13 Photography Tips When Shooting Your Home to Put It on the Market

Your house should get attention for its stunning features, not your shoddy Photoshop skills.

By Devon Thorsby, Editor, Real Estate |Dec. 18, 2015, at 4:39 p.m.

13 Photography Tips When Shooting Your Home to Put It on the Market

Slideshow

You need good photos to get people to your home.

woman takes photo of a house

(Getty Images)

You know those hilariously bad real estate listing photos that make a home look more unattractive than it is? You don’t want to be that seller. The cost of marketing your home can be pricier than you may anticipate, and taking photos yourself may seem like a great way to cut spending. But as competition in the housing market grows more intense, it might be worth it to hire a professional photographer to shoot your house. Still convinced you can do it yourself? Follow these basic rules from professionals to up your real estate photography game.

Your cellphone camera won’t cut it.

Your cellphone camera won’t cut it.

Young woman taking photo of new home with smart phone

(Getty Images)

You may think you’re a Snapchat savant, but you shouldn’t consider your cellphone an option if you’re looking to market your home with the photos you take using it. “You can’t do it with your phone. You just can’t. Don’t try it,” says George Ramirez, a photographer who shoots architecture and real estate in Austin, Texas. Cellphone photos often come out a little (or a lot) blurry on a larger computer screen, and that’s not something you want when homebuyers are scrutinizing your home to decide whether or not they’ll tour it.

Shoot a little lower.

Shoot a little lower.

Close-up of a man photographing with a camera

(Getty Images)

A standard height of a person is too tall to capture a room at a flattering angle, and it typically means you’ll angle the shot downward, which distorts the lines in the room. A good rule of thumb is to shoot at a height about one foot above the back of a sofa, says John McBay, owner of Perfect Exposure Imaging in Swedesboro, New Jersey, and author of the e-book “Image Editing for Real Estate Photography.” “If you’re taking a picture and the camera’s pointing down … all the vertical lines and some of the horizontal lines will be all cockamamie – they’re just not going to look right,” McBay says.

Use a tripod.

Use a tripod.

Black and silver camera tripod

(Getty Images)

An even better way to get the height and angle of the photo right is to use a tripod. According to Ramirez, a tripod is necessary for a sharp photo. “The exposure is going to be longer than you can hold the camera still,” he says, noting that holding the camera can easily make an image blurry – the camera needs to be perfectly still to get it right.

Clean and declutter.

Clean and declutter.

Housekeepers help with cleaning your house when you cannot

(Getty Images)

It should go without saying that you should only photograph a clean home, but all too often laundry or chotchkies make their way into photos. The more small details in the picture, the more distracting it will be, McBay explains. “You don’t want to have Kleenex boxes on end tables everywhere,” he says. “I’m amazed – I go into some houses and you’d think they owned Kleenex stock or something, because there’s a Kleenex box on every end table.”

Depersonalize rooms.

Depersonalize rooms.

Elegant Living room in luxury home.

(iStockPhoto)

Certain furnishings or decorations you may have in your home could make the home too personal, making it hard for prospective buyers to envision themselves living in the space. Removing the personal touches will also help to declutter areas in ways you might not otherwise consider. “If you’ve got the wall next to the staircase leading upstairs with 35 pictures of your family on it, you should really take those down,” McBay says.

Don't take everything out.

Don't take everything out.

New Dining Room

(Getty Images)

Don’t declutter to the point that nothing’s left, though. Somer Sheridan, who owns Shoot for Sold Photography with her husband, Mark, in Spring Lake, Michigan, says furniture in a room helps homebuyers visualize how they could use the room, rather than an empty space. “We [shot] a condo recently and the owner took all the furniture out," Somer Sheridan says. "I know the real estate agent wasn’t happy about that because it shows the space better sometimes when it’s furnished.”

Use your computer to balance natural and artificial light.

Use your computer to balance natural and artificial light.

