Take Great Cell Phone Photos Part 6

Real Estate Edition

Difficult Shooting Situations

The biggest problem facing Interior Photos is the exterior. What I mean by that is, typically the interior of the house is considerably darker than the outside. This difference between the lightest and darkest areas is called the dynamic range of the photo.

Caution: Geekiness ahead. Dynamic range is expressed in a term called stops. The human eye has a range of somewhere around 24 stops of light, some high end cameras can “See” 14 or 15 stops of light, and a typical cell phone camera is limited to 8 to 10 stops. The human eye can look at a scene and everything will be visible as long as you’re not looking directly at the sun or into a cave. Your camera cannot do this. It can only see what is within it’s dynamic range. Everything else will either be overexposed (pure white) or underexposed (pure black).

What this means to the photographer is, since you have such a limited dynamic range to work with, if you expose the room properly, the exterior is going to be overexposed, or “blown out” and if you set your exposure for the view out the window the room will be extremely dark. So what do we do?

There are 2 options in my opinion. First is to shoot at the right time, meaning early in the morning or late in the day when the sun is low in the sky and it’s not as bright outside. This presents another challenge though, when the sun is low, there can be a lot of light coming through the windows on one side of the house and very little on the other side. This can create problems with glare and shadows that are difficult to repair. This also gives you a very short window of time to complete the shoot. Shooting on a cloudy overcast day brings down the brightness of the exterior, helping with the dynamic range problem. But who can wait for just the right cloudy day? I live in Florida, the Sunshine State, cloudy days are few.

The second option and my preference is High Dynamic Range or HDR Photography. What HDR does is take more than one exposure of the scene and blends them together, bringing the brightest and darkest areas into correct exposure in the processed image. The good news is many cell phones have HDR as an in camera option. The bad news is they do an OK, but not great job of it. Some phones do not offer this feature.

I have 2 phones that I am using to show examples, first an iPhone 13 Pro ($999) and the other is a TCL A509DL Android Tracfone ($39). The iPhone has a built-in Ultra-Wide lens and is a 12 MP camera, the TCL only has a standard lens and is 8 MP. Both phones are less than 3 months old. I don’t have a Wide Angle adapter for the TCL, so all photos will be shot with the standard lens for comparison.

Looking at the 3 photos above, you should be able to see a progression of quality from top to bottom. I used the in-camera HDR feature on both phones. The inexpensive phone does not do a very good job handling the differences in brightness between the dark corner behind the TV and the exterior. I do not recommend using a phone of this quality level for any professional photography.

The iPhone actually does a good job with this photo. You can see nice detail in the tree outside the window, but the corner behind the TV is a little dark and the wall color is not quite right. This would be an acceptable image for MLS purposes in my opinion. I would imagine that a modern Samsung Galaxy, Google Pixel, or similar phone would provide similar results.

The last photo, which I shot with my mirrorless camera and edited in Lightroom is the best of the three. You can see good detail in the exterior and the corner that was a bit dark in the other images, looks better as well. The paint color and the wood items show closer to the actual color.

You can edit the phone pics to try and improve them. Editing photos is beyond the scope of this tutorial series as there are too many variables, depending on the photo. Your photos app has editing capabilities built-in on your phone. You can adjust many settings on the picture such as brightness, contrast, shadows, and highlights. You can also crop and rotate. Whatever you do though, don’t use filters for Real Estate Photos. Keep the home looking realistic and natural.

There are also 3rd party software apps for photo editing, including Lightroom and Photoshop. I personally don’t care for the mobile version of these apps, but some people do amazing things with them. Lightroom has a free mobile version, however it’s limited in capability and I would highly recommend getting the paid version for full capability as well as when you get the paid version, you also get the desktop programs. You can get a Lightroom only plan for $9.99 month, however I recommend the Photography plan, which includes Photoshop and Lightroom Classic, which is the industry standard for photo editing, for $19.99 month.

Check your app store for other photo editing apps. Many are free, but you often get what you pay for.

I can’t speak about other phones capabilities, because I don’t have access to them for testing. I will say that I was pleasantly surprised at how well the iPhone did. With proper composition of the picture a cell phone can take perfectly acceptable photos for Real Estate Listings.

This brings us to the end of this series on how to get great cell phone pictures for real estate. I hope you found value in its content. If you decide that taking your own Real Estate Photos is not for you, and you’re in the Hernando, Citrus, or N. Pasco County area, contact me and we can discuss your needs.