photography methods

Have You Ever Tried Matterport? Is it Even Remotely Safe?!?

Ok, so no...Matterport is not a new futuristic teleportation machine. But I bet you thought that’s where I was going right? As usual… I am speaking real estate lingo here. And yes, it is in fact "remotely" safe!

The Matterport is a camera… a 3D camera to be exact.  This nearly $4,000 camera combines 2D imagery and 3D data to create what they call a “space”. The space is an imagery tour or the ability to fly through physical rooms within (in our case) a home for sale...à la virtual reality! 

The application is amazing and the end product of this photographic process is a “3D Tour” of the home. You get to see every aspect of the house as if you are right there. Flying from room to room, the viewer has the ability to stop and rotate 360° taking in details of the beautiful home from floor to ceiling. 

You can navigate up and down stairs, and the image is so clear you are able to see the finest of details. The Matterport 3D tour of a home is so detailed I have to warn my sellers… “The house has to be spotless!” The camera captures EVERYTHING!

Quite amazing how far we have come from the virtual tours of old. Remember (if you were a Realtor in the early 2000’s you certainly will) the first form of virtual tour? It was a camera on its back mounted on a tripod with its lens pointed to the ceiling. Then the photographer would put a conical shaped mirror that fit over the lens and a picture would be shot… of what was reflected in the conical mirror! Basically a 360° mirror view of the room the camera was in. The end result worked… sometimes. And when it worked, the tour still looked as if you were seeing the room reflected by a distorted funhouse mirror.

 This new format of 3D imagery is a powerful selling tool and it is expensive. The tour cost is based on the home’s square footage and can easily be $400-$600 just for this tour to be produced. It can also be a lengthy process. This type of photography is not quick and takes a good 2 to 2 1/2 hours to shoot a 3500 to 4000 square foot house.

 But is a Matterport tour for every home? No. Personally, and professionally, I do not believe this tour is right for smaller homes. For a more compact home or condo, it can make the experience seem a little cramped and may create a distorted view that the house is smaller than what the buyer is looking for. Also, is this 3D-type of tour good for a house that needs work or at least some TLC? In my opinion… only if the house has a historic feel and has intricate features or unusual rooms to show off.

 There is something else to consider when deciding if your home should have a 3D tour.Are we showing the buyer too much? With all of this high definition photography, unlimited online verbiage, and 3D virtual tours…. What is the real end goal?

To sell the house.

What do we need to sell the house? We need to get the buyer through the front door. Live and in person, the buyers of your home need to experience it in the flesh. All of this carefully executed marketing works its magic when it encourages the buyer to put down the iPad or cell phone and pick up the car keys. There is a fine line to walk between giving buyers an enticing preview that results in a showing versus "virtually" overselling by providing an all-access pass that promotes inactivity.

You can be the judge. Give it a try! Take a look at this 3D Tour of 309 Linden in Oak Park that was created using the Matterport camera by VHT Studios’ photographer, Autumn Latronico.

Selling Your Home? Success is All in The Details.

You want to sell your home. You or your agent comes in… takes some pictures… makes note of the home’s features… and then throws it on the multiple listing service. Heck! those photos may even be by a professional photographer showing your beautiful rooms and lush green and flowering exterior. But is that enough to separate you from all the other homes that got tossed on the multiple listing service that day?

You’ve visited sites like Zillow or… You know how fast you rip through those house photos. What is going to separate you from every other Victorian or Bungalow or Colonial on the market and on those sites?! You (really it is your agent’s job) need to find something in your home that stands out.

 It is my belief that every single home has something special to photographically showcase. Take a look at this door knob photo. The one with all the very intricate details. This was the inside original knob for the homes main front door. It was tiny! Maybe an inch and a half diameter at most.

When I put this house on the market, the clicks I tracked to this knob photo were unbelievable. Higher than any other!

Everything starts with the multiple listing service (MLS). After some unspecified number of hours, that data and all the photos that go with your home will get catapulted out to all the other real estate websites like Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, and more… (If your agent pays for that extra special marketing.)

I preach over and over… “Everything needs to be perfect and completely ready for the moment the listing enters the multiple listing service. The MLS is the catalyst that starts the show… creates the hype… showcases your home's personality… and ultimately brings the buyer or maybe… buyers.

 I like to use door knobs and simple hardware when I list a property. Knobs are easy to shoot as they are at an easy tripod level. And I am not sure why but even in the most simple plain homes I have found beautiful intricate door knobs. I think that if a home has been altered over the years the door hardware is something that hardly ever gets replaced.

This wooden door knob found on the 2nd floor of an Oak Park grand Victorian. Builders often spent the money on precious metals like bronze and brass for the 1st floor where the guests would enter.

Look at the door knob plate behind the wood knob. This is some form of “pot metal” which was just a mixture of whatever metals the metal-smith or caster had available.

It isn’t just door knobs that can be showcased. Get up close and personal with other details in the house. Below is a tile surround on a Victorian fireplace. I rarely see these but when I do they are front and center in the home’s marketing. The photo shot needs to be up close and dramatic. Remember, try to be different and catch the eye of the buyer on the internet. “Click” optimization!!

