If a picture is worth a thousand words then video is worth one million. High quality pictures and video are more important now than ever in today’s Real Estate Market. Whether you are an interior designer, home stager or real estate agent this guide teach you everything you need to know to make expert quality video, even if you are just now starting.
For this reason I have created the Ultimate Guide to real estate video & photography to provide you with a solid foundation needed to begin incorporating video marketing into your business. We will cover everything in-depth from selecting a camera, lenses to shooting techniques for interiors and exteriors of homes. I will layout all the steps needed to create video with a beautiful cinematic look to bring your home to life.
Just a word of caution before we begin. This is an in-depth guide, that will show you how to shoot professional grade real estate video and photography. Because of that we will need to cover some of the foundations of cameras and lenses and everything in between. The fundamentals are necessary if you want to do the fun stuff with high quality. Some of the information might seem confusing or complicated at first, but read through the guide a few times and practice in the real world. And before long you will notice a huge difference. In addition, most of the tips in the guide are applicable to both video and photography so I have only differentiated between the two where necessary.
Now, let’s get this started!
Video the Secret Ingredient in Real Estate?
Before we begin, let’s take a moment to examine the bigger picture. How can incorporating high quality photographs and video make a difference in your business? Instead of trying to explain it, just look at the before and after images below. The before picture was taken with my Ipad4, the after picture was taken with a Panasonic GH4 professional camera. It has made a big difference in my business as a real estate agent in the Dallas and Fort Worth area, it adds a lot of value to the transaction and clients recognize that. You should see the big smile on their faces when I show up with my camera gear to shoot their home! Let’s face it, real estate is a visual medium so lets embrace it!
Which do you think will garner more attention from buyers, help you secure more listings, generate more traffic at open houses and produce more offers and ultimately sell your house for more? The choice is obvious, high quality video and photographs bring your home to life.
When it comes to selecting a camera body there is a lot of information to sort through from manufacturer (Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Sony etc.) to camera mount type. For the purposes of real estate video & photography however, these details are not as important. What is important is your budget. What I have done is compiled a list of recommended cameras in ascending order based on price below.
It’s important that you do not blow your whole budget on the camera body alone, but leave additional funds to buy quality lenses and equipment as well. Even entry level DSLR cameras such as the Canon Rebel t3i can produce fantastic, clean and professional results if you take the time to implement the tips in this guide!
How many MegaPixels?
This is another common question that I am asked that people get hung up on. The sweet spot for Megapixels(mp) in my opinion is around 16. Once you get over that, the files become large to store and processing time starts to become a concern. To give you an idea, you can print huge stills with 16mp at fantastic quality. In other words, unless you are shooting photos that will end up plastered on billboard ads, you really don’t need more than 16MP.
For real estate videos & photography specifically, you have to think, where will your content end up? Most of the time the answer will be on the internet, whether its a video tour of a home or pictures on your pinterest. Even if you were to buy the latest and greatest camera with a high MP count, if you are publishing online, it will be compressed. So think of where your content is going to be delivered to. Speaking of video, platforms we will use for video hosting online such as Youtube or Vimeo are mostly supporting only 1080p at the time of this writing. Although you can upload 4k video to Vimeo or Youtube, the vast majority of consumers do not have a 4k compatible TV or Monitor yet. At 1080p that means we are only using 2 megapixels per second at that resolution for video. However with the introduction of 4k, video can now reach about 8 megapixels per second, but not all online platforms support this yet. The only camera with an affordable price tag that supports 4k video at this moment is the Panasonics GH4, the last camera on the list above. Hopefully you can see why having 16mp is more than enough, so lets move onto the next part.
Lens Focal Length
Lenses, often referred to as glass in the photography world, are a critical component to the final end product of your images and video. This is because glass directly impacts the Image Quality(IQ) of your images and video. Lenses come in different lengths called the Focal Length, which influences what types of shots the lens is best suited for. Focal length is not a measurement of the actual lens itself, rather it’s a measurement of the magnification of the lens expressed in millimeters. So the higher the millimeters the more magnified the image is. Focal lengths can generally be put into three groups based on field of view, or how much of your scene is visible within the lens. The three groups are:
1. Wide Angle Lenses 0mm to 30mm – Optimal for architecture, real estate, landscape, or environmental work. Wide angle lenses can also distort perspective. For example if you try interview someone close up, you probably do not want to use a wide angle lens. In addition, wider lenses have a tougher time achieving pleasing bokeh (more on this later, but this is not very important for real estate specifically).
