Real estate agents should know it takes more than just a good phone camera to take great listing photos — yet, in some cases, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between listing photos taken in 2009 and those taken in 2019. Here’s why you should learn to photograph or hire a professional photographer.

Teresa Boardman is a long-time columnist with 400-plus Inman columns under her belt. She writes about her real estate observations and experiences as an officeless indie broker in Minnesota.

In November, I upgraded my phone — which had the best camera ever put into a cell phone — and gave my old phone to my husband. He is having a lot of fun taking pictures with it.

The very first phone I had with a camera built in was a BlackBerry, but the resolution was very low, and it was hard to focus. The pictures I take with my phone today are higher quality than the pictures I took with my camera a six or seven years ago. I even have a set of lenses I can clip onto my phone so that I can get close up shots and wide-angle pictures too. The kit includes a light that I have used for video and for selfies.

You’ve got options

Cameras have gotten smaller and somewhat less expensive. The lighter weight DSLR mirrorless digital cameras are becoming quite popular. I use a big, heavy full-frame Canon digital camera and a Canon “L” (luxury) quality wide-angle lens.

There are so many types of cameras: There are spherical cameras that will photograph an entire room, 3D cameras that can be used for virtual tours, techniques and cameras for creating immersive virtual reality experiences, and the list goes on.

Video has been around for a long time and there are more cameras that are capable of video. It doesn’t seem all that long ago that we had to use a separate camera for video. (Please never operate a video camera while driving a car.)

It seems like everyone takes pictures, and we are all photographers. It is estimated that 350 million pictures are uploaded onto Facebook every day. People like to take pictures, and they like to look at them too.

Photo editing software has also improved. It is less expensive than it used to be, and there are more options and it is much easier to use. My DSLR camera has photo editing software that can be used to process pictures and so does my phone.

Worst offenders

Yesterday I showed a condo for a couple of first-time homebuyers. The pictures in the multiple listing service (MLS) were typical — they were dark and only showed parts of rooms, and the phone used to take them was not held level.

Pictures on the MLS have not improved with technology. It is impossible to tell the difference between listing photos taken in 2009 and those taken in 2019. The only change I can see is that there are more pictures for each listing.

Pictures still show open toilets and converging verticals caused by not keeping the phone or camera level. Some pictures are backlit because the camera is pointed at a light source.

Some dark and dreary pictures of homes for sale are taken in the dead of night. Reflections of the flash can be seen in the windows and darkness can be seen through them. There are still arms, legs, feet or cats in the pictures.

Pictures that only show a corner or the top few feet of a room and the ceiling or the bottom few feet of a room and the floor are common.

Shots that are taken during the day that are poorly lit are common. They make the home look kind of dingy and depressing. They do not spark joy or show how beautiful the home is.

There isn’t any amount of technology that can fix some of the most common mistakes agents make when they photograph their listings. Using video to market a home doesn’t always end well either. Some agents avoid hiring a photographer because that costs money.

Real estate companies and agents alike seem to believe that photography skills are gained through the licensing process.

How to fix the problem

Agents who want to take their own pictures could learn how to take better pictures. Interior commercial quality architectural photographs can be challenging to take, but there is a whole spectrum of better between the pictures I see on the MLS and those that I see in magazines.

There are books available to those who want to learn to take better pictures or learn how to edit them. There are also some excellent videos on YouTube and on Lynda.com. Paper books and electronic books on the subject are also available through your local library or the National Association of Realtors (NAR) library for members.

Practice helps too. Use your phone, and practice on buildings and inside rooms and even in your own house. I love to use my dining room to test lighting techniques and new lenses. Inside your real estate office might also be a good place to practice and critique the pictures as a group. There is always more to learn.

If you don’t have time to learn, hire a professional photographer.

The photographer who comes to your sales meeting and specializes in professional headshots might have some useful tips, but if you really want to up your game then you should take a class online or offline or read a book or even join a local photography group or club.

Get over the idea that having the right camera or the best camera is all that is needed for the kind of high-quality photography that is used to market homes for sale (and just about everything else that is for sale on the internet). If that were true the pictures on the MLS would be amazing.

Teresa Boardman is a Realtor and broker/owner of Boardman Realty in St. Paul. She is also the founder of StPaulRealEstateBlog.com.

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