First, let me say this. I am not a photographer. NOT. NOT. Not a photographer. However, in my line of work marketing vacation rentals, I need to be able to take good pictures. Vacation rental photography is in a similar category as real estate photography. I don’t mean to bash any real estate agents, but have you taken a look at listing pictures lately? What the frick is up with that? What real estate professional thinks that a photo of a litter box next to a toilet (seat up, of course) is going to sell a house? One listing that I recently perused mentioned the beautiful lighthouse view. Was there a picture of the view? Hell, no. That might actually help sell the house and no one wants that (insert eye roll).
Up until now, I’ve been taking pictures with my cheapo camera phone. Way back when, I used to have a good camera —- many decades ago (and yes, it does freak me out a little bit to be old enough to use the term “decades ago”). I actually wanted to learn photography as a teenager, so my mother (aka. matchmaker) called her
wealthy friend who had a son who was a photography major in college. A few days later, cute, rich guy driving a MG convertible (looking sort of like a preppy young Art Garfunkel but without a receding hairline) was knocking on the door to teach me all about cameras. We spent hours sitting around the kitchen table poring though photography magazines and catalogues. Well, to be honest, I spent more time looking at cute, rich guy than paying attention to shutter speeds and aperture but finally decided on a Pentax Super Program – a snazzy, way too expensive, 35mm camera.
Then, a year or so later, in the artsy and edgy college that I attended, I took a photography class.. Unfortunately, the only thing that stuck with me over the years was one student’s final project. It involved razor blades and naked body parts (yeah, some things can’t be unseen no matter how many years have gone by). I often wonder what the future held for that student. In any case, I eventually figured out that my Pentax camera had an automatic setting, so I could be lazy and not remember things like aperture and shutter speeds. Finally, sometime in the 90’s, I abandoned it all together with the invention of the disposable camera.
So now, decades later, I take pictures regularly, and to keep up with competition, I needed to get a better camera (maybe if I wasn’t such a cheapskate and owned an i-phone, I might not have needed one. But, yes, I am a cheapskate). I did some camera research on line, but then, true to my character, jumped right in with an impulse-buy and purchased a used Nikon off of ebay. (It came from Quebec and it speaks French). So now I need to learn all about the camera. In French.
But… in the meantime. Down to the nitty gritty. What should good vacation rental pictures include and exclude? It’s not rocket science. But then again… if it was this easy, why isn’t everyone doing it?
1)Take away all of the clutter! In the kitchen – clear the kitchen counters of just about everything. Get rid of the slimy bottle of dish detergent and the grimy sponge. Take all of the post-it notes and magnets off of the fridge. Move the waste can out of the picture. Simple and clean. Nothing that isn’t needed. Do you have something special to highlight? Perhaps a vintage, retro stove (I’m thinking restored 1950’s, not avocado or harvest gold) or an unusual serving bowl? Fill that puppy with delicious looking apples. Make people WANT to cook there.
2) Set the table in the dining room. If you provide a table cloth, placemats or a table runner for renters, put it out. Fill the table with dishes, sparkling clean glassware and silverware. If you can, go outside and fill a vase with flowers from your garden. Guests will be clamoring to dine here.
3) Make the beds look appealing. I’ve often heard that the rumpled sheet look (as if you’ve just had a good romp in the hay) is the look that you should be after. However, I’ve tried it time and time again and I can’t get the hang of it. When I do it, the bed always just looks messy. So I take pictures with the beds made, pillows plumped. If you have the budget, splurge on a funky throw — which often can be purchased online on a budget.
The sheets and blankets don’t have to match – they just need to coordinate. My formula – make the bed with a fitted sheet, then a top sheet folded over a lightweight blanket. Cover this with a duvet (my first property manager spoke French — like my camera – and was insistent that duvets are far superior to blankets and bedspreads for the “chic” factor). The duvet should be folded on the bottom half or third of the bed. Finally, a coordinated (yet, not matchy-matchy) throw should be the topper. I like six pillows for the photos for a queen bed — three on the back layer, two in the middle and one decorative pillow in the front.
4) There is some debate whether or not to include the bathroom in vacation rental photography. After all, a bathroom is a bathroom. What’s my personal opinion? If you have a unique bathroom item — go for it! If you can show just the sink or just the sink and tub without getting the toilet in the frame – go for it. No one needs a picture of the toilet – they all look alike (Although my husband is partial to the Toto that I found, new, on the side of the road. He’s already asked if we can take it with us next time we move).
5) In your living room – or in any room -remove clutter (did I already say that?). Then go around again and remove some more. Maybe you have some decorative tchotchkes that add to the theme of the house. That doesn’t mean it will translate to the inviting mood that you are trying to convey through your photographs. Remove them from the picture. Now that cameras are digital, there is absolutely no excuse – you can instantly look to see what needs to improve. Keep editing the room down until the photos look simple and unfussy!
6) If you have a great view… for the love of Pete, show the great view! Duh!! And try to show the view in relation to the house. Guests will want to picture themselves perched on your deck looking out at the water, meadow, mountains… whatever. Maybe stage the picture with a bottle of wine, or with some (clean and new) flip flops, a sand pail, pinecones — whatever reflects the personality of the house.
7) Make sure that all of your shots are clean and portray clean, clean, clean. Cleanliness is the most important thing that vacation rental guests care about. No one is going to purposely choose a house when they see photos of sofas full of pet fur or stained carpet.
I’ll be posting more about real estate/ vacation rental photography as I learn about it myself. It’s a good thing to know if you ever want to rent out your vacation home or even want to try to sell a home yourself.
And let me know if you’ve ever seen any eye catching photos for vacation rentals that have really sold you on the place. Maybe I can feature them in the future. Or… if you’ve seen some nightmare pics. I’d love to check them out.