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Top 10 Tips for Staging a Home for Photos

By Justin Riordan, Spade and Archer Design Agency

Ah, yes the beloved Top 10 list. If only life were that simple and any skill you ever wanted to learn could be perfected with just 10 easy to learn, neatly packaged tips. I can see it now… “The top 10 tips for removing your own brain tumor” or “The top 10 tips for raising the dead.” Now don’t get me wrong — I don’t think that having your house photographed is as complicated as brain surgery or necromancy but it is often best left to the professionals. However, if you find yourself without a professional and needing to prepare your house for photographs either for a vacation rental, to sell it, or to just show off your new digs to friends and family, here are Spade and Archer’s top 10 tips on how to best get’r done.

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Photo Credit: Spade and Archer Design Agency

1. Design for the camera, not for the end user

When putting together a space, we always think of the camera first. Will this angle look right, will it show off the best feature of the house? Will the light hit these items correctly? The good news is you have a camera in your pocket as you read this. When we stage a house for market, we are constantly taking photographs of it and looking at it through the camera lens. It helps us to see errors in symmetry, lighting, cleanliness, etc.

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Photo Credit: Spade and Archer Design Agency

 

2. No more wrinkles

In real life, wrinkly sheets don’t make a lick of difference. You will still sleep the same and wake up refreshed, whether you iron the sheets or not. The camera, however, hates wrinkles and makes them look 100 times worse than they really are. Our best advice on this one is to use a professional steamer. The hot steam will take those wrinkles right out and makes the sheets, pillows, shower curtains, etc. all look perfect in the picture.

3. Light it up.

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Photo Credit: Spade and Archer Design Agency

Light can be your best friend or your worst enemy. If you don’t know how to control it, you are destined to fail. The time of day and weather conditions can make a huge difference on how well your space photographs. If the afternoon sun is blazing into your room throwing harsh shadows all over, the shot is destined to look “blown out” with areas as dark as night and as bright as a nuclear holocaust. To help combat this problem, look for the best time for indirect sunlight outside and inside your space. Cloudy days are perfect for this. It is also a great idea to turn on your interior lights and lamps, this will help to even out the lighting in the space.

4. Fluff the carpet.

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Photo Credit: Spade and Archer Design Agency

Sorry, fellas, this is not a euphemism for dining out. So often we see houses photographed with harsh vacuum lines or matted carpet that looks old and tired. The best way to fluff up your tired wall to wall is to use a broom. Running the broom over the top of the carpet in random directions will bring new life to a sagging floor textile.

 

5. Look beyond the window.

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Photo Credit: Spade and Archer Design Agency

 

It’s true enough you are photographing the interiors of your space but the outside of your windows will be seen in the photos. If there are piles of trash covered with blue tarps right outside your window, they are going to come through in the photos. Clean up the areas outside the window and make it visually quiet so it does not draw attention to itself. If the area can’t be cleaned up, consider a frosted film on the window.

6. Limit the color scheme.

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Photo Credit: Spade and Archer Design Agency

There are neutrals and there are colors. The neutrals are black, white, grey, brown, beige, cream, silver, and sometimes gold. You can put as many different neutrals in a room as you want. They can form a great base for your color. The colors are the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple. Colors must be used with great restraint. We endeavor to have only one “color story” per room. A color story might be blues or reds or colors of the peacock, or teal and yellow. If you have more than one color story per room, the photographs will start to look chaotic and visually noisy.

7. Rely on symmetry, repetition, rhythm.

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Photo Credit: Spade and Archer Design Agency

Symmetry, repetition, and rhythm can be found throughout nature and humans find them to be aesthetically pleasing. Symmetry can be found in most animals and insects. Repetition is why we find flowers so pleasing. Rhythm can be found in the ripples of a sand dune. A quick and easy way to make a space more aesthetically pleasing is to use these simple principles of good design.

8. Look at the problem from a different angle, then design for the best one.

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Photo Credit: Spade and Archer Design Agency

So often when I am first training a designer, they worry about every angle that a room will be seen from. I find them paralyzed by viable arguments, both good and bad, derived from seeing a space from two vantage points. I always tell them the same thing. What is the first impression going to be? Design for that view and the rest will fall into place. Figure out where the camera will most likely be and make every decision for the room based on that. Chances are, it will turn out great.

