A book of ghastly estate agent photos became an unexpected publishing success a while back; pictures of uninstalled toilets in the middle of a dining room, bedrooms piled high with rubbish, and gardens with pylon ‘features’ included.
In many of thes cases, unfortunately, the agent may not have had very much control over the subject matter. But look at Rightmove or Zoopla and you’ll find that some agents taking pictures of quite respectable houses manage to make them look dingy, cramped and unappealing.
Good photos have always been important, but they’re even more so now that the internet has made users much more visually orientated. Jane Danser at Pure Brand Media says people see great photography on social media and send each other photos all the time, so, “It’s not a good look when the client can take higher quality and better framed photos of their property on their phone than the agent!”
She believes many agents underestimate how important photographs and video are as an extension of the agent’s brand – and the quality that viewers expect.
Bad photography ranks right alongside making spelling mistakes in the property particulars in destroying an agent’s credibility.”
A bad photo doesn’t just fail to sell the property, says professional photographer John Durrant; it also reflects badly on the agent. Bad photography ranks alongside spelling mistakes in the particulars in destroying an agent’s credibility.
Besides, Durrant says, there’s some interesting research showing that better photography brings quantifiable business benefits. Research by US photography provider VHT Studios, showed that agents who used professional photographers sold their listings in a third less time than those who took their own photos. A Rightmove survey looked at two agents marketing a single property – the one with better photos got three times the number of leads. Giving the importance of the portal to most agents, that’s an important insight.
Some agents have become more aware of the need for quality photography over the past few years, Ray Dowling believes. “They give more consideration to the quality of shots they use, and the variety of images,” he says. Particularly with the portals, he says, the key to engaging your viewers is the “hero shot” – the photograph is no longer just a statement of fact, it’s your prime way to pull potential buyers in.
Take a better photo
Tips from John Durrant
- Use Aperture Priority Mode (look on your camera for AV or A). This enables you to select a high F number so that you can control the camera’s depth of field (keeping a whole room sharp).
- If shooting with an SLR and a 10-20 very wide angle lens, use F8 because that will ensure your photos are sharp with a deep depth of field.
- Using F8 will slow down your shutter speed so that when you’re shooting interiors, photos will become blurred if you’re hand-holding your camera, so when shooting interiors always use a tripod.
- Use a longer focal length lens for your exteriors as this will help improve the perspective of your exterior images.
- Optimise your photos – at least 30 per cent of a great photo is the result of optimising on your computer. Vary the tripod height. Usually kitchens are highest so that you can ‘see’ above worktops. Bedrooms are usually taken at the lowest height. Lounges and dining rooms in between.
- If you’re too busy selling houses to do that, send them to someone like www.doctor-photo.co.uk
- Set your camera to take photos at a fairly high resolution. Your copier needs around 300 pixels for every inch of your print – so a 10-inch print needs a photo that’s around 3000 pixels. 3800 pixels will be good for an A4 print.
- Get the vendor to prepare their home for the photos. Don’t be shy – ask them to tidy up. Last thing you want to do is spend a year (plus a lot of your money) promoting a property with photos that look like you’re selling a house that’s just been burgled.
What makes a good photo? It’s not rocket science, John Durrant says, but there are basic qualities a photo needs – before we start talking about style. It must be sharp; fuzzy photos look amateur, as well as unattractive. The colours need to be right and reasonably bright – tricky if you have to use artificial light – and the exposure needs to be right so that the photo is neither depressingly dark nor washed-out.
Bad lighting is a common issue, says Ray Dowling. Agents’ photos are often dim and depressing, or glaringly bright, owing to poor use of the available light, bad use of flash, and even poor use of studio lighting. The basic criteria apply to all photography, but property photos have particular issues. For instance, John Durrant says, the walls need to look vertical in the photo – photos that look as if the walls are leaning in or out are a common failure. Interiors shouldn’t be so bright that the windows look blank – you should still be able to see through them. (That might take a few different shots to get right which is something that distinguishes the pro from the happysnapper who simply takes one shot of everything.) Interiors shouldn’t show too much ceiling, they need to be shot at a low level, though for kitchens, high enough to see above the worktops.
Most importantly, the photos should show off the house and create a positive emotion in potential buyers, Durrant says. And “they should look as though someone took care in taking them.”
Really professional work meets all these criteria, but it can add a certain individual style to the photos. Ray Dowling believes that the best agents are developing their own visual style. “The best agents who have a clear brand identity and strategy when it comes to imagery, both of their own brand and the imagery of the properties they are presenting, really stand out,” he says. “Often by looking at a set of photographs, one can have a good idea of which agency they are attached to,” he adds, but to develop that kind of consistency takes a clear vision and strategy for visual content.
For instance, the use of detail cameo shots – a brass doorknocker, a fine mantlepiece – is becoming more important “in order to reflect and sell a lifestyle,” Dowling says. Photography can reflect the type of property, emphasising, for instance, fine cornices and high Victorian ceilings.
