St. Johns River by Heather Hummel

St. Johns River by Heather Hummel
St. Johns River by Heather Hummel Photography

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Evolution of Real Estate Photography

Real estate photography has historically showcased disastrous images. We've all seen the images of a bathroom with the toilet seat up, a bedroom with an unmade bed or the laundry basket overflowing, kids' toys scattered about their rooms, personal photos covering the walls, and so on and so forth. Add to the list images that are blurry, too dark, too light, or taken from a misguided angle. It's a wonder some houses sold at all.

Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography
Recently, with the advent of websites like Zillow and Trulia, the pressure is on for agents to deliver high quality images to potential buyers. After looking at a lot of real estate sites, I couldn't help but notice that the quality of images has increased greatly. It is evident that real estate agents are taking online presence and the influence of images much more seriously, and I believe this is due to their effort to hire professional photographers for the jobs. Yes, anyone can take a photo with an iPhone or Droid, but that doesn't mean the quality is of a professional level. However, there is some debate that the images of today aren't really fairly representing homes. As one Facebook friend in Boise, Idaho pointed out, "Some of these photographers are Photoshopping images for realtors so poorly; you don't know if you're shopping for properties in Boise or in Toontown." He is correct. Real estate agents have to keep it real. Too many images make a home look bigger and brighter than it really is, which leads to a big letdown when potential buyers show up for a viewing.

Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography
I consistently photograph new listings for Charlottesville, Virginia's seasoned real estate agent, Joan Esposito of Roy Wheeler, who says, "A great photographer is critical to our marketing plan. They can make every property, no matter what the price range, stand out...and this makes our phones ring!" Joan is great to collaborate with because she has a keen eye for a listing and the type of images that best represent it. Staging is also an art that she intuitively knows how to do, and one that makes photographing properties much easier. Besides her listings, I have photographed properties in coastal northern Florida, which is a completely different type of community than the Blue Ridge Mountains. Regardless of location, though, there are simple staging concepts that make for good interior real estate photography.

1. Turn on the lights. If there isn't enough light, create it and be sure to replace blown bulbs.
2. Make the beds; ideally with linens that match.
3. Fold towels in bathrooms and place on shelves or hang neatly on racks.
4. Declutter all counter tops in the kitchens and bathrooms, but leave a splash of color in the form of fruit or flowers on the kitchen counter.
5. Remove pictures and magnets from the refrigerator.
6. In the kitchen, put away cluttering items, such as trash cans, sponges, soap, and dish or cleaning cloths.
7. Vacuum carpets and hard wood floors.
8. De-clutter and de-personalize so potential buyers can imagine the home as their own.

Once the photos are professionally captured, real estate photographers greatly benefit from outsourcing the editing work to a quality service such as PhotoUp in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Cebu, Philippines. Real estate photographer Jason Johnson is one photographer who takes advantage of PhotoUp's editing services.

"Before" Photo Credit Jason Johnson, Grand Rapids, Michigan


"After" Edit by PhotoUp: Photo Credit Jason Johnson, Grand Rapids, Michigan

"Before" Photo Credit Jason Johnson, Grand Rapids, Michigan
"After" Edit by PhotoUp: Photo Credit Jason Johnson, Grand Rapids, Michigan

However, PhotoUp isn't only a photo editing service. They champion photographers and help them grow their business. "We're the only ones out there doing this transparently, and real estate happens to be our niche. We have a team in the Philippines that work in a Google-like office. It's a very creative environment. We find great ways to impact the photographers and the communities in which we work," says Chris Palmer of PhotoUp. While some photographers might be leery of outsourcing, Chris points out that they allay those fears. "We do customized stylization so clients who want a particular style and consistent look to their images can have it. We see the relationship with our clients as a collaborative team effort where we dedicate our time to learning the photographer's particular style."
"Before" Photo Credit Jason Johnson, Grand Rapids, Michigan

"After" Edit by PhotoUp: Photo Credit Jason Johnson, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Building a real estate photography business takes a lot of work from marketing to shooting to editing to delivering, so to be able to outsource the editing is a great advantage for freeing up valuable time. "We're always exploring new ways to help photographers scale and grow their businesses. The ultimate goal for a real estate photographer is to have a team of photographers shooting for them and an editing team processing their images because editing isn't a revenue producing function. Photographers ought to be out there shooting. With us, they have access to editing twenty-four hours a day and five and a half to six days a week, depending on the plan they are on. Instead of spending hours editing, they can upload their images to us and go enjoy a glass of wine with their spouse." In Florida, I photographed a client's house while passing through. It was a cloudy day, so the skies were gray. I was leaving the next morning and wasn't able to go back and re-photograph it with blue skies.

