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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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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Let me get this out of the way… I break this rule ALL of the time… on almost all of my blogs.

Have a “Content Bank” with pre-written posts!

If you have blogged for a while, you’ve been there.  Deadline approaching, the well seems dry.  There should be 100 things to write about, but none of them seem to be working… you feel all blocked up.

Of course, when you don’t NEED a post, ideas flow freely.  So, the trick is to capture that free flowing creativity.  Write when you don’t need to write, and make withdrawals from your bank when the well seems dry.  When I have been on top of this with my blogs, I have had a month of posts banked and ready to publish.

The danger is getting too comfortable with the bank and not making enough deposits.

Another danger is content that can go stale.  Some blogs don’t have issues with the timeliness of content.  Other blogs only have a shelf life of a few days on a topic.  Most are in between, with some topics that can sit on the sidelines until they are needed and others needing to get out as quick as possible.

My real estate blog is like that… market reports need to get out on schedule, but other posts are timely even a few years after being written.  Occasionally, a topic pops up that HAS to go out right away.  Using my Editorial Calendar, I can track and schedule posts.  I can rearrange them if a timely topic comes up.

 

So, my New year’s Resolution for my blogs is to re-build my Post Banks.  I will try to build up a month’s worth of posts for each blog.  For me that means that I will have a total of about 60-75 posts across all of my blogs.

In order to accomplish that, I will need to do a few things…

  • Series Posts.  They are often easier to write since the subject is partially pre-set.
  • Video Posts.  Frankly, they can be a little quicker for me to produce.
  • Formula Posts.  My Market Report posts are pretty quick to write.  Of course, the problem is that I can’t write them until the data comes out.  But since I have 8 market areas to post about, I can dribble them out for a few weeks.
  • Guest Posts.  I haven’t leveraged these much yet, but would love to bring in some other writers from time to time.

We’ll see how I do…

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Just about all Internet marketers (that would be anyone that markets on the internet, not just internet based companies) want to create a “Viral Ad Campaign.”  The dream is that for almost no money, they will create an ad or campaign that everyone just HAS to share with all of their friends.  It will end up getting more views that a Super Bowl ad, and more click-throughs than tabloid pics of Brittany Spears with a shaved head.

Humor, shock and amazement are the ingredients… but the exact recipe is pretty tough to figure out.

Click the pic to go to Voltier Digital's post on Going Viral.

I don’t have a relationship with Voltier Digital… I just saw the graphic and thought it would be a cool share.

 

Blogging Heroes
Image via Wikipedia

Real Estate Professionals are becoming more and more convinced that blogging is a necessary marketing tactic.  So, the question is steadily shifting from “Should I be blogging?” to “Where should I be blogging?

 

For Real Estate Professionals, there are a variety of choices, ranging from real estate specific blogging channels to general blogging channels to self-hosted options.  And each of them has advantages and disadvantages.  Of course, for those that aren’t blogging, the first hurdle is to get started… and the actual location, while important, isn’t as important enough to stop the progress while working out the location…

 

Real Estate Specific Channels – Utilizing a network that is tweaked towards real estate blogging has some GREAT advantages for the new blogger.  From a technical standpoint, there is built in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) with the platform since there are multitudes of bloggers writing about real estate.  Search Engines see the content and make it a trusted source more quickly.  Also, some of the networks have great user communities, leading to opportunities to learn more about blogging and technology, as well as build referral relationships.

Image representing YouTube as depicted in Crun...
Image via CrunchBase

On the flip side, you don’t control the platform.  Management might be GREAT at the moment, but what it the platform is purchased by a company with poor practices, or worse… by a competing real estate empire? What if they introduce advertising on the blogs, and your competitors can by ad space on YOUR content?  The bottom line is that you don’t have control over what goes out to the consumer.  You only control your content.

 

But, on the balance, this might be a great place to start, discover your voice and stretch your blogging legs.  You might find yourself outgrowing it, though.

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...
Image via CrunchBase

General Blogging Channels – These carry most of the pitfalls and none of the benefits of Real Estate Specific Channels.  You still don’t have control of what may be presented to the consumer alongside your content.  Of course, it is much less likely that a real estate company will buy the platform, but not a lot less likely that a competitor could buy an ad or end up with a link on YOUR blog, without your permission.  And since the content is general, the SEO benefits are gone, as well.

But, in the case of WordPress.com, you will have the opportunity to learn the WP-Admin console.  And you actually can start writing.  You also might have al ittle more control over the theme (design) of your blogs graphic presentation.

 

The logo of the blogging software WordPress.
Image via Wikipedia

Blogging on a general site is probably the weakest option, in my opinion.  It has all of the weaknesses of blogging on a platform owned by someone else, but few of the advantages of being on a site tuned for real estate blogging.

 

Self-Hosted Options – For the long term, this should be where it’s at, in my opinion.  You control almost everything about the platform and the content.  There are no worries about who may be advertising on your blog, nor about who might have their hand in the background.  You get the final say.

However, you also get to control things like SEO… and if you create regular and compelling content, you will be noticed by the search engines.  If you guest post on well known blogs, you will get important links back to your blog, and bring up your blogs SEO.

 

Screenshot of the blogging system WordPress.
Image via Wikipedia

The bottom line here is that YOU are in control…  For some, that is great.  For others, it is terrifying.  It might mean that your blog languishes with a lack of attention, or it might mean that you have to hire someone to make it rock.  Or, it might mean that you have a platform that is unique and compelling and that costs VERY little money and pulls in a tremendous number of leads.

 

 

In each case, there are exceptions.  And there are sites that don’t really seem to fit in their mold.  Posterous, YouTube and FaceBook Pages are all examples of sites that can be useful tools, regardless of where your other efforts are focused.  Using them as part of a network of your own can build your blog into something greater.

Here is a (non-real estate) network I am building…

CoolCaroftheDay.com (self-hosted WordPress site)

CCotD on YouTube (YouTube Channel)

CCotD on FaceBook (FaceBook Page)

CCotD Quick Hits (Posterous Blog, primarily populated via web links)

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There are three tools that will do more to promote your website than ANY other.  And they are WAY under-utilized by the vast majority of bloggers.  They are simple, inexpensive and almost everyone has them already.

smile, business cards and a hand to shake
The right tools...

 

Did you find them?

  • Your winning smile
  • Your firm handshake
  • Your business card

Yep, 20 million tech tools out there, and most of them are free.  Some of them are even viral, but the absolute best ways to promote your blog are probably right there with you, right now.

For most of us, the people we want to read our blogs the most are actually the people we might interact with “in real life” (IRL).  They are local and you might even see them daily or weekly or monthly.

Walking up to a person, flashing your winning smile, shaking their hand with your firm handshake and handing them your business card, with a short explanation of what your site is about is WAY more likely to create a new reader than almost any other marketing you can do.  But there is another benefit, as well.  The cool side benefit is that the person you meet is also more likely to share your site with their friends… if they find compelling content.

I guess it often comes back to that compelling content, doesn’t it?

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