Photographing your holiday rental property

Facade of house in Provence

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.

All those machines tell a story but they should be out of sight for a photo.


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.

It's always worth the effort of dressing up a table.


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.

A twilight shot makes a house so welcoming.

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.

The best placement of the camera for most rooms is at hip height.
For bedrooms you can go a little lower to avoid bed distortion.
For kitchens you should go a little higher to get in the tops and stove.


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.

What happens when you expose a photo for the view...
...better to sacrifice the view and expose for the interior.

How to increase booking enquiries and conversions

rental owner counting money

You don’t have to do all of these, but each one you do adopt will increase your enquiries and conversions. Or to put it another way, each one you resist will decrease your bookings…

1. Instant booking is coming whether you like it or not...

The first thing to say is if you use an OTA (Airbnb/Vrbo/Booking/Tripadvisor) then set your ad to instant booking. Soon enough this will be obligatory so if you are still resisting (most people are), you may as well bite the bullet and enjoy the benefit before everyone else is doing it. Most travellers seek this out so if you don’t allow instant booking then you are depriving yourself of most of the market.

Your likely objections to instant booking are:

1. You have a good feeling for people and want to be able to turn down an unsuitable booking.
This doesn’t hold up if you think about it because the only problems you will get are with those you didn’t turn down, and the ones you did turn down, well you’ll never know what they would have been like.

2. You are more comfortable with some interaction prior to booking, to manage expectations and so on.
This is fair enough, but you can still do this between taking a booking and the arrival date, through the OTA interface. Although not as freely as if you were emailing.

The good news if you take instant bookings is that your conversion rate for booking enquiries will be 100%. This will boost your ranking in a property search, as it is one of the factors that determines your position.

2. Be flexible

The second key setting, especially today, is how flexible your cancellation policy is. On an OTA you can choose from a menu of options ranging from strict (generally 60 days) to flexible (something like 24-48 hours). Renters pay attention to your cancellation policy and many will pre-filter their search according to the cancellation policy they are comfortable with. The same is true if you are taking direct bookings or through a local listing site, even if travellers can’t pick a filter they will still be rejecting too strict a cancellation policy.

It may be time to be brave and see what happens when you set a more flexible cancellation policy. Typically you will get more cancellations but you will also get more booking demand and that can mean you can put your rates up. The feedback from people who have done this is usually that it is worth it.

The best way to increase bookings is to turn on instant booking and relax your cancellation policy. Let’s assume you don’t want to do this, here are other things you can do which will have a less dramatic effect on your booking conversions.

3. Be even more flexible

While instant booking and more flexible cancellation would not affect your management of your property, the third recommendation would – allow shorter stays and be flexible on arrival and departure days. This will be unappealing to most but you have to bear in mind that Airbnb has changed the way people think about a short-term rental. If you don’t want to change peak season stay-length, at least look at shorter stays for shoulder and off-season. This will definitely increase your number of bookings, the more pertinent question is whether it will improve your bottom line. Only you can answer that.

4. First impressions

It goes without saying that your property will be judged on its photos ahead of anything else. Unless you know that you are a very good photographer the best single investment you can make in your rental business is to hire a professional photographer – the cost will be paid back many times over. You have to have a killer thumbnail, which is the image shown on a page of search results or on the map search.

The title of your ad is also important in determining whether someone clicks through to your ad. Don’t waste words on info that is already being shown in the ad panel: sleeps/bedrooms/bathrooms/pool. Do mention something that is key to your target market. That may be a heated pool, a stunning view, a romantic vibe, proximity to an attraction/pub/bakery, suitability for big groups/family reunions, superfast internet for a digital nomad, and so on.

Good titles:
Brighton’s sexiest little house
Cosy penthouse apartment by the sea with views
Time to escape to the sea? 200m to sandy beach
Art-Inspired Designer Apt Close to Boardwalk

Bad titles:
Stylish flat sleeps 4
3-bedroom townhouse (Brighton)

You will also be judged on your reviews, both the quality and the quantity, but that is not a quick fix, the above two are.

Make sure you look warm and approachable in your profile picture, you will be judged on it. Create the same impression with what you say about yourself in your profile.

5. Tick those amenities

Travellers do use those filters when they search so tick as many amenities as you can. Some are an easy win – a microwave is very inexpensive and many parents of babies and toddlers will need one. Some make a big difference but are a big investment, like air conditioning. Some are a state of mind – people increasingly want to travel with their dog, so are you sure you don’t want to accept them even with an extra security deposit?

6. Be the early bird

Responding quickly to enquiries is key – that used to mean the same day, now it’s more like the same hour, and ideally quicker than that. Set an alert on your phone for booking enquiries and have your response templates ready so you can reply to a booking enquiry without delay. Of course, the best thing you can do for this is point 1 at the top – turn on instant booking! Bear in mind here that you are not just up against individual owners any more, you are up against agencies and rental managers who respond immediately.

7. The human touch

When you respond to an enquiry do so with warmth and personality, so you can establish a relationship, which will make it harder for them to say no. Ask questions to engage them and oblige them to continue the conversation. Even if they don’t book this time, if they like you they may bookmark you for a future stay.