2. Mid Range 30mm to 80mm – good for everyday stuff, street, candid etc. If you haven’t guessed already wide angle lenses will be the primary lens type we use in real estate photography & video.
3. Telephoto (aka long lenses) 80mm to Infinity – Best used for fashion, glamour, portraiture, sports, wildlife etc. Longer lenses can help you achieve a better depth of field effect and are well known for creating pleasing bokeh.
*Note wide angle lenses tend to exaggerate the distance between objects while long lenses compress the distance between subject and foreground and other objects in the scene. Also note shakiness when free hand shooting is greatly exaggerated with a long lens vs. a wide angle lens (although for professional shots you shoot be using a tripod).
All of this probably sounds like a foreign language to you right now, and if your head is spinning stick with me and I promise you will develop a greater understanding. For now, just know for the purpose of filming and taking photos and video for real estate we will mostly be using wide angle lenses in the 18 mm to 30mm focal length group. You don’t want to go too wide or the distortion becomes too great (fish eye). But we want to go wide enough to showcase the interior spaces of the property in a pleasing and complementary way.
The aperture is a series of blades within the lens that controls how open the lens is and how much light will come in and hit the sensor of your camera. In other words, the openness of your aperture influences how exposed the image is. The openness of the aperture is measured in a degree of measurement referred to as an fstop. Fstop is in a numerical scale as shown below, each stop doubles the amount of light received. In real estate we want to showcase the house in a welcoming way that makes people excited to look at it. Because of this you will want to shoot with whats considered a fast aperture. That means a lens with a maximum aperture of f2.8 or lower. This will allow lots of natural light to come into the camera and really make your interiors look amazing. A fast lens also requires less light to register an image (handy if you want to take any dusk / night shots of a homes exterior).
It’s a bit unintuitive at first, but the smaller the fstop, the more open the lens is (letting in more light). Conversely the larger the fstop, the more narrow the lens become (letting less light coming in). Take a look at the graph below and get a feel for how open the aperture is at a given fstop.
It is also important to understand the concept of stopping down, which is basically just a fancy word meaning your decreasing the size of your aperture (less incoming light) . When people say one stop down it means less light, for example stopping down from f/4 to f/8. Stopping down can help benefit your images by: increasing depth of field, help balance natural light and can occasionally improve image quality and remove any optical aberrations. But this is a little bit more advanced of a concept so lets move on to the next item.
Depth of field
is a direct byproduct of lens aperture. When it comes to real estate videos, we want a nice cinematic look. This is accomplished partly by having a shallow depth of field, which is a result of the aperture settings. A wide (fast) aperture of 2.8 or greater will typically provide a nice shallow depth of field and also let in a lot of light.This is why we want an open aperture in real estate, it reduces the in-focus areas of the shot and creates a sense of depth or layers. On the other hand, as the lens aperture contracts and narrows, the depth of field shrinks. Controlling the aperture will become fundamental skill later when we start filming.
The widest the aperture will open classifies how fast or slow the aperture is. If a lens has an aperture of 2.8 or lower it is considered to be a “fast” aperture that will produce a nice depth of field. The below shot from a home staging we did helps demonstrate this concept. Notice how the candles are in focus, and everything else is out of focus. It creates a nice depth to the image.
Each camera body has a mount that is engineered to have a specific lens type fit into it, like a lego piece. The mount allows you to change the lenses on the camera, which is what makes modern day DSLRs and Micro 4/3rds cameras so powerful. The mount type of the camera and lens must match to fit them together. If your lens and camera body do not have matching mount types, you will not be able to use them together without using a lens adapter, but we will cover this later on. Different manufacturers typically have their own mount type, some of the more common Mount types you might run into are listed below.
Cannon EF-S: Common mount created for Canon DSLR cameras.
Nikon F & G: Common mount created for Nikon DSLR cameras.
Micro 4/3rds System: A standard mount system created by Olympus and Panasonic.
You can figure out what mount type a camera or lens supports by viewing the specifications overview of the product.
