Estate agents are increasingly employing professional photographers to help give their properties the edge. Richard Burton spoke to two of them.

Herts Advertiser: Looking good: Damien Ellison enhanced this high-end property in St Albans when it was left vacant and unfurnished apart from the sofa. Picture: Damien EllisonLooking good: Damien Ellison enhanced this high-end property in St Albans when it was left vacant and unfurnished apart from the sofa. Picture: Damien Ellison (Image: Archant)

Picture this: The vendors have gone out and left the agent to it.

The contract was signed the previous day and they wanted their house on the market by the weekend. There was no need to measure up as the information was on the details when the house was last sold a year earlier. All that was left to do were the photographs.

A shopping trip and a pizza later, Mrs Vendor rings to see if they’re finished. The agent says almost. He’s just heard from the photographer whose assistant is helping him move the furniture back into place. Oh, and he’s screwing the bathroom door back on.

Mr V is not surprised. What he knew and she didn’t was that the agent had used a specialist photographer, one hired to bring out the very best in the property. One that’s less likely to spend half an hour taking snaps, more half a day shooting on location.

Herts Advertiser: Looking smart: The kitchen of this £450,000 property Ellison photographed in London Road, St Albans, is clutter-free and well presented. Picture: Damien EllisonLooking smart: The kitchen of this £450,000 property Ellison photographed in London Road, St Albans, is clutter-free and well presented. Picture: Damien Ellison (Image: Archant)

It’s a scenario that’s played out more and more as agents look to give their services an edge in an increasingly competitive market in which properties compete visually online like never before.

Wide-angle lenses, studio settings, pole-mounted cameras, drones and the sort of careful editing that goes into airbrushing models in magazines have been commonplace for a while, especially in London. But it’s a habit that’s spreading fast.

“London sellers expect it,” says photographer Damien Ellison. “And with so many moving out into areas like Hertfordshire, they’re bringing that expectation with them. That’s why business has been so manic lately. It’s been non-stop.”

Ellison, who runs his Propertypics business from Goffs Oak, spent 10 years as an estate agent before he left to make a profession out of what was at the time a hobby. It’s a background that gives him an edge as well as a possible instinct to close sales, one would imagine. But he’s dismissive on that. “That’s the agent’s job,” he said. “People will buy it if it’s right for them. I tend to think in terms of attracting new business, new sellers.

Herts Advertiser: Photographer Daniel Atkinson. Picture: Daniel AtkinsonPhotographer Daniel Atkinson. Picture: Daniel Atkinson (Image: Archant)

“I always think, if someone is going though Rightmove and looking for a potential agent, they’ll be impressed by the way they present properties. People are drawn to the visual and they’re more likely to be drawn to something that uses that well.”

So what does he see that an agent may not?

“I tend to shoot into corners: two walls in one shot and then the same from the other angle. You leave people to piece them together,” he said.

“The key is to ensure there’s as much floor space as possible and to use it well. Objects like L-shaped sofas can be a problem. They tend to be in the middle of the room and you have to shoot from behind. I often have to move them a little to make a shot work.

Herts Advertiser: Photographer Damien Ellison. Picture: Damien EllisonPhotographer Damien Ellison. Picture: Damien Ellison (Image: Archant)

“And I may suggest to a homeowner that they remove a door occasionally, especially if there’s a small bathroom and it opens inward taking up half the space. It’s a small thing but it makes a big difference.”

Daniel Atkinson, a former digital marketer whose shoots often bring him into Herts from his home in Amersham, gives sellers a detailed checklist of tasks before he arrives.

“It’s good to be prepared,” he says. “It’s not a quick job, although it depends on the size of the property. The average flat can take about 45 minutes. A house at the prime end can take as much as half a day.

“And that’s where this is most important, at the higher end where the price point limits the market.”

So what does he look for?

“A lot of it is obvious,” he said. “Things like cleaning and decluttering. But I may suggest a vase of fresh flowers or glasses on the patio table. I often take a stylist with me and, while the homeowner usually does most of this themselves, we may come in and do a few things to get it on-point.

“That can involve moving furniture around or even moving their belongings from one room to another, decluttering as we go to get clean shots.

“It’s the nature of our properties. Houses are not generally all that big compared with other countries so we do tend to gather a lot of possessions around us. It’s just important to keep them out of the pictures.”

He too has seen a significant increase in demand and has a growing number of regular agent clients. “Most agents do use professionals these days and you can see the difference,” he added.

“That’s important when the market is active as the listing will be only one of many and it needs something to make it stand out. An image will often do that. They tend to catch the eye more than the details.”

Imagery took on an even greater importance during lockdown, when real viewings were impossible. During the first two weeks of March, Zoopla recorded a 215 per cent increase in visitors viewing new build homes using virtual 3D images.

This saw a surge in interest in new imaging technology among the property industry. From the beginning of March to early April, sales of 3D cameras from the virtual tour specialists, Matterport, rose 630 per cent.

Both Ellison and Atkinson use a technique known as flambient photography, something that involves the hand blending of two or more images from two sources of light to create exceptionally crisp, glowing pictures.

It’s even possible to ‘virtually stage’ a room, adding extra furniture, for example, to an otherwise empty room, as Ellison did recently at a £1,250,000 farmhouse in St Albans. Such additions enhance a property the way adding real furniture would. But there are limits to what can be done at the editing stage.

“I won’t do anything that misrepresents a property,” says Ellison. “But I tend to leave those sorts of decisions to the agent anyway. They, after all, are the client. If I’m asked to, say, remove a lamppost I probably would but that’s about as far as I’d go and it’s not something I’d do independently.

“In fact, if anything, I often act as a second pair of eyes for the agent who may only have briefly visited a property. Being a former agent myself, I may well spot things worth passing on.”

And has he ever refused to photograph a place? Perhaps because it’s simply not fit to be snapped?

“There’ve been quite a few cases where I’ve turned up and just had to go away again because they just weren’t in a fit state. I even used to joke that I occasionally wore shoe coverings not to protect the floor, but to protect my feet,” he said.

“But they did tend to be in certain parts of East London. That’s not exactly the sort of thing that’d happen anywhere in Hertfordshire.”