Tips to Improve Your Listing Photos, Part 4 - The Digitial Darkroom, photo editing and post proccesing

Real Estate Agent with Georgia Elite Realty

As a Marietta, GA real estate agent specializing in Atlanta real estate photography, I had to learn quite a few lessons on my way to competence.  Even though I was a decent Atlanta photographer, or so I thought, it didn't take long to realize that taking pictures of homes came with its own set of unique challenges.  This blog series is written with the amateur photographer in mind.  Whether you are a real estate agenthome stagerseller or just interested in taking better pictures of homes, this blog series is for you.   

Part 4 - The Digitial Darkroom, photo editing and post proccesing 

Rarely are the images seen in advertising straight out of the camera. In fact, I'd estimate that as much as 90% are edited or retouched before they are published for the world to see.  The use of 'Photoshop' has become so common place in all the media around us you would be hard pressed to find an image that wasn't.  Interestingly, that is not true of real estate marketing, at least not of the photos you typically see on the  MLS.  I think part of the reason is that there is a stigma to 'Photoshopping' an image as involving some sort of digital trickery or deceit.  And that does happen, but the act of editing a photo to improve its appearance or display better on the internet is not inherently bad.  Another reason I believe, is that the workflow of using editing software isn't always very intuitive.  Even if someone is computer literate, there can still be a steep learning curve.

Whatever reasons you have for not using editing software to improve your images, its time to let them go.  Appropriately done, editing your photos is neither unethical or all that hard really as long as you follow some simple guidelines.  First and foremost, you need to either download a free editing suite like or or purchase a more powerful version like Adobe Photoshop or its little brother, Photoshop Elements.  Once you have the software installed and your pictures downloaded from the camera, it's time to have some fun.  I encourage people just starting out to explore the sliders and take each one to the extreme, not because this is how the software is used necessarily but as an exercise in recognizing how each adjustment affects the overall image.   

One of the greatest benefits of editing your images is that you can correct a lot of defects in what are otherwise good photos.  This frees the photographer up to defer some of the work of getting a good picture in the camera to work later on at the computer.  Personally I find this very liberating and lets me focus on 'building' an image as opposed to simply 'capturing' it.  For others, just being able to straighten the picture and resize it for the MLS is enough to make the quality better.  Bridgemill Real Estate Photography by Iran Watson Listing Agent in Marietta Cobb County, GABridgemill 2 Real Estate Photography by Iran Watson Listing Agent in Marietta Cobb County, GA

The photos above demonstrate how a seemingly unusable image can be brought back to life with the right post processing.  This was all done by working with a single, RAW file in Photomatix Pro and Photoshop Elements 6.0


Let's talk about workflow now.  One of the first things you'll notice with editing software are that there are several buttons to push and sliders to slide and they all do something different.  So how do you make sense of it all?  Well there are a couple different ways of going about it.  I like to break the process into three stages, Correcting, Retouching and Resizing.  Let's use these stages as a starting point and look at how we can take a photo from start to finish.

Correcting - One of the first things I do when I start working on an image is rotate and straighten it.  In this case, 'straight' means both your horizontal and vertical lines are correct.  Make it a good habit of avoiding converging verticals in the camera because you will need more sophisticated software to correct that kind of distortion.  This is also a good time to correct the other defects such as barrel distortion caused by a wide angle lens or cloning out items in the image, if your software allows it.  This is one area where the free software cannot compete with a bona fide editing suite.  If you are already familiar with software like Photoshop, I suggest PTlens or DxO Optics as an alternative to doing your perspective and lens distortion correction manually.

Retouching - This stage is where you fix the brightness, contrast, saturation and color.  Changes made here can drastically affect how the image looks, for better or worse.  I like to start with the 'lighting' or exposure aspect of the photo.  If you have the option to adjust the shadows and highlights, I like to do that as opposed to brightening the entire image.  Once the exposure is good throughout the photo, I adjust the color saturation to taste and then finally add brightness and contrast.  Contrast is especially helpful if the image looks grayish or hazy.

You can get a lot of mileage out of the free software in this department but once again the pro level software and plug-ins can make a remarkable difference.  If you are looking for something to add that last bit pf sparkle or help make the image 'pop', I recommend Viveza 2 and Topaz Adjust .

