Images that show a property in the best possible light will aid a speedy sale. The experts give us their tips
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a bad property photo can inspire an entire corner of the internet. The rise of websites and blogs dedicated to terrible real estate photography — where the “garden chair of solitude” is a favourite — is proof that poor images do not only impede a property’s saleability, but allow it to be mocked by house-hunters all over the world.
It also shows, sometimes beyond belief, the gap between professional property photography and amateur efforts.
A decade ago it was enough for an estate agent to visit a home with a point-and-shoot camera. The images of today’s top-notch homes, however, require the latest technology, hours of post-production work and the eye of a photographer used to shooting for glossy magazines, to meet the expectations of discerning owners.
Unsurprisingly, these services don’t come cheap. With fees starting from about £500 for professional images and floorplans for properties valued at £1 million or more, it’s worth making sure your house is well-prepared for their visit.
Happily, there are tips and tricks property photographers do not mind divulging to make sure all parties get the most from the experience. Elements they list as important for creating an aspirational portfolio of images include characterful interiors — with no signs of pets living at the property. “A general declutter is also helpful,” says Paul Graham, a photographer used by estate agencies such as Savills. “Don’t go overboard, it shouldn’t look like a show home. A dining table looks better dressed and fresh flowers always help.”
Sean Begley, a photographer who has shot the brochure images for a number of high-profile Scottish houses, including two on the open market — Windyhill House, the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed property in Kilmacolm (“really challenging but incredibly rewarding”), and The Duncan House, a modernist-inspired building in Fife created by the late Gareth Hoskins OBE — agrees. “My preference is for interiors not to look too clinical,” he says. “You want warmth and personality, but the canvas blank enough that people can imagine their own things there. Anything that can divide opinion should be given careful consideration. I would try to remove evidence of pets — dog beds and cat bowls — and give teenagers’ bedrooms some attention. Artwork is fine. Lots of large, distracting posters, that can divert from a house’s architectural features, are not.
“Focus on the strongest rooms in the house and set a couple of others aside as storage for items that don’t fit elsewhere. I also enjoy properties that connect well with their outside space. That is always fun to try to illustrate.”
A two-bedroom mews property in Edinburgh for sale through Rettie at £345,000 is a good example of this. It has a glass sunroom at the rear of the house that echoes the shape of the traditional building. The flat has been decorated in white and wood with statement furniture and nautical-themed art, which all help to make it a sellable space.
Shots of a property’s interior can be done at any time of the year, but gardens are a different story. Owners thinking of selling are urged to have their outside spaces captured in summer — there is nothing worse, say agents, than having the brochure let down by wan lawns and empty flowerbeds.
“If you’re planning to sell your property next year, think about shooting the summer before so you get the garden at its best and you can hit the market in early spring,” says Michael Dickie, a photographer at Square Foot Media, an Edinburgh-based property marketing agency. “Having said that, some agents prefer to have seasonal shots so it doesn’t look like it has been on the market for a while. Cut the grass a couple of days before the shoot to make sure the lawn has time to ‘green up’ after it has been mown, and keep in mind that moss in the lawn comes out very green in images. Try to treat the lawn in good time so it looks its best.”
Angus Behm, another photographer at the company, believes that portraying the right kind of lifestyle with garden images is also important. He says that if your property has large, elaborate gardens, it’s not always best to focus on close-up details. “I tend to shoot broadly across large gardens rather than give details of the flowerbeds. Focusing on the varieties of plants and flowers could be offputting, giving the impression it needs a lot of work,” he explains.
Glenbuckie House, a five-bedroom property in Crieff, has been photographed in keeping with Behm and Dickie’s guide. Images of mature gardens that extend to almost an acre, focus on the lawn, with mature trees and borders in the background. It is for sale through Strutt & Parker for £675,000.
It’s worth remembering that although they can work sympathetically to your property’s flaws, photographers are not magicians. They are forbidden to deliberately mislead over a building’s appearance under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, which means no shading over a damp patch with the use of Photoshop and no making an eyesore on the horizon disappear.
Images can be brightened, fine-tuned and shot from flattering angles, however. “On the majority of listings, the lead image is the house’s exterior and the one which will make the biggest initial impression,” Graham says.
“If you have slightly peeling windows or tired-looking gravel, sort them out. As a photographer it’s very hard to make gravel that is past its best look good. Photographers cannot touch-up windows or alter the fabric of the house in post-production work. We can add shadows and definition, and manage colours, but we cannot hide a crack in the wall. So the more tidy and attractive the owner can make a property’s exterior, the better their images will be.”
How to capture a property’s best side, however, divides opinion.
“I’m not mad about shooting with drones and poles,” Begley says. “I’m always wary because the new owner will never actually see a property from that height so it seems strange to try to capture it from that angle. A few feet up a ladder, however, can really change the perspective of a house and straighten up any horizontal lines that look off from ground level. It goes without saying that bins, washing lines and plastic children’s toys should be temporarily removed.”
Graham says: “I’ve tried several ways to get that aerial shot if a house has large grounds. Drones can work, or even a helicopter if the angle is too difficult.”
The pursuit of the perfect shot can push photographers into bizarre territory. “Years ago I shipped over from America a hot-air balloon the size of a house, from which I could take shots,” Graham says. “It was tethered, obviously.”