9 Awful Real Estate Listing Photos—And How To Avoid Taking Them

Do you really want to sell that property? Don't post crappy photos of it!

The worst sound a real estate listing agent can hear in his or her office is crickets chirping. This advice is for them (the agents, not the crickets).

Spring is here—prime time for real estate transactions. In an age when a potential home buyer's first impression of a property will be the photographs in an online property listing, it is the responsibility of the listing agent to take decent photographs that show off the property realistically and clearly. With advances in camera technology making their way into affordable compact cameras, real estate agents have no excuses for bad photography. And yet...

Some agents have the photographic chops, and can show their listings in the best possible light. But in a review of 50 random real estate listings on a popular real estate web site, I found plenty of examples of really, really bad photography.  For instance:

Here's a nasty piece of work! As with most of the problem shots shown below, this one has multiple issues, all of which could be resolved by making a few simple changes in your gear and picture-taking technique.

And here's a shocker: Most of the listings with bad photos also have wording like "price lowered!" "Marked down!" and "Priced to sell!" in the listing—all signs that the phone isn't exactly ringing off the hook.

Could it be that the lousy photos of these properties are turning away potential clients?

Here's one that works: The agent shot this with a tripod-mounted with a wide-angle lens, and positioned the camera to take in as much of the room as possible. With the flash off, the room is bathed in existing light, which is nice and even, showing off the variety of textures and colors accurately. This is one room in a 1,000 square-foot Manhattan apartment that sold for over $1.2 million, but you can apply the same techniques when photographing more homely homes so online viewers will have a better sense of what the place looks like before they visit the property.

Some listing agents, to save time, will occasionally use photos provided by the owners. So if you're a home owner and want to supply photos to your listing agent, or you are doing a FISBO (For Sale By Owner), you should read this, too. If you want a better chance at generating qualified traffic, take better pictures that show the property clearly and cleanly to potentially interested parties who are doing their initial research online. Here are a few quick tips that will help you fix the most common mistakes real estate agents make when photographing properties:

1. Use a travel tripod. This way you can shoot slower exposures in existing light, which may be too dark for hand-held photography.

2. Ditch the cell phone. Smart phone cameras may be convenient, but they are not suitable for real estate photography because they have lenses that aren't wide enough. This will limit your chances of getting in a more complete view of a small room.

3. Don't panic: You can use a compact digital camera. Just make sure the model you get has a lens that zooms out to the widest focal length of between 24 and 28mm (35mm equivalent). Cameras like the Panasonic LX-7, Canon Elph 330, or Nikon Coolpix S6300 are available at the Adorama Compact Digital Camera department and are perfect for this use.

4. Turn off the flash. Use existing light whenever possible, since flash tends to reflect off of surfaces and doesn't effectively light up deep spaces (like a narrow kitchen that's 15 feet long; the far end will look like a cave).

5. Learn to compensate for the windows. Bright daylight streaming through windows will mislead your camera into thinking the room you're photographing is brighter than it really is. The result? Too dark. Since just about every room you'll photograph has windows and you'll probably shooting in the daytime hours, this is a very common issue.

Learn from Others' Mistakes

Let's look at some abysmal examples of real estate photo failures, found on real estate web sites that can be seen by anyone, and how, with a little care, planning, and a relatively small investment of time and perhaps a few dollars, they all can be avoided.


1. No Secret Kitchens

The problem: This looks like it might be a nice little kitchen. Too bad we can't see it. We can see a wall and part of a table and a small island, but where's the fridge, sink and oven? Also, note the bottles, bags and other clutter obscuring the surfaces? They've gotta go.

The fix: Move around, find a better angle. Take more than one shot, so you'll have a lot of choices. As for the clutter, before you go to a property, have a talk with the owners and tell them to remove stuff lying around. Use a camera with a wide-angle lens (at least 28mm equivalent) to get more of the room into the picture when working in tight spaces like this.

