Advice on taking knockout real estate photos from a Pulitzer-winning photographer

There’s a finality about selling a house that is in some respects like a death.

Ever notice how some folks never gaze at the dearly departed at a wake. They think it’s kind of creepy and cringe when they hear others tell the widow, “He looks great.”


He doesn’t look great. He looks dead.

But kneeling, head down at the altar at a recent wake, there is something that catches my eye.

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The clicker.

Yes, the deceased is most definitely clutching the TV remote control in his folded hands.

“He used to say, ‘The only way you’ll get this remote is to pry it from my cold, dead fingers,’ ” the widow explained.


She loves him so much she lets him take it to his final resting place.

Now what on earth does this have to do with real estate?

Well, the widow told me she wanted to sell her house and hoped a photojournalist would shoot the pictures.

I was honored.

Now everybody knows there are many tricks homeowners use at the open house — like baking chocolate chip cookies, mulling cider on the stove, or putting a drop of vanilla on the light bulbs to appeal to the senses. But they overlook the important first step: the real estate photos. This is a big mistake. Many people skimp on photography, preferring to do it themselves. It makes no sense. They are saving a couple of hundred dollars on hundreds of thousands of dollars of potential sale.

Ahh, but you probably won’t listen to this logic.


Because in America, everyone who has a cellphone thinks they are a professional photographer.

They are not.

So if you are not going to listen, then at least follow this one piece of advice: Don’t use your iPhone; it’s a wrong number. It’s the visual equivalent of a robocall while you are having dinner. Dust off the 35mm camera, walk around your property, and look for the best angle.

Think of yourself as an artist. If you are selling your own house, pretend you are a National Geographic photographer on assignment. Shoot exteriors only in the golden light, the time around sunrise and sunset when the lighting is dramatic. You have the home court advantage, so use it.

Take for example this home in the Squantum section of Quincy pictured on the cover at sunset. If you shoot it head on, you won’t even see the water at the bottom of the street. At 7 a.m., however, the second floor is ablaze with the reflecting sunrise and the deck is heavenly. You don’t even need to show the whole house. If you shoot it right, they will come.

It’s not just about location, location, location.

Put a little fun in the photos. If you love the cardinal that stops by to eat berries every day, shoot a picture with a telephoto lens. If the trees outside the living room window make it feel like a forest, capture that scene before the leaves fall.

Shooting the interiors is more demanding. Real estate agents say buyers want to see decluttered spaces. Unfortunately, that is why my house will never be for sale. But for most neatniks, that means putting on an ultra-wide angle (a 16mm or 18mm) and showing as much of the interior as possible.

Try for a dominant foreground and avoid tilting the camera to minimize distortion. Never, ever use straight flash. Instead, bounce the flash off the ceiling to provide a softer, more balanced light, or shoot when the light outside is equal to the light inside. This may mean using a tripod for a slow shutter speed or refraining from drinking while on the job to ensure a steady hand.

Houses aren’t sterile, they have personalities and people live in them. My friend’s house sold quickly because it was a fine home that gave off good vibes. Your assignment is to capture all that you loved about your house on film. If you do this properly, there will soon be another family there, making their own memories and searching between the couch cushions for the remote control.

Stan Grossfeld can be reached at

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