This is a guest post from Brian and Kati of Overlooked2Overbooked.com, a website dedicated to turning you into a professional photographer with nothing more than your smartphone and a few editing techniques. Even though this article is for beginners and has only the basic tools and functions, as you go through this article, I think you may feel overwhelmed. That’s ok. Just read, internalize, and promise me that you will take one tip from this article and apply it to one new photo. Then, come back in a couple weeks and take another tip and apply to another photo. Every new tip you internalize sets you just a little bit ahead of your competition.
Special Note: Brian and Kati will be answering any comments that come in related to taking photos with your camera phone.
To say that great photos of your space are valuable is an understatement. They’re the first thing prospective guests look at when considering a property on Airbnb and what will eventually make or break their decision to book your space. – Airbnb
- Part of taking great photos is staging the room to maximize the image
- You may want to purchase a tripod, microfiber cloth, and wide-angle lens attachment (recommendations below)
- Using a camera app, take a photo of each angle. You’ll choose the best later
- The HDR setting is your best friend
- For outdoor shots, the sun should always be behind you
- Using Snapseed app, apply minor editing where needed.
We wholeheartedly agree with the quote above. But in our experience, that has not translated into universally attractive listing photos.
No judgment. We get it. No one stumbles into being a lawyer or a dentist. But many Airbnb hosts got into the business without background training or education in sales, marketing, interior design, photography, or any of the other myriad skills necessary to run a successful Airbnb business.
The good news is producing great photos for your listing isn’t as hard as you might think, but it does require a bit of effort and some planning.
This chapter will unleash the full potential of your camera phone and your photography abilities. We will explain how to stage your listing, how to use the most important camera settings on your phone, and how to edit these photos.
How to Clean and Stage
You must present your space in the best possible light (pun intended). No, you are not deceiving the guest by making the space look its best any more than you’re deceiving the dentist by flossing just before your appointment. The goal is to get your space looking great all the time, so start with prepping for your photo shoot.
Decorating doesn’t have to be expensive. If you’re short on art, flower vases, or decorative bowls, visit a thrift store. Used books,
magazines, and games are a perfect way to fill in a bookcase and give your guests some entertainment. Every room is staged differently and there are key points to remember for each.
OptimizeMyAirbnb.com Remote Interior Design Recommendation: Decorilla
Kitchens & Bathrooms
- Pay attention to shiny surfaces because water stains can jump out in photos.
- Display only essentials in a bathroom, like hand soap and rolled up towels.
- Close the toilet seat.
- In the kitchen, organize loose items, like spices or tea and coffee containers.
- Remove dishes, dish racks, and sponges.
- Show off attractive amenities, but don’t leave countertops looking cluttered.
- Set up a bowl of fruit or flowers on a table, or a bottle of wine with some glasses.
- Take any pillows or blankets and stage your couch and chairs for comfort as if to invite guests to rest there.
- Turn on a fireplace if you’ve got it.
- Lay a book on the coffee table.
- Keep the TV off, it’s hard to make it look good for a photo while on.
- Hide any wires.
- Make sure windows are clean.
- If you have a balcony or a terrace, open the doors.
- Clean windows and straighten curtains.
- Minimize bedding wrinkles by pulling on each corner instead of smoothing them out with your hand.
- Stack pillows in layers.
- Stage a few rolled up towels, maybe with soaps, at the foot of the bed.
- Open doors to a balcony.
Balcony/ Terrace / Pool
This is the place to wow guests and emphasize relaxation.
- Make your amenities and outdoor spaces look presentable and inviting.
- Brush off leaves, grab a book, a towel, and a drink to stage a sun chair by the pool.
- Add a couple cushions to deck stairs and showcase a clean barbeque, if you have it.
How to Become a Whiz with your Camera (in less than an hour)
The most important tool for taking great photos is the photographer. The person using the camera should know enough about it so it is insignificant what kind of camera they are using.
First, download one of the following camera phone apps:
These will help you start with the best possible base and minimize editing as you’ll be starting with proper functionality. If not already on, turn on a grid with two vertical and two horizontal lines.
Exposure and Focus
It’s important that you know how to control the exposure (brightness) of your photos and that your photos are sharp and in focus. On many phones, the most basic way to adjust exposure and focus is to click on the screen of the device and a little icon appears. This tells the camera “I want this part to be bright and in focus” and the camera will adjust accordingly.
White balance is the camera’s ability to present colors in the photo as they appear in real life. Generally, the auto white balance (AWB) function in most cameras is good enough to automatically evaluate the image and not make it too blue or yellow. But if something goes haywire, find your White Balance setting and check if your preset is wrong. In the settings, you’ll often find presets like ‘a sunny day’, ‘an overcast day’, and some options for adjusting to indoor lamps. These adjustments can be quite drastic, so the safest bet is to stay in auto mode. Any change you make from AWB shows up immediately on the screen.
