How to Edit Real Estate Photos

There is balance to achieve when editing real estate images. On one end, each properly edited photo has to look its best, with all the necessary features included, and the essentials highlighted. On another end, they all have to look as close to the actual property images as possible, leaving little to no room for exaggeration, otherwise you risk potential buyers feeling disappointed when they see the place in the flesh.

It can be a bit confusing and rather overwhelming, which is why we have prepared a comprehensive guide on how real estate photographers edit their high quality images, the photo editing software that you can use to make them look more professional, and the 10 best real estate photography editing tips you should try for yourself.

While there are multiple software to choose from, we will be using a crowd favorite in this guide – Adobe Lightroom.

1. A Calibrated Display Is A Must-Have

Prior to importing every real estate photo you took to Lightroom, ensure that the foundation for viewing your images is properly set. This means you must calibrate your display to show only accurate colors and contrast.

The reason why this is such an essential step is because of the impact it can have both on print and from someone else’s point of view. Most un-calibrated monitors appear neutral by default, which gives you the impression that your images look okay. However, this does mean the image will look the same when printed out or viewed through someone else’s screen. Chances are, the colors, contrast, and level of brightness are a world of difference on a different device.

To efficiently prevent this from happening and ensure that potential buyers can view all your images the way you intended them to, invest in an affordable calibration device.

2. Keep the Culling Process Simple & Quick

Once it is time to import all the photographs you took from the shoot, the first thing you want to do is separate the valuable shots with the unusable ones. Sorting through all the shots you took can take a long time, especially if the bulk of your shots only have minor differences between them.

There are a few tricks to make the culling process more straightforward and a breeze to accomplish. One method is to start with sets of photos that have to be merged to HDR, which usually consist of 3 photos per set. You can flag these together by assigning a colored label to them. Next, if there are some angles that need a little more retouching than the rest, use a different label to distinguish these.

Once you are done color-coding and choosing photos that you have to edit, simply filter them out, select all the un-flagged photos and label them as rejected.

3. Over-Edited Photos Can Look Unprofessional

Now that your imported photos are ready for enhancement, reassess what kind of vibe you want to achieve in editing and what are the best ways to achieve it without going over the top.

It is way too easy to get carried away and end up heavily editing photos, which is why you must plan ahead in terms of how much tweaking you think your shots require.

A lot of the time, if the lighting was set up right during the shoot, your shots may only need a few minor adjustments to the white balance and tones, without necessarily touching other elements.

A rule of thumb when it comes to real estate photographs is that images on the brighter and slightly warmer tones are preferred because they are more inviting to potential buyers.

4. Use Lightroom Presets To Quickly Start Every Scene

Real estate photos for the same listing are usually taken with nearly identical camera settings. All of your shots for the interiors will most likely have very little differences in exposure, contrast, tones, and all else. The same principle applies to the group of shots for the exteriors.

To save your valuable time and energy, we highly suggest that you create a Lightroom preset of all the most common adjustments you will need per batch. This way, you can quickly apply the same preset to the relevant group of photos and only follow up with minor tweaks from there.

5. Use Auto-Sync To Edit Entire Scenes At Once

Did you know that Adobe Lightroom gives you the choice to automatically sync all your photos to the same preset? This means that once you have decided on the right adjustments fit for a specific shoot and added that to the primary photo, you can apply the same adjustments to all the other photos from the same session.

This tool allows you to practically cut your editing time in half and would only need to do minor tweaks based on each photo’s specific requirements.

6. Focus On Tone Management

A big part about having your real estate photos look professionally enhanced is by adjusting the tones. Keep in mind that the main goal is to keep the images looking natural, but on the brighter and slightly warmer side of the spectrum.

