A building badly effected by keystoning or distortion

Common property photography mistakes and how to avoid them

With a little practice and some basic knowledge you can dramatically improve your photography without even investing in any more equipment.

Buildings falling over

This is by far the most common mistake when taking photographs of buildings and it’s actually really easy to avoid. Perspective convergence or keystoning is caused when the camera has not been held straight, resulting in the building to appear to be falling over. In order to avoid this, get into the habit of looking at any vertical lines through the viewfinder before you press the shutter button. If the verticals are not straight then simply tilt the camera up or down (on the y axis) until they are. This may take a little practice but you will see the difference it makes and your photography will instantly improve.


Horizontals follow the same principle in that they must also be kept straight. Use wall to ceiling joins or cornice, worktops, doors etc. to align the camera with them. If they are not straight then simply twist the camera (turn on the x axis) until they are. Use the grid lines to help with this, they are built into most cameras menu systems.


Next is to learn how to keep both the horizontal and vertical lines straight at the same time. This is more challenging as you may find that after adjusting for the verticals the horizontals are no longer correct and vice versa. This can prove very frustrating but will come with practice.


Most of the common problems are easily avoidable with some basic knowledge and techniques.
By Darren Morton
Shadows

Generally speaking, some of the worst shadows are on the outside of the building. This is simply because of the location of the sun. If you find your camera pointing directly into the sun, then the chances are the final image will have some quite nasty shadows. To avoid this either change the angle or, if that is not an option, check the sky for clouds. Once a cloud is in front of the sun you will see that the shadows will all but disappear (they actually diffuse). If there are no clouds at all, your best option is to photograph the rest of the house and keep checking the sky, you may get lucky. Clouds come and go throughout the day and you may find that you will have to return at a later time once the sun has rotated around the sky or dropped a bit.


Dirty Sensor or lens

If you notice that there are dark spots especially in the blue sky of your images and they are always in the same place on every single photo, this is most likely either sensor dust or a dirty lens. In fact, you really should be in the habit of checking your lens every time the lens cap is removed. Don’t have a lens cap? Get one! It’s there to protect the lens from dirt and you can find one for relatively little expense on Ebay. To clean your lens do not use a tissue as it is full of lint that will be spread all over the lens and is a pain to get rid of. The best thing to use to clean a lens is a bulb blower and lens cleaning tissue, again both are available on eBay for little expense. If after cleaning your lens the dirt is still visible, then it is most likely on the sensor. Sensor dust will require specialist cleaning and the camera may well have to be sent away for this. You can clean the sensor yourself but if you are not fully sure of what you are doing it’s best left to the professionals as the camera can easily be bricked if it goes wrong.


Blown highlights (nuclear blast)

There are several reasons for this happening but its most likely bad control of the flash. Most agents will shoot on fully auto mode and rely on the camera to make decisions. This is great and most of the time the camera will do a “good” job. If this is the case and you still have a nuclear blast in your internal photos then it could be that the flash is not set up correctly. If it is in M for manual mode then it will be relying on whoever is operating the camera to change the flash output. The flash must be set to TTL mode (Through The Lens). TTL mode works by sending out a small amount of light before the actual photo is taken. This light is reflected back into the camera through the lens and, depending on how strong it is on the return, will determine how much flash is needed to light the scene. The camera will set the flash accordingly and then the photo is taken. The interesting thing is that this all happens without you even realising, it happens in a split second once the shutter button is pressed.


Once checked that the camera is on full auto and the flash is set to TTL, if you are still getting a nuclear blast, the next step is to look at where the flash is pointing. At no point should a flash be pointed in the same direction as the lens on top of the camera. This will create an awful look and put nasty shadows all over the place, not to mention the dreaded reflections. In interior photography, the flash 99% of the time should be pointed directly up at the ceiling. Most ceilings are white and a lot bigger than the 2x1 inches of the flash. This is relevant because the bigger the light source the softer the light. What is actually happening here is that you are simply taking the ceiling and turning it into a giant light source. Because the ceiling is so big, the light that is bounced off will be very soft and pleasing, resulting in a far better image.


The final consideration boils back down to our old friend the sun! If the sun is blasting in through a window, this will require either specialist techniques that are outside of the scope of this blog post or some patience. If all else fails you can always pop back around at a different time of the day.


If you are getting a nuclear blast outside, then this is due to the sun’s location. Refer to the blog post named “How to photograph a house” and head to the section named The Sun.


Camera height

Although there are no set rules for the height of the camera, there are some basic guidelines that can be followed. This is because every house/room is different. The ceiling height for example is going to be substantially different between a 300 year old cottage and a 120 year old Victorian property. Then there is room size, with small rooms needing a lower angle. Add to that the angle of the lens and you will quickly realise that there is no one size fits all. My guidelines are as follows:


If shooting a small room such as a bathroom, shoot lower in order to get some of the floor space in. If you shoot too high then you may well be sacrificing the floor and not getting the toilet in, which will look a bit odd. I often see that the camera has been tilted down in small bathrooms but after reading the buildings falling over section above, you will realise why this is not good practice.


In larger rooms the most common mistake is that the camera height is so low it looks like the photographer was on their knees when they took the shot. I have never quite understood why the camera is so low when there is no need. The best advice is to check the viewfinder and keep any eye on the photo height. Does it look similar to what your eye sees (height wise)? If the answer is no you will most likely want to adjust the height and re-shoot. The idea is to replicate the human eye, creating a naturally pleasing line of sight.


When shooting the kitchen ensure that you are able to see the worktops and sink area. If you cannot see either the worktops or the underside of the wall-mounted cabinets then you may want to consider if the height of your camera is correct or not.


Top Tips
  • Practice keeping a camera straight with a phone camera as you see a live view
  • Go to your settings and turn on grid lines
  • Remember, buildings are straight in real life so keep them straight in camera
  • Check camera height and adjust accordingly
  • Wait for the sun to be behind a cloud if it is causing nasty highlights or shadows
  • Keep the lens clean and covered with a lens cap
  • Check and clean the lens every time the lens cap is removed