Shot of a man sitting on his sofa with his laptop

(iStockPhoto)

Taking a photo that highlights a great view outside can be tricky without making the room look like a cave. Mark Sheridan recommends taking multiple photos of the same shot with different levels of exposure, with low shutter speed to capture the outside better, and longer exposure with flash to get a good shot of the interior. Then combine them with Photoshop or another software. “We’ll layer those four to nine photos together so that you get a fantastic picture out the window as well as in the room,” he says.

Take more than one.

Take more than one.

Summer memories

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Particularly for spaces that are wide open and connected to other rooms, it’s a good idea to take multiple shots that highlight each space and show the flow of the rooms, rather than try to get everything in one image. You should also shoot open floorplans separately by space, because it’s difficult to photograph “from the family room, to the breakfast nook to the kitchen," McBay says. "The more space that they have to show in the picture the more difficult it’s going to be to get everything properly lit, properly exposed and then looking good."

Turn on all the lights.

Turn on all the lights.

Germany, Upper Bavaria, Munich, Light switch on wall of new house

(Getty Images)

Even if the windows make it easy to see inside the room, don’t leave the lights off inside. “Make absolutely certain that every light – whether it’s a lamp or a can light, or anything else – is turned on in the room,” Mark Sheridan says. The interior light adds warmth to the room that natural light can’t necessarily provide, and it reduces the chances of the room looking too dark compared to the outside.

Shoot toward the corners.

Shoot toward the corners.

Woman taking a photo with a DSLR camera.

(iStockPhoto)

When it comes to where to point the camera, you want to highlight the best parts of the room, while also showing depth. Ramirez says aiming the camera toward a corner – so the corner appears a third of the way in from the right or left of the frame in the image – can make the photo more appealing. “It kind of draws the eye just a little bit. It’s not a trick or anything, it just looks better than pointing your camera straight at the wall,” Ramirez says.

If you can see yourself in the mirror, move.

If you can see yourself in the mirror, move.

Self portrait mirror

(Getty Images)

Humans and pets should not be in any listing photos, so if you’re shooting a bathroom and you can see yourself in the mirror, that’s the wrong picture to take. “When I do bathrooms that are small, I’m in Cirque Du Soleil – I’m usually in the bathtub, I’m bent over, I’m on the edge of the tub, I’m straddling the toilet,” Ramirez says, explaining that you have to find the right spot to make the bathroom look right, as well as avoid shooting a mirror selfie.

Follow the sun when you're outside.

Follow the sun when you're outside.

Golden sunset over wheat field

(iStockPhoto)

For the exterior shots of the house, photograph the front and back at different times of the day, when the sun is shining on either side. While it may be easiest to get them all done as quickly as possible, it’s better to wait to get the exteriors in their best light, and “you’ll get the best results when you do that,” McBay says. Start photographing your home with exterior shots of one side of the house, and then shoot the inside. By the end of the session it may be the perfect time to catch the sun on the other side outdoors.

Photograph everything, then decide what to leave out.

Photograph everything, then decide what to leave out.

Female estate agent taking photographs of property

(Getty Images)

While an unfinished basement may be pretty unsightly, it’s a good idea to capture a few shots of new appliances that could appeal to the home’s value in a listing. Mark Sheridan recommends taking photos of those appliances, then looking back at the quality before deciding to include them in marketing. “Shoot with as much light and cleanliness [as possible], and then look at the photo product afterward and make the decision from there,” he says. Including an image of the new furnace as the last photo in the listing, he adds, “might jump out at someone who is more mechanically inclined.”

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Devon Thorsby is the Real Estate editor at U.S. News & World Report, where she writes consumer-focused articles about the homebuying and selling process, home improvement, tenant rights and the state of the housing market.

She has appeared in media interviews across the U.S. including National Public Radio, WTOP (Washington, D.C.) and KOH (Reno, Nevada) and various print publications, as well as having served on panels discussing real estate development, city planning policy and homebuilding.

Previously, she served as a researcher of commercial real estate transactions and information, and is currently a member of the National Association of Real Estate Editors. Thorsby studied Political Science at the University of Michigan, where she also served as a news reporter and editor for the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Follow her on Twitter or write to her at dthorsby@usnews.com.

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