When you are shopping for lenses the information will often be presented in short hand. For example you might be browsing and see a Tokina 11-16/2.8 listed. Let’s take a moment to decode this photography speak. Tokina is the manufacturer of the lens, so nothing more to say there. The 11-16 is the focal length of the lens expressed in millimeters. Note the range of focal lengths indicates this is a zoom lens (variable focal lengths). The 2.8 is the MAXIMUM aperture of the lens, or how wide the aperture can open. Please note some lenses can have a non-variable aperture lens. This mean the aperture will always remain the same size and will not change even if you zoom the lens. Because of this non-variable aperture lenses are very desirable when filming and that is what I recommend you buy for real estate photography and video. To get a better idea of what the different numbers and marks mean on your lens I highly suggest reading through this guide on Digital-Photography-School.com.
Prime Lenses vs. Zoom Lenses
When it comes to lenses there are two types, prime and zoom. A prime lens has a fixed focal length and cannot zoom in or out. For example a 50mm lens. A zoom lens has a range of focal lengths for example 11-16mm. Not being able to zoom your lens may sounds like a disadvantage at first but Primes are usually lighter, have wider apertures available, and have better image quality for the price. This is because engineering a zoom lens that works well at a range of focal lengths is more complex. When you are first starting out I recommend sticking with a zoom lenses, as it will give you some room to play with the various focal lengths to see what suites you best and help cover multiple shooting scenarios. However, once you are more experienced and discover what works best for you, then you can feel free to experiment and buy some primes if you so desire.
Select a Manual Focus Lens
For video you will not want to rely on auto focus. When we are shooting video in real estate, you want to make sure the lens you purchase supports a manual focus ring. Thankfully, manual focusing with a wide angle lens is very easy. In general any non-autofocus lens will be manual focus by default obviously.
A lens might also be Focus-by-wire as well, which provides no tactile feedback unlike a manual focus ring and is generally not preferred when shooting video, so I recommend avoiding lenses like this. Just another thing I want you to be aware of when lens shopping.
PLEASE NOTE remember to TURN OFF the auto focus on your camera before you adjust the focus ring on your lens manually. If you turn the focus ring while auto focus is enabled you can permanently damage the gears inside your lens!
Focus to Infinity
This is indicated by the ∞ sign on the lens. In a practical sense it means the plane of sharp focus is very far away. At larger apertures, the foreground and middle ground will be out of focus.
Just because you purchased a 50mm lens does not mean you are getting a 50mm field of view. The reason for this is the Crop Factor of your camera body. Crop factor is directly influenced by how large your camera sensor is, and the fact of the matter is sensors come in a wide variety of sizes. We will cover the most common sensor sizes here: full frame, APS-C and Micro 4/3rds.
Sensor size is all expressed relative to a 35mm piece of film strip. So if a camera is full frame that means its sensor is identical in size to a 35mm piece of film. The same size, 1 to 1. Your lens throws a circle of light onto the sensor and when the the sensor size becomes smaller, less of the image is taken in, which effectively zooms and crops your image. The amount of zooming, or cropping that is taking place depends on how large the sensor is. This is especially important to understand in real estate video and photography, because many of the lenses we will be using are wide angle. Wide angle lenses are much more sensitive to crop factors. So please, take a moment to read this information several times and to work through the examples provided. Check out the image below that illustrates how crop factor effectively crops and zooms your image.
When you are looking at lenses to purchase the focal length is expressed in terms of a full frame 35mm film strip. For example if you are shopping for a lens and see a 50mm, it is only 50mm if the camera is full frame. You have to apply your cameras crop factor to find to figure out the effective focal length of your lens. You can do so by following this simple formula below:
Focal Length of Lens x Crop factor of the sensor = Effective Focal Length
Full Frame Crop Factor = x1
ASP-C Crop Factor = x1.6
Micro 4/3rds = x2
*Please note these are general numbers, please refer to the specifications page of the camera you purchase to figure out what its exact crop factor is. For example the Panasonic GH4 is a micro 4/3rds camera but it has a 2.3x crop factor in 4k video mode.
Now lets work through some examples using this formula.
Example: Lets say we are looking online to buy a 25mm wide angle lens for real estate. We will see how the effective focal length of the lens changes as we use different camera sensor sizes.
1. Canon EOS 6D (Full Frame sensor) = crop factor of 1x = 1 x 25 = 25mm effective focal length
2. Canon 70d (ASP-C sensor) = crop factor of 1.6x = 1.6 x 25 = 40mm effective focal length
3. Panasonic GH4 (Micro 4/3rds sensor) = crop factor of 2.3x = 2.3 x 25 = 57.5 effective focal length
Notice how in the first example with the Canon EOS 6D how the effective focal length does not change. Again that is because focal length is expressed in terms of a full frame 35mm camera, and guess what, the Canon EOS 6D is a full frame camera, so this makes sense. While in other examples the crop factor makes this wide angle lens into more of a mid range lens which isn’t as useful in real estate video for showcasing home interiors or showing off the size of a backyard.
