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Can Your iPhone Replace a Professional DSLR?

Do I actually need a real estate photographer?

Avid readers of this blog have now learned how to save money through virtual staging as well as by properly preparing for their big photo-op day. What if I also told you it's possible to save 100% of your money by doing the real estate photography yourself?! The catch? I didn't say they would be good... So why would you take the photos yourself? What situation(s) are appropriate for phones instead of DSLRs? Will you be missing out on anything? What kind of tools / skills would one need? Those answers plus examples coming right up!

Seriously... Can I, a realtor, FSBO, or otherwise untrained lensman, successfully take my own real estate photos?

Depends on your goal. Is it preserving memories, selling a house, highlighting renovation details, charging customers for your service, showing off to your friends, getting ready to host on AirBnB/VRBO, or something else?

For example, Studio Vos is a *premium* real estate photography business. In practical terms that means it's impossible to replicate our labor without professional tools. Our work is high enough quality to print on a bus bench or a roadside billboard. Beyond standard photos, we also offer HD videography, aerial snapshots, 3D tours, property websites, floor plans, and even commemorative hand drawn home portraits. If none of that is useful to you, then yes, at it's core, real estate photography is just taking photos of a large unmoving object. Anyone can do it at a basic level.

How do I get started?

So you've decided to carve out a living (or some spare weekend change) by charging friends a small fee to take their real estate photos and you plan to exclusively use your iPhone for all the pictures. How do you create images good enough to sell a $100,000+ home at maximum value? Let's talk about tips, tricks, and tools.

  • First, start by holding your phone sideways (horizontal), turning off the flash, using the wider .05 magnification option, and enabling the camera grid.

  • One unavoidable phone struggle is light focus. Without professional tools, you can expect that part of your image is always going to be dark while another part is significantly brighter. Mitigate this by opening windows and turning on all the overhead illumination. When your camera is on + ready to shoot, click the darkest part of the room you see. This will automatically adjust the exposure, shadows, brightness, contrast, and black point to get your clearest image.

  • Now it's time to get comfortable with your phone's editing ability to adjust fine light and color. Why? Let's reference the below photo. If you followed all the steps I offered above, you can expect your best capture to look like this "before" image. PS you didn't do anything wrong, this is just what normal exposure from a non-DSLR aperture looks like before color correction.

  • Now that you understand how to use your iPhone's camera for real estate photography, it's time for a quick lesson in composition aka angles. While it's tempting, especially in a small room, to hold the camera high up and point at a downwards angle (thus making the area feel larger), this creates a disingenuous impression of the space. Instead, try to keep the phone steady, level, and aim your shot at chest level to avoid "artsy" or dishonest looking results.

  • What if the house isn't completely empty? Just do your best to clean up and arrange furniture neatly. At minimum, you want the viewer's attention on the home rather than the clutter. Try using our property prep list for inspiration.

  • The last tip from us is to follow the 3 wall rule. Take a look at these two very different rooms in the photo below to see what I mean. Notice how we limit ourselves to only 3 partitions (which includes the ceiling). If you try to capture more than that, especially with a wide angle lens, your photos will start to look confusingly crammed together.

Okay grasshopper, I know you're raring to go now, but there's so many scenarios which could change how you implement this beginner's guide to real estate photography that it would be wise to spend a few minutes on YouTube university. Here's a link to another primer from the iPhone experts at Keller Williams.

My iPhone isn't cutting it. What gear are professional photographers using?

Aside from specialized drones, FAA exemptions, 360° cameras, editing software, insurance plans, web hosting, and the skills to use all of it, there are a few staples which everyone on our team needs for any job we undertake.

Nikon Z7II - $2,995

Tripod - $37.99

"Ummm, that's like, almost five grand. I watched all the YouTube videos and read this blog post, are you sure that stuff is necessary?" In the course of doing the work you'd realize that there's a few more tools you need but this would get you started. At minimum, if you showed up at a client's home with this gear then they probably wouldn't fire you on the spot and say they're just gonna do the shoot with their own phone.

Is skipping the pros worth it?

Consider that phones have been using AI to seamlessly perfect color hues for years, which simplifies the most difficult part for nontechnical photographers; and most buyers are searching MLS via mobile devices/tablets so the smaller megapixel photos taken with your phone still look good. If you bring a top-of-the-line cameraphone, follow basic composition rules, and shoot on a sunny, cloudless day, then your end result will always be better than these guys:

In spite of all that -- NO! -- you're unquestionably better served hiring an experienced shutterbug who invested in quality equipment and mastered their craft, rather than someone practicing their DIY hobby. Homes with professional photos get more online views, greater price per square foot, and ultimately sold for a higher price.

Tons of people are already confused about why agents receive any commission. Imagine learning they're missing out on $10,000 because of low quality photos! There's additional reasons to hire a premium real estate photographer who uses advanced lighting techniques in conjunction with next-level digital editing to show off each space in it's complete glory. Not to mention the available extras like virtual staging, digital twilights, drone videography, and 360 online tours.

Why does it matter?

The opening photo is your buyer's first impression. Wholesalers, budget ballers, perpetual market scalpers -- they're all actively seeking out listings with crappy pictures because it signals they can get a deal. Think about those "We buy ugly houses!" ads all over the city. Do they actually buy unattractive houses with cash offers? Yes. The catch is that they pay wayyyy below market value.

While there are situations where some phone wielders will truly be superior compared to an untrained DSLR user, the spectrum difference from passable to exceptional photos is significant enough that the gap cannot be bridged by anything other than the combination of experience and tools. For example, Studio Vos practices a proprietary technique which incorporates an external flash, bracketing (shooting the same image with contrasting camera settings), and computerized color improvements. Everybody on our team has at least 1,000 photoshoots under their belts and it shows.

With prices starting at $145 you really gotta ask yourself if risking someone's largest investment is worth trying to save a few hundred dollars. Our answer? It's not. So, if you want results like this, always hire a professional.

Thanks for making it to the end

Th-th-th-that's all, folks! I hope you enjoyed wading through this word jumble. If you'd rather see pretty pictures instead, then head over to our Facebook page. Alternatively, our Instagram has a thousand high class, drool worthy, original real estate images from our team.

Pro tips, props, problems?

Found a typo? Want to make this post more helpful? Add your pro tips and props to the comments 🙏

PS it truly makes a difference to local businesses when you share the link or engage via comment. We appreciate you!


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