Over the past eleven years of photographing homes, for real estate listings as well as for luxury builders and renovators, I've seen a lot. I've moved half-eaten pots of Kraft Dinner, I've spent half an hour cleaning streaks off a bathroom mirror, and photographed kitchens that were gag-worthy!
At the other extreme, I've walked into homes and been amazed at how beautifully prepared they were, regardless of the value or level of luxury.
When a realtor or builder hires a professional photographer, they are wanting to showcase their property, attract potential buyers, or impress awards judges. My job is to capture the beauty as well as the features of a home. Success in doing that job is at least partly dependent on the way the home is prepared for photos.
Here are a few tips and suggestions for preparing a home for photography, regardless of it's value:
Clutter is the enemy of home photography! That applies as much to the exterior as it does to the interior of the home. If possible be sure the lawn is mowed and the garden is tidy. Stray tools, such as rakes, shovels and lawn mowers should be hidden, along with pails, hoses and spray nozzles. And, please, be sure to remove evidence of a dog's presence! Dog toys and "land mines" are particularly annoying.
It's generally preferable to remove vehicles from driveways, and from the street directly in front.
At dusk, turn on all exterior lights, as well as lights in rooms that are visible from the outside. Those twilight shots can be money!
Stage the home! Staging can range from complete professional staging, including furniture, wall art, cushions and more, to more modest "touch up" staging. I have a couple of clients that send in a stager beforehand to tweak the look of the home. They will add flowers, wall art, maybe some cushions, and help reduce clutter. This isn't expensive, compared to a full, professional service, but can still make a big difference.
If the opportunity is there, a fresh coat of paint on the walls can make a huge difference. My preference is to use light colours. Dark, rich colours can look impressive in person, but they don't photograph well, and can make the room look smaller.
The same applies to furniture. Most stagers will use light coloured furniture; they know that rooms look brighter, fresher and more spacious when light colours are used. Obviously changing furniture isn't usually possible, but adding some light coloured cushions or throws to a sofa can brighten things up considerably.
Finally, I like to have every light turned on, not just to add light but to add interest and sparkle. It is particularly annoying when lights are burned out. Be sure all the lights are working, and that they are similar. Different colour temperature lights really show up in photos. Incandescent bulbs are quite yellow, while fluorescent bulbs can look greenish. LED lights can vary from bluish to warm white.
Living/Dining & Family Rooms
When showing off a home, other than the opening exterior photo, the main living area is critical to creating that initial impression that can hook a potential buyer. The photo at the top, taken last summer, is probably not optimal! The only thing missing in that photo is the giant snarling Pitt Bull at my left elbow!
In this room, just about every available surface has something on it. The room not only looks cluttered, but it looks crowded. Getting rid of the extra stuff will make this space look much bigger and more welcoming.
The point is, de-clutter, de-clutter, de-clutter! Less is always more. Things like small family photos on the mantle, travel souvenirs and nick-nacks add to the visual clutter, which really shows up in photos. In fact, I'm not a big fan of family photos on the wall or mantle.
It's generally a good idea to remove religious symbols from walls or countertops. This applies to crosses, buddhas, pictures of the Agha Khan and other icons.
If there is a big TV in the living room or family room, it's good to have something playng. I like Shaw TV's The Frame (Channel 222 in many places). The Frame features scenic photos and videos of vacation destinations. If The Frame isn't available, golf or soccer (paused) is an alternative. The new Apple TV screen saver is stunning!
Turn on the fireplace if possible; it will add a bit of colour and sparkle to interior photos, and warmth when showing the property.
Finally, a nice dining room table looks great when staged, either with full place settings, or a nice vase full of flowers. A bottle of wine and some wine glasses can be placed on the table or buffet. These touches will help break up an otherwise boring flat surface, and add a hit of colour.
The de-clutter rule applies doubly for kitchens. We tend to put stuff on flat surfaces! Countertops get populated with toasters, food processors, coffee makers, rice cookers, and my personal favourite, paper towel holders.
Here is a particularly egregious example of kitchen clutter. This place had everything; dirty dishes in the sink, notes on the fridge, water glasses on the counter, pill bottles, paper towels, dish rags, you name it!
I don't mind one or two small appliances, such as a coffee maker or food processor. An item with some colour can add some snap; such as a bright red kettle on the stove, or a bowl of fresh fruit on the counter or island. A colourful cookbook can be a nice touch. Just don't overdo it. Be sure to remove marks and streaks from stainless appliances, mirrors and faucets.
With kitchens, less is usually more, especially small condo kitchens! The photo at the bottom of this post is a nice example of a staged condo kitchen.
Bedrooms can be difficult to photograph, because the bed typically dominates the space. A little colour, such as some nice cushions, can help break up the vast expanse. A stuffed animal or two will make a children's bedroom look inviting.
Again, bedroom dresser tops and bedside tables can easily get crowded with miscellaneous nick-knacks. De-clutter!
Like bedrooms, bathrooms can be challenging due to the tight confines. Here again, clutter looks really messy. Remove toothpaste tubes, razors, rinse cups, contact lens cases, hair brushes.....you get the idea. One colourful liquid soap dispenser and maybe one rinse cup are probably all you need.
Here's an idea... Clean the mirrors!! As I mentioned at the top, I once spent a good 20-30 minutes trying to get spots off a bathroom mirror. Unfortunately, I didn't have glass cleaner in my camera bag; neither did the tenants. Those spots and streaks show up in photos, and are difficult to remove in post-production.
Nice, fresh white towels can add a touch of luxury. Similarly, a white or light coloured shower curtain is nice. A little bowl of fresh flowers, if there's room, can add a much needed splash of colour.
Prepping a home for photography, or open houses for that matter, doesn't have to be expensive. A bit of effort taken to de-clutter, and maybe add some stylish touches, is usually all that's needed. That little bit of effort can be huge, and can make the difference between photos that grab eyeballs, or get passed over.