Neutral Density Filter (ND Filter)
In simple terms, think of an ND filter as sunglasses for your lens. Neutral Density Filters help us manage excessive light, which is very important for shooting the exteriors of a home especially on a sunny day, and can even be useful when shooting interiors as well. If you want a shallow depth of field and are shooting with a wide open aperture (f2.8 or lower) on a bright sunny day, your image is going to be blown out.
If its too bright to shoot with an open aperture on a sunny day place an ND filter on your lens. The density, or the amount of light NDs filter out, is usually fixed to 1 stop increments. An ND filter is so important, they allow you to control exposure without having to tamper with ISO, aperture or shutter speed (things that we will get to later don’t worry!). And when filming, shutter speed is often fixed, as is aperture (since we typically will want non-variable apertures as mentioned earlier). This is why ND filters are so important, we can still keep our aperture nice and open for that fantastic shallow depth of field on a bright sunny day, but adjust exposure using an ND filter so our images are not blown out and have nice exposure levels. You can get them very cheap as well for instance the Fotga ND variable slim fader, which you can pick up for about $20.
Variable ND filters they typically have a series of marks on the filter that corresponds to a ND notation and f-stop reduction. Please see the image to the left hand side (From wikipedia ND Filter Rating)
*Note due to the curvature of some lenses, filters cannot be screwed on, check the specifications of the page of the lens to ensure it can support filters. Also check the Filter Thread of your camera to make sure you have a filter that will fit your lens. Most lenses have a symbol called a ligature (appears as a circle with a strike through it) that indicate the diameter of your filter thread size. So if the filter thread on your lens is 67 then the ND filter must have the same filter thread as well, or it won’t fit. Also ND filters will sometimes cause color distortion, this can be help avoided by achieving proper white balance (which we will discuss in-depth later).
In simple terms think of a lens hood as a hat for your lens. Its the equivalent of shading your eyes with your hat on a bright day. This helps your shots look clearer and sharper. It also prevents stray light from hitting the lens and causing lens flare.Typically you will see a petal shaped hood for wide angle lenses as shown in the figure to the left. The Lens hood also helps protect your glass element in the event that you drop the camera or bump it into something.
Two types of adapters out there smart adapters and dummy adapters. Smart adapters allow your camera to communicate with a lens electronically (controlling auto focus, aperture, etc. directly with the camera). These are usually very expensive and require external power.
Dummy Adapters are the more common. These simply adapt one lens mount to another (with varying degrees of quality out there). For video in real estate, dummy adapters are fine because we want to control things like focus manually anyways. If you decide to purchase an adapter I highly recommend the Metabones line.
For example if you have a micro 4/3rds based camera mount, and want to use a lens made for m42 mounts, simply buy a dummy adapter for m42 to micro 4/3rds.
In addition, if you are using a dummy adapter, make sure to set a custom setting within your camera menu. The setting is called “Shoot w/o Lens” you want to turn this setting on as shown in the settings below. Otherwise you will not be able to shoot with your adapted lens at all.
Lens adapters (mentioned above) allow you to use lenses from older camera mounts as well such as FD, M42, MD which often have high quality glass and can be purchased at a steep discount. Adapters also allow you to adapt any existing lenses that you may already have. Another more advanced concept but I want you to be aware that its there.
Some lenses support image stabilization. As the name implies it was created to help stabilize the image and prevent camera shake while filming. Really though, you should never rely on image stabilization for video, but I wanted to cover it in this guide just to be thorough. Internal lens stabilization was never designed for video use, it was originally created to cancel out wind and handheld shake from stills photography. It may help with some with minor movements, but cannot be relied upon to provide smooth looking video.
There are two types of Image Stabilization, in body, and in lens. Some cameras (Such as the Panasonic GH4) do NOT have in body stabilization. If you want it, you will have to get a lens that has it. If a camera body has in body stabilization then any lens attached to it will have it as well regardless of if the lens is stabilizing or not
Lens vignetting is an undesirable effect that can sometimes occur when you use an adapter to mount a non native lens. It typically occurs when you go under the native crop factor a lens was designed for. For example if you have a lens designed for a ASP-C sensors, and then you reduce your crop factor from ASP-C native 1.6x to 1.4x you will likely see some vignetting. Many lenses which have noticeable vignetting when wide open will not have vignetting when stopped down a couple of stops. It’s a symptom that usually only shows up at widest apertures.
