7 Secret Vacation Rental Photography Tricks [Experts Reveal]

Did you know that how your property is photographed has a major impact on the number of bookings you receive? It actually goes down to the nitty gritty details like the angles, lighting, the color of the sky, the number of props (or lack of), and color of your wall or bed linen. Actually, that’s just the beginning… but don’t panic! We asked not one, but TWO of the top experts in vacation rental photography, Tyann Marcink & Alan Egan, to share their best tips. From mistakes, to staging and angles, get ready for the most useful photography lesson you’ve ever had!

7 Secret Vacation Rental Photography Tricks we will cover:

  1. Proof that good photography increases bookings
  2. Most common mistakes people make when photographing their property
  3. Vacation Rental Staging or no staging?
  4. Should you also photograph local shops, events, sightseeing?
  5. Angles!
  6. How many pictures of each room should you advertise?
  7. Bonus tip!

1) Do you have a research that proves that good photography increases bookings?

Alan EganI was A/B testing existing and new improved images against each other and the new images always outscored the older photos by producing many more clickthroughs. I literally doubled my bookings on many properties – Just by producing better, micro staged images. I don’t have that data anymore but can assure everyone that properly presented photographs outsell point and click images every time.

©Alan Egan

Tyann MarcinkI like to touch base with my owners/managers that I photograph properties for and ask them if their number of nights booked, as well as their total revenue, has increased after a year with their professional photo. The amount of that increase has been as high as an astounding 50%. In dollars, that translates that the owner’s $500 investment into professional photos returned $25,000 the following year. Not every owner/manager will have that high of a return, but everyone has always had a return that was higher than their initial investment in professional photos.

©Tyann Marcink

2) What are the most common mistakes people make when photographing their property?

Alan Egan The great photographer Ansel Adams said: “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” The biggest mistake that people make is they take photographs of their properties. Very few owners and managers take the time to make photos. Potential guests need to imagine themselves on vacation at your rental in order to trigger the inquiry stage of the booking process. Another mistake that nearly everyone makes is they don’t include any foreground. The foreground is an essential element in all good photography. It adds color, form, and scale and leads a viewer into an image but it’s rarely used in VR photographs.

Tyann MarcinkThe most common mistake I see is not paying attention to details. Every detail stands out in a photograph, even though our eyes might miss them when scanning a room while there in person.
The line up of small appliances on the kitchen counter or the row of knickknacks on the fireplace mantel make those areas look cluttered in a photograph. The throw pillows and blanket hurriedly tossed onto the couch or the sheet not tucked into the side of the bed will look sloppy in the online image. The best way to combat missing the details after you think you have the details in order is to take a photo, scrutinize that image, fix the details you missed the first time, and then take your final image.

3) Staging or no staging? What’s your opinion?

Alan EganStaging, staging, staging – Every time! Props also add color, form, scale and they project strong emotional vacation associations, which are the key to more bookings. Without staging your photos are architectural, at best. People aren’t looking to buy your property, they are looking for somewhere to spend their vacation. Staging turns real estate photos into vacation rental photos and these have higher click-through and conversion rates – Every time. Every table should be staged to some degree. Place an appropriate prop or two on every kitchen, dining, coffee, occasional, garden and poolside table. This is super easy to do. Top tip – Aim to make the property look a little like it’s actually being rented (to some VERY tidy guests). I use sun tan lotion, guide books and magazines, beer and wine, Food, brightly colored towels, cut and artificial flowers, fresh fruit, laptops, children toys and so on.

©Alan Egan

Tyann MarcinkYes, on staging, with clarifications. There are several different levels of staging, and one can go all out with it. However, best practice is to have a little staging at the minimum.

The minimal staging would include the following:

  • Turning on all of the light
  • Straightening art on the walls
  • Fluffing pillows on the couch
  • Tweaking the arrangement of furniture
  • Setting out small bathroom amenities (i.e. like those from The Distinguished Guest)
  • Clearing the kitchen counters
  • Closing the toilet lids
  • Hiding clutter such as remotes and laminated instruction sheets
  • My favourite places to hide items are under the kitchen sink, a pantry, the refrigerator, and end table or nightstand drawers.

    Staging ideas that go one step further if you have the time to do them include:

    • Adding fresh flowers or a potted succulent
    • Neatly stacking guidebooks on the coffee table
    • An open laptop on the desk or table
    • Coffee mugs on the deck
    • Wine and glasses by the fireplace
    • Board game on the coffee table
    • Place settings on the dining table
    • Towel, book, and sunglasses by the pool

    When staging, simply keep in mind these two rules:

    1. You are creating a scene that looks as if someone just stepped away and will be back shortly
    2. Only use items that are available to the guest so that they can recreate the scene

    This refers to the board games, wine glasses, place settings, and the like. Don’t set that scene and then remove those items from the property. Note that food, drink, and fresh flowers and plants are not something that guests expect you to provide unless you specifically state you will provide them, but you may use them when staging.

    ©Tyann Marcink

    4) Should you also photograph local shops, events, sightseeing and include these? To what ratio?

