Do I have your attention? I know it’s a bold statement and right now you’re probably giving me the silent “f*&k you a*^hole, what do you know?”. Well, here’s what I know.
I came to this conclusion about a year ago as someone who was ACTIVELY looking to purchase a home. That’s right ladies and gentlemen, I was a qualified customer with an intent to purchase (and eventually did) a product that had an asking price in the six-figures (which most homes now have, but whatever)!!!!
I scoured the MLS listings online for homes in an area and with features that I thought would be a nice fit. And, after looking at hundreds of properties (even some out of my price range), it became overwhelmingly evident that about 90% (or more) of these MLS product shots SUCKED!
So, as you read this, think about these criticisms coming from a customer and not from a photographer. And as a customer let me tell you the obvious: these photographs are “product shots”! Duhh, you already know that right? Well, let’s quickly consider some other photographs of other products…like cars. You see these everywhere: billboards, magazines, TV ads, the internet. And most sell for $20,000 to $50,000 new. Most homes generally sell for 10 times that! Yet most automobile ad photographs DON’T SUCK! Hell, most fast food ad photographs don’t suck and the product that’s being advertised sells for less than $10!!!!
Why? Because the agencies hire photographers who are experienced in capturing stunning images of that kind of product specifically for advertising!!!!
So what makes an MLS photograph suck???? Where to begin….OK, let me be perfectly honest:
1) Vertical lines that aren’t vertical. What? When you look at a house, its the lines going from the ground up and they need to go straight up. It’s where walls meet. It’s at the sides of doors and windows. It’s both the interior and exterior. Lines are literally everywhere! Our eyes and brains automatically correct for this in real time, but cameras (no matter how expensive they are) can’t and don’t. Verticals that present themselves as angles (even slight angles) look “cheap” and “amateur” to say the least. It’s psychological and noticeable. It can make your listing look less appealing.
2) Colors that look like vomit! You’re thinking about that bad taste in your mouth, right? What I’m talking about is colors that look murky, sludgy, and soupy. Colors that ooze and bleed into each other. A lot of times this comes from a process known as HDR photography. That’s where several images of the same subject are taken at different exposure levels. Then those images are combined in the computer. It’s intended to compensate for the wide range of light levels from black to white (also known as dynamic range). And, in some cases, it can lead to dramatic results - where the photograph looks something like a painting. But I don’t believe that it comes anywhere near to accurately representing what the property really looks like (now I’ve pissed off the HDR photographers out there).
3) On camera flash shadows. I f&*$king hate these. I like natural shadows. They give you depth, dimension and a feeling of being there. Even shadows coming from the home’s lighting. Those are fine because they are part of the house. But shadows created by the on-camera flash??? They’re hideous and they're obvious. You can see them around ceiling fans and light fixtures. They are very pronounced and distinct and they are not necessary at all. Again, they reinforce a psychological feeling of “cheap” and “amateur”.
4) Walls that “bow” and other distortions. Wide angle lenses tend to distort things and just about all MLS images require a wide angle - especially interiors. You’ll notice a bowing of the vertical lines where they start out straight and then as you get to the middle of the image they expand out, then return to their normal shape as you near the top. This is also noticeable in images where you are “looking either up or down” on a subject like in a small bathroom or in a stairwell. Software can be used to correct some of these distortions. But, truthfully, there’s a much better way to compose the photograph in the first place.
There’s more, but in the interest of time, let me just restate that poor photographs diminish interest in your product which may hurt your bottom line.
Can I ask you this: What if your property had 20% more traffic? By that I mean you had 20% more people who were coming out to see your listing? What if your listing sold for asking price or closer to asking price (or even above asking)? What if the average number of days on market for your listing dropped by 20%????? Do you think it would make a difference in your income (even if you’re already a top-performer)?
If you’ve made it this far, there’s a distinct chance that you’re pissed off at me. You’re probably about to draft an email to tell me how you’re one of the top-ten agents in your area. You’re going to tell me how I’m a nobody and you’ve sold over $10 million dollars worth of real estate in the last 6 months and that you’ve got 3 Mercedes in your garage and a Rolex on your wrist! You’re going to tell me I should shut up, go away and die! But, I am telling the truth. And as Jack Nicholson once said, “You can’t handle the truth!” Now he did say it right before his downfall in the movie, so I’m probably taking a risk here. But, as Bob Dylan said, “The times, they are a changing” (or something very close to that).
But, allow me to continue my story. I promise, there's a point. As a customer, I was shocked that the standards of image quality from most other industries hadn’t really hit the real estate market (yet). Hell, an advertising picture for a $4.00 hamburger looks better than 90% of MLS images. As a customer (and someone who has over 23 years of professional media production experience), I was stunned that product shots (even for many multi-million dollar properties) were so poor. As a photographer, I hadn’t even considered shooting MLS listing photos until about a year ago - that’s when I was in the market for a new home!!!
So I grabbed my camera and took some test shots. Guess what? THEY SUCKED TOO!! Because I was photographing real estate like I would photograph people, wildlife, and landscapes!!! It doesn’t work like that!!!!
Then I immediately set out to make my images better! I purchased some of the top end architecture and real estate magazines and I studied them. I hit the internet for information. I researched and made adjustments. I came face to face with the truth: that at that time, my images couldn’t compare with those top-tier images. And I took more test shots. I made more adjustments. Which led to more photographs. I shot. I learned. I practiced. I improved. And, when I was ready, I started offering my professional services to real estate agents and brokers.
Here’s the bitter truth wrapped in an opportunity: what’s worked in the past won’t be working in the future. There are other quality photographers like me out there who are moving into this industry. My unsolicited advice is: hire one. Because, guess what? Your competition already is or will soon be.
Photographing real estate is not like photographing people or wildlife. You've got to know the differences. Some subtle. Some not so much.
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The article that might make you mad...if you're in real estate.
copyright 2019 by Michael I Oster, all rights reserved
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