Moiré and Aliasing
Moiré is an unpleasant pattern that appears on surfaces with repetitious patterns and is a result of the cameras sensor. In a practical sense Moiré is problematic, especially in real estate, because of patterns on the exterior of homes, namely bricks. Moiré also show up on your shirt if it has a repetitive pattern (such as stripes or a fine texture), and it can be quit the eyesore in your otherwise picture perfect video listing presentation. Different cameras handle Moiré differently, on some cameras its basically nonexistent, on others it can be very noticeable.
As I mentioned earlier, Bokeh is not absolutely critical to real estate video or photography, but to be thorough I wanted to go and explain what it is. Bokeh is simply the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out of focus areas of an image produced by the lens. Using a classic example below we can see a pleasing bokeh shape (circular) for the out of focus Christmas lights.
Sliders, Tripods and Heads Oh my!
We are not finished with gear just yet. In addition to lenses and a camera body we will need a slider, tripod and a few other pieces of equipment to capture beautiful and captivating real estate footage.
Adding movement to your shots really enhances its ability to tell a story. And what better way is there to entice a buyer to check out your new listing than telling a story about their potential new home? Camera movement allows the audience to feel engaged by creating dynamic scenes with a cinematic feel. It also provides the audience with a perspective that moves through space.
A few things to mention about sliders though. They are very sensitive to dust and debris so maintain them properly by keeping the rails clean and to lubricate it prior to every use using oil seals(they should come with your slider). I suggest a slider around 31 inches in length at least, as that should cover the majority of the shots you will need in real estate. In a few more sections we will cover some of the more common real estate shot types using a slider and that’s when the real fun begins!
Oh, and if your slider ever starts to stick as you move your camera across it consider using lemon pledge to make it slide like brand new again. Sounds weird, but lemon pledge does a really great job. It doesn’t leave any residue and has a pleasant smell. Just spray a little bit on before your shoot and it will work like brand new!
When it comes to tripods you want something sturdy that will not flex under the weight of a camera and slider. In addition, it is important to note tripods come in two varieties: flat base or half ball. You want to MAKE SURE you select a flat base tripod, because most sliders cannot connect to half ball tripods. It will state in the slider product page what system the tripod uses, so please make a note of it.
Fluid Head Tripod Mount
A “fluid” tripod head is just a marketing term for a smooth pan/tilt. The tripod head is what the camera body will directly attach to using a mounting plate. If your mounting plate has a gold pin where the lens rests, don’t worry. This is a vanishing pin, and in some cameras there is a hole for it to snap it into to keep it stable. An example of an affordable tripod head that I recommend would be the Manfrotto 128RC.
Getting the Data on your Computer with a Card Reader
A card reader is more of a convenience and isn’t absolutely required; however, they are cheap and very convenient. A card reader allows you to easily transfer the files from your camera to your computer. If you do not use a card reader you would have to tether your camera to the computer via a USB cable and make sure the camera is powered on draining its battery life during file transfer. Something simple and cheap like this Delkin Universal Card Reader will suffice.
Getting Proper Exposure by Mastering Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO
At the core of shooting professional footage is achieving proper exposure (aka brightness levels). You want to master the art of exposure by capturing footage that doesn’t have blowout highlights or crushing shadows, this is done by balancing act between: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Its a bit of an art and science. You won’t be able to just read this information and instantly be a master at it. Instead, soak in some of these tips and go practice doing a few shoots and see what happens.
Shutter speed is measured in units of time in fractions of one second. If you slow down shutter speed you will increase exposure (brightness), because you are letting in more light due to the shutter being open for longer periods of time. For real estate video just remember this general rule, whatever frame rate you are recording at, double that number for shutter speed. In real estate we typically will be shooting at 24 frames per second, so doubling that number is 48. Most cameras do not have a 1/48th of a second shutter speed, but most do have a 1/50th so pick this and your set.
Keep this in the back of your mind as well, the longer your shutter is open, the more exposed the image will be. As the length of time it is open becomes shorter, it receives less exposure (darker). That’s really all you need to know about shutter speed for now.
