Wednesday, May 28, 2008

What equipment do I need for real estate photography?

Before we start this journey into real estate photography we need the equipment to do the job. I have used, and come across others using, an incredible range of photographic equipment over the years for this purpose, everything from a hand-held Nikon Coolpix camera with a tiny flash to photographers with a full set of studio lights, a huge tripod and a Hasselblad with a horrifically expensive digital back. I myself have used a few different combinations of kit, but after 8 years of doing between three and six properties a day my kit choice has become a simple balance of necessity versus practicality (not to mention cost).
The good news is that you do not have to spend a fortune on equipment. Real estate photography involves a lot of moving around, moving your kit from room to room, house to car, car to house and room to room again; you are always on the move and as such I would recommend the minimum of kit if you have a lot of work on, you will get very bored and tired if you are carting an entire studio around with you on every job!
There is a huge range of camera equipment available, if you are not sure what is around, try not to get caught up in the techno side of things unless you enjoy that sort of thing. I would advise some research of reveiws on the web for any photographic equipment you are thinking of buying, particluarily camera bodies, lenses and flashes. You don't need to be a statistic quoting knowledge base of 'all things digital photography' to be a successful real estate photographer, simply having the correct kit and knowing how to use it to get great results will see you right. I would advise putting more effort into the basic principles of photography such as aperture, shutter speed, film speed, depth of field etc. (we will get onto those!)
Here are my recommendations for a set of gear to get you started:
  • A digital SLR camera body - any Cannon or Nikon body would be my recommendation such as the Nikon 40D or the Canon 400D/rebel XT. I would add to that a 2-4gb memory card or two (particularly if you want to shoot in 'raw') and a USB 2.o card reader.
  • A wide-angle lens - For the camera bodies I have suggested I would go for a sigma 10-20mm lens for value for money. A camera is only there to capture the image the lens captures, this is the most important piece of kit you will use for the job! If you have a higher specification camera body with a 'full-frame' sensor/CCD then a 14mm or 16mm lens will serve you well, sigma have a lovely fixed 14mm lens and also a 17-35mm which is good quality. If you want to splash out then buy Nikon or Canon lenses, you will not be disappointed.
  • A Flash - There is a huge range of flash kit available, there is plenty of scope for going wrong so I will try to keep my advice simple. In my experience, the best kit to have with you would be a speedlight type flash. The Nikon SB range or Canon 580EX are good choices as is the Metz 54MZ, go for as much power as you can budget for. I personally use a fairly old collection I have of Metz CT flash heads, the 60 CT-4 does a great job, as does the 60 CT-1, I also have a 45CT-1 which is pretty effective.
  • A Tripod - I always argue in favour of a tripod for a number of reasons, although a lot of real estate photographers do not use one, or carry one and use it occasionally, my advice would be not to leave home without one! I would never recommend purchasing a cheap tripod, I use a Manfrotto 055 tripod with a 460mg tripod head and I would recommend them, sturdy and light enough to get around with.
  • A PC - I am guessing you already have one of these.
  • Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements - An essential tool, Photoshop is required for the basic processing of your real estate images and also opens doors to some truly spectacular retouching techniques for use with 'multiple exposure' images which I will be covering at a later date in detail.
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (not essential but recommended) - Lightroom is a magnificent piece of software, it has been designed for photographers, by photographers and does everything from helping you catalogue, choose and edit your days images right through to creating an HTML or Flash slide show that you can add to your website for your clients to view.

Welcome to Real Estate Photography Guide

Welcome one and all, I have been a professional real estate photographer for 8 years and I have noticed that there is much discussion about the subject of taking images for real estate on the web. I have been lucky in my career so far to have worked in London, the South West of England, and Sydney, Australia. I have photographed literally thousands of properties over the years from multi million Dollar/Pound properties to tiny city studio apartments and just about every other property type in between. I have fallen off an internal balcony trying to get the ultimate aerial dining room shot (camera and tripod with me!), dropped a camera out of a fifth floor window, had babies pull over lighting stands, walked in on numerous people in the shower/in bed, having been given keys by the agent, who insisted that the owners were away and he needed the photographs by today. I have been chased by dogs and accidentally formatted my compact flash card after spending 3 hours in perfect light photographing a 3 million pound property for a new client!! you name it, it has happened to me within this interesting, satisfying and exciting profession.
I certainly have a lot of stories to tell, however, that is not why I am starting this blog (unless requested!), real estate photography is by its very definition everywhere, and the quality of it ranges from bloody awful, to absolutely stunning.
During the course of my career I have trained over 50 people to become real estate photographers. I spent a year as Head of Training at the 'in-house' photography department of one of London's biggest real estate companies, they were and most probably still are almost unique in that they have their own photography team! Although a good proportion of the trainees I have received over the years have had some previous experience or even degrees in photography, many have not and this has rarely hindered their progress.
I will start from scratch and go from there, I want this blog to appeal to people who want to either improve their interior photography or get into it for the first time.
If you are a real estate agent who does not want to use a professional photographer for whatever reason, but wants to take superb interior and exterior shots, then this blog is for you. If you are a keen photographer, perhaps wanting to break into the professional scene, then likewise, this blog is for you. If you want to start a real estate photography business then I hope that this blog will be a continuing source of advice and ideas.
I have a few more strings to my bow, I also produce floor plans and 360 degree virtual tours. I will also cover these skills on this blog in the not too distant future. If you read this blog and have any questions, comments, requests or input then please do add a comment.