You want to sell your home. You or your agent comes in… takes some pictures… makes note of the home’s features… and then throws it on the multiple listing service. Heck! those photos may even be by a professional photographer showing your beautiful rooms and lush green and flowering exterior. But is that enough to separate you from all the other homes that got tossed on the multiple listing service that day? You’ve visited sites like Trulia or Realtor.com… You know how fast you rip through those house photos. What is going to separate you from every other Victorian or Bungalow or Colonial on the market and on those sites?! You (really it is your agent’s job) need to find something in your home that stands out.
It is my belief that every single home has something special to photographically showcase. Take a look at the very top door knob photo. (Those of you who subscribe to this blog by email need to click the actual link to view the whole blog. Sorry, WordPress has no fix for this yet.) The one with all the very intricate details. This was the inside original knob for the homes main front door. It was tiny! Maybe an inch and a half diameter at most. But when I put this house on the market the clicks I tracked to that photo were unbelievable. Higher than any other.
Original glass door knob in the colonial at 1140 Edmer, Oak Park.
Everything starts with the multiple listing service. After some unspecified number of hours that data and all the photos that go with your home will get catapulted out to other websites like Zillow, Trulia, ChicagoTribune.com, Homes.com and more!!… (If your agent pays for that extra special marketing.) I preach over and over… “Everything needs to be perfect and completely ready for the moment the listing enters the multiple listing service. The MLS is the catalyst that starts the show… creates the hype… creates ‘the legend’… and ultimately brings the buyer or maybe… buyers.
I like to use door knobs and simple hardware when I list a property. Knobs are easy to shoot as they are at an easy tripod level. And I am not sure why but even in the most simple plain homes I have found beautiful intricate door knobs. I think that if a home has been altered over the years the door hardware is something that hardly ever gets replaced. Look at the above wooden door knob found only on the 2nd floor of an Oak Park grand Victorian. Builders often spent the money on precious metals like bronze and brass for the 1st floor where the guests would enter. Look at the door knob plate behind the wood knob. This is some form of “pot metal” which was just a mixture of whatever metals the metal-smith or caster had available.
It isn’t just door knobs that can be showcased. Get up close and personal with other details in the house. Above is a tile surround on a Victorian fireplace. This particular tile was most likely made by the American Encaustic Tiling Co. out of Zanesville, Ohio. (c.1891) (see TileHeritage.org) I rarely see these but when I do they are front and center in the home’s marketing. The photo shot needs to be up close and dramatic. Remember, try to be different and catch the eye of the buyer on the internet. “Click” optimization!!
This art-glass window in a South Oak Park home on Kenilworth showed great. Art-glass windows can be difficult to shoot for even the most experienced enthusiast photographers. The bright outdoor sunlight behind the glass and a dark interior will require some post processing.
Some homes are so full of details to shoot you don’t even know where to begin. This was the case for one of my favorite sales… 239 S. Grove, Oak Park. This Farmhouse Victorian was certainly not original on the outside with it’s years of stucco over the original clapboard but the inside had so much amazing woodwork and added detail. Even little stuff like this bronze sun face on the stair’s newel post.
Remember, there is more to showcasing a home in this digital age than just a bunch of room photos. Get creative! There are details in your home you take for granted everyday. Details that some buyer is going to absolutely love. Stop. Look. Try to view these details as a more macro photograph on a website that is showcasing your home. Now experiment with the photography and post processing. Go get the attention of those buyers!
That’s right… I just quoted Yoda from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Well, Yoda said “nine hundred years” not “122” but still… the point is made. Our houses are old! You buy this Victorian built in the late 1800’s or even a brick Colonial built in the 1920’s or 30’s… and the first thing you want to do is start making it look … grand again. Some go about doing that by just gutting the entire place and starting with a clean slate. That is absolutely fine. Did you take the time to stop and look around at what the house has to give you before you do that gut rehab? The homes hardware is the first place I always start.
Our 1891 Oak Park Victorian had drawers built in the closets when we bought the home in 2000. We are only the 3rd owner of this very old home so much was left in original condition or… painted over. The drawers in the closets were made of very inferior grade pine. They were falling apart just looking at them! But we immediately took note of the drawer pulls and saved all we could find. (photo above of original drawer pulls as we found them in 2000)
Then, in 2005 when we decided to renovate our kitchen we knew exactly what pulls were going to go the Amish cabinets. The pulls are not made of any special metal no fancy brass or pewter. They are most likely pot metal. Pot metal was an inexpensive melding of whatever metals were available at the time. The metal had a low melting point so it was easy to form. Here is how the pulls turned out.
