Remember when FaceBook changed the format for personal profiles a few months ago?  A lot of people grumbled, and FaceBook did it anyway.  They gave us all plenty of warning, but a lot of us waited until the last minute…

They are at it again… and have been for a few weeks.  I’ve been ignoring it on my pages.  But the deadline is today (March 30th)… beginning on Saturday (March 31st) the pages are changing over to a similar Timeline to that of the profiles.

Luckily, all-around Good Guy, Hockey Fan and Biker, Mike Mueller put out a post just yesterday talking about the changes and how to get everything done on your FaceBook Page.  Go check it out.

For the record, I changed over my pages yesterday.  It also made me decide that they need more work…

We have those times… it seems like even though we know there are a thousand things we can write about, NOTHING comes to mind.  We stare at the computer like the whole concept of writing something is completely foreign.  I know that I have been there.

Brain
Brain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But there are a few things you can do to get you through…

  • Keep a “Post Idea Notebook” at hand.  Write down those cool ideas as you get them.  They will be gone in a few minutes…
  • Along the same lines, leave yourself a voice mail with your idea.  This is a MUCH better solution while driving, and I get a lot of ideas while driving.
  • Subscribe to a variety of RSS feeds, both inside your industry and in general news.  Often, the items in the news will be of interest to your readers, but they might want it brought to their level, or translated to how it affects them.

We’ve all seen the list above.  I think that every post on blog ideas came from the same source.  But there are more things that you can do to fill that bank…

  1. Brainstorm.  Sit down with a piece of paper, a tablet, your phone… whatever… and write as many ideas as you can.  Don’t worry about the quality… just write them down.
  2. Build an “Idea Council”.  Put together, or join, a group of bloggers with different niches.  If you blog about real estate, find people that blog about ANYTHING else.  What they blog about is not important, and what you blog about shouldn’t be important to them.  In fact, it isn’t even important that they blog…  What is important is that they are creative and willing to speak up.  What you are going to do is listen to THEIR ideas about what they want to know about your blogging niche.

About an hour after this post goes live, I will be taking part in exactly that kind of group as part of Social Media Breakfast – Atlanta.  The topic for this month’s breakfast will be “Crowd-Sourcing Blog Topics” and we will be using a round-table format to help each person come up with topics for their own blogs.  We’ll see if we can kick out at least 5 actionable post ideas for each person…

BTW, Social Media Breakfast – Atlanta meets on the 3rd Thursday of the month in Cobb/Marietta and on the 4th Thursday in Gwinnett/Suwanee.  Check out our FaceBook page for details.

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Recent home sales, by the numbersMany beginning bloggers have trouble narrowing down their blog to just one thing.  This is especially true of those of us in the real estate blogging world.  We write about local and national market conditions, seller and buyer issues, staging and renovating homes for sale,  improvements and financing.  But then many of us also add local “flavor” posts with information about local events, restaurants celebrities and more.  To top it off, some even write about niche specific things like local equestrian issues, tennis matches and car culture.

 

But there is a problem with that strategy… and the result is that many readers do exactly the opposite of what we think they will do.  The strategy is that readers surfing for niche info, local event info, restaurant info or any of the other things we are writing about, will be drawn in by our incredible prose… and feel compelled to buy a house, using us as their agent.

 

English: Logo of the franchise SmashBurger.
Image via Wikipedia

Instead, what often happens is that readers stumble onto the blog from a search, hopefully finding a post that meets the criteria of their search.  And then… a bunch of unrelated posts.  Maybe they are searching for information about 4th of July Fireworks shows in the area.  The chance that they are also looking for a home is pretty slim.  Or, if they ARE in  the housing market, they find your most brilliant market report EVER, and then while looking for more of that real estate information they are craving… all they can find is fluff about the new Smashburger that opened up.  Away they go.

 

The goal here isn’t to trash the strategy… on the contrary, we real estate professionals have a unique position in the community as its cheerleaders.  We meet a lot of people, and we generally work hard to be involved in the community.  It benefits our business, the community and ourselves as people.

The idea is to turn the strategy on its head.

Maybe instead of trying to make all of that into one “super blog”, instead we should split the effort out into a few different blogs.  Those multiple blogs can do something that the “super blog” can’t do… it can focus.  And several focused blogs will likely retain more readership than one over-reaching blog that completely lacks focus.

 

BLOG IDEAS
BLOG IDEAS (Photo credit: owenwbrown)

A few years ago I made a decision to split off all of my tech/social media writing from my real estate blog.  There was no discernible drop off in readership… and the tech blog picked up a few readers.  Last year, I split off all of my car posts from my real estate blog (my niche is car hobbyist properties… one could argue that the posts were relevant).  The result has actually been an increase in readership, along with a dramatic drop in the bounce rate.  At the same time, the car blog has built up a modest base of readership on its own.  Pushing it a step further, one of the biggest referral sources for my real estate site is the car blog.  And that is through a discreet ad in one corner of the car blog.

