Sometimes Composition Doesn’t Count.. Sort of….

You know – as we progress in this craft of photography, we are constantly trying for that great shot.  In most cases, it’s all about composition.  Sure there are times when composition goes out the window, but for the most part, composition is what creates “that” photo.  That’s what we are taught and that’s how we study.  Rule of Thirds, leading the eye.  There are other shots – shots that don’t necessarily follow the rules we follow when we take our scenics, landscapes, etc.  I call these the reference shots.  They tend to be centered in the frame.  There’s this “other” world out there that we may or may not touch or even be aware of for that matter :-)  This is in the world of reference shots.

You may sort of be aware of them, but just don’t pay attention.  OR, you take them without realizing that you do take them.  For a lot of the things that I do, I need them and do take a fair amount of them.  In reality, there’s nothing all that exciting about them and that’s probably why one doesn’t pay too much attention to them.  One example: X-Rays.  Pretty “under the radar” stuff, but necessary work.  Examples from what I do.  When I’m building something in wood work, taking photos of the rooms in my properties.  Actually, not the rooms so much, as the details, like closets, fixtures, floors, doors.  Centre up – shoot.   If I’m getting shots for some of my blog material – a new toy, or something like that – in many instances, yes, simple centred shot.  Done.  Others – well – little more fun. 

Soooo… for these types of shots, is there anything important one needs to consider?  Absolutely!!  Composition per se, may fly out the window, but one still needs good exposure.  If you are using flash, keeping the glare out is important.  Did I mention exposure?  :-)  I have the occasion where I need to get photos of things like control panels, system boards, etc.  I want good exposure in order to get good color.   I want the lighting to also be as even as possible.

Equipment – do you need special equipment for this?  Well, it depends :-)  I”m going to use real estate/revenue properties as an example plus I have a lot of experience here 🙂 When I’m doing my real estate shots, actually for my properties ( I don’t do this for others, BTW), I want to be able to take a shot of a full wall for instance.  I prefer not to need two shots if at all possible.  Lighting doesn’t have to be even for what  I want.  What I’m after is something that displays the “condition” of the wall. Depending on whether I’m “shopping”, or getting shots in between tenants, or renovation work, what I’m after is a shot that shows what something looks like in a general sense.  While I’m on revenue properties and being a landlord……

To me, photos are a very critical component of what I do with my revenue properties.  I know that there are many many many landlords that DON’T do this, but I’m not going there :-)  To me, there are several aspects that surround taking photos concerning revenue properties, or real estate for that matter.  I’m not going to take the approach of a commercial photographer, I’m going to take the approach of a buyer with the possibility of using the property as a rental, possibly a renovate & flip.  These are where reference shots start to rear their head 🙂

Looking for Property.

I don’t know about anyone else, but when you go “hunting”, and you decide to use a real estate agent, we get this flurry of houses we need to look at.  Depending on the area, one may look at several houses in a day.  My record is 6 houses in a day when I first started this.  I’m now 8 years + as a landlord and here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way. 

One of the very first things I do, is take a photo of the front of the house with the house number on it.  The reason – it gives me a reference point for the photos that follow.  I also, of course have the listing with me plus some sort of notepad (in today’s world, it’s my iPad),  When I first started, I didn’t do this, and to this day, I’m convinced that I bought the wrong property :-)  Not that I regretted it, but just a lesson learned.  Nothing fancy on that front shot – depending on the frontage, it may take two shots.  Front of the house and then the number.  Depending on the agent, one of two avenues will be followed – the outside first or the inside first.  I don’t know about anyone else when you are out house hunting, but I’ve usually found that there’s this “flurry” of ripping thru rooms – trying to remember what you liked or didn’t like.  Oh… by the way… do you have your wish list with you?  :-)  And then the big question – just how many photos should you take?  Again, that’s a “depends” question.  For me, I take photos of everything I can.  Every room in the house.  A few VERY important things – furnace  and water heater.  Are there any cracks in the foundation if the basement is unfinished?  If there are – hairline cracks are normal, anything bigger is a concern.  If you don’t know anything about wiring – get a shot of the control panel or exposed wiring.  Depending on future considerations and if you decide to buy,  – something else to watch for.  Can you get into the attic?  They may or may not show you this, but it can be a simple tell about the condition of the roof.  While we’re at the roof, when you are outside, can you get a shot of it?  If not, back up to get a shot if you can. 

Whew.. that was a bunch.  New paragraph :-)  Perspectives.  Now here’s where a little composition might come into play.  One thing that I’ve learned, is to take a photo when you first come into a house or a room for that matter, and then take a photo from the inside out.  This is a simple way of preserving that precious “first impression”.  I could be a critical key later on when you are trying to make a decision :-)  What about closets?  I even take photos of the insides of closets :-)  Also – and this is also a “depends” situation.  Get a shot of the house from across the street if possible.  This may not be always possible especially if you are looking in evenings, but it might be worthwhile coming back during the day.  Get shots of the neighbourhood from the door, from the sidewalk in various directions.  It’s pretty amazing how an opinion can change after a couple of days :-)  Dark hides things – sometimes the sheet doesn’t show certain things – remember, it’s designed to get you in the door 🙂

