Become a Better Photographer: The Tale of a Realtor – Part 1

The Turning Point: The Need to Become a Better Photographer

A while ago, I had an epiphany. Well, more like a fit. A big one. We dragged our kids out for an entire afternoon to photograph a subdivision in Round Rock, Texas. We were in and out of the car, stopped for lunch, stopped for dinner, played at a park, all in between taking hundreds of photos of houses, streets, the golf course, trees, limestone retaining walls, hike and bike trails and so on.

When I got home, I loaded the digital photographs onto the computer and almost had a heart attack. The images were terrible. I messed up the exposure on almost every one: the white balance (color) was off, the skies were “blown” (white, no details), facades were too dark to see, all were crooked to some degree or another – every mistake that was possible to make I managed to make.

I started to “fix” the photographs using the methods I was familiar with – mostly in Photoshop.
After a few hours of making bad photos into less-bad photos, I realized I needed to admit defeat, toss the set and ask for a do-over. It was not at all the way I had expected the day’s work (and then, the night’s work) to turn out.

Hence the fit. Followed by a funk, followed by some serious contemplation.

What NOT to DO

If you’ve read THIS far, you want to see some photos, right? Here are three that show what NOT to do!

Making a Decision

We take photos of houses almost every day.

That said, were we people who take pictures of houses, or did we want to become actual photographers? You know, the kind that actually know how to use a camera on something other than “Auto”, that have a better understanding of composition and can spot the elements of a home or town that are a little more interesting, to share with others who might also find them to be interesting?

I decided on the latter: become “a photographer”.
In doing so, I realized I could do something fun, enhance our business, AND scratch some other itches at the same time, by documenting neighborhoods and small cities and towns all while building a repertoire of artistic skills that would serve other areas of our lives as well.

Orlando decided to stick with his own type of house photography, which I characterize as perfectly functional: each photo shows just what is necessary, and 99.99% are for appraisals where the photos that are included in an appraisal report are well-defined: street scene, front back, bathrooms, kitchen, main living areas.

Happy with our choices, it was time for me to get out of the funk and dig in!

It Doesn’t Happen Overnight, Sweetie: Learning Photography Basics

I spent the better part of 4 MONTHS getting a grip on the basics of photography, and that was only the beginning, the part that got me to the point where I started to get a clue and my photos gradually started to improve.

I’ll share a few resources with you now that will help you learn digital photography, in case you’ve been contemplating improving your own photographic skills. Because this is but Part 1 in what will hopefully be a many many part series, this is just your starter list.

Photography Resources


Want some good night-time reading? Dig through the digital photography training books on and you’ll find a treasure trove. My favorites include anything by Scott Kelby and Bryan Peterson. Christopher Grey also has many excellent books on studio photography.

Read the reviews and you’ll find a multitude of links for other digital photography books that are worth your time.


Adobe Software makes some amazingly powerful software for creating and processing digital images. The best of the best, and most essential of these are Adobe Photoshop CS5 and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3. The latter, Lightroom 3 (LR3) is for overall image management – keeping track of catalogs of images as well as anchoring the post-processing of images.

Photoshop CS5 (Creative Suite 5) is for image manipulation and enhancement.

$25 a month may very well be the best money you ever spend if you’re looking for training videos for almost anything that has to do with the on-line world, from digital photography, to website development to the Adobe Creative Suites (CS5, CS4, CS3).

No minimum commitment, pay monthly.

The first series on Lightroom 3 (image management) includes over 12 HOURS of lessons, broken down into segments that are a 45 seconds to 5 or 6 minutes – just enough to teach you something that WILL improve your skills, without overwhelming you with too much information at a time.

This site was recommended by a Pea, a phenomenal photographer named Rachel, who with her partner Crystal run Pure Photography and Pure Photoshop Actions.

To get a strong foundation for your digital photography training, is THE place to start!

What is a Pea?

I re-joined a photography forum from years ago that was still going strong. Google “Two Peas in a Bucket” and navigate to the photography forum. The site is dominated by women, and much of the conversation is about photographing babies, children, families and family life.

The members range from pure beginners to seasoned pros and every time I visit I find something that was worth the time and energy, including links to very valuable on-line resources for photographers. This is a low-key, pleasant way to learn digital photography if you’re not in a hurry.

Setting a New Standard

My pix are getting better, but there is HUGE room for improvement. Check out these three recent photographs of a green redevelopment area in Austin that included homes, apartments, businesses and mixed-use buildings as well as ample open space:

Join us and Become a Better Photographer, Too!

Please come back and visit – we’ll be posting a TON of photos and articles on improving your real estate (and other) photography in the next few months, and will be trying a lot of new techniques, lenses and post-processing software to try to bring better and better images to our site, and hopefully to YOURS as well.


  1. Samantha says

    Alison, this is a great post, and it’s fantastic (as well as inspiring!) to see how far your photography has come. Keep up the great work!

  2. Laurie says

    I really enjoyed reading your post today Alison. You are lucky that you can combine your passion w/photography with your career.

  3. John Smith says

    True. It really doesn’t happen overnight. You need to really learn first the basics of photography! And one more thing, i may just add up, you must be well-versed with the technical part – know and befriend with your camera. An in-depth technical knowledge on your gadget (a Canon or a Nikon, I suppose) will enable you to maximize its full potential. Be experimental, and day by day you’ll be amazed on what you will be learning.

  4. George says

    There are many ways of getting a good photo. The first three photos you showed in “What not to do” are indeed wrong angle. The beauty of the view cannot be appreciated.

  5. Trisha says

    I agree with you George. I suggest not to use photoshop editing because it will not enhance your natural photography skills. And for one big reason, many people would not trust your photos.

  6. says

    Hi John – in the two months since this post, it still amazes me how much there is to learn! You’re absolutely right about getting to know your camera to get the most out of it! We’re accepting that every month we look at the previous months’ photos and see a difference in quality. We’ll be re-shooting a lot of the towns from last year so that the sucky pix get replaced! :-)

    George – wrong angle for sure! Those were pure laziness on my part – hanging out of the car window, not thinking about the point of the photos!

    Trisha – you are SO right! Photoshop can easily become a crutch! Ironically, I think it takes longer to fix stuff in photoshop than to get the composition and exposure right in-camera! We’ve recently started using a tilt-shift lens that is manual focus only, and requires a tripod. Talk about equipment that makes us slow down and THINK about the shot! We take far fewer photos with the T/S but they are almost all MUCH better than with “easier” lenses and even more fantastic – they can go from camera through lightroom and into use with virtually no developing!

    Thanks for stopping by!

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Independent Real Estate Appraiser in Austin, Texas: Travis, Williamson, Hays, Bastrop and Caldwell Counties