Hayden Ward

Exploring the Value of Vacation Rental Photography with Jill Stuefer

The value of vacation rental photography

A picture is worth a thousand words. It can also be worth thousands of dollars in the insurance world. When you file a claim, insurance companies will ask for photos of the damage or lost items as proof to support your claim. Capturing photos or even videos of your vacation rental property is visual proof to illustrate the scope of your property’s condition before damage occurs. Labeling each photo with the date and updating your photo inventory when renovations or an expensive purchase are made will give you a record of your property’s condition and valuables. Capturing images with your phone or camera is the quickest way to determine what you had on your property and the condition it was in. Otherwise, you are left scavenging through receipts of past purchases trying to explain the contents of your property and the condition they were left in. It will save you time and headaches during a stressful situation. 

Not only will updated photos help speed up the claim process, they will improve marketing your property to potential new clients. Practicing full disclosure marketing on booking sites is key. Being transparent with your images shows the renter exactly what they are getting for the price. High quality images of your property lead to more inquiries and bookings! According to FastCompany, you have 20 seconds to capture an audience’s attention before they scroll to the next property. Using strong visual images of your vacation rental is crucial for gaining new bookings.

Keep in mind while taking photos of your short-term rental property that images should be compelling, visually inviting, and supportive of your well-crafted description. Most booking sites like Airbnb and VRBO allow at least 20 images of your property to add to your listing. Invite guests’ eyes to explore your property before they even step foot in the door. Consider your short-term rental property’s photos a visual tourism pamphlet highlighting its best features. 

When photographing your vacation rental property, make sure to follow these steps to maximize your exposure for new bookings while producing high quality images for insurance protection. 

  • Take photos that provide visual context for the viewer. A good rule of thumb is to snap photos of the four corners of the outside of your property. Capture the entire building in a photo if you can. Inside your property, take many different views and angles of each room.
  • Take at least 20 photos of your home including the yard, extra features, and even share a floor plan if available.
  • Clean your home and stage it with items that help tell a story and make it feel inviting to guests.
  • Use as much natural lighting as possible, avoiding a flash. Turn on lights if needed. 

To help you achieve the most out of your photography, we interviewed Jill Stuefer, a highly sought-after professional natural light photographer living in the Midwest. We talked with her to learn how to capture strong images of your vacation rental property. She will advise you with techniques for increasing visual attention and gaining bookings for your short-term rental properties. Read her tips on how to photograph and showcase your property in its best light … pun intended. 

How did you get into photography? 

Around 7 years ago, I was at a crossroads in my life. I had decided college wasn’t the right fit for me and was struggling to determine what I wanted to do with my career. I was young, in a new city without many of my own friends and trying to find the right fit for me. That’s when I realized, my biggest strength and passion was my creativity. I decided I would channel that creativity into photography. Over the course of the next year, I saved enough money to buy my first DSLR camera and enrolled in a few online classes. I was hooked as soon as I could start applying what I had learned and seeing the difference it was making in my photographs. I’m truly a self-taught photographer who slowly found my niche and lifelong passion.

What kind of camera do you use?

I shoot on Canon 5D Mark IV bodies with prime lenses. The most important parts of real estate or interior photography are having wide angle lenses with a low aperture, a camera body that can work well even in low light situations, and a stabilization device. Light is key when creating beautiful images for your listing so having gear that can capture light well is a top priority.

What is the most important feature when you’re photographing rooms inside a property?

Look for natural light! Rooms with great windows that allow light to stream in are the best. I also love rooms that can tell a story … rooms you can look at and feel “life is done here.” When staging a room or photographing specific angles, you want your audience to imagine themselves there. As a photographer I have such a powerful opportunity to tell a story and evoke emotions that then help the viewer want to be a small part of that photograph. Whether the emotion is the liberating feeling of cooking a family meal in a clean and spacious kitchen or being able to imagine the peaceful sound of an open window and the warmth of a relaxing sun room, either way you now long to be in both spots and you haven’t even seen them in real life! 

What special skills and equipment are essential when photographing the interior and the exterior of a vacation rental? 