After removing any paint with a chemical stripper I usually put the hardware on a 6″ bench grinder fitted with a wire wheel. This takes off any remaining tarnish especially on the solid brass. Now, purists would not like this method of restoration. That’s OK… I am not a purist.
You have to be careful when grinding the hardware. You do NOT want to use the wire wheel on the grinder for things covered in years of paint. You must remove the paint with a liquid or gel stripper solution first. Grinding the paint off creates paint dust and the paint could contain lead. Unfortunately, the same goes for the pot metal. The pot metal is an unknown mixture of metals and could contain small quantities of lead. You need to wear proper eye protection and a dust/particle mask. Some people may think it a good idea to use some form of leather glove while using the grinder. I do NOT do this as I found the gloves can get caught by the wire wheel and get pulled into the grinder. And always after grinding or stripping to the finish you like… coat the hardware in a few layers of clear lacquer before re-installing.
So… the NEX-7 can shoot panoramic. You know… that doesn’t mean that you can only use a pano feature for places like the Grand Canyon? Here is a panoramic shot of the burners in my home’s hot water heat boiler. I had to remove the Burnham’s flame-out shield in order to get this shot. DO NOT TRY THAT AT HOME!
This shot shows us why it is so important to have your boiler or gas forced air furnace checked and cleaned regularly by an HVAC professional. See the blue flame? This is the hottest flame. See the orange flame? Not as hot as blue. The orange flame tells us there are particulates that need to be “cleaned” from the burner pipes. See… the gas we burn in our appliances is not pure. The particulates from the gas build up and can clog the burners. This causes the yellow or orange flames which is not as hot as the blue thus making the boiler less efficient. Regular cleaning can cure this issue and help extend the life of this $5,000+ boiler system.
Clean Your Clothes Dryer Vent Lately?!?!?! You set your clocks back or forward, you may replace your smoke detector batteries, you might even toggle your circuit breakers in the main panel once a year!!… but when was the last time you cleaned the lint entirely out of the vent tubing from the clothes dryer all the way to the outside? Dryer vent lint is extremely combustible and if clogged in the system can cause a fire in the dryer. For those of you with fancy laundry set-ups more is at stake for you. I once witnessed a home inspection where the 2nd floor laundry dryer vented up through the walls, the attic and ultimately out the roof. The vent tubing became detached in the attic and for years the dryer lint was exhausting into the attic and wall cavities. Read more →
For those out there scared of old homes take a look at this. “What the heck am I looking at, Steve?” you say. Well this home was built in 1899! We are situated on the outside north side of the house with 3 layers of siding removed… the original clapboard, a layer of asphalt siding (c.1940) and the current vinyl siding. This view reveals the actual sill plate (solid horizontal wood plank that sits on the top of the foundation aka “mud sill”.) a 2×6 run of wood. And we are talking a real 2inch by 6inch. Today’s “2×6” actually measures 1.5”x5.5”. The condition of this sill is amazing after more than 100 years! Moisture is detected but no rot whatsoever! Put the siding back and re-grade the dirt keeping moisture away from the house and we are good. Now see the vertical members that go up from the sill? These most likely run as one solid continuous piece of wood (stud) all the way the 2 stories of the house! Cool, huh?!?! Read more →
I have been using digital photography for real estate for the past 14 years… ever since I started with my first firm, Gagliardo Realty in River Forest. Back then… my Nikon Coolpix was something from the future and most agents didn’t even know what the heck that thing was! We didn’t have professionals go and shoot the house’s photos and most firms were still letting the multiple listing service take the photos for the then newly online listing service. You remember those photographs right?!?! The drive-by house photo where the kid in the car sticks out his huge digital camera… slows down to about 5mph and shoots?!?! Awesome. In those days the agent taking their own digital photography of their listings was really “stepping out of the box”.
Today, most firms have professionals take their house photos before going live with the listing. I do as well. But in order to continue to differentiate myself from all the rest I need to step out of the box again. One of those steps is diving into HDR photography or High Dynamic Range imaging. Check out HowToGeek.com for a more thorough explanation but let me give you as simple an explanation here. OK?
