Would you allow your clients to only peek in the window for a showing?

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Olsen Ziegler Realty

Would you allow your clients to only peek in the window for a showing?

I can't quite see inside very well...darn...click next!

Absurd question, I know.  But, I use this analogy to drive home the point of the poor image quality with many photos I see of homes for sale in our local MLS here in Greater Cleveland, Ohio and that a buyer looking at photos on the Internet is really a home seller's first showing and a home seller should make a great first impression.

Part of making a first good impression is ensuring photographs are crisp and clear.  Understanding how to achieve this lies in first understanding some basic characteristics of the most commonly used file type that digital cameras store photos as: JPG.

Before I show some examples so you can visually see the difference, it's important for a real estate agent who is taking and processing photos to understand a few basic concepts.  I won't diverge from the post and talk about resolution sizes of thumbnail photos that I also commonly see in the MLS -- you know, the ones you almost need to use a magnifying glass to see or take off your glasses (if you need them) and eyeball the screen up close to see the photo, or other common mistakes such as under exposure, tilted shots, etc.

In order to take, process and produce exceptional photography for real estate, the skill set needed is vast, and the purpose of this post is also to not talk about this as that is really a series of posts, so this post will just touch on a simple concept called "file compression."

JPG or JPEG -- This common acronym is the most common file type for pictures to be displayed on computers, websites, etc.  While this post is not a comprehensive article about JPG, the main point I want to drive home that most REALTORS in my conversations I have found do not understand is that JPG is a lossy compressionLossy meaning "with losses". 

In other words, every time one hits the save button to save the photo being worked on, pixels (the underlying representation of the photo) WILL BE LOST FOREVER.  It is a destructive file compression algorithm.  Other file types are not lossy (such as TIFF), meaning you can edit them, save them twenty times, and you won't lose image quality.

Not so with JPG, each time you make a change and save the file, pixels are lost.

For example, common editing techniques employed by a person with moderate photo editing skills include:

  • resizing
  • straightening
  • histogram editing
  • contrast
  • brightness
  • hue, brightness, saturation
  • shadows
  • highlights
  • resolution reduction for the web (300 dpi to 72 dpi)
  • etc.

The problem is, every time a jpg image is modified in some way, image quality is being degraded with each destructive action.

There is an easy solution to this destructive dilemma, and using Adobe's Photoshop Elements, the answer lies in using a frame layer.

In short, throw your photo into a frame layer as the first step, and the integrity of your photo will be preserved.  Frame layers are built using a technology called Smart Objects.  The smart objects makes changes to a copy of the pixels, not the original photo itself.

What is the resulting impact if you don't use technology to preserve your pixels?  Well...see for yourself.

I don't want to give the impression that JPG is bad.  In fact, depending on implementation, it does a rather remarkable job with maintaining quality given the file size reductions it is capable of achieving.  Moreover, some photo editing programs like Photoshop Elements can do a fabulous job by allowing the user to create "layers" so as to avoid non-destructive behavior to the underlying pixels.

Also note: Not all operations are equally destructive to image quality.  Resizing is one of the worst offenders in my experience.

The 1st photo:  Is the original photo I took with absolutely no edits of any kind applied to it, it is straight out of the camera. 

Original Unedited Photo

The 2nd photo: I took the original photo, created a Photoshop Elements frame layer, and then re-sized it up and down about 10 times, re-sampling the pixels like crazy. You can see the end result is almost identical if not identical to the first photo.

Using a Frame Layer - Edited 10 times

The 3rd photo: I took the original photo, there is NO frame layer, and I resized the photo 8 times.

No Frame Layer - Resized 8 times

The 4th photo: I took the original photo, there is NO frame layer, and I resized the photo just 2 times. I resized it down to 50 pixels and back to the original 496 pixels. You can see the dramatic effect significant resizing has on photo quality.

No Frame Layer - Resized 2 times

The 5th photo: To show how an advanced photographer can use advanced photo processing techniques, you can see how I took an ordinary photograph and made it better:

Advanced Digital Editing Techniques

Here is an original photo that came out of my camera and here is another one using a circular polarizing filter, tripod and advanced digital editing techniques.  You be the judge of what you as a buyer would rather see:

Before...Straight out of the camera:

before - straight out of camera


or...After...using a circular polarizing filter, tripod, correct time of day, no overcast sky, and advanced digital editing techniques:


Now then...about that 1st showing...


