Photography For Real Estate

Tips and techniques for real estate photography

Photo Modification

Proposed Real Estate Photography Guidelines for Image Modification

These guidelines for image modification are meant as a reference for discussion and synthesis of a number of posts on this blog as well as comments made by blog readers. I’m attempting to document a standard of practice that represents a large portion of photographers currently working in real estate photography.

Real Estate Photographers should not modify images of properties such that the images no longer truthfully and fairly represent that property. In particular permanent physical features of the property should not be modified. On the other hand real estate images are intended for marketing purposes and therefore present the property in the very best way possible. So image enhancements that do not materially change permanent physical characteristics of the house or surrounding environment are considered standard practice. The following is a list of what clarifying examples:

Standard Practice

  • Removing temporary objects like garbage cans, cars etc.
  • Changing image saturation, brightness, contrast or color balance
  • Fixing converging verticals, lens barrel distortion or color fringing
  • Removing refrigerator clutter i.e, the photos, post-it’s etc sellers typically have on refrigerators or removing furniture that is not part of the house.
  • Sky replacement or enhancement
  • Use of ultra-wide-angle lenses

Considered Modification of Permanent Physical Characteristics

  • Removing or modifying power lines, antennas or power poles
  • Changing any part of the house or landscaping
  • Changing the grass, trees

Use of Ultra-Wide-angle Lenses
Although some people find the use of ultra-wide angle lenses to visually overstate the size of room use of ultra-wide-angle lenses is generally standard practice. It should be done with discretion.

Use of Telephoto Lenses to Enhanse Views
This seems to be a borderline practice. That is, some do it and some don’t.

Use High Dynamic Range (HDR)
Adjusting and expanding the tonal range in a realistic way is standard practice.

Modifying the grass
Some feel that grass is a temporary property feature and modify irregularities or bare spots as required. This seems to be a borderline practice. That is, it is not done widely enough to be considered standard practice. Some photographers will add grass if it will be included in the sale of the home but not present at the time of the photo.


11 Responses to “Photo Modification”

  1. […] Proposed Real Estate Photography Code of Ethics […]

  2. Getting better. Like the addition of the ultra-wide lens use. Your grass clause still seems to have some holes, but judging by the comments, it’s a touchy subject – although adding a nice sky seems commonplace.

  3. This is my first post here, so Hi, everybody.

    Photojournalism requires that there be no adjustments to the photo whatever. On the other hand, I think the “whatever it takes to sell the house” position is the opposite extreme. Somewhere in between lies a set of guidelines that’s honest and fair for the Realtor, the seller, and especially the prospective buyer. It allows us photogs to earn a living and sleep well knowing that we haven’t compromised.

    I don’t think that allowing a hamburger joint to establish our business ethics is the way to go, either. Remember, these are the people who call thousand island dressing “special sauce”.

    My personal rule is that I don’t make any alterations to the photo that “materially affect the property”. I’ll swap out the sky, no problem. I’ll green up the grass, but not a lot. The grass can change with the next rainfall. We’re experiencing a drought in Ohio and, with sprinkling bans in effect, most of the lawns look like shredded wheat. Not very appealing. I generally don’t repair bald spots on the lawn. Brown spots, yes. Bare earth, probably not.

    Other than the grass thing, if I could have (or should have) changed it before I took the shot, I will. I’ll remove a towell that’s been draped over an oven door. I’ll move a box of kid’s toys out of the corner. I’ll remove a bunch of tangled wires running up a wall. I won’t patch holes in the wall, change the color of a room, repair a window or garage door, or blow out the doghouse with Sparky’s running trail in the backyard.

    I try to take the prospective buyer’s viewpoint. If the photographs don’t fairly represent the property, he’s likely to lose trust in the Realtor. We haven’t helped anyone then. My clients are generally Realtors, and I won’t do anything that could embarass them.

    We must establish our own code of conduct based on our personal moral compass, but it doesn’t hurt to have some guidelines in writing. When I first began my business, I had no clue that taking power lines out of a photo was a bad thing. Hey, I was new!

  4. Hi Larry,
    Recently I was talking to an agent who was annoyed that another photographer had given one of his competitor’s information on listings. Which lead me to write a privacy statement incase an agent ever asks me about confidentiality.
    Might be something to add to the ethics, as confidentially is an ethical topic?

    Just an idea.


  5. Aaron said

    This is an interesting issue. My two cents….

    Many of the comments on this topic seem to be treating buyers as victims. When I am shooting real estate, I’m not working for buyers for buyers. I’m working for listing real estate agents. In this respect, they are calling the shots. I have removed power lines, dead grass, and neighboring homes (once) from exterior photos as per the agent’s request. When they ask me to do it I verbally warn them that it’s not the hottest idea and that the image will be degraded to some extent and may look “fake”, charge an additional fee, and then alert them in writing (an e-mail) that they should be prepared in case someone makes a “stink” about it.

    At the end of the day, “truth” in listing photos is the listing agent’s responsibility. If they are willing to risk their reputation by posting doctored photos then more power to them.

  6. Aaron,
    Excellent points.

    Yes, I’m not a lawyer but, I believe the listing agent ultimately has the responsibility for all aspects of the presentation of the home for sale and in the worst case they probably risk more than just their reputation, I can imagine a situation in today’s litigious society where buyers would file suit over undisclosed property defects where photos were doctored and the buyer felt they were deceptive.

    I think handling a request for photo modification as you describe (Documenting the request in writing and advising the agent of the downsides of the modification) is an appropiate way to handle such a request.

  7. Aaron, I’d be pretty careful about some of those things — if the listing agent (your client) gets a disclosure lawsuit slapped on them, it’ll take them about 10 seconds to decide that they never told you that was ok, and that it’s all your fault, etc. etc.
    Even if the agent as an individual remains loyal to you and supports you, his/her office will not hesitate to throw you in front of the bus. I’d get a waiver in writing absolving you of any liability.

  8. Dan said

    Does anyone know how these rules are put in to practice in the UK, I know that there is an act called the ‘Property misdescriptions act’ – is that why no-one has professional photography done with wide angle lenses, or is it more likely that its just because the market is less mature than US/Australia…?

  9. Chris Murphy said

    Dan you are right that the PMA does tie your hands on some things. Wide angle lenses are not one of them, but you could contravene the act by purposefully leaving out of a photo or taking out in post process something that would affect the price of the property.

    For example I would never clone out anything that is permanent. I would replace grass and a blue sky but I leave pretty much everything else alone. What’s tricky is, you could get into trouble for shooting a property and picking an angle that leaves out something undesirable, for instance a house next door to a petrol station if your image does not include the petrol station it could be interpreted as misdescription.

    However I believe its the agent that generally gets hit not the photographer.

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