Lock Your Look
When shooting in auto mode, the camera adjusts for exposure, focus, and white balance every time you move the camera. Sometimes, you’ll want to override those settings and lock in what you think looks good.
In devices without specialty camera settings, you can do this by tapping and holding on the screen. An icon should appear that tells the exposure and focus you chose are now ‘locked in’. You may also see a little lock icon. Now when you move the camera, it won’t constantly re-adjust.
HDR: stands for High Dynamic Range
HDR is your best friend. It is a setting with which you combine multiple exposures, from dark to bright, and merge them into one image. This way, you get to keep the details visible in both the highlights and the shadows of your image. Ever see a photo where you can’t see what’s outside of the window, but the actual room looks great? HDR attempts to fix that so you can see the view.
Phones and photo apps come with an HDR mode, so if you have it, by all means, use it. This helps bring down things like bright windows, while “lifting” the shadows, like a dark room.
How to Execute a Successful Vacation Rental Photo Shoot
The number one thing that creates pleasant photos and minimizes the time you have to spend editing them is working with available light. Don’t shoot against the sun. Use the sun as a light source by keeping it behind you.
This tip is especially helpful outdoors. This way, the sun will help light the subject for you instead of beaming straight into the lens creating harsh contrasts and a hazy image.
When indoors, avoid aiming straight at windows when bright sunlight is coming in. Camera lenses can’t handle the contrast between bright windows and a dark room.
Our favorite kinds of days for shooting interiors are partly cloudy days. The clouds help mute the sunlight and make views through windows easier to capture while still creating bright rooms.
When you begin taking photos inside, turn on all the lights and open doors. Open the curtains, and maybe a window where appropriate. Open doors not only let in more light and help connect spaces, but they also create an inviting atmosphere.
Wipe your camera lens with a microfiber cloth. Any that you use on your glasses will work. You’d be surprised how much we touch the lens accidentally and even a little bit of dirt or grease from fingers can wreak havoc on photo quality.
The three biggest mistakes people make when taking photos are:
- They step too far into the room.
- Lift the camera to eye level.
- Point the camera down at furniture.
These errors result in cropped photos that make rooms look small and uninviting.
- Step back as far as possible in a given room, maybe even outside the room, until something like a door frame comes in view.
- Lower the camera to about waist level.
- Point straight ahead into the room, not down.
These three steps make rooms appear larger and give guests a better idea of what the space looks like. These steps also keep vertical lines in the photo straight (vertical lines converging make a room look small).
Another way to add depth and character to a room is to aim your camera at the corners of the room. As you tuck into one corner of the room, aim for the opposite corner. Remember to keep your camera low. So low in fact, that you may want to kneel down to get a better view. But not so low that you can see under cabinets or tables.
If something, like a kitchen island is blocking your view try to find a better angle. And if that doesn’t work, lift the camera a little and point it slightly downwards. We’ll straighten those converging lines later. Pull lighter items, like chairs, out of the way when necessary.
Take a photo from every angle in a given room to have more options later. Keep in mind the best angle of a room might not be where you enter.
In the kitchen, capture an angle that’s facing the stove top and major appliances. The more you can include in one shot, the better. Beware of your own reflection off of appliances.
In bedrooms, always get an angle from one corner of the (foot of) the bed, aiming diagonally at the opposite (headboard) corner. Stand back as far back as possible. Try to include something interesting in any area without a bed, like a balcony, door, cabinet, or artwork.
In bathrooms, you can ignore the toilet. It should not be the focus of any bathroom photo. If you cannot get all major elements into one shot, try to aim for the sink and mirror combo You don’t have to show everything.
Hey, Airbnb hosts, you can ignore the toilet for your bathroom photos. If not, make sure the seat is down. Click To Tweet
In living areas, don’t be afraid to get into awkward spaces for the best view and widest angle. Avoid showing just the backs of sofas, which means you may have to lift and slightly point the camera down.
PRO TIP: You may consider a wide-angle lens here which increases the camera’s field of view. However, be sure the photo does not deceive the FPG. Remember, mismanaged expectations result in negative reviews.
For outdoor shots, aiming at a corner is a good idea, as this adds depth to the house and makes it feel grand. Capture several things at once, the yard, pool, and deck, by venturing out to the backyard.
