The Dos and Don’ts of Retouching Real Estate Photos

by Brian Balduf

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Brian Balduf is the co-founder and chairman of VHT Studios

First impressions are everything, especially in real estate marketing. Nine out of 10 buyers search online before visiting a home or even contacting an agent, so high-quality images are non-negotiable. Buyers have come to expect captivating photography that tells a story about that home and motivates them to act.

Given the widespread use of Photoshop and other editing apps and software, agents may be wondering, “How much is too much?” The tips below should help you understand the difference between touching up an image and changing appearances in a way that may border on deception.

Do: Enlist a professional photographer. Your seller’s home is the most expensive asset they will ever sell. Homes are notoriously difficult to photograph – light changes drastically from room to room, and even large rooms tend to look smaller in photographs. A professional photographer’s expertise is critical to ensure the home is properly represented in your marketing materials.

Don’t: Show too much floor/ceiling, sky or grass. Your professional real estate photographer will ensure that the images taken are framed properly, and that they do not show too much of the floor or ceiling. That makes home interiors look much smaller than they are. The same goes with exteriors; if the sky or grass is too prominent in the photo, the home looks much smaller. Skilled professional photographers use the correct lenses, shoot from the best angles and frame the shot properly – for instance, standing outside the room for an interior shot, or across the street for an exterior, to get the full frame.

Do: When preparing the home, treat the photography shoot like a showing; keep a sharp eye out for any items that will need to be removed. Assuming people are occupying the home you’re shooting, errant household items such as the following should be out of sight: trash cans; school art on the refrigerator; family photos; one-of-a-kind mementos; and small appliances such as toasters, blenders and food processors.

Don’t: Delete permanent fixtures or features of your home’s interior or exterior. Anything permanent must stay in the photo, or risk what a lawyer could refer to as “material misrepresentation,” a phrase you do not want attached to your listing! Railroad tracks, fire hydrants, telephone poles, water towers, or the factory next door should not be Photoshopped from your images. While it’s perfectly acceptable and expected to minimize those less-desirable features, or shoot from angles that will avoid photographing them altogether, digitally deleting may pose problems down the road for the agent and seller. Here’s an example of how our photographer chose a different angle to photograph this home near a utility wire:

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Do: Accentuate the positive. It’s important to keep in mind that professional photographs are meant to entice buyers, not to paint a comprehensive picture of the home; you have no need to capture images of every square foot, and no need to wait for the perfect time, either – small edits can help enhance the home. For example, overcast gray skies can easily be changed to blue without consequence. Brown grass in winter can be digitally colored green.

Don’t: Unfairly represent a home. If there’s an unsightly and unavoidable hole in the kitchen wall, photograph its present condition and offer a touched-up, side-by-side version of what the repair could look like. If there’s a big patch of dirt on the front lawn, supplement that photo with an enhanced image of the nice green grass that could eventually grow there.

If you’re compelled to justify a particular edit, it’s probably crossed the line. Generating lots of foot traffic is wasted effort if prospects feel misled once they arrive – and worse, puts your reputation in danger.

Do: Work with the seller and the photographer to identify the home’s best features. While you’re no doubt aware of amenities that top buyers’ wish lists, the seller will have an intimate understanding of their home and its unique offerings. A good photographer will be able to shoot the most complimentary angle of each room you want to capture.

Don’t: Show every room in the home. Prioritize areas of the home prospects care about most: the kitchen, the living room, the master bedroom and bath, the family room, and the pool, fitness area and home theater.

Do: Remember, your reputation is put at risk if you misrepresent a home. It’s better not to show something at all than to misrepresent it. Agents should keep this in mind when listing, especially when marketing a more challenging property.


Brian Balduf has been actively involved in marketing, technology and media for over 30 years. As Chairman and co-founder, he has built VHT Studios into the nation’s largest real estate photography, video and multimedia company. Email him at bbalduf@vht.com.