Architecture photography is a huge market. Real estate agents, architects, interior designers, homeowners and even builders like to have their work represented and presented well in a photograph. While the work can be abundant, there are many challenging aspects. Often the turnaround time is same day, you’re going to have limited time on the premises, and many people are going to have an opinion. Your best bet is to act fast, get coverage and create a system that you can trust in any situation.
1) Vertical Verticals
It’s easy to spot an amateur real estate photograph. You simply look at the vertical lines. Every architecture photo should have perfectly vertical walls and corners. It’s important that the walls don’t look as though they are falling away or collapsing in on the viewer. Perfectly straight lines sit easy in two dimensions and create balance and harmony.
Use your vertical guides in photoshop or lightroom to achieve this in post. Better yet, most professional camera’s have a grid view (more lines than the rule of thirds lines). Use these guides to ensure your verticals are vertical in camera. Plus, it’ll make for more interesting angles.
2) Correct Color
Proper color balance is one of the hardest things to achieve in real estate photography. Multiple light sources, distant rooms, large windows, off-white painted walls, and technical limitations all contribute to poor color. We do have a secret weapon, though; raw files are a godsend when it comes to color correcting because you can change color temperatures in post. However, this does not solve the problem of multiple color temperatures in a single image. The incandescent color temperature of inset lights is much warmer than the sunlight coming from the window. Fluorescent under cabinet lighting is also a problem because it doesn’t match either. So, how do we solve this?
For the above photograph, I bounced a high power flash from behind the camera and simply made the room brighter than any of the lights. We can still see that the lights are on, but none of them are contributing (much) to the color temperature or brightness of the room. This not only lights the room evenly, it creates consistency in the color.
Another way to balance color is to do it in post. With a post processing workflow, it’s important to mask sections with different color temperatures and adjust locally. This obviously takes more time than getting it right in camera, and I only use it as a crutch when on location color balance just isn’t possible.
3) Bright, Even Lighting
In concert with correct color temperature, it’s also important to get bright even lighting. Modern cameras retain incredible detail in lights and darks, but it’s important to get light as even as possible in the field to minimize noise and post processing time. I highly recommend using flashes to achieve this, however, some rooms are simply un-flashable. No neutral wall to bounce from, dark wood viga’s, or complex detailed furniture can all hinder a flash’s ability to light the room properly. In this case, HDR process, or long exposure photography is required. I follow this simple logic when determining how to light a room; use a flash if you can, if not use a long exposure, unless there is a window. If there’s a window, HDR photography is required, but be aware of flair around bright windows or lights.
4) Expose for the Windows
There is nothing worse than showcasing a beautiful naturally lit room with blown out windows. It’s utterly important to showcase the view if it’s there. If there’s nothing interesting outside the window, then your goal is to find a composition that doesn’t emphasize the windows and expose them so they don’t flair out or become white. Use a flash to help brighten the room. Just be sure the flash isn’t casting shadows and is spreading the light evenly throughout the room.
In the above photo, the room lit without a flash caused the windows to become white, and the view to look horrible. Exposing for the windows, then lighting the room helps to achieve a natural and beautiful photograph.
5) Composition and Camera Height
Finding angles, views, and camera height is often said to be the most important thing in real estate photography. When looking for angles, talk to your broker or owner. They’ll often have suggestions as to what they want to showcase. Otherwise, the same rule applies as any other type of photography; only put interesting things in the photograph. A large blank wall isn’t going to sell the house, but that beautiful open kitchen will. If a double door opens to a landscaped back yard, then you better get a good shot of it! If the built-in fireplace has incredible detail carved into the mantel, get the photo, your client will love you for it.
Another general rule of thumb is to put your camera 16″ above the dominant surface in the room. If there is no dominant surface, then put it exactly center between the floor and ceiling. Take a look at other professional real estate and architecture photographers and study their angles. Often architects, real estate brokers, and owners want to showcase different things, so, it’s important to have the purpose of the photograph in mind. Are they trying to sell the house? Maybe an architect needs it for their portfolio? Perhaps an interior designer wants to show off the beautiful tapestries. Consider their needs.
5) Paint the property, don’t just document it.
Real estate photographers often get hired to “snap some shots so we can list the property.” This is not the way to showcase a home. Buyers, architects, designers, and sellers are all more interested in how the home feels, or what it’s like to live there. Taking real estate photos is more about the experience or feeling of the home than what it looks like. (Although honesty in photography is important.)
In the photo above, I captured a tree branch in the top right corner, this was to showcase that there’s more garden behind and around the camera. The property felt private and secluded from the rest of the world, and I wanted to showcase that.
Be aware of what the property feels like, and try to capture that.