Dallas

The Design Of Things

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I thought I would start sharing my week in professional photography with you fine folks. This (hopefully) weekly column will give you an insight into what I am busy with in photography and related matters, things I have discovered and things I am hoping to do. Maybe some opinions too. They won’t be in-depth pieces, but I hope you will enjoy them. 

 

So, at the beginning of April a new chapter opened for me. I am now doing real estate photography for a new realtor that has set up shop in my city. They charge a flat rate of sales commission regardless of the property value, which when compared to traditional agencies is way, way less than the normal 5-8%. They send in a professional photographer (like yours truly), upload the resulting photos and description to their website, advertise on other sites and facilitate both appointments to view the property as well as negotiate any offers received for the seller. They also arrange conveyancing, bank loans and everything in-between. 

 

When a shoot is required I get given the client’s contact details via email. I must make an appointment to do the shoot and then take no fewer than 20 photos of the property, showing all it’s main features. The money from each individual shoot isn’t a lot, but because there are potentially going to be a large number of people opting to sell via these guys the volume will make up for it. I’ve done 8 properties in the first 3 weeks since they opened, but there has also been Easter holidays to contend with, so it’s bound to improve. This past Friday I did 3 in one day! 

 

P4060082-HDR.jpg

 

P3220003-HDR.jpg

 

P4060071-2-HDR.jpg

 

Truth be told I love this kind of photography. I have always loved residential architecture and interior design and you’ll find me visiting Houzz and Apartment Therapy every day to look at the house tours they do. For me getting this work is kind of like winning a jackpot. 

 

Property photography can be challenging though. Some of the houses I have been to photograph have been nothing short of magnificent, while others have been truly abysmal. On the workflow side of things, I have been using the HDR Merge feature in Lightroom made from 3 - 5 exposures, a stop apart. They do need further tweaking once the merge has run, but not that much. The agency only wants images that are 1000px on the long edge, so I have lots of latitude to work with as far as processing goes. 

 

So it didn’t help this week that my iMac is still in for repairs to the hinge mechanism that snapped (a common issue with 27” iMacs). I have been doing my editing on my 13” MacBook Pro using that infernal Dell monitor. It hasn’t been calibrated for ages and I am not sure if the colors are correct, so I dare not fiddle too much with things like white balance in my process. 

 

Another thing currently working against me is that I decided to upgrade Lightroom so that I could see the new Adobe profiles on offer. They’re very nice, but Adobe has also done something incredibly stupid in this latest version. When you hover your cursor over a preset you get an almost immediate rendering of the effect on the main image window. Great if you want to see what the preset will look like on your shot, but terrible if you have a lot of presets and happen to run your cursor across a few of them on your way to the one you want to use. The computer will engage the preview process for each of them and of course the net result is a spinning computer fan and beachball on my MacBook Pro. 

 

Also, the way I have been working for the past heaven knows how many years, is I click the presets I want to use sequentially and assess their effect on the image as I go. For instance, I have Dehaze presets for 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 which makes it a lot faster to chose one than it is to go find the slider and play with that. If I chose one of these and accidentally happen to hover over another one, I am not seeing the effect of the preset I just applied to my image. I have to basically re-wire my brain to use this new edition. 

 

But wait, it gets worse! In their infinite wisdom Adobe have not offered the user any way of switching this preview loader off! Nowhere in the preferences will you find it. Unbelievable! Honestly, sometimes I get the feeling that they are trying to force us away from their own product by introducing poor logic to it. Needless to say when my iMac eventually gets returned to me there is no way I will be running the update to that version of Lightroom Classic CC until they sort this preview business out. 

