How do I achieve photos like Airbnb photographers?

Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by eric_shtern, Aug 23, 2012.

  1. I have a question that may seem silly - I have seen Airbnb photographers make photos, that seem very light. Like the light source seems almost unnatural, like they for instance use some sort of filter to achieve this. Examples of such photos are:
    My question is this, they sometimes take photos in the evening, yet the results are the same. How can I achieve the same? I have a DSLR with wide lens, is it a matter of increasing exposure light or what is it exactly? I tried everything but my photos seem grainy and strange. Can you please advise me how I can achieve similar results. Is it some type of filter to use?
    Thank you in advance.
  2. Eric -
    Both of the photos you selected / showed are very well lit - and properly exposed.
    There is no "magic" filter that will make a photo appear to be properly lit when it in fact isn't.
    In both photos - I'm guessing that there are multiple, hidden light sources that you can't see in the final product.
  3. After checking the Airbnb site, sample photos and videos, my best guess is it's mostly natural light with simple battery powered off-camera flash to supplement when needed.
    The Airbnb site info indicates photographers spend about 30 minutes per site to produce around 12 photos to illustrate each rental room space, for which they're paid around $50. At that price and in half an hour, they're not using any elaborate setups.
    If you check the before/after photos you'll pick up a few clues:
    • Curtains or shades opened.
    • Higher angles, looking downward, to make the rooms appear more spacious.
    • Careful compositions to illustrate the best features of each room.
    • Daylight white balance and some bounced flash.
    In some photos you can see the incandescent or other artificial lights are not color corrected. However it's possible some photographers do gel their flash units.
    Since some rooms may lack adequate sunlight exposure a tripod would be needed to steady the camera for the longer exposures necessary to produce the same bright, airy look.
    Many photos show blown highlights, indicating they're going for an overall bright look without necessarily taking the time to carefully meter around the entire room and use supplemental lights and reflectors to balance out the lighting.
    Overall it's pretty good for web illustrations for the intended purpose, done very quickly. An intermediate level photographer could learn to do it with a one-hour in-person tutorial from an experienced photographer. But you'd first need to understand the basics of your camera: exposure; white balance; bounce and/or fill flash; etc.
  4. I agree with the above, but I'll comment that in examples like the second one in the OP's question, there are sure signs of the contrast being pushed a bit, which is why some of the shadows and darker elements (say, around the book case) appear as solidly dark as they do. Whether it's as simple as a contrast slider in post, or a somewhat pickier time playing with the tone curves, it's a necessary part of that look. Which, of course, takes less time to do than it took me to type this.
  5. I see lowered global contrast, but they have maintained, or even enhanced local contrast. I would bet that they liberally use the "fill" and "recovery" sliders in PS / LR. These have slightly different names in the latest versions of PS & LR, but do essentially the same thing.
    My guess is that they quickly spray around some interior fill (as suggested above), and then even out any remaining rough spots (ie, areas that remain overly dark or overly light) using the above sliders. This would be my quick and dirty approach to get that sort of look. They also could have used HDR / exposure fusion techniques, but my guess is that they didn't given the presumably low budget.
    Tom M
  6. Thank you for responses. I know for sure that they do not use HDR as Airbnb forbids them to. So can i ask again yet another stupid question. If I become somewhat well versed in photoshop or other software, how much time on post processing will I need to spend on per image? Like 1 minute, 5 minutes, etc? please let me know. Thank you! Also, is there some online tutorial that could teach me to achieve such photos, both using the camera and then post processing? If someone can point me to such tutorial or video I would really really appreciate it. Thank you!
  7. Eric, the amount of time one spends in PP depends dramatically on the level of PS knowledge of the person doing the tweaking, as well as both the starting image and the result desired. We kinda have a sense of the final result desired but not the starting image or your level of facility with PS.
    Why don't you post an interior shot that you have taken using the suggestions of Lex and Matt to add a bit of off-camera / bounced fill light. Post it in this thread, and we will be able to give you an estimate of the time a Photoshop pro (or semi-pro) would take to bring it to the level of the images in the links you provided.
    Tom M
  8. If the photos are consistent - lighting, exposure, white balance, etc. - batch processing could handle the entire lot of photos in less than a minute.
    If the exposures, white balance, lighting and other factors are inconsistent, more time will be needed on each photo to achieve a consistent look. For Airbnb that wouldn't be cost effective.
  9. 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 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!
  10. I know for sure that they do not use HDR as Airbnb forbids them to​
    How would Airbnb know? Done properly (ie not as an effect) HDR is effectively invisible, as in its pure form it simply - as its name implies - maximises the dynamic range of the image, in much the way that some of the images you seek to emulate demonstrate.
  11. 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!
  12. 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
  13. 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.
  14. 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: 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.
  15. 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
  16. 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.
  17. 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
  18. 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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