ISO is a value that refers to the sensitivity of a cameras sensor to light. It’s based on a numerical value, the lower your ISO value, the less sensitive it is to light. The higher the ISO the more sensitive it becomes to light. The trade off is the higher the ISO becomes the more digital noise is added to the picture or video. Digital noise usually appears as a pattern of circular or granular features. A common reason to bump ISO is if you are shooting at night or in low light conditions. In real estate video, this is not something we usually need to worry about as much. But do not, we want to let in as much natural light as possible. In addition, shoot with lamps and other light fixtures on with natural light coming in and it will make for a better end product.
Keep in mind, the more open your aperture, the more exposed your image will be because you are letting more light in at once. The more closed the aperture, the less exposed (darker) it will because you are letting in less light. The openness of your aperture will also influence depth of field. Check out the section we covered at the beginning of this guide if you need a recap. But the gist of it is, in real estate we generally want to shoot with an open aperture as it will let more light in and make the interior space look more welcoming.
The difference between the brightest and darkest portions of your scene is referred to as dynamic range. The default camera settings when shooting creates high contrast footage, and that might work for you. But the downside is it doesn’t give you any room to adjust in post. That is why for video we typically record with a flat profile. Shooting flat gives us room in post to edit the footage. We actually want a flat washed out image when we record video. This ensures we preserve as much detail as possible in the highlights and shadows.
You want a nice subtle gradation from white to darker tones, but in digital cameras if you blow out the highlights the tones instantly drop off and can be next to impossible to fix in post production.
Camera settings for Photography & Shooting RAW
When shooting still images you have a few methods for the format your image is saved. The decision on which format to shoot in basically hinges on this basic question. Do you want to potentially process the photos you are about to take? If yes, shoot RAW. If not shoot JPEG, if you are not sure you can always shoot RAW + JPEG.
RAW If you intend to edit your photos in post, shoot RAW. RAW is raw sensor data, meaning you have a lot of room to play with the data in post. Some cameras also allow for mRaw and sRAW (which are smaller file sizes). Also note, if you ever really need a JPG of a photo you can usually process it in the camera and produce a JPG.
JPG If you do not intend to edit your images in post, shoot JPG. It takes up less room on your SD card.
RAW + JPG With this option enabled your camera will store two files per image, one RAW and one JPG. Be warned, this method will quickly eat up space on your SD card.
Some older cameras can shoot images as a TIFF but these tend to be older luxury point and shoot cameras and or higher end studio cameras.
Camera settings for Video
For shooting real estate video my preference is to shoot with the Cine Style. My best suggestion is to experiment with the settings and see what grants you the best desired result. Flat profiles generally let you take full advantage of the Dynamic Range of most cameras, but if you’re in an environment where it isn’t critical (or you do not have the ability/desire to adjust the video in post) I can’t see a reason not to shoot in a more natural picture profile.
How to Shoot Flat
If you are wanting to color grade your footage or make any adjustments in post, I recommend shooting flat. To shoot flat, turn down the sharpness and contrast completely, and then decrease saturation a little bit. There is no magic settings you can apply for every shot or every camera, you will need to experiment a little bit depending on your camera and its available settings.
Some cameras have a feature called peaking, which can be pretty useful. What it does is displays a pattern of dots that tells you whether subject is in focus or not. This can be pretty handy because sometimes its difficult to see whats in focus or not with a tiny LCD monitor.
Is a way of easily seeing areas of your image that might be over- or under-exposed; the camera overlays a pattern of zebra-stripes on areas of focus, making them immediately evident (it can be difficult to tell sometimes when looking through your viewfinder or LCD screen ). For whatever reason, relatively few video-capable ILCs offer this feature, but it’s a standard one in dedicated video equipment that pro video shooters rely on heavily. Panasonic’s new GH4 is one of the few cameras that has this feature built in.
The histogram is a read out of the luminance or brightness levels of your shot. From left to right we have shadows, midtones and highlights. The height of the graph in that area show how much of that particular luminance rate you have, so this histogram suggests a very dark shadows and not much highlights. Using histogram can help balance your image and prevent blowing out highlights or crushing shadows. In general you don’t want your histogram stacked too high on the far right (blown out highlights) or too far on the left (crushing shadows). Its something that comes a bit with practice.
