How much Manipulation Can a Real Estate Photo Take?

Oliver M. Zielinski Oliver M. Zielinski - 5. Juli 2013 - in: English

The quality and authenticity of real estate photos make a huge contribution to a successful property sale. This article wants to explain how much manipulation of the set for a photoshoot and how much image editing on the computer are appropriate.

Before and While Shooting

Already in the run-up to a real estate property sale everything has to be done to present the object as impressive as possible. The home owner has to know that required repairs and refurbishment prove to be investments that will show up later in a higher return on sales – and look good on photographs.

The next step concerns the staging of the sets to be shot. Everything that has no fixed connection with the property itself can and should be changed to establish a pleasing and sales-promoting look. For properties on a high tier level it seems advisable to employ professional home stagers. In some cases a few simple interventions by the own crew can lead to the appropriate look. For these folks we have prepared a checklist with more than 40 detailed basic tips.

Then the photographer enters the equation. By his choice of vantage point, angle of view and lighting he can determine the image effect. His main goal is to present any content as close to reality as possible and to produce photos with telling effects at the same time.

  • Extreme heights like birds eye or worms eye views are excluded by nature.
  • The same applies for extreme wide angles because they would pretend to show huge rooms.
  • Additional light may support the scene or can be introduced when extreme differences between light and dark parts need to be balanced (because a camera image can produce less levels of brightness than the human eye is able to capture)

While Post Processing

The first part of image editing concerns the optimisiation of the existing image information.

  • The change of brightness, contrast and sharpness are standards to underline the image effect.
  • Cropping the image and removing distortions are conducted to iron out the flaws of photographic equipment for a more realistic impression.
  • The correction of perspectives should be applied already in the shooting process by choosing the right vantage point. Their extreme repair on the computer will distort the result because certain straight lines would not match the camera height anymore.
  • Color corrections are essential in some cases, especially to balance different colors of light. The human eye may compensate their different color temperatures to white, while a camera cannot be corrupted and will adjust the image to only one color of light.
  • Absolutely not appropriate is the color alteration of fixed components like tiles, plaster or roofstones.

The second part cares about image manipulation by adding or deleting components. In general this kind of manipulation is non-permissable. Amongst others this applies to the exchange of parts of the image to camouflage damages on walls, but also to the removal of hydrants, road signs or lamp posts from street view. But according to our opinion here are a few exceptions:

  • the optimisation of the sky (if it is overdone it will be noticed anyway)
  • letting disappear wrinkles in a carpet, table cloth or curtains
  • digital removal of spots or scatches on movable furniture
  • to digitally switch off the operating lights of electronic devices
  • the removal of single tree branches looming into the frame.

Conclusion on how much manipulation is okay

There are three groups of image manipulation for real estate photography prior, while and after the photo shoot:

  1. the essential ones
    They balance the flaws between photo technique or equipment and the human way of sight, like:
    • choice of vantage point
    • artificial lighting of shadows or darkening of bright parts
    • correction of distortion and perspective
  2. the unprohibited ones
    They generally are accepted by today’s media-visually trained audience, like:
    • staging the interior and its correction in the digital image
    • editing of the sky
    • correction of brightness, contrast, sharpness
  3. the prohibited ones
    They pretend to show qualities or quantities which are not real, like:
    • extreme wide angles and vantage points
    • retouching damages of the construciton
    • adding or removing of components usually fixed to the structure

For impressive imaging it is recommended to make most improvements prior to the photo shoot. All mobile components may be changed manually or digitally to improve image effects. Photo equipment must be applied in a way that the result is a realistic image impression.

One last remark: Besides ethical considerations every real estate photo has to reproduce the quality of the object „as is“ to stand up to any legal test. Otherwise a real estate photo suffers from misrepresentation.