2. Let's Get This Straight

The problem: Here's a house that's listing for $150k. If the agent expects to make roughly a $10k profit, he or she should take the extra effort to make sure the house doesn't look like it's about to fall out of the right side of the frame. Secondary problem: This was the only photo to accompany this listing. If I were looking for a home, I'd probably move on to the next listing. The listing agent was lazy, and isn't doing the seller any favors here, either.

The fix: If your camera doesn't have an electronic level, use a physical one. A level is not expensive: For under $6, you can get an Adorama Bubble Level, so no more excuses. 

3. Darkness Falls

The problem: Camera light meter was misled by the light coming through the window, and overcompensated. The result? You can barely tell there's a room there.

The fix: Base your exposure on the light in the room itself by locking exposure (and focus) on a wall or floor, and making sure the window is not in the picture. To lock exposure using a compact digital camera, press the shutter release down partway, and while keeping the shutter release partially pressed, re-compose to include the window. Then press the shutter release down fully to take the picture. Unfortunately, you can't lock exposure with an iPhone camera. Another option, if your camera has it, is to use exposure compensation and increase exposure by at least +2.

4. Earthquake?

The problem: Camera shake. The secondary problem: Too dark. I can't believe any listing agent expects to generate calls with photos like this.

The fix: Use a tripod. No, you don't need a big, heavy, expensive one. The Flashpoint Autopod Ultracompact Travel Tripod extends to 41 inches, has a ballhead mount, and snaps open in a second or two, and easily folds up into an 11-inch package that weighs only 11 ounces. It's designed to hold compact cameras steady and would certainly fix the problem in this photo.

5. Clutter: The Dark Side

The problem: Nobody told the property owner to clear their stuff away so the listing agent could get a shot showing the space. The result? A photograph of boxes, valises, and other miscellaneous junk. Saving grace? The exposure is so bad, you can barely see the clutter.

The Fix: Again: Tell your client to move their junk out of the way when you are coming to take pictures of their property. As for the dark image, see #3 for a way to fix that.

6. More clutter!

The problem: Have I already mentioned that clutter is bad? I'll say it again, because this was one of the most common real estate photogrpahy foibles. In this case, it hides the kitchen countertop. And do we really need to see the vacuum cleaner?

The fix: Talk to your client in advance, and tell them to move the clutter off all surfaces. Bring a box and tell the client to throw all their junk in it while you're taking pictures of their space.

7. Even More Clutter: Oh The Iron-y

The problem: OK, perhaps the clutter here is more subtle, but it's still there. Can you find it? OK, first place goes to anyone who said "out of place ironing board and iron." This picture tells me the space is so small, there's nowhere to store it. Why else would it be out?

The fix: Do I really need to say this? Fold away the ironing board (or any other items related to household chores) before shooting.

8. Kitchen in a Coal Mine

The problem: The agent used the camera's on-board flash. Only the refridgerator and first cabinet are bright enough. There are unflattering reflections, and the light falls off into near darkness, which means you can't really see if this is a nice kitchen. It looks like it might be, but the flash is ineffective beyond 10 feet, and this is a deep space.

The fix: Put your camera on a tripod (see above), and disable the flash. Meter an interior wall away from the windows. This way, the natural light in the space will light the scene, revealing more details. Set light balance to tungsten. Finally, use a bubble level (see #4) so the kitchen doesn't look like it has been built in a right-leaning slope.

9. Oops, the shutter went off!

The Problem: I've saved the worst for last. This shot looks like an accident. Why is this sloppily composed photo being used to sell a a condo that's listed at $90,000? Besides, it was shot with a lens that is clearly not wide enough to show the room.

The solution: Invest in a compact camera with a wide-angle lens, use a level, and pay attention to what you're shooting. Be sure to take multiple images so you have a choice when posting listing photos. Weed out the mistakes.

If you realize that you have no sense of composition and after reading this you tried but failed to get better quality images, find someone to help you edit your photos, or even pay a local photographer to take the pictures for you. It may be money well spent.

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