    Alan EganThe simple answer is yes. No matter what your property is like, it’s not the reason for travel. For example, people travel to Florida because of Disney, Universal Studios, the 1,000 plus golf courses and a whole host of other reasons. These are the reasons for travel. By adding photos of nearby local attractions you form a subliminal link between your property and the attraction. This connection is very powerful. Not many owners do this so you can easily gain an edge by employing this technique. Top tip – It’s also worth checking stock photo sites (bigstockphoto, istockphoto, etc.) for good major attraction images – They are generally of a high standard and only cost around a dollar each.

    Tyann MarcinkYes, I always encourage owners and managers to include area images in the listing if there is room or on their website at least. Travelers are looking for an experience, and the area is a part of that experience. Including images of the local area along with notes about them, such as distance or a piece of advice, will help the guest get a better grasp on what kind of experience to expect at the property. Be aware, though, to not attempt a short cut by searching the internet for the area images and using the found images without permission. This is copyright infringement. Take your own images or hire a photographer for the area images. If there is a photograph that you find online that you feel that you must use, find the photographer and inquire about payment for licensing the use of the image to help promote your property.

    5) Angles – tell us about them!

    Alan EganSquare; The camera needs to be held square to the horizontal. DO NOT point the camera up or down. When you point the camera up or down it distorts the vertical lines in the photo and the photo appears un-natural. It’s best to use a tripod and a bubble level to align the camera for this reason. Low; Most people stand when they take their shots – This is a mistake. When you do this you get a lot of ceiling in the photo.If you kneel down or have the tripod low down, you capture more of the rooms features. Swimming pools also look bigger when you get down low. Just by following these two rules you will create far better photographs!

    Tyann MarcinkThe angles, or composition, of a photograph can make or break an image. My rule of thumb is to shoot from approximately waist level and to keep the walls straight. Shooting from a lower level lends to the feeling of walking into a room, giving the room more depth, compared to taking the image from standing, with a view looking down into a room. Keeping the walls straight shows attention to detail as well as gives a feeling of security to the property.

    ©Tyann Marcink

    6) How many pictures of each room should you advertise? Can you give us the ratio for each?

    Alan EganI don’t apply any hard and fast rules here. I show enough exterior shots to convey all of the outdoor features, indoors I tend to show at least one photo of every room. I’ll include extra shots of larger rooms. I also take quite a lot of close up shots and add some of these to convey an atmospheric feeling. Interiors magazines do this all the time in order to show what the property is like, what sets it apart.

    Tyann MarcinkI encourage 2 images per living area and bedroom, and 1 image for small bathrooms. I also advise to have 1 or 2 detail or close-up photos that show off the personality of the property. These photos are usually from the living area or the master bedroom.


    Share to reveal THE Bonus tip! ⤵

    About the authors

    Alan Egan

    Alan EganHi, I’m Alan and I have been working in the Vacation Rental sector for the last 12 years or so. I started a VR listing site back in 2004 and spent my time on site creation and development, staging and photography and the marketing and promotion of the site and properties. I spent the following years developing photographic techniques that increase inquiries and conversions. In 2010 I started sharing these techniques and began teaching VR owners and managers how to stand out in this overcrowded marketplace via a number of Ebooks and the creation of rentmoreweeks.com, an online magazine. In 2012 I began experimenting with social media as a way to promote properties and destinations outside of the listing sites and I produced a number of online video courses that teach social marketing to industry professionals. I also produced some WordPress video courses specifically for the VR market.

    I have just launched host-writer. A platform that is a vacation rental marketing manager, blog writer, and a social media assistant, all rolled into one. I’ve been a keynote speaker at all 3 vacation rental world summits and have also presented sessions for the VRMA in Europe. I work as a social media consultant for a number of well-known VR companies. My wife and I spend our time between growing organic vegetables on our farm in Denmark and sailing on our yacht in warmer climates.

    Tyann Marcink

    Tyann Marcink
    Tyann Marcink’s recent adventures took her down the face of a slippery cliff off the Na Pali Coast in Kauai and into a secret cave with 20 sleeping sea turtles. Her passion for photography makes her eyes sparkle.
    Considered an industry leader in vacation rental photography, Tyann also has the advantage of the property owner’s viewpoint, as she has two properties in Branson, Missouri. See them at vacationhomeinbranson.com. She has written several eBooks and created a video course for owners and managers to learn vacation rental photography. Tyann has also spoken at many industry events and teaches marketing, social media, and best practices for owners and hosts at the VR Mastered Boot Camp.

    • Great interview Emma! Alan and Tyann have been fantastic trainers who helped me to get the most out of any professional shooting I have been working on either for my properties or my clients. It was great to read this article and their insights. Having predominantly horizontal photos is really important for publishing on listing sites and also ask your photographer to deliver pictures in a standard format that complies with the requirements of many listing sites such as 2048×1536 otherwise it can be a slow process to upload photos. So, more recently this is what I have been asking to photographers. Thanks you all! Paola

    • Alan Egan

      Hi Paola, Thanks for your kind words. Did you watch the video? https://vimeo.com/207480687

    • I just did, really good video Alan and thanks for recommending the mkg books!

    • My pleasure Paola,

      Always pleased to help you xx

    • Tyann Marcink

      I have loved watching your progress, Paola!

    • Andy Meddick

      You guys do an amazing job with content, and marketing. Another great article! Thanks, Andy Meddick, Downtown Beach Rentals, Delmarva Beaches.

    • RU Admin

      Thank you so much for the compliment, Andy! Have a great weekend! – Greetings from Barcelona