Real Estate vs Architectural Photography

I was recently hired to shoot a new home construction in Mill Valley, CA. The builder told me they had some Real Estate photos done but they didn't quite capture the space like they had hoped.

This short post explains some of the differences between Real Estate photos and Architectural photos and my thinking behind my final images. I'm not calling out the Real Estate photographer or faulting his work. Since I have been in both situations I can relate to how quickly you need to shoot spaces and turn that work around. I am simply sharing my thoughts on why, as an Architectural photographer, my eye sees spaces differently and explain how I create more compelling images. 

Let's first start with this living room shot.

On top is the Real Estate photograph and below is my shot. Typically with Real Estate photos, the photographer is trying to emphasize how large the room is and thus shoots with an extremely wide lens. Objects become very distorted and not to scale with the rest of the room. The couch circled in red is a prime example. The edge of the couch is more than twice the size of the chair sitting across from it. Other examples of extreme wide angle distortion can be seen in the trusses, the table to the left, and the far room which is too small to make out what is back there. 

In contrast, I chose to shoot this with my 24mm tilt-shift lens. 24mm is still wide enough to capture the room but provides very little distortion. I moved the camera forward in the scene and positioned it as if you were sitting on the couch. The Architect (OXB STUDIO) obviously spent a lot of time thinking about how the spaces interact with each other and created a central courtyard which the living room, dining room, and guest bedroom all look out at. By opening the door next to the fireplace and the large slider in the family room, I allowed the eye to move through the scene without interruption.  

07_71 Cascade_Web.jpg

The wide angle lens strikes again. Above is the Real Estate shot for this beautiful guest bathroom. We can see that it is trying to show the vanity, toilet, shower, and size of the room. While this is a fine shot to help sell the home, here is why it doesn't work as an architectural image. 

The second photo shows my take on this bathroom and why it's crucial to learn how light interacts with each home. A lot of thought is put into the placement of windows and special features like skylights, and at certain times of the day they can produce a profound effect. For this shot, I continuously checked on the bathroom, waiting for the exact time to take advantage of the light streaming in and used only natural light to illuminate the space. I set the camera up in the doorway and "shifted" the lens to the right slightly to eliminate the door while still keeping the 1 point perspective. I purposely cut off the sink and toilet because your eye will naturally fill that space in with those objects. I pulled much of the color cast out in post as I wanted this image to feel modern and clean.

*Some background on this shoot. When I book a shoot I ask for a minimum of 4-6 hours on location and for larger homes 8-12 hours. Many might say well that seems like way more time than you need to get some shots. How hard can it be? While the RE photographer only has maybe an hour to get his shots in before he/or she needs to move on to the next home, I on the other hand have more time to think about light, composition, and space. This allows us to time shots which might have been missed otherwise. 


My last example covers one of the guest bedrooms in the house. When we scouted, the builder mentioned that they spent a lot of time and effort on the built-ins throughout the bedrooms. I chose to do a one-point perspective here as I felt it was the most powerful. The rug, floor, bed, and light all direct your eye through the image- first stopping at the built-ins and  then moving on to the far room. We moved a dark, heavy couch from the family room and placed the Eames chair that was previously in the bedroom at the end of the frame, slightly off camera, to break up the white wall which helped to show scale and give an end point for the eye. 

I hope this brief breakdown has given you some insight into my thinking behind these shots and the differences between Real Estate Photography and Architectural Photography.  As I take on more and more projects I will continually update this blog with my thoughts. More photos can be seen below. 

Links listed below: