work for print media.
  • Some photographers license the photos for only one particular use… that is for ONLY a brochure or ONLY the MLS.
  • Photographer needs to understand that use on the MLS implies that photos are propagated to other many real estate websites that the MLS feeds automatically.
  • Use on the MLS also usually implies (this can be different depending on different MLSs) that the initial external photo becomes public domain when uploaded to the MLS. That is, other agents can use this photo when they list this same property in the future. Chcek with your local MLS for their conventions in this area.

Understand that this is just my interpretation… You could decide to do it differently but all this is involved enough that it would be worth writing down your particular interpretation of these conventions and at giving a copy to new clients the first time you shoot for them so you don’t leave yourself open for misunderstandings like Mike encountered. Mike has decided to address this on the back of his business card after this experience. It’s not good business practice to have clients upset.

Posted in Legal | 17 Comments »

VerticalResponse: An Easy Way To Manage Your Marketing Campaign

Posted by larrylohrman on July 19, 2007


Yesterday Scott Hargis sent me a copy of his e-mail marketing that he is sending to clients. I’ve talked before about how if you are building your business it’s a good idea to keep regular contact with your past and potential customers by sending them e-mail and post cards. This doesn’t replace face-to-face contact, it just reinforces it. Realtors do this with their customers so they expect it and recognize good marketing so don’t be bashful about sending e-mail newsletters, post cards etc. In Scott’s case he simply sends an e-mail with a photo-link to his “Recent work” gallery on his website. This can keep your name and work in front of your current and potential clients. If they don’t which to receive the marketing piece they can just op-out (unsubscribe).

The point of VerticalResponse.com is that it simplifies the process of managing your mailing list and letting clients subscribe, unsubscribe to e-mail or post cards as well a creating and sending the marketing pieces. Managing your marketing with a tool like VerticalResponse.com actually improves the professional appearance of your marketing.

Posted in Marketing | 9 Comments »

Taking Home Photos That Will Draw Buyers

Posted by larrylohrman on July 18, 2007


Back on April 25, 2007 there was an article that appeared on RealEstateJournal.com (this is the WSJ.com real estate site) by Dana Mattioli titled “Taking Home Photos That Will Draw Buyers“.

I didn’t find this article quite as full of goodies as the NY Times or LA Times articles that appeared last spring although I did like the summary phrase that Dana used: “Photographs are powerful bait. Good ones can lure buyers; poor ones can turn them away.” This could be a good RE Photographer marketing line.

Another interesting feature was the slideshow that FSBO seller Dzung Nguyen made of his home. He used a free Java slideshow application from www.jalbum.net. I think Flash slide shows are more likely to be seen by all visitors but this is useful if you are willing to use Java.

Dzung’s slideshow make me think of an important aerial photography alternative that sellers and Realtors in large metropolitan areas have and that’s Microsoft Virtual Earth. Around large cities Virtual Earth has low altitude photographs that can be useful for home marketing. You can get wonderful neighborhood views and pretty good shots of individual home. I’m frankly not sure about the legal aspect of using these shots. I know that with Google Earth you are supposed to purchase the commercial version if you are going to use the images for commercial.

Posted in Articles | 4 Comments »

Full Screen Flash 360 Panoramas – Are They Worth It?

Posted by larrylohrman on July 16, 2007


I’ve had several questions recently about making 360 panoramas so I thought I’d visit this subject again.

There are some that think that the work it takes to do 360s is not worth it and there are many that think having a 360 tour can set your real estate marketing apart from the crowd. I’ve done 360s for many years and make it a point to talk to buyers and sellers to see if they’ve seen the 360s and ask them what they think. I’ll have to say that not everyone appreciates 360s and some plain don’t like them.

On the positive side we sold one home a few years ago in a very fast market where some out of town buyers saw only the 360s and stills before signing a contract. They, saw the stills and knew I was making 360s and waited till I posted them to sign the deal. The first time they saw the physical house was at the inspection. This is the home. These 360s were done back when I was using only QuickTime. The buyers were moving from California to Issaquah and had made offers on and lost 6 different homes before this one. Their belongings were on a moving truck… they were clearly under unusual pressure.

This clearly is an unusual situation for a home sale yet we repeatedly rent our furnished rental based only on the 360s. This happens about 30% of the time. So, there is good evidence that the full screen 360s that I use are effective.

I believe that now that most of the real estate buying world has high speed internet access, large full screen 360s set the marketing apart much more than little tiny 360s. Notice the level of detail of a room that can be seen in a full screen 360. So much detail that it’s relatively difficult to control all the defects. Note you have to click on the X on the left-hand lower control bar to make this image go to full screen. This full screen 360 is done with Flash and demands that Flash version 9 be loaded on your machine to display the image. Flash 9 has new graphic features that make the display of full screen 360 spherical images practical. This chart shows that as of this date Flash 9 is installed on about 83% of machines so no download/install is required.

I’ve started to use only Flash for full screen real estate 360s. QuickTime is still some what smoother panning than the Immervision Flash Player that I use but not enough to risk have buyers needing to download and install Quicktime which is pretty big and ugly on Windows machines. Java is a pretty big download too and currently has about the same penetration as Flash 9.