 

Anyway, back to the business of photographing houses. As any photographer will discover when they undertake a new project, the question of whether you have the right gear for the task comes up. My widest lens for the micro four thirds system is the Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6, which is OK, but in my opinion, it’s just not quite wide enough for small rooms like bathrooms and some other places in small houses. The options I have to remedy this are either I get myself an Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO, or the newer Panasonic-Leica 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0. If you’ve read my review of the Olympus 7-14mm you’ll know I never warmed to that lens. To my eye it looks a bit “off” with the way it renders the extreme wide angle of 114˚ at 7mm. It doesn’t look right to me, so I am not giving it much consideration as a lens for real estate photography. This new Pan-Leica 8-18mm lens however, does look very interesting as an alternative. Not quite as wide, but definitely more versatile than the Olympus as it can accept threaded filters whereas the Olympus can’t. Price wise though, it isn’t looking great as it will cost me a whack to import one via B&H. And then I have no local support or warranty. 

 

P4060042-HDR.jpg

Just not quite wide enough

 

However, there is the option of doing this type of work with my little Canon 200D (SL2 for you American folks) and getting the very cheap but highly rated Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 STM EF-S lens for it. Everything I have read about that lens indicates that it is more than up for real estate work and it costs about $250 here, less than a quarter of the price of either the Pan-Leica or Olympus wide angle options. However…. while I find working with the Canon 200D in pseudo mirrorless mode using live view and the touch screen pretty easy to do, there is a serious feature limitation with it that might scupper this plan. The AE bracketing feature only allows for 3 frames to be shot at a time. There are some instances, as I mentioned earlier, when I need to bracket up to 5 frames to get a decent spread of exposure range. I’d have to do that manually and while it isn’t difficult to do, it will add a significant amount of time to the job. 

 

If I do this I’ll then be reliant on two different camera systems again, which is not something I enjoy because I’ll have to get more batteries and might be tempted into buying other things too. Decisions, decisions… 

 

Micro Four Thirds definitely needs to look at offering some cheaper wide angle lenses for their system. I wish the likes of Rokinon would bring out a manual focus rectilinear 8mm lens. 

 

OK, so that was last week in photography for me. I look forward to seeing what this week brings and also hearing from you folks.


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The Fuji system has the Fujinon 10-24mm f4 zoom which is very good, and as I’ve seen on other Fuji related fora is popular for real estate photography. 

 

The photos by the way are super! Also I note that high key is very popular with the photogs for the real estate business. But as an observation they do make the rooms a bit clinical!

 

To satisfy a nosy old geezer how much will the house sell for?

 

PS was the cat nailed to the floor?

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Thanks Mike. I have noticed that some of the property related sites (like Apartment Therapy) tend to go for an over-exposed look on their shots. It does appear to look better if your subject matter is more decor related, but for RE I think it's also important to keep the interior and the exterior relationship as harmonious as possible. That big house with the pool in front of it is actually a massive guesthouse and some of the rooms open up completely to show an incredible sea view. This is nearly impossible to photograph in one exposure. Ideally I should be exposing for the exterior and then lighting the room with flash, but realistically this chews up way too much time because you have to be so careful with the position of the flash in the room and the reflections it will give off. Also, the two little Olympus speedlights I have are not powerful enough to do a proper job of this so if I am going to do it that way I will have to bring in the A/C strobes and stands which will totally change the working time. 

 

I'm now also thinking twice about the Canon 10-18mm as it is only 107˚angle of view as opposed to the 100˚ of my Olympus. It'll be wider, but only by 7˚ on a 45˚ axis which I don't think is going to make that much of a difference for me. If the work continues to come in I think the Panasonic 8-18mm is becoming a more likely option later in the year. 

 

Oh, and the cat? He/she was being very co-operative by not moving during the shots! Good cat...

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Hi Dallas...

 

I've been a RE broker since 1968 and had a company handling high end residences.

 

I've had RE photographers take the property shots (not me)

 

They used tripods for the interior shots (longer exposures - poor lighting)

 

Sometimes they would leave & come back when the light was more to their liking

 

I was not interested in what they were doing or equipment... just the results...

 

Allow me a few comments about the shots above...

