If you've been through our training, or heard us talk, you know that we are always talking about the importance of good photography when it comes to selling homes. Research shows that luxury buyers prefer lots of good photographs over virtual tours, and a study from Realtor.com shows that the more photographs a listing has on the site, the shorter the time on market (which could mean that more photographs make properties sell faster, or that agents that do good marketing and move properties quickly also tend to use more photographs in their marketing, or both).
Sell a Luxe Apartment, No Ordinary Snapshot Will Do" is an article in today's New York Times that talks in general terms about the importance of good photographs and provides a before and after sample photograph with a nifty "slider" you can drag across the image to change it from "before" to "after" and back.
With "slider" in the middle showing parts of both images:
It's nifty, but it doesn't give us much useful information about what is actually different. The caption of the photo describes the differences as simply, "added touches and more sunlight edited in" which doesn't really tell us much.
I thought it might be useful to have a quick crash course in photography and analyze the "before" and "after" photographs. The goal here is to identify the key differences and to give you some things to look for when evaluating your own property photographs and when working with photographers.
Exposure and Color Balance
Exposure basically means how light or dark the image is overall or in particular parts of the image. Color balance or color temperature refers to the "warmth" or "coolness" of light and how accurately colors are represented in the image.
Looking at the before and after images one of the obvious differences is that the interior exposure has been increased or "brightened." This is perhaps most obvious in the marble of the counter top and the detail in the cabinetry:
In the after image, the white of the marble is brighter, but still shows detail, and the wood of the cabinets is not dark and shadowy, but actually shows color and form.
Overall color is another obvious difference. The "after" image is color balanced to be more neutral and "warmer." When you look at the "before" image we can see that, uncorrected, the light coming through the windows and illuminating the rooms is "cool," giving everything a blue-green color cast. Corrected, the scene appears "warmer" and more color neutral or accurate. This is perhaps most obvious when looking at the color of the wall by the windows on the left side of the room:
In the "before" image it looks almost green. In the "after" image is is a more pleasing, and presumably more accurate beige. Of course the exposure change has made the shadows less intense and shows more detail in the cabinetry. Overall, the whites are whiter, and the colors "cleaner" in the "after" image. Generally speaking, accurate color is good and "warmer" light is perceived as more inviting.
The other really big difference in the images is in the exposure of the outside, as seen through the living room window:
In the "before" image the outside is over-exposed or "blown out" meaning that it is rendered too bright in the image with little or no detail. In the "after" image the outside has a more normal exposure and the color and detail of the outside scene is retained. In the "before" image, the photograph essentially "ends" at the window. By contrast, in the "after" image, the view is extended and not only does the image have more apparent depth, but we can see that the apartment has a fabulous view of Central Park--a very desirable and expensive amenity in NYC real estate!
Composition and Lens Choice
Although they look very much alike in the way the images were composed, the "after" image was shot with a wider angle lens and from a slightly different camera position. This makes for some subtle but important differences.
At first glance the framing of the images looks almost identical. But when we look more closely we see that we have a wider view and see more in the "after" image. The images are composed so that the bottom parts of both photos are about the same-- the crop is similar and the bar chairs in the foreground are in about the same position in both images. But, in the "after" image we see more of the cabinet and wall on the left, more of the wall and corner on the right, and more of the ceiling at the top. Sometimes having a wider field of view and seeing more in an image can make a space look bigger. We see that effect a little bit here, but there is an even more subtle but powerful effect hidden in this image.
Not only do wide-angle lenses include more side-to-side and top-to-bottom, but they also exaggerate the relative sizes of objects in the foreground and background. Put simply, they make things in the foreground look bigger and things in the background look smaller. Often, this makes the distance between foreground and background look greater.
If we look again at the detail of the chair in the background, we see that it is slightly smaller and appears further away in the "after" image, making the rooms appear larger:
Look again at the full before and after images and I think you will see this effect even more pronounced.
The there is another subtle difference in the "before" and "after" images that makes a big impact. The photographer who shot the "after" image moved the camera slightly to the left. This very subtle change did a number of things compositionally that direct your eye and your attention in ways that make the space seem bigger and more attractive.
We can see that the camera has move to the left in the "after" image by comparing it to the "before" image. In the "before" photo we see quite a bit of the column and the face of the wall on the left side of the photo and quite a bit of window and space between columns in the center of the photo:
When we look at the "after" image we see that by shifting the camera we see less of the column and wall face on the left and the gap in the center has been closed:
This brings the eye into the living room with less distraction giving it more prominence and reducing the visual clutter. It also shows more continuous window behind the chair in the living room, making it appear larger too.
Perhaps even more important, shifting the camera to the left created a line of perspective by aligning the bar chair in the foreground with edges of the cabinet bases and ottoman creating a visual path that recedes unobstructed into the distance:
Another important difference between the images can be seen on the far left and right side of the photos, where instead of being vertical, the cabinets on the left and the wall on the right seem to be "falling" backwards out of the photo in the "before" image. In architectural images, verticals should be vertical. When they are not, viewers often view the images as being somehow "off" or "uncomfortable" even if they don't consciously notice the tilt, or can't identify why.
Individually, these may seem like little things, but together they can be the difference between a good photo or a bad one, an expired listing or a sale.