We’ve all heard the arguments regarding digital photo manipulation, and the varying opinions as to when it’s justified and when it’s not. For instance, we’d expect authenticity from a photo published in a tenth-grade history textbook, but we might be more lenient about a photo in a car ad. As one might assume, real estate photography has found its place within this ongoing debate as increasing numbers of images are enhanced to gather more attention from prospective buyers online. Here’s a sample listing photo that I modified using standard image manipulation tools:
Whether the photo has been aesthetically improved or not is subjective, but the brighter colors and deeper, bolder shades very well could spur more attention in an online marketplace. Did I really do anything unethical though? I mean, the original photograph was not white balanced properly, the house was shot at an odd angle, and it was during an episode of dreary weather. Perhaps I crossed the line when I removed the cable strung out from the right-hand side of the house. Or maybe when I lightened and saturated the grass to make it look greener. Who knows? Better yet, who’s going to stop me?
I think the issue boils down to buyer expectation. If a buyer sees a “bad” photo online, then it’s easy for the agent to exceed expectations during a showing. However, the bad photo may also result in a number of prospective buyers not scheduling a viewing at all, or just dismissing the house all together. Alternatively, an overly enhanced listing photo may attract a large sum of buyers, but their expectations may not be met during a viewing of the actual property. The real challenge is to capture the property at its best – not unrealistically enhanced, or overtly poor, just naturally good. I end with a quote:
In the very beginning, when the operator controls and regulates his time of exposure, when in the dark room the developer is mixed for detail, breath, flatness or contrast, faking has been resorted to. In fact every photograph is a fake from start to finish. A purely impersonal, unmanipulated photograph is practically impossible. When all is said, it still remains entirely a matter of degree and ability. – Edward Steichen, 1903 (quoted here).