Hot Shot or Not? A Quality Control Checklist

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So I picked a location at random today and looked through a bunch of the associated listing photos that had recently been uploaded to Point2 Homes.  First off, I want to give a big shout out to Pima County in Arizona – I was quite impressed with the quality of images I saw there.  Secondly, I should also mention that I was pleased to see that almost every listing had five or more photos – many with 20+.  Some fine work indeed.

Now, even though I take great pleasure in patting backs and dishing out compliments, I must admit, I can also be a ruthless perfectionist at times.  So, while perusing the excellent stockpile of photos from Pima County, I also made a list of some common errors that I take no shame in unveiling right here, right now.  Furthermore, I’m confident that the fine folks of Pima County will forgive me for making an example of them.  How do I know this?  Well, after just one look at the county’s website I knew immediately that these were a kind and forgiving people.

So without further ado, here are the seven most common errors I noticed while browsing listings:

Noise – The result of shooting low-light photos at high ISOs.  Noise is very common in real estate as home interiors are notorious for suffering from poor lighting.  What’s happening here is that the camera is struggling for light, resulting in impure color that’s littered in randomly colored pixels.  If you want your photos to have pure, bold color and flawless dark tones, there are a few ways of achieving this: add more light (flashes, open windows, interior lights), or lower your ISO and shoot longer exposures (be sure to use a tripod), and/or opt for a DSLR with a full frame sensor (the larger surface area on the sensor will minimize noise at high ISOs).

Camera Shake – The result of shooting hand-held while zoomed in or when the shutter speed is set slow. The most obvious signs are when the detail becomes blurred, and when sharp edges become soft gradients.  Easy workarounds are: use a tripod, increase the amount of light so that you can shoot with a faster shutter speed, opt for a camera or lens with image stabilization, and/or increase your ISO (which may result in more noise… *sigh*).

Color Balance – The result of having your white balance set at a Kelvin temperature that differs from the primary light source, or by having two different light sources that are not the same temperature.  In real estate, the most common problem is shooting interiors that are lit by both interior light (3500 degrees Kelvin) and daylight through a window (6000 degrees Kelvin).  Workarounds for color balancing are: lighting interiors with a powerful flash (which is also daylight balanced), or close the windows and white balance your camera in accordance to the interior light (read more here), by shooting multiple exposures and merging them using HDR (High Dynamic Range) techniques, or shooting one exposure and color correcting it in an image editor.  If interested, I talk more about light here.

Low Contrast – Some shots just look bland because they lack contrast.  The easiest fix is to give the photo a quick tweak in an image editor using level adjustments, brightness and contrast.  If you’re keen on minimizing blandness while shooting, just make sure you have ample amounts of light, and that your camera is exposed accordingly.  More light will allow your camera to more accurately capture the true color and contrasts of a scene.  Sometimes, even when shots are lit properly, they will still benefit from level adjustments.

Exposure – The most common error results from photos that have a wide span of exposure in one single shot.  For instance, a dark room that is underexposed with an open window that is over exposed.  Balancing these exposures is one of the hardest challenges for agents.  The world’s best real estate photographers are commonly the ones who have perfected this balance.  It is achievable by using a large amount of light inside (daylight-balanced flashes) to match the light coming in through the windows so the same exposure works for both.  Other techniques include HDR, and/or compositing numerous images to produce a final result. Both HDR and image composites require multiple photos that are framed the same.  A tripod is mandatory, as is advanced photo editing skill.

Compression – Images are displayed on Point2 Homes at 475×356 pixels, although you can upload photos that are larger than this and they will be automatically resized.  However, if you load images that are smaller, they cannot be resized larger.  If you take a photo that is smaller and scale it larger in an image editor it will appear soft and pixilated.  If you save a photo using huge amounts of compression it will appear also appear poor as well.  When prepping photos for the web, size them accordingly (pixel dimensions), and save them without overly compressing them.

Flash Reflection
– The result of shooting reflective objects straight on.  The most common objects are windows, mirrors, glass cabinets, and glass on hanging pictures.  Essentially the light of your flash is bouncing off the reflective object and back towards your camera.  Avoid this by shooting reflective objects at angles if you are using on-camera flash.  Alternatively, you can opt to use off-camera flash which will give you more control for how the room is lit, and make for easy repositioning.

In many ways, I want to say keep up the good work.  The listing photos look great overall, and the effort put forth really shows.  That being said, there’s no time like the present for making improvements.  So let’s make 2009 a year for great photography!  And thanks again to the folks in Pima County for being my examples.  Also, I’ve once again included a printable PDF document if you want to have a copy of this checklist for your records – download here.  Enjoy!

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