"Before" Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography
"After: Dusk" Edit by PhotoUp Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography

"After: Blue Sky" Edit by PhotoUp Photo Credit: Heather Hummel Photography
So, I sent this image in RAW format to PhotoUp and was very happy with their editing work. The addition of blue sky and the dusk effect were just right. The images were sent back to me quickly and efficiently, and I was able to pass them on to my client.

At the time of writing this article, Charlottesville has approximately 310 real estate listings by agents. As I searched through listings, I still found images with toilet seats up, magnets on the refrigerator, and some that could clearly have used a professional editing service, but overall the quality was improved.

One thing is for sure, each property boasted closer to 35 images, versus the dozen or so used in the earlier days of online real estate. There is no doubt that the evolution of real estate photography has reached milestones and continues to grow.

Note: This blog post from PhotoUp provides valuable tips as well.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Lowepro SlingShot Edge: My Go-To Camera Bag for the Trails or in Town

If there is one thing professional photographers carry, it’s a lot of gear. From tripods to lenses to camera bodies to filters and lens hoods, and more, schlepping all of this gear on a shoot means needing a decent camera bag. My requirements when looking for a camera bag are two major criterion: a bag that not only allows for organization, but also protects my gear.


When I wanted to replace my existing bag, I heard of the Lowepro Slingshot Edge 250 AW and 150 AW.
My initial concern was that they would be too directed at and designed for the urban crowd. Though I live in the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, we have the Shenandoah National Park in our back yards and many of my photo excursions are coupled with hikes; therefore, my photo shoots can range from downtown Charlottesville to the peaks of the Shenandoah National Park. I needed a new pack that would handle both scenarios.

The more I investigated Lowepro’s new bags, and based on the design of the Slingshot Edge— with the variety of front and back cargo areas, pockets and slots for my iPad and iPhone, a clip for my car keys, a side pouch for a water bottle (especially for my dogs when I take them), straps for my tripod, and the sling-back design—I was certain their design would work.

My previous bag was a similar sling-back design, but the main compartment was shorter and deeper than the Slingshot Edge. The Slingshot Edge’s taller and narrower design made it easier to maneuver through tight spots on the trails and on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, which can be crowded on a Friday night.

Unlike the Slingshot Edge, my last bag had no place to strap my tripod, which meant having a second strap to sling over my shoulder. The Slingshot Edge lets me strap it right to the back. All of this means my hands are free while hiking or walking downtown.   
Most of all, the Slingshot Edge’s design—because of the better weight distribution—is easier on my back! With the bag being tall and narrow, kind of like me, it fits tighter to my body rather than a deep outreach that causes extra strain. With all the hiking photo shoots I do, this was a huge consideration and a big plus. 

Weather is always a concern when hiking in the Shenandoah National Park. Those afternoon thunderstorms can come in quickly. I was happy to learn that the Slingshot Edge has a built in all-weather cover that slips over the bag, protecting my Canon and its lenses. 
I mostly use the Slingshot Edge 250 AW; however, the 150 AW, being just a bit smaller, is perfect for when I go out to restaurants because it’s not as cumbersome. Charlottesville has a lot of breweries and wineries that I love visiting with friends for the food and drink, but also for the photo ops, so for those excursions, the 150 AW is perfect.
As we head into the fall and winter months, I’m looking forward to venturing into the Shenandoah National Park with my camera and Slingshot Edge to capture the fall foliage. 

Want to learn how to master low light photography and to capture your own low-light photos? My book MASTER LOW LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY is available on Amazon.