Can agents do all this themselves? Some still do, but particularly at the top end of the market, using professionals has become more prevalent. James Wyatt, partner at Barton Wyatt, says, “If there’s one thing we don’t like doing – and don’t do it very well – it’s photos.” He believes the professionals have the right equipment and the right editing software – but more than that, they know how to make modest homes look inviting, and vast mansions look cosy. That’s worth paying for, in his view.
The cost of a specialised professional photographer can be high. John Durrant prices a single property shoot at £500, obviously not viable for flat fee agents or those selling lower valued properties.
He does most of his work for the country house market. But for this price, customers get many different shots and he will often revisit a house to ensure the right lighting conditions. Higher volume professionals often offer photography, floorplan and EPC as a package, but they usually take fewer shots and take less time on each property.
Many agents John works with ask the client to pay for the photography.
Taking the photo is only half the battle. Ray Dowling says besides good equipment and a photographer who knows how to use it (“Having a great expensive camera or a wide angle lens does not automatically mean that the results are going to be better than with a disposable camera,” he warns), photos need advanced post production processing on the computer to enhance the image. Even the best need to be edited, to correct colour or exposure, crop, sharpen and improve the photo. It’s not as simple as just adding blue sky. Fortunately, a number of editing services exist at low cost for agents to enhance their own images, such as Ravensworth’s Photofixr service.
A number of innovative approaches are being used by forward-thinking agents and developers, such as CGI, animation, and the use of drones for aerial shots. But Ray Dowling warns the costs of new technology can be high, putting such techniques out of the range of most agents. He says Dowling Jones does a lot of CGI work, “but for big new build developments where budgets are bigger, time is on our side, and there’s greater necessity to have this type of collateral for marketing to investors pre-build, and/or overseas.”
Drones were the geek Christmas present par excellence last year – and are highly appealing to many agents. James Wyatt says “Drone images are top of the pops at the moment and can (but not always) give a better view of the house than at ground level.” That’s particularly the case for larger country properties with outbuildings or extensive gardens. But drones can cost more than expected. Ray Dowling points out that Civil Aviation Authority permission may be needed, and that doesn’t come cheap. He warns that doing aerial photos properly is still a fine art – “High level photography is not as easy as ‘chucking a camera on a selfie stick’ as one agent recently told me it was!”
Video is becoming essential and should be an integral part of an agent’s online strategy to stand out and engage potential clients.”
Video is increasingly present on the internet, from funny goats on Youtube to video news on finance websites, and agents are beginning to follow suit. 82 per cent of Twitter users watch video on Twitter, 90 per cent of them on mobiles. Jane Danser says, “Video is becoming essential and should be an integral part of an agent’s online and mobile marketing strategy. Video is still such an underused tool, used properly it can make an agent stand out from and engage potential clients.”
She thinks many agents aren’t using video to its full potential. For instance, as well as property audio tours, agents can showcase their local knowledge by producing guided tours of the local area, or grab viewers’ interest with video blogs on topics from preparing a home for sale to home improvements worth making.
But as with photos, quality is important. Wobbly handheld videos are far too common – and easy to avoid just by using a tripod. Videos also need a good script and a professional voiceover. Jane Danser warns against cheap DIY video. She says “The most common problems are agents not recognising the marketing value of well-produced, professional visual content, not integrating video properly into their whole marketing mix (and then saying it doesn’t work for them) and ‘doing it on the cheap’, with the results devaluing the brand and putting people off.”
Ray Dowling says Sothebys Real Estate was an early adopter, using professionally shot videos. That sounds expensive, but a professional producer using tried and tested methods can put together a video quite quickly and cost effectively, he says; or for agents with limited budgets, videos can be put together using still photos.
Still not convinced you need to up your game? Take a look at the sort of photography and video content that’s around on the internet. Yes, there are a lot of wobbly shots of tourist attractions with terrible sound, but there are also some very professionally made and edited instruction videos on subjects from DIY to accordion playing – and most newspapers’ websites now carrying a photo gallery of the day, which gets their readers used to seeing the highest quality press photography on a regular basis. This really is upping the ante – and estate agents need to put a more money into their visual content, or risk losing out.
Jane Danser’s pick of the worst video mistakes:
Badly produced video tours.
It’s never a good idea to talk about the kitchen while you’re showing a picture of the toilet. This happens too often with computer generated video.
Voiceover from hell.
“This, um, er, property with three, no four bedrooms, and er, a garden, um, a thirty foot back garden…” is not going to sell. Or at least, an unscripted and poorly delivered voiceover isn’t going to help.
A great shot of the agent’s foot as he struggles to open the door while filming. Ten seconds of pitch darkness as he can’t find the light switch. It might be amusing (the first time), but we’d really like to see the house.
Dowling Jones Design www.dowlingjonesdesign.com
Hello Photo www.hello-photo.co.uk
Pure Brand Media [email protected]
Virtual 360 www.virtual360.net