REAL ESTATE PHOTOGRAPHY TRAINING
How to take great photos and make a living from it
I’ve taken photos for properties for over five years now, and taken photos in general for almost sixteen, two of which were in the product photography space, and the rest as an amateur. All combined, it is quite a lot of time behind the lens and I know a few things. I am certainly not the best, not nearly so, but I know enough to have made a living from it, shot for some high-end clients, and have some business savvy on top of it. It all led me to compile this webpage – and related resources – for folks who want to get into it and learn more. I will give away a lot of free advice but hey, so many folks have helped me along the way, I am more than happy to.
Here are my best points for learning how to take photos. I’m not trying to publish a bestseller, so forgive the tone and brevity, but I hope it is of benefit to you.
- Be intrigued/interested in photography. Don’t get started if you don’t have a passion for it somewhat.
- Know that there are a myriad of options in photography. Weddings, Food, Portraits – they all appeal to different personalities. I’ve done a few of them and would never want to do weddings (too stressful, weekends etc) but properties suit me. They sit still, they don’t talk back, and each new shoot seems novel to me.
- Get the right gear but don’t spend too much. You can get away with very affordable gear up front. The nice thing with that is it forces you to get really good at editing, and taking the best photo possible with your R4,000 camera. Just Google “Pro with cheap camera vs amateur with expensive camera” to see what I mean.
I’d highly recommend you to
Trawl the internet for the best property photographers. Sign up on all photo-related websites. Follow the best industry news. Experiment with your camera. Try improve by 1% (at least) every time you shoot. Learn how to be a professional in the business world by offering great service in all possible ways – your photos alone won’t make you a hit – you need to learn to work with clients, invoice like a pro, up-sell clients to video walkthroughs, see opportunities, stay creative, get lots of rest, and mostly: enjoy the process. The day you stop enjoying it, is the day you should find another way to earn a living.
I spent two hours with Adam Letch, an amazing interior photographer here in Cape Town. Well worth my time and the money spent! Take a look at his work and see what I mean. Here are some of his tips.
- Hero shot – have one top shot for the whole sequence you’d give to client – ensure this is edited really well.
- Focus: about ⅓ in, not on silhouettes, rather on something with detail and potentially contrast.
- F11/F13 is ideal for my lens – should be about half of what is the max of the lens (eg. F22 is my max).
- A good tripod helps a lot, especially when it is geared (expensive, like R14,000 and up) and it can go super high, which helps for lens bending.
- Use Manfrotto or Gitzo tripods if you can afford them.
- Lightroom or EOS software is great for tethering.
- Consider using flash in interiors as well, but make sure you mimic natural light (ie. same direction).
I also spent hours watching everything Scott Hargis taught on Lynda.com – which is now LinkedIn Learning. You can get a free month trial with them, so sign up and learn for free! Go find his courses and add to the notes I took from what I learnt.
- Don’t have a big patch of dirt, or something ugly.
- 1 point shot: make sure horizontal is perfect. 1 degree off is ugly. verticals will always be vertical, so don’t stress about those.
- In kitchens shoot above bottom of top cupboards.
- In general, shoot 12-18 inches above surface layer, be it the bed, counter etc – it will be your main surface in shot.
- If something is overexposed (blown out) you can keep “blowing it out” as other things will get improved light – then make sure you give it its own shot later and merge the two.
- He used 1-8 speedlights, and quickly too, this is an alternative option to using HDR.
- Camera was 5d mark 3 and had level on back of screen.
- Always bounced his light, never directly at the scene/subject.
- He didn’t seem to care to follow direction of natural light… interesting that he differs in method.
- Graduated neutral density filter – can make top 2/3 of photo darker, and bottom 1/3 brighter by two stops check your histogram for clipping warnings.
- Get a loupe so i can see my shot nicely in the viewfinder.
- ETTR (expose to the right) and bring back to ideal place – make sure not clipping highlights – and this way you lose noise.
- When going vertical, an aspect ratio of 4/5 is really nice.
- First thing is chromatic aberrations and lens correction.
- For getting verticals, go to manual > rotate first (find vertical line to compare in middle of image).
- Desaturate can use target tool in HSL menu in Lightroom.
- Noise reduction and sharpening go hand in hand, must do together.
- Generally don’t sharpen.
- End with a vignette for certain shots to ‘draw the eye in’.
- Get your pricing right – from the start!
- Get a demo contract ready for client.
- Get ‘to do list’ for client – clean windows, buy flowers, style rooms, payment on delivery, dropbox or we transfer.
- Learn a little about the house before you go there – ask right questions (expectations, specific requirements, size, time of day etc).
- For dropbox have hi-res and lo-res folders with (print) and screen/web) in brackets.
- Explain in an e-mail the difference and they use the one for print (physical) and the other for screen (web).
- Clients should outline what to shoot: ‘if you come to the shoot you can “art direct”, if you don’t then keep quiet later on’.
- Licensing – I own the photos, you essentially rent them.
Learn from the best
Learn these tools from these other guys
I learnt to do HDR on my own, with some tutorials, but I also learnt about Photomatix from Richard Harrington, also on LinkedIn Learning. Then I also watched some videos by some guy in the UK called ‘PFRE’ – meaning ‘photography for real estate’ – and you can view them here. Do the “course”, and my extra notes are here below.
- In Lightroom use ‘v’ to get black and white.
- Drop highlights to remove them, then add them back with local brush in places you wanted them.
- Maybe put two 2:3 photos together to make a 4:3 shot in my gallery portfolio. To do this in LR you can select the image, then go to Print (in top right), layout style must be single image, page setup (bottom left) must be landscape (4×6 is good), put in a black stroke border, lower down select print to jpeg, not to printer, increase shadows to bring light to them, but then watch for noise – you can reduce noise in LR too, then make sure you drop blacks down too – maybe 20 or so.
- Don’t stand too close to subject, it has a worse effect than the wide angle lens does.
- When getting a camera, find out the size of its sensor. Let’s say it is 24mm by 36mm, that makes the diagonal 43mm (hypotenuse) which shows what the standard focus you should use is. It also means (when buying a lens) that your wide angle lens will be ideal at 21mm, and the super wide ideal at 14-16mm or so.
- In Lightroom select your two photos and click ‘edit as layers in Photoshop’ – this will line them up and make them two layers in PS. Then, add a layer mask at the bottom, then use the polygonal tool, select it, set feather to 1px, then hold ALT and press BKSPC. Black must be in foreground of black/white thing.
- Make a colour label workflow – perhaps working left to right in terms of progress. One colour should reflect the image is only partially used – for instance when combining with others to not have blown out windows.
There is so much else to learn, from so many others, that you could spend months online learning from free resources on the internet. However, I hope this helped you with a step in the right direction.
The best way to learn however, is to practice, and keep trying to improve with each shoot. I would be surprised if you didn’t learn at least one thing each time you shot.
Then, if you are interested, I do offer a 3-4 hour course where I take you through a shoot from start to finish, showing you how to bracket images, compose them using HDR software, Lightroom, Photoshop, and anything else. It may seem expensive to pay someone to do this but it really, really pays for itself quickly – you just need to do 1-3 shoots and you are sorted!
Lastly, just contact me through my mail form for any questions you may have.