Photography For Real Estate

Tips and techniques for real estate photography

Archive for September, 2007

Simpleviewer an Alternative Simpler Slide-Show Template for Lightroom

Posted by larrylohrman on September 28, 2007


We had a new listing this week so I thought “ah ha, an opportunity to eat my own dog food” and use my newly discovered Lightroom slide-show template (monoslideshow). So I did. Here’s what it looks like (click here). I was pressed for time so I haven’t integrated the 360 images that I always shoot with the slide show. My wife Levi is partial to the 360 shots that I always shoot for our listings so she always promises them to the sellers. So there is a link from the monoslideshow to the 360’s and back. I’m really not happy with this solution but it’s all I had time to do.

Much to my surprise Levi doesn’t like the monoslideshow format. She thinks it needs instructions to explain how to stop the slide-show, go forward and backward and to go to any given image. I think this situation is instructive. There are many people out there that are going to be like Levi and find the monoslideshow interface confusing. I’m not one of them.. I love it and think it is elegant. It is everything I want in a slide show format. However, I’ve spent my whole life designing and building software and software interfaces. Levi is probably more typical of most real estate photography clients. She has spent her career in real estate and sales and not all that comfortable with looking at a slick new interface and seeing right off how it works.

My conclusion is that I’m going to have several Flash templates installed in my Lightroom web templates directory and do some research to find out what people like the best. A second, probably more intuitive interface is simpleviewer available free from theturninggate.net. Simpleviewer is the interface seen that the image at the top of this post. I’m thinking this is going to a clearer more intuitive interface. This may be an easier slide show to integrate with my 360 tours since it has thumbnails along the left side.

So which slide show format do you like best:

Posted in Virtual Tours | 10 Comments »

Access to a Home For Shooting Photos

Posted by larrylohrman on September 27, 2007

Kris Steels was asking about the issue of getting access to homes for photographing and raise some questions that I’ve not discussed on the blog although I’ve discussed this issue with several folks via e-mail. So I thought it would be a good subject to bring up for folks just starting out in RE photography. Here is Kris’s question:

I’m not sure if you’ve already covered this on your blog; but when I searched the archives, I couldn’t find any similar topics.

How do other real estate photographers access the homes their shooting? I applied for membership with my local Realtor’s Association; but was denied a DisplayKey to access the electronic lock-boxes.

The $%&**(# Realtor’s Association may as well have thrown my camera into Lake Michigan. I’m angry and frustrated beyond words, as this is going to be a HUGE problem for me. My greatest selling point was the convenience for the Realtor to NOT have to return to the home to take the photos. Do you have any suggestions?

Here is my answer to Kris:

As you’ve probably found out to have lock-box access you need to have a RE license or some appraisers get keybox access if they have an appraisers license. All this is state and MLS regulated so rules vary from state to state and from MLS to MLS. There is no way around this requirement in WA and OR that I know of.

For the last 10 years I’ve been a licensed assistant for my wife… this has got me around the requirement. There are some RE photographers that do this, however, you have to find a brokerage to “hang” your license and typically this will be a monthly fee that the broker charges for liability insurance, desk space etc. Licensed agents also pay over $100/mo to MLS to be a member, and over $100/mo to the company that runs the Lock-box system (ours is Supra). So as you can see the cost to have lock-box access mounts up. If you are not doing photography full time you could find a successful agent or team of agents that need an assistant and be an assistant part time and photograph part time. Sometimes agents that have assistants pay for some or all of their assistant’s license expenses.

Another alternative is to convince agents to let you schedule directly with the home owner. I think this would be very workable however, some agents sell home sellers on the concept that the Realtor will “take care of all the details” so some may be hesitant to do this. Technically since you are a contractor that the Realtor is hiring they have responsibly for you in the sense of liability. In MLS it is against the rules to let a contractor in the home and leave.

Feel free to add suggestions for Kris or site your experiences in this area this is a problem that we all have to deal with.

Posted in BusinessProcess | 19 Comments »

Do Slow Markets Increase Real Estate Photographer Business?

