I’m not writing here to win friends and influence people, but to wake up what I believe to be one of the most important industries this country has.

It’s driven our economy for decades, and many other industries such as diy, soft-furnishings, white-goods etc all rely on its success. Truth is, I’m still in love with estate agency but I believe with a passion that it can try harder in at least one specific area – that of property marketing. I’m not being ironic here. Fact is, there are too many agents these days who concentrate too much on marketing their services and not enough on marketing their properties.

Get your property marketing right first, then you’ll have no trouble selling yourselves – and you’ll have something to sell. In fact – unless you can do this, what’s the point in you? If you can’t make your clients’ homes stand out from the competition, aren’t they better off using Tesco? Tough love and help is what I offer to any agent who is brave enough to admit they could do better.

I truly, honestly and passionately believe that many good agents, (the honest, hard-working guys with otherwise viable businesses, who care about their clients and their properties and do an otherwise fantastic job) are simply failing to excel as property professionals because they don’t know how to make their homes stand out from the competition. But in Durrant’s-World, if the good guys ever were to succeed in packaging up all of their own positive qualities with that one missing ingredient, then they would inevitably attract the best properties to sell, as well as the best buyers. Doesn’t it stand to reason that if your photos stand head and shoulders above those of your competition in the portals and advertising pages, then you’ll attract more interest in your properties and in your Company?

I’m the first to admit that photography scares a lot of people. For some reason it scares estate agents more than most. But the first thing you need to know is that to take a great property photo you don’t have to be an old, sandal-wearing, pipe-smoking fat bloke with a beard, (like me [except I don’t smoke]). Really, anyone can take a great interior photo with the right equipment, a positive mental attitude, maybe a little training and definitely the right kit.

So, what does the ‘right equipment’ look like?

Well, normally it doesn’t come in pink, neither does it have a tiny in-built flash; and it won’t fit in your handbag, not even if you’re a lady. And the other bad news is that to kit yourself out from scratch with brand new equipment, you’re going to be north of a thousand pounds lighter in your pocket area. However, you’ll be better equipped to do your job professionally – you are in the property marketing business, remember? This is one of the most important tools you have at your disposal. You will also LOOK more professional than the guy who whips his pink snapper out of his trouser pocket and is gone in less than 30 seconds.

The best equipment for the job would be an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera – I’d suggest an entry-level Canon 1100D with 18-55mm lens – costing around £260 inc. VAT, currently. Shop around – try Wex andwww.1stcameras.com, both are sites I use often. I’ve also heard that John Lewis can be very accommodating on price if you’re buying several cameras – it might be worth asking.

The term SLR just tells you that you can fit different lenses to your camera. Maybe, you want to zoom right in to a subject, (for example, you might want to stand on one side of a green and be able to zoom into a house on the other edge, showing the grass/trees/duckpond etc, and still see the house at a decent, zoomed-in size). For this you’d need a telephoto (long focal length) lens. Or alternatively, you could use a very wide angle (short focal length) lens that’ll help you photograph an elevation from behind a hedge. The very-wide-angle will also enable you take decent bathroom photos – really important if your client has just spent a fortune on a major refit. Very-wide-angle lenses are your best option for 95% of interior shots.

Another important SLR advantage is that you can fit a bounce-head flashgun into the camera’s hot shoe (many compacts don’t have these), which correctly used will enable you to light your interiors much more attractively than you’re likely able to do with built-in flash. I’ll tell you how in a later article.

The Canon 700D is another option you might like to consider. Its main advantage is  a flip screen which will save you having to buy the right-angled viewfinder, see below. Also, to be certain you’re focussed where you want to be, you can use the zoom function with the flip screen and manually focus. In fairness you can do this with a non-flip screen too – but you’ll have to have really good knees to get down behind the camera to see the screen properly. When you’re Googling to buy a camera you’ll see that some appear to be significantly cheaper than others. If you’re VAT registered make sure that the price quoted is inclusive of VAT. Some sites seem not to charge VAT, but when you compare their price with that of a site that does, you could find that you’re better off paying the higher price and recovering the VAT if that gives you a lower net price.