 

So, maybe a better way to incorporate the strategy is to have multiple blogs, each with its own focus, but each promoting the others, as appropriate.  In  short, give each reader exactly what they are looking for… and trim out the weeds distracting them from what they really want.  Also, give them a clear opportunity to make their way back to your “money-maker”.

 

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English: Mode dial showing the following modes...
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This is the 3rd part of a series on taking better real estate pictures.  The series is intended for those that really want to produce high quality photographs of their listings, as opposed to just grabbing a few shots and dumping them on the MLS.

In Part I, we talked a little about the basics and the focus of the series (pun intended).  In Part II, we talked about a few options for get, ranging from under $1000 to REALLY expensive.  You don’t actually need to spend a grand to get great shots, but it doesn’t hurt.  Feel free to jump back and review.

Exposure Basics…

Exposure is broken down into several factors.  Each one affects the whole.

The first, and most basic is ISO (film speed/sensitivity).  This is a measure of how sensitive the sensor or film is to light.  The higher the number, the more sensitive it is… and the less light is needed to create an image.  But, that also means that the image is likely to be grainier.

ASA film speed setting ring - Yashica Electro ...
ASA film speed setting ring – Yashica Electro 35 GSN (Photo credit: Joz3.69)

Back in the old days… when people shot film… it was pretty easy to figure out what speed film you were shooting.  It was printed on the box when you bought it.  Now, with digital cameras, it is built into the camera… and most cameras offer a variety of film speeds, ranging from 50 or 100 up to around 800 or 1600.  Some will offer a little more, others might offer less.  Generally, for what we are doing, the lower the speed, the better.  Usually, lower film speeds yield images with less noise.  Doubling the number represents one full step in exposure.  Examples of traditional speeds are 50, 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600 and 3200.

Generally to control the film speed, you have to be shooting the camera in a mode that isn’t “easy”.  It might be the P mode, or it could be S, A or M.  Usually, the camera will be in an “Auto Sensitivity” mode.

If we are being real serious and shooting in a fully manual mode, shutter or aperture priority, it would be good to set the sensitivity to something like 100.  It would be a pretty good way to learn the rest of the exposure variables.

The next one we need to learn about is Aperture.  This might be the toughest for most people to “get”.  Usually that is because the term is unfamiliar, rather than the concept being that rough.  Simply put, aperture is the size of the hole that the light comes through to hit the sensor (film).  The higher the number, the less light is coming through the lens. Multiplying the number by 1.4 represents one full step.  On SLR cameras, full steps are generally 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, 32, 45 and 64.  Often there will be an “F” in front of the number, like F8 or f11.

Acacia saligna (Acacia) Camera: Nikon D80 with...
Image via Wikipedia

But, there is a little more to aperture than just how much light is shining through.  It is a concept called Depth of Field.  As the aperture gets smaller (larger number), the other change that is taking place is that the field of focus is stretching.  Objects closer and farther away from the point of focus are getting sharper.  This may be great… or it may be distracting.  Portrait photographers often use shallow depth of field, throwing the background out of focus, to keep the viewers eye on the subject.  Landscape photographers often use the opposite effect.

The third leg in the exposure triangle (I know, I said 4 things affect exposure) is Shutter Speed.  Simply put, this is how long the shutter stays open to allow light to hit the sensor (film).  Usually the numbers are represented as a fraction like 1/60 or 1/500.  Traditional full steps are 1/2000, 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1sec, 2sec, 4sec and 8sec.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind here as well.  To start with, for general photography, hand-holding the camera only works down to about 1/60sec with a normal lens and 1/30 for a wide angle.  A telephoto might need 1/125 or even 1/250 to be steady.  If you are shooting close-ups, you need a tripod or faster shutter speed.  If you are well-practiced, you might be able to hand-hold the camera at a little slower speed.  Allowing a little motion in the shot isn’t always bad, you just need to understand the result.

 

English: In photographs, the camera shutter sp...
Image via Wikipedia

The 4th leg on this stool is Flash Exposure.  I will likely have an entire post devoted to flash… but the basic rules to remember are:

 

  • Shutter Speed doesn’t have much affect on flash exposure.  The flash happens faster than the shutter.
  • The only ways on the camera to adjust the exposure from the flash are with ISO and Aperture.
  • Many flashes allow power to be adjusted.
  • The light from the flash falls off as it gets farther from the flash unit.  Half as much light makes it to 28 feet as made it to 20 feet… that is why the background often looks dark in flash photos.

If you really want to learn about this in more depth, I HIGHLY recommend The Camera (Ansel Adams Photography, Book 1) (affiliate link) by Ansel Adams.  He has a tremendous amount of detail on cameras and exposure basics.  It is continued in The Negative (Ansel Adams Photography, Book 2) (affiliate link).  The Camera deals primarily with lens angles and other things relating to the camera, as well as a lot of technical things relating specifically to film cameras… and especially large format cameras.  The Negative is all about exposure, and is an EXCELLENT read.  If you are just going to get one, get The Negative.