 

I see too much lens distortion 2 & 3 (3 is passable)... maybe a longer lens & step back if you can

 

Remember you are not taking inventory pictures... you're not there to show everything.. but just the best look possible (may mean excluding things)

 

The new buyers will throw out the shitty furniture not pictured...

 

Good luck in your new endeavor 

 

Rags

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Rags, thanks for the input. I can produce a lot better results, but as I said, the money paid for these images isn't at the level where I can spend more than 45 minutes making 20 photos of a property, regardless of what's in it. Hopefully I will at some point start to get commissions where I can spend more time making the photos and begin looking at a different clientele, but for now, it's just a simple job that has to do. 

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Sounds good...

 

You might like to adopt the thinking I had ..."beneficial vignettes"

 

Rags

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The fashion here is to shoot the external shots just around dusk, so that the interior lights brighten the windows, but there is still enough light for the outside.  However, that is something that would be limited to one (or if you and the client are early risers, two) properties a day.  Sounds like your budgets wouldn't cover that, but it could work as a 'premium' option.

 

 

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The cheapest people in the world? Realtors... (well, around these woods anyway). 

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8 hours ago, Dallas said:

The cheapest people in the world? Realtors... (well, around these woods anyway). 

I agree...

 

As a RE Broker for 40 yrs; Owners never wanted to pay for promos in my experience

 

Realtors don't get a salary so why should they put out dollars to put lipstick on a pig;

 

For a "potential" commission on an overpriced listing... (it's complicated...)

 

Just take the best shots you can, because that's your resume....

 

Rags

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Dallas, Are you familiar with the Photo Merge>Pano > Perspective Projection available in Lightroom?  The Perspective setting in Pano can sometimes replace a wider lens with two shots from a narrower lens.  I've had good success with the Perspective Projection particularly for vertically-oriented shots that need a taller field of view. Perfect for stationary subjects.

Example( in 24x36 focal lengths ):

A straight level shot horizontally-oriented with a 21mm lens, combined with a second shot from exactly the same spot but tilted up, combined in Merge>Pano>Perspective will give you a straight-line, taller, 16mm F.L.-equivalent shot that mimics somewhat the effect of a view camera's rising front.

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I have tried the panorama feature before, but not for interiors. I will definitely give it a shot, thanks Keith. 

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Or as described in an article I posted in December 2015... works inside or out.

 

 

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15 hours ago, pluton said:

Dallas, Are you familiar with the Photo Merge>Pano > Perspective Projection available in Lightroom?  The Perspective setting in Pano can sometimes replace a wider lens with two shots from a narrower lens.  I've had good success with the Perspective Projection particularly for vertically-oriented shots that need a taller field of view. Perfect for stationary subjects.

Example( in 24x36 focal lengths ):

A straight level shot horizontally-oriented with a 21mm lens, combined with a second shot from exactly the same spot but tilted up, combined in Merge>Pano>Perspective will give you a straight-line, taller, 16mm F.L.-equivalent shot that mimics somewhat the effect of a view camera's rising front.

Keith this is a hellava idea

 

Soon I have to shot hotel rooms and this interior panorama stitch sounds like it might work

 

thanks for the tip

 

Rags

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Dallas,

It has been too long since I visited Fotozones.  I am very happy to see an article such as this, exactly a reason to come back.  I will likely never get paid to do real estate photography, but I picked up a couple of ideas that I can use elsewhere.  I do use the Panorama stitch feature in Lightroom, but it never occurred to me to use it inside.  I have also had tremendous results using the in camera HDR merge with the Olympus cameras, maybe another option to try?

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Thanks Greg, great to see you back. :) 

 

I have tried the HDR modes on the E-M1 but I think that Lightroom does a much better job than the camera does. So on my most recent shoot (Friday) I started using the exposure bracketing feature on the camera instead of manually changing the EV up and down. For scenes that have a lot of dynamic range, like shooting towards bright windows, I use the 5EV bracketing setting and for less extreme DR I use the 3EV range. They work really well - don't know why I didn't use them before. The only thing is the 5EV option really over-exposes and the camera doesn't give you any indication that it is still exposing or when it has finished with the final frame, so on the last shoot there were a couple of instances where I moved the tripod while it was still busy, resulting in silent curses and a re-do. 

