HOW LONG?!?

So, how long does it take a capable photographer to make a very high quality photograph? Any guesses out there? Let's think about this for a minute, because there really are quite a few misconceptions when it comes to photography. For the sake of comparison, how long does it take a movie crew to shoot a short scene in a movie? We could grab our video camera and make a short movie clip in a few seconds, right? But, the professionals making those short little movie scenes will be filming half a day, maybe all day, just to get that little 5 second movie scene. Sometimes it may take weeks for just the right light to come, or some other peculiarity the director wants. And then you have to consider the time it took to plan and scout the location to shoot the scene there. Let's just say we are definitely talking days to shoot a short little 5 second, uncomplicated scene in a movie. 

I think most people know it takes about that much time to shoot the average movie scene with good production value. But what about a photograph? Again, any guesses? I want to put you on the proverbial spot. Well, of course this answer could vary quite a bit depending on the type of photograph and number of people involved, but to get a magazine quality photograph of an interior, with a minimal amount of staging and time spent on composition and lighting, we are looking at about an hour. One hour for a single photograph. And that does NOT include post-processing. That may or may not come as a surprise. If you are the untrusting type, here is a quote from well known San Francisco based interiors photographer Scott Hargis (who works with a team of assistants mind you): 

"I tell clients with residential projects that I can make 8 to 10 interior photos in a full day (we average about a photo per hour) and commercial projects it’s 2 hours per photo."

IMPLICATIONS

Now that we have got a number in our heads on how long it will take to make a really good interiors photograph, what are the implications of this number? I think the implications are much more important than the actual number itself. If you are a real estate agent, now armed with this information, what should you do with it? 

Well, for one, we're going to have to accept that you can't get top notch quality listing photographs if you want 35 images. But, that does not mean you can't get very good photographs, I would strongly recommend you simply give your photographer more time, and perhaps more importantly, find a photographer who is willing to spend more time making each image. 

The first thing you should do is immediately fire any photographer who shoots 30 pictures of your listing in 45 minutes (or less heaven forbid). Please, just take my word for it and fire them, because if they shun quality like this when they are in your presence, imagine the quality control during their post-processing when they are not in your presence! If a photographer shoots a home that quick, the results are going to be abysmal because he just doesn't have the necessary time. He can't do it, just like a pro golfer can't play a quality round of golf in 45 minutes, or a surgeon can't perform a 3 hour surgery in 45 minutes. If your photographer wants to take 30 pictures of your home in 45 minutes, "paycheck" is the first thing on his mind, and quality is the last. I really hope you believe me on this, because it's the truth, and there ain't no sugar-coating it either. 

I know you have all seen pictures like this, there are a lot of them out there, for reasons perhaps left to another entire blog. In short, I think imagery like this exists in real estate photography because of the small resolution size the MLS permits. At best, I suppose this photo is passable when looking at it on an eighth of your computer screen. It shows you there is a view and you can see the room. But, blow this up and put it in a brochure or any other type of higher-resolution marketing, and the image fails miserably. It is a poor representation of the space, the colors are horribly inaccurate and it gives you a hazy look that is not professional in the slightest. Don't represent your brand with images like this! DON'T REPRESENT MULTI-MILLION DOLLAR PRODUCTS LIKE THIS! All the data out there suggests that consumers do not respond to imagery that looks like this. Open a magazine for proof. Also, examine the percentage of images stock photography websites contain. A much larger percentage of their inventory is of natural looking imagery as opposed to this HDR look. I am not making this stuff up! Consumers do not respond to imagery like this, but it has become pervasive in the real estate industry because it is quick and easy, and I suppose it is passable at some very non-demanding level. Don't fall prey to photographers who are simply just trying to make a quick buck by feeding a few images into a program that spits out hardly passable results.  

I called it the 5-minute photo, but realistically results like this can be obtained in 2 or 3 minutes in the field. And look how much we've gained just by spending a little more time! It is quite the contrast when you see the same space next to the non-lit, HDR version above. Also, this is in a room with very good natural light. Imagine how abysmal the one minute version would be in a dark room with little to no natural light!!! This image is still far from perfect. The lighting could be better and it could have been staged better. But, the take home point is that you spend a little more time in the field, and get drastically better results. But if your photographer refuses to spend more than a minute on a photograph, it is truly going to be garbage in garbage out; just no way around that. 

"What should us realtors out here do then? Because, we need 30 photos, and we obviously don't have 30 hours of time to get them, not to mention that would be over-budget."

