Homes on film: What using your property for a photo shoot is really like

The photo shoot at Jane's home was done and dusted in two hours. 

The photo shoot at Jane's home was done and dusted in two hours. - Credit: Jevan Chowdhury

Who here has had three pyjama-clad actors lounging about on their child’s bedroom floor, while a gaggle of strangers looked on?  

I don’t want to brag, but that happened to me before Christmas.  

The reason for this rather odd set up was a charity photoshoot I'd volunteered my house for, more out of curiosity than a burning desire to host strangers in their PJs.  

After responding to a Facebook post requesting ‘lived in’ homes, I received an email asking for photos of my kitchen, living room, bedrooms and garden.  

With the gaping hole in the kitchen ceiling, patchy paintwork where beloved cupboards had been removed by the previous owners and a fine array of assorted clutter throughout, ‘lived in’ is definitely a brief we don’t struggle to meet.   

We got the gig, and I was told the whole shoot would take two hours, and to expect the team to arrive at 1pm. Apart from the first actor rocked up 20 minutes early, surprising me mid-last minute declutter. Five minutes later, her ‘husband’ arrived – they were to play a couple who had recently adopted a daughter.  

I made them underwhelming cups of tea while they chatted about outfit choices (they’d each come armed with four options) and their CVs (the dad had been in a Lewis Capaldi video!)

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The next arrivals came in a flurry: the production manager, the art director, the photographer and the ‘daughter’, plus her chaperone mum.  

As the team got straight to busting out poses in my front room, I asked Alicia Newing of St Albans creative agency Wind & Foster, who’d organised the shoot, what they were looking for when they requested lived in houses. (We were standing on terracotta tiles at the time, against a 'feature' wall of pine panelling.) “Everyday houses, pretty much,” she answered, diplomatically.  

They’d had between 30 and 40 responses to the Facebook ad, which they'd needed to whittle down to about half a dozen. They then presented their shortlist to their charity client for approval, before discussing which actors they needed and which scenarios would suit them best.  

Did you dismiss any for being too nice? I asked, aware that my place wasn’t likely to fall into that category.  

“There was one that was kind of like a show house,” Alicia admitted. “Clearly people that don’t have children!” 

How do you start making money from your home?  

Local Facebook groups are far from the only way for firms like Alicia’s to source homes, or for owners to pimp out their places; there are plenty of websites available offering a wide range of properties such as Amazing Space, Lavish Locations and Location Works.  

'Dad' and 'daughter' were snapped larking about in the St Albans garden. 

'Dad' and 'daughter' were snapped larking about in the garden. - Credit: Jane Howdle

“We can source houses from other means,” Alicia said. “But for a brief like this, we need very real situations and scenarios, just general everyday situations that the everyday person can live in.

“For this situation it’s two adults who have just adopted a child so it would be a nice house that isn’t too run down and isn’t too over the top,” Alicia added. “There’s not too much child clutter around. But there is enough that we can make it look like a child has just moved in." 

What makes a home a good photo shoot location? 

In this case, space. “We liked that the rooms were large enough that we could fit the cast and crew in, and there’s enough room for photography because that’s also something we take into account," Alicia said. "If the house looks too small that we can’t actually fit everyone in then that will be a problem.”  

The team wasted no time, working solidly for 90 minutes. One minute they were lounging about in the living room, the next ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ were gazing lovingly as their ‘daughter’ drew a picture at our kitchen table.  

“Oh, isn’t she great?” Gushed the art director as the photographer snapped away. “Our girl, our girl... look up at Mum like, 'aw, hi – this is great'.” 

Then they were off for another outfit change and out in the garden, larking about on the lawn and attempting to throw a football into a netball hoop.  

The actors filmed in the garden of Jane's St Albans home.

Just a newly adopted daughter playing netball with a football while mum and dad look on... - Credit: Jane Howdle

I attempted to capture some reportage-style photography of the action for this piece, but was under strict instructions not to include any of the actors' faces. Then, as I lurked behind a shed attempting to capture the backs of heads on my iPhone 7 I was told off for getting in their shot. Oops.   

What other things do you need to consider? 

Boundaries are key, I soon discovered. We’d agreed the rooms that were OK to use in advance, but this didn’t stop the art director requesting a change from my daughter’s bedroom floor to inside my actual bed. As much as the three actors were really nice, and one of them had been in that Lewis Capaldi video, I wasn’t emotionally ready for them to slip between the sheets I'd only vacated a few hours earlier, so I said no to that one.  

And while they'd begun to arrive 20 minutes ahead of the schedule I'd been told to expect, they were quick to request a later finish time, too, subject to how things went. I'd recommend being firm but flexible; if you need things to run exactly to plan, this may not be for you.  

In the end, they were out ahead of schedule as the daughter needed to be back home in Sheffield for an afternoon engagement. They left at the same fast pace as they’d arrived, with just a half-drunk Lilt bottle and a duvet repositioned to the floor (for that lounging scene) to show they’d even been.  

While I wouldn’t recommend pimping out your home if you’re precious about things being just so, and worry about having strangers in your personal space, I'd say for the average punter it would be a good experience and fairly easy money, particularly if you're naturally very tidy (I'm not).

How much money can you make from using your property for filming or photo shoots?

This shoot paid £100, which seems to be the lower end; a few hundred pounds is more the norm. There are bigger bucks to be found where filming is involved, however: Lavish Locations quote rates of between £1,000 and £2,000 for TV ads and £10,000-plus for a week's filming.

Not surprisingly, filming can also be much more disruptive, with a greater time commitment, increased risk of damage to your home and requests such as repainting or manoeuvring of furniture which you will need to agree in advance. 

There's also the risk of upsetting the neighbours, particularly if the crew keep hogging sought after on street parking, and regular night shoots are unlikely to win you friends on your street. 

But Hertfordshire homes are hot property due to our proximity to both London and film studios like Elstree, and for many the money means it's worth it. 

Personally, it was an entertaining one-off. While the lovely actors would be welcome to come back and lay on our bedroom floors anytime, I'm not sure I'd be up for repeating the process, particularly on the scale required for filming (though the pay sounds OK!)