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Getting Started with Real Estate Photography – Interiors

Editor’s Note: All gear for this post provided by our friends at LensRentals.com.

In the last article, Getting Started with Real Estate Photography – Exteriors, we discussed a basic approach to a typical real estate exteriors shoot plus all the gear I used and rented from LensRentals.com. Today, we’ll get into interiors shooting and run through a few good habits to keep in mind moving forward.

Picking up where we left off in the last post, it’s time to kick off the shoes and head inside, starting with a quick pre-shoot walk-through.

Walk-Through

The first thing I accomplish is to take a look at the property and gather my thoughts and approach.

  • Shoes & Gear: On entering any property, it’s always a great idea to check our shoes for any debris or simply remove them at the door. I generally prefer to leave shoes and any unneeded gear propped outside the front door (if possible) or tucked safely out of view. Now we’re ready to take a brief walk around the inside of the property to ensure the best results for our shoot.
  • Open Doors, Turn on Lights: As we make our way around initially, we begin to acquire a feel for the space; here we can start forming angles and establish an overall flow for our tour. As our first interior shots will likely be overall layout shots of the front entry and main living space(s), the initial walk-through is the best place to prepare for these exposures: Be sure to open all double-doors to main rooms (i.e., dining rooms, bedrooms, offices and dens, etc.) and closing all smaller closet and bathroom doors along the way. Also, make sure to turn on all available lamps and lighting, even in daylight for best results. We’ll turn these off as we shoot and leave these rooms individually.
  • Be mindful of clutter: Photographers are not house cleaners, yet any effort we can put forward from clearing table space to making sure wall hangings, rugs and throw-blankets are as straight as possible can go a long way in separating our services. A good listing agent is skilled at motivating a seller into preparing their property for quality display. As this can be an emotionally stressful time in a seller’s life in general, I find it’s best to be ready to move quickly and to be as accommodating as possible in this way.

Camera & Setup

Having completed the walk-through, it’s time to get the camera, flash and tripod ready to go. Now is the time to adjust any camera settings from our outside exposures to reflect what we’ll need inside. As with exterior work, we want to maintain a deep depth-of-field and hold our space entirely in focus. I prefer to start around f/8 and work up from here, shooting in Aperture Priority (Av) mode with Auto ISO turned on depending on available light.

New Canon DSLR shooters: Experiment with A-DEP mode in lieu of Auto mode to gain maximum DOF if you’re unsure in regard to Aperture. For those interested in more detailed shooting and processing insight for high end architectural projects, I would highly recommend you to Richard Klein‘s work over at Lynda.com for further instruction and inspiration.

As discussed in the last post, the setup used in this sample consists of a tripod-mounted Canon T3i (600D), a hot-shoe mounted Canon 430EXII Speedlight fitted with a Gary Fong Lightsphere set initially in full E-TTL mode. Remember, nothing fancy here – just good, even lighting. To quickly recap the lenses, we’re using the Sigma 10-20mm f/4 exclusively for interior work with a Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 on-hand for any closer detail work required. For more information, please refer to the previous article on exteriors shooting for a complete gear list.

The key to low-distortion interiors shooting is the vertical plane. Our initial instinct is to line up the horizontal center point and shoot, yet neglecting the vertical center point can throw off perspective and cause the image to distort by tilting up or down depending on the camera’s vertical position. Great rooms and vaulted ceilings being the exception, it’s ideal to take advantage of the camera’s adjustable LCD screen and raise the tripod and lens as close to center as possible to minimize tilt distortion. Having dialed-in our height, we’re now free to center and move this setup with ease, creating a consistent look and flow for our interior tour.

With the walk-through down and our setup dialed-in, we’re ready to start shooting.

