Posts filed under Advice

Do More Listing Photos Get You More Leads? I Follow Up With

I recently posed the question on this site, “How many photos should you show in your real estate listing?” Although MLS services and currently permit as many as 100 photos per listing, research reveals listings with as few as 11 and usually no more than 25 photos get the most leads. On the other hand, data shows that including over 25 photos can hurt more than help. You may want to read that post to learn why.

In the course of my research, I contacted and asked if they recommended an optimal number of listing photos to agents. The customer care representative who replied said they don’t have “a specific number that is preferred by consumers and the number of photos displayed is based on agent preference.”

In other words, listings on can have up to 100 photos because agents want to show up to 100 photos—not because consumers (that is, prospective home buyers) want to see 100 photos.

I wanted more clarity on this, so I emailed again to ask if they track how many or which photos get viewed on a listing. If a listing has 100 photos, for example, how many visitors actually view all 100 of those photos?

Here’s the response I received on May 26, 2017 (emphasis added):

Please be advised that at this time does not record a consumer’s activity when they view the photos on a listing; we are only able to record how many times the listing appeared in the search results pages of a Find a Home search, how many times the listing itself has been clicked on to view more details, and how many inquiries have been submitted to the listing Agent when they have purchased our listing enhancement product.

Here’s a screen capture of’s response to my email:

This confirms my initial suspicion: has no idea how many photos generate leads for a listing. Is it 10? or 22? or 53? or 7? or 96? They don't know because they're not tracking how site visitors interact with the photos.

Well, then—what do you do now?

When hiring a photographer for your client’s home, ask yourself the question: Do I want more photos or do I want more leads?

The research is consistent in several studies: fewer photos generate more leads. Don’t spend money on a boatload of inexpensive, mediocre photos. Instead, hire a photographer who can create a few beautiful, high-quality images that will entice buyers to click on your listings and follow up with you.

If you’re in the central Illinois market (Peoria, Bloomington/Normal, Springfield, Lincoln), I might be that guy for you. Get in touch and let’s find out.

Posted on June 16, 2017 and filed under Advice.

Three Questions You Need to Ask Before You Hire a Drone Photographer

Home exterior photographed with a drone :: Illinois Home Photography, Lincoln, IL // Michael Gowin

Home exterior photographed with a drone :: Illinois Home Photography, Lincoln, IL // Michael Gowin

Small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS)—more commonly known as drones—are soaring in popularity in the United States. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recorded 670,000 drone registrations in 2016 and that number is expected to grow in 2017.

With the ability to make photographs and videos from new vantage points, a drone pilot can capture unique images for your business. Whether you need marketing photographs of a home for a real estate listing, a survey map of a farm field, or the ability to inspect a building or tower, drones offer notable advantages over traditional methods of doing the same things.

This new technology creates new opportunities but business owners, from real estate agents to farmers, need to be aware that they can't hire just anyone with a drone to do a job. Here are three crucial questions you should ask a drone aerial operator before you sign a contract.  

1. Are you an FAA-certified remote pilot?

The FAA passed new rules on August 29, 2016, governing the commercial use of unmanned aircraft in the national airspace. Referred to as Part 107, those rules include the following requirements for remote pilots (drone operators):

  • Must be at least 16 years old
  • Must pass an initial aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA-approved testing center
  • Must be vetted by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA)
  • Must register their aircraft

Drone operators who fulfill these requirements receive a Remote Pilot Certificate with a small UAS rating from the FAA. Hobbyists aren't held to the same standards but anyone flying commercially—for hire to photograph a house, survey a farm field, or inspect a tower—must be FAA-certified. If they're not, they are breaking the law. Penalties could include steep fines.

There are other requirements and guidelines as well but a certified remote pilot should be familiar with them. Before you hire a drone photographer, ask if they are FAA-certified.

2. Are you authorized to fly in this area?

If you live in an area that's anywhere near an airport, your photographer might need permission from the FAA to fly there.

The FAA is concerned that all aircraft operate safely while they're in flight. Areas adjacent to airports are considered controlled airspace and remote pilots must be authorized by the FAA to fly in those areas. In central Illinois (where I live), for example, much of Peoria and Springfield are covered in Class C airspace and the entire Bloomington/Normal locale is encircled by Class D airspace.

As part of their certification training, remote pilots learn to read airspace maps called VFR sectional charts. Using these charts, remote pilots can see where controlled airspace begins and ends so they can 1) avoid a potential collision with manned aircraft and 2) be compliant with FAA rules.

Additionally, areas like national parks and the airspace around Washington, D.C., are prohibited and ban the use of drones entirely. Temporary flight restrictions, or TFRs, for special events (presidential visits, sporting events, etc.) can limit the use of unmanned aircraft as well.

Remote pilots can seek waivers/authorization from the FAA to fly in controlled airspace but these can take time for the FAA to review and approve—up to 90 days. The FAA is taking steps to reduce the wait but, at the moment, expect a 90-day lead time. 

Check with your drone photographer well in advance of your project to ensure they can request authorization if necessary.

3. Do you have drone insurance?

The last thing you want is to have your project spoiled by a crashed drone—or worse. A crashed aircraft can damage property and injure those on the ground.

Any good photography business will carry general liability insurance. In many cases, though, that general liability policy won't cover the use of an unmanned aircraft. Insurance companies now offer policies especially for drones. Though the FAA doesn't require remote pilots to carry drone insurance (yet), it's best to make sure your photographer is adequately insured in case of an accident. 

The proof is in the documents

Conscientious remote pilots should have their FAA documentation (Part 107 sUAS certificate and aircraft registration), any waivers/authorizations they've received, proof of insurance, as well as a pilot's log book available for prospective clients to examine. Just ask!