Posted by larrylohrman on September 26, 2007


The chart above (I know you can’t read it- follow the link to a readable version of this chart. “Market summary” of “King County”) shows how the inventory in King County, WA is now higher than it’s been at any time in the last 5 years by a significant amount. Based on recent news stories this is typical at least throughout the US and perhaps other countries. This means if you are a home seller these days there is more competition in the market than there as been in the last 5 years. So Realtors are having to market harder and smarter to get listings sold.

One way to market smarter is to make sure your listing stands out to buyers on the web with good photographs and tours. I was helping a Realtor friend put a tour link on her listing yesterday and she said, “… I haven’t had to do this for so long I forgot how do it”. Meaning it’s been a long time since she’s had to use virtual tours to get a listing sold. I think in the last few years many Realtors have thought that the market has been so hot that listings just sold themselves. Now days you have to do something extra.

This market situation has just become apparent in Washingon in the last few months and started to get media coverage in just the last month. I predict that increasing awareness of this slowing real estate market will help the real estate photography business since it’s becoming pretty clear that you can’t just put a property on the market and expect it to sell in a couple of weeks.

Anyone else seeing evidence that slow markets increase RE photographer business?

Posted in BusinessProcess, Marketing | 12 Comments »

Photoshop Elements 6 Announced Yesterday

Posted by larrylohrman on September 25, 2007

Yesterday Adobe¬† released an updated version of Photoshop Elements for Windows with the Mac version due early in 2008. Now that I’m a Mac user I feel left out. Wired has an an article on the release. Macworld says PE6 has a new Photomerge and Quick Selection Tool… hopefully the same one that is in CS3.

I think for real estate work PSE 6 may be a great companion photo editor for Lightroom since it has the Transform and lens correction features still missing from Lightroom and you can do sky masking pretty effectively. If the Photomerge is the same as CS3 it is awesome! The main point is that PSE 6 may fill all the Lightroom wholes for $99.

Posted in Photo Editing | 1 Comment »

More on Straightening Walls

Posted by larrylohrman on September 24, 2007


Lots of good comments on the last post about straightening walls. There are several of the comments that are worth expanding on.

The best way is to get the wall right while shooting. Absolutely, do everything you can to get the walls straight while shooting like using a tripod and using the right and left frame edge as a reference. Many find a tripod limits the places in the room you can to shoot. That is, its hard to get in those tight corners with a tripod. Some have suggested in comments earlier this year that they like a mono pod with small legs on the bottom. Also, someone always brings up tilt and shift lenses when discussing this subject. Canon makes the TS-E 24mm and Nikon makes the wide angle shift 28mm. Yes, if you have an extra $1,000 in your equipment budget this is an alternative. The downside of this alternative is you are constrained to never shoot wider shots than 24 or 28mm. I find this too much of a limitation. For real estate work I’d rather spend my money on a ultra-wide zoom. Ultimately, whether you get the walls straight while shooting or in post processing is a workflow preference.

Are there exceptions to the straight wall rule? Yes, perhaps. The image above is an example of the kind of shot I always end up shooting at a home where there is an overlook or unique stairway view. With these kind of shot There is certainly no “right way” to get the walls on these kind of image. But at the same time I feel like this kind of image is never a very strong image compared to other images. I frequently shot them but almost never end up using them.

There is more than one way to adjust verticals. In Photoshop there are three commands under the Edit>Transform command. They are Distort, Skew and Perspective. Here is a nice description of the three methods. I’m in the habit of using Distort because if done it that way for so long. However, as you will see if you play with Skew a bit it works exactly like you want it to when you are straightening verticals. That is it straightens ONLY verticals. Perspective moves verticals symmetrically on both sides… this is usually not what I want to do. Distort has the advantage of being able to change verticals AND horizontals at the same time. I like Distort because I frequently find myself wanting to adjust both horizontals and verticals. There are a bunch of other ways to modify verticals. I summarized many of them in a previous post.

The thing I find amazing is how quickly the eye spots a vertical that is slightly off and the visual tension it creates. Some times you can feel the vertical is off but you have to get a reference guide next to it to tell for sure.

