Top 10 Tips for Making Great 'Real Estate Porn'

By Amy Zimmer on December 4, 2013 7:18am 

Slideshow
 Photographers and brokers share their tips for making beautiful real esate pictures.
Tips for Making Great Real Estate Photos
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MANHATTAN — When photographer Scott Wintrow began shooting real estate for New York City’s top firms eight years ago, he mainly did high-end homes.

But as the Internet became an increasingly important tool for house hunting, using high-quality professional images became just as crucial for apartments as simple as a starter studio in Murray Hill, experts said.

“Bad photos can do harm to listings more than no photos at all sometimes,” said Wintrow, the founder and head photographer of Gamut Photos, who has shot more than 5,000 apartments and currently shoots between 15 and 30 each week.

Having gorgeous images — often referred to as "real estate porn" — is the most important first step for sellers, largely determining whether buyers will visit in person, brokers said.

It’s especially crucial since 85 percent of house hunters begin their real estate searches online, where pictures are the main draw, said Halstead’s Christopher Kromer.

“Almost every buyer I work with tells me they’re interested in seeing something because ‘it looks good,’” said Kromer. “People love ‘real estate porn,’ and buyers will form lots of judgments and opinions on a home just by looking at the photos online.”

There is, however, a lot of bad real estate photography out there, brokers said. There’s even a website devoted to "terrible real estate agent photographs."

“Ninety percent of the photography used in selling properties today is sub-par, and that is the worst mistake anyone can make when advertising,” said Douglas Elliman’s Brian Meier.

Photography, he said, “is essential in building the buyers’ emotional attachment with the apartment. It brings the desire, the want.”

That’s why he and many of his colleagues call Wintrow when they get new listings.

“That's my job: To get the buyer interested via my photos so the brokers can do their job once they are at the property,” said Wintrow, adding that brokers only get one chance to make the first impression.

When it comes to selling your home, it's all about creating the fantasy through images, he said.

He even went as far as to compare his work to that of a famous lingerie chain: “Victoria’s Secret is very good at this.”

But he said that if you can't afford to bring in the pros, there are a few things you can do to improve your chances on your own.

Here are experts' top 10 tips for taking professional images of your home:

1. Less is more.

“Get rid of your crap and once you think you got rid of enough, get rid of more,” Wintrow advised.

2. Remove big or bulky furniture.

Bulky furniture will overpower a room and make it look smaller, reducing the fantasy of endless space, Wintrow said.

You're better off shooting a room with streamlined furniture, to increase the illusion of a larger room.

3. Make sure the apartment is clean and neat.

You wouldn't invite over guests with undies hanging over your side table lamp, so why leave them there for your big photo shoot, asked Nico Arellano, another in-demand real estate photographer who shoots for Halstead, Elliman, CORE, Nest Seekers and others and is known for his expert styling.

“Think of how you would prepare your home if you were hosting an important event, party or bringing a date home,” he said.

4. Display flowers and fruit bowls — either live or fake.

Attractive touches such as flowers, fruit and other accessories give a catalog-level polish to your images, without the catalog-level price tag.

"They give you a feeling of freshness, of life. They suggest good smells,” Arellano said, noting that some brokers take the same bag of waxed apples to different shoots.

5. Color, color, color.

Keeping your color palette matching and complementary, while not shying away from all color, is important to catching the eye, Wintrow said.

6. Focus on function as well as form.

Think about what your audience is going to want to see in each room, while also focusing on the best assets. Kitchens are all about size and appliances, Wintrow explained. By comparison, he prefers not to get too much of the toilet in bathrooms, except perhaps the lid.

And, just like photos of yourself, always show the best side.

“It’s always important to show the window side of the room,” he added.

7. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver with room sizes.

Just like on a date, play up your best qualities, but don't cross the line into a full-blown falsehood.

“The secret to successful real estate photography is to make the space look the size it is, yet interesting and spacious,” Arellano said, adding that the trick is to style the room and know the right placement of furniture.

“I personally don't like making places look bigger than they are since I feel it's deceiving and a waste of time to all the people involved,” Arellano said. “For example a potential buyer coming to see the space and saying, ‘Oh! It looked so much larger in the photos’ — that is not really a good thing for either the broker or the potential buyer in a market where every minute counts.”

8. Approach photos like a job interview: It’s about smart presentation.

“If I see poorly lit photos, or improperly framed ones, it really gives a bad first impression of the home and how the seller probably takes care of it if he or she can’t even take the time to present it in its best light,” Kromer said.

“I bet you these sellers wouldn’t come to a job interview dressed in anything other than their best suit — why would they try to court a buyer with photos that don’t show the apartment with its best suit on?”

9. Post-production is important.

Knowing how to process and retouch an image in Photoshop — making sure images are crisp and luminous, for instance — can make a big difference in the final product, said Arellano, whose signature touch is adding black-and-white images to television monitors in his photos.

10. When all else fails, hire a professional.

“This is not something anyone without extensive knowledge on light, composition, technical camera skills and post-production can do,” Wintrow said, adding that even professional photographers who don’t specialize in real estate have trouble.

Wintrow has taken pictures of the homes of other professional photographers who had tried, and failed, to represent their own apartments that were on the market.

“It is a specialty, like an eye surgeon or something,” he added. “You would not want a podiatrist to operate on your eye, would you?”

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