Can Photoshop Go Too Far?

Photography is one of the most important parts of real estate marketing. If you can’t show photos of a property, how is anyone going to be attracted enough to buy it? We all know this — professional photographers have been close allies of the real estate industry for decades. But modern softwares like Photoshop, Lightroom, or Capture One are allowing new techniques in photo editing, which can really take your listing photos to the next level. You can brighten underexposed shots, balance the colours to be more natural, straighten a crooked shot, or hide those unsightly power cords that got missed in the staging. But it doesn’t end there, and the temptation to make your listing look as good as possible can begin to verge on the unethical, and mislead potential buyers, which can get you in a lot of trouble.

So how can you ensure your edited listing photos don’t cross that line? Jacy Riedmann of Amoura Productions Real Estate Photography & Video refers to their editing process as “full makeup and hair”. That is, taking what physically exists at the property and presenting it beautifully, without changing any of the underlying reality. Holes or stains on the walls, for example, might seem like prime targets for photoshopping over. You might be tempted to add some plants or nicer grass to a sparse backyard, or remove unsightly power poles blocking the facade. Sure, doing these things might make your listing look better, but you’re now misrepresenting the property to potential buyers and violating your agency’s code of ethics. Digital manipulation that isn’t realistic to the property’s actual appearance goes too far. “You cannot modify a physical element of the property because you are then falsely advertising and opening yourself to legal risks,” Riedmann says.

Here are a few property elements that Riedmann says should never be manipulated or removed from photographs:

  • Holes in walls or cracks in windows, cement, bricks, or wooden structures.
  • Grass or plants should not be added where they do not exist or where existing ones aren’t to your standards.
  • Power and telephone lines.
  • Power points, light switches, or phone line sockets.
  • Don’t change paint colors or cover blemishes.

Another, more specific point of contention in the real estate photography world is the use of artificial HDR photography enhancement techniques. HDR stands for “high dynamic range”, and is a technique whereby multiple images with various exposure levels are layers into one shot so that highlights and shadows are evenly exposed. It can look fantastic at first glance, but a discerning eye is likely to notice that the picture isn’t realistic — in fact, many people consider the effect to be gaudy and off-putting. HDR photography is often used to show both a room’s interior and the view through a window in the same photo. With so many prospective buyers being attracted to natural light inside the house, HDR immediately covers up the truth of the listing’s features and can either mislead a potential buyer or immediately turn them off the listing. HDR can have its place, especially on social media “in-progress” or “coming-soon” posts, but in official listings it can walk a thin ethical line.

Here are a few additional tips from Riedmann to ensure your photo session goes smoothly:

  • To showcase a property the best, make sure it’s clean and ready to go by the time of the shoot.
  • Ask your photographer for a client readiness checklist, or bring in a real estate stager who is willing to gently coax your sellers into removing extra clutter and personal photos ahead of the shoot.
  • Make sure all lightbulbs are working and are of similar color temperature in each room.
  • Bathroom and kitchen counters, sinks, and showers should be clean and cleared, fans dusted, blinds in working order, and carpets cleaned.

Property listings don’t market just the property — they also showcase your professionalism and skill as an agent. Think of your photos and videos as another part of your online brand, and make sure they meet all the same standards you set for yourself everywhere else — and don’t give in to that temptation.