9. Hire a professional.

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Photo Credit: Spade and Archer Design Agency

It always makes me so sad when clients pay me lots of money to make their house beautiful then they run through with an iPhone and snap 16 horrible pictures of our beautiful space. I always wonder why they choose to spend thousands of dollars on staging and then value engineer (that is a euphemism for cheeping out) a photographer to save a couple hundred dollars. My best advice is if you want great photographs, hire a great photographer.

10. Put down the toilet seat.

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Photo Credit: Spade and Archer Design Agency

The fact that this is even on the list is nuts … yet, I still see a picture of the bathroom with the toilet seat up at least once a month. Why not just hang up a sign that says, “I suck, so don’t buy my house. Seriously, I’m super lame.” It would be just as effective.

 

 

11. Get out of the mirror.

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Photo Credit: Spade and Archer Design Agency

There is really only one thing douchier than the toilet seat left up. It’s you holding an iPhone in the mirror. If you are still confused how to best correct this error, refer to No. 10: Hire a professional.

 

 

 

 

12. Furnish the house, but don’t over decorate the cake.

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Photo Credit: Spade and Archer Design Agency

Empty houses are hard to see. Furniture provides scale, shows use, and adds light to spaces. Without it, the space is just walls, windows, floors, and ceilings. It is important to show how the space is used and how big the space is. Once you have taken care of these items, then stop decorating. There is a point when the decoration is no longer about the house but more so about the decoration. Stop before you get there.

So I see I have more than 10 tips for getting good photographs for your house. Honestly, I have about 4,000 more. I wish I could teach them all to you but then again, I would be teaching myself out of a job. Good luck out there, kiddos!

 

 

headshot_JustinRiordanABOUT THE AUTHOR: Justin Riordan, LEED AP, is founder of Spade and Archer Design Agency based in Portland, Ore. As the creative energy behind Spade and Archer, Riordan fuses his formal training as an architect with his natural design savvy to create beautiful and authentic spaces for clients. Prior to opening Spade and Archer in 2009, Riordan practiced interior architecture and interior construction for 12 years, bringing an esteemed skillset and diverse background to home staging. Since founding Spade and Archer, he has personally prepared more than 2,100 homes for market.

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This post was contributed exclusively for REALTOR® Magazine.

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Comments
  1. Well done article. I came not expecting much, and instead found quality ideas and creative writing. Thank you.

  2. Andrew

    #13 Remove magnets from the refrigerator!

  3. Lorelei Fischer

    This is the best, most helpful list of tips for staging and photography I’ve seen. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Mitra Farzani

    I read this blog, published by NAR, and I thought it was interesting. So, I posted it on my personal and my company’s Facebook pages. However, unfortunately the picture that appears on the post is a picture of the author of the blog. Whether this is by design or just a glitch or even a mistake, I think you might want to either reconsider your decision on that or fix the glitch. Anyway, I deleted your blog from my Facebook pages. Good luck!

  5. Unless you want your house to look an old warehouse in puke yellow, do not use CFL lightbulbs anywhere in your home for photos. Especially if you have a dark colored walls, it will discolor everything.

  6. Mark

    Whenever I see a house photographed with interior lights on during daytime, it says “this house is dark, so you need the lights on during the day”. Makes me wonder what else is being covered up.

  7. Mark

    ps other tips are good, esp the one about using a camera to reveal viewpoints / clutter etc.

  8. As a real estate photographer, I do leave overhead lights on. It’s a case by case basis for me. Older homes it’s pretty clear if there are ceiling lights. New homes however, it can be difficult to tell a ceiling speaker from a light. Plus to have them as an added feature can cost thousands of dollars . So I opt for having them on. Right or wrong it’s a choice I make and I’ll own it.
    One thing few agents do is write their ad based on the photography. I found it to be very effective to have the photos and write the add based on what the photos show. A good photographer will be able to shoot and match the ad if it has already been written.

  9. We are in property management and I do wish we got more opportunity to stage the units as it looks fun. Ours are usually naked when we show them.

  10. Joe Fohr

    Great tips, still slot to take in account. I say just call the Desrochers Group!!

  11. Joe Fohr

    Great tips, still a lot to take in account. I say just call the Desrochers Group!!

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