Embellishing vs. Reality in Real-Estate

Photo of the living room of a luxury home in the Foothills, Tucson AZ

Embellishing vs. Reality in Real-Estate

Any conscientious photographer will want to take the best possible shot of a subject, be it a portrait, a landscape or a home. Truly passionate ones will spend time on their computer to retouch their shots and make them as outstanding as can be.

But when we photograph a home for the MLS, how far is it advisable to go in terms of retouching the shot?

Our client Realtors® are finding themselves stuck between two imperatives: making true representations (verbal, written, visual) and attracting home buyers. These imperatives may conflict if the property listed isn’t top notch.

In my experience, keeping close to reality is the best way to go. Some photo retouching (embellishing) may be needed but a photographer should never stray far from the truth. If the visual representation (what the photograph states as being true) far exceeds reality, prospects will be disappointed right at the curb. Over-promising and under-delivering: never a good sales case.

What embellishments then are within boundaries?

  • Shoot wide angle… but not too much: Photographs should not stretch the truth by stretching the space inside to where the walls get curved.
  • Find best angles: In bland homes, find quirky angles to give it more personality. I don’t necessarily shoot from eye level.
  • Pop colors… reasonably: Drabby shots aren’t good, but candy-colored shots aren’t good either. Strike a balance, make specific details pop.
  • Go easy on HDR: HDR has a way to be pushed (way) too far. In my book, the lighter the better.
  • Glow it a bit: Shoot at 4-5 pm for best inside light, shoot on sunny days, and accentuate the glow in Lightroom, but just a smidge
  • Shoot outside at dusk: Most photographers know that dusk is a propitious time for outside shots if the house fixtures allow for good lighting.
  • Show only what’s needed: Embellishing is also showing the best. Showing too much can kill the deal.
  • Bring details out: Cool features sell a home to women. Show the granite countertops, the copper sink, the travertine shower stall…

Technicals of this shot: I shot HDR, and then worked on the light at the post-processing stage: Brought 3 exposures (-2EV/0/+2EV) into Photomatix, reduced noise and reduce chromatic aberration (very needed with a Canon 17-40 mm lens). Tonemapped the shot in the “contrast optimizer method” to avoid the “HDR look”. Pushed saturation and tone compression within reason, decreased black point (due to wall pigmentation), smoothed highlights just a bit.

Moved the shot to ON1, reduced some of the noise, applied a glow filter using a brush. The filter will degrade the resolution of the photograph if not used sparingly. I never apply a glow filter on an entire shot.  Cropped the photograph. I worked in TIFF format for maximum color depth, and only saved in JPG at the end of the flow.

Note: Today, I only use Photomatix to tonemap or fuse my exposures, and bring minimum corrections to the resulting HDR shot. I move the shot to Lightroom as soon as possible, because Lightroom does a better job on light than more of the other software I’ve tried (outside of Photoshop).

Equipment: Canon EOS 5D MkII, Canon 17-40 mm, Photomatix, ON1