Interior Shoot List

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  • Front Door / Vestibule / Foyer: Building on our last exterior shot of the front door, the next natural position is to grab an inside shot of the same. As always, I prefer to shoot a couple straight-on and a couple angled exposures of the main entrance. Choosing the best of the two in post, this is the key outside-to-inside transition shot. I then like to walk to the door itself, locate the most appealing angle and shoot into the property itself and gain a perspective from the front entrance as well. Again, these may or may not make the final tour selection and always a good idea to have them on-hand just in case.
  • Stair-casing: Be sure to cover any stair-casing and landings in the Foyer area from wide and close angles. The wide shot will be useful in the overall tour and the close shot can be a handy transition shot when the tour heads to the upper level (if applicable). Again, the need to work these scenes from both straight-forward and angled positions cannot be over-emphasized. You’ll thank yourself for this in the final selection process.
  • Connecting Halls & Baths: If the foyer is equipped with a 1/2-bath, I prefer to close the door and shoot the space uncluttered. As these rooms are never large enough to shoot well, we may decide to go in, get low and shoot upward to grab any attractive lavatory (sink) fixtures and do our best to avoid any mirror reflections. As each listing agent will have their personal preference for documenting these spaces, we may have to simply do the best we can and keep moving.

Should an agent insist, another option is to open the door and grab a couple of overall (wall) shots of the space, making sure to angle ourselves to display the lav and mirror rather than the toilet. Toilets are a given and, unless unique in some way, are not items we need to document. If a toilet is in our scene (reflected or otherwise) be sure to always close the lid. Any time we do enter a small room, close the door behind and make sure all lights are on for best results.

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  • Dining Rooms, Reading Rooms and Dens: Sometimes these rooms will be attached via double-door to the Foyer area; if so, go ahead and grab these shots now and re-arrange them accordingly in post. Upon entering these larger rooms, the goal is to capture a wide view from all four sides of the space, including the usual angled shot or two to show the space from the inside-out, as it were, to highlight how the space interacts with the surrounding layout. Be sure to grab both wide and tightly framed views of any pass-through windows, bars and/or openings into the kitchen area as well. These images will show off the details and serve as great transition shots as needed for our tour.
  • Great Rooms & Living Rooms: As the center-piece of our shoot, quality capture of the primary living space is essential in MLS photography. Many newer properties will invariably have a large Great Room connected on one end with an open Kitchen on the other. If this is the case, be sure to grab a few nicely-framed end-to-end shots that give the best representation of size and overall space. One attractively-angled shot from either end tends to work well here. Scan for any upper level loft or walkway views and be sure to grab a few downward shots from that perspective as well.

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Having the overall views, we can then move in and grab a closer view of the Living space alone from at least two appealing angles. It’s very easy, and quite okay to over-shoot these areas as the owner and agent will appreciate the effort. Scan the scene one last time for any messy throws, loose items or gear that may be cluttering the view. Here I might choose to change to the 24-70mm lens and quickly grab any close-ups of fireplaces and/or custom stone and casework around TV’s and entertainment systems (etc.), then change back to the wide-angle and continue.

  • Kitchens & Nooks: As with primary Living spaces, quality capture of the Kitchen is key in MLS photography. Having covered the overall view from the Great / Living Room toward the Kitchen in general, we’re likely to already have one in the roll. Now it’s time to move in and through the space, covering all angles and thoroughly documenting the layout, detail and dimension.

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Make sure to account for any breakfast bars and nooks present, being mindful to turn on all overhead, under-cabinet and appliance lighting available for best results. If any bulbs are burned out, simply leave them off or try to replace them in post if desired. Just in case, I recommend keeping a pack of standard-sized bulbs in the car. Be sure to grab any pass-through windows and openings to adjacent rooms from the Kitchen-side as well, wide and close (if required).

  • Porches & Views: Keep an eye out for openings to porches and decking along the way; usually extending from Great Rooms and/or Kitchen areas, we’ll need to highlight the porch connection (from the inside, as we did outside) and any appealing views it may provide. Creative license can be a winner here, depending. If the background is cluttered, use all the depth-of-field needed to subdue it, dial-in a shot and keep moving.
  • Laundry & Utility Rooms: Typically, Laundry areas are attached to the Kitchen area (or Mudroom) that leads to a rear or side entrance. In which case, I prefer to go ahead and grab this shot as I make my way through the Kitchen. Occasionally, there will be other features here to document, such as a hose bib for shoe and dog-washing stations, but for the most part we’re looking for one all-encompassing shot to convey space and utility. If there is a side or rear entrance present, we’ll need to document it’s location as well. Laundry rooms are renowned for becoming staging areas for owners to use as last-minute storage before a shoot, in which case we pass it up and again, keep moving. Not a crucial shot, but good to have on hand.
  • Garages: Having already grabbed our exterior garage shots, it’s a good idea to have any cars moved out of the garage to effectively shoot the interior space, and preferably cleaned and cleared as much as possible. Agents are aware of this, and owners are always more than glad to accommodate.

