There is this urban legend that if a real estate agent buys the right camera, all they have to do is point it at something and press a button, and the end result will be a professional-quality photograph.

I almost always want a better camera, a shiny new lens and maybe a nicer lightweight tripod. It’s easy to spend an entire commission check for selling a small condo — and more — on basic photography equipment.

Did you know that it is possible to spend $1,000 on a tripod? That doesn’t include the “head” on which the camera is mounted. That will run another $200, $400 or more. The lens can be more expensive than the camera, and let’s not forget the lights.

Photographing the interiors of homes is one of the hardest jobs in photography. Things can go wrong using even the most expensive camera.

Indoor lighting is never studio quality, and while there are often several types of light in a single room, there’s rarely enough light. The bright light from windows can really mess with a picture of a dark room.

Here are some examples of things that can go wrong, no matter how much you’ve spent on equipment:

  1. Camera owner uses expensive camera with the wrong kind of lens. The end result is what I like to call room parts, usually corners but sometimes floors or ceilings and part of a wall.
  2. Camera operator does not understand the built-in flash on the camera, creating annoying bright spots surrounded by shadows — or orbs that show up on the windows, wood trim and stainless steel appliances.
  3. Camera user believes that exterior photos should always be taken in bright sunlight, and ends up making a mess of the photos because he shoots into the sun.
  4. Camera operator uses auto white balance, which causes the pictures to have a yellowish cast. Unless they are bluish, which is just as bad.
  5. Expensive equipment makes camera owner feel invincible, believing that every photo she takes is amazing. She becomes the photographer for her entire real estate office, which helps keep the industry’s photography standards low.
  6. Camera operator does not use a tripod. Or if he does use a tripod, he doesn’t bother to keep the camera level, resulting in converging or diverging verticals.
  7. Camera user does not understand that the toilet seat should always be closed when photographing the bathroom, and that none of the pictures of the home should have pets or people in them.
  8. Camera operator does not understand lighting, and isn’t very good at post-processing, which results in photos that are too dark.
  9. Camera owner does not understand that the photographs are for marketing, not for documentation, and includes several pictures of crawl spaces and dingy closets. Often the homeowner agrees with this approach, but that doesn’t make it right.
  10. Camera operator does not understand composition, which is why she ends up with a peculiar collection of photographs that do not make the home look at all appealing.

Camera and video equipment can be very expensive, and it takes a while to learn how to use it. Why spend all that money on equipment, when bad photographs can be taken with the phone you already own — or any inexpensive camera?

Most agents are not saving money taking their own pictures. In fact, it may be costing them money. The time it takes to photograph a house could be better spent showing houses or getting new listings.

It takes time to process those photos. Studies show that that lousy pictures slow down the sale of a home, and that sellers may not be getting as much money for the home as they would have gotten if it has been marketed with professional photography.

Realtor associations and real estate companies love to provide photography classes, which helps keep the bar low in real estate photography by encouraging agents to take their own photos.

Most associations know that Realtors would rather take a one-hour class on real estate photography taught by a portrait photographer than hire a real estate photographer.

Yet if you talk to those same agents about selling your own home, they will tell you that you need to hire a professional real estate agent.

Teresa Boardman is a broker in St. Paul, Minnesota, and founder of the St. Paul Real Estate blog.

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