Breathtaking Photographs Are Closer Than You Think
By William May
Published: 04/19/05 Topics: Comments: -
Nothing, and I mean nothing, can help sell your rental more quickly to a perspective tenant than a great photo. There is little that ameliorates a poor website more than clear, representative and numerous photos highlighting the best your vacation property has to offer.
Does your home have a beautiful hand carved mantle over a fireplace? Photograph it. Can you see the Hanging gardens of Babylon out of the master bath window? Photograph it. Is your home tastefully done with pleasant furniture? Photograph it. The old adage is absolutely correct, a picture is worth a thousand words or even more.
I've had the opportunity here to be intimately involved in the marketing of vacation homes over the internet, and I must say that I have learned much about what makes a great photograph. I've seen great photos, I've seen horrible photos. I've taken classes and seminars, I've been to a plethora of photography shows, I've done freelance photography work, but honestly, getting a breathtaking shot is not nearly as difficult as it seems (or the photographers would have you believe). All one needs is a digital camera (or even a film camera), a computer, and some time.
PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE:
First things first: take your time! It's very apparent when someone spent a scant 15 minutes shooting a home. The images looked rushed: dark and crooked, I wouldn't want to stay in a slanted home with no lights. Take your time. When I shoot a home it ends up taking me at least an hour and a half, more depending on the size. In each room you should take a moment to look around, get a feeling for the space. Try different angles, high, low, behind the bed looking out, through the shower door, on a ladder in the kitchen, it makes your photographs look unique, thereby imbuing a sense of style to your home. Believe me; interesting photographs do wonders for your property.
WIDER IS BETTER
Let's take a moment to discuss some of the technical aspects of shooting architecture. While it's nice to have a $2000 camera, it's by no means necessary. I would say a decent digital camera with at least 3 mega pixels should be all one needs to get a great image. I shoot a Nikon D70 (one of those $2000 beauties) and have been extremely happy with it, but I've also done many homes with a lower-end CoolPix model. The images are comparable (the D70 is better, but the others take stunning photographs). Most of the modern digital cameras take great images at high resolution. I suggest buying the largest memory card that is within your budget and shooting at the highest resolution your camera can do, it leaves you with the most options when it comes to the final destination for the photos (web, pamphlets, printouts to make your friends jealous, etc.)
Regardless of your choice of digital camera, I would say the most important feature you can shop for is a wide enough field of view to be able to shoot interiors without cutting off half of the room. Go to you local camera shop (open the Yellow pages, no BestBuys or CompUSAs) and play with a model for a while, you'll be glad you did. Not only will they let you examine the cameras closely, but they will answer any and all questions you may have about them. Find a camera you like and walk around the store taking photos, see how wide you can get the lens and if you can get most of the room in frame.
Another nice feature to have in a digital camera is what's called in the biz, a "Horseshoe mount". Basically it's a mount at the top of a camera where one can plug in accessories - most notably a flash - and have it draw power and sync with the camera.
This would seem like a no-brainer, but when shooting a room, don't forget to turn the lights on. Turn every light in the room on: the overhead lights, the bedside table lamp, all of them, it will add much needed light to the frame. I'll be frank: a light, airy photograph makes any room seem larger, and more pleasant than it actually is. I don't care if you're shooting a multi-million dollar mansion or a one bedroom condo, a dark, ugly image will make your room look small and dirty. Turn the lights on and make sure the image is level.
To help the lighting situation, I would recommend purchasing a camera-mountable flash unit that plugs in to the horseshoe I mentioned earlier. A nice flash unit that you can tilt and aim can illuminate those hard to light areas at the edges of the image. If you plan on shooting many homes you might look into buying a set of interior lights that you can move and set up in each room to provide even more light. A fine set of lights can be had for under $200 and can more than pay for themselves.
Once you have shot your pictures and unloaded them to your computer you have a plethora of options awaiting you. How to resize? How to color correct? Should I crop? Granted, many of these take some practice to do correctly, but there are many things you can do right now to make your photos better. Firstly, get yourself some decent software. If you've got the budget, the best is Adobe Photoshop CS - the industry standard. It will do everything you need and much, much more, but if $700 is a little bit too much for you, Adobe makes a simpler program called Photoshop Elements that can do a lot of what its bigger brother can do for a fraction of the price. Also, a company called Jasc Software makes a program called Paint Shop Pro that is similar to Photoshop but again much cheaper.
Once you've got your software, pick out the best photographs taken that day. Look for representatives from each room, pick the one that is clearest, brightest, and generally conveys the best sense of the room and save them to a separate folder. Once you've skimmed the best off the top you can go about manipulating them. Generally when I go about this, my process becomes fairly regimented.
Of course each photo is different, but there are generally about four or five steps to each photo I tend to go through. First I correct the brightness. In Photoshop I go to Image > Adjustments > Curves and lighten the dark areas of the photographs, generally shifting the brightness up about 3 fold or more.
Then I adjust the color. Some homes are painted excessively warm colors - browns, tans, reds - and I tend to make them a little "cooler" (shifted more toward the blue hues). This makes the images more as to what the eye actually sees when it looks at a room, as a camera tends to amplify color.
After color adjustments, I (if the image needs it) crop the image to remove excess and refine the focus. For example when I shoot an exterior I usually tend to cut out excess blue sky that lends nothing to the photograph.
When I'm happy with the way the photograph looks I go about resizing the image. Generally for the web we keep three sizes on hand: large (600 pixels wide), medium (350 pixels wide) and small (100 pixels wide). I would definitely recommend using the three sizes because it gives you versatility later on down the road. Different listing sites require different sizes, which may not be what you use on your own site, etc. I find with the 600, 350 and 100 pixel sizes give us the most options.
There is much to say about resizing and I could go on, but I won't. Just remember to keep the file sizes down (choose medium quality when saving jpeg files), and always sharpen your image after resizing it. (When one shrinks an image it tends to become blurry, by running a sharpening filter after resizing you can combat this and leave yourself with clean, clear images.)
Shooting great images of your vacation home is not difficult. All it takes is a little patience, a decent camera and some practice at manipulation to achieve fantastic photos sure to sell your unit to the next guest. Nothing makes a home seem more livable than pleasing photos. Just remember to take your time while shooting, (try new angles, shoot lots of photos, picking the best ones later), to turn on the lights (!), to adjust the brightness and color on the computer and then to sharpen your images after resizing them. You don't need tons of text to sell your unit, the old adage is absolutely correct; a great picture is worth more than a thousand words.