Real estate photography and architecture photography live on the same planet in that they both shoot the exteriors and interiors of buildings. But what each creates and how each is created live on two different continents.
In this article, I'll identify and explain the 5 major differences between real estate photography and architecture photography. So, let's get started.
1. Each Serves a Different Purpose
Although both real estate and architectural photography are used for marketing, the differences in the types of marketing are significant. For example, real estate photos are used almost exclusively on the Internet on a short-term basis to entice homebuyers. In contrast, while architectural images are used on the Internet, they are commonly used in print media and have a far longer lifespan.
Architects, interior designers, and major builders commonly use photographs in high-quality printed brochures. And, if you ever visit the administrative offices of an architect, a major construction firm, or an interior designer's showroom, you're very likely to see large framed photographs showing off their works.
These differences in the marketing purposes of real estate versus architectural photos is the foundational difference that results in the remaining four major differences between these distinctly different types of photography.
2. Photographic Composition
A photo's composition is the visual presentation of what's being photographed; it's the photographer's view or perspective of what they want the viewer to see.
Because the goal of real estate photography is to show the spaciousness of a home, real estate photographers use ultra-wide angle lenses to capture and present as much of a space as possible in a single shot. They'll also shoot the same room from different locations or perspectives to give the viewer an idea of what it might be like to live in that space.
far less attractive than the spaces typically shot by architectural photographers.
Finally, because the primary goal of the real estate photographer is to emphasize space and utility, makes it the directly opposite the goal of the architecture photographer.
Conversely, the purpose of architectural photography is to highlight the design of either an entire building exterior, a particular space within a building, or the specific details of a design feature, such as a kitchen backsplash or a uniquely designed bath.
These types of photographs are a direct outgrowth of the intended purpose of these images, which is to show off the creative abilities of the company or person who designed or built them.
Consequently, the goal of the architectural photographer is to emphasis the design, the materials, the mood intended by the designer, the precision of the execution of the creation.
While a part of the goal of the real estate photographer is to make a space appear attractive, they're frequently faced with homes that are
3. Attention to Detail
Due to the intended use of real estate photos and the highly competitive nature of the real estate brokerage business, the real estate photographer has to shoot many homes daily and deliver as many images to their agent clients as fast as humanly possible.
Consequently, real estate photographers are usually in and out of most homes in about an hour. They're in a "run and gun" business and don't have time to create detailed or artistic photographs.
To be blunt, real estate photographers are paid as little as possible to take and deliver as many decent quality photos as possible and to provide them to their real estate agent clients in the least amount of time.
However, the architectural photographer is in the exact opposite situation in that they are hired to capture and emphasize the details of whatever they're going to shoot.
Unlike the real estate photographer, whose clients demand results in a very compressed time, the architectural photographer's clients understand it takes time to create the artistic images that will best represent the quality of their work.
In fact, it's more common than not for an architecture photography shoot to last several hours, with some taking several days.
4. Photo Equipment
Because real estate photographers take thousands of photos every year, by economic necessity, and since their photos are mostly low-resolution for use on the Internet, they tend to use the least expensive camera bodies sufficient to "get the job done."
Real estate photographers also tend to use lower-priced consumer-quality wide-angle lenses and other economy-grade equipment that meet the minimum requirements to achieve their desired results.
These are not criticisms, just economic facts required by the demands of their business.
In contrast, because of the precision required by architecture photography clients, architectural photographers must use high-quality camera bodies and the highest quality professional lenses.
Architecture photographers also use specialized equipment, such as tilt-shift lenses which expands the field of view. A tilt-shift lens keeps vertical lines at 90º angles to the ground, eliminating the distortion called the "tilting effect" in taller buildings caused by conventional lenses. (See photo)
A good-quality tilt-shift lens typically costs in the neighborhood of $2,000 (U.S.).
Another difference is that architecture photographers commonly use mirrorless camera bodies to maximize detail. Because there's no mirror, mirrorless bodies eliminate even the most minute camera shake caused by the movement of the mirror in standard DSLR camera bodies.
Because architectural photographs are used in high-quality brochures and for large wall-mounted prints, to ensure maximum detail, architectural photographers also tend to use higher resolution camera bodies with a minimum of 30 mega-pixels (mp) and more commonly upward of 45mp. These expensive camera bodies are totally unnecessary for creating photos to be used mainly on the Internet.
5. Photographic Skills
Let me start by clarifying that to achieve the highest quality level of work in each genre, both real estate and architectural photographers must be skilled at a professional level.
The point of this section is not to claim that one is better or worse than the other. However, it is to say that each of these genres requires a different set of skills from the other.
For example, we know all photography, regardless of the genre and at all levels, from the cell phone user to the user of the most intricate cameras and lenses, involves the capture of light. And how light is or isn't manipulated and how it's captured determines the resulting image.
This brings me to one of the fundamental differences between real estate and architectural photography, which is the type or source of light that each most frequently uses and the way in which each uses or manipulates that light source.
Because the purpose of real estate photography is to show as much of the interior space as possible, they must light virtually every part of that space and create it evenly, which is no small task.
Real estate photographers accomplish this using high-powered strobe lights that are "bounced" off white surfaces (preferably white ceilings) to spread the light evenly. This has to be done without creating harsh shadows or causing heavy color reflections from flooring and painted walls (called "color casting").
As you can imagine, achieving this requires significant experience, especially in larger rooms with pitched or vaulted ceilings.
Unlike the real estate photographer, the architectural photographer's goal when shooting interior spaces is to create more artistically pleasing images that frequently seek to enhance color and shadows.
Consequently, to achieve this goal, the architectural photographer commonly makes greater use of natural light from windows rather than primarily relying on artificial light from strobes.
Also, unlike the real estate photographer, who primarily uses overhead light, the architectural photographer uses light that hits their subject from either the side or the rear for a more dramatic image.
This isn't to say that architectural photographers never use artificial light. It's just that they will only use artificial light when it's absolutely required and only to enhance natural light, not to replace it.
As you can imagine, there are more differences between these two genres than I've cited in this article. However, the point of this article is to make you aware that there are very significant differences between real estate photography and architecture photography. It's also the goal of this article to have you understand and appreciate that both types of photography are very demanding, albeit in different ways.
I've personally shot as both a real estate photographer and an architectural photographer. Based on my decades of experience at both, I can say with total confidence that because of the many differing demands, very few photographers can transition seamlessly from one to the other.