How to Improve the Photography on Your Airbnb Listing

Good photos are golden when you are listing on Airbnb. Bad images can hold back a lot of DIY hosts. 

Jeremy Mason McGraw is a luxury hotel photographer who has 20 years of experience photographing locations around the globe. McGraw has recently decided to start a YouTube series based around helping Airbnb superhosts with their imagery. He begins by finding a host with a very high rating with a quality listing that is using cell phone photos. Then, he books the listing with the intent to surprise the owner with brand new images. 

In the video, McGraw talks about how to frame the image to show off a room. One of the biggest problems with the lister's pictures is that most of them are shot vertically. Airbnb will crop the image if you do this. If you shoot horizontally, you will see much more of the space. 

After composing the shot, Jeremy describes his strategy for color-balancing an interior. Creating a cohesive light color can be difficult, because you will often need to match daylight, tungsten, or fluorescent lights. The entire shoot is balanced to daylight. This means that he can have shots that show multiple rooms.  Shooting more than one room will make the apartment feel much bigger. One thing that caught my attention in the video was McGraw's kit. He packs a very high number of speedlights. It looks like he supplements a Profoto B10 with a heck of a lot of Profoto A1s. If you look closely at the photos, you will notice the use of highlights around the room. When you combine this type of dynamic lighting with diligently balanced color, it makes for a professional-looking image. 

If you are looking to improve your interior photography or the photos in your Airbnb listing, I would recommend checking it out.

Martin Van Londen's picture

I am a vintage millennial content creator with experience in and passion for cinematography and photography. I live in Portland, Oregon, where I work in the marketing industry. When I'm not behind a camera or deep diving into the creative cloud, I am reading, enjoying art, and nature.

Log in or register to post comments

I don't like leaving non-positive comments, but this is not an example I would cite for people looking to create better real estate photos.

People with little or no photography experience might think that all those lights are necessary when they're definitely not.

If Jeremy has been doing this for 20 years, he certainly has the skills to light a small condo with one light (maybe two for the shot that showed the hallway leading to the bedroom).

Anyone who already has a bag of lights can certainly use them. But anyone who doesn't have a bag of lights should know that they don't need one.

You can light much larger spaces and produce revenue-quality images with a single speedlight. Real estate photographers are doing it all day, every day.

All i would ask is how are you using that one light? Are you doing a comp where you move the light around taking multiple exposures? You could do that with one light. But if you have a case full of lights then why not take advantage of it.

I think what this particular video does the best job of showing is the way use uses the speed lights to balance multiple color temperatures.

You would need multiple exposures to do a window pull, but if there's no windows in the shot, one speedlight in a corner or somewhere behind the camera is more than enough light to do a single exposure for such small rooms.

If you had to bounce off the ceiling, maybe you'd need a second exposure to get rid of the hotspot.

But if you were using an umbrella or bouncing from behind and there was no need for a window pull, that's a one-exposure finished image good enough for selling a house. It's certainly good enough for AirBnB.

Even if I owned a case full of lights, I'm not hauling a case full of lights and light stands to a job unless a case full of lights is required. Simple is better, in my book.

And please understand that I'm not knocking this guy. This is something he's doing as a personal project. He can get as creative as he wants with the lighting and have fun with it.

Many of us (myself included) would do well to take on a personal project. It doesn't have to be reasonable, it just has to be fun.

My point was that there's newbie photographers reading Fstoppers and they should know that all that lighting is not required to get started with real estate photography. Seeing something like this could really overwhelm someone who doesn't know better.

Hi Lenzy. Again, thank for your comments. Earlier I responded to your first comment from my phone and failed to notice the reply button so that first response is down at the bottom of this page. You make fair comments and your points are totally understandable. I dont think you are knocking me and it seems clear where you are coming from. It should be stressed that my original project was meant as entertainment and not as a tutorial, but I would also say to your statements that your opinions on how the space should be captured have the same value as my opinions on how the space should be captured.

