If you’d like to create “property films” with a video-enabled DSLR or other 35mm-lens-capable video camera, you’re in luck: it’s not that hard to do a clean, simple, appealing video like this one I recently shot for Wild Dunes resort.
Whether you’re trying to sell or rent your own property, or working for a real estate agency, a brief video can be a very useful sales tool. Here are a few principles and techniques that I’ve found to be effective.
1. Write a voiceover script (and have it approved by your client) before you shoot. It’s very easy to get bogged down in shooting a piece of property, spending hours of your valuable time shooting footage that you’ll never use. If you have a voiceover script set ahead of time, you’ll know exactly what you need to shoot, and what you can skip. A two-column script with voiceover in one column and your shots listed next to it works very well for this type of project.
2. Use a wide-angle lens. As a very rough rule of thumb, real estate – whether interior or exterior – always looks better with a wide angle lens. Logistically speaking, only a wide-angle lens will allow you to get a reasonably descriptive view of anything smaller than an extra-large room. My favorite lens for this purpose is the Canon 20mm/2.8. It’s relatively inexpensive, and works perfectly. If you focus on something about 8’ to 10’ in front of you, you’ll have a reasonably deep-focused shot at any aperture above f/4. It won’t be sharp enough for an architectural photo, but it’ll look good for video. If you already have the Canon 24-70mm, that works well too.
3. Put the camera in the corner. Many people make the mistake of standing parallel to a wall, and trying to shoot straight into it. That not only looks boring, it doesn’t give you a good sense of depth for most rooms, and it exaggerates lens distortion. Shooting from the corners creates a lot of diagonal lines, which gives you a visually more dynamic composition.
4. Watch the verticals. To keep your shots from looking as though they were taken in a fun-house mirror, make sure your camera is perfectly parallel to the floor, so that the vertical lines (walls, cabinets, etc.) are perfectly straight, as opposed to tapering one way or the other.
5. Don’t be afraid to go low. To avoid an excessive amount of ceiling in your shots, you’ll probably have to keep the camera lower than you think. About 4’ off the ground is usually a good starting point. You may have to go lower to avoid mirrors (especially in bathrooms), or higher to shoot over furniture.
6. Use KISS lighting. Lighting for architectural photography is a complex subject, and every photographer has a different technique. Fortunately, you can skip 99% of it. Here is Alex’s patented, three-step shortcut for lighting a room.
Step 1. If you’re in the USA or other countries with 60 kHz electricity, set your DSLR shutter speed to 1/60, so that you don’t get flickering issues from any lighting fixtures. In 50 kHz electricity countries, set it to 1/50.
Step 2. For a typical interior room, you’ll need to set your ISO to about 1250 with an aperture of around f/4. Let the windows blow out to white, but expose so that any lamps that are in the shot look bright, but aren’t totally nuclear.
Step 3. Get a couple of Lowel Tota lights. Put a 1000 watt bulb in one, and a 500 watt bulb in the other. Link them together and put them on a stand, as you see in this picture.
Put them next to your camera, and shine them into the ceiling above you and/or the wall behind you. This will raise the ambient level of light in the room without adding shadow or light patterns that don’t exist in reality. Use the 500 watt light if you only need a little bit more light, use the 1,000 watt light if you need more, or use them both together for maximum punch. (Note: The reason I recommend a 1,000 and a 500 instead of two 1,000 watt lights is that 2000 watts is close to the limit for a typical 20-amp household circuit breaker. Keeping your lights to 1,500 watts or below makes it much less likely that you’ll trip a breaker.)
7. Keep the camera moving (but not too fast). A slow, gentle, pan or tilt works well for almost any room. Give yourself five or ten seconds of static shot at the beginning and end of each move, just in case you decide it looks better. If you have a slider or a little crane, and you want to use it, that’s an extra bonus. The trick to making moving-camera shots look good is to have something in the foreground, so if you’re sliding or booming, make sure you’re positioned with a couch or table in front of you.
Editing real estate videos is very simple: just lay in the voice track (I get most of my voice tracks done by Jack Scott’s team at voiceproductions.net), add a little royalty-free music, and insert the shots where they make sense. If you’ve taken my advice and done slow moves for every shot, you can use the best part of each shot, use a half-second dissolve as the transition between one shot and the next, and you’ll be finished! Add a title graphic, maybe a Google Earth screen to show where the property is located, a closing screen with contact info, and you’ll have a very clean, smooth-looking property video.