Re-Blogged 2 times:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Jose Dias 11/13/2010 03:51 PM
  2. Jim Frimmer 11/13/2010 07:20 PM
Home Selling
Photoshop Elements for Real Estate
Photography, Advanced
ABC's of Real Estate Marketing
Tips and Techniques for Better Real Estate Photography
Advice for Sellers
cleveland real estate photography

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Show All Comments
Gloria Valvasori, Accredited Senior Agent
REAL Experience | REAL Commitment | REAL Results!
Hi Chris, great tutorial... I am always mindful to upload good photos of my listings. I'm on the market for a new camera. What kind of camera do you use?
Nov 14, 2010 09:12 AM #18
Julia Odom
Select Realty Professionals - Chattanooga, TN
Chattanooga Homes for Sale

Another thing that a lot of people don't realize is that if they don't resize a jpeg and upload it to their MLS as a large file, it's going to be blurry. You would expect that if you were uploading a small file and looking at it larger, but it does that going the other way as well.

Nov 14, 2010 09:58 AM #19
Andrzej Niemyjski
Realty One Group - Sun City West, AZ

Chris one big advantage of shooting in RAW over JPG is that I don't have to worry about White Balance I can totally change that in either PS or Lightroom.  I have not used PE so I wouldn't know any of its capabilities.


Nov 14, 2010 10:16 AM #20
Frank D'Angelo
EXIT REALTY NEXUS Minneapolis & St. Paul MN - Coon Rapids, MN
Helping people is my business in Real Estate

Thanks for the post.  Some mls areas are very restrictive re: editing/photo shopping photos.  In fact in our area there an abundance of fines for that.

Quality photos are most important in my opinion.  Tell it like it really is.

Frank D'Angelo EcoBroker

Minneapolis MN

Nov 14, 2010 10:20 AM #21
Tammie White, Broker
Franklin Homes Realty LLC - Franklin, TN
Franklin TN Homes for Sale

Chris, I always tell sellers that the photographs in the MLS are the first showing and they need to be great. Whenever we have a sunny day with beautiful blue skies, I'm snapping photos like crazy. That's the pictures I want in the MLS.

Nov 14, 2010 10:29 AM #22
Kathy Kenney
Keller Williams, Princeton, NJ - Robbinsville, NJ
Realtor - Princeton & Central NJ Homes for Sale

Great tutorial, Chris.  Now I just have to figure out how to do all of this stuff! 

Nov 14, 2010 01:21 PM #23
Gary Woltal
Keller Williams Realty - Flower Mound, TX
Assoc. Broker Realtor SFR Dallas Ft. Worth

Chris, besides the image editing you showed so well lighting is everything with photos. Great tips.

Nov 14, 2010 03:19 PM #24
Maureen Bray Portland OR Home Stager ~ Room Solutions Staging
Room Solutions Staging, Portland OR - Portland, OR
"Staging that Sells Portland Homes"

Chris -- your last photo set sums it up perfectly -- you're very talented at both photography and editing.  Thanks for such an enlightening post!  I'm bookmarking it and plan to read it as many times as necessary to permanently etch this information in my brain.

Nov 14, 2010 04:09 PM #25
Scott Petersen
Client First, Realtors - Canton, MI - Canton, MI

Thanks for the post. I am currently trying to learn more about taking good photos. My New Year goal is to buy a more advanced camera.

Nov 14, 2010 04:15 PM #26
Claude Labbe
Real Living | At Home - Washington, DC
Realty for Your Busy Life

picture is worth 1000 words, and usually more $1000's...

Nov 14, 2010 05:19 PM #27
Carla Freund
Keller Williams Preferred Realty - Apex, NC
Raleigh - Cary Triangle Real Estate 919-602-8489

Thanks for the posts! Great analogy about allowing your clients to "peak in the window" at a listing.

Nov 14, 2010 08:46 PM #28
Mike Weber
Keller Williams Realty Northern Colorado - Fort Collins, CO
40+ years in Northern Colorado

Good info. If a picture I have needs adjustment, I like to save the original and work on a copy.  As you mention, taking the photo correctly in the beginning will reduce the need to work on it at all.

My pet peeve is the single exterior shot that the agent obviously took from their cell phone while driving by at 35 mph.

Nov 15, 2010 02:12 AM #29
Mike Leibel
CIR Realty - Condo Specialist - Calgary, AB
Associate Broker - REALTOR®

Wow, that's pretty amazing Chris.  You made a very good point.   Bad photos on a listing reflect a bad light on all of us.

