Keeping everything in focus

When someone asks me what the main difference is between shooting portraits and shooting real estate, the first thing that comes to mind is depth of field. Photos of brides and infants tend to have large areas of the frame that are artistically out of focus. In my opinion, everything should be in focus in a good real estate photo. To keep everything in focus, you will need to pay particular attention to your aperture and your focus distance.

Aperture

Your aperture, or F-stop setting, controls how wide open the lens is. A low F-stop such as F/2.8 (large aperture) is wide open, gathers light very quickly, and provides crisp focus on a small depth of field. Much of the composition will be out of focus in low aperture, and the shutter will be relatively fast. F/2.8 may be great for portraits but it won’t provide the best results for shooting real estate.

To ensure that an entire room is in focus, I always use F/8 or higher. With large F-stop selected (small aperture) the lens opening is relatively small, gathers light slowly, and therefore takes much longer to form a composition. Any of you still trying to shoot in “Auto” mode will need to switch to either Manual or Aperture mode to achieve desired, high aperture settings indoors. Typically when we are indoors, it is a low-light situation. Auto mode on most SLR cameras will insist on F/5.6 or lower in low light, unless you override it. As you force the aperture smaller (large F-stop), it is crucial that you use a tripod, since your shutter will often be slower than 1/40 of a second. Most people can’t hold a camera still at these settings, especially after numerous caffeinated beverages.

Focus distance

If you are good at it, use manual focus. And don’t forget to keep an eye on your focal distance on every shot. As the size of the room you are shooting changes, you will need to adjust your focal distance. Moving from exterior to interior will require a vastly different focal distance as well.

For most of us using auto focus, you simply need to pay close attention to where the camera is focusing. Make sure that the camera is not focusing on unimportant things in your foreground (e.g. bushes, counter-tops, furniture) as this will increase the likelihood of important stuff further back in the scene being out of focus, even at high aperture settings. If necessary, force the camera to focus on something at the correct depth by pointing it directly at the subject, and then return the camera to desired location and finish the shot.

When it is apparent that something in the foreground (or far away background) could distract the auto-focus function of your camera, I always take multiple photos. Use your ears to determine if the auto-focus is working to find a focal point between shots and take 3 or 4. One of them is bound to turn out right.




The ups and downs of modern real estate photography

Upside:

1) Modern cameras make it possible to take good photos of houses, quickly, in reasonable conditions. Combined with a good flash and tripod, today’s cameras can produce great results in short order.

2) Real estate listing photos are mostly viewed online, often on a phone or tablet, so the files should not be enormous. This makes things a lot less cumbersome for anyone dealing with the photos. Photographers, realtors, homeowners and prospective buyers all benefit from photo sizes that are easy to distribute and view quickly. This far outweighs the rare instance where somebody wants to print a poster-sized photo of a living room.

3) Homes do not move, allowing you time to find the right angles and adjust the things you can control (blinds, furniture, lighting).

4) If things really go poorly, you can always come back – your subject isn’t going anywhere! It can be very awkward and inconvenient for the homeowners/realtor, but getting the shots right will always outweigh your convenience. It hasn’t happened in awhile, but the times I’ve had to return when something has gone wrong have usually been met with understanding and even humor. You tuck your tail and admit you didn’t get it right the first time and set forth to get it right.

Downside:

1) Most home listings don’t justify a large budget for photography. You’re going to have to get over yourself and accept that many captures of many rooms in many homes will not be worthy of consideration for any artistic awards. If someone should commission you to take THE photo of their view property at dawn for the purposes of acquiring large prints, then you should get serious. Especially when it comes to insignificant rooms that may be small, awkward or cluttered, it is important to recognize when your photo is “good enough” so you can concentrate your time on the best shots available. I’m a firm believer in documenting everything to cover my tracks in the event of a customer saying something like, “I didn’t find any photos of my pocket laundry room.” I take photos of EVERYTHING, just in case, but I sure don’t spend as much time on the little things. Those shots are more like an insurance plan.

2) You need to work relatively quickly through constant change (interior, exterior, rooms with bay-window views, basements). Just when you get your settings dialed for the kitchen full of windows, it’s time to shoot the dark green bathroom. Never lose track of where ALL your settings are. You don’t want to be finishing up outside and realize your white balance and ISO are still set for the basement.

3) The shooting environment will include many things beyond your control (sun, weather, non-working lights). From power being shut off in a bank-owned home to wicked sunlight in a room with no blinds, you will run into many irritations that you must simply accept and conquer. On that note, it is a good idea to always travel with a pack of light bulbs.