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Curious owl

Expectations vs. Reality: About Realistic Listing Photos

Here’s a weird thing that has happened a few times in the last few months…. in correspondence, and in a couple of online chat groups, we’ve run across the following sentiment:

I don’t know if I want my pictures to be great. Too much pressure. If the pictures are awesome, the guests may be disappointed when they see the real thing. And then they’re more likely to give me a bad review.”

Really? Is this a thing? I’m serious.

Intentionally posting average pictures to avoid creating high expectations?

The first time someone said something like that, we thought they were joking.

Now that it’s come up 3 times, here’s our perspective:

1.  Technically, there are a couple ways that pro photographers could distort a room so much that the real place pales in comparison.

  • HDR on steroids. 
    There is an editing technique called HDR (High Dynamic Range) which can combine multiple exposures into one.

It CAN be taken too far. Some photographers use HDR like a 5 year old decorating a Christmas tree... more tinsel, everywhere! The photos can end up with a kind of shiny candy-coated look. Almost surreal. THAT would be hard for a place to live up to.


An example of HDR Overload

  • Ultra-wide angle lens. 
    This is the kind of shot that tries to make a 250 square foot bedroom look like a grand ballroom. Yeah, we agree... that’s kinda cheating.

Some people think of photo editing altogether as “cheating”.

A way of creating the look you want, that you couldn’t get from the actual photo.

While we recognize that it IS possible to “cheat” with editing, our perspective is different.

Here's the secret:

The human eye is much more advanced than any camera lens. 

The goal should always be to adjust the photo to more accurately represent what the human eye would naturally see.

Think of this common scenario.

You’re staring out at a breathtaking view (sunset over ocean, distant mountaintops, etc.), You say “I’ve gotta get a photo of this!” So you do.

Then, you look at the photo and think “Damn, this photo is nowhere NEAR as beautiful as this view is in REAL life!!”

Well, the truth is, no editing can bridge that gap (at the moment).

But GOOD editing can shrink that gap a lot.

2.  Yes, your guests WILL feel let down if you fail to deliver on what the photos promised. THIS is what leads to bad reviews.


It all comes down to this: Guests don't like surprises.

The quickest way to get bad reviews is to over-promise and under-deliver. 

Check out our Top 5 Vacation Rental Photo Mistakes...  *Spoiler alert*

  • Is your place as clean as it should be?
  • Your guests will expect your place to have the same facilities, furniture, appliances, amenities, decorations as pictured... Is everything there?
  •  Have you included enough pictures

If you've answered NO... You know what to do!

But if you've answered YES to the questions above, the ONLY aspect that may not match your guests' expectations is the size of your space...

So there you have it.

​In our experience, hosts struggle with over-produced and over-edited photos that, well, overwhelm - that distort the space towards 'fantasy real-estate.'

​OR they struggle taking their own photos that make the most of their place - resulting in underwhelming photos and a '...meh' from the viewer.

The Goldilocks Zone is somewhere in-between (isn't it always?). Not too perfect to be real ​but not so 'realistic' they're Nordic crime drama.

See Also: The 80/20 rule of DIY Airbnb Photography

We can assure you that of all the hosts whose​ rentals Kati has photographed, or ​who she has taught, NONE ​have EVER told us that the photos caused their guests’ expectations to be too high.

And none have ever gotten bad reviews because of misrepresentation.

But none of those owners will ever know how many bookings they missed out on during the months or years when they had average (or worse) photos representing their business...

  • Stay clear of the mistakes we outlined in this post. 
  • Don't misrepresent your place on purpose.
  • Invest in yourself and learn how to take attractive yet true-to-life photos.

Your pictures will NOT look too fancy or unrealistic.

You can preview some of the chapters for free any time, with no enrollment required.


- Brian, Co-Creator, Overlooked 2 Overbooked

​Not sure where to get started with your own photos? ​
We've gathered some simple, condensed tips from our photo course ​below. Anyone with just a smartphone (and no photo skills!) can begin applying those right away.

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