Resizing - At this stage the image should look pretty good, but we aren't done yet.  The picture still needs to be cropped, resized and sharpened for its intended medium.  Once the image is cropped, either for a better composition or for a different aspect ratio, I save a copy of the file in its original size and format.  This allows me to go back and make subsequent resized versions of the same photo without having to do all the corrections over again.  At this point, it's a good idea to think about the different places these photos will ultimately end up.  Are you posting these photos on the MLS or another website?  Are you making full color print brochures and postcards with them?  You need to resize and sharpen differently depending where they will be viewed.  My local MLS, First Multiple Listing Service, allows photos to be uploaded at a max resolution of 800 x 600 with a max file size of 200kb.  So I do one version that is specifically resized and sharpened for the MLS and then another version that is suitable for printing or displaying at hi-res, typically 1920 x 1280 at 300 pixels per inch.  Don't just select arbitrary values, be specific with the resizing.

The final step before saving as a JPEG is sharpening.  When a photo is resized it is not uncommon to lose some clarity and this is why I choose to do my sharpening last.  Wait to sharpen the image until after all the other adjustments and resizing are done.  I typically use an unsharp mask feature as opposed to a standard sharpening adjustment, but others may have a different preference.  Regardless, use this feature sparingly, over sharpening an image is one ''fix' that can do more harm than good.

Base Exposure Real Estate Photography by Iran Watson Listing Agent in Marietta Cobb Co, GAFinal Composite Real Estate Photography by Iran Watson Listing Agent in Marietta Cobb Co, GA

First photo is straight out of the camera, 1 of 3 exposures used to create the second photo.  Second photo is the blended final image in which extensive post processing was done.


So to recap, the workflow I find most efficient is Correct, Retouch, Resize and finally Sharpen, and then Save as Jpeg.  Following these steps is one formula to achieving consistent results time and time again.  I also like to practice the '3 steps forward, 1 step back rule'.  The idea here is to make your adjustments until you get the desired result and then purposely back-off a little as to ensure you don't over do it.  For those that are new to digital editing and post processing, this workflow may take some getting used to so persevere.  In closing, I want to mention that what I have covered here is just scratching the surface.  There is enough material on this topic to cover a hundred blogs.  I hope you use this one as a spring board and dive right in as proficiency with editing software can and will lead to a dramatic improvement in you listing photos.


Be sure to check out the other blogs on the Tips to Improve Your Listing Photos series:

Part 1: Learn What Makes a Good Real Estate Photo 

Part 2: How to get the Most out of your Flash 

Part 3: The Most Important Camera Accessory The Tripod 

Part 4: The Digital Darkroom, Photo Editing and Post Processing 

Part 5: White Balance and Color Control 

Part 6: Understanding Focal Length



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Dan Edward Phillips
Dan Edward Phillips, Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, CA - Eureka, CA
Humboldt and Del Norte Counties, CA

Hi Iran, great photos and information/advice, thanks for the post!

Jul 22, 2010 05:16 PM #1
Doretha Caldwell
Ellis Property Investments - Fayetteville, NC

Thanks Iran.  Wow, what a difference. Great post and Lovely pictures.

Jul 22, 2010 05:22 PM #2
Denise Hamlin, Broker/Owner
Cardinal Realty ~ 319-400-0268 - Iowa City, IA
Helping Happy Clients Make Smart Choices

Hi Iran, Nice job explaining the process. I use Corel Paint Shop Pro X2 - Photoshop is a bit too rich for my blood. Love what you've done with your photos. Makes me think I may need to bite the bullet and invest in something more. Need a new camera first though, so I'll wait before I make that decision.

Jul 22, 2010 05:26 PM #3
Sara Abbas
Realty Austin - Cedar Park, TX
CNE, CDRS - 512-522-4990

Great information.  I hadn't seen the series but will go back and read the previous posts as well.  I always start with Picnik, but the improvements you made are really impressive.  I'll have to check out the other tools, as well. Thanks.

Jul 22, 2010 05:36 PM #4
Bill Wilson
Paradigm AdvantEdge - Edmond, OK

Another good post Iran!

Among the professional tools, I might mention Adobe Lightroom. Not only is it an excellent cataloging software, but the new version 3 all but eliminates the need for Photoshop, as it now offers lens corrections and vertical corrections.

Jul 23, 2010 03:03 AM #5
Iran Watson
Georgia Elite Realty - Marietta, GA
Marietta Real Estate Agent - Photographer

Thanks for the comments!

Bill- You absolutely right, Lightroom 3 does have some great new features.  I do not use it, but I have heard many good thing about it.  Thanks for the reminder.

Jul 23, 2010 03:14 AM #6
Denise Hamlin, Broker/Owner
Cardinal Realty ~ 319-400-0268 - Iowa City, IA
Helping Happy Clients Make Smart Choices

Glad I came back. Thanks for the info about Lightroom Bill. I seriously need to look into that.