 

Canon 700D with flip screen

Canon 700D with flip screen

If buying new, the lens I’d suggest you fit to the 1100D would be a Sigma 10-20mm zoom lens – currently just under £350 inc VAT. There are two versions of this, confusingly, get the cheaper one – the 4.5-5.6 – since you’ll be using a tripod most times and won’t need the faster 3.5 aperture. At the widest end, the 10mm focal length gives you a similar field of view to a 16mm lens on a 35mm film camera. It’s not that important for you to know this right now, but if you need a reference point to your old film photography days and you’re growing a beard then you might find it interesting.

As an alternative – consider Canon’s own 10-22mm lens as a second-hand option – or brand new if you can afford it (over £600 new I believe). I find that with this lens distortion is significantly lower than the Sigma’s. As someone who also doctors photos for estate agents, I take an interest in what equipment they’re using and I can see that Tokina is another popular make, possibly because of its price, but I’ve noted even more significant distortion than you’ll get with the Sigma. If you can find a pristine Canon 10-22 second-hand for the same price as you would a new Sigma, I’d suggest you go for that. You’ll be happy you did. If you can’t then get Sigma over Tokina any day of the week.

(Update on the update) Canon’s new 10-18mm lens is priced at around £250 and has been well received – see this review.

To be honest, I don’t see much point in spending more.

Image stabilised. Well received lens. Less pricey than the competition.

Image stabilised. Well received lens. Less pricey than the competition.

Other pieces of essential kit for property photography include:

A bounce-head flashgun
You don’t have to buy Canon’s own all-singing/all-dancing 580 Speedlite at £370 or thereabouts. You can get away with a powerful second-hand flash from your camera shop. Expect to pay around £70-£100. Just make sure that it’s powerful, that it has a ‘bounce head’ (so that you can point the flashy bit up at the ceiling) and that you can at least manually control its output. You should also make sure that it’s not so old that it fries your camera’s circuitry. Another alternative might be the Nissin Di866 flashgun. I’ve not experienced that yet but the reviews have been excellent and it’s around £200 compared to Canon’s own Speedlite 580EX II’s £360!

Canon's Speenlite 580EX Flashgun

Canon Speedlite 580EX-II Flashgun

NEWSFLASH

I recently discovered this alternative to the own-make flash guns and, no surprises, it’s Chinese, it’s a make called Yongnuo. You can buy the Yongnuo Speedlight 560 II on Amazon for less than £50!

They come as Manual and Automated (EX) flashes. I have the Manual version and it’s great, especially when used with off-camera triggers, but I’ve no idea whether the auto version is as good. I’ve no reason to expect otherwise.

Yognuo also make the off-camera triggers, so for the same money as you’d pay for a Canon fully-automated flashgun, you could have a multiple strobe setup creating light all around the room you’re shooting. In truth, most times you’ll need only the one light, which when correctly bounced and balanced by the aperture you’re using, will give you a nice even exposure. Expect to pay between £25 and £40 depending on how many receivers you’re buying in your kit.

 

A good STURDY tripod

Personally I favour productivity above price. In other words, I’d rather use a tripod that’s expensive and that allows me to extend and retract the legs quickly and easily, than pay peanuts and spend ages fiddling with knobs. But then, I take a lot of photos so you might disagree. You’re allowed to disagree, but if you value your time then take a good look at the Manfrotto 458B at around £264 inc VAT. You can pull its legs out faster than you pulled them off spiders when you were five, but unlike spiders’ legs these retract again at the push of buttons on the top of each leg. Fit onto this a Manfrotto 2221 Joystick Grip Action Head for around £79 and you’ll have a platform for your camera that’s steadier than a butler’s hand carrying his master’s finest port. All that said, you can of course buy much cheaper tripods and if that suits your pocket right now then you may as well do that. You can’t really go wrong with Ebay for tripods. There’s not a lot to go wrong with them – just make sure it’s sturdy and won’t collapse the first time you use it.

