Do You Want the Family Pet on a Listing Photo?
Dog in the Bedroom

Dog in the Bedroom

One of the most common issues I am confronted with is the question about including images with family pets. I personally believe that listing photos for the MLS should not contain any pets no matter how cute they may be. The overall goal of  a shoot should be the absolute best presentation of the home for sale. I know that there are photographers, agents and homeowners who think that the family dog would provide some personal touch to the image, but is this really what we want? Many potential home buyers are solely interested in the property and the thought of a large dog on the kitchen- or bedroom floor does not sit well. Even though I recommend to remove all pets for the shoot on my “Home Preparation Guide” on this website, very often I deal with an elderly seller who isn’t able to take the cat or dog out and so I have no choice but to work around our furry companions. Most of the time it will not create a major problem since there is always the possibility to move to a different room and shoot that first, but once in a while man’s best friend just doesn’t want to budge at all. What do you do in this case? Well, in that case I just take the picture and remove the friendly creature in Photoshop. Usually I keep a version with the pet and give it as a present to the homeowner who is almost always most appreciative. All in all, I recommend to simply photograph the house with as few personal items as possible and no pets in order to present a professional looking set of listing photos. It usually pays off.

Best Time to Shoot
Shot at Dawn
Shot at Dawn

There are occasions, when you basically have no choice, but to shoot around noon time. Either the realtor made arrangements for you, or the homeowners wanted to get it over with, because they wanted to enjoy their evening in privacy. If that is the case, your best companion should be Adobe Photoshop and the knowledge of replacing washed out windows. You can always bracket your exposures and either blend them together or use them for your “window magic”.

After photographing many homes during all possible times of the day I arrived at the conclusion that there is no better time to capture the special ambiance and atmosphere of a home than in the late afternoon or right after sunset. The goal is to match the interior light situation with the exterior which will result in a more balanced and inviting photograph. I personally like the 10 – 20 minutes before sunset, since it provides a very warm light and softens dark shadows, especially if you are photographing a waterfront property. The trick, as always when using a small light to light a big thing, is to wait for the ambient to come to you. The 10 – 20 minutes after sun-down are usually called the “magic hour” and will give you the most wonderful and intriquing images. Many photographers only shoot at this time of the day and will not settle for anything else. I would say – go with the flow, educate your clients about the benefits of afternoon shootings, but try your best , in case they think that the higher the sun, the better the light. At the end you will have to work around your customer and his/her wishes. Happy Shooting!

Why Should Your Verticals be Vertical?

The use of a wide angle lens has many advantages, but also one serious disadvantage- “wide angle distortion”. While this isn’t always an issue in landscape photography, in real estate photography we deal with it on every single photo shoot. Even if your realtor likes what you are delivering, straight lines will distinguish you from being average. We live in an environment full of vertical walls and if we look at an image where the vertical lines are off, we feel uneasy, disoriented and possibly also some kind of tension. This is a vertical world, where gravity defines up and down and vertical defines the direction gravity is pulling, so we all have this sort of hyper-sensitivity to verticals. If you start paying attention to them, you pretty soon will spot any small deviation and the urge to fix it. So how can we fix converging lines? There are several methods that you can use and it is usually a matter of preference. You can skew your lines in Photoshop or PS Elements, or PTlens. For someone that already has Photoshop I recommend using it. For someone that doesn’t have either I’d recommend PTlens since it is $25 USD and Photoshop is $600+ USD. The current versions of Photoshop Elements (~$99 USD) also work well. Scott Hargis has put together a great step-by-step tutorial and I recommend checking it out.

