Why use professional photography for real estate?

Why use professional photography for real estate?
September 26, 2023 Braxton Wilhelmsen

Why use professional photography for real estate?


In today’s real estate marketplace it is widely understood that professional photography is necessary for any decent marketing effort. Unfortunately, the idea persists that all professional architectural photography is basically the same, which results in many agents  basing their shopping decisions on price. After all, if it’s all the same anyway, why not hire the cheapest professional, or shoot it yourself? Here, we’ll get into why that approach misses the mark and how to find a photographer that can differentiate an agent and their listings from the competition.

Some background

20 years ago, photocopied fliers containing a single photo of the outside of the home or showings by real estate agents were usually the source of a customer’s first impression. As buyers began using the internet to shop, photographs became their first introduction to homes for sale. The first impression was always of top importance, but agencies began to realize the new role of photography in creating that memorable and inviting first impression. Brokerages began realizing the images presented on listings were a reflection of their brand. They began requiring their agents to hire professionals, and some even subsidized the cost. This created a new market: professional real estate photography. 

Today, with the creation and popularization of online real estate marketplaces like Zillow and Redfin, the internet’s usefulness goes beyond the first impression. According to the National Association of Realtors, ninety-six percent of home buyers use the internet to search for homes. Many buyers also find their agent online. The most useful website feature to buyers is listing photography for nearly nine in 10 buyers under the age of 57. This trend has launched pro listing photography from a humble beginning to where it is today—a thriving industry and the most valuable arrow in a real estate agent’s quiver. And it’s here to stay.

What is a professional photographer?

Many amateur photographers create outstanding photos, while many “professional” photographers take poor photos. There has been a huge influx of people calling themselves “professional photographers” and/or “real estate photographers.” Many of them actually come from other photography disciplines, or simply own a nice camera. 

Technically, a “professional photographer” is a photographer who earns more than 50% of their income from photography. There is no certification, license, nor degree required to use the title. For someone with an untrained eye, it can be difficult to identify a true professional based on a website or business card. Fortunately, there is a lot you can tell from a photographer’s portfolio. Pro photographers should always have a portfolio of work demonstrating what they deliver. And if they don’t, well, run away! 

Why use professional real estate listing photography?

The most important difference between amateur photography and the work of a true professional is results. Professional property photos sell homes. The better the listing photography, the more desire and interest it creates in online real estate marketplaces, which leads to a quicker sale and higher average sales price. Open Homes, for example, has participated in $60 billion in real estate transactions and shot millions of real estate images. These are millions of lessons learned about what gets buyers’ attention and converts sales. By going the do-it-yourself route, you’re leaving money on the table.

Pro listing photography doesn’t just showcase the best features of a home, it connects viewers emotionally to the benefits of living or working there. It helps them imagine themselves happily raising a family, building a business, or entertaining friends there. It’s like a real estate agent getting a great headshot with flattering lighting, a professional location and an inviting facial expression. A great headshot will catch attention and help potential clients feel comfortable and confident working with you. A bad one will make them keep scrolling.

Another consideration often missed is the effect listing photography has on your ability to get future listings. According to the National Association of Realtors, 63% of sellers found their agent through a referral from a friend, neighbor, or relative or used an agent they had worked with before to buy or sell a home. Knowing this, what more could you do for your own marketing effort than to knock the socks off your current clients? Create such a feeling of care and quality that your client will want to tell everyone they know you went above and beyond for them.

How will I know professional listing photography when I see it?

They say “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but real estate photography is both art and science. There are some qualities not dependent on taste for their value. In commercial art, certain image attributes that meet a customer’s objectives determine their value, and that value is repeatable. Sure, the compositions and colors in photographs speak to different people in different ways, but even these are based on technical approaches like the “Rule Of Thirds,” or multi-exposure  HDR photography. It’s this technical skill combined with the creative ability to tell a home’s story that directly meets a customer’s objectives and determines their value. This ability can vary wildly, so keep in mind that the best mix of the below image attributes will deliver the best value, and likely snag the highest possible sale price.

  • Accuracy – Does the image accurately reflect the product being sold?
  • Simplicity – Does the image emphasize the property’s best selling point or does it distract from it? 
  • Idealism – Does the image create an elevated view of the product that makes it enticing to buyers?
  • Emotion – Does the image create a positive emotional response in the viewer?
  • Read – Does the image communicate instantly or does the viewer have to search the image to identify its value?
  • Story – Is the body of work greater than the sum of its parts?

So what should I look for in a professional photographer?

While the most reliable indicator of professionalism in a photographer is their portfolio, there is much more to working with a photographer than the quality of the images they produce. For example, if an artist has extraordinary technical chops, but doesn’t take criticism well, show up on time, or if they don’t listen and miss important shots, these can all outweigh the beauty of the images. What else should you consider and ask about when shopping for a professional?

  • Experience – Have they shot many homes? 
  • Accomplishments – Have they won any awards for their work?
  • Performance – Is this someone who goes above and beyond your expectations?
  • Care – Do they care about their craft and clients?
  • Retouching – What is their retouching process? How long does it take?
  • Communication – Do they communicate clearly and professionally?
  • Reliability – Are they on time and quickly communicate complications when they arise?
  • Social proof – Do they have many great reviews or testimonials from other clients? 
  • Adaptability – Are they able to juggle conflicting priorities and work through unexpected challenges?
  • Ownership – Do they take full responsibility for their work and outcomes?
  • Feedback – Do they receive it with gratitude and commit to change when appropriate?

The Open Homes Difference

Open Homes is as committed to creating community and partnerships as we are to creating the best imagery available. We want lasting, supportive relationships with our agents. Our Visual Artists take the time to listen and become familiar with each agent and their approach to selling homes. Many of our photographers and editors have been working with Open Homes for 10-15 years, which means they have a huge amount of skill and experience. It also means the relationships they build with agents are lasting ones. Our photographers are often requested personally by agents they’ve worked with in the past.

They’re supported by a team of post-production specialists that puts the finishing touches on each image we create. This enables us to deliver a polished finished product in record time so our agents can get their listing live on the MLS. It also ensures that all our images are consistent in style and quality on every single shoot. 

Not all professional photography is created equally. Our team of  photographers and retouchers transform houses into homes. Rather than standing in each room recording light with a camera, we walk through each home with the agent to understand what makes it special. We consider the buyer’s viewing experience, connecting each shot in a way that makes sense and tells a story. We create emotion and desire through skillful presentation, speaking to the buyer’s deepest desire to see themselves and their families in the home. We have spent over 17 years learning what works, and our photography is proven to not only sell homes, but to sell them more quickly and at higher average prices.

Professional listing photography is the most important part of a robust real estate marketing package, and it’s worth getting it right. Look for a marketing partner who will create great images, elevate your brand, make your clients happy, and win you your next listing.