Right. Yet, in addition to the advice above, there are things to consider doing to maximize the effectiveness of your photography:

Pare down on the number of images you show for a home! If you normally use 30 images to show a home, cut that number down to 15, and what just happened to your photo quality (with the right photographer)? IT DOUBLED. That's exactly how I see it too. There is the law of diminishing returns to consider, but if you use a photographer, and he usually gets 5 minutes per photo, bump that number to 10 minutes and the quality will double. There is no doubt about it as far as I am concerned. Composition will be better, lighting will be better, and the photographer will be overall more calm and in the habit of taking his time and making each photo that much better. 

Listing photographs are not about documenting anyway! These images should not be xeroxes! Listing photographs essentially fall into the realm of product photography. And what do we see when we look at product photography in magazines? We don't see every angle of the product, we don't get "blueprints." We get an idealized, stylized image that effectively sings its message. The messages in real estate photography are things such as "what a beautiful kitchen, I'd love to be in there cooking and eating a romantic dinner with my husband", or "this balcony view is to die for, I want to grab a cup of tea and just fall asleep out there as the sun sets". In short, we want to sell these spaces by making people want to be and live in them. The images are best used by selling a feeling, and making people want to live in the space! I think this idea of documenting every toilet and laundry room is not the most effective strategy. I base this opinion on the marketing campaigns that I pay close attention to on a daily basis. And, this is coming from a photographer who knows it's really easy to take pictures of small laundry rooms and toilets, but, no matter how many times your clients ask for these pictures, they are not effective for your brand or in the marketing of the home. I repeat this because it is worth repeating, but try to take your cues from corporate America. Examine what they do in their advertising campaigns. Does McDonalds show you a picture of one of their hamburger patties coming out of a freezer? That is the reality, or the "blueprint", but they know they don't have to document this to help sell hamburgers. Sure, customers may want to see some other more realistic photographs of the hamburgers, but take notice that McDonalds does not give in and give them what they want! Likewise, in a home, you should be emphasizing its best features in a very stylistic and professional way, and not giving in to every little demand that potential customers happen to ask for. 

I have a mini-challenge for you related to the above point. Ask yourself when are you really, really happy with the products you buy. I know on the surface you might first think it is when the product performs well, but I bet the more you think about it, the more you will realize that when you are most happy with what you buy is when the marketing is sensational. When there is so much buzz around a product and everybody just must have it, and the marketing is so good that everyone is talking about it. You may not know it, but you get so worked up over the product being this amazing thing, that you absolutely fall in love with it before it even arrives. Some of Apple's products are probably the best examples of this. 

I'll get back to the point I was trying to make. People will absolutely fall in love with a house before they even get to it if the marketing is great. And, amazing photographs are a big part of that equation. Based on marketing, people have good and bad associations with products that stay with them even after encountering the product in question. In other words, good marketing will help people love a home more even after seeing and living in it. Marketing is that indelible first impression that imprints so strongly. And, almost every number or statistic you can think of will support this assertion I believe. 

Again, the sheer number of photos you have of a listing is not going to sell anything! What will help sell it are dramatic and amazing images, especially the ones that are heading your campaign. I see many realtors choosing these dramatic images as their cover listing photo, and I do think this is very savvy. Again though, it is all back to the same thought, quality over quantity. Spending the extra money and time on that one great twilight exterior photograph IS worth it in my opinion, as they are taken at the time of day when the light is best, the home can really shine, and people are going to feel warm and cozy when they see this romanticized image. Further, if you have a look at my price sheet as an example, you'd find that if you cut the number of photos in half, and included a a dramatic twilight exterior option, it is the same price as the package with double the images (and no twilight)! 

The twilight exterior option takes more time, costs more, but it is well worth it. We want to make people get emotional, and fall in love with these "products" upon first sight. Nothing is more dramatic, appealing and romantic than one of these twilight exteriors. Ditch the toilet and laundry room shots, and replace them with something like this! 

What else may help to really give potential buyers a strong connection to a house via the images. Staging. And this is another area that I would highly recommend looking into, if you are not doing it already. Many of the staging props may seem almost cliche, but I can tell you from experience looking at the before and after photographs with staging options that even something as small as a glass of wine or a bouquet of flowers really brings life, believability and much needed humanism to a scene. Once again, money well spent in the marketing of the multi-million dollar products you are selling. 

Even the simplest staging can really help bring a space to life. Dull and lifeless counters and tables now have a more humanistic and believable feel. The result is a photograph that the potential buyers are much more likely to connect with, seeing themselves in the space and imagining how comfortable they would be. 

To sum it all up, I'd say leave the toilets and laundry room images in place of some amazing twilight exterior images, and staged interior images, and I have no doubt you will be thrilled with the results. There is simply no doubt in my mind that this quality before quantity approach is a much better strategy in the marketing of a property. 

Thanks for reading!

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