Posted in Photo Editing, Photo Technique | 3 Comments »

My Mission: To Straighten All Walls in the Realm!

Posted by larrylohrman on September 20, 2007


I have found my mission in life and it is to make sure all the walls in real estate marketing photos do not have converging verticals!

There is something about making walls straight that is hard for photographers to get. Apparently, it just isn’t obvious that walls like the ones above detract from an image. I see many real estate photographers out there charging Realtors to shoot property photos that think it’s not a big deal to produce photos with converging verticals and color casts like the photo above. They are wrong. It is a big deal.

This is the same photo with the distractions removed in Lightroom and Photoshop.

I think one of the reasons converging verticals and color casts are not fixed in property photos is that some photographers are not familiar with or are opposed to post processing photos. These problems are quite easy to fix when post processing an image.

The fact is, if you are going to produce high quality images you MUST do post processing.

Posted in Photo Editing, Photo Technique | 20 Comments »

How to Brand Monoslideshow or Other Lightroom Galleries

Posted by larrylohrman on September 19, 2007

Cherie Irwin raised an important issue with my last post on creating Monoslideshows with Lightroom. That is, in the real estate context you’d really like to brand the slide-show either with your own contact information if you are a Realtor or your client’s logo and contact information if you are a real estate photographer building slide-shows for clients.

After thinking about it a bit and branding my example tour. I’ve come to the conclusion that the most straight forward way to add the branding information is after Lightroom generates the HTML and FTPs it to your site. To add the branding on my example I just used Dreamweaver to opened the index.html file in the directory that Lightroom generated and added some text and a link. If you always use the same size and spacing for the gallery that Lightroom generates and that spacing is designed for branding info to be added it should work pretty smoothly. You don’t necessarily need to use Dreamweaver. You could also use FTP and a text editor. I just added a line of text with a link but you could add broker logos, Realtor portraits and get as fancy as you want. This all works like this because only the slide-show is Flash and the Flash slide-show is encapsulated in HTML so you can add anything you want to the HTML and it will show above or below or along side the slide-show.

The problem with adding to the branding to the gallery template in Lightroom is that the branding will be the same for all galleries you generate which is OK if that’s what you want but I like to add the property address or something unique to each slide-show. If you are doing this for clients each slide-show will likely be unique.

Posted in Lightroom, Virtual Tours | 2 Comments »

Monoslideshow Template For Lightroom

Posted by larrylohrman on September 18, 2007


I’ve been looking for a nice clean design to use for my Flash slide-shows. My criteria is: I want to be able to control the image size, speed and all other parameters, have the slide-show run automatically if the viewer does nothing yet have a clean simple control that allows the viewer to see thumbnails of all the photos in the show and go to any particular one, go forward or backward. Another part of my criteria was that I was hoping not to have to hack HTML and XML to create slide-shows, rather I was expecting to generate them with Lightroom.

I’d seen the free Simpleviewer Flash slide-show and thought it might be the closest I was going to get to my criteria. In the process of installing the gallery template for Simpleviewer I noticed the Monoslideshow gallery at turninggate.net and decided to use it instead of Simpleviewer. It turns out Monoslideshow is everything I was looking for in a Flash slide-show and more! To see my sample Lightroom generated Monoslideshow gallery either click here or on the photo above.

There are two components you need to download to create this kind of slide-show in Lightroom: 1. The free turninggate.net part that integrates the control of the slide-show into Lightroom and 2. the Monoslideshow.com part ($19.95) which is the Flash slide-show part. Turninggate.net has a number of Lightroom gallery templates but Monoslideshow is my favorite.

On my example slide-show the navigation control is initially visible to reveal it’s existence. Then if you don’t click or hover over it, it goes away and hides until you hover over the bottom center of the slide-show (you can make it visible all the time but I like it’s hidden behavior). The navigation control allows you to see thumbnails go forward and back etc. The other thing I like about Monoslideshow is you can choose to use (or not) “Ken Burns” panning. You also have control 5 different parameters of the “Ken Burns” effects. You can also control virtually every aspect of the slide show including all the details of the navigation control all from within the Web module of Lightroom. I think Monoslideshow makes a great gallery to integrate into a website or if you are willing to do a little HTML hacking you could easily create a custom branded version of a Monoslideshow for clients. I’m impressed with Monoslideshow and am going to be using it for most of my slide-shows.