The question that got me going on this post was about the 360 One VR which is a parabolic mirror that reflects a 360 image on one frame. This device is certainly quick and easy but the quality of the image it creates is low so you can’t easily make large 360 images. To me tiny little 360s were interesting 10 years ago but are yawners these days.

So how do you make full screen 360s? I have to apologize to those readers I’ve promised to finish my tutorial on how to shoot full screen 360s. I promise to finish it soon. To summarize briefly you need a fisheye lens and a panoramic head. The Nikon 10.5 is very popular (works on Canon too) or the Sigma 8mm is OK but not as high quality as the Nikon 10.5. The panoramic head allows you to take 3 to 6 shots rotated around the lenses aperture plane in a perfectly level swing so the stitching works well. The images are stitched together with stitching software (PTgui is may favorite) and then posted to the web with some HTML and player software.

The bottom line is that 360 VR is allot of work, requires added equipment and some practice to get it done right and quickly. The question is, is it worth the extra work and expense? It’s hard to tell for sure. Some buyers and sellers (usually the more geeky ones) think it’s fantastic while others don’t even get what its all about. I do it for all our listings mainly because I enjoy doing it and do it for other subjects than real estate… my non-real estate 360vr images are at www.fullscreen360.blogspot.com.

Posted in Panoramas, Virtual Tours | 30 Comments »

Buildatour.com Researching How to Offer DVD or CDs

Posted by larrylohrman on July 15, 2007

To highlight a comment from Brad at buildatour.com, Brad says:

We’re currently researching how to offer DVD format after your tour is built with Buildatour.com. As most of you know, saving to DVD format takes a WHILE. We’re not sure, at this point. how we’re going to accomplish this …. but rest assured, we’re working on it.

It’s funny, we thought that getting to the “Download to CD” stage (original plan was .EXE) would be UTOPIA!!! Of course, technology has advanced since we introduced Buildatour.com …. so, now the HD TV’s (generally flat … LCD or Plasma) are the norm.

Good News!!! We’ll have 18 new background music selections available this week.

Note that Brad has a blog that covers topics relating to buildatour.com tours.

Posted in Virtual Tours | 2 Comments »

DxO Optics Pro Version 4.5 Has Lightroom Integration

Posted by larrylohrman on July 12, 2007


Yesterday I got notice that DxO Optics Pro has a new version (4.5) out that has some level of integration with Lightroom. Their claim is that you can send images from within Lightroom to DxO for processing and the corrected images will be integrated back in the Lightroom catalog with metadata preserved. The other alternative is to batch process images with DxO and the corrected images will be imported to Lightroom.

This seems like a great match up to me! I haven’t tried the demo of the new version yet because I’m in the process of moving from PC to the Mac and want to try the Mac version. As soon as I get my new MacBook Pro setup I want to try this combination. Apparently, for existing DxO Optics Pro users this is a free upgrade.

I know there are a bunch of readers out there that are using DxO Optics Pro… has anyone out there tried this combination yet?

Posted in Lightroom | 6 Comments »

Flash Slideshows Online with DVDs to Go

Posted by larrylohrman on July 10, 2007


Back in March of this year Jim DHeam over at www.dvd-tour.com made some sample DVDs of a couple of listings we had at the time. What Jim does is create a Flash slide show with listing photos that you e-mail him, he sends you the link to the slide show with in 24 hours and then sends you two DVDs with the slide show on it. Back in March Jim wasn’t hosting an online tour, thats a recently added feature.

Jim’s DVDs made a believer out of me! I was quite impressed with the tour on DVD concept. I’ve been making CDs of my tours for years so I’ve been aware of the excitement that giving tours on CDs to buyers and sellers generates. But I’ve always run into the problem that my CDs don’t run on Macs and for some non-technical people a CD that runs on a computer is a mystery. With a tour on a DVD it runs anywhere: PCs, Macs and living room DVD players. People can use it wherever they are most comfortable. What’s more, it looks awesome on large screen TVs that have become so popular the last few years.

If you are not into making your own Flash tours and DVDs Jim does it for $29.95 or $19.95 for just the DVDs or just the internet tour.

If you are up to doing it yourself there are a bunch software to create Flash tours and DVDs. Jim says he’s tried a number of products for making DVDs and likes iDVD on the Mac best. For making Flash tours again there are a huge number of alternatives but Jim uses Mono slideshow from www.monoslideshow.com. Readers have more suggestions for their favorite Flash slide show software over in the reader discussion on flicker.

I believe this combination of large (800×600) slide shows and DVDs to go is currently the most effective combination for real estate tours.

Posted in Virtual Tours | 11 Comments »

Derry Moore: Photographing Residences and People Around The World

Posted by larrylohrman on July 7, 2007


I like to study images of well known Architectural Photographers. As we’ve talked about many times before, architectural photography and real estate photography are very different. Different clients, different budget and frequently very different equipment. But as different as they are I think real estate photographers can draw inspiration and ideas from the work and techniques architectural photographers. Architectural photography is just real estate photography on steroids. What real estate photographer wouldn’t like to raised themselves to this higher level of achievement and fees?

