Vacation Rental Photography Tips

By Jason Cole

High quality, thorough photography is no longer optional in the vacation rental world. As I photograph a home, my absolute top priority is to create an emotional factor. When people search through the hundreds of vacation rentals on Hatteras Island, it’s high quality images that grab their attention and make them more inclined to read the property description, ultimately leading to them booking the home for their family’s vacation. Is the home warm and inviting? Can they see themselves relaxing there? Does it have enough space for the entire family? Does the home offer all the amenities they are looking for? It is paramount that the images provide these answers so the potential renter can make an informed decision.

Whether you’re relying on the photography services of your property manager, hiring your own professional photographer, or DIY-ing it, your home’s photos should not only showcase it in its best light (literally) and give guests a complete picture of the property, they should also be technically optimized for both websites and print.

Here are my top things you should look for – or DIY – in your vacation rental photography:

Clean and Distraction Free

Before a photo is taken, both the interior and exterior of the home should be cleaned and set up as if guests could check in that moment. This means all vendor work is complete and their trucks aren’t in your driveway, all furniture and amenities are in place, beds are made properly, all personal belongings and other items unavailable to guests are in your owner storage, pillows are upright and fluffed, landscaping is polished… you get the idea. Outer Beaches has a thorough 14-point photo ready checklist to make this process quick and easy. Additionally, remove any extra clutter – the nonessential little things that add up and become distractions in photographs. This includes phone books, cords, remotes, coasters, fridge magnets, toys, etc.

And speaking of distractions… if you’re doing your own photos and are using an older point-and-shoot camera that automatically puts the date stamp on a photo, turn this feature off or upgrade your camera.


Once the home is sparkling clean and clutter free, now you can have a little fun with staging, or setting a scene that guests can picture themselves in. Put a blown-up beach ball in your pool, set the table for dinner, place just one or two Hatteras Island books on a table in a reading nook, or place a bowl of fruit (real or fake) on the kitchen counter. Be sparing and smart, and don’t mislead guests by staging with items they won’t find when they get there.

Lighting and Color

Photos should always be taken on a nice sunny day, and the location of the sun during a photo shoot is critical. When photographing interiors, I typically like for the sun to be near its highest point.  Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. are preferred. This creates more of an even light throughout the home and keeps the windows from being over-exposed, or “blown out”. Direct sunlight protruding into a home can rob the image of sufficient detail. Exteriors are just the opposite. I like mornings or afternoons for my exterior shots. I want the sun to be shining directly onto the side of the home, and I always want the sun at my back. Orientation of the home determines whether it will be a morning or afternoon shoot.

Shooting Level and Wide

Always keep your camera level when shooting. Always. Shooting up from beneath something or down from above warps a view of a room and looks low quality. Adjust the height of your camera up or down, not tilted, so that it’s around 1-2 feet above the dominant surface in a room, such as the counters in a kitchen, couches in the living room, or the bed in a bedroom.

Also remember to shoot wide, meaning, step back into a corner or doorway and get as much of the room in a single shot as you can. Occasionally you may need 2 or 3 shots to get everything in a room (usually the kitchen,) but in most cases one shot from the corner can encompass the essentials. Shooting this way also makes the room feel spacious and captures more of the views.

Last, it may be tempting to shoot in portrait mode (vertical) in some tight spaces, but avoid this as much as possible. Most online photo spaces and viewing modes are built for landscape (horizontal).

Special Attention to Unique Features

Every home is different. When I first arrive at a home, I create a shot plan. As I am doing this, I list anything that makes the home unique. This could be at the owner’s request or something that I feel potential renters would want to see. I continually see the strides that our home owners take with their homes to ensure vacationing families enjoy their time here to the fullest. These features are definitely photographed and included in the portfolio to be showcased.

File Sizes and Formats

If all of the above strategies have been followed, there should be very little editing needed. Once editing is complete, you will, however, want to make sure you have at least 3 sets of photos: the originals, a set for digital use and a set for print use. Digital use photos should be at least 1200 x 800 pixels wide at 72 DPI (dots per inch) in RGB color, and print photos should be in CMYK color and 300 DPI at whatever dimensions they will be printed in. Most photo processing software will allow you to simply export the files with these settings.


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