By the way, I think this “Ken Burns” approach to video is far more effective for real estate marketing than using real video. The video effect in this slide-show is turned on with a couple of clicks in Lightroom.

Posted in Virtual Tours | 15 Comments »

HDR Software Overview

Posted by larrylohrman on September 18, 2007

I recently noticed a nice overview of HDR software that is in the Panotools Wiki. I thought that this was one of the best HDR software overviews I’ve seen. This link on the Panotools NG forum which is a forum of panographers that discuss PanoTools, panoramic imaging, and related technologies and techniques, front-ends such as PTGui, PTMac, hugin or PTAssembler, or companion apps such as Pano2QTVR.

HDR is routinely used in panoramic imaging because when shooting panos frequently you find yourself shooting both into the sun and away from the sun in the same image… HDR becomes essential in these situations.

Posted in Lighting, Photo Editing | Leave a Comment »

Images by Peter Aaron/Esto in October Architectural Digest

Posted by larrylohrman on September 16, 2007


Early last week I got my copy of AD in the mail and was particularly impressed by an article that Peter Aaron did the photography for. I was hoping that the AD website would include this sequence of images in the online version so I could do a post on it… and they did. I’m glad to see that AD has started putting most of their articles online. This is a case where putting the articles and photos online does not in anyway motivate me to not subscribe the the magazine. the printed images are bigger, more impressive and worth subscribing to the printed version.

One weakness of the AD website is the design of their slideshows. Each time a slide changes the browser re-frames the page to the top so it is annoying to page through a slideshow. You have to reposition the page for each image. Very annoying. I’ve given them feedback. I hope the fixed the problem. I’m surprised they would design a site this way. Oh well, they used to have very few of their articles online… now they have most of the articles and photos online, that is a big improvement.

Peter Aaron is fast becoming one of my favorite Architectural photographers. This series of images I think is particularly well composed and lit. As far as I can tell he has used minimal lighting. I can find very little evidence of any lighting. Of coarse that’s what good lighting looks like… it looks like the lighting is natural. Can anyone see what he is doing in the way of lighting? The image above and others in the sequence are beautifully done considering what the difference in brightness between inside and outside must be. The back of the shelf in the middle of the image above is almost as well exposed as the side of the building across the street. I is an overcast day which is the best kind of light for shooting this kind of space.

I also like the way he has taken a shot from one of the apartments across the street to give a high-angle context shot of the whole apartment and a twilight shot besides. A very will done shoot!

Posted in Great Architectural Photographers | 6 Comments »

Skamokawa Kayaking Center: Great Place For Kayaking

Posted by larrylohrman on September 15, 2007


Please excuse my off-topic post but I just got back from a great week of Kayaking on the lower Columbia river and wanted to pass on some info on this little known but great location to the several readers that expressed interest in Kayaking the lower Columbia. Skamokawa, WA is a sleepy little town in Southwest Washington on the Columbia where the Chinook Indians have lived for several thousand years and Lewis and Clark stopped to trade. In the late 1800’s Skamokawa became a fish canning center.¬† Skamokawa was bustling up until the 1930’s when the road came and most everyone left.

Skamokawa Kayaking center is a combination Skamokawa, WA Post Office, Cafe, Bed and breakfast, local store and Kayaking center. You can rent kayaks or launch your own. The guides are terrific! They are extremely experienced kayakers that know all the local tide, wind and weather conditions and are excellent instructors. The accommodations are very comfortable and the food is good. The area is a interesting place to kayak because of all the islands and sloughs to paddle. Despite the fact that the Columbia from Portland to Astoria has a fair amount of container ship and barge traffic this is not that big a problem for kayaks since there are so many varied places to paddle besides the shipping channel. A selection of photos from our trip is here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The Hargis Portable Wall by Malcolm Waring

Posted by larrylohrman on September 10, 2007


It turns out that there IS wireless internet access here at the Skamokawa kayaking center here on the lower Columbia river! So I’m not off the “grid”.