There are 4 categories when adjusting tones in Lightroom, namely:

  • Exposure and Contrast
  • Highlights, Shadows, Whites, and Blacks
  • Texture, Clarity, and De-haze
  • Point and Parametric Curves

To efficiently tweak your tones, start with the first category by gradually sliding the exposure either left or right, depending on what the photo needs. This is the perfect time to fix the white balance and get your image looking as neutral as possible. Leave contrast for now, and adjust it once you are done with the second category.

Highlights and Shadows do most of the “heavy lifting” when it comes to tones, while Whites and Blacks complement their efforts. Adjust these enough so that all the lights and darks look crisp and solid, without any areas overly highlighted or overly shadowed. This is when you can adjust your contrast as you see fit.

On to the third category, these three affect the minute details of the image but can make a huge impact when overdone. These should only be lightly adjusted as adding too much can create noise on the photo.

Last but not the least, the tone curves offer the most powerful shift in tonal adjustments. This mainly affects the contrast of the image and can target specific areas that need more depth. These are usually very dramatic and we advise practicing with them first before applying to your first few projects. If you feel more comfortable sticking to the first 3 categories, that’s no problem either!

7. Use Plug-ins For Even More Streamlined Lightroom Automation

Similar to maximizing presets and auto-sync, plug-ins are also another way to automate repetitive processes in Lightroom. This is yet another tool that can cut a chunk of time off your editing session and help you deliver the project faster.

Lightroom has a built-in HDR tool that merges the necessary photos together in batches, and automatically will create HDR images in just a few clicks. You can achieve this by creating Stacks of all your bracketed sequences, select them, right-click, and hit Photo Merge > HDR. Lightroom will automatically blend the tones together in the best way so you won’t have to lift another finger. Many skilled photo editors turn to HDR to enhance their real estate listings.

However, to garner more control over how the images are merged, you may use an external plug-in such as Photomatix HDR Batch Plugin For Lightroom. With this tool, you can utilize more in-depth blending processes, select from more presets, and finish it off in Lightroom.

8. Take A Break And View With Fresh Eyes

Ever heard of the saying “a fresh eye never hurts”?

This applies heavily on projects that you have been spending a significant amount of time looking at. Once you feel you have made the right adjustments to your photos and are now ready to export, take a break first.

Walk around, let your eyes wander off outside, have some coffee, and then come back with a fresh perspective to double check your work. Think of it as a 10-minute palette cleanser for your eyes. Here, you can probably notice minor flaws or a few tweaks that you have to do before sending it in.

9. Use Quick-Develop To Adjust Warmth And Brightness In The Library Module

Now that you have reviewed the set and are perfectly happy with your work, it is time for exporting. Your client gives you feedback that it all looks good but would you be able to adjust the brightness a little.

Don’t fret! There is no need to retouch each photo individually. A quick way to do this is:

  1. Selecting the photos
  2. Turning on auto-sync
  3. Click on Quick Develop

And that’s all there is to it!

10. Create Export Presets For High-Res and Low-Res Output

Just when you thought you were done with presets, there is one more type we highly suggest you look into.

Export presets can be created for your most common export needs, such as developing a high-resolution and low-resolution format for the same batch of photos. These make it more convenient for both you and your client when putting the photos to good use, as web-resolution images are different from print, and interchanging the two will not yield favorable results.

Other Tips and Techniques

While the above 10 tips cover the basics of editing real estate photos, there is still so much to learn and try out once you are more comfortable with the process. Some of the other techniques you may look into when ready are:

Sky Replacement

Overcast skies and gloomy environments can really set the wrong tone for a photo. By carefully replacing this with high quality sky images, you can transform the look for your property and make your listing much more attractive.

Perspective Correction

Professional photographers know how to use vertical and horizontal lines to their advantage, and realize the impact it has on potential buyers. However, this skill takes a few practices to get the hang of. You can quickly fix the perspective with a straightening tool or other automated software.

Object Removal

There is bound to be an unwanted item or two in some photos, especially if the photo shoot was done outside. Digitally removing these and strategically filling in the spot with a clone stamp tool or other techniques can greatly enhance the overall look of your listing.