The digital sensor in our digital cameras is the thingy that captures whatever it is you are taking a picture of. Our eyes see all the detail of what we are looking at and we are often so amazed at what we see that we must get that photograph! But then we go and look at the picture and go… “Eh… it’s OK.” The photo may not always turn out how you remember you saw it. That is because the sensor thingy is limited in its range of capture. The sensor needs to find the happy medium between the deep detailed shadows and the bright white features of the subject we are shooting. This is what practically all of our cameras are doing… finding the happy medium. This is called Low Dynamic Range imaging… normal.
HDR imaging, in a number of different formats, strives to capture the entire range of exposures into one brilliant photograph. The most common way we can do this is to take a number of photographs of the exact same subject and position using different exposures each time and “merge” them together using special software. The taking of the images will almost always require a tripod. Some fancy cameras, such as my Sony NEX-7, even have in camera HDR ability. The camera itself fires off 3-4 times the same shot and using its own on-board software merges the photos together to bring all the details together in one photograph. Cool, huh?
I can tell you it is not as easy at is seems. The merging of these exposures can create some pretty wild effects more reminiscent of having a bad day in the 60’s rather than producing a fine photograph of a $1.6mil house in River Forest. Take a look at the “Hallway” shot and you see what I mean.
But with some further processing and using Adobe’s Photoshop to get rid of the dust spots on my sensor (so need to get that thing cleaned) I then came up with this warm shot of the same hallway in a vintage condo in Oak Park.
Now, HDR photography real does produce some amazing stuff. This photo below is a compilation or “merging” of a number of different exposures I took of a storm moving out over the Pacific off the shore of a beach in Playa Blanca, Panama. Not only did the merging capture the lights and darks but in processing I noticed the range of blue and grey from the water to sky was incredible.
So how does HDR photography help us sell a house? Well, many of the professional real estate photography companies use HDR imaging when shooting high end or “luxury” properties. Some of these photographers use full-frame digital cameras (very high-end equipment) to take tens of photos of the same room from the same position at different exposure levels. Then, complicated imaging software creates a photo of the room that is so vivid and detailed it almost looks like you could touch the features in the photo. I am just now getting to the point where I can get the results I want from an HDR merging. Below is one of my most successful photos to date. The first shot is just the house how it looks when we take a “normal” digital photograph.
Now take a look at what HDR can do for that same shot. Here, I let the NEX-7 do its own thing with the on-board HDR feature. But then I took another under-exposed shot to get at even deeper darks and shadows. Then I used a Lightroom add-on software to “merge” the two together. A little more post processing to get rid of the car in the driveway and there you go… not a bad shot.
But what about you? Do you really need fancy cameras and HDR imaging software to achieve these same photos? What can you do with the digital camera you already have? German auto maker, Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (BMW to you and me), estimates that the average owner of one if its fine automobiles will only ever experience 60%-70% of the car’s full performance potential. Meaning, when you think you are pushing your BMW M5 hard into the apex of the highway off-ramp clover leaf you actually… are not. The car has the ability to be pushed even further and will still stick to the road like the Formula 1 or LeMans series racer where all that technology came from in the first place. Your digital camera is most likely the same. Do you know what it can really do? Have you gone online and really poured over the manual to see all its features and capabilities? You might be surprised at what it can really do.
I want to start off by immediately stating that every entry… every post you SEE or read on this blog I want you to feel like it was worth even the quickest of glances… even the shortest of visits. Sure… this is MY creative outlet. Yes… I sell homes full-time in the Oak Park/River Forest area of Illinois. I have many passions but this blog is about the photography. I strive to make sure you exit from each post having learned something or at the least you say to yourself, “That shot was cool.”
Some basic info to know about this blog in no particular order…
- I sell homes so 75% of the blog’s content will have to do with homes. And I sell OLD homes because that is what we have here… mostly.
- Many of the posts will have to do with the crazy stuff I find in older homes! You wouldn’t believe what I see… Both beautiful and scary.
- Many times I will post on topics that have nothing to do with homes! I may post a photo that displays some other passion of mine like road cycling or automobile racing or…
- Many times I will pop a photo up here with no verbiage just because I think you followers would enjoy seeing it and maybe it needs no words.
- Unless otherwise stated all photos are mine taken by me.
- Unless otherwise stated all photos are taken using a Sony NEX-7 and an assortment of Sony E-mount lenses and possibly an old Nikkor lens or two affixed to the NEX using a Fotodiox adapter ring. The NEX is a mirrorless compact camera system.
- I use Adobe’s Lightroom software to keep track of my photos and I like to use the same for minor editing. Occasionally I will need to use Adobe’s Photoshop to remove an imperfection or car in the driveway.
So I encourage you to subscribe… follow… and here we go!