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Don’t Hire a Real Estate Photographer for Your Vacation Rental Listing

What percentage of vacation rental listing photos have been taken by a professional photographer? 50%? 30%? 20%?

Precise statistics are hard to come by, but one survey with a LARGE sample size that says it’s only 15% !! 

That seems low. If 85% of owners were all learning excellent vacation rental photography skills, I'd understand. Would that it were true. 

Everyone who has ever searched for a vacation rental knows that photos are the most important factor in choosing a place.

Price, description, reviews, etc. all make a difference too. But could any of those factors convince you to stay somewhere if the photos are blurry, or dark, or messy?

It’s not just that you’re not getting to see the place in it’s best light (literally). It’s about trust. If the owner/manager hasn’t put effort into this crucial element, what are the chances that they will be ultra-responsive to your other needs? Not so great.

If you’ve spent any time on this website, you’ll know that Kati and I are big proponents of “DIY” vacation rental photos. We certainly recognize that hiring the right pro can work out well too. But the key word is “right”.

If you had to hire a photographer to take pictures for your vacation rental listing, what would be your process? Do you already know someone who you think could do a good job? Would you ask friends/family for referrals? If so, would you have any criteria? Would you use Google? If so, what words would you use? “vacation rental photography”?

Amazingly, there wouldn’t be an abundance of direct hits in any particular area. My guess is that most people would assume that as long as they hire a “pro”, the result will be good. But as with most things, once you look deeply at a discipline, you begin to see subdivisions that turn out to be very meaningful.

Perhaps you'd choose a “real estate photographer” over a “portrait” or “wedding photographer”. On the face of it,  that sounds like a good move. 

Here are 2 major reasons why that may not be a good idea:

1. Goal of the photos

I spent many hours one week, reading a discussion centered around real estate photography.There were many comments from dozens of photographers AND dozens of real estate agents.

Wide angle lenses was a particularly controversial topic. It seemed to highlight a much broader philosophical issue. Many photographers don’t like using ultra-wide lenses because they think they distort rooms (we agree, by the way). The agents would typically counter that the photographer’s job is NOT to be accurate, it’s to be ENTICING. In other words, the agent would say “your job is to take a photo that makes a potential buyer want to come see the house. It’s MY job to deal with any complaints that the potential buyer has when they see that the living room isn't as large as the photos make it look.”

Now, contrast that with vacation rental photography. A tight fit between the look of the photos and the experience of staying in the home is critical. First of all, almost no one buys a house without seeing it in person.

But almost EVERYONE pays hard-earned cash BEFORE seeing their vacation rental in person. So there’s no turning back once you see that the photos weren’t accurate. You’re stuck there for the duration. At that point, what’s your only recourse as a dissatisfied guest? Bingo. Write a bad review.

The quickest way to get bad reviews is to over-promise and under-deliver. And a few bad reviews can tank a vacation rental in a hurry. So, finding a photographer that can make your place look appealing, while being very careful not to oversell it, is absolutely vital.

2. Purpose of the photos

The purpose of real estate photos is to open up a world of possibilities to the potential owner. “See this nice big beautiful room? That could be your home office. Or a playroom for the kids. Or a man-cave. Whatever you want”.

Vacation rental photography is very different. As competition escalates, it’sever more important to define a niche for your rental. Who is your ideal guest? Why is your place perfect for THEM, but not necessarily everyone? It’s much more directive. It should tell a story, in which your guest is the star. “See that hammock with the book in it? That could be YOU, for as long as you like. See those kayaks down by the lake’s edge? Those are for you too. Gliding across that pristine water is going to be something to remember”. 

Pretty different. If the photographer doesn’t take on that role as writer/director, your vacation rental listing will be short-changed.

So, what’s a poor vacation rental owner/manager to do if there aren’t any local photographers that specialize in vacation rentals?

There are at least 2 viable options -

a) Interview potential photographers about their experience

Do they have a sense for the special considerations they would need to keep in mind if you hire them? Are they open to reading some “homework” AKA a few well-chosen posts from this blog?

b) Learn to do it yourself

This one pays a bunch of extra dividends (which we detail here). Eventually, there will be more than enough free resources available on this site for you to piece together a game plan that will put you in good stead.

Or, you may want to take our video course on optimizing vacation rental photos. After all, who knows more about the assets of your vacation rental home than you?

Thoughts? We’d love to hear’em.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below

Lorel - July 10, 2018

I absolutely agree on the fact that professional photographers can improve the interior perception even with the correct angle of shooting and good lighting. If you can hire such a person it’s better to do so. However, some amateurs can be good enough in their skills but it’s better to have a look at their portfolio beforehand.
More sales are to be generated via due-catching images.

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    Aurore Hoene - May 7, 2019

    This list of 111 free stock image resources is pretty awesome, all of them are under creative commons zero licence, it can be used absolutely for free…

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    Noelle Donel - May 13, 2019

    Cool Back in my day I never would have beleived something like this would be imaginable. Just goes to show the world is a lovely place!

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    Add Hunters - October 5, 2019

    Great Idea. Hope to have time with you and share mine about real estate properties

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Brian Mulkey - April 28, 2019

The only realistic view of a property is to have both feet planted in the space and open your eyes.

Most listings that do not use a professional interiors photographer have photos that absolutely do not portray the space in anything close to a realistic view. Typically the photographs have blown out windows (not realistic), horrible color casts (not realistic), converging verticals (not realistic), and lack a coherent coverage of the connecting spaces (not realistic).

Granted a wide angle lens can absolutely capture an unrealistic perception of an interior space e.g., a door on the periphery that looks 8 feet wide instead of 4, or a matching set of chairs with the one at the periphery of the frame looking twice as large as the other. Such distortions rendered in a delivered image from a “professional interiors photographer” is a sure sign they frankly don’t really know what they or doing, or just don’t care.

A wide angle lens used properly can be wide enough to realistically show the relationships of connective spaces especially in an open floor plan that no other lens can render. The key is to not shoot at the maximum width (short end of the focal length) and to be cognizant of what is in the frame particularly on the periphery.

Given the variables with the goal of representing your valued property in the best light (most realistic) possible, hands down going with a photographer who knows how to show both the interior and all important view in the most realistic way possible, and with the best possible realism in regard to perspective, is the best option.

I’m a photographer who tries diligently to achieve such whether it is a mobile home near the shores of a lake, or a nice home in an urban setting.

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    Glen - September 23, 2019

    Brian, I couldn’t agree more. As a recently retired realtor and the father of a son who is a photographer at a professional real estate photography & media company I can assure you that quality photographs and/or videos are essential to create interest and get people to view a home.

    Professional photographers typically use high end expensive equipment and most importantly know how to use it to photograph all types of real estate, large and small, in twilight conditions, poor weather/lighting and with or without flash. High Dynamic Range (HDR) photographs are stunning and normally can alleviate any issues with blown out windows and shadows. Much of the professional photography process is not just taking pictures but is in post production where adjustments can be made to images to up the quality even further.

    It is important to remember that a photograph is only a good as the subject. Great real estate photographs result when some effort or staging is made to prepare the property by doing things a simple as decluttering and perhaps re-positioning furniture. Professional photographers by virtue of their experience will know what will and what will not look good in photographs and can make appropriate suggestions.

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Jonathan - August 14, 2019

Thats pretty ignorant….. Photography is super important to even get someone to look at your listing.

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