One last thing

If you plan to hire a drone pilot for photography or video work, you might find it helpful to familiarize yourself with the legal guidelines for commercial drone projects. has an excellent—and brief—overview of those rules.

And one last, last thing: I passed my Part 107 certification test in February 2017 and am logging training hours on a DJI Mavic Pro drone. I'll be offering my clients drone aerial photography and videography services soon—stay tuned.

Posted on March 1, 2017 and filed under Advice.

VIDEO: Before and After—The Difference Professional Staging and Photography Can Make When Selling Your Home

You have a home to sell. When home buyers are clicking through listings online, you've got just seconds to grab their attention.

How will you do it?

Stunning photographs stand out in the sea of average pictures you usually see online.

But is there really that much difference between a home shown in a "typical" listing and a professionally presented home?

That's the question answered in the video above (click here if you can't see it). 

The Peoria, Illinois, home featured in the video was semi-vacant: a few pieces of furniture set about but not in any intentional way. It looked big and empty.

Tracy Molendi from Simply Organized & Staged, LLC staged the home last week and I photographed it a few days ago. The video shows some of the rooms before professional staging and photography, and then those same rooms after Tracy and I did our work. The difference is dramatic.

Put yourself in the buyers' seat as you watch: which photos make me want to learn more about this home?

As you think about what you need to do to make your home appealing to buyers, remember: you only have a few seconds to grab their mouse click. It's a tough real estate market. How will you make your home stand out? Presenting your home professionally will get it noticed.

Posted on December 16, 2016 and filed under Advice.

The Simplest Way to Get Home Buyers (Literally) Lined Up at Your Doorstep

If you're on the fence about getting professional real estate photographs to sell your home, this before vs. after comparison just might push you over.

Imagine yourself in the role of a home buyer.

You're sitting at your kitchen table on a Saturday morning, sipping coffee and browsing real estate listings on your iPad. You've got a neighborhood and price point in mind. Flip, flip, flip—you're waiting for something appealing to entice you.

And then you see it.

Wow—a home shown with stunning photographs. They look like they might be featured in a magazine.

You click through. You like what you see. You call the agent. You schedule a showing. The next thing you know, you're signing a contract. All because the sellers cared enough to show you great pictures of their home.

Now flip this around.

You're selling your home.

You take the time to rake and mow the yard. You vacuum and clean. You get the kids' toys put away. You declutter and stage all the rooms.

And you hire a professional real estate photographer. Not just someone with a fancy camera but a pro who has the equipment, skills, and know-how to make great pictures of your home.

You're doing everything you can to make your home shine because you know your photographs will be one of the big attention-getters for buyers.

Given the choice between the kind of listing images you usually see online versus professional real estate photographs, which would you want for your home?

I recently photographed a home near Springfield, IL, and made some before/after pictures while I was there. The before images were taken with an iPhone 6s—pretty common for MLS listing photos. I'm calling these images amateur.

The after images were taken with my usual real estate kit and method. These are the professional images.

This home presented some real challenges. Large rooms with dark floors and rich paint schemes don't photograph easily. And parts of some of rooms were especially bright from direct sunlight while other areas remained hidden in shadow. As you'll see, the before photos look pretty, well, different from the after photos. 

Child's Bedroom

Before - amateur photograph of child's bedroom

Before - amateur photograph of child's bedroom

After - professional real estate photograph of child's bedroom

After - professional real estate photograph of child's bedroom

Master Bedroom

Before - amateur photograph of master bedroom

Before - amateur photograph of master bedroom

After - professional photograph of master bedroom

After - professional photograph of master bedroom

Formal Dining Room

Before - amateur photograph of formal dining room

Before - amateur photograph of formal dining room

After - professional photograph of formal dining room

After - professional photograph of formal dining room

Kitchen and Family Room

Before - amateur photograph of kitchen

Before - amateur photograph of kitchen

After - professional photograph of kitchen

After - professional photograph of kitchen

Here are the same images presented in galleries as you might see them in an online listing.

Before :: Amateur

After :: Professional

If you were shopping for a home, which photos would you click on—the murky before pictures or the clean, bright after pictures? If your listing has amateur photographs, you may be missing out on attracting potential buyers.

Professional real estate photography helps your home stand out. If you're in central Illinois (Springfield, Bloomington/Normal, Peoria, Lincoln, and the surrounding communities), I'd love to help you get your home the attention it deserves.

By the way: if you're interested in learning more about the home featured in these photographs, check it out here.

Posted on November 15, 2016 and filed under Advice, Photographs.

Two Quick Stories and Two Quick Thoughts About the Impact of Good/Bad Real Estate Photography

Story 1

Last week I ran across a friend (who has no connections to the real estate or photography industries) at my daughter's junior high school volleyball game. We had this quick conversation.

Friend: Hey--are you working for [local real estate agent]?

Me: I've photographed a few listings for him lately.

Friend: Nice job--they look really good.

Me: Thanks!

Story 2

On Sunday I was browsing through local MLS listings on my computer, reviewing pictures posted by agents. My 12-year-old son sat down beside me and watched as I clicked through one particular home's pictures.

Liam: Did you take those pictures?

Me: Nope.

Liam: Good. Because they look bad.

...and then, less than 30 minutes later, my 10-year-old daughter sat down with me, watched as I clicked through some listing photos, and gave her perspective...

Maura: Did you take that picture?

Me: No.

Maura: 'Cause that's really bad lighting. Seriously. You could take better pictures than that.

Thought 1

If you think people can't tell the difference between amateur and professional photographs--even in real estate listings--think again.

Thought 2

If you think those photographs aren't affecting the way people perceive your brand and your business--good or bad--think again.


Posted on February 18, 2015 and filed under Advice.