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How do I achieve photos like Airbnb photographers?


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Eric Shtern , Aug 25, 2012; 07:06 a.m.

Thanks! Here is a photo that I took. It looks terrible in my opinion. So something like this, how long would I have to spend on it to correct it? Is there any online tutorials? here are photos that I took and I REALLY do not like them:

The first 10-15 or so photos are airbnb taken photos. the latter ones are all mine. you can clearly see the difference.

The first photos are taken by Airbnb photographer, which spent like 20 minutes there. He did NOT use any additional flashes and he was using a small camera actually. Then after his photos end, are my photos, which can see are dark and grainy! This is very frustrating!

Tom Mann , Aug 25, 2012; 11:15 a.m.

Hi Eric - Unfortunately, my response is going to have to be very short and limited in scope, because I am writing this on a laptop with a poor screen, away from my photoshop computer, in a hotel in NYC. Because of this, I won't be able to give you any examples of processing techniques until I get back home on Monday.

First, in the link you sent, let me double check which of the photos are yours, and which are not yours As I scroll from the first photo, going to the right in the film strip, I see the largest change in white balance and other technical aspects after the 1st set of elevator pictures, ie, about half way through the set, not after only 10-15 images, as you said. Where exactly do yours begin?

I just want to establish we are talking about the same photos before we get into any of the details.

Tom M

Eric Shtern , Aug 27, 2012; 07:04 a.m.

hi Tom. Thank you for your answer. The aibnb photos are all very clearly much lighter, but you can also see the little 'water stamp' on the top right that says 'airbnb verified photo' on the photos that were taken by them. Is it possible maybe for you to point me to a tutorial where I can see how I can improve my photos. Also any other comments you can provide would be great. Thank you in advance.

Tom Mann , Aug 27, 2012; 09:38 a.m.

Hi Eric -

I'm finally back at my own computer and can trust what my monitor is telling me.

The problem I would like to discuss in this post is the mixed lighting in your photos. This is an extremely common problem in architectural photography and is discussed in probably all books on the subject. Specifically, in your shots, the table, floor, and wall lamps are providing much of the ambient light, but they are incandescent (ie, tungsten), so everything they illuminate looks yellow-orange. The remainder of the light is coming from the window and is blue. If one globally corrects the image to properly color balance the areas lit by the incandescent lights, the areas lit by the windows will go intensely blue/cyan. Similarly, if you globally correct the image to make the areas lit by the windows not have a color cast, the areas lit by the incandescent lights will become even more yellow-orange.

In contrast, most of the images taken by the Airbnb photographers don't have even a slight trace of this problem. In most of their photos, the areas lit by the wall, floor and table lamps have a nearly neutral color, not orange. There are several ways to fix this problem, but, if it were me, I would arrive with a set of my own light bulbs which are specifically designed for photography, and which have a daylight (~5000K) color balance. I would then replace all the existing tungsten bulbs in each of the rooms I am shooting. This would allow me to use a standard daylight white balance, move very, very quickly, and would dramatically reduce or even eliminate the need for color correction in post processing.

Examples of such bulbs are:
http://www.bhphotovideo.com/bnh/controller/home?sku=644789&Q=&O=&is=REG&A=details and

In many rooms, this single change will be adequate. However, if the ambient light produces areas with dark shadows, one can easily supplement the ambient light with a flash. The flash does not have to be gelled because it also has a daylight color balance, ie, just like the replacement bulbs and the light coming in through the windows. Often, just bouncing a bit of flash off the ceiling or one of the walls (if neutral color) is all that is needed to open up dark shadows.

I see other problems in your images, e.g., blown channels in the highlight regions, perspective distortion, etc., but let's save them till the major problem is solved. BTW, you also mentioned grain/noise. I can't see much of it at the low resolution of the images you posted, but that's something else we can discuss.

As you suggested, one can obtain a similar effect in post processing, but I wouldn't recommend it. First, it rarely will look as good as the previous approach, and (2) it requires considerable time per image, as well as considerable skill / Photoshop experience. For example, attached to this post is one of your shots. The following post shows the results of about 10 minutes in PS, and I work pretty fast.



One of the OP's (low rez) originals.

Tom Mann , Aug 27, 2012; 09:40 a.m.

I wouldn't recommend attacking the various problems in post processing, but this should give you an idea of what can be done in about 10 minutes per image, assuming one has all the necessary tools and is reasonably experienced.


Tom M

After about 10 min of work in PS. This would look much better if it had been shot properly in the first place.

Brad Bell , Mar 26, 2013; 11:34 p.m.

Hi Tom,
I know how you did the perspective corrections but I would love to know how you corrected the color in the image above. I run into this same issue from time to time.

Rafael Valentino , Jul 23, 2013; 04:06 a.m.

basically just turn up the exposure in photoshop or lightroom, they like the blown out look although I think they are verging on false advertising at times

Robert K , Jul 24, 2013; 08:16 a.m.

Perhaps OP can provide more context for his question. What is your experience level in photography, and in post processing? Are you trying to improve your photography in general? Or just for posting on Airbnb for your own rental?

If you don't have a lot of experience, and just want to post at Airbnb, I wonder if the learning curve to improve the photos is worth the effort. Perhaps getting someone more experienced to lend a helping hand is a better solution.

Better photos would help the ad and rental, but to a limited degree. When I rent from Airbnb (or buy on eBay), I pay much more attention to the description, the feedback and the correspondence than the photos. By a long shot. Photos can be deceiving, especially in the hands of the unscrupulous and experienced.

If your Airbnb photos include those outdoor night shots, "dark and grainy" can be due to underexposure and high ISO.

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