Before I continue on, we should talk about gear.  For me, it’s simple – I use my travel cameras or something like my Fuji X10 or Panasonic LX7.  If’ I am going to see multiple houses, I know already that I will need battery power OR more cameras :-)  I also want as wide an angle of a lens as I can get.  That’s one of the reasons for the travel cameras.  They are roughly at 24mm (in 35mm talk) and from my 35mm days, it’s about ideal for those interior shots.  One nice thing about the travel zoom, is that if I need that roof shot, I can get it.  Something to remember here as well.  I really don’t need a more sophisticated camera here.  I need good quality for sure, but if I’m doing my end correctly, I won’t have to zoom in when I’m viewing, or if I do, the image quality will be more than good enough.  Even when I finish renovating and get ready to advertise, I really don’t need a pro level shot.  I do need a good quality shot. What I normally do, is take my shots in the highest possible quality I can get – in jpeg – jpg/fine if the camera has that feature.  No real need for RAW here – this isn’t a commercial shot by any means or needs anything close to that.  You are going to likely be showing on a web page.  I use Fastone Resizer to bring the image down to about 640×480 for this.

Macro modes on these types of units can also come in handy if you need to take more detailed shots.  Holes in walls, close ups of scratches, window sills etc.  I typically will take a a fairly wide shot of the damaged area followed by a close up if needed.  Where macros also come in handy is when you are on the outside of the house.  Gutter joins, windows, door frames (entry ways can be VERY revealing), side walks & driveways. 

Is there a need for a higher end camera like a DLSR or Compact System Camera?  Again, this is a “depends” type question.  If that’s all you have, that’s what you use.  Simple as that, no need to go out and buy any special gear for this type of thing.  A critical thing to remember here is the final output.  What’s it going to be?  Your computer monitor with some zoom added in?  Just about any camera today can handle that easily.  If you do need to zoom in closer, then having a higher class camera will help, but then again, you should have gotten that shot earlier too :-)  Another thing too – it takes time.  One needs to learn a bit about real estate as well photography  here so it will take a few houses to kinda get the hang of it.  The bottom line here – getting the shots.  If you think you can remember, fine, so be it.  I found that after looking at several houses, details blur.  Photos – well – they make life easier.

OK – continuing on with the photo taking part.  It’s not that this happens a lot, but sometimes, appliances are part of the deal.  In any event, it’s always a good idea to  take pics of appliances – if you need a close up of the brand, so be it.  A good real estate agent will take serial numbers as part of the sale, BTW.  If not, you should.  Sometimes the seller will swap out things or take something that was part of the deal.  Pictures tell the tale :-)  On one property, I’m almost certain kitchen cabinets were swapped out, but I was new to the “game’ and couldn’t verify anything.  In any event, I learned over time.  Where this can get difficult, is if the house is an open house with furniture in there.  The spec sheet should divulge what comes with the house and what doesn’t.  Blinds and window covers should be asked about, and of course, a pic.  If you buy, you may ultimately change out, but having that photo doesn’t hurt 🙂

Not too long ago, my best friend was “in the hunt” and asked my wife and I if we would help.  He was super surprised at what we knew about construction, let alone the sheer number of photos I took.  Those photos were invaluable when it came time to make a decision.  Because I generally take photos in quite an established pattern, it was easy to do side by side comparisons.  We crossed 2 evenings and about 6 properties – several hundred photos when the smoke cleared :-) 


IF you are planning renovation work, it’s always a good idea for those before and after shots.  In the long haul, they might come in handy if and when you decide to sell the place.  Anytime I do a reno or for that matter have a contractor do the renovation, I’ll get progress photos.  Sometimes, it’s not possible, but whenever I can.  Again, nothing fancy about getting shots here.  Some thought to composition?  When you are done :-)  You want to get that finished renovation in it’s best look :-)  Again, you don’t need to do anything special unless it’s a big room, and perhaps lights or controlled lighting is needed, along with a tripod of course.  I’ve never needed anything too much aside from a tripod in the odd instance with my travel cams, for instance.    It’s always a good idea here, as a renovation increases the value of the property, so having a record can bring in extra bucks when you sell, or even advertise.  One big thing to watch – renovations tend to raise a lot of dust and flying objects :-).  Keep your camera handy but safe. 

How many photos?  LOTS!!!  I take as many photos as I can without wasting too much time.  If  I take out a wall, once the wall is down is when I stop to take a break and a pic or two.  Sometimes, it’s not always possible to stop and take a progress pic., but I usually try to get some every time I take a break.  What types of photos?  Again, reference type shots – outlets, if they look “shoddy” – wiring – joists, condition of a sub floor if you need to take one apart. 

When Composition Matters

With revenue properties, when it comes time to “show”, you are now in advertising mode.  You want to show the property in it’s best “light”.  What photos to show is always up in the the air to me.  I like to show the front, living room and kitchen before any other photos.  For individual rooms, from the doorway that show the whole room.  Closets as well.  Yard shots, especially of the back yard, at the end.  From the back door and from the other side of the yard leading to the back door.  I also want good lighting.  Daytime if possible to reduce the amount of flash work.  Available light indoors to reduce those flash shots.  In other words, as close to a commercial shot as I can get.  They aren’t hard to do, you just need to study other ones and do the same :-) 

With Better Gear…

I haven’t done all that much on the real estate side in the last year or so and I’ve acquired a lot of extra gear in the meantime.  Big question here – would I use my DSLR or even my Compact System Cameras if I do this again?  You know – probably not :-)  The big reason here is portability.  The travel cams are well, simply too handy.  For the advertising side of it, I just might to get the extra controls, but unless I know I’m going to need that, again, probably not.  Will I take the extra gear with me/?  Probably……



About gkamitomo
IT Busines Analyst

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