Nov 15, 2010 02:13 AM #30
Chris Olsen
Olsen Ziegler Realty - Cleveland, OH
Broker Owner Cleveland Ohio Real Estate

Hi Colleen -- History...how times have changed.  I used to use paper tapes to bootstrap mainframe operating systems way back when.

Hi Marti -- I see it to, it's amazing what a lack of understanding of basic camera functions exists out there, it's one thing if one is a hobbyist, it's another thing when we are PAID to market people's homes for a living.

Hi Christine -- I learn more every week that goes by -- a never ending learning curve.

Hi Shellie -- Thanks and good luck to you too!

Hi Patricia -- Thanks and best of luck to you too!

Hi Geoff -- Very true, good point.

Hi Karen -- I am amazed as well.

Nov 15, 2010 09:39 AM #31
Chris Olsen
Olsen Ziegler Realty - Cleveland, OH
Broker Owner Cleveland Ohio Real Estate

Hi Jack -- Thanks and I learn a TON from the photography groups here in AR.

Hi Patricia -- A person after my own heart -- I totally agree with you.

Hi Gloria -- I have a mid-level Nikon D80 with a Nikon DX 18-135mm lens, a Sigma 10-20m lens, tripod, circular polarizing filter and a hotshoe SB600 flash as my basic equipment.

Nov 15, 2010 09:42 AM #32
Chris Olsen
Olsen Ziegler Realty - Cleveland, OH
Broker Owner Cleveland Ohio Real Estate

Hi Julia -- So true, DPI, minimum resolution sizes, etc.  I see luxury homes that are thumbnail sized in our MLS, totally unbelievable.

Hi Andrzej -- I haven't played much with RAW, but have read some articles on the tremendous flexibility it gives an advanced photographer, so thanks for the insight.

Hi Frank -- Thanks for your perspective on your MLS.  I have not heard of fines being levied.  I don't know exactly what the rules are, so I cannot comment specifically, but I don't see any difference at all when it comes to basic editing for things that could be done with more expensive equipment on the front end. For example: I could use a tripod to create clearer images, or I could shoot without a tripod and correct that (somewhat) in a editing program, to me, either way, you end up with relatively the same result, so what difference does it make?  But perhaps the rules are for more crazy stuff like removing things, changing backgrounds, etc.?


Nov 15, 2010 10:09 AM #33
Chris Olsen
Olsen Ziegler Realty - Cleveland, OH
Broker Owner Cleveland Ohio Real Estate

Hi Tammie -- Totally agree with you, you serve your sellers well! :)

Hi Kathy -- I'm learning everyday too -- it never ends.

Hi Gary -- You bring up such an important topic on lighting, you are so right, it makes a huge difference.

Hi Maureen -- Thanks...and I learn alot from reading about home staging from you as well.

Hi Scott -- Lots of options for moderate prices these days.

Hi Claude -- Oh so true...well said.

Hi Carla -- Thanks.

Hi Mike W. -- So said isn't it when you see that kind of stuff?

Hi Mike L. -- You bring up a good point, imagine if all the photos on every listing were above average or exceptional.


Nov 15, 2010 10:55 AM #34
Iran Watson
Georgia Elite Realty - Marietta, GA
Marietta Real Estate Agent - Photographer

Lots of good info here Chris.  I can't tell you how many time I have toiled away in post to get a set perfect only to see the quality trashed by the lossy Jpeg conversion I have to do in order to upload the photos to the MLS.  After going back and forth several times uploading and deleting photos from my MLS, I created an action in PS that basically preps the images for the pixel wrangling it will inevitabely get when uploaded.  It's still a far cry from the majestic look of the original PSD file, but at least it addresses this in some manner.

Nov 22, 2010 02:20 PM #35
Chris Olsen
Olsen Ziegler Realty - Cleveland, OH
Broker Owner Cleveland Ohio Real Estate

Hi Iran -- Sounds like you have a good handle on it.  I use PE and I save it as a PSD until I'm done, then I lower the DPI to 72 at the same time I alter the final dimensions, then save it out as a JPG then don't touch it.  I'm not sure if I should be doing anything more, but that's my end of workflow.

Nov 23, 2010 11:10 AM #36
NoCo Home Team
C3 Real Estate Solutions - Fort Collins, CO
Sell Smart, Buy Wise & Live Well in Nrthn Colorado

Thank you for this post. Someone needs to say it. I get so frustrated with all the agents that take 400k listings and only put 1 or 2 pictures on the MLS. Seriously I can't believe they can even get the listing by doing that!!!

Dec 06, 2010 04:04 PM #37
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