(Editor’s Note: This is the fifth installment of our “Outside the Frame” series that offers the insights of Dallas’ leading real estate photographers on subjects that are both important and often controversial in the industry. Check out our first, second, and third, and fourth, installments for more.)
Sean Gallagher shoots mostly high-end properties, but his passion for photography knows no price range.
“For situations where the home is not in the most desirable condition to be photographed, there are always one to a handful of images that can be made,” Gallagher said. “This is where the skill, experience and artistic talents of a professional photographer are priceless.”
We can’t help but agree. Find out more about this consummate professional and his views on professional real estate photography after the jump.
CandysDirt.com: What do you find is the biggest misconception sellers and Realtors have about hiring a professional photographer for MLS photos?
Sean Gallagher Photography: For us, it’s the time involved. Since we cater to high-end luxury properties and the unique challenges presented by these properties, we will typically visit the property before the shoot. For the shoot, we will spend the majority of a day at the property capturing each area on the shot list under ideal lighting conditions (or as ideal as possible) as well as another day on final image preparation. While this investment isn’t appropriate for all properties, it’s an approach that results in truly superior results. As the marketplace becomes more crowded, having imagery that stands out is essential to generating more interest and lowering the number of days on the market. Time is everything: Waiting for the right light is essential.
CD: What is the most important shot? Why?
Gallagher: The most important shot will be the one that makes that particular listing stand out from all the other listings buyers are viewing. It’s the photo that captures and defines the character and style of the home and what sets it apart from the rest. This is the image that compels a homebuyer to spend more time on the page looking at other photos, bookmarking or e-mailing the link to a spouse or friend or most importantly, creating a desire to view the home.
This image illustrates this home’s architectural and unique drooping rooflines as well as it’s placement on a very private piece of land: two of the property’s strongest points.
CD: What is the least important shot and possibly the one to avoid at all costs?
Gallagher:For situations where the home is not in the most desirable condition to be photographed, there are always one to a handful of images that can be made. This is where the skill, experience and artistic talents of a professional photographer are priceless. Those that distract the viewer from the selling points of the home. Every image should be a strong image that adds to the visual “story” of the home.
CD: How much alteration of a shot is acceptable? Greening the grass? Adding blue sky? Getting rid of cords?Are there quick fixes you can do if a client requests and Where do you draw the line about representing a property?
Gallagher: Listing a property is not unlike advertising any other product. We treat each assignment like it is being photographed for the cover of a magazine and we capture the home at its absolute best and in a way that focuses the viewer on the strongest features of the home. We will make minor alterations during post-production, so long as it does not misrepresent or alter any permanent/existing structures. The camera has limitations in what it can capture (“limited dynamic range” in photographic terms). Your eye can see the sky behind a home but the camera will overexpose the sky or underexpose the front. We use lighting to enable us to gain tonal separation between architectural details or to balance lighting from one side of the room to the other creating an image that looks amazing both on the web and in print.
In the pair of photos below, the key selling feature is the wonderful view of downtown Dallas. However, the reflections on the windows hinder the viewers eye from fully engaging all the layers of the image. We can’t see past the reflections, so when we shoot the image, we take a second exposure with all the lights off inside the condo and later replace the windows in post-production with the reflection-less version to allow the outstanding view through the floor-to-ceiling windows to be visible.
CD: What is the optimum height to shoot a room photo from? There seem to be lots of creative angles, wide angles, shots from the hip, literally, these days. Are those helpful or a hindrance.?
Gallagher: Camera height is pretty subjective but, for me, it is the height at which I can get the best layering of the interior space, including furniture. To allow myself some additional freedom in camera height placement, I use an array of tilt-shift lenses specifically designed for architecture photography which enables me to vertically frame the image without making the walls tilted like they’re falling down.
CD: So we have 25 photos we can put on MLS. What if there are not 25 good shots? Do you shoot more angles of the same room? Add photos of the neighborhood?
Gallagher:As I mentioned, having images for the sake of having more images is not necessarily a good thing. While your image counter will boast the biggest number, the images are not necessarily communicating any more information to the potential buyer than a smaller number of well thought-out, impactful images. The number of images required to sell a house is closer to 6-8 (see the “7-second rule” below). Just because MLS allows for 25 images, doesn’t necessarily mean that every property requires 25 images to properly showcase the home. Duplication of angles results in confusion and doesn’t communicate any additional information. It is our belief that a few strong images can be far more effective in showcasing a home than many weak images. There’s what I call the “7-second rule”: According to a recent article from homesandlandmedia.com, a listing has an average of 7 seconds to engage a buyer before they decide to click or move on. This is most effectively accomplished with strong visuals.
CD: Have you ever had to decline a shoot or walk away because a home was not ready?
Gallagher: It is very rare because we do a good amount of pre-production to ensure the shoot goes smoothly and the best images can be made. Our pre-production process usually includes a location scout prior to the shoot. For us, the location scout offers us an opportunity to see the property, make sure it is in shoot-ready condition and get an idea for the lighting conditions on the property and inside the home. We also use the opportunity to meet with the agent to discuss the selling points and marketing goals of the property, create the shot list and discuss any special circumstances that might require extra discretion. When it comes time for the shoot, we always allot extra time for last-minute window cleaning, pool cleaning, sweeping, tree trimming and any other last-minute maintenance items that need to be addressed for a better photo.
CD: Parting shot?
Gallagher: We recognize that the real estate industry is highly competitive and an agent’s marketing collateral is representative of their brand. Images are a powerful tool and can instantly influence a viewers perception of a property, the agent or the entire real estate brokerage.
We are one of just a handful of studios in Texas that light our interior images with multiple off-camera flashes (and one of a handful of studios nationally that can supplement existing light on an exterior or create dramatic artificial light exteriors). Our first-time clients are often surprised and impressed with the amount of time we invest in creating the images. By standing out amongst the best in the MLS, it provides leverage to have the property featured prominently in other outlets as well as enhancing the impact of any advertising purchased for the property. Time and time again, when it comes to editorial spreads, having images that are top-tier gives your property an immense advantage in being featured in magazines, editorial newspaper articles and on the web. This also applies to brokerage-level advertisements and organizations such as Luxury Portfolio or Christie’s who put out branding advertisements with hand-selected properties, based on the strength of the photography.
Lighting plays a vital role in a quality interior image, as shown in the before and after example below: