How Far is Too Far?


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:

Too Far

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).


  • challenged says:

    I think definitely when an eye sore is removed from a photo – vs choosing a different shooting angle to try minimizing it – then that is crossing the line. Perhaps adding pop or details to features such as condition of the exterior finish or health of the lawn and landscaping is a bit too much, unless it’s an honest attempt to restore something that was apparently lost due to poor image quality. If however, such an edit is meant to deceive the viewer into seeing something that simply isn’t there, I don’t believe that is ethical in the least. Journalism photography takes this very approach, and easily applies here.

  • Megan says:

    I was looking at the side-by-side images as if I were a potential buyer looking at this home. I don’t know if I would remember whether there was a cable strung in the listing photos or not – even if I ended up buying this place. It is probably crossing the line, but is it something that would be pivotal or noticeable? I doubt it.

    On the flip-side though, if I were to see listing photos that portrayed the exterior or interior of the house in better condition than it really is, or possibly even had pictures taken that skewed my view of what the room sizes might really be I can see myself being totally disappointed when I go to view the house and it is nothing like the listing photos portray. That just might make me lose some faith in the listing agent.

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