In my style, the light speaks. Its loud and this is deliberate. This is what I am known for doing. This is not universally how every photographer should be shooting, but no singer holds the key to how all songs should be sung either. If I was to have done this project from a minimalist standpoint it would not be very true to the way I shoot, in the same way that you would never have shot the condo this way even if you owned a full case of lights. I would hope you would shoot it in your style.

Your comment about newbie photographers is also very valid and when asked about starting in photography by newbies, I always tell people to master the tools you already have and grow as you develop your skills. I would like to add however to any newbie photographers that there is no universal right or wrong way to do any of this. If you want to do photography professionally, what you are ultimately selling is your unique perspective and style. Always ask yourself how you see it. If you can deliver that, you are in the right place for you. If you cant deliver that, then keep learning / trying new things and find the skills to master your style and perspective. It may not be something everyone likes but thats ok because the people that do like your work will value you.

Something else worth considering is, are we viewing photography thru the filter of a commodity or thru the filter of a style. If we are talking about it as a commodity then your comments regarding efficiency are 100% valid. What is the most simple way of delivering an acceptable image of this space? If, however we are talking about individual style, this is what needs to be done. I capture images that have my look and I do it as much in-camera as possible. I can create daytime, and nighttime looks in the camera as well and I do it this way because it allows my clients to collaborate on the shoot in real time and see the results on the screen so they dont have to imagine elements that I am going to photoshopping together later. If someone is looking for images that look like mine, I am where they find them.

Again, nothing but respect. Shooting an AirBNB in my style is what was is fun about this project for me.

Hi Lenny. I just posted episode 2 if you are interested

How exactly did he show how he photographed it exactly? Please tell me. It shows half a dozen light stands and a few umbrellas lying on the bed.

He talked about his process, specifically how and why to balance color temperature and framing.

You're absolutely right about overdoing the lighting. The flash layers are as tasteful as a tricked out '86 Civic.

Isn't this already an over saturated market? I see half a day shoot, possibly including travel, get the keys from client and probably another 4 hours to combine his shots and he seem to have his wife or an assistant. And then I searched for real estate photography to see pricing ranges from $250 to $500. hmmm

I've heard of commercial real estate photography making a lot more than that. I talked to a guy who makes $500 a photo. I don't think the Airbnb market is going to get you that much money.

Real estate photographers can usually shoot 3 maybe 4 properties in a day. Editing is all very fast and easy. At $200-300 which is a pretty average going rate, that is $1200 a day minus expenses.

Real estate is a bulk business. Its all about speed. If you are not done fast enough and have files to clients fast enough then they will find a new photographer.

No real estate photographer is going to take half a day to shoot a property then edit for the other half and make $200.

Hi Benoit Pigeon. Thanks for your comment. The purpose of my project Secret Spotlight is not to encourage people to pursue AirBNB photography as a career. My career has been in luxury hotels. It was to take a relatable subject like an airBNB and show that better photography can better communicate a space. The way I do it is with lighting but the message is simply that the quality of the photography can make a big difference in how a space is seen on a site like AirBNB :-)

No problem Jeremy, that's just my approach to things I see.

I just posted episode 2 if you are interested.

Hi Lenzy Ruffin . Thanks for your comment. Your comment does not seem negative at all. The purpose of my Secret Spotlight project was to take a relatable subject, like an AirBNB listing and show the difference that quality photography can make in communicating the space. My background is in luxury hotels and my style is with lighting. For me, showing up to a shoot without the ability to control the lighting would simply not be an option. I am being true to my form in this project. For the kinds of images that I do, lighting is a necessary tool. Yes, as you suggest, there are lots of other ways to capture a space and I make no comments in my project that my way is the only way to get a decent shot. My way is the way that I do it though and it allows me to create a consistent look in a wider variety of situations, anywhere I shoot. I Any statements that I make in the video reflect why I do it that way. Anyone shooting a space should understand the tools they employ, whether it is just a camera, tripod and editing software or a full compliment of lighting tools.

