In this article we’re going to take a look at the differences between architectural & interior design photographers and real estate photographers from someone who started out shooting real estate, then transitioned into architectural and interior design work.

By the end, you’ll have a clear understanding of how both operate and the big differences between them.

Real Estate Agents vs. Architects & Interior Designers

To understand the difference between these two types of photographers we must first look at the needs of their clients, the architects and interior designers verses the real estate agents.

Architects and interior designers usually request a select amount of specific images to represent their work, around 5 to 15 photos. 

Real estate agents usually want the most amount of shots a property can produce which is anywhere from 25 to 50 depending on the size of the property. 

Architects and interior designers are not in a hurry to receive their images, whereas real estate agents need them ASAP.

Commodity Verses Art

Today’s real estate photographers have many more tasks to do at a typical listing than just take photos. The order could also include drone shots, drone video, 3D tour, video walkthrough, floor plan.

They may also have multiple shoots in a single day which means they may be rushing to get one job done so they can get to the next one on time.

The point is that real estate photographers are not there to create art but rather to produce a commodity in the form of real estate photos and video.

Compare that to architectural & interior design photographers who schedule each photo to take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour (or more) depending on its complexity.

Architectural & interior design photographers are there to create art and do have the time to get it right.

Intimate Verses Distant

Real estate agents want photos that show the most amount of space possible, so RE photographers use very wide angle lens and position themselves in corners for the greatest angle of view.

The result compresses the sweet spot (all the furnishings) while increasing the ceiling and floor at the top and bottom of the frame which distances the viewer from the image. 

Architectural and interior design photographers want to avoid that compression, so they use lenses with a more narrow angle of view and position the camera closer which expands the sweet spot resulting in a more intimate photo.

Fake Brightness Verses Directional Light

Many RE photographers use a technique called HDR, which stands for high dynamic range. In short, they capture three exposures with every shot, one under exposed, one over exposed, and one properly exposed. 

Those three images are then layered together to produce one image that has more dynamic range (more detail in the shadows and highlights) than is possible with just one properly exposed shot. 

The result, however, can look artificially bright with no directionality to the light, and directionality is needed to provide contour (light and shadow) which amplifies the appearance of three dimensions in a two-dimensional medium like photography.

In other words, HDR can produce images that look unnaturally bright and flat

For buying and selling real estate though, that’s good enough, and HDR produces images can look impressive to the untrained eye.

However, all high-end work such as hotels, luxury homes, resorts, and high-end commercial properties avoid HDR for its limitations.

Architectural and interior design photographers will take anywhere from one to a dozen or more exposures but use the best parts of each image to create a single photo that has directionality of light.

They too will get more detail in the shadows and highlights but the photo will look natural and inviting that has a mood to it as well. 

It also takes more time to set up with additional lighting and also blocking of light.

Another big point is that you’re not going to get accurate colors with HDR, but by using flash with the latter technique, you can.

The Bottom Line

Real estate photographers use a technique that is quick and efficient because of the necessity of shooting a lot of properties that require a quick turn around.

Architectural & interior design photographers don’t have that time constraint so they can afford to use techniques that produce a higher quality image.

Another big difference is that you can teach someone to shoot HDR in an afternoon, but to learn the other way of doing things takes months if not years to learn and master. 

That’s why there are so few architectural & interior design photographers compared to almost any other kind of photographer out there. The cost of entry is high with more advanced gear (cameras, lenses, lighting) technique, and artistry. 

You need to be both a technician and an artist to operate in the world of high-end architectural & interior design photography but once you get there, the view is spectacular. 

Thanks for your time!

Charles Mitri

Charles Mitri is an architectural, interior design, and hotel photographer based in Yorktown, VA.

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