 

P4130027-HDR.jpg

This is a Lightroom blend of 5 exposures. 

 

Earlier today I tried Alan's method of tilt-shift and using a stitching program to maybe try and get a bit wider angle indoors, but both the PTGui demo I downloaded and Lightroom made a hash of the straight lines. From the comments in that same article (which I had embarrassingly forgotten about - sorry Alan!) and the link to the PTGui site with its instructional videos, I also learned something about the importance of avoiding parallax by using the nodal point of a lens when making panos and what a panoramic head is actually used for. This was something I had previously had no idea about, so even old farts like me are learning new things. :D 

 

While I need to figure out a better method of shooting for indoor stitching, I will definitely try this method for outside shots next time I get an RE job. 

 

 

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The pano head comes into its own when doing accurate stitching of many photos. For a simple two or three shot assembly allow at least a third of the image as overlap and concentrate on moving yourself rather than swinging the camera - i.e. concentrate on keeping the lens in its original position. These two things will usually combine to provide a near-enough positioning of the nodal point for stitching successfully. Errors can still occur, (you can see that in the repetitive horizontal lines of weatherboards in the shot of the school building which obviously confused the software), but for most subjects it works just fine, gives you straight lines and an undistorted image.

 

Like all things, a bit of practice soon develops the correct technique. If you're serious about shooting grand interiors, though, you'll need a proper pano head (like a Nodal Ninja) and spend time noting the correct lens position for various focal lengths for seamless stitching of several rows of photos. Another thing to note is that prime lenses are preferable - they distort less (particularly as the focal length gets wider) and as such provide less of a challenge for the stitching software, and completely avoid the possibility of an accidental focal length switch mid-panorama (usually caused by bumping the zoom ring while focusing). As use the camera with manual focus so it doesn't AF to a different point in the subsequent shot/s, something that will also wreck stitching, particularly at wider apertures.

Edited by Alan7140
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Thanks for the advice, Alan. I will definitely keep on trying. Sadly there are no rectilinear primes in the 8-10mm range for MFT. Yet. 

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3 hours ago, Dallas said:

Thanks for the advice, Alan. I will definitely keep on trying. Sadly there are no rectilinear primes in the 8-10mm range for MFT. Yet. 

 

Affordable, modern, and US$500:

Laowa 7.5mm f/2.0 rectilinear M4/3

 

Adorama eBay, description:

Laowa 7.5mm f/2 MFT 
This lens is currently the widest rectilinear lens currently in the market for Micro Four Thirds Cameras. It gives an field of view equivalent to 15mm lenses in 35mm sensors. This allows MFT users to enjoy an impressive 110° ultra wide angle of view for a wide range of shooting needs despite the 2x crop factor. The wide angle of view and ultra-fast aperture are extremely valuable for astro-photography. This lens is super compact and lightweight for casual on-the-go use. A ultra-light version is also available for aerial photography usage."

 

or slightly less wide, plenty of Soviet lenses to suit M4/3 adaptation as I mentioned in that Blackmagic post of yours last Thursday, i.e:

Mir-11M 2/12 rectilinear

 

My experience is that there's nothing to fear from this old Soviet glass - maybe it's not up to current micro-super-nano-whatever lenses, but given the degree of software processing available to us these days they're perfectly OK for common uses when also using a bit of brain muscle during taking (like, don't go looking for strong backlit or sun-in-shot scenes).

 

:):) 

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Seems like a job for a full-frame camera....that 2X crop factor is working hard against you.....

 

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Dallas --

 

These images are a huge step-up from what I see our local realtors using. The majority of the houses for sale in our area have asking prices of USD 800k to USD 3M. Yet, all but a few of the listings are marketed with images clearly shot with a point and shoot (1" sensor at best). Too, the local RE community seems to have discovered the "clarity" control (or unsharp mask) and just simply push that slider to 100%. Gives the images a unique look -- loads of sharpening artifacts. All this for commission rates usually set at 6% of selling price.