Jeremy, thank you for your responses in the comments!

At first, I like Lenzy Ruffin had felt the lighting situation was over the top. With a real estate photography background I felt the excessive amount of lighting was more than what an AirBNB host should expect when hiring a photographer given the likely commission that will be paid to the photographer, and way over the top for someone trying to build their RE/AirBNB business up.

That said, my opinion on this matter changed completely and it has everything to do with your responses: The fact that people know you for a particular style.

When I first starting shooting real estate it was all about as wide as possible and as quick as possible (the generic real estate look). The work was not very exciting and that was just how it was. Over time though I experimented with different lighting techniques and focal lengths and my vision changed. Now I'd be lying if I said all my clients adapted very well to my new look, but those that do treat me more like an artist and tactician rather than a monkey pushing a button. In a saturated market with HDR or super flashy photos, it feels amazing!

Personally I am still wrapping my head around the high end commercial hotel photography look. I have watched a lot of Mike Kelley and Tony Roslund videos to know for certain the market exists for the kind of style you have. I guess for me it's back to experimenting more to understand the manufactured light look a bit more.

Thank you for the video series, you have a new subscriber to your channel!

Hi Steven
Thanks for the comments AND the subscribe to my channel! I am really excited about your comment because I think it’s a major milestone in any creative professionals life when you step away from doing what everyone else is selling and you begin to invest in your own style and in clients that will support that. As you know, I looked at your IG and you are doing great work. Stay on your journey and thanks for subscribing to mine.

Jeremy's studio lighting style does require a ton of skills, and is highly sought after by many hotel brands. However, the title here is misleading because the Airbnb Style focuses strongly on natural light, with flash only for subtle fill light. The AirBnb Style Guide reads "Acceptable flash: Light the space evenly. Rely mostly on natural light, using bounced fill flash as needed." Meero is a photography service agency working world wide with Airbnb and they require three bracketed natural light images on a tripod- no flash allowed.

This is a good marketing video for Jeremy, but not a good instructional video for Airbnb photography.

This is an interesting take. I tried to look up the rules and could only find third party guidelines. Do you have a link to guidelines that Airbnb put out?

Hi Scott
Thanks for watching the video and for your
comments. It was never my intention for this to appear as a tutorial for how one should shoot an AirBNB . Well, at least no more than to consider context and relationship of the images you make, no matter how you shoot them. My narrative is about what would it look like if I shot an AirBNB . It’s a fun question to answer and it’s even more fun to surprise the host with the results.

Here is episode 2 :-)

Definitely want to view this after work, I've only stayed at a couple air bnbs but one that was fairly close was so accommodating that when I go back I want to present them with new photos.

Hi Chris. I just posted episode 2 if you are interested.

Wow, I do not want to sound sarcastic but seriously? This should be called "how to push Profoto lighting on unsuspected beginners"

This is not sponsored by Profoto at all...oh no. And of course, he is saying that, right?

And what exactly we learned from the video boys and girls? That the more Profoto lights you buy (it's only around $900 each) the better photos you can take.

This is NOT a tutorial, this is an ad campaign, shame on you for putting it here.

They should giving me some money. But sadly they are not. I mentioned the profoto lights becuse it stuck out to me. I did not have to write about it. Personally I’ve used the A1s and B10s before but don’t own them. Ive also used canons and gobox speedlights and I have to say profoto lights gave me the best results. But yes they are expensive.

This is a repost of a YouTube Vlog about a professional photographer who is sharing his process for shooting interiors. This is NOT an add.

