By Jeff Stern

Whether you’re a new sales rep or a seasoned agent who’s been around the block and then some, you need to know something: DIYing your property photos is killing your listing.

I know it can be tempting to save a few dollars where we can…so it can be really tempting to just DIY the photography. I mean, how hard can it be, right?

First, I have one word for you:  Okay, it’s a long word made up of several smaller words, but still. This site is filled with actual photos taken by actual real estate agents who were actually using them in an effort to sell a house. For real. Terrible is exactly the right word for these pictures. Perplexing, hilarious and disturbing are also right words for them.

But it’s not just about avoiding public mockery for a job poorly done. The point is, you want the property to sell, but bad photos can actually be worse than no photo at all.

Even if your photography doesn’t make it into Terrible Real Estate Photo’s Hall of Infamy, there are some definite runners-up to avoid.

Sunset scenes:

These artistic shots taken of the property at dusk, with the sunset blazing across the sky, silhouetting the yard… they make for a great wall hanging, but don’t do anything for the house hunter looking to photos for clues about whether the property fits their needs. Besides that, the buyers will never see the property that way. Not until they own it, at least. Buyers look during the day.

Night photos, while artistic, will only make the shopper keep scrolling or, worse, wonder what you’re hiding by taking night pictures. Perhaps, if the house is a character property, this kind of image may complement it within a photo array but it should not be the initial one.

Odd angles and aerial shots:

I’ve seen shots taken from ceiling corners and odd, high-up places. Those photographers must have climbed and crouched and contorted in ways that would send me to the chiropractor or lay me out on a hospital bed. Other photographers have used poles or drones to take high-flying bird’s-eye photos of the property. Here’s why they don’t help. Buyers want to arrive at the house and be able to see what they saw in photos. If the impression the photos make doesn’t match their impression of the house when they arrive, they’ll feel disappointed at best, deceived at worst. Complementing images with these on the right property can be an asset (such as an acreage) but for a standard city lot, unless perhaps riverfront, they are nothing more than fluff.

Wide angles (especially nearing fish eye):

When we use lenses to stretch and exaggerate the size of a home, it’s not helpful. For one thing, the buyer looking at the photo is confused. The single door fridge looks like you can put a whole cow in there and it looks like an SUV might fit in the dishwasher, and they can’t tell what’s real. If they decide to look at the place, they’ll feel disappointed at best with the mismatched impression, and deceived at worst. Wide-angle lenses have their place to capture the essence of a room, but you must know how to use one properly to avoid the distortions.

Lazy photos:

Setting up for a decent photo takes a little preparation and work. Preparing clients for the shoot day and advising them of what to hide beforehand, for one. The planning element of the shoot is critical. Pictures should create a story in the viewer’s mind. Getting off your duff is advisable too. I saw one property photo of the Google Street View of the house. In another, you could see some of the car mirror. The agent hadn’t even bothered getting out of the car to take it! Forget that – the agent wasn’t even spry enough to raise their arm for the photo! (Seriously!)

Most of these mistakes happen when trying to DIY photography, but I’ve seen these mistakes made by professionals too (especially the fancy angles and artistic scene shots) that put their artistic spin on it. Leave the art for the galleries and shoot with the sole purpose of aiding the viewer. My motto: click once, check twice. No one needs to see the photographer’s reflection or the flash flare in the mirror, nor one of the occupants in the distant background… and as much as I adore all furry friends, Rufus the family furkid should not be visible either.

Oh, and while on this subject, no remnants from the homeowner’s hunting trips. Mounted taxidermy or antlers should not be on display for buyers to see.

The most effective photos

Property photos have two functions, both of which are more functional than artistic. First, they need to capture the attention of the scrolling house hunter. Second, they need to give the potential buyer a realistic impression of the house. Here’s why.

Different photography techniques can build up the buyer’s expectations (about a giant fridge, uber high ceilings, or a grand expanse of lawn, for example). The first impression was impressive. Well done. When they arrive at the home in person and walk in to discover normal-height ceilings, an apartment-size fridge and a postage-stamp lawn, they’re going to be steamed. The second impression is decidedly bad.

And we’re not even just talking about their impression of the property here. We’re also talking about their impression of the agent who raised their expectations far beyond reality, promising them through photography what you could not deliver.

Once the buyer arrives at the house, we get three chances to WOW them.

  1. First, the moment they see the house from the street.
  2. Second, the at-the-door experience. This is where they begin to see, hear and feel the house’s welcome. While the agent is fumbling with the key, are they staring at the spider webs, a rusted mail box and a broken coach light? (Not if the listing agent told them how to prepare for showings.) If the experience is positive and welcoming, that’s the second WOW.
  3. Third, that initial feel when they walk into the house.

At each point, if their experience matches their expectations based on the photos that attracted them in the first place, you’ve nailed it.

If you are well versed on the operation of a digital camera and lighting, by all means take the pictures. But only if you know how to utilize the settings of your camera and I mean camera: DSLR, not smartphone, not iPad but a digital camera with interchangeable lenses. If you want to do so but don’t know this, take a class. They are widely available and not expensive. Once you hold the knowledge you may be able to tell the photo story yourself. If not, and if you are hiring this element out, be sure whoever you use is experienced at real estate photography and not just sport or glamour photography.

Jeff Stern, a 27-year real estate veteran with Re/Max Performance Realty in Winnipeg, received the 2017 CMHC/MREA Distinguished Realtor Award. He is an instructor for the Provincial Real Estate Licensing program, a member of the Education Committee and sits on the Professional Standards Investigation and Hearing Committee at MREA. He gives back to the community as chair of the MREA Shelter Foundation and writes stimulating and enlightening articles on his blog. The opinions expressed are those of Jeff Stern and not the Manitoba Real Estate Association.


  1. Some are so lazy and borderline unethical they use the pictures and description from the previous expired listings photos to save $.

    Here’s my list of grievances:

    Smartphone pictures with poor lighting (I have seen some great picture on smartphones)
    Use of photo from 10-20yrs ago from an old listing
    No pictures at all (which is much better than 20 year old pic)
    Cluttered home phone photo
    Pictures with personal content

  2. Great photography, (of the home looking it’s very best) is key in getting the buyers’ attention. I do my own photography. I also survey Open House visitors before they leave the home. I ask them if they had seen the property prior to the visit on If yes, I ask them to be completely honest and ask if they found they were a little let down? (I tell them it’s super important to me that they be honest, for my and the seller’s sake…) Was it what they expected from the photos? Was it disappointing, considering the photos? Was it better (were the photos failing it)? I’ve never once been told the photos were better than the property itself. I usually hear that it is just like the photos, and some say that if anything, it was great in photos and a little more so in person. I think that is the best one can hope for… One said that it’s just like the photos but the paint job in the corners “sucked”. Well, I actually agreed with that, had cautioned the seller, and obviously couldn’t take a photo of that. The nicest part of the survey is that it leads to a chat that isn’t quite about the property which relaxes them… It’s funny to hear the stories of disappointing open houses after seeing “amazing photos” on line. I make sure my sellers see that results of the survey so that they see that the photography section of marketing is dead on!

  3. Thank you, Jeff. Well written. I too believe in good photography, being an avid photographer myself. However, I always hire professionals to do the job and include 3-D Virtual Tours as well.

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