 

Any work a professional can do is bound to make the marketed home stand out. Good luck to you in this endeavor.

 

Frank

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Thank you, Frank and Alan! 

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      Another thing currently working against me is that I decided to upgrade Lightroom so that I could see the new Adobe profiles on offer. They’re very nice, but Adobe has also done something incredibly stupid in this latest version. When you hover your cursor over a preset you get an almost immediate rendering of the effect on the main image window. Great if you want to see what the preset will look like on your shot, but terrible if you have a lot of presets and happen to run your cursor across a few of them on your way to the one you want to use. The computer will engage the preview process for each of them and of course the net result is a spinning computer fan and beachball on my MacBook Pro. 
       
      Also, the way I have been working for the past heaven knows how many years, is I click the presets I want to use sequentially and assess their effect on the image as I go. For instance, I have Dehaze presets for 10, 20, 30, 40 and 50 which makes it a lot faster to chose one than it is to go find the slider and play with that. If I chose one of these and accidentally happen to hover over another one, I am not seeing the effect of the preset I just applied to my image. I have to basically re-wire my brain to use this new edition. 
       
      But wait, it gets worse! In their infinite wisdom Adobe have not offered the user any way of switching this preview loader off! Nowhere in the preferences will you find it. Unbelievable! Honestly, sometimes I get the feeling that they are trying to force us away from their own product by introducing poor logic to it. Needless to say when my iMac eventually gets returned to me there is no way I will be running the update to that version of Lightroom Classic CC until they sort this preview business out. 
       
      Anyway, back to the business of photographing houses. As any photographer will discover when they undertake a new project, the question of whether you have the right gear for the task comes up. My widest lens for the micro four thirds system is the Olympus 9-18mm f/4-5.6, which is OK, but in my opinion, it’s just not quite wide enough for small rooms like bathrooms and some other places in small houses. The options I have to remedy this are either I get myself an Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO, or the newer Panasonic-Leica 8-18mm f/2.8-4.0. If you’ve read my review of the Olympus 7-14mm you’ll know I never warmed to that lens. To my eye it looks a bit “off” with the way it renders the extreme wide angle of 114˚ at 7mm. It doesn’t look right to me, so I am not giving it much consideration as a lens for real estate photography. This new Pan-Leica 8-18mm lens however, does look very interesting as an alternative. Not quite as wide, but definitely more versatile than the Olympus as it can accept threaded filters whereas the Olympus can’t. Price wise though, it isn’t looking great as it will cost me a whack to import one via B&H. And then I have no local support or warranty. 
       

      Just not quite wide enough
       
      However, there is the option of doing this type of work with my little Canon 200D (SL2 for you American folks) and getting the very cheap but highly rated Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 STM EF-S lens for it. Everything I have read about that lens indicates that it is more than up for real estate work and it costs about $250 here, less than a quarter of the price of either the Pan-Leica or Olympus wide angle options. However…. while I find working with the Canon 200D in pseudo mirrorless mode using live view and the touch screen pretty easy to do, there is a serious feature limitation with it that might scupper this plan. The AE bracketing feature only allows for 3 frames to be shot at a time. There are some instances, as I mentioned earlier, when I need to bracket up to 5 frames to get a decent spread of exposure range. I’d have to do that manually and while it isn’t difficult to do, it will add a significant amount of time to the job. 
       
      If I do this I’ll then be reliant on two different camera systems again, which is not something I enjoy because I’ll have to get more batteries and might be tempted into buying other things too. Decisions, decisions… 
       
      Micro Four Thirds definitely needs to look at offering some cheaper wide angle lenses for their system. I wish the likes of Rokinon would bring out a manual focus rectilinear 8mm lens. 
       
      OK, so that was last week in photography for me. I look forward to seeing what this week brings and also hearing from you folks.