Jul 23, 2010 05:44 AM #7
Mark Gridley
eXp Realty, Reinventing the National Real Estate Office! - Fountain Hills, AZ
TecKnow Real Estate Agent, Fountain Hills, AZ

Thanks for the tips. Having just started playing with Adobe Photoshop Elements I found the order you suggest particularly helpful.

Jul 23, 2010 07:30 AM #8
Gary Pike
Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Metro Brokers - Powder Springs, GA

Wow amazing what you have done.  I also thought I took good pictures but now I see the possibilities I will need to investigate your technique.  Thanks for posting.

Jul 24, 2010 04:08 AM #9
Don Stern
Realty Executives South Louisiana - Baton Rouge, LA
Greater Baton Rouge Real Estate

Another great post, Iran!  Thanks for taking the time to share your insights and experience.

Jul 25, 2010 07:40 AM #10
Jenna Dixon
DRA Homes | Cobb County Real Estate - Marietta, GA
Empowers You With a Better Real Estate Experience


Beautiful photos and wonderful explanations.  I can wait to go back and read the rest of the series.


Jul 25, 2010 11:41 AM #11
Chris Olsen
Olsen Ziegler Realty - Cleveland, OH
Broker Owner Cleveland Ohio Real Estate

Hi Iran -- I took a class in PE last year and it was so helpful to understand the workflow.  I'm now starting to experiment and learn using more wide-angle lens and boy do i have a lot to learn with lens distortion, flashes, etc.  Your capabilities are beyond impressive!

Jul 27, 2010 03:29 PM #12
Beth Lester
Beth Lester Designs - Torrance, CA
Home Staging & Interior Decorating

Thanks, Iran.  I take it you are starting with the pictures in RAW format?  

I tried doing that but realized I don't have software to handle it, so I work with my JPEG.  No layering for me unfortunately. 

The program I use for editing is Microsoft Digital Image Pro 9.  It works quite well, but I don't have a clue how to just adjust certain areas, like shadows and highlights.  That would really help sometimes.  Is that done with layering or a Photoshop perk?

Jul 29, 2010 04:09 PM #13
Iran Watson
Georgia Elite Realty - Marietta, GA
Marietta Real Estate Agent - Photographer

Thanks again everyone for the comments!

@Beth - I always shoot in RAW.  Most cameras that are capable of shooting in RAW format will also include software that allows you to open the RAW file and do so initial corrections there.  This is the perfect opportunity to correct aspects like white balance and exposure.

Adjusting shadows and highlights is a function of Photoshop Elements.  I'm assuming a similar feature is available in other editing software however it might not be called by the same name.

You can use layers in Photoshop regardless of the format, Jpegs included.  

Jul 30, 2010 03:43 AM #14
Don Corson
Coldwell Banker King Thompson - Columbus, OH

Iran -

Good stuff, as usual.   I appreciate this series.  I have discovered that workflow when I use Picasa, but only after MUCH trial and error.  I was just working on some "mock"-HDR photos by utilizing the 3 bracketed images, and then using Picasa's "collage" feature.  It lightens the photos up somewhat, but nothing spectacular.  I have found that I can get nearly as good of a result by just using the workflow that you describe.  

I think somebody needs to invent an 'instant' HDR for Dummies, where we can just drop in the bracketed photos, and the software works its magic, and we're done.  I downloaded some Free HDR processing software, and have played with it some, but I feel like I would need to take some classes to really understand how to use it.

But, the great thing is that 95% of the agents that we're competing with don't do a thing with post processing.

Aug 03, 2010 07:38 AM #15
Julia Odom
Select Realty Professionals - Chattanooga, TN
Chattanooga Homes for Sale

I'm always trying to improve my photography. I've been using Photomatix Lite's exposure fusion feature instead of tone mapping with my bracketed photos and I'm finding that I usually like the outcome better. It seems like most of the 'true' HDR shots feel too surreal but maybe it's just that I need to work on perfecting my slider use.

Great tip about resizing specifically for MLS. I find that most agents upload a file that's too big, it gets compressed & blurry. I'm sure they are banging their heads against the wall and (ironically) taking bigger pictures to try to compensate.

Aug 08, 2010 04:00 AM #16
Eric Kodner
Madeline Island Realty - La Pointe, WI
CRS, Madeline Island Realty, LaPointe, WI 54850 -

I'm glad you mentioned DxO software.  Not many are familiar with it, but it has some awesome features and capabilities.

Aug 10, 2010 08:10 PM #17
Toronto, ON

Hi Iran - This is a fantantic overview of some editing and post processing issues in listing photograph.

Jan 08, 2011 04:38 PM #18
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Iran Watson

Marietta Real Estate Agent - Photographer
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