Hi Motti

It’s understandable how you could think this was sponsored content. Social media is filled with influencer accounts that are paid by and promoted by brands. You may also have seen that in 2018 Profoto did support a project that I did in Italy where I planned a series of shoots exclusively shot with my A1s. What you may not understand is even that project in 2018 happened after I had already purchased and had been very public about using profoto gear and no further support has been offered or solicited from them. I am not affiliated in any way with Profoto. The visibility of their gear in my content is a simple matter of my technique and my story. I shoot with a lot of light so it is very present when I show myself shooting. Since their gear is covered in their logo it is very visible in my media. There is also the opening segment that features tight shots of their lights. Most of those shots are actually repurposed from my 2018 project. I used them in this project because I like them, I invested a lot of effort making them, I do actually shoot with those lights, and heavy use of light is a fundamental quality of my work. I’m happy to talk about gear I really use. I don’t need sponsorships to do that. Think tank cases, Sony and DJI cameras, Mag Mod and Subaru products are also very visible in the media I create. AirBNB is also a pretty major character. If however you remain unconvinced, you may also notice that my media simply does not have the engagement numbers to justify companies dropping cash or free gear my way. Should that occur it would be my intent to be very clear about that support. You may also notice that I don’t have any affiliate links or any offers to sell anything except my services on my site or on my media. My only motivation for this project was to find a fun and creative way to share what I do. I paid for full price booking the AirBNB and gave away the photos to the host with no compensation. It was fun and I’ll do it again. If at some point in the future someone wants to sponsor my projects, I won’t be sneaky about letting people.

Seriously? Because the vid had a specific top brand, that automatically makes it sponsored? He wasn't pushing the lights on anyone. I don't think he even mentioned the name.

Man, people can't make a video nowadays without you overzealous trigger-happy trolls just itching to call out "sponsored", "shill", etc.

Had he been using Yongnuo or Bed Bath & Beyond candles, you wouldn't have had such a melodramatic reaction. Right?

Hello. Here is episode 2 if you are interested :-)

What nobody mentiones that airbnb offers for over 10 years professional photography. It use to be free for a long time. If you like to book a photographer directly the are many airbnb photographers ready to support you, / Greetings Adrian

Martin I am an Airbnb super host in Pensacola Fl. and I was so delighted to watch your surprise for this host. Wonderful info for the importance of using really good photos. You proved your point beautifully with the results. I also posted your video on our community private Airbnb host group (I moderate this group) so others will see it. It was inspiring and I hope will encourage other hosts to use a pro to shoot their places. The only problem for me has been I had pro shots done but then did some really great updates, changes and got involved with companies that want me to try out their products (free) so I can't do pro shots after any change. And with Airbnb we must have accurate photos or be fined....the guests actually receive monies for each inaccurate photo. Crazy. So I bought a Google Pixel 3A phone and shoot myself. It works but I dream to have a super pro like yourself living near to shoot. I know the power in a great shot. all the best and thanks for your inspiring video.....Clara

Hi Clara. Here is Episode 2 if you would like to see it :-)

The contrasting flavor of opinionated comments is probably due to the fact that this video was not made for a photographer audience. It appeared this video was made for an intended purpose of a personal project (for potential fans and clients of the photographer) and a proof of concept of better marketing (for hosts not photographers). This video didn’t seem to be made for photographers of any level at all, it had no real tutorial value so stop criticizing the maker of the video for that, it has pretty low technical content to steal from so stop being mad you didn’t get more free industry tips in this “trade education and college is always free in the 21st century mindset” and it never once directed itself as the end all be all of product standard. He simply made a video with a fun to him intention and the host was greatful. Why is everyone looking so deep?

michael andrew you have the floor 😉

Hi Michael. I just posted episode 2 if you are curious :-)

I think its a nice gesture of this guy and having multiple lighting units can indeed help reduce the workflow and balance exposures and colors across the area of interest. " Same goal or target with different approaches are he point here "

Thanks. My thought is I would rather spend the time behind the camera than on the computer and you have a lot more real control with lighting than with post process anyway. I say this understanding that some markets of photography like real estate, do not typically allow for the time it takes to light every shot. My chosen areas do. If you would like to see episode 2 I just posted it :-)