Just because you're 6' tall doesn't mean your camera has to be!!
I was tagging along with a virtual tour photographer shortly before I started my business to see what was involved, so I was trying to be helpful. I asked him how high to set up his tripod and he said "all the way up, I'm a tall guy." In my experience, comfort has never been a prerequisite to good architectural and real estate photography, in fact discomfort is often key!
I learned early on (probably my second class in college) that in architectural photography, vertical lines have to be vertical. The only exceptions to this rule are when you're shooting a high-rise looking straight up, trying to make it look artsy, and when you're shooting down to a living area from a loft. The point is that they're so far off, it's obviously on purpose. I've had some Realtors tell me that it doesn't matter, everyone knows the walls are straight. I don't buy it. Maybe I'm picky, but when I see blatant mistakes, that's all I see. I want every person who looks at my listing to see the attributes of the house without being distracted. Although I'm a virtual tour provider in Hayesville and Hiawassee, I don't just shoot the spins. The majority of the real estate photography I'm doing for those virtual tours are still images.
I'm going to explain how to keep your verticals straight and also give a little more insight on camera angle. As to verticals, it's simple: the camera has to be level. These aren't my prettiest photos, sorry, but I chose this room because I felt that it would illustrate the point well. You can click on the photos to enlarge them if you like. The first photograph is what we want it to look like and often the way you think you see it when you're shooting. The photograph was taken with the camera at about 4 feet tall. As the second photo illustrates, looking up or down, at all, will mess up the perspective and cause your vertical lines to converge. This is especially apparent with wide-angle lenses, the ones we all use for real estate photography. The second photograph was shot from the perspective of a 6' tall person with the camera pointed down to get what is needed in the frame. I see way to much real estate photography that looks like this! That white thing on the left is the door jamb...and why I put borders on these photos.
To keep your camera straight, you can use a tripod and a level, but the easiest way to do this is to hold your camera where you think it's level, look at the vertical lines on both sides of the frame and adjust your camera to make them straight. If you don't have a vertical line anywhere near the edge of the frame, you can get away with it being a LITTLE BIT off. I realize you may be thinking you can fix it when you get back to your computer, but it's really so much faster to just shoot it correctly to begin with.
Straight lines aren't the only camera angle issue in real estate photography. This third photograph was shot again at the 6' tall perspective but with the camera level to correct the vertical lines. You need to train yourself to really look at what you're shooting, when you're shooting it. You're standing there with your camera...at 6 'tall...and hold it level. If you're working in an area with 8' ceilings, you probably have a whole lot of ceilings but you can't see the floor. What you want to do is crouch down, holding the camera level and see where you want to shoot from. Look at how much ceiling and floor you see. Look at the furniture, the ceiling fans, the counter tops, the view, etc. The height of the camera determines how much you can see of the surfaces and what is blocked by the objects in front of it. 6" up or down can make a huge difference. I use a tripod but I hand hold the camera and move up and down to figure out the height I want. Notice the bed in these pictures, it's a huge bed. The first one, with the camera lower, shows a little less of it. Look at the ceiling behind the fan. In the first photograph you see more of it. That makes the room look a little larger.
This is also something to think about if you're shooting your own real estate virtual tours. I know some of you hand hold the camera for them but any good virtual tour company will provide you with a mount for your camera. It will help you keep the camera level. Pay attention to the height of the camera to really improve the quality of your own virtual tour.
I have just a few more pointers. If you're shooting in a large room, you can step back and get more in the photograph. You can always crop in later. If you're shooting in a really tall room, don't point your camera up, turn it sideways, you can crop out the extra floor later. I'd love you to hire me to do your virtual tour for you, especially those of you in Hayesville and Murphy, NC and in Hiawassee, Blairsville and Blue Ridge, GA, but I also would really like to see better real estate photography and virtual tours on our NEG Board MLS. I'd hoped to talk a bit about camera angle for exterior photographs as well, but that will have to wait for another post. I hope this helps!!!
One last thought, we always need to remember that we're selling real estate, not furniture. Show the view, the fireplace, the kitchen cabinets and countertops....not that pretty sofa!
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