Eight Photography Tips For Rooms & Homes

Q: Do you guys have any tips for photographing your rooms? I’m actually listing my house for sale and thinking of snapping some photos (for memories and also to help with the flier) but I want them to look great. Any and all tricks, tips and suggestions are appreciated! – Leslie

A: We totally feel your pain. When we started our blog and were suddenly tasked with sharing photos we had no idea how to make rooms look their best (hence all the fugly pictures way back in our archives). But we did learn our fair share of simple tricks (mostly through trial and error) along the way- and we’re happy to share the goods. First of all, we’re definitely not professional photographers and we don’t have a fancy expensive camera. We snap every picture that you see on our blog (including all the “after” pictures on our House Tour page) with a Canon PowerShot SD1100-IS Digital Elph. It’s a small 8 megapixel camera that has great little features like a macro setting, an image stabilizer, and a manual setting (which we use 100% of the time so we can turn the flash off- pictures look so much better without it!).

So that’s tip #1: turn on all the lights and take your photos during the day without the flash. Opening up the blinds to let in the light stream in and turning on all the lamps during the day will create a soft glowing ambiance instead of blowing things out in the foreground while leaving everything dark in the background (which often happens when you use the flash). Sunny days are great for room photos so aim for those but try not to take pictures when the sun is shining directly into the room onto the rug or the furniture and casting harsh shadows (you might want to wait a few hours for it to shift slightly).

Now for tip #2: tweak the room first. Really look around the space and see what you can do to enhance the look of the room before picking up the camera and snapping away. Some seemingly obvious (but often forgotten) ideas would be lighting any and all candles, fluffing pillows, picking up dog or kid toys on the floor, and even making a fire in the fireplace (or lighting some large pillar candles in lieu of logs). Little flickering touches of light around the room are like jewelry- they’ll add a nice warm sparkle and a certain je ne sais quois that the same space wouldn’t have when they’re not lit. At the same token, small toys on the floor and flat mashed couch pillows take a little bit away from the polished image that you might be trying to capture. And it definitely saves you time to make these small changes before you take all of your photos and upload them only to notice a bunch of little things that you wish you had changed.

And now for tip #3: take a test shot. It just takes one picture to really “see” a room in a way that you can’t see it in person. By grabbing one shot in the beginning and looking at it critically, you might notice other details in a room that you’d like to change (instead of spotting them after snapping away for an hour). We’ve identified everything from wonky curtains (which were easily shifted on the rod to look more balanced) to the fact that we needed a shot of color in a bland corner (easily accomplished by switching out a throw pillow). This little test shot is a great “last look” before you really give your fingers a workout and snap your final room photos (and it really can make all the difference in your after pics). For example, after shooting a test shot of the kitchen below, we added the dishcloth draped over the sink and the cutting board with tomatoes on it for more interest (and to balance out the splash of red in the art to the right of the sink). Oh and on a side note, bowls of fresh fruit- we love real lemons and limes- make great (and cheap!) centerpieces in a dining room, eat-in kitchen, and even on a living room coffee table. Especially if you’re staging your house to sell.

This brings us to tip #4: work those angles. We take a lot of pictures just to get one that we love. And when I say a lot, I mean anywhere from 25-75 or more (especially when it comes to capturing “after” photos for a big reveal). Try standing on a chair to get an alternate angle or squatting down a bit to make the ceilings feel higher. Shooting from each corner of the room and the center of each wall will also help you evaluate which points of view look best. You can even put the camera on a tripod if your hands aren’t very steady (especially when you have the flash off, you’ll need to keep the camera still to get crisp delicious photos).

And now for tip #5: don’t forget to go tall instead of long. You’ll find a fair amount of vertical after photos on our House Tour page, which might seems strange since you can get a wider shot with more furniture by turning the camera and grabbing a horizontal pic. The key here is again to take a plethora of pictures, both horizontal and vertical. Sometimes the furniture layout just looks better (and the ceilings look higher) in the vertical photos. And sometimes the wide shots will win out for their overarching views. We’re consistently surprised how often we’re drawn to certain vertical shots though, so they’re definitely worth taking (they might just be your favs in the end).

Then there’s tip #6: think about zones and function. Sometimes your instinct will be to cram as much of the room into the shot as possible, but if you’re shooting a small office area that’s within a larger den, you might not want to capture half of the TV and the seating area when the focus should be on the desk. Try taking a few steps forward to spotlight that specific zone instead of capturing half of another area that could look disjointed and busy if it’s wedged into frame.

Oh and we can’t forget tip #7: it’s all in the details. We love using the “macro” setting on our camera if we’re doing a close up detail shot (like trying to capture the weave in our jute rug or the soft veining in our granite counters). This built-in camera setting makes things look extremely clear and crisp when they’re up close without any photographic skill required on your part (except for keeping the camera nice and still of course). While this might not be as applicable for snapping wide room pictures for listing your house, it’ll definitely come in handy if you’re taking any shots for memories (and have a particular detail or arrangement that you want to remember long after you move).

And now for tip #8: practice makes perfect. We’re still learning different angles and approaches to picture taking as we go. Don’t wait until you’re under pressure to snap a gorgeous picture (to sell your house or document your baby’s first birthday). Just pick up the camera and start clicking away so by the time something imperative pops up you’ll have more experience and more confidence with your cam. If you go back into our archives it’s obvious that we were terrrrrrrrible photographers when we started blogging back in 2007. But thankfully over the course of a few months we definitely started to hit our stride (heck, we’re still hoping to get better after more than two years of regularly clicking away).

