Print Posted By Lost in France on 24 Jan 2010 in Living in France - Business and employment in France

Picture Perfect

Don't ruin your chances of renting your property by displaying poor images on your website.


Copyright Jane Thorpe

Right. Cup of tea, laptop, a couple of free hours. Looking forward to this. Love looking at properties. Hoping to find our dream holiday villa in the South of France. Just can't wait to see the crammed to the rafters cloakrooms, the miles of electric wires constructively and decoratively hung from the one socket, the piles of artistically arranged rubbish.ah bliss

Now here we are, just what I was looking for. Seems the perfect location.

- walking distance to the village - check
- panoramic views - check
- pool - check
- cracked paving flags - check
- cluttered terrace - check
- broken greying plastic chairs - check

The list goes on and depressingly on - deflated inflatable toys, a weed-filled 'garden', untidy living room, hundreds of appliances connected to the one socket - is it hanging off the wall, ah yes it is, still I'm sure Junior won't mind a little shock now and again, keep him on his toes.

The cast-off dowdy and tired furniture is probably really comfy, although it's more likely to be grubby with worn-out springs.

Why would anyone choose to showcase their rental property for world view in such a condition is a complete mystery. There are a few issues here, and predominantly I am concerning myself with the photography, however this does throw up the issues of cleanliness, tidiness and interior design.

Back to my browsings for the ideal holiday property. Now here we are, another contender in the right location.

Copyright Jane ThorpeThe photos are a little blurred but I can use my imagination, and the one of the outside corner wall of the house doesn't show much other than a little neglect but hey, it's in the South of France. Village location, great views so the owners don't have to try do they? Wrong.

This may have been the case a few years ago, but the bar has now been raised and people's expectations have increased in the wake of the collective obsession we all seemed to have developed with property and interiors. We are no longer satisfied with the owners cast off, mis-matched furniture, dodgy electrical appliances, chipped and ill-assorted crockery, threadbare linen, cobwebs and lack of maintenance just to be in the glorious French countryside or a short drive from the glamour of the Cote D'Azur. It is no longer enough that we are in 'our own' french home for a couple of weeks. The home now has to match our ideals in it's fabulousness. Even the more modest and simple properties nowadays need to come up to a standard. However the number of properties still being advertised for rental which fall very far short of basic standards of cleanliness and usable quality is incredible and what is more incredible to me as a photographer, is the appalling standard of photographs that people choose to showcase their properties on either their own websites or rental company websites. Not just the technical quality - blurred, over-exposed, or under-exposed images, but what people choose to show to the world and expect these images to attract renters.

Let me give you a few examples from the many that I found on my recent trawl through the internet when I booked two holidays to the South of France for myself and my family.

I was looking for a small villa in Provence with a private pool, and I had a budget. I found it quite difficult to find anything with a private pool that wasn't too big or too expensive, however I finally found something that fitted those criteria - small property, a pool and it fitted the budget. The property though looked incredibly tired. A makeshift kitchen, with very old fashioned cupboards, doors askew, mis-matched furniture in the lounge area with those horrible cotton -throws - what lies beneath goodness only knows, a bookshelf stuffed with all kinds of tat - from tatty books, and tasteless ornaments to broken boxes of ancient board games. The outside area fared a bit better. The garden looked huge and well tended as did the pool area. The garden furniture however was what I had come to expect; ubiquitous greying, dulled plastic. All in all I felt quite depressed. Was this what I had to put up with?

I was then offered a villa in a different part of Provence, this property hadn't hitherto featured on the internet. The manager of the property emailed me a photograph. I presume he wanted to 'sell' it to me, but I can't be sure. The photograph was of the front elevation of the villa. There were steps up to the front door. Hang on a minute - was it bin day?? There was a crumpled cardboard box overflowing with rubbish on one of the steps, a half-hearted attempt at putting in some decking at the bottom of the steps which they had obviously got fed up of and left, a bent and rusty metal chair was propped against the wall, there was a blue tarpaulin flung at the bottom of the steps.I could go on. On top of this, the photograph was very bad quality. I booked it, of course I didn't. The guy who had sent the photograph to me seemed perplexed as to why I hadn't jumped at the opportunity he was offering me.

So, you get the picture, so to speak.

Gites seem on the whole to be better looked after, better presented and better photographed - perhaps the owners feel more connected and are usually making a living from renting their properties, something which villa owners may not necessarily have to worry about.

Here then are my tips for better presentation and photography, which as a consequence, I would envisage will increase bookings, lead to more satisfied customers who would be likely to return, and possibly give you the ability to increase your rates.

When you have selected the room you are going to photograph, don't just blunder in with your digital camera and snap away. Have a thorough look around the room, try to look at it through the eyes of potential guests. When you are used to a room, you tend to stop seeing things that are wrong. Be ruthless, be critical. Look up to the ceilings, look behind furniture, in wardrobes, look at handles, look at cupboard and room doors - are they secure?, do they fit? Does the room need a lick of paint? Are the windows gleaming?

Having carried out this thorough examination, execute all the things you have identified as needing action. A lick of paint can work wonders. Chipped paintwork is a huge turn off and gives a feeling of neglect. Clean, clean clean - windows, floors, cupboards - everything! Make the bed look inviting if photographing the bedroom. Freshly laundered and pressed linen, white is preferable, adding a colourful throw (not those cheap and nasty faded looking cotton things) and matching cushions placed neatly and symmetrically will lift the image. Make sure if there are bedside tables that there are lamps - matching on each side of a double bed. The curtains, should be arranged neatly and should match the rest of the décor. One or two well chosen photographs of the area, paintings, some flowers on the chest of drawers will all add to the feel and overall look of a welcoming and well cared for property.