Take your photos at a time of day when the sun illuminates the house (i.e. it’s behind you). Avoid photographing your house when it’s in a shadow (shadows are the enemy), or aiming your camera straight into the sun. A great time of day for exteriors is Golden Hour. This is the time just after sunrise and just before sunset when the sun is low and the light is warm.
The best time to take your Airbnb photos is Golden Hour, just after sunrise or before sunset. Click To Tweet
How to Edit Your Photos
First, backup all originals. Use a cloud service, like Google Drive or Microsoft’s One Drive (Outlook and Hotmail), or a hard drive for uploading photos.
With any editing software, the basic adjustments are:
Crop – To make the photo smaller in some way, in case you want to remove something in the original photo.
Exposure / brightness – For making your photo brighter or darker.
Rotate – For slightly rotating the photo to keep horizons straight.
Saturation – For making colors pop.
Advanced adjustments to look for:
Highlights – For bringing down the brightest parts of a photo, like clouds.
Perspective / Vertical Distortion / Lens Corrections – For straightening vertical lines.
Shadows – For bringing up the darkest parts of a photo.
The majority of phone photo editing apps allow for those basic adjustments, as well as Highlight and Shadow controls. Our favorite is Snapseed.
As you bring, or ‘import’ photos into your editing tool, turn off Auto-Brightness on your device and bring the screen brightness to the max.
Before you get into editing, make a first round of selections. Pick the best photo of the photos you’ve shot. If you cannot decide between angles, choose too many rather than too few for now. After editing, you can always cut photos from the group before you upload them to a listing.
We recommend having 20 photos, if possible. If you have a studio apartment, this will be hard to do so you can include some Airbnb photos of your neighborhood and street. Don’t push for 20 as you don’t want to lose the FPGs attention. The minimum is 12.
The most important thing is to constantly evaluate your image and know when you’ve gone too far. Ideally, with editing, we’re trying to capture the feel of a place and attempt to match the human eye.
The second most important thing to do is find how you undo a setting. In many tools, you’ll find a back arrow or an X that indicates undoing a setting.
Adjust your exposure, sometimes simply called brightness, so your photo is nice and bright. Your subject, be it the inside of a room or artwork, should be clearly visible. Don’t make a room dark just to show a sliver of a view through a window.
PRO TIP: Take your photo editing to the next level by editing on your computer with Adobe Lightroom. You can sign up for a free trial through the link.
Highlights and Shadows
Often changing your exposure will make the highlights, meaning the brightest parts of the photo, too bright. Bright windows and clouds tend to turn into big, bright blobs of light. Next, find the highlights adjustment and bring them down. Not so far that they look grey, but just a little bit.
Then, if your shadows, meaning the darkest parts of the photo, are only barely visible, find the shadow adjustment, and bring them out. Again, not so far that the image has no natural shadows. Just up enough where the shadows are no longer incomprehensibly dark.
Saturation affects the intensity of colors. Most photos could benefit from a little saturation, especially outdoors. You really want the blue of the sky or an ocean and green grass to pop. When you add saturation, keep an eye out for red colors. Those tend to quickly turn into big red blobs.
Overlooked 2 Overbooked has a 3-part course specifically for Airbnb hosts who want to use their smartphone to take photos. Click To Tweet
Straighten and Crop
After the basic adjustments, make sure your photos are straight. Straight horizontal and vertical lines are more aesthetically pleasing in photos. Often the adjustments for straightening a photo are under a setting called crop. The majority of editing tools will have a way to rotate a photo. This is great for making sure your horizon is straight, which is especially important when you have a clean horizontal line, like the line between an ocean and the sky.
Indoors is when vertical lines become the focal point. Some editing apps will allow you to adjust these too. Look for a tool that’s like a distorted square that’s called something like perspective or straighten. Keep an eye on the major vertical lines, like walls, doorways, and windows.
Find a vertical line at the center of the image and rotate the image until that line is straight. This is where a grid will be very helpful. Then, keep an eye on the major vertical lines near the edges, like walls, doorways, and windows, and use the Perspective tool until those lines are straight as well. Visit Overbooked2Overlooked.com for a thorough explanation with photo examples.
Export or save your photos in their original, largest size because listing platforms prefer these higher-quality images.
Then, backup your edited, final photos to a cloud service or hard drive.
With this post, your photos are well into the top 20% of all vacation rental property photos.
Brian and Kati offer a more detailed, three-part video series on their website at Overlooked2Overbooked.com. I have taken the course and was blown away that using a camera phone while knowing which settings to turn on with light editing can produce top quality photos. HDR function was a game changer and I use a lot of these tricks on any photo I take, Airbnb related or personal.
So, what one tip are you going to take with you from this article and apply to one new photo you will take of your listing this week? Tell me in the comments.
Also published on Medium.