Make your Airbnb rental stand out with these photo tips from the pros

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When it comes to listing a property on Airbnb, HomeAway, or whichever property rental site, a picture might just mean the difference between booking and sitting empty. Between two similar properties, photographs are often a deciding factor, says Sara Gates, the marketing manager for Vacasa, an agency that handles vacation rentals for property owners. Listings with better photographs tend to book more often and even appear higher in the search results — which is why Airbnb photography is important.

But what, exactly, makes a good photograph for a vacation rental? Kimberly Stevenson, Vacasa’s lead photographer, shared a few dos – and a few don’ts – when it comes to Airbnb photography.

Recognize the difference between real estate photography and Airbnb photography

Sure, both real estate photography and vacation rental photography have several similarities like general tricks for photographing interiors, but there are a few important differences, Stevenson points out. For vacation rentals, it’s all about the experience, not just the home and its features. Don’t try to hide flaws, or listings will be left with bad reviews by disappointed visitors. Instead, shoot a realistic overview of the property that doesn’t oversell.

Highlight the home’s best features – and number of beds

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When photographing a vacation rental, always show off the home’s biggest features. If there’s a fireplace, build a fire before shooting, if there’s a hot tub, take the cover off and turn the jets on. Make sure that the biggest perks to staying in that property are highlighted, whether that’s a spectacular view or a closet full of board games.

Be sure to include a photograph of every sleeping space, Stevenson suggests, including pulling out sofa beds. Showing all the sleeping areas keeps people from guessing just how that “sleeps eight” line plays out, and whether or not grandma will end up sleeping in a bunk bed.

Use a tripod and set the self-timer

Using a tripod goes a long way for sharper photos with more detail. With a tripod — and a Wi-Fi remote app or the self timer to avoid physically pressing the shutter release, which can add camera shake — photos are significantly sharper and more detailed. When the camera is completely stationary, you can use a low ISO for the best quality and a narrow aperture for sharper shots. Try using aperture priority mode, set at f/8 or higher and the lowest ISO setting your camera offers.

Open all the blinds and turn on all the lights

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Unless you are actually renting out the Bat Cave, showing a dark interior isn’t a plus. Before shooting, turn on all the lights and open up all the blinds to let the most light into the room. Flipping a switch and pulling open curtains is a very simple yet dramatic way to improve even amateur Airbnb photography.

Plan to use 25 pictures

More pictures give guests a better idea of what to expect when they arrive, and properties with more photographs tend to show up higher in the search results. Stevenson suggests using about 25 pictures for the property – the limit on many vacation rental platforms – but don’t organize them by room. The first five should highlight the home’s best features. Then, use one-to-two more photos of each room; that way, potential guests don’t see a dozen photos of the living room before they ever see that winning view from the back porch or the incredible kitchen. Listings should also always include a photo of the outside, which helps guests find the property when they arrive.

Small props go a long way

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Remember, vacation rental photography is all about the experience of staying there, and small props can really help highlight that. Setting out a cup of coffee with a local travel book on the porch swing, Stevenson suggests, can go a long way. Simple things like setting the table or adding a book to a cozy reading nook help draw potential viewers in among hundreds of other listings.

Don’t use an ultra-wide angle lens or low-resolution camera

If you have a DSLR, now is the time to dig it out, and if you don’t have a camera with decent resolution, renting or buying a DSLR or mirrorless camera might be a good idea (check with your tax consultant, but you could possibly write it off as an Airbnb business expense). While some smartphone cameras will do the job in a pinch, Airbnb recommends using photos with a resolution at least 1,024 pixels wide — and more is better.

Be careful, however, with wide-angle lenses. While wider angles can capture an entire room, they also tend to distort straight lines and make them curve, which could make it appear like the walls of your property are bowing in. Stay away from fisheye lenses altogether, and look into buying or renting a high-end wide-angle lens that doesn’t have the same line distortion as a cheaper kit lens. If you can’t pick up a lens without that distortion, correct those lines using an editing program, like Photoshop’s perspective crop tool or perspective warp tool.

Don’t forget to put the toilet seat down

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Little details go a long way, Stevenson says. Make sure that the toilet seats are down and that beds are made. Refill empty toilet paper rolls and hang fresh towels in the bathroom. Clear up any clutter and give the room a once-over before photographing. Watch out for reflective surfaces to make sure you’re not in the photographs either.

Don’t forget to shoot photos in all seasons

A home in Denver may be excellent for ski trips in the winter and hiking trips in the summer. Photographing the property’s exterior in multiple seasons helps show that. While that may not be possible if you want to list right away, updating the post later – showing the home nestled in fresh snow, or against a backdrop of brightly colored autumn leaves – is always a good idea, particularly for properties that are available for rental during more than one season out of the year.

Getting great property photos is key to improving a listing on Airbnb, Home Away, and other property rental platforms. “Compared to a home of a similar location and size, photography makes all the difference in the world,” Stevenson said.