One cold, rainy day I took my iPad to my favorite café and spent an hour searching for a short-term rental in Santa Fe. It’s a popular destination, so there were tons of listings. But my eye was immediately drawn to the listings with the best photos. I wanted to see what the places looked like before I bothered to read the descriptions.
It’s a good bet that everyone does the same when searching for a home exchange or a short-term rental. The single most important thing you can do to attract guests is to take great photos that make your home stand out from the competition. Not only will you get more clicks, the photos often make the difference between a guest choosing your place over someone else’s.
You don’t need to hire a professional photographer. All you need to take great photos that attract guests to your listing is a decent camera or a good camera on your smartphone and some planning.
Photo Tip #1. Set the Scene
Taking great photos starts well before you pick up the camera. What people see in the photos gives them a strong impression of how well the home is cared for, so you may need to do a little work to show your home at its best.
Do a good cleaning and clear away the clutter
Unwashed dishes? Crumpled bathroom towels? Unmade beds? Leftover pizza on the coffee table? Yecch! People who don’t care enough to clean and straighten up their home before taking photos are not the kinds of hosts I want to deal with.
- In the bedrooms. Make the beds, put away clothes and shoes, and clear off the tops of dressers and nightstands. If you plan to show the inside of closets, fold your sweaters and line up your shoes.
- In the bathrooms. Remove hairbrushes, razors, toothbrushes, shampoo bottles, cosmetics, and other personal items from the sink counter. Put out a fresh bar of soap and hang fresh towels. And make sure the toilet lid is down!
- In the kitchen. Put dishes away or stash them out of sight in the dishwasher. Clear off the countertops as much as you can. If you leave a coffeemaker or other small appliances, arrange them neatly. It’s fine to leave a teakettle on the stove but anything that will show in the photos must be clean and neat.
- In the living areas. Straighten up shelves, fireplace mantles, coffee tables, and end tables. Remove any coffee cups and glasses you’ve left out. Put away or straighten magazines, books, newspapers, and remote control devices. Arrange throw pillows neatly on the sofa and chairs. If you have kids, you can leave some toys visible (a train set is always nice) to show that yours is a family-friendly home. But even parents can be put off by toys strewn willy-nilly around the house. (Ever stepped on a bunch of Legos in the middle of the night?) Put toys on shelves or in baskets, or arrange them neatly.
Photo tip #2. Add personal touches
Flowers, a nice breakfast with a newspaper, wine and cheese on the deck, a book or two on the nightstand or next to the easy chair, an open laptop on the dining table, a neatly folded throw on the sofa, a musical instrument, or a half-finished puzzle in the sunroom – those little touches help people envision themselves actually living in the home. So once you’ve cleared away the clutter, put a little of it back – neatly, of course!
Photo Tip #2. Think about the lighting
If your photos are too dark, you might as well not bother taking them at all. Not only do dark photos make even the most beautiful home seem gloomy, they force people to guess at the details.
Avoid using a flash because it makes photos seem unnatural. Instead, try to take photos on a day when you have good natural light through the windows. Sunny days are best, as long as you’re careful about glare and avoid pointing the camera directly at windows.
Take a few practice shots to see whether there is enough light. If not, turn on some lamps and wall sconces. Except in kitchens and bathrooms, avoid overhead lights which can create harsh shadows. Use a tripod to keep phone (or camera) still so your photos aren’t blurry.
Photo tip #3. Envision your photos as a home tour
A good set of great photos “walks” people around your home: “Here’s the living room, with full-size sofa, two armchairs, bookshelf….the master bedroom with king-sized bed, two nightstands with reading lamps….the kids’ room with bunk beds and a play area ….the den with 42” TV and entertainment center….the kitchen with gas stove, microwave, full-size fridge, and eating area….the master bath with walk-in shower, the kids’ bath with tub….”
Okay, so your home doesn’t have all those things. But let me see what it does have.
A couple of notes: Don’t use one of those fish-eye lenses that distort photos by stretching them out, implying that the space is larger than it is. Also, take photos in landscape (horizontal) not portrait (vertical) view because they’ll show more detail and look better on the listing site.
Use different angles and show all parts of the home
Now that you no longer have to worry about wasting film (remember film?), shoot away. Take several photos of every room and space, using different angles to show the relationships between parts of the rooms and between the rooms. Show the shower and tub, the eating area in the kitchen alcove, the way the bathroom comes right off the master bedroom, and the counter separating the kitchen from the living/dining area. Don’t forget hallways, stairs, and, possibly, closets – anything you’d show a visitor on a tour.
Highlight your home’s special features
Stone fireplaces, high ceilings, artwork, an eat-in kitchen, newly remodeled bathrooms, a pool, a wrap-around deck: these are all selling points. Even comfortable easy chairs and a well-stocked bookshelf could be the tipping point for some travelers. Think about what you love about your home, and try to capture those features in your photos.
Show the amenities
Amenities can make the difference when choosing a place to stay. Your photos should show the key amenities you mention in your description or check-off list. For example, photos of the living room or den should include shots of the television and entertainment center. Kitchen photos should show the stove, fridge, microwave, and dishwasher. Don’t forget the washer and dryer, if you have them. Travelers, especially those with children, always appreciate being able to do laundry so they don’t have to pack as much.
Take photos of the outdoor areas
Most travelers prize outdoor space. Include photos of your balcony, deck, patio, garden, and/or backyard. Show the barbecue, patio set, play structures, basketball hoops, hot tub…anything that might interest potential guests.
Guests also like to see what the exterior of the home looks like. If you live in a private home, take a few photos of the front porch, the walkway, and the front door. For apartments, it’s nice to include a photo of the building, the lobby, and/or the hallway with elevator and front door. You might include a few photos of the immediate neighborhood. For example, on our condo listing, we have an exterior photo of Whole Foods that takes up a corner of our building.
Include a floor plan
A floor plan isn’t a photo, of course. But a PDF of a floor plan is a good addition to your photo array. It doesn’t have to be to scale or look as if it was professionally drawn, as long as it shows the layout.
Photo Tip #4. Cull and edit
Now that you have lots of photos to choose from, cull them ruthlessly. It’s helpful to show a room from different angles, but guests do not need five photos showing essentially the same thing. Each photo should give travelers new, specific information about your home.
With the idea of a house tour in mind, select those photos that best show everything your guests might want or need to see, and no more. Once you’ve selected the 20 or so photos to use (the number depends on your listing site’s limits), examine each photo carefully to see whether you can improve it by cropping it or making it lighter or darker. You probably already have the editing software you’ll need; if not, inexpensive editing tools are readily available.
Photo Tip #5. Add captions that tell guests what they are looking at
An informative caption describes what the photos show: “Vintage kitchen”; “Second bathroom with tub and shower,” “Front garden.” To instantly convey the feeling of living in your home, you can personalize some of the captions: “You’ll sleep like a baby in our brand-new queen-sized bed,” or “Enjoy leisurely breakfasts in our sunroom overlooking the marsh.”
Visit the website houzz.com to see more ideas for taking great photos of your home. You’ll also find photo-taking tips on many short-term rental and home exchange listing sites.
What draws your eye to a home listing on a home exchange or short-term rental site? Do you have other advice for hosts on how to take photos that make their home stand out? Please share them with us in the comments or on our Facebook page.