How To Prepare Your Listing For A Photo Shoot

Apr 24 '13

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How To Prepare Your Listing For A Photo Shoot

I’ve photographed hundreds of listings and have found that the more the listing has been prepped before my arrival, the better the photos come out. There’s an old saying in photography: If you shoot a banana, you get a banana. I can’t make a messy, cluttered room look somehow not messy or not cluttered.

If you can possibly afford a professional stager, by all means do it! They are totally worth it. Your listing will look so much better, likely sell for more, and will definitely look better in photos. I can refer you to some of my favorites.


Real Estate Photo of Living Room

If you can’t afford a stager, or you believe your furnishings are as good as any stager’s, then let me give you some self-staging pointers:

  • Try to make your place look like a clean, tastefully furnished hotel.  It should be stylish, but somewhat generic.  The goal is to allow the buyers to imagine living there.  Don’t make this fantasy more difficult by having too many personal photos and overly distracting belongings out, and don’t make the fantasy a nightmare by having cluttered, messy rooms.  Less is more.
  • Keep in mind that people are going to be looking at rooms from the doorway they enter through and that initial “feeling” in those first few seconds they get is the one that will count the most.   So, it is important to arrange things so the room looks great from that angle.  I am likely going to shoot from that same angle, and/or from the corner of the room where I capture the MOST WINDOWS.  For photographic purposes showing the windows in the room usually takes priority over closet doors or furnishings.  If there is a fireplace or other important built-in feature in the room, I’ll likely be getting the best angle of it.

Clear Your Clutter!

This is THE #1 MOST IMPORTANT THING for showing off your listing:
Get all knickknacks, stacks of paper, remote controls, extraneous furniture, family photos, pet stuff & toys out of sight.  NOT under your bed.  I can often see under beds when I photograph bedrooms, and it’s not a pretty sight when there’s a yard sale stuffed underneath.  Store it all in a closet, in the garage (if we aren’t’ photographing it), or sacrifice a room for storage that won’t be photographed.  Again, your goal is to make the house (or condo) look like clean, cared-for, tastefully arranged haven.  Hide power cords and cables as much as you can.   If you have child-proof latches on cupboards and drawers, remove them for the photos if it’s not too difficult.  Make your beds look like you see in magazines.  The pillows should be big and fluffy and the bed cover should be hotel-room perfect.   Hide all digital do-dads and cords laying around the bed.  A tissue box is not a staging prop!  Get it out of site.

Remember: less is more. 

Curb Appeal

The view of the front of your listing is very important.  Your goal is to make the front of the house appealing enough that buyers will want to see more.  If you can afford it, bring in a landscaper who will make your property looks stellar and save you a backache.


If you are going to do it yourself, here’s a short list of tasks:

  • Pull weeds, trim overgrown shrubs and low-hanging tree branches.  Rake and/or mow the lawn.  Put away garden hoses.  Hide the garbage cans, yard tools, dead plants, empty pots and any other yard clutter.  Lay down mulch wherever there is dirt showing in beds.  Is your back sore yet?
  • Before I arrive for photos, move all vehicles out of the driveway, and preferably not directly in front of your house.   Clean up the front porch and stairs.  Sweep the decks and patios.   Wipe off the outdoor furniture and put the nice cushions on them.  Some nice comfy chairs in the corner of the yard gives lets your buyers have a place to relax and enjoy the yard while they consider how much they love your property.

Let the light in

Before I arrive, turn on every single light in the house, don’t forget the surface lights on your stove and under your cupboards. If any lights are burned out, replace them with new bulbs. Open all curtains and blinds (unless there is a very unappealing view out the window you don’t want to highlight in the photos).  Turn off the ceiling fans.

Flowers and fruit and arty books

Bring some color, freshness and serenity to your listing by staging a few nice flower arrangements on the dining room table, in a corner of the living room, and in a bedroom or large bathroom.  A bowl of apples or lemons or oranges in the kitchen always looks nice.  If you have a nice big attractive coffee table book, preferably home decor or architectural in theme, set it on (you guessed it) your coffee table.  Hide the Maxim and People magazines.   See all those books you love on your overstuffed bookshelf?  Now take half of them out (the bright, clashing, odd-sized ones) and put them in a box.    Ahh, that’s better isn’t it?


Many bathrooms are small and difficult to photograph.  Hide all your personal bath and shower stuff and bathroom trash cans.  Put on a new roll of toilet paper.  Neatly hang a few color complementary towels and hand towels.  If you have room, put a nice looking candle or small plant next to the sink or bathtub.  Once again, make it look like a nice, clean, cozy hotel bathroom.

What you don’t have to worry about

Although you are obviously going to want to do a big cleaning before your open house, for photographic purposes, you don’t have to fret too much about dusty furniture or floors, or dirty windows.  The camera is very forgiving when it comes to dirt, but buyers may not be, so be sure to clean your windows and floors before your open house.

This is by no means a complete list of everything you’ll have to do, it’s a photographer’s wish list to get you started.   If you don’t do these things before I arrive, your photos won’t be what they could be.  Though I do use photoshop, I’m not a magician.  If I photograph a cluttered, dark room, that’s what you’re going to get.  If you spend the time doing the things suggested on this list, you are going to get much better images and many more potential buyers.

Hey Agents!

This last tip is specifically for you.

If you have asked your sellers to do the things on this list, fantastic!  In fact, download the PDF of this list and give them a copy.   If you haven’t made sure that they have actually done them before I arrive, then I’m either going to charge you a cancellation fee and reschedule for when they are ready, or I’m going to just go ahead and do the best I can under the circumstances.   In the latter case, there’s a good chance you won’t be thrilled with the results.   I’m not a stager, a landscaper, nor a stylist.  They are well paid for what they do is because it takes skill and experience, it’s a lot of work, and it’s time-consuming.  Most photographers are happy to move and adjust things here and there as they go, but they are there to take excellent photos, not prep your listing for the open house and they likely have a very limited time to get all the shots you want.   So please, please, pretty please…


If your sellers are still living at the house when your photographer is scheduled to photograph it and you are not absolutely certain that they have the listing CAMERA-READY, then I suggest you get there at least an hour ahead of me and make sure.    If it’s not ready and you aren’t sure you can get it ready by the time I arrive, call me ASAP and schedule a reshoot.  Doing so may help reduce your cancellation fees, not to mention bring you good karma.  If I arrive before the listing is ready and you want help preparing the listing for a half hour or so, I’d be happy to stay and help for an additional $50.


If you’ve done the things on this list, congratulations!  It wasn’t easy, but now that you are looking around, I bet you are surprised by how much bigger, brighter, and “happier” your place feels.  Sorry, it’s too late to change your mind.  You are selling this listing and you are going to get top dollar for it thanks to your hard work (and your agent, stagers, landscapers and photographer).  Now just try to stay out of sight while the photographer goes to work photographing your listing.

This is by no means a complete list of everything you’ll have to do, it’s a photographer’s wish list to get you started.   If you don’t do these things before I arrive, your photos won’t be as good, plain and simple.  If you spend the time doing the things suggested on this list, you are going to get much better images and a lot more views by potential buyers.

If you know any clients or agents who may benefit from these pointers, please feel free to download the PDF or forward this list to them.  And if you’ve used my photographic services before, please recommend me!

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