Turning on any overhead lighting, I prefer to shoot this space with the bay doors closed using the flash only. If it’s just too dark, try opening the bay doors to further light the interior. One good shot from both directions is all we need here. Again, this space can be relegated as a staging area for storage in some cases, causing us to overlook the area and move along. If applicable, we need to be sure to document any small kitchens, bars and property entrances that may be present in this space as well.

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  • Master Bedrooms: Upon entering the Master Bedroom, close the door behind you and make sure all available lighting (overhead and otherwise) is turned on for best results. Again, if any bulbs are burned out, replace them or simply leave them turned off for the shoot. I prefer to close all closet doors and open any door leading to a Master Bath, making sure those lights are on as well. If there is another (second) door to a visible toilet, I may try shooting one open and one closed for my overall and choose the best option for the tour in post.

Having closed the bedroom door upon entering, we’re ready to cover the scene from all four sides, including a couple of angles for good measure. Heading into the Bath area, be sure to document the overall dimension (end-to-end, if possible), making sure to highlight any custom tubs, showers, vanity woodwork and notable fixtures in this space. Full-coverage of the Master Bedroom & Bath, including any walk-in closets and any associated aesthetic is ideal.

  • Half-Baths: We touched on this earlier, but I do not advocate shooting these spaces to my clients. Having them listed in the property description is (in my opinion) enough and any attempt to shoot such a small space tends to detract from the overall appeal. Same goes for small storage and utility rooms. With the exception of those larger storage (etc.) rooms, most owners and agents are more than happy to agree. Should an owner or agent insist: shoot the space as straight-on as possible and move on. For those offering floor-plan services, these spaces are most effectively accounted for here. More on that in the next post.

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  • Upper Level Rooms: Now we can make our way upstairs (if applicable), or around to the rest of the bedrooms on the premises. In this case, as we approach the lower landing, make sure to grab a nicely-framed shot (or two) of the staircase for transition. Heading to the top of the stair, we can grab another from the upper landing downward and another of the upstairs hall or loft area – any angle that best shows the general layout of rooms.

For narrow halls with bedrooms and/or a bath on either side, I recommend closing all doors except the bathroom door with all lights turned on for best results. If a bedroom is positioned at the end of hallway, I generally leave that door open and use that room as my starting point for the remaining rooms.

In general, it’s a good practice to close all closet doors and leave any bathroom doors open and lights on to highlight location and orientation. For shared bathrooms: I prefer to open both doors and shoot through to show connectivity, as well as one from each bedroom with the opposing (bedroom) door closed to show privacy. Cleaned and readily accessible attic spaces may be required to shoot (if applicable) at the agent or owner’s request.

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  • Basement Spaces: Making our way back downstairs, seek out the most appealing angle of any stairway leading to the basement or lower levels. One good shot here is all we need for a suitable tour transition, if possible. We can now finish up our shoot by thoroughly documenting all lower level bedrooms, recreation areas, storage and utility areas, including any larger bathrooms in similar fashion. Finally, take a quick look around and be sure to capture any and all lower-level side or rear entrances to the property from the inside as we did outside.

And with that we’ve successfully completed our shoot, inside and out. In the next and final article, we’ll get into selecting and bulk processing with ACR, explore a couple of additional services to consider and address the $10,000 question: How to approach pricing this kind of work.

Final Thoughts

Interior MLS photography is all about shooting straight. Always stabilize the camera and try to center up on both horizontal and vertical planes to the extent possible. Avoid corner shots: always strive to get both corners of the opposing side of the room.

Remember to turn on all lights and close the door behind you when entering a room to shoot, and ensure all lights are turned off when you leave the premises. Be mindful of clutter and do everything possible (within reason) to minimize it. Remember to maintain complete control of gear, making sure to avoid any accidental damage to walls and furnishings.

The beauty of real estate work is that properties don’t move, they just sit there for us. All we have to do is light it, frame it and before long we’re sorting through images and creating a product clients are going to value and appreciate. When the goal is to exceed expectations and provide a service worthy of investment, success is only a matter of time.

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