I Wish I’d Been More Bossy with My Real Estate Photographer

published Jun 28, 2023
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Woman Taking Pictures of A Living Room in Model Home with Her Smart Phone.
Credit: Andy Dean Photography / Shutterstock

When it comes to selling a house, great photos are the single most critical ingredient. A professional, well-lit, nicely composed shot of your home’s best angle is your one chance to grab potential buyers’ attention as they’re scrolling.

Most (although not all!) real estate agents have caught on, and are willing to pay for professional listing photography out of their commission. As a seller, this means you’re able to sit back and leave everything up to the photographer, right?


Here’s where I admit I’m a nightmare client, because as a home flipper and Airbnb host, I insist on choosing the photographer when I sell a house. (There’s a big variance among people selling their photography services.) Yet once that photographer actually arrives, I’m reluctant to tell them how to do their job. They’re professionals, after all, and don’t need the homeowner hovering over their shoulder, right?


After multiple instances of realizing I should have instructed a photographer to take specific shots, I went looking for answers. Recently, the talented and skilled Andrew Kung (the force behind the photos of my Kitchn Before & After feature) allowed me to grill him about the etiquette of working with real estate photographers.

The photographer who’d shot my MLS images a couple of weeks earlier had done very nice work, making the most of natural light and getting some lovely shots of our home. But when I went through the pictures to note what order to display them in (see above: nightmare client!), I realized there was no money shot.

You know the money shot. It’s the single best view of your home — the one that will stop viewers in their tracks. At my last renovation, it was the shot of the custom staircase with the living room fireplace wall. In my own home, it was a single step inside the foyer, capturing the grand 1880s staircase, 21-foot ceilings, and the living room with pocket doors opening to the dining room. 

Credit: Dana McMahan
The author's money shot

Now, there can definitely be more than one great shot. In fact, my Realtor has advised me to rotate out the lead photo in the MLS every day or two to potentially bump it in the search results. But you have to have the money shot. It was so obvious to me; how was it missed? 

I reached out to the owner of the photography company to see if maybe the file was missing, but it turned out the shot wasn’t captured. The owner agreed from my cell phone snap that it should have been, so they kindly sent the photographer back to get it. I could have saved them the trouble and expense if I’d been more vocal about what I wanted.

And that’s just what I should have done, Kung assured me. It’s not being rude, he says, or bossy. A commercial photographer, as opposed to a fine art photographer, he explains, is there to capture the images you ask for. It shouldn’t offend them if you point out the exact angle you want, Kung says. After all, it’s your home — you know best what made it appealing to you when you bought it.

Kung was very clear in his explanation: “It’s whatever the client wants.” At his firm, “the client needs to obtain visual media content to make money … you are creating media for them, not for yourself,” he says.

That doesn’t mean real estate photographers are miracle workers, of course. Sometimes the physical structure of a place doesn’t allow for the shot a client may want. In those cases, I do need to defer to their expertise. If a wall is in the way, well, a wall is just in the way! 

The key is communication, Kung says. Photographers can’t read minds. Mine didn’t know that I fell in love with my house from the vantage point inside the foyer. Honestly, as much as I may feel uncomfortable micro-managing, it’s not fair to expect someone who may be shooting several homes a day to know what you want unless you speak up. 

To avoid disappointment (or a return trip) it’s actually best to look at what they’re capturing almost live. “That’s why we shoot tethered,” Kung says, bringing a laptop so the client can see the images right after they’re shot. 

His advice? Be prepared. You might not need a full-on storyboard, but it might behoove you to have a shot list. Think about what you want to convey or highlight. Use descriptive words, too — do you like light and airy? Dramatic? The clearer you can be, the better it is for everyone involved. And the faster you can sell your home.