Tips for Taking Professional Real Estate Photos with Your iPhone

If you carry a smartphone, you know how easy it is to snap a casual photo. iPhone cameras have improved enough that image quality can be quite good. Taking real estate photos with your iPhone is convenient and can be a real time-saver.

You know attractive photos can help sell a property faster and for more money, but how do you achieve the same level of quality that you can with a DSLR camera? 

It’s not that hard. All you need is the right tools and some practice using them. In this article, we’ll explain to do this and give you tips for:

  • Selecting the right gear
  • Using High Dynamic Range (HDR) tools
  • Paying attention to composition
  • Checking for clutter
  • Keeping it level and steady

Selecting the Right Gear

You don’t need to carry a lot of extra equipment with you, although a few well-chosen items will make your real estate photography easier and can yield better interior images. In this section, we’ll cover items you should have as well as a couple of nice-to-have options.

Phone Charger and External Battery Pack

Charge your phone. This sounds obvious but we all get busy.

Heavy use--checking listings, calling customers, reviewing documents--eats up battery life. How many times has your phone battery died when you’re not near an electrical outlet?

The last thing you want to worry about is rushing to finish your shoot or, even worse, being unable to finish a shoot at all. 

Buy a charging cable for your car so you can charge on the go.

You may also want to purchase some extra charging cables to use in your office or on location. They’re inexpensive, lightweight, and can be the single best purchase you make. 

Invest in a backup battery pack if you’re a heavy user or you have an older phone that needs charging more often.

Look for a power supply that charges devices quickly, can support multiple devices, and is compact and easy to carry. Some battery packs include a useful indicator or gauge showing whether the battery is fully charged. 

Batteries are heavy but in this case, lighter weight isn’t necessarily better--it usually means less power.

Read consumer reviews to understand the pros and cons of the product you’re considering. You may not need a top-of-the-line product, but you do need something good enough to get you through to your next recharge.

Gear Bag

Organize your equipment in a small bag or pouch that you can grab as you head out the door.

That way, you won’t arrive at a location worried that you’ve forgotten something. Instead, you’ll be able to focus on capturing great property photos with your iPhone. Look for a bag that has:

  • A wide opening so you have easy access to contents
  • A secure closure like a zipper to protect your gear
  • Just enough space to carry what you need safely
  • Padding and compartments that will fit what you intend to stow in it

If you already carry a large purse, backpack, or tote, consider something small enough to fit easily inside one of these.  

Tripod and iPhone Mount

Smartphone tripods are necessary if you plan to do a lot of your own photography.

A good tripod will help you take clearer pictures, especially if you’re shooting in dim light or using an external lens.

Many tripods are small, light, and fold up compactly so they’re easy to carry. Some have bendable legs, allowing you to wrap them around a post or railing. This can be handy when a flat, level surface isn’t available; for example when you’re shooting outside. 

Look for a tripod that is:

  • Durable, sturdy, and has a good grip
  • Lightweight and foldable 
  • Sturdy enough to take repeated use 

Some tripods are strong enough to hang a heavy bag on them; some are not. It may not be an issue for you but you may want to take it into consideration when researching tripods.

Some tripods come with a wireless remote. This device allows you to trigger the shutter on your iPhone, giving you to time take a photo from a distance without having to set the camera’s timer and run--a handy feature where you can’t easily or safely stand next to the tripod.

When you buy a tripod, you may also need to purchase a separate mount to hold your iPhone.

Some tripods include a phone or camera mount; some do not. You’ll have a variety of choices here, too. Check to be sure the mount is:

  • The right size to hold your phone
  • "Grippy" enough to hold the phone securely with no wobble
  • Sturdy enough to hold up under the conditions you’ll be working in

Spirit (Bubble) Level

Making sure the camera is level is critical for high-quality photos.

Real estate interior shots that show lopsided rooms or rooms with vertical lines that lean to one side don’t do justice to the property. A camera leaning to the left or right makes the room look sloped. 

An inexpensive mini spirit or bubble level will save time you might otherwise spend editing the photo later.

Some tripods come with spirit levels built-in. If you want to purchase a separate tool, mini levels designed for hanging artwork will do nicely. 

iPhones come with a Level app, though it can be tough to find. Read on to find out how to locate and use this handy bit of software.

Bonus Tip: External Lens Set 

Although iPhone cameras have gotten much better, add-on lenses can help overcome their limitations.

A wide-angle lens takes better real estate photos because you can include more of the space in one image, but only some newer iPhones come with this feature. External lens sets, while expensive, can augment built-in lenses nicely. 

This is another case where the price is usually an indicator of quality.

You may not need the most expensive external lens set available, and you may only need one or two external lenses, not an entire kit. Research carefully and take the following tips into consideration.

Some external lenses clip onto your phone; some come with a proprietary case that must be used.  For the most flexibility, look for:

  • Lenses that work with both front and rear cameras on your specific model of iPhone. Some lens kits don’t work well with dual lenses on the newer iPhones; in fact, you may not need external lenses with the iPhone 11 Pro. 
  • Lenses that are easy to swap in and out and give clear sharp images.
  • A clip-on lens that fits securely over your iPhone’s case. 

You’ll want to practice attaching and removing an external lens as it can take a moment to align it with the camera. And if you have an iPhone with multiple cameras, you may need and additional app to manually choose the right lens.

In short, an external lens set is optional. Shop carefully if you choose to purchase one. And remember you’ll need a bit of practice before you can use it comfortably.

Using High Dynamic Range (HDR) Tools 

The biggest challenge in photography is getting the lighting right.

