Is Your Listing Even In Play? Photography Tips, Tricks and Checklists

AirBNB Photo

“STAY HERE?!” You could try that I guess, yelling at potential guests in all caps with an interrobang at the end. But if a regular picture is worth 1,000 words, a vacation rental listing “hero shot” is worth 100,000 words. Unlike most product photography out there, guests won’t be able to touch your apartment in a store before purchasing a freshly wrapped one, they can’t take it out on the road or around the block before committing to staying there – honestly they can’t even come do a walkthrough (at least they aren’t allowed to under Airbnb or VRBO’s terms and conditions and most hosts agree to never allowing to do that for insurance and safety reasons – also it’s generally a waste of time). 

We are in the hospitality business for sure, but more than that we are in the photography business – we are selling listing photos on the internet. Your amenities, customer service, and cleanliness ratings are all important – but if your listing photos aren’t good you’re not even getting the ball over the net and your listing isn’t even in play.

So, if we can all agree on how important vacation rental listing photography is – how do you set up your listings to be photographed well to get the right pictures?

Step 1: Prepare the unit for a shoot and capture some temporary pictures to use to set up your listing. Let’s face it, like in many businesses time is money – here, every night you have your unit listed is a potential additional rental. So even though photography is important, there’s no reason to have you wait to get a professional photographer in there to get the listing up and running – especially with cell cameras like on the new iPhones being as good as they are nowadays. Before hiring a professional photographer, get the unit set up the best you can and take some temporary shots. (this may also allow you to review a unit’s setup without having to add an additional visit). Here are some cell photo tips:

  • All photographs should be taken HORIZONTALLY so they look best on the website
  • Use a wide angle lens if your phone has that option (on iPhones it’s the .5x button)
  • Take photographs from every corner and angle of every room, at least 4 shots per room so you have a selection to choose from (and you can look back to reference what’s in the room later)
  • Be sure to “auto-enhance” each photo on your phone by clicking the magic wand in the upper right corner of the photograph for example on an iPhone.

Step 2: Hire a professional photographer, preferably a real estate photographer. This will save you from having to read OTHER blog posts about what “corner” angles are best to take shots at or what kinds of cameras to use. A good real estate photographer knows how to make a room shine and worth their weight in gold. That’s why Airbnb for many years would send you photographers for free. Here’s a few tips on picking a good one:

  • Ask to see their website and / or some sample shots of other real estate photography they have shot. This will give you a basic understanding of their style, and show that they know what they are doing. Ultimately, you are trying to avoid the pitfall of hiring a headshot photographer who doesn’t understand the intricacies of how to make your room look brighter or more welcoming.
  • Ask for their advice during the photography session. Some photographers are a bit shy to offer suggestions, especially when working with new clients, unless you let them know you want their. They generally have good eyes and are used to looking at photographs all the time. Sure, you can be the ultimate decision maker, but removing a chair or changing how a pillow is placed can be that extra touch that makes the difference.
  • Show your photographer your other listing photos, or photos you like of other listings. Even if you’re just starting out with a few listings, you may want to start thinking about developing a “brand” for your business. One way to do that is to have a cohesive look across properties, including with your photography. (Airbnb Plus for example will usually have you take all photos in the house with the lights off and only with “natural” light since that is how they want to keep all of those category of properties uniform across the platform.) Some people like this natural airy feel while others like a “punched up” property with bright lights on and high color saturation. Your photographer can help capture your style, but ultimately it’s your job to guide them.

Step 3: Go the extra mile on photography day. You can also use some of these tips during your temporary dry-run cell phone photo shoot. Here are some things we’ve seen hosts do over the years:

  • Use a “prop bag” – While we want to maintain accurate listings, certain “props” can make photos pop. Having a prop bag for unit photos can be really helpful. These bags can contain additional items that should be laid out in the unit for the photographs but removed before a guest stays – containing items a guests wouldn’t expect to be in the listing they rent:
  • Wine or nice liquor bottles
  • Books for nightstand and in kitchen
  • Additional counter or coffee table items
  • A vase with fresh flowers or fake flowers
  • Turn on each and every light in the house, to make sure none are out – including:
    • Lamps
    • Ceiling lights
    • Nightstand lights
  • Unplug all wires from televisions or that are visibly running along the walls and tuck the wires so they are not visible in the photo.
  • Open all curtains and shades
  • Close all toilet seats
  • Hide all bottles or unsightly soaps under the sink
  • Fluff the pillows on the couch and straighten the pillows on the bed
  • Roll the towels and place on corner of the bed
  • Set the table with plates and utensils / glasses
  • Place a few pots and pans on the stove if it looks empty
  • Take out coffee and other nice bowls and set on counter in kitchen if it looks empty – why hide them in the cabinet where they can’t be seen!

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