The Importance of Composition

According to Webster’s definition, composition means arrangement: the orderly putting together of parts to make a unified whole. There are not really any binding rules to composition, rather lose guidelines and some basic principles. What do we include and what do leave out in order to create the most harmonious impression?  When a photographer looks at a scene and automatically sees it as if it were through a viewfinder, he or she  knows the format of  the photograph and puts invisible borders around that scene. While an artist is unrestricted and has complete freedom in creating a painting or piece of art, a photographer has to use what is in front of him or her, which makes that person a judge of the importance of certain elements of composition. A good photograph makes you want to explore it and keeps your focus on it. Elements of color, light, and contrast may play a definitive role in this challenge. Depth of field lets you focus on important parts and ignore visually not so inviting areas of an image. Whenever possible, I like to create some sort of tension between foreground and background as well as lighter and darker areas. In order to convey  a scene in a vivid manner, at least some of these ideas have to be included and sometimes, less equals more. Once in a while I take a walk  in the Everglades where there are long stretches of grassy areas interrupted by small islands with bushes and trees and a beautiful clear sky. This is when I just look at nature and see it in form of photographs. I know exactly where I would crop and how I would position my camera. I am sure that some of you had a moment or two when you said  “this is picture perfect” and this is exactly the impression,  a well composed image should provide.

Communication with Realtors

A while ago an agent wanted me to photograph a furnished house for the MLS  which was supposed to be rented out. I basically finished the shoot except for the bedrooms which still had to be cleaned and prepared. When I returned to the property a few days later, I had been told that everything was ready to finish up the project and I really didn’t expect to encounter any sizable problems. Well, I was wrong. The beds were clean and made, but the pillow cases and blankets were extremely wrinkled (almost like elephant skin) and didn’t photograph well. I spent quite some time in post-processing, but the pillows and blankets still looked messy. There was also the fact that the pillow cases were much too large for that kind of pillow, so no matter how much I pulled, shook and arranged, the pillows would fall over. I am a perfectionist when it comes to my product, but once in a while silly little complications can really mess up a photo shoot and unless I would have ironed the bedding there wasn’t much for me to do to improve the situation.  So, how can you convey that to your realtor, when he or she is only interested in a perfect finished product (and rightfully so)? In my case, time was of the essence and instead of calling right away and telling the agent, that the beds won’t photograph well and they should be made over, I took the photos and tried to explain later and of course that didn’t work. It doesn’t matter how many good images you deliver, one less than perfect shot can impair the quality of the entire product. So if you see a problem that is impossible to “fix” in post-processing, call the realtor instantly and tell him or her that you can’t photograph the room under these conditions. Ever since, I am asking agents to read my “Home Preparation Guide” which is located on my website under the “Services” menu which can also be downloaded as a PDF file and printed.  Isn’t it ultimately in the best interest of the realtor?

Creative Power that Comes With Digital Photography

Family Portrait Pompano Beach

With the introduction of the digital  camera my overall view of photography and it’s potential completely changed from one day to the next. Let’s go back a little. I haven’t always been a real estate and architectural photographer,  I actually shot weddings and family portraits at the beginning of my photographic career. My first teacher was a shrewd English man who loved wedding photography and as difficult as he was, really toughed me to look at detail. It  doesn’t matter if you shoot people or houses, details are of utmost importance. When you start at a bride’s home with the first photos before the ceremony you try to capture her excitement about the upcoming event and when you are photographing a home you look for those special “extras” which make that home interesting and worth buying. You always try to catch a special mood. Of course I was shooting film back then and camera settings mattered even more than today. There was not much room for mistakes and I used Photoshop mainly to design my business cards and brochures. The teacher I profited the most from back then was Monte Zucker, one of the really great wedding photographers of all times. I consider myself lucky to have received my probably most important lesson from him – and even though I changed my field I still profit enormously from what I learned from him so many years ago. It is one sentence that will stick with me forever, ” where there is light, there are shadows”. I learned that flat light is boring and highlights and shadows are actually good and bring life into a scene. Today I am using Photoshop almost with every photograph I take, and it is not that I make ” mistakes”, no, it is a great way to make good photographs the best they can possibly be. There is so much room for creativity and a chance to push your abilities and knowledge to the limit. Digital photography opened the door for me to become a more complete photographer and artist as such and I look forward to every new batch of images and what I can do with them.

Photographing Outdoor Spaces
Incorporating Color

Incorporating Color

As a real estate photographer with a passion for landscapes I find myself  often in the position of having to shoot a backyard or garden which at first sight doesn’t convey a very inviting look. Photographing a house for the MLS includes not only the indoor living space but should also present an attractive picture of the surrounding external area.

