Vacation Rental Photography: Do’s and Don’ts for Amateurs That’ll Make You Look Like a Pro

vacation rental photography

By The Hospitable Team

With online listings, guests make snap decisions on whether or not to book a stay. To stand out, you need those eye-catching photos that really feature your property’s best qualities. Of course, your best option is to call in a professional photographer or to use a professional-grade camera. However, you might not have the resources for that to happen.

We sat down with award-winning photographer Dave Koch of R\E Photography Utah and picked his brain about photographing vacation rentals. Dave specializes in photography for real estate, architecture, commercial, and rental properties. Here are some of the tips that Dave had to share to help you get those picture-perfect shots of your vacation rental properties.

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How can you get high-quality images for your vacation rental without hiring a professional photographer?

Having top-notch photos on your listings is really worth the investment. And according to Airbnb, professional photos pay for themselves, as they can increase your listings and earnings by 20%.  

However, it can be difficult for those with limited photography experience to know how to frame properties in the most flattering way possible. To help you produce images that increase direct bookings, we’ve put together a list of tips to help you take property pictures like a pro.

How to take pictures of your vacation rental: Do’s and don’ts

Before snapping those first shots, take some time to collect images that really stick out from your competitors’ listings. In the initial stages, having a “mood board” or collage can really help to guide your marketing decisions and photo direction. 

It’s a good first step to pick out several images that impact you and then write down the reasons why.  Also, be sure to include pictures that you don’t like, as they’ll help you know what to avoid.

Do: Stage your vacation rental

Once you’ve created a mood board, it’s time to get creative with staging the properties. According to Dave, “[The] ultimate goal as an Airbnb photographer is to make a space look welcoming and to create a fantasy.” Basically, you want guests to be able to imagine themselves enjoying the property.

This can be done in a number of ways. Leaving doors and windows open can invite guests to look into spaces. Additionally, Dave mentions that he likes to slightly angle chairs towards the camera so guests have the impression that they can easily find a seat.

Adding in objects, such as blankets and pillows also can have a nice effect. “I will a lot of times like to put a cup of coffee or something that opens it up to potential guests.”

With this being said, not all properties are the same and some may require different staging techniques. If you tend to attract clients who are looking for a more streamlined, hotel type of property, it’s probably better to have images with a more clean and crisp appearance. Whereas with properties that have a more homey feel, you’ll want to emphasize warmth and intimacy.

All in all, it’s best to know your market and shoot for them. Not everyone is your client, so it’s better to focus on and stage for your target audience.

Don’t: Be careless

When it comes to shooting vacation rental properties, one dead giveaway of amateur photography is clutter. It might not seem like a big deal but little details can make a big difference. Something as small as a phone charger plugged into the wall can come between you and the perfect shot.

Be meticulous and review your photos for any small distractions. They can take away from the fantasy you’re trying to create and make people reluctant to make reservations.

Be sure to block off enough time to relax, focus, and take as many photos as you need. There’s no penalty for reshooting a picture, but there can be consequences for rushing and not being meticulous.

Do: Pay attention to the lighting

After going through the trouble of staging and preparing rooms for the shoot, it’s time to think about lighting. Lighting can dramatically change the way that your property looks and how guests think of themselves in the space.

When it comes to photographing properties, natural lighting usually features your space in the best possible way. Whenever possible, shoot with all the windows open and with natural light flowing in.  

02_photograph_bedroom_natural_light
Use natural lighting as much as possible and experiment to find the best time of day.

Try experimenting by taking pictures at different times of the day to find the lighting that works best.  Depending on the direction the building faces and the time of year, the room will illuminate in different ways. 

Don’t: Use multiple sources of light

While on the topic of lighting, another important piece of advice is to avoid shooting a room with multiple sources of light.  

This might be easier said than done in some of your rooms, and can be particularly tricky in smaller interior spaces, like bathrooms. Dave advises that in these situations, you should actually try to block out natural light.

“If you’re in an interior room with limited natural light, close off the windows that might bring in extra unwanted light and instead use the electric lights.”

Do: Get the best angles possible

Contrary to popular belief, Dave points out that it takes more than just a wide-angle lens to get the perfect shot. “When you shoot wide, you get this distortion and this disparity involved, and what I’ve found is if you back up instead and zoom in, you can get that same framing but it’s more compressed and it looks livelier. I actually shoot wider but from further back.”

03_image_vacation_rental_bedroom_distance
Wide shots can be effective but avoid the distortion of wide-angle lenses.

Using Dave’s technique, you can eliminate dead spaces and give the viewer a more accurate and visibly pleasing view of the space. “I call it showing the meat of the room.”

Obviously, this depends on the space and size of the room and it will require some judgment to find the angle that works best. This may mean moving around furniture and using objects to build the right height for your camera. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new angles. Having a variety to choose from will only help you in the long run.

Don’t: Shoot from eye level

According to Dave, most rooms look best when shot from about mid-chest level. However, there are exceptions to this. He explains that in the kitchen, you should have the bottom of your camera level with the bottom shelf of the top cabinet.