This particular tile was most likely made by the American Encaustic Tiling Co. out of Zanesville, Ohio. (c.1891) (see

This art-glass window in a South Oak Park home on Kenilworth shows great. Art-glass windows can be difficult to shoot for even the most experienced enthusiast photographers. The bright outdoor sunlight behind the glass and a dark interior will require some post processing.

Some homes are so full of details to shoot you don’t even know where to begin. This was the case for one of my favorite sales… 239 S. Grove, Oak Park. This Farmhouse Victorian was certainly not original on the outside with it’s years of stucco over the original clapboard, but the inside had so much amazing woodwork and added detail.

Even little stuff like this bronze sun face on the stair’s newel post.

Remember, there is more to showcasing a home in this digital age than just a bunch of room photos. Get creative! There are details in your home you take for granted everyday. Details that some buyer is going to absolutely love. Stop. Look.

Try to view these details as a more macro photograph on a website that is showcasing your home. Now experiment with the photography and post processing. Go get the attention of those buyers!

Cropping A Picture Perfect

We take how many photos a year with our digital cameras? Hundreds? Thousands? Do you like them all? No! Every shot does not turn out perfect. So what do you do? Delete the photo?

The next time you think you have an only “OK” shot… go to the cropping feature of your photo editing software and do some experimenting before you delete the photo!!

Ok… so now this is where you say, “Aaaaa… Steve? What photo editing software?” Well, get out your camera’s original box and look for a CD that came with it. Many times the manufacturer has included software that gets loaded on your computer and contains some basic editing features. And let me tell you… cropping is basic.

Now! Take a look at the peacock featured image at the top of the post. Like it? If so then tell all your peeps on your social outlets. I need to get the word out about this blog so help me out please.

Anyway, can you believe that photo came from the original pic that I have given you below? It did. So here is the key to really closely cropping an image almost making it a “macro” photo… image size. The higher the megapixel your digital camera can take a photo the more flexibility you will have to play and crop the picture… to perfect. Because what are you doing when you crop? In essence you are taking scissors and cutting out a good amount of the photo. If the image is large enough then “so what!”… you have more to work with.

So the other day I was shooting a condo to get it ready to go on the market. I step outside to take a photo of the back porch and it is a sunny day and the deck area is set with chairs and it is a beautiful shot!!! Well, I get to my office and look closer at the photo and see that the shot captured a section of the neighbor’s window that has a sign in it “BEWARE OF DOG!!!” Ugh… and I do one of those head drops at my desk in frustration.

 I call my seller and I say, “Hey… we got a problem. How bad is that dog that lives in that condo next to yours? Cujo-like?” And the seller replies heck no! Great dog. And when I ask about the sign the seller says that has been there for years and he is sure the owner has it there as their form of a security system! So the sign gets removed.

 Well, rather than go back to the house and try and create the great shot all over again minus the sign… I cropped it out. In other words I changed or decreased the framing of the photo to leave out the sign. Problem solved. Picture still looks great! See?!?!

Seeing is Believing...but Feeling is Selling

The saying, “Seeing is Believing”.  I like it.  It is true for me.  But when I sell somebody’s home… I do not want the buyer to see the home.  I need the buyer to feel the home. 

I go through great lengths to stage a home’s lighting with the seller before going on the market so that when the buyer walks in the door… they can feel the home… emotionally.  That is what I want… emotional attachment from the moment they enter the home.  Softer lighting is better. Take those energy efficient curly bulb things out and put back the warm glow of incandescent energy suckers!! Create that warm French Bistro atmosphere. Hmmm… If only our homes were still lit by gas lamps!! That would be perfect!!

But how can we get the buyer to feel the home when they are looking online?

Bokeh – The blur or aesthetic quality of the blur in out-of-focus areas of an image. Photographers use this technique all the time to illicit something more of their photos and their subjects. To illicit… feeling. Bokeh can turn a normal completely focused portrait into one that the viewer just cannot take their eyes off. I started experimenting with Bokeh about a year or so ago. Not in terms of real estate photography but just to understand the mechanics.

I came across a great blog that got me started on my way to creating what I needed to be the perfect Bokeh for my home listings.  The name of the blog is The Photographer’s Dream House by Jackie Boldt.  The specific post on Bokeh discussed the four main aspects of achieving desired blur and I was off and running from there.

If you follow my listings or my blog you know I love photographing and featuring details within homes… especially!!!… door knobs!  I discovered that I can feature the knobs and create the feeling in the photograph as well by using Bokeh to blur the background of a master bedroom with a table lamp or blurring the soft light of a kitchen glass door.  

Below… the soft blurred light of the kitchen door in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robert Parker House at 1019 Chicago Ave.

The photo effect helps the buyer feel the rich materials and bright light as well as view the detail in the original hardware.

I didn’t want to just take a photo of the architectural detail or feature I wanted it to be special.  When the buyer looks at one of my listings online I want the photos to make them say, “Honey!! Get the car! We need to go see this house!!!”… not just “Oh… that is a nice home.”