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As mentioned last week, I am doing a series on taking better real estate pictures for your listings.  Most of the tips are for those that wish to DIY (Do It Yourself), but there is a HUGE caution that goes along with that… if you aren’t willing to take the time to do it right, hire someone to do it for you.  Remember, you are representing your client’s property and you need to put it forward in its best light (no pun intended).  That doesn’t mean that every listing needs to look like a feature from Better Homes & Gardens, but it DOES need to have good, clear pictures that are well composed and lit appropriately.

English: A Baldafix folding camera by Balda, w...
Image via Wikipedia

You do NOT need to run out to the store and get the most expensive camera and lighting system you can get your hands on (Hasselblad H4D-50 Medium Format DSLR Camera Body Only affiliate link).  In fact, that might be the exact opposite of what you should do.  Instead, there are a few things you should look at to start…

  • Wide Angle Lens… The camera needs to have AT LEAST a 28mm (35mm film equivalent) lens.  A 24mm focal length, or even a 20mm would be better.  Too much wider and there is a high likelihood of distortion.
  • Super high resolution isn’t that important, but you do need to be at least above 5mp.  This isn’t so much for the web as it is for possible use in creating flyers or other media aside from web publication.
  • It HAS to have a tripod socket.
  • If it has the ability to accept an add-on flash, that would be better than just the on-camera flash.
  • Finally, if there are manual controls, you will be ahead of the game.  You might be able to get by with something semi-automatic, like Aperture-Priority, or a REALLY good scene selector.

Of course, the camera isn’t the only thing you’ll need to have.  You’ll need to have a few other things in order to wring the most out of your camera.

  • A good tripod.  Keeping the camera steady is ultra important, especially if you don’t have the ability to use and external flash… but even if you can use one, the tripod will make life a lot easier.  You want a tripod that is light enough to carry, but solid enough to be stable.  And the bigger and heavier your camera, the bigger and heavier your tripod will likely need to be.
  • Add-on flash… or even flashes.  Some are equipped with sensors to allow use even if there isn’t a “hot-shoe” on the camera.  Depending on how nuts you want to go, these could cost anywhere from a couple hundred dollars to thousands…
  • Light modifiers.  These can be any of the following, including combinations… umbrella, light box, reflector, white index card or white foam-core.  There are other things that can be used as well, and as you get more comfortable, you might try experimenting with different items.  Many are cheap or even free…
  • Convenient camera case.  Even though I haven’t been shooting professionally for a few years, I still have a little fetish for camera cases.  At one time I had at least 30 of them.  I had some cases pre-packed for specific kinds of shoots.  Others carried film (remember film?).  Some were for certain jobs.  Finally, there were the general cases I carried my cameras in.  One thing to keep in mind, after you build up a collection of equipment, you probably won’t want to carry it all.

With all of that in mind, I’ll outline a few options that are currently available on Amazon (all product links are affiliate links), but you can shop anywhere convenient. All prices are as of this writing.

  • Point and Shoot Cameras… these aren’t the most compact P&S cameras, but they are quite capable of delivering a high quality image and allow manual control, external flashes and (in the case of the Nikon) an external wide angle converter.
  • Entry Level DSLR Cameras… these cost a little more than the Point & Shoots above, but also have a wider lens selection.  They can actually use the same flash units, tripods and maybe even bags as the Point & Shoot cameras above, so stepping up isn’t that tough.  The main advantage of the smaller cameras is that they are a lot easier to carry around… more of a vacation issue than a problem when shooting a property, though.  If you are going to use the camera for general photography, you might consider adding
  • If you really want to go nuts or get serious, Nikon and Canon both offer options to fulfill those desires.  Prices and options can go up DRAMATICALLY.   In fact, you can spend as much money as you want.  Canon EOS 1D Mark IV bodies go for about $5k.  The Canon EOS 5D Mark II full frame bodies fetch about $3200.  Lenses range wildly, but if you are shooting a “pro” body, shooting with pro lenses would be a good thing.  Expect to spend at least a similar amount for the first couple of lenses.  For real estate shooting, I would recommend the 14mm for the EOS 1D ($2100) or the 16-35 F2.8 ($1530) for both… but you’d also need the wider lens for the EOS 1D since it isn’t a full frame sensor.   In the Nikon range, the Nikon D4 is about to hit the streets.  Currently, the top of the line is the Nikon D3X ($8k).  It is a full frame camera, which means there is no factoring lens focal length.  the 14-24 F2.8 ($2k) would probably be my first choice for real estate shooting.  In the case of any of these top of the line cameras, you can add multiple flash units and they will ALL sync together and the camera can meter them… they run about $500 each.  Both Canon and Nikon also have “perspective control” lenses which are great for architectural photography, but are pretty specialized.

The steps and techniques for each camera are pretty similar.  the primary differences revolve around the aperture range of the lenses and the available shutter speeds.  The more expensive cameras have more shutter speeds and better metering (measuring the light and exposure), while the better lenses let in more light at one time.

Coming up we’ll talk about some of the tips, tricks and techniques that you can use with any of these cameras, as well as the basics of exposure.

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