So that’s our non-professional-learn-on-the-job approach to photography. Now we wanna hear what you guys do to get the shot. Any additional pointers for Leslie (and us). Do tell.

Psst- The link to our camera included above is an Amazon Affiliate link.

Comments

  1. Yevette says

    What great tips! Thanks for posting. Are you considering a new camera, especially for when the baby arrives? Not that you need one (with the great-looking pictures on the blog), but just wondering… Hopefully you’ll post “photo-taking” tips when the baby arrives, too.

  2. says

    I have a Canon PowerShot 10.0 pixel, and I love it so much!!! KC bought it for me Christmas 2008 and it looks new and takes pictures like a champ still! SO, I AGREE SHERRY! I pretty much do everything you explained! Thanks

  3. Claire says

    Great question Leslie. We are also about to put our house up on the market and photographing each room is super important since so many buyers look online these days to get their first impression. Glad for all the helpful hints!

  4. Meg Lyttle says

    One more tip from me…who is a regular house seller. :) If you are using an agent, ask if they have a wide angle lens for their camera. If not, see if you can borrow one. It gives the illusion of space and really gives that WOW factor, especially if you are marketing your home online. (which is really the way to go)
    Good luck! We are also listing our house today…we buy and fix up houses, so this one is finally done and ready to go!

  5. says

    wow, great tips guys. You really made me think about my picture taking a little differently – You have to work with the enviornment your photographing (sunlight, day time etc), cant just expect a perfect picture whenever you want. I’ll be keeping this in mind for my own blog-pictures!

    As far as my own tips…My proffesional photographer freind told me that if I *must* use flash – when taking a picture of something reflective you can put a small peice of paper over your flash on your camera and it will help diffuse the light and help reduce that awful shiny reflective spot on whatever your photographing!

  6. says

    Great great tips! I’d also like to add one thing: Tell a story – Are you trying to simply document the room, or do you want to create a feel. In my day job (I’m a pro wedding photographer), I often find that it’s better to show just a part of something, and leave a little more to the imagination.

    For example, take your office, you can stand in the doorway and snap the whole room, or try sitting on your chair, and shoot just your workspace. Then swivel around and grab the view out your window (incorporating the frame). You might need to zoom out, or even take a few steps back to get the view you love.

    And remember, it IS digital, so snap away!

  7. says

    Great tips guys! The only thing I would add is not to be afraid of tweaking your photos after you’ve downloaded them to your computer. You dont have to have expensive programs, such as Photoshop, to do it – there are a bunch of free online tools that are great way to snazzy up photos; Google Picasa and Fotoflexer are ones I’ve used in the past.

  8. says

    Wow, awesome post! I spent hours the other day researching this very question. I had no idea how tough it was to photograph a house until I tried it myself… it definitely takes some smart preparation and lots of practice. Can’t wait to try out the “go long” tip and see what that does for our place. Thanks!

  9. says

    Thank you so much for this! It’s so good to hear that you don’t even have a fancy camera and your pictures look great. I have a “point-n-shoot” and most of my photos lack pizazz (could also have something to do with the subject matter- heh heh). I think I could do a lot more with my simple camera and these tips are great.

    As a side note, there’s nothing like snapping a photo to remind you of those annoying unfinished details that you’ve been living with and become immune to!

  10. says

    Wow! These tips are great! I’m like you said a beginner blogger and I am still trying to figure out how to let the camera show how great the projects come out. I’m always looking for tips so thanks.

  11. says

    Love this post! Great tips! I just picked up BH&G’s 100 Decorating Ideas for Big Style For Small Rooms and was happy to spot your living room on page 19 :) Congrats!

    I have a random question, but have to ask…do you remember where you bought the brushed silver/nickel lamp that’s on your desk (in the picture in this post)? I’ve been seeing the same one on many different blogs and in magazines, but haven’t been able to find it online or in a store. I’m preparing to makeover my home office soon and would like to buy one for my “new” space. Thanks for any input!

    Keep up the great work – love your blog and your home :)

    xo,

    S

    p.s. I’m using your “Gentle Tide” paint for my office, with lots of white accessories, shelves, etc. – thanks for the inspiration!

    • says

      Hey Stancie,

      We got that lamp from Linens N Things for around $15. Such a steal! Sadly they’re no longer in business but maybe you can try eBay or a local lighting outlet (check your phone book to hunt one down). Hope it helps!

      xo,
      s

  12. says

    I love your tips. I use an Elph, too and I love that it was affordable and takes great pics. A DSLR just isn’t in my budget, so I appreciate that you guys gave real tips for people who don’t have the resources to purchase a professional camera. (Especially in these “tough economic times”… you two are really realistic about money and resources.)

    I like editing my photos with Picnik (www.picnik.com). It’s web-based (so no downloading necessary), there’s a free version and it has almost no learning curve.

  13. HHenderson says

    Another great tip I learned from a realtor (for those w/ photoshop or other editing program) – take a photo with all of the lights on. Then take one without which lets you capture the view outside the window. Then superimpose the window from the photo w/ no lights onto the photo w/ all the lights. Then you’ve got a well lit room with the view of outside. This is how you see it naturally with the naked eye and makes the room look spectacular (which it is, right?)