So what do you do with a backyard that looks more like a jungle or construction site than an environment for your leisure time? Well, first of all I try to find out how to turn a disadvantage into an advantage by looking for the best angle, a special feature (if there is one – there usually is, you just have to be open to new ideas) or some nice plant, tree or bush. If I am lucky, the property does have a swimming pool and I will try to make that the focus. Sometimes I use a colorful bush and try to incorporate it in one corner of a photograph to bring a little excitement to an otherwise maybe boring view. In case of a really run-down backyard, there is always the possibility to bring some pruning scissors and a broom and take matters into your own hand (of course only if that intervention doesn’t take more than 15 minutes of your time). Isn’t it amazing what a motivated photographer will do to get a decent shot for the client? Just don’t underestimate the power of outdoor photographs, they help to complete the impression of a property, and sometimes, especially when I am dealing with modest interior features, a colorful picture of a garden could just make or break the deal.

Photo Safari Miami

Miami Skyline

Once in a while I just take off in the morning and I head for an exciting photo shoot which doesn’t always directly have to do with work. Well lets say in this case maybe indirectly, because my destination was Miami. When you have only a limited time frame you have to carefully choose when and what to shoot and when it comes to Miami, that is an extremely difficult task. I started around 9:30 AM with the skyline taken from the Julia Tuttle Causeway and boy was I lucky. The sun had just come up high enough to already distribute a nice warm light without very harsh shadows and there was a cloud building just behind the line of buildings which  can only be  seen a few times out of the year. The light was so perfect that it put this huge white reflection of the cloud into the ocean and created an almost surreal picture (You can see some of these images here.) So if you are planning to take photos of the skyline, don’t wait until noon time. I continued to shoot from the Rickenbacher Causeway and got some very nice images from that side and some of the cruise ships which always makes me want to board one and just take off for a week or two. For this trip I hadn’t really made a plan and in order to really cover Miami it would take at least two weeks of shooting to create a complete album, so I decided not to do art deco this time but to head for the beach. For those who have been to South Beach, of course know, that it has the widest variety of lifeguard stands. Each of them is unique in color and design and definitely worth capturing. It was really getting hot, but if you like a nice saturated sky above the ocean, I would suggest being there some time right after 1o’clock in the afternoon. After a short lunch break around 2:30 PM on Lincloln Road I took a few more images on Ocean Drive, but decided to come back another time in order to get a better variety of art deco and restaurant shots before the nightlife in Miami gets into full swing. Overall I can say it was a quite rewarding endeavor and I will be back soon. I’ll definitely keep you posted.

This One Put a Smile on my Face

Last week I shot a three bedroom unfurnished house on a golf course that was put into the MLS to be rented out. It is my practice to take some props with me when I know that the house is empty to make it look more inviting without “over-staging”. The realtor who was handling the account called yesterday and told me that a buyers agent had asked him for the real photographs of the house, since he believed the ones I had taken were the originals from a model unit. That agent was very surprised to learn that what he saw in the listing was the “real deal”. This proves again, that stepping up the effort will make a very sincere and lasting impression.

What Makes a Great Architectural Photograph?
Quantum Condos Miami

Cyber Library Quantum Condos Miami

Good question. Basically it boils down to the three main ingredients, perspective, unity and contrast. Each by itself will create maybe a technically sound, but definitely boring image. We are talking about a very powerful trinity which is put to its perfection through the seasonings of light and a photographer’s eye for details.
A passionate architectural photographer’s job is it to evoke a certain mood and to shape an image, which is mostly accomplished with the use of light. A photograph should represent the true image of a scene, building or interior and at the same time introduce some sense of mystery. A natural but striking look will capture the viewer and will increase interest in the subject. The real challenge is, to take a scene, room or building that is three-dimensional and display it in a two-dimensional form. This sounds almost impossible, but using perspective, unity and contrast, it can certainly be achieved. To construct this real-life appearance, shapes can be brought out by accentuating angles and curves with light. The worst impression someone could get from a poorly taken photograph is the one of being vacant and lifeless.