By Maggie FitzRoy, Contributing Writer
When professional photographer Mike Liddell decided to specialize in shooting real estate, he went to homes.com and took note of the pictures.
“Flipping through listings,” he said. “I could tell which were taken with a cellphone and which were professional.”
When he contacted the real estate agents who used the cellphone pictures and offered his services, he picked up his first 20 clients.
Good pictures are important when it comes to selling homes, the Jacksonville-based photographer said.
“Nice bright, wide photos make a house look clean, but if they are dark and shadowy, they are very unflattering,” he said.
Photography has long been an important marketing tool in the real estate industry, but it is even moreso now in the age of the internet.
Almost all customers go online first to look for homes before they contact a real estate agent. In addition to the Multiple Listing Service, many sites showcase homes, with still photos and increasingly sophisticated videos.
Liddell said professional photos can highlight a home’s architectural details, due to the techniques, lenses and lighting used.
He uses a Nikon full-frame professional camera with very wide angle lenses and specialized software to combine multiple images to obtain the perfect shot.
He also shoots videos, which he said are becoming increasingly popular as marketing tools. And as a Federal Aviation Administration-licensed drone operator, he shoots some of his videos from the air with a drone, also a growing trend.
“They tell me that videos help sell and lead to more listings,” he said. “Neighbors will see the video online and ask for that agent.”
Professional photographer Kim Lindsey knows that to be true.
Her services are in demand all over the First Coast, in part because she specializes in Matterport photography, which gives potential buyers a virtual reality 3-dimensional online tour of a home.
The Matterport system features a box camera with nine lenses and produces a product that is completely interactive. It functions as a video, but one that viewers can control, giving them the experience of walking through the house.
It is more expensive than regular video or still photos because it takes about three or four hours to photograph an entire house, she said, but it sets the real estate agent who uses it apart.
Increasingly used with higher-end homes and some medium-priced ones, “it still has the wow factor,” she said. “People are impressed.”
Marketing a home is telling its story, said Lindsey, who also shoots regular still photos.
She doesn’t shoot video, because Matterport “trumps” video.
“You are selling a lifestyle,” she said.
If a home is in a community with a golf clubhouse or near the beach, she can include images of those as well in her overall package.
“It depends on what the agent wants,” she said.
Real estate agents, however, are not the only ones hiring real estate photographers.
Almost all of Jeff Westcott’s clients are architects, builders and developers who use his images in marketing and advertising materials.
Westcott specializes in high-end still photography, and his images are featured in the glossy pages of brochures and magazines, so they need to be as close to perfect as possible — in composition and lighting.
Photos used by real estate agents document the space, Westcott said. “My mission is highlighting the most compelling aspects of that space.”
For that reason, he usually only shoots the three or four most important rooms of a house — the living room, family room, kitchen and master bedroom and/or master bath — because for buyers, those are usually the most important.
For each photo, “it’s all about the composition,” he said. “I have to choose the composition that is the most aesthetically pleasing.”
With traditional real estate photography, wide-angle lenses are used to capture the entire room, he said.
Westcott often chooses to only highlight part of a room. For example, part of a kitchen island rather than the entire thing.
He also uses enhanced lighting for interior shots — umbrellas and speed lights — which he moves around a room to get a variety of effects, varying the exposures.
He uses a Nikon D750 camera with professional Nikon lenses and often combines several images with photo software to get the best composite image.
Dusk is Westcott’s favorite time to shoot the exterior of a home, for artistic effect. Especially if he is lucky enough to get a “stunning” sunset, he said.
It takes a lot of advance planning, because there is a 10-minute window “when everything is ideal.”
He never uses a drone, but he does often shoot from a ladder to get a slightly elevated perspective.
And for interior shots, he always uses a tripod to keep the camera steady and level.
“In every shot, whether it is interior or exterior, you have to make sure your vertical lines are completely vertical,” he said. “The camera must be completely level, which means you usually have to use a tripod.”
Westcott said he enjoys doing real estate photography because it is both an art and a science.
“The technical aspect appeals to the geek in me, and yet the beauty in so many designs makes the artistic side of me want to capture it and show it off,” he said.
Liddell, who likes to use natural light for interior shots when possible, said he likes real estate photography because the subject — the house — “is not going anywhere.”
Unlike wedding photography, where you dare not miss the decisive moment, if you don’t like a shot, you just try again from a different angle or with a different exposure.
He said at first he tried using flash but quickly found he preferred natural daylight because camera flash can make a room look flat.
Liddell also learned quickly that staging is important with a home. He provides homeowners a check list for de-cluttering. “If a house is cluttered, it won’t look good no matter what camera you use,” he said.
He got into real estate photography about a year ago because he saw a need. And he is glad he did.
“I really enjoy it,” he said. “The market right now is extremely busy and I don’t see it slowing down.”