The way you deal with vertical elements in real estate photography is as critical as the way you deal with light and color.
Vertical lines are the foundation of your composition in most real estate shots. Specifically, vertical lines need to be as straight as possible. This is easier said than done, especially when you are shooting with an ultra-wide angle lens. If you are reading this, you’ve likely already begun shooting everything with the camera level (as opposed to tilting up or down, causing all verticals to appear at an angle). While it may be necessary in extreme situations to tilt the camera, it is generally something to avoid. As you may have experienced even with the camera straight, you are bound to end up with lines that aren’t exactly vertical in your composition.
Vertical lines exist in archways, doors, windows, cabinets, picture frames, lamps, fireplaces, etc. and your best bet is to keep the camera a good distance away from them. When this is not possible, use software to correct for lens distortion and/or crop away from troublesome vertical lines. As you begin to obsess over your vertical lines, you will start to notice many things. Like the fact that most refrigerators lean back at an angle. When appropriate, edit some of this stuff, but keep in mind how much time you are spending in your post processing. I am a firm believer in the law of diminishing returns as it pertains to photo editing.
There are many factors that determine how high to position the camera when shooting a room. Given that we are using an ultra wide angle lens, there is inevitably going to be a lot of ceiling in our photos. Because of this, people have a tendency to want to keep the camera lower, which reduces the amount of ceiling and increases the amount of floor seen in the composition. In an empty room with a low ceiling, it is absolutely a good idea to lower your tripod closer to the floor. When the room has stuff in it, everything to do with vertical positioning gets complicated and you will have to raise back up to chest level, sometimes higher. Shooting too low in a room full of objects creates a 2-dimensional image with almost no depth.
Counters are usually strong design elements in kitchens and bathrooms. To be able to see countertops and sinks, you need to position your camera above them. Showing the counter surface provides essential detail and depth to the photo. Of course, raising the camera above the counter level comes with some drawbacks. The first problem is that you are showing more ceiling and less floor. This is a necessary evil – just make sure you don’t go up too high. In small rooms, it may be impossible to show the floor and the counter top.
Another pitfall of raising the camera is the increased severity of shadows below the edges of counters and tables, primarily from any flash you might be using. Simply be aware of these choices and use your best judgment. When appropriate, shoot difficult shots from different heights and then you can decide later which makes sense, based on the rest of the photos you may have of that room.
Given all the ups and downs in every real estate shoot, try not to obsess over the setup of any one shot for more than a minute or two. The last thing you want to do is spend a bunch of time shooting and editing a difficult photo that will never end up being used for anything. When you just can’t seem to find the right vertical position for a shot, you are probably standing in the wrong place. Try moving a foot or two and re-assess the angles.
Above all, I try to avoid being asked later for “a different angle” that I didn’t capture.