Real estate photography - what rules?

I’ve been shooting real estate photography for a long time now. Going on 12 years, and over that time I’ve shot hundreds (actually probably thousands) of homes. I thought I’d probably seen and photographed everything, so the rest of my career was going to be a sausage factory. Turn up, assess what kind of property it is and which formula works best, shoot, drive to the next place. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Standardised Real Estate Photography? I was wrong

Six weeks ago I turned up to a job, the agent hadn’t given me much info about what to expect just the usual “it’s a nice one so we have to get some great shots” kind of thing. So I pull up, grab my kit and walk into the house. WTF! This place was amazing! It had amazing textures like concrete, copper, stone and glass. It had breathtaking views straight onto the bay – I mean literally step off the back lawn and you get wet. The design and layout was inspired. They had imported mature trees from around the country to make what can only be described as an oasis garden. I mean this place totally rocked.

tropical oasis
No this is not a stock photo, and its not Tahiti.

So here I am walking around deciding what my shots and angle are going to be and BOOM! It hits me. Shooting my ‘standard’ method of shooting real estate photography isn’t going to be good enough. Forget the speedlights, forget the HDR, forget relying on my poor, ever suffering retoucher to make it look consistent with every other bloody house photograph on the planet. I’m going to get back in touch with my inner ‘creative photographer’, go back to my roots, use natural light, and become a wanton hipster freelancer again.

That was it. My lightbulb moment. I took off my shoes, put away my super wide angle lens, then "forgot" attach my speedlight and left my battered old tripod at the front door.

Two and half hours later I had an amazing collection of hand-held photos where I felt and worked with the natural light. I felt re-energised, I felt like a photographer again.

Weeks later the house has received an amazing amount of coverage in the papers and online, the shots the agent placed on Instagram have thousands of likes and the house sold for a gobsmacking price and I’m getting loads of shoots as a result.

This experience taught me some important lessons about real estate photography

  1. Shoot what looks best and not just follow the ‘formula’
  2. Others will see the craft in your photos and embrace the break from convention.
  3. Nothing beats natural light. Full stop. Nothing.
  4. Stop, think, breath and shoot like a pro.
  5. Remember why you became a professional photographer.
Remember why you became a professional photographer

I know not every or even many properties allow you to have this freedom but when those gems do show up on your radar make sure you identify them and give them the attention they deserve, your business and soul will be the better for it.