In real estate, a picture is worth more than a thousand words — sometimes it’s worth a sale. Increasingly, home buyers are going on the Internet to pre-screen houses before they call a real estate agent.
While anybody with a digital camera can take pictures suitable for a web page, images taken by a professional photographer will give any home an edge over its competition.
We asked two professional photographers how they make houses look stunning. Debra Brash is a staff photographer for the Times Colonist. In her 30-year career she has taken pictures of hundreds of homes for articles that have appeared in the paper. John Yanyshyn is also a 30-year veteran and owner of Visions West Photography. He is the photographer behind many of the photo spreads of local award-winning houses in magazines.
As an editorial photographer, Brash cannot manipulate the images she takes. Yanyshyn, as a commercial photographer, can use many different computer software programs to enhance his photographs.
Despite their differences the two share the same advice on two details:
Clean it up — The less clutter, the better. Remove knick-knacks and avoid having too many personal items. Pick up toys and put away the dishes.
Available light — Overcast days are best, indoors or out. The exception is dawn or dusk, when the sky is filled with a glowing light that photographers covet.
Brash usually uses an 18-megapixel digital SLR camera with either a 10-22mm or 85mm lens. In addition to the flash on her camera she can add up to two more if necessary. A full house shoot usually takes between 20 and 40 minutes. She takes as many as 80 pictures and selects about 15 to offer her editors.
Look for a focal point in a room. Usually for the living room that would be the fireplace or couch, but not always. « Always look around to see if something else stands out, » Brash says. « Look for a fresh perspective. »
Turn on all the lights. Incandescent lights give a house a warm glow and lighten dark corners. Remember undercounter lights and the range hood in the kitchen as well. A fire in the fireplace and lit candles are the icing on the cake for photographers.
Try not to use a flash. Camera flashes invariably give off a harsh white light.
Take advantage of existing light. « Sometimes the best picture can come from a chance ray of sunlight coming in a window, creating a pool of light in a room. »
Don’t try to get the whole room in one shot. It is better to break down the room in several shots to be able to show more detail.
Clean up the bathroom. Toothpaste and other personal hygiene items lying around a bathroom and unfolded towels are a definite turn-off.
If using a wide-angle lens, make sure the camera is level. If the camera is not level, the walls will look off-kilter.
Take pictures at eye-level. While there are exceptions, pictures taken from higher or lower angles don’t look as natural, and in some cases distort the view of the room.
John Yanyshyn usually turns up at an assignment with an assistant. His primary camera is a 12-megapixel digital SLR camera with a 12-24 mm lens. He will likely use four to five portable lights and complement them with a variety of reflectors and other light-modifying attachments to soften or direct the light.
He usually spends three hours to take about 200 photographs and ends up with 50 final choices for the client. He charges between $500 and $700 per assignment.
Use props. « Whenever possible I ask the homeowner to provide me with a vase with flowers, maybe a bowl of fruit or a bottle of wine and a glass, » Yanyshyn says. « Sometimes I may drape a book over the arm of a chair. These items help the viewer imagine themselves in the picture, enjoying themselves. It helps make a picture pop. » He says the different items also help him fill in empty spots in a room.
For pictures outside, Yanyshyn would put a coffee cup on the table and insist homeowners open the patio umbrella — even in winter.
« Regardless of the time of the year you take the picture, when people see a patio they always think of enjoying it in the summer. »
Create ambience. Props and the subtle use of everyday items included in the picture of a room reinforce the impression of how enjoyable the room can be. « It helps people imagine themselves as being part of the picture. »
Pick the perfect place and time. Homeowners usually know the best time of the day to take pictures of certain rooms or the best view of the house from the road. « Being there at the right time for that perfect shot is half the battle. »
Houses with a view. In some cases homeowners want the views they can see from inside their home incorporated into the picture. Yanyshyn suggests using a flash to equalize the light level inside the house to the same as the outside, so the interior does not appear too dark. Professionals use software to achieve a better balance.