Cameras can have a hard time figuring out what “pure white” is. The camera will usually have a bias towards one color, for example a green or blue tint, too warm or too cool. The white balance is the process by which the camera interprets pure white. Once pure white is determined, these cameras are built to then represent all colors accurately. Most camera settings come with various built in presets for white balance such as tungsten. In general, especially if you are new, setting the white balance to auto is usually fine.
But to get the most dynamic range possible for your shot, you want to find pure white yourself using custom white balance not let the camera determine it for you. First determine which source of light is dominant, whether its light from a window, the sun or a lamp. Next, place your gray card underneath or in that light. Make sure the gray card is in the center of the frame so the sensor can find it and snap a photo. Once you do that, go to the custom white balance option in your camera and choose the picture you just took and the camera will calibrate itself.
White balance is not something you should wait to fix in post.
Now for the fun stuff. Now that you have an understanding of the fundamentals of real estate video and photography, we can start shooting. Here are some general quick tips to really help bring your homes to life and help achieve that cinematic look and feel.
- Shoot with the curtains back letting in natural light
- Turn on lamps and light fixtures
- Make the space feel alive! Turn ceiling fans on, allow faucets to run, fire places, candles lit etc.
- Move through the space in a logical manner that helps guide the viewer. You don’t want to be on the patio in one scene and in the very next in the master bathroom.
- Do not zoom in or out while shooting. Instead take multiple shots of the same object/scene
- Before taking a shot, make sure your camera and tripod are level and the exposure is set correctly.
Tell A Story
Video is one of the best mediums to tell a story, so use it to your advantage. Take the time to film sweeping establishing shots that show the scale of the house or building. Guide the viewer through the home, show them what it’s like to live in this space. Show off the scenic gardens in the back yard, what it’s like to relax on the patio or cuddle up by the fire place in the living room on a cold day.
Make the Space Feel Alive
I see a lot of home interior video that looks a little, stale, too pristine and looks like no one has ever lived in it. To get away from that sterile feel I love to make the spaces I film feel alive. There are a few cool little tricks that I will share with you to help accomplish that. Peel the curtains back and let the sun shine through, or if it’s a nice day, consider opening the windows and letting a slight breeze blow through. If it’s during the winter consider lighting the fire place or some candles. A few other good tips would be to turn on water faucets, ceiling fans and light fixtures. All of this will help add a sense of movement and a dynamic feeling to your videos that make them feel alive.
Natural Light is Key
When it comes to video, having adequate exposure is very important. Not only for the feeling of the scene but from a technical point of view. Often times when filming professional interior scenes we will want to color grade the footage or edit it in some way in post-production. To get the best results, the image must be adequately exposed. This can be done by shooting with a wide open fast aperture (f1 to f2.8). In addition, turn on all of the other lights in the house as well (light fixtures, lamps etc.). It will look really crisp and clean as different edges of the architecture reflect the light as you guide your camera through.
Camera Movement & Transitional Shots:
Guiding your camera through the space of a home is all about the movement, and how the shots are put together. So I have put together the four most common shots that I use. Really 99% of my shots are using one of the methods below or a slight variation of it. When you piece these types of shots together it really helps create for dynamic footage that looks professional. Remember, you will need the gear mentioned in this guide to establish shots like this (slider, fluid tripod head).
You want to try and piece all these individual sequences together to make a harmonious blend of transitions. From a sweeping establishing shot, to a zoom in through the living room.
When used sparingly, it can add a lot of visual interest to your shots.
Bread and butter shot right here. You can slide from left to right, or right to left, very versatile and will be used quite a bit.
The Down Shift
Great for establishing shots or exterior shots showing the home outside.
Really helps the viewer move through the space and get a feel for what the room is really like inside.
This is where your fluid tripod head will come in handy. Detach your slider from the tripod and attach your camera directly to the fluid header. Move in a fluid 180 degree arc from corner of the room to the other. This is an excellent establishing shot and can add a lot of interest to your screen transitions.
PHEW, that was a lot of information to cover. I know its a lot to take in, especially if you are completely new to photography. But remember, just read through this guide a few times and take notes. Every time you do so you will learn something new, or a part that was previously confusing will become more clear. But more importantly, as you read through this (and once you buy a camera) start to practice along with the guide implementing some of the tips I suggest. You will start to improve very quickly, all the images on this page were produced by me following the exact guidelines outlined in this guide. So go forth, practice and have the confidence that can produce results just like this. If you need any help feel free to reach out to me.