I regularly read Architectural Digest to study and enjoy the photographs. Today I got the August issue of AD and an article on Derry Moore caught my eye. Derry Moore, the 12th Earl of Drogheda, is an architectural and portrait photographer that besides being a member of the titled aristocracy of the UK travels around the world doing portraits and architectural photography for the rich and famous. Moore has a very distinctive style. Muted, misty, delicately lit images that look like like they are from the17th or 18th century.

The images in the AD article have a somewhat different look (not quite as 18th century) than the images on Moore’s website. Unfortunately, they don’t have the AD website updated for the August issue yet so I can’t give you a link. The good news is that as of a few months ago the AD website now is putting a condensed form of many of the magazine articles on the web site so when they get the site updated for August 2007 the Derry Moore article may be on the AD site.

One of the interesting things that happen when a photographer like Moore becomes successful and has found a personal style or vision that financially successful that clients seek out is their style becomes almost a trademark. I think your personal style grows out of your “bag of tricks” or work flow that you like and use over an over as well as your personal vision.

Moore did a book of his photographs in the Fall of 2006 called “Rooms” which celebrates some of the most luxurious and bold interiors around the globe and the creative sensibilities of the people who inspired them.

Posted in Great Architectural Photographers | 6 Comments »

Shoot From An Angle That Shows Essential Features of a Room

Posted by larrylohrman on July 6, 2007

The following two photos by William C Hutton, Jr are posted in the flickr photogroup and are of the same bedroom.

I was leaving a comment for William on the shot below that I thought a shot that showed the head-board end of the bed when I noticed that he already had such a shot from the other direction above. I think the difference is striking and thought this is a wonderful example of how much difference a change in angle can make.

In the lower photo you can’t even be sure that this is a master bedroom. Whereas the upper photo clearly indicates that this is a master bedroom and shows off the windows and hardwood floors. I think the top photo (the one with the windows) is quite an effective master bedroom photo. Some would object to the bright windows but in this case, I find the bright windows not all that objectionable.

The point I like to emphasize is that it always helps to ask yourself : “what are the most important features that buyers would be interested in?” In this case, the windows, hardwood floors, bathroom and strong message that this is a master bedroom are essential. This is the essence of Essential #1 in my “10 Essentials of Real Estate Photography”.

By the way, hardwood floors are a huge positive selling feature these days, the more you can show them off the better. I make it a point to talk to all our buyers about what they liked or didn’t like about the photos and I’ve been amazed a the number that mentioned hardwood floors.

Thanks William for the example.

Posted in Photo Composition | 13 Comments »

Rules at Reuters for Modifying Photographs

Posted by larrylohrman on July 4, 2007

Drew King sent me this link to an explanation of the rules  now in force at Reuters for the use of  Photoshop.  Obviously, this has no direct link to real estate photography but I though it was interesting to see the photo modification rules in the photo journalism world… Reuters doesn’t even allow in-camera sharpening! For those of you not familiar with the events that led up to this crackdown on photo modification by Reuters see this background article.

The indirect relation to real estate photography is that this incident back in August of 2006 got allot press and raised the public awareness of photo modification.

Posted in BusinessProcess | 9 Comments »

Lighting Alternatives for Real Estate Photography

Posted by larrylohrman on July 2, 2007


In the flicker discussion group Gary Weinheimer gives us a great example of the difference between using a single strobe (the photo above) and using 3 strobes (the photo below).


Pretty dramatic difference!

The point I want to raise is that after you master the basics like straight walls, correcting lens distortion and getting white balance correct, the single most important factor that contributes to the quality of an interior image is what approach you use for lighting.

There seems to be a natural progression in real estate photographers approach to lighting:

  • No lighting equipment – just using a tripod
  • No lighting equipment and use photo-editing and/or HDR techniques
  • A single on camera strobe used in automatic mode
  • A single on camera strobe used in manual mode
  • Multiple strobes

Each one of these lighting approaches give successively better results. An to my eye multiple strobes give the best results. I was satisfied with a single on-camera strobe until I saw the results that Gary, Scott, Aaron and M. James were getting with multiple strobes.

Make no mistake this technique is more difficult to master. There is more equipment to carry but to me carrying a little more equipment and learning these techniques is worth the effort.

I know that some will argue that one can get good results by using HDR techniques via software like Photomatix. But I see very few interior shots processed with Photomatix that do not have strange and noticeable artifacts.

So to summarize, all of these lighting approaches work well in many situations but I believe that being able to take complete control of the interior lighting by using multiple strobes gives the best results in the widest number of situations.

7/6/07 Update: I just noticed that David Hobby over at the Strobist has a better description than I’ve done of this lighting progression. David calls it “The Lighting Journey” and describes seven levels that photographers pass through as they strive to improve their lighting technique. David describes this phenomena beautifully.

Posted in Lighting | 17 Comments »