Consequently, I was looking through the PFRE flicker discussions and noticed this one that is particularly interesting on some work that Malcolm Waring is doing. This looks like an important lighting tool so I thought that I’d highlight it.

The background on this concept is, if you’ve read these discussions before you will have seen Scott Hargis and others talk about bouncing strobes off of walls to turn the small light of a strobe into a BIG light source (big light sources are softer). Yet frequently you run into situations that don’t have a nice white large walls to bounce your strobe off of. So… here’s a great idea for a portable wall you can take with you.

I expect you’ll see more developments on this as readers experiment with this concept. Thanks Malcolm for getting this idea started.

Posted in Lighting | 8 Comments »

I’ll be Offline At Skamokawa For One week – Until Sept 16

Posted by larrylohrman on September 8, 2007

Starting tomorrow (Sun 9/9) I’ll be “off the grid” for a week (until Sun 9/16). We are participating in a kayaking adventure based a Skamokawa on the lower Columbia river. We’ll be retracing some part (the easy part) of the Lewis & Clark expedition via kayaks. As my son says, “dodging the wakes of container ships will probably detract somewhat from the authenticity of the trip”.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

For The Real Money Shot Hire a Pro

Posted by larrylohrman on September 5, 2007


Adriana Barton wrote a recent article for the Globe and Mail (Canadian national newspaper) on real estate photography. I knew this article was in the works because Adriana asked my permission to quote from this blog. Although I didn’t know when it was going to be published… Reader Drew King noticed the article and pointed it out to me this morning. This article is the third article (NYTimes, LATimes) I’ve seen this year done by major newspapers that recommends that Realtors hire a professional for marketing photography. These articles all point to the fact that real estate marketing is getting more visibility at least from print media journalists.

An important aspect of this article is seen in the comments. I find the comments revel a naive point of view on the subject of wide-angle lens and Photoshop and making home interiors attractive. I would have dismissed the point of view expressed in the comments on the Globe and Mail article if it weren’t for the fact that M. James Northen pointed out the very same kinds of points of view on a re-posting of the NYTimes article on www.37signals.com. Be sure to read through these two sets of comments. As M. James pointed out, “There are a few people out there that are so ignorant that they think RE Photography could be construed as Bait and Switch. That the original pictures in this post are better than the pro-shots. That wide angle lenses set off their BS alarms.”

I think that the public is generally not very aware or sophisticated when it comes to images they see day in and day out on TV, movies and print media. They think that the cover girls they see on magazine covers at the grocery store check-out stands come straight out of the camera and on to the cover. And they never think about how far from reality many of the TV ad images are. Real estate marketing is generally the least manipulated of media images. This lack of visual sophistication is, I think, the same thing that lead Realtors to not recognize the difference between a good and bad marketing images. Most Realtors and the general public just need to be visually educated.

Posted in Marketing, Photo Editing | 8 Comments »

A Before and After Staging Story

Posted by larrylohrman on September 3, 2007


John Grow over at www.sidelineproductions.com sent me a link to some before and after staging photos from a before and after staging shoot that he did. Click on the photo above to see the whole series of before and after photos.

We always hire a stager when faced with listing a vacant home because we’re convinced that it’s worth the staging cost. But this story is the PROOF you need to convince a skeptical Realtor/Seller that staging pays. John says:

This is a 1.2 million dollar home situated on a golf course. The owners declined to have the property staged feeling that the allure of the golf club would sell the home. After one month with no offers they relented and agreed to have the home staged. This is a local stager that I have worked with before. A note: staging fee for LR, DR, KIT, FR, BN, MBR and bath, and one BR, $4000 for the first month, $400 per week there after. Two weeks after staging there are already 2 offers on the table.

Empty homes just don’t market well. Without furniture rooms loose their scale in photos and buyers find it difficult to relate to rooms that are empty.

Thanks John for the story and examples.

Posted in Staging & Styling | 7 Comments »