Manfrotto 458b Tripod

Manfrotto 2221 Grip Action Joystick Head

Cable release 
This is so that when you’re using long exposures and the camera’s on a tripod, you won’t have to touch the camera, so you won’t jog it. You don’t have to buy Canon – there are third-party makes at around twenty-five quid. Just make sure you get one that’s compatible with the camera.

Angle viewfinder
A small gadget that fits onto your camera’s viewfinder. Since most of your interiors should be shot at about waist height, you’ll save your knees from total destruction from getting down to the viewfinder. However, Canon’s own kit is expensive at around £170 – so again there are third-party versions of these that are available – I just Googled ‘right angle viewfinder’ and found one for £37.

Canon Angle Finder C

There’s sensible other stuff you should also get, such as skylight filters to protect the lens front glass, a big enough bag to protect your camera, lenses, flash etc. and a lens pen, which has a neat little brush for getting rid of dust – around £9.

Now that I’ve spent your money, you’ll want to know what the camera’s knobs and dials do. I’ll tell you next time.

This past six months has seen an amazing increase in the use of UAV’s (sometimes called drones) as a way to take aerial photos and video of property for sale.

Some agents are even buying machines themselves in order to show their homes from a different perspective; and while this extra effort is admirable, it is also very probably illegal unless they happen to have permission from the CAA as well as sufficient Public Liability Insurance.

 

Since 2009, anyone flying UAV’s commercially (for example, to take aerial photos of property for sale) has to:

  • be in receipt of formal permission from the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority)
  • be able to supply the CAA with evidence of their competence. If you’re new to the industry you would need to complete a course with someone like Resource UAS.
  • be able to supply sample risk assessments and maintenance schedules as part of an operations manual, and
  • have sufficient Public Liability Insurance cover. (£10M would be a good number)

The CAA Permission is a costly and time-consuming authorisation to acquire, but without it anyone flying these machines commercially is taking a fairly high risk – especially because of the potential to injure or kill someone.

Additionally, if you as an estate agent hire a contractor to take your UAV photos for you then you will also have responsibilities under Health and Safety legislation covering the hire of contractors. You would need to be sure of your contractor’s competence and their qualifications if you do not want to find yourself accountable too in the event of an accident.

That apart, if a UAV flown by someone unqualified and hired or recommended by you falls out of the sky and damages their Bentley, or worse, injures or kills a member of their family, how do you think that would play with your vendor?

The Benefits

It’s easy to understand why the idea of presenting homes using photos taken from the air is so appealing. They provide a completely different perspective on properties offered for sale and they fulfil the highly desirable objective of making homes stand out from the competition on the portals and in other advertising. Also, UAV’s provide the possibility of video which, done correctly, can look really beautiful and will certainly help attract interest in the property being sold.

Credit Photo by Horizon Imaging

For the right properties – generally country houses and the like – their potential is enormous. How else would it be possible in one photo to show the extent of a property that has many acres? And just how would that photo of the house look if taken at height over the centre of the lake?

I know how tempting it is to take the risk and buy a cheap UAV, mount a GoPro camera – small and lightweight – and head out to your clients’ houses in the country for an afternoon’s entertainment shooting from the air. But quite apart from the risks you’d be taking, the likelihood is that you’ll be really disappointed with the results. The GoPro is great for video but because it has an insanely wide angle of view, stills taken with this camera tend to suffer a high level of distortion – where straight lines appear to be curved.

It really is much more sensible to hire a professional to do the job for you (or better still, get your vendor to do the hiring as they’ll benefit from the extra marketing advantage). Professionals fly high-resolution SLR cameras using multi-rotor machines that are designed to carry that kind of load.

Professionals who are any good – such as David Hogg of Horizon Imaging – have the added benefit of using video downlinking so that they can correctly compose their shots from the air – many amateur flyers simply fly blind and hope for the best. I know that David also turns up to his shoots with a full backup rig in case the first one fails – that happens with technology from time to time.

