How to get your property photographed beautifully [styling]

19 Jul , 2011  

Home styling for the complete novice

You’ve decided to let out your prop­erty for short-term hol­i­day rent­als while you head for the sun­shine, and the agency is send­ing over a pho­to­grapher to do some spiffy pics. As a rent-vir­gin, you are not sure what to expect and per­haps a trifle uneasy about splash­ing pho­tos of your intim­ate sanc­tu­ary all over the inter­webs. However, the suc­cess of your rental, and there­fore the exot­ic­ness of your own hol­i­day, is in dir­ect pro­por­tion to the attract­ive­ness of your prop­erty, so how to you make the most out of what you’ve got? I’m a part­ner at posh London agency so I thought some prac­tical guid­ance would be use­ful:

Q: By spooky coin­cid­ence, we booked your pho­to­grapher to come on laun­dry day. Is it okay to leave the house fes­tooned with knick­ers and damp track­suit bot­toms?
A: No. Unless you have booked a super-model to wear them, please hide all extraneous under­gar­ments and cloth­ing.

Q: We restored all the ori­ginal Victorian fire­places, so how do we show them off?
Immaculate decor, nice fireplace, Hurlingham Park, Fulham, London
A: Don’t leave them empty. Empty fire­places are mainly large, black, fire-dam­aged rect­angles so they look best with a lit fire in them or piled up with logs. Second-choice would be a big vase of fresh flowers, some­thing arty or some­thing antique.

Q: We are pack­ing for our annual hol­i­day and we’ve got the build­ers in, but you can kind of pic­ture what it’s like under the dust-sheets and suit­cases.
A: We can pic­ture the chic interior under­neath, but our cam­eras have no ima­gin­a­tion what­so­ever.

Q: We have a huge media centre, game con­soles, gad­gets galore and com­puters in every room, so that’s going to look great, no?
A: It’s prob­ably going to look like the Robert de Niro scene from Brazil. Try to hide all the wires neatly, includ­ing the rat’s nest that always tangles the tele­phone and answer­ing machine. Perhaps play a movie on the TV so it looks attract­ive. If all your gear is made by Apple and B&O then you may smugly ignore all this.

Q: Oh dear, so what about all my kit­chen appli­ances?
Nice, stylish Chelsea kitchen
A: We should keep the import­ant ones and the good-look­ing ones. Hide the rest. If you have spent the equi­val­ent of the Eurozone bail­out with Boffi or Mila, you prob­ably don’t want to dis­play all the brightly col­oured clean­ing products either. If you have really good qual­ity pots and pans, let’s show some of them. Most posh kit­chens seem to have a bowl of lem­ons in them and if you have lem­ons, we will use them.

Q: How do we make our eye-water­ingly expens­ive stain­less steel kit­chen appli­ances shim­mer like new.
A: Clean thor­oughly with a degreaser, rinse, wipe dry, then apply a thin coat of Baby Oil with a kit­chen towel, and pol­ish. Also, con­sider tem­por­ary removal of the children’s’ crayon draw­ings, cal­en­dars and Val d’Isere fridge mag­nets so we can see that your refri­ger­ator is a Smeg.

Q: I’m dread­ing the next ques­tion… bath­rooms?
A well-presented bathroom in Bow, London
A: You are right to be wor­ried; the ‘smal­lest room’ can be the biggest pain. So, get rid of all the clut­ter, the rub­ber ducks, toys and neon pink tooth­brushes. Keep nice stuff, posh fra­grances, Jo Malone candles and bath oils. Towels must be clean, neut­ral or an accent col­our, and pos­sibly rolled up in piles rather than draped over the chic Bisque radi­ator. Show the world that you have new toi­let rolls, and keep the toi­let seats down.

Q: There is a bit of mould in the shower, but you don’t really notice it unless you are sit­ting down.
A: Granted, peni­cil­lin is usu­ally a damned good thing, but it should be nur­tured in petri dishes, not in our domestic interi­ors. Please try to get rid of it.

Q: The din­ing room is gor­geous, but it’s a bit of a domestic back­wa­ter. How can it be brought to the fore?
Beautifully laid dining room in ST John's Wood, London
A: Easy, just get rid of the kids’ home­work stuff and deck it out for a din­ner party. If this strikes you as a bit of a hassle, just pre­tend that you are about to have a din­ner party and place taste­ful stacks of plates, cut­lery and table­ware ‘in pre­par­a­tion’ for a glitzy affair.

Q: What is the best time to photograph my pad?
When is the best time to photograph my property?
A: Daytime. In the summer. With gentle sunlight caressing all your beautiful bits and a gentle breeze sending a sensuous shiver through your curtains. Not nighttime, not on a dark winter’s day, not when the world has turned to grey. Not when your cleaner is on holiday.

Q: The spare room is full of boxes now but will be re-dec­or­ated and fur­nished. Can we work around that?
A: Yes. You can tidy the room, per­haps put a bed in there tem­por­ar­ily, and explain the situ­ation to poten­tial cli­ents. Or we can post­pone the pho­to­graphy until the prop­erty is look­ing it’s best.

Q: This all sounds like hard work! Surely the agency or the pho­to­grapher is respons­ible for all this, isn’t it their job?
A: The pho­to­grapher will try to achieve the best res­ults for you, but may have lim­ited time on each prop­erty. You could demand that he arrive early with a selec­tion of house­hold clean­ers to give the whole place a thor­ough going over and just see what he says to you.

Q: I’m sure you can Photoshop all the hor­rible bits, can’t you?
A: Photoshopping will cost you from £40 per hour and can trans­form a scruffy spare room into a pala­tial bou­doir. However, we want to show what the interior looks like in real­ity, so we shouldn’t do this. Ever.

Q: I have a nice cam­era so how do I do the pho­tos myself?
A: Easy, just copy the pho­tos you see in the glossy interi­ors mags and Sunday sup­ple­ments. You might have a bunch of them on your cof­fee table already. You will need a DSLR and a wide-angle lens, some white bed­sheets and some nice look­ing day­light. Shoot from chest height or pos­sibly even lower. If you have a tri­pod, use it. Place the white bed­sheets behind the cam­era and reflect day­light com­ing from the win­dows back at the room so your shad­ows aren’t too dark. Turn off all the room lights, they will just cause prob­lems most of the time.

Q: Is there one styl­ing trick to rule them all?
A: Declutter ruth­lessly, put the best bits back very neatly. Then pos­i­tion one item at an arty angle.

[Part 2 will include the per­sonal interior styl­ing tips of pro­fes­sional pho­to­graphic styl­ists]

Words: © 2011 Ken Sparkes. All Rights Reserved. Written for Accommodate London and conceived whilst dismantling a kid’s novelty Disney bed which the property owner insisted was perfectly suitable for a grown man. Top photo: Tracey Emin — My Bed (courtesy Saatchi Gallery).

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