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...
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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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In real estate photography, there are three ways to go about showcasing listings.

  • Hire a professional photographer to capture the images
  • Do it yourself
  • Skip that whole thing and list it without pictures

In this series, we’ll be talking mostly about doing it yourself.  However, in many cases, it would be advantageous to hire a photographer.  If you are so busy with other parts of your business that you don’t have time to do it right, get a pro.  If you don’t have the skills (and/or you aren’t willing to take the time to learn them), get a pro.  If you don’t want to dedicate the time to get it right, get a pro.  These aren’t meant to be mean… but to let you know that the pictures on a listing are one of, if not THE most important marketing tool you have.

There is no shame in hiring a pro… I have better than a decade in professional advertising photography behind me, and I have hired photographers to shoot some of my listings.  I did, however, go back and shoot more supporting images.  And that is a GREAT way to transition from hiring out the photography to handling it in-house.  Bring in a pro to shoot the major scenes, then shoot the details yourself.  It will save a little money, and not compromise the marketing of the listing.

This image shows a Canon EOS 350D digital sing...
Image via Wikipedia

There are a few things that you need to know in order to get started in handling your own photography for your real estate listings.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be covering them in more detail, individually…

  • Cameras (you don’t NEED to have a big, expensive camera to shoot great pictures, but it doesn’t hurt)
  • Lighting (this is where the action is)
  • Aperture and Shutter speed combinations (the mechanics of taking pictures)
  • Composition (framing it up to make it work)
  • Tricky Details (those little things that catch us off-guard)

Photography isn’t hard, but it does require attention to detail.  The techniques are all pretty basic, but stacking things on top of each other is where things can get a little tricky… for example, combining flash and ambient lighting, or balancing inside and outside light.  And one of the greatest aspects of modern digital photography is the ability to see immediately the results… in time to correct the images BEFORE breaking down and going back to the office.

Nikon D700 camera
Image via Wikipedia

I will try to get specific as often as I can, and the tips will be related to shooting real estate.  Of course, some of them might also jump over into your vacation shots and family pictures.

Stay tuned…

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We just got back from a week at Walt Disney World.  As a family, Disney is one of our favorite vacation destinations, each time delivering more than we expected.  And that isn’t easy…

Walt Disney World Resort
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The tough part of exceeding a customer or client’s expectations is that the next time their expectations will be higher… and they will be looking for you to exceed those higher expectations.  In effect, you raise your own bar higher and higher until it becomes VERY difficult to jump over your newly raised bar.

One might think that after more than 10 years for my wife and I, 2 cruises and at least half a dozen trips to WDW, they would have a hard time going above and beyond what we expect.

But they seem to be continually looking for new ways to surprise us.

Do you do that for your clients?  Do you look for new technologies and new presentations to wow your clients?  What about new ways to showcase your listings?

One this most recent trip, we stayed at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Officially, since we were renting points from a Disney Vacation Club member, and so we were staying in the Villas.  As we drove up to the gate, they asked for ID (as they always do) and pulled out a pre-printed parking pass.  When my wife went into the lobby to finish the check-in process (which had been started online before we left on the trip… meaning most of the paperwork was already done), she was greeted at the door by name, and welcomed.  She was ushered to a comfortable chair and everything was ready for review.  In just a few minutes, we were unloading the van onto a cart to give to Bell Services.  Our room wasn’t ready yet (it was still only 10:30 in the morning), so Bell Services was going to store our luggage.  We hopped on a bus to the Magic Kingdom and began our day.

Wishes fireworks shows in the Magic Kingdom Wa...
Image via Wikipedia

At the end of the day, with two tired little boys in tow, we arrived back at the resort.  We told Bell Services we were ready to have our luggage sent up.  The Bellman said he was right behind us… and he almost beat us to the room.  My wife’s fear that we would have to wait for the luggage before being able to put the boys in bed were gone.

That isn’t the most magical portion of the stay there… but it shows the attention to detail that Disney gives their guests.  There were “towel creatures” in the room, super-fun activities for the kids and immaculate appointments all around, as well.

Disney actually has classes that they offer to businesses about how to do business the “Disney Way”.  Many large companies pay HUGE amounts of money to learn how Disney treats people.

As a contrast, there is a retail store nearby that is closing soon.  The chain isn’t going away, but the location is.  It is LONG overdue.  Walking through the store, it is evident that the staff and management gave up long ago.  The merchandise isn’t orderly.  The floors are dirty.  The aisles are blocked with poorly placed display.

English: Lobby of Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodg...
Image via Wikipedia

When I go to that store (rarely), I have VERY low expectations, and I am still always disappointed.  At Disney, I have very HIGH expectations, and they always find a way to surpass them.