What’s it going to cost?

Prices vary but for an hour’s shoot you (or preferably your vendor) can expect to pay in the region of £350 plus mileage and editing. But weigh this against the advantage that a photo with the kind of impact (see examples below), will provide for the properties that have been shot that way.

When you’re selling a house of (probably) well over £1M, what’s £300 or £400?

Credit Photo by Horizon Imaging

Credit Photo by Horizon Imaging

John Durrant

John Durrant

John Durrant was a partner in an award-winning agency in Woking. He’s been featured on the BBC and in the Sunday Telegraph. John wrote the 12,000-word Guidance on Property Photography for the RICS and today he photographs some of the finest homes in Surrey and West Sussex. Additionally his Doctor Photo business edits/optimises thousands of estate agents’ own photos each month and he travels the UK teaching photography workshops to estate agents.

Read the rest of this entry »

Tips and Settings

July 5th, 2014

A couple of things you could do right now to improve your property photos Read the rest of this entry »

Not many people would try to sell their car without cleaning it out and giving it a good wash so it’s a curious thing that when it comes to houses there are websites dedicated to showing just how bad some people are at presenting their most valuable assets to the market.

It boils down to this: unless you can convince your untidy clients to do a better job preparing their homes for your photos and viewings, you’re likely to spend quite a lot of your money preparing brochures and advertising poorly presented property in the papers and on the portals. And if they don’t sell, you’re going to get all the blame!

I was an agent myself so I know that telling your clients the truth is a little like telling the Emperor he’s wearing no clothes. Nobody wants to risk losing an instruction, especially in this day and age; but there are strategies you can use nevertheless that will still help you win the instruction, and make you look more professional than your competitors because they’d rather waste their money than do the right thing.

The key to this is ‘WIIFM’. Human nature dictates that there’s a ‘What’s in it For Me’ reason behind most people’s actions, even the charitable ones. And the WIIFM that will get your clients to don their Marigolds is that they’ll optimise their selling price if they make the effort.

You need to point out that the first impression everyone will have of their home will be the photos you take. Clients also need to remember that they’re in competition with maybe hundreds of similar homes so the objective is to make theirs stand out enough that the buyers will want to click and view. The more often that happens, the more likely your clients will get sales without having to discount their price.

The soft way into this is to point out the important role photos play in attracting the best interest, and to suggest to your clients that they buy fruit and flowers in time for your photography. This is another way of saying, ‘For the sake of all that is holy, please tidy up’. The theory is that clients wouldn’t spend money on those kinds of accessory without also remembering to empty the sink and make the bed.

Another approach that I’ve used very successfully is to give them a list of things they can do but to let them know that they’re suggestions, not rules – at the same time as pointing out that the photos are the first thing everyone will see when their home hits the market. The idea is to help guide your clients, not dictate to them.

I’ve provided a copy of my leaflet via this link. You’re welcome to plagiarise it or to write your own. What you’ll find is that the vast majority of your clients will thank you because you will have helped them to think of something that many wouldn’t have thought about for themselves.

Believe it or not, most people want to get the best price for their home but they need a professional like you to guide them.

The word ‘selfies’ being introduced into the Oxford dictionary formally grants status to a highly democratized form of photography. Selfie is a self photograph taken, typically with a hand held device such as a camera phone, and uploaded on to a social networking site. It can be done by anyone, and it requires no special skill or knowledge, not even the knowledge of how a camera works. The user just needs to know how to reach the screen with the camera icon and aim and click. And of course, they need to know how to upload on to a website. Read the rest of this entry »

I was fortunate to be one of a few photographers attending at the Google Campus in London last night to see a pre-launch demonstration of MySweep – which I believe has the potential to revolutionise the way agents show their properties online. Google has its own similar offering but by comparison it’s really clunky. Take a look at the Google ad here and you’ll see what I mean. Read the rest of this entry »