Having conducted a thorough examination you should now have a decent idea of what you will need to move, remove, replace or ditch. You should also look up to the ceilings and at the décor. Tidy any cables and wires and where possible do NOT feature them in your shot. Whilst you are at it, ask yourself if they are safe, or are they overloaded? If so, do something about it. Make sure the outside and exterior of the property are similarly tidy, maintained and clean, with no broken furniture, washing line carousels, weed strewn patches etc. Move any rubbish and clutter.

Copyright Jane ThorpeOK, so you're not actually, but think as if you are. Think as though you are being paid for these photos. Look at photos in interiors magazines and pinch their for ideas. If you don't have any decent accessories, buy some. You can pick up very cheap vases and other decorative items at places such as Matalan, Ikea, Primark, and I am sure there are comparable places in France such as the local hypermarkets and DIY stores. I saw some very cheap fabulous items the last time I was there in local shops, and of course in France the very best places to pick up great accessories are the brocanteries where you can get reasonably priced and very attractive items which will have great visual appeal to the British market who are absolutely in love with French vintage style. One of the best ways of adding colour and freshness to a shot is to place a vase of flowers on a chest of drawers or on a table. They don't have to be an expensive, flamboyantly arranged bouquet from a florist. A well thought-out bunch of flowers from the garden in an enamel jug looks absolutely fabulous and are what will appeal to potential renters. Cushions and throws (not the horrible cotton things that show up all over the place - I hope you know the ones I mean), framed paintings or photographs of the local area on the wall are great but only if they are well framed, not faded, and not too small for the wall. If you have a collection of small framed prints, don't dot them erratically all over the house, arrange them together on one large bare wall. If you do decide to do this put similar subject matter together, similar frames, or similar colours. Arrange them on the floor first, play around with them.

OK, you are ready to shoot.
If you have a point and shoot camera (ie one for which no technical ability is required, you don't alter the exposure etc, the camera does it all for you), you are at the mercy of the camera and won't get as good results as you would from an SLR camera, however, unless you do know what you are doing with an SLR there is little point in having one and you should be able to get good enough results with your point and shoot. In this digital age, photography is so much more accessible to everyone. You can see exactly what your results are immediately and can play around without having to wait for the prints being done and without having to incur the expense. It need cost you nothing in fact to get these images on your website. If you have access to Photoshop you can manipulate your image to your hearts content, and some computers have basic Photoshop-like applications which mean you can lighten, airbrush, sharpen to improve you image. Just be aware of overdoing it, or of doing manipulations which are not necessary. Only do them if they are absolutely necessary. Do not do them to create a mis-leading image.

You are unlikely to have studio lighting at your disposal, so your only lighting will be the natural light of the day (the best kind of lighting actually), and your flash. This might come as a surprise but you can use these two in conjunction. Flash will kill some shadows, so if you have a beautifully sunny room but lots of shadows try turning on the flash.

If you have a room with French windows and you want to show this off and possibly the view beyond, but you want to do it with the room in the foreground, open windows and view in the background, you are going to struggle. The reason being that wherever you focus your camera is the point the camera will use to calculate the exposure - ie how quick to close the shutter. So, if you focus on the living room table, it will obviously be darker than outside, therefore the shutter will close slower to let in more light, this has the result of overexposing the exterior part of the shot, making it too light, possibly bleached out. The opposite will be the case if you focus on a point outside; the interior part of the shot will be too dark whilst the exterior will be fine. You can get round this to some extent with an SLR but it is still quite difficult to get this shot completely right. Play around with it to see if you can obtain a result that you are happy with, if not, don't use it.

Make sure your images are sharp, sharp, sharp. Nothing less is acceptable.

You are selling a holiday here, even in a ski resort, people like to see a sunny scene, therefore don't take your pictures on a bad day. Taking photographs in bright sun is however a tricky business, so don't choose the height of the day when the sun is at its brightest.

If you have a pool, a great shot which has mass appeal is one of the pool and surrounding terrace(well furnished, clean and tidy) lit up at night. You might include a small table with a jug of Pimms and two glasses. However, you would need a tripod, and if your camera is compatible with doing long exposure shots you shouldn't need flash. If you don't have a tripod and/or a camera that does long exposures, try your flash. Camera flash though doesn't generally light up much more than 6-12 feet, so you would have to contain your shot to a corner of the pool area and terrace.

A daytime shot of a dining table under a pergola with vines growing over it for example, set with an al-fresco lunch of baguette, cheese, olives, wine sets the scene and shows people the lifestyle they could have at your villa. A little bit of shadow from the vines is good in this circumstance.

If you have an attractive feature that is particularly French, take it in close- up and it could make for an excellent 'detail' additional shot to illustrate your website.

Foreground - less is more. There is a tendency when taking a photograph to have your main subject as a small feature in the back of the photo with the main feature being a vast expanse of concrete, or some other bland ground covering dominating the image. Be aware of this when composing your shot.

If you are concentrating on a 'feature' don't think it always has to be in the middle of the shot. You can sometimes get a more effective composition with your feature off centre. A shot of a wine bottle for example for a detail shot, would look great photographed at an angle. Play around, be creative but not avant-garde!

If you can afford it, get in a professional, but if you follow the few tips I have given you should get some really good results.

Article and images copyright - Jane Thorpe


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