That doesn’t mean they are perfect… I think they need to hire me as a consultant to teach their PhotoPass Photographers some basic composition… but if they WERE perfect, there would be no room for growth.

Whether it is looking for better ways to showcase a client’s property, or looking for better solutions to help clients search for a new home, maybe WE need to grab a little Disney Magic to exceed our client’s expectations… every time.

 

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Another one of the ProBlogger tips was to mix in some new content types…

It wasn’t fancy…

But, what did you think… It took a total of about 3 minutes to shoot the video with the tablet, set it to upload and then grab the embed code from YouTube.  When I do these videos for real, I tend to have better lighting and to worry a little more about how I look.  But the point is that video has become VERY easy to do.  And while it is nice to have a full production, it isn’t always required.

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Kindle Fire: Out of the Box
Image by Brian Sawyer via Flickr

Did you get any cool new tech for Christmas?  I didn’t…  But, one family member got a new Kindle Fire.  I had the opportunity to play with it a bit and do the set-up.  But this isn’t a review.

 

It is a two part post.

Part I… I’d love to hear what sort of cool tech you got, and what you think of it so far. 

Part II… Let’s talk about getting to know that new tech so that it does more for you than just provide entertainment or hold down piles of paper on the desk.

Part I is easy…  Post up here or over on our FaceBook Page and we can talk about your cool toys productivity enhancement tools.

Part II is a little more complicated.  But, if we break it down a little more, we can make it manageable.

First, don’t go nuts.  I know a lot of folks that want to get every new device that comes down the pike.  It just isn’t feasible.  Aside from the fact that it is terribly expensive, you’d end up being too scattered.  By the time you approach comfort with a device, there are three more to get.  In the end, you have only succeeded in making the store in which you buy your technology quite happy. Don’t be too reluctant to get new technology, but don’t be too eager, either.  Instead, see if you have a valid business use, and then don’t move on to the next thing until the current thing is getting the attention it deserves.

 

English: A variety of laptops, smartphones, ta...
Image via Wikipedia

Next, spend a little time with the User’s Guide.  Most of the devices out there are easy enough for us to power up and start playing with in just a few minutes.  It’s entirely too easy to just dive in and forget that there is probably a LOT of hidden potential waiting to be unlocked.  A great example is that my 7 year old figured out that he could zoom on my tablet by double tapping.  I missed that while speeding through the User Guide.  If I took my own advice, I would have known that…

 

Third, Google is your friend.  It is hard to find an even semi-popular piece of technology that doesn’t have a bunch of user generated tips and tricks published somewhere.  Some of the tutorials and videos out there are almost as good as taking a class.  There are some serious nerds (using that term with loads of respect) that are VERY good at figuring out how to squeak the last bit of utility from a device.  And they love to share.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Maybe it is your tech-savvy friend, maybe your teenager or even a class.  Reaching out for help can be a really good option.  Instead of wasting 40 unpaid hours trying to figure out a piece of technology or letting a $500 device sit unused, spending $50 on a class might be WAY more efficient.

 

So… whad’ja get?

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I actually like writing this blog, but there are times when it is REALLY tough to come up with topics.  Not that there is a shortage of topics… new ones make themselves known every day.  No, the problem is time and having a topic at the top og my mind when I need to write one.

Posterous Logo
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There are a couple of ways to deal with those issues… to begin with, using a tool like WP Editorial Calendar (If it weren’t free, I’d have an affiliate link… but you can find it through your Add New Plug-in Menu on your WordPress Control Panel.  Using the editorial calendar makes scheduling future posts a snap.  When I’m on top of my game, I have a few weeks of posts scheduled.  That also means that as I run across an idea for a post, I can write it and schedule it for the future… on MY schedule, instead of on the blog’s schedule.

Another way I have thought of to do this is a little more radical…

Posterous makes it REALLY easy to be an editor rather than a writer.  Instead of writing and researching to create blog posts, Posterous (through browser plug-ins) makes it a snap to share articles from the web.  After running across an appropriate article, just click the share button in the browser and write a few notes. Of course, you still have the ability to knock out a more traditional post, as well.

The logo of the blogging software WordPress.
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While it is REALLY easy to do, maintaining a schedule like I do on all of my blogs is pretty tough.  This blog, for example, should be updated every 4 days… at 8:00am (when I am keeping up).  Posterous doesn’t have an editorial calendar built in, nor the ability (yet) to plug one in.

If you are wondering what that looks like, here is my CoolCaroftheDay.mobi site.  It is a companion site to CoolCaroftheDay.com (which is a WordPress based site).

The bottom line is that there are a few ways to keep the blog flowing…  And honestly, I’m seriously considering porting this blog over to Posterous and becoming more of an editor rather than an author.

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