While shooting vacation rentals, it’s probably a good idea to give potential guests an idea of what the surrounding area is like. If the property is surrounded by a coastline or a dramatic landscape, you’ll want to find ways to highlight the natural beauty.

Dave suggests including aerial shots to help give a geographic perspective and proximity to nearby points of interest, such as cities, beaches, and airports.  If you happen to know someone with a drone camera, these shots can really add uniqueness to your listings.

Do: Shoot a variety of images

Aside from drone shots, you should also think about including some shots of details in the mix to make your photo collection more interesting. Dave makes an analogy to having ginger when eating sushi. You should think of detail shots as “palate cleansing” images to break up the rest of the photos in your listing. 

04_photo_detail_shot_fireplace_short_term_rental
Mix up your imagery to keep your listings dynamic and distinct.

Your detailed shots could include a blanket folded over a couch or the roaring fireplace in your living room—anything that adds visual interest and makes your space more appealing and comfortable to the viewer. If you’re unsure of what to include, it’s always a good idea to ask someone to enter the space for the first time and learn from their fresh perspective—maybe they’ll point out an interesting feature you’re totally oblivious to.

Don’t: Worry about using an iPhone

If you don’t have access to a professional camera, you may be wondering about how to shoot properties from your iPhone. Dave discusses specific tips and techniques that should be practiced while taking iPhone photos for listings.

For one, you should always shoot with a tripod. This will help you avoid skewing the image and making everything look unnatural. The camera should be flat and you’ll want to make sure that the walls look straight.

Like shooting with a professional camera, it’s a good idea to shoot from about mid-chest level.  Ideally, you want to be shooting from about the middle of the room so that you get equal parts ceiling and floor. This height may vary if you’re shooting spaces with very high ceilings.

Pro tip: For those with professional-grade cameras, Dave recommends shooting with a 14mm-30mm lens. In smaller spaces, such as the bathroom, Dave uses 14mm, whereas, in larger spaces, he uses 20mm.

How to edit and select pictures for your website or listing

As mentioned before, details are everything. And you’ll want to highlight the property’s best features whenever possible. A great way to do this is by carefully selecting and editing photos after your shoot.  Here are some key tips to help you through the editing process.

Do: Learn how to edit your images

First off, you’ll want to make friends with editing software. Dave recommends using Photoshop and  Lightroom, both of which have a 7-day free trial for new users.

You’ll also want to check out any video tutorials on Youtube. There are plenty of resources to help with some of the basics like changing the contrast, adjusting the white balance, and removing spots.  For a cleaner look, Dave suggests you use Photoshop to remove details such as light switches and outlets on the wall.

With Lightroom, you can make changes to batches of photos at a time. This can make your editing process much easier and much faster. Additionally, you can be sure that your changes are consistent for all of the photos in your collection.

Don’t: Feel obligated to upload every picture you take

Once you have all of your photos ready to edit, it’s important to be picky about which ones you actually choose to use. Editing photos can take time, so you should only focus on those that will make the final cut. Even if that means editing only 5 out of 200 photos. In Dave’s words, “Having 5 excellent photos is a lot better than 20 average photos.”

Do: Get an honest opinion from a third party

While filtering through your photos, it might be a good idea to have a second pair of eyes look through them as well. They might help to catch any details or points of interest that you might have missed otherwise. 

“It’s when people criticize that you learn, and that’s when you need to listen. So have somebody impartial look at your pictures and tell them to be honest,” says Dave.

Don’t: Be afraid to reshoot and update your images

Your property will go through changes and updates, which means your photos should be updated as well. It’s always a good practice to make sure that images are up-to-date on your vacation rental Instagram, website, and listings. You don’t want to give guests an incorrect impression of your properties as that could affect how they experience the property once they arrive.

Even if nothing has changed, you might also want to change out old photos because you see that there is room for improvement. This can be an inexpensive way of attracting new visitors, especially if you’re taking and editing the photos yourself.

Do: Highlight all the key amenities and special features

Make sure your target audience is in no doubt about what makes your property special. So if you have a charming fireplace, a beautiful pool, or a gorgeous balcony, add those photographs to your listings and direct booking website

Even better, photograph guests (or friends and family) enjoying those unique features so your future guests can really picture themselves getting the most out of your vacation rental.

Final tips on taking top-notch photos

To summarize, here are some of the key takeaways that can immediately improve the photos in your listing:

  • Pay special attention to the property’s best features and the customer profile that you’re appealing to.
  • Take more than enough and a variety of photos. Don’t be afraid to experiment with angles and compositions.
  • Natural lighting works best, and make sure that there is only a single light source. 
  • Avoid angling an iPhone camera, and shoot from mid-chest level.
  • Ask someone for a fresh opinion. This can help to make you aware of details and features that could make your photos more interesting.
  • Highlight the best features and help your target audience imagine themselves enjoying the property.

Above all else, Dave suggests that you “go out, have fun and enjoy” while photographing your vacation rental. Even if you’re new to photography, with some practice and with the right techniques, you can get some special shots that will make your listings really stand out.

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You can see more of Dave Koch of R\E Photography Utah and examples of his photography at photoslc.com

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