You’ve probably tried to take pictures of beautiful rooms with stunning views framed dramatically in windows. But in the final image the interior looks too dark, the outside too bright, and the photo is blurred.

This extreme difference in light levels between the interior of a room and the outside is called “high dynamic range,” or HDR. Professional real estate photographers rely on a body of knowledge and years of practice to overcome lighting challenges this represents.

They set up expensive lighting equipment and shoot with complex cameras, then work their wizardry on a computer to produce the perfect image. 

HDR Photography on an iPhone

The good news: you can take good HDR photographs on your iPhone with a little knowledge

Turn HDR On Before Taking the Photo

The iPhone's HDR capability is quite good and has been further improved in the iPhone X and 11.

With HDR on, the camera takes two or three shots, changing the exposure (the amount of light coming into the camera lens) each time. The resulting images run from too bright to too dark; individually none of them is ideal.

Stitching these images together produces a final picture that looks much better. 

To turn on HDR your iPhone’s camera, go to Settings > Camera and be sure Smart HDR is turned on. (Note that this may be different for older iPhones.)

Use a Third Party App for Best Results

Even with HDR turned on, the contrast between the interior and exterior view is often so great in real estate photos that it will be too challenging for the iPhone's built-in HDR. You will get a photo where the interior is too dark.  

You can use the Photomatix Real Estate Camera to overcome this problem.

Instead of taking just two or three shots, the app takes as many are required to cover the whole range of bright and dark areas. This could be seven or even nine photos.

The app lets you also choose you preferred presets to get a nice bright looking interior shots.

Paying Attention to Composition

Once on location, don’t pull out your iPhone and start snapping pictures right away. Take a minute to set up each room for the best shot possible. This will save you time in the long run because you will have less re-shooting and editing to do.

Composition is important, even in an empty room.

Use photography’s rule of thirds to guide you.

Divide the iPhone screen into nine equal-sized boxes stacked three-by-three. Use these imaginary boxes and their intersection points to compose your shot.

(iPhones will display this grid for you. Turn it on by going to Settings > Camera.) 

Place the main points of interest in the room on the four intersection points to balance the photo and create more tension, energy, and interest.

The viewer’s eye will be drawn to these points and the photo will appear more dramatic.

Consider the space. What is the room’s best feature? What do you want to highlight in the final photograph?

Use the rule of thirds to help you pick an angle that will show the room to its best advantage. Try to include features to help give the viewer a sense of the floor plan, like a doorway that leads to the bath in the master suite. 

Walk around to determine the best place to stand. Doorways and corners are good choices because they allow you to include as much of the room as possible in one shot. 

If you have the option, try different lenses to see which one works best. This is the time to use your external wide-angle lens if you have one. 

Rearrange furniture and decor and move objects out of the way for a clean, simple shot.

Look outside the windows and check the view. Tatty outdoor furniture, cars parked in the driveway, or dead plants will distract from the picture because they’ll draw the viewer’s eye. Make sure the landscape looks as beautiful as the interior.

Keeping it Level and Steady

You’ve done a lot of work to set up the room. Now it’s time to shoot.

Keep It On the Level

Hold the iPhone low and level while you’re shooting. If you’re not using a tripod, hold the phone about belly high or, if you can, kneel and take a picture from that level. Use your spirit level or turn on the iPhone’s built-in level to check positioning. 

Apple has made the Level app tough to find. For a newer iPhone:

  1. Open the Measure app. You will notice two options at the bottom of the screen: Measure and Level. 
  2. Tap on Level if it’s not already selected. 

For older iPhones: 

  1. Launch the Compass app and, if necessary, calibrate it. 
  2. Swipe to the left on the screen to reveal the hidden Level option. 

The screen will turn green when your iPhone is level. This works in both portrait and landscape positions, and even when the iPhone is laying flat on its back.

Ready, Steady, Go

It’s a good idea to use a tripod for HDR photography.

The shutter speed slows so it stays open longer when there’s less light in the room. But the longer the shutter is open, the more important it is to hold still to avoid jiggling the camera and getting a blurry shot.

This is a particular problem with interior photography. The slightest wobble can mean a blurry picture. 

If you’re not using a tripod, hold the phone steady when you tap the shutter. Some ideas for staying rock-steady:

  • Brace your elbows against a wall or piece of furniture, or place the iPhone on furniture. 
  • If you’re crouching down to take the shot from a low angle, brace your elbow on your knee.
  • If you’re resting the iPhone on something, set the camera’s timer so you can step back and let go of the camera. Even a light touch can cause a wobble.
  • Use a small beanbag or bag of rice to support the iPhone, or prop it against another small object.
  • Take a deep breath, exhale, hold your breath, and snap the picture.

Go Ahead, Try It Yourself

If you’re not already a practiced iPhone photographer, don’t worry. Practice makes perfect. 

  • Try the tips and techniques discussed in this article and discover what works best for you.

    Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see immediate improvement. It takes time to learn and be comfortable with new tools and techniques.
  • Keep your iPhone’s software updated. Small changes can lead to big improvements in picture quality. And new features may roll out that change how you take and edit pictures. 
  • Talk to other real estate agents who are taking great photos with their iPhones.

    Ask them for tips, their favorite apps, and their essential gear. If you can, accompany them to a shoot to see how they do it.
  • Check the real estate photography section of our learning resources. The articles listed there have been written for professional real estate photographers, but there's a lot of great information for the novice here too.

With a little time and effort, you can take your own high-quality real estate photos.