Forget bells and whistles. Get back to basics with one of your listing’s most important marketing tools — great photography.

There’s so much noise out there on how to navigate a challenging market. This April, let Inman help you cut through the clutter to make smart business decisions in real time. All month long, we’re taking it Back to Basics and finding out how real estate pros are evolving their systems and investing personally and professionally to drive growth.

Sometimes it is tempting to skip the basics and move on to something new — at least that is the impression I get when I look on the internet at pictures of homes for sale.

There have been some amazing advances in digital camera technology, yet there are still a lot of bad MLS photos out there. Sometimes it makes me wonder if technology really can solve all of our problems.

The use of still photography to market listings isn’t new. In fact, it pre-dates the MLS. Even though video has been “the next big thing” for the last 20 years, still photographs are still necessary — and even required in some MLSs.

Humble, old-school photographs catch the buyer’s eye at first glance and cause them to want to learn more about the home.

AI makes it easier than ever to create property descriptions, but a picture is worth 1000 words — and probably 2000 if the words are generic, AI-generated words.

Pictures are more than just documentation that a house has floors, ceilings, bedrooms and a kitchen. They should make the best features of the house stand out.

Not only have cameras gotten better in the last 20 years, but they are cheaper, too. My phone has a built-in camera with much greater capabilities than my first digital camera had.

Here are 20 common crimes against real estate photos that I see on the MLS every day:

  1. Images that are too dark.
  2. A flash orb in the window, mirror or on stainless steel appliances.
  3. A reflection of the photographer in a window or mirror.
  4. The exterior of the house silhouetted by the sun.
  5. A picture taken during the day and photoshopped to imitate a picture taken at sunset or twilight.
  6. Pictures taken in portrait orientation on a smartphone.
  7. Bathrooms with open toilet seats.
  8. Pictures of dirty houses.
  9. Pets lying on the bed.
  10. Interior shots taken at night.
  11. Interior shots taken with the drapes closed.
  12. Shots taken from six or more feet off the ground. (I don’t mean pictures taken from above)
  13. Converging verticals caused when the camera is angled up or down.
  14. Closeups of random room parts.
  15. Distorted shots taken by ultra-wide angle lenses, making the walls look like they are bulging.
  16. Rooms with all of the lights and lamps turned off.
  17. MLS photos that capture photographs of children hung on the walls.
  18. Pictures that show small valuables out in the open.
  19. The random leg, arm or pot belly in the doorway of a darkened adjoining room.
  20. Interior shots where the windows are white blobs and the view cannot be seen.

Agents hiring professional photographers should instruct the homeowner on what to do before the photographer arrives.

Photographers are not stagers.

At a minimum homeowners should:

  • Declutter: Clutter is the enemy of marketing a home for sale.
  • Depersonalize: Remove family photos
  • Clean: Consider hiring a professional cleaning company; don’t forget the windows.
  • Turn on the lights.
  • Open the shades.
  • Remove valuables when possible.

Let the homeowner know that it is much easier to add something to a picture than it is to edit it out, but generally speaking, both are beyond the scope of what is expected of a real estate photographer.

Agents who are taking their own pictures may want to do so while the owner is home so that they can move things around.

Photographs almost always need a little tweaking after they are taken. There are numerous photo editing programs available, including those that come with cameras. Some editing programs are built into phones and cameras.

The most common post-processing tasks are brightening and sharpening the picture so that it looks good on the internet. Sometimes a little straightening and cropping are needed too.

As for taking pictures, agents who prefer to take their own can find numerous “how-to” videos on YouTube. Aspiring photographers can also train themselves to notice and avoid the common mistakes listed above.

I also think that there is a lot of potential in using artificial intelligence to fix, correct and enhance photos.

Over the years I have read many recommendations on what kind of camera is best for architectural photography. There is no best, just opinions and price ranges.

I prefer to use a full-frame digital camera with a wide-angle lens, or, if you prefer, a full-frame mirrorless camera with a wide-angle lens. I like to use the RAW format because there are more editing options.

A camera on a tripod is even better. On and off camera lights are nice and I like to use a remote, which these days is an app on my phone.

My camera choice helps me get crisp, clear photographs of entire rooms, which is my goal for all property marketing photographs. I will recommend any camera that can produce professional-looking results.

Using excellent photography to market listings is a real estate agent basic that should not be ignored. A portfolio of excellent pictures of houses is a wonderful addition to any listing presentation.

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

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