This article is intended for an average rental owner who does not take brilliant photos. If that is not you, you are in the wrong place, but your comments are welcome below.
Let’s take it as read that the property is spotlessly clean and tidy, cushions primped, beds made, windows clean, clutter removed, books on shelves straightened.
Now here is the first and most important advice: put your camera down and pay for a professional property photographer to come and take the pictures. That investment will be repaid many, many times over in increased bookings.
But let’s assume you have decided not to do that for whatever reason, here are some tips to get the best results when you take your own property photos for a short-term rental.
When to take the photos
Since it is your property, you have the advantage of knowing exactly when each room looks at its best with the natural light coming in, and taking your photos accordingly. So plan your photography around this, taking the whole day if necessary.
If nice weather is one of the reasons people come to your region, only take photos of the exterior on a sunny day. If everything is arranged for one particular day, and it is massively inconvenient to change day and wait for nice weather, here is what you should do: wait for nice weather. There is no point in taking exterior photos when the sky is overcast.
Conversely it is much easier to take good interiors when it is not sunny outside, if that means direct sunlight is coming in through the windows. Direct sunlight will create contrasts of light and dark which the eye can adapt for, but a camera cannot. Unless you use HDR, which is a separate discussion. So if it is sunny, photograph a room when there is no direct sunlight coming in.
There are things that the eye skims over, but the camera does not forgive. Creases in bedding or pillows look disproportionately horrible in a photo. Flatten those creases out, or even better, attack them with a steam iron. Items on a kitchen counter that look OK in the flesh will stick out like a flashing beacon in a photo, so remove everything from counters except appliances that add value. Tea towels don’t look good in photos. Bins also look terrible. Pet bowls. Fridge magnets. Chopping boards. Nicknacks above the fireplace. Put the toilet lid down! If you can, avoid showing the toilet at all.
Bathroom: remove every single product so it looks like the day you moved in. However if you provide fancy toiletries that add value, you can place these artfully in the shot. Emptying a bathroom can be a nightmare as there are a hundred little items to get out of the way, but they do not have to go far, just out of shot.
Take a photo and study it. Is anything catching your eye that shouldn’t be? Remove it and take the photo again.
You may have to cheat the furniture in a room, often the perfect angle includes a chunk of the back of an armchair, which although accurately positioned will looks awful in a photo. Just move that armchair out of the way for the photo. Beds tend to be an expanse of nothingness in a photo, try adding a colourful bedspread to the bottom half of the bed to break things up.
It’s definitely a good idea to stage your property, or rather to make it look like some incredibly tidy and enviable people are staying there and have just been abducted by aliens. So the table is laid for a meal, a fancy meal with placemats and wineglasses. If you have outdoor dining, do the same there. Filled fruit bowls and flowers are an easy win.
If you have a pool, make sure seat and sunlounger cushions are out, and you can put wine and glasses or croissants and orange juice on a table with the pool behind. Or put a book on a sunlounger in the foreground, with the pool in the background. Rolled towels on sunloungers can look good but make them neat and regular. Pool furniture looks best perfectly aligned.
Turn on all lights except hanging ceiling lights. This may seem counterintuitive, why would the lights be on in full daylight? But it makes a big difference, giving accents of contrast that make a photo more interesting to look at, and giving a home a sense of warmth. If you are a really good photographer you do not have to pay attention to this one because you will be able to get good results without lights on, but then again you would not be reading this article.
Never, ever, under any circumstances use flash. Flash kills images. It upsets me to even talk about it. Just turn the flash off and work around it. (Unless you know what you are doing, when you will be using flash to light up bits of an image in layers for example.)
You can give a house a super-welcoming, glowing lantern effect by photographing just as the sun has gone down and by turning on every light inside and out. The timing is delicate as the window for this is short. You just need to stand outside and take 1 shot per minute until you have it.
Where to place the camera
Hold the camera level to the room, so that the vertical lines like doors, windows and corners are vertical, not at an angle. If you want to be higher or lower, don’t tilt the camera, move it higher or lower and stay level.
Pay attention to the height of the camera – it is rare that the best angle is from eye level when you are standing upright. Usually around hip-height will give the best result. This also helps avoid the furniture distortion you get when you are looking down on it. For bedrooms you may go lower than hip to avoid the distortion of the bed. For kitchen you should usually go higher than the hip because you want to see worktop, stove, etc. Same for bathrooms if you are including the wash-basin.
Avoid wide angle lens if you can, the distortion and bloat is off-putting. If you do use a wide-angle, use it on the narrowest setting so you get in what you need with minimum distortion, and correct the distortion of vertical in photo editing software like Photoshop.
If you are using a phone, newer ones have wide angle lenses or you can hold the phone in portrait/vertical mode, set to panoramic, and swipe across the room. This will give you a wide-angle image without the distortion.
Where to point the camera
If you don’t have a photographer’s eye, and few do, how do you know where to take the photo from? One way is to suck it and see. Take all sort of photos and see which ones ‘work’. A good composition will strike a note with you when you look at it, you may not be able to explain why, you will just know it.
In any case it is good practice with a room to put yourself as far into each corner of the room as you can, and shoot from there. This means you get as much of the room in as possible, and you will be shooting towards the opposite corner, which creates the right basic perspective. Some of your pics will be terrible, some will be lovely, you won’t know until you have looked at the result, and half the time it won’t be what you expected.
Think about the highlights of your property and include them in your photos. It is surprising how often a house with a killer view does not really show that view.
If a fireplace is a selling point and you want to show it in action, scrunch up some newspaper and light it. A real fire won’t look like much in a photo, you have to go for a really exaggerated flame and newspaper does that.
Those pesky windows
What to do about windows? Whilst the human eye can take in both a room and its view at perfect exposures, a camera has to choose one or the other.
You should choose blown-out windows rather than a dark room.
There are ways round this. You can use the HDR setting on your camera or phone. This means it will take multiple exposures and merge them into one image where you can see both inside and outside. HDR can look awful unless you know what you are doing. You can get a more naturalistic look by playing around in photo editing software using layers and masking, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
Once you have your room picture with blown-out windows, if the view from those windows is a selling point, take a photo through the open window, maybe framed by the opening, and show that as a separate image.