Apartment photography is a topic of perennial interest in the multifamily industry for the obvious reason that it is one of the easiest, best ways to make a strong first impression with prospects. That said, we still see a lot of communities missing out on great opportunities to use apartment photography to full effect. Today we want to talk about three ways your apartment photography is actually hurting your marketing efforts.
Your apartment photography hurts you when it isn't floorplan-specific.
Think about it this way: The last time you went home-shopping, what did you do? You likely went to Zillow or some similar service, searched based on whatever criteria you were using, and then started browsing through the search results. Here's a question: What did you do when you found a house with no photos? Most likely, you skipped it. Right? To look at a house with no photos, it'd have to be a pretty unique fit for you. Maybe it was the perfect location or the price was unbelievable. Then maybe you'd go ahead and schedule time with a realtor to see the house. But otherwise you just skipped that house and moved on to the ones that did have photos, right? Now imagine if every house you looked at was like that—no photos, nothing to give you a view into what that individual house actually looks like. You'd end up like this, right?
The housing industry understands how important photos are for promoting a listing online. If you want people to be more engaged online, you need to give them relevant, self-serve information. So they provide them with photos of the house they are trying to sell. For whatever reason, this hasn't caught on yet in multifamily. And, given that floorplan photos can be used over and over again while housing photos become irrelevant the day that house sells, this is a really bizarre and baffling thing about our industry.
If you have 30 units with the same floorplan, why wouldn't you take photos of the floorplan? You'll be able to use them almost year round and even in a year or two they'll still be valuable. So why not invest in floorplan-specific photography? The benefits it offers to prospective residents are enormous and the cost for your property is, relatively speaking, quite minimal.
Yet despite the obvious benefits of floorplan-specific photos, we still see the vast majority of apartment websites simply running community photos with a few unlabeled, generic floorplan photos that could be of literally any apartment in the building. This is a major marketing failure and one that communities need to start correcting as soon as possible.
Your apartment photography hurts you when it is taken by an amateur.
The internet has dramatically lowered the bar for what is required to produce your own media. You don't need a huge, expensive printer. You don't need elaborate, costly distribution networks. You don't need a staff of writers, photographers, and designers to create the media. These days, you need a phone, an internet connection, and a social media profile or an easy-to-update website.
That being said, it is easier to physically produce media today. It is not necessarily easier to produce high-quality media. The fact that you have the capability to shoot your own apartment photography does not mean you would be right to shoot your own apartment photography. Taking high-quality photos is actually more difficult than many realize. You need to understand lighting, image composition, and optimizing the image for display on digital devices. You also need to know something about color, photography equipment, and image editing.
So it's entirely possible you have the physical tools needed to shoot your own photos and upload them to a website. Most of those things are either free or are something you may already own. You could take photos with your smartphone, edit them with some free image editing software, and upload them to a relatively cheap website hosted on GoDaddy and built with WordPress. But just as there is a difference in quality between a blogger who writes from his mom's basement on his blogspot.com site and a professional writer for a major publication based in New York, so there is also a difference between an amateur shooting photos on their iPhone and a professional working with excellent gear who has years of experience.
Your apartment photography hurts you when it isn't saved in the correct format.
There are two basic types of digital images:
Vector-based images are built using basic geometric shapes filled with colors. As such, they can be sized to any dimension without any distortion or loss of quality. They are also generally much smaller files than raster images. Unfortunately, vector-based images are not very good at creating photo-quality images. They are better for basic infographics, illustrations, and so on. For photography, you still really need to use raster images.
Raster images, in contrast to vectors, are based on a huge grid of very small squares called "pixels." Each individual pixel has its own color. The cumulative result when you have enough pixels arranged in the right way is a photo. But the basic logic of how the images work is no different than what you might see at a sports event where they hand out individual solid-color pieces of paper to fans and then arrange the signs in a way that spells out a message.
That being said, raster images are tricky to use correctly. There are two directions you can go, both of which lead to major problems.
First, if you have an image that has a very small number of pixels, then when you try to increase the image size you can create distortion. The issue is that once an image is taken there's not really a simple way of adding pixels to the image. So when you increase a photo's size, what you're actually doing is increasing the size of each individual pixel. The result is that you start seeing distortion along the edges. This distortion is called "pixelation." Here's an example:
Now, if you think about reducing each of those individual squares in the above image down to maybe 1/5 their size, you may have an image that actually looks decent. It would just also be much smaller.
For this reason, you want to be very careful not to save images at too small a file size because they will be very difficult to use if you ever need to run them at a larger size.
On the other hand, let's say you want to save your images at a gigantic size in order to avoid the above problem. You probably won't have pixelation issues, but you'll have a separate problem. Suppose you save the image at a resolution of 225 (this basically means you'll have way more pixels in the image) and set the file size to something like 8000 pixels by 6000 pixels. This is a gigantic image that should be able to be displayed at a very high quality.
But here's the problem: It's also a gigantic file. And desktop users with slower internet connections or mobile users are going to have a terrible time trying to load it when they access your website. The result will be extremely slow load-times. Slow loading pages will not only cost you users (who will back out of your page after a few seconds of waiting for it to load), it will also over-time cost you a lot in terms of organic traffic as Google begins to drop your rankings. So sizing an image too large doesn't solve the problem.
This, of course, begs the question: What is a proper image size? That depends. On social media, the image size will vary by social network. Use this infographic to figure out the right size for your particular need. Sizing images for your website is more complex and depends on a ton of different variables: Where will the images be displayed? How will they be displayed? Will there be an option to blow them up and view them full-size? The best route to go from here is to talk to your web team and photographers and figure out the best arrangement for your particular situation.
Digital media can potentially be a game changer for apartment communities looking to improve their marketing and cut expenses. But producing high-quality apartment photography that helps prospects qualify themselves and gives your site a boost in search rankings will take time and effort. If you can do it, however, the rewards are enormous.