Regarding skills, you’ll want to know a little bit about how your device works. If you’re using a DSLR, understanding at least a few of the settings will help you go from auto-mode to auto-whoa. If you’re using a mobile device, simple tricks like turning on your camera’s grid and knowing how to lock your exposure will certainly help. Lastly, a skill you would want to research, if it’s unfamiliar, is the Rule of Thirds and how it relates to interiors. This will help you adjust your angle of the room and how it could be more appealing to the eye.

For essential equipment, I would suggest a stabilization device with possible trigger. Your images need to be in-focus or tack sharp. Having a tripod or monopod will help you achieve deeper room angles for a wider shot while still remaining stable. A trigger could come in handy if you don’t want to manually set a countdown or press the shutter on the device. 

Does staging or setting a scene help achieve a desired result?

For images to have success and represent a desired style, details are crucial to the equation. Textures, color palettes, locally inspired art and collectibles, helpful signs, cleanliness, and most importantly engaging objects such as a hot cup of coffee, are all elements to add into scenes. However, you can certainly have beautiful images without staging any additional pieces. It really comes down to personal preference and your ideal guest. Here’s a challenge—take pictures of the same space, one as it is normally and one staged with those extra touches. Both taken in the same room with the same light and the same editing; however, one is styled to make you feel like you could be in the room. Which are you more drawn to? Which do you think a guest would be more drawn to? Use your answer as your guide to how your listing should look. 

What is the benefit of hiring a professional photographer to photograph interiors?  

Consistency and credibility for your listing. Professionals will have the correct equipment to show the best characteristics of your property, which includes everything from the photographing process to postproduction. A professional will provide consistently edited photos with correct colors and exposure to tell a cohesive story of your property. Both the lighting and colors from image to image or room to room play a big role when your guest is choosing a listing. The human eye is trained to pick up on differences when scrolling through images. If there are inconsistencies from photo to photo, your guest could identify your listing as a red flag or possibly fake. Professional photos will prove to your potential guest that you’re a credible listing and they can trust booking with you. 

How do you find a professional photographer? What are some good questions to ask them?

There are a few ways I would recommend searching for and hiring a photographer for your listing. First consider where you’re listing your property. If you’re listing on sites like Airbnb, I would highly recommend taking advantage of their professional photography program. With the stats to back them up, Airbnb claims their photographers are “experts at listing photography and know exactly what guests look for when they search.” Using one of their experts takes much of the liability and leg-work off of you when it comes to research, communication, payment, insurance, and overall satisfaction. Various online platforms have similar services, so take the time to visit them first.

If you’re not listing on a platform with a built in professional photography program, I recommend a targeted Instagram hashtag search. Searching hashtags, such as #vacationrentalphotographer or #Airbnbphotographer, would be a great start. The trick would be to find someone in your area with proven work. Otherwise, you might consider offering a trade of services to a non-local photographer. Offering a free nights stay at your property in exchange for professional listing photos is one of the more popular offerings. Of course, with any form of agreement such as this, you would want everything in writing for legal protection. 

Lastly, I would recommend a good old fashion google search of real estate photographers in your area. These pros could come at a premium cost; however, you should receive both a professional and premium experience. 

Regardless of how you go about hiring a professional photographer for your vacation rental property listing, there are a couple important questions you should always ask:

  • Ask to see examples of their work
  • Ask if they have any reviews from real customers

You want to know your investment in professional photography will not only give you the best chance to increase bookings but will also increase the value of your listing overall. Choosing a credible professional photographer with a portfolio to back them up will do just that.  

What are your biggest tips when taking photos of short-term vacation rentals? 

Remember your “why” and tell your unique story. Why did you purchase this particular piece of property? Is it the location? The architecture? The space? The charm? Whatever your why is, lean into it in your listing. Whether it be detailed photos that reflect the charm of your French Quarter house, bright images of the many bedrooms in your sprawling mountain hideaway, an insider look to the close proximity of local shops and restaurants of your downtown condo, or even all the fun on-property amenities of your coastal-themed lake house. All of these qualities will help your potential guest start to envision their stay and make your listing more attractive than your competition. Today’s travelers want to experience something new and one of a kind. They want to be able to share that experience on social media, tell stories to their friends and family, and be able to say that they lived like a local. Your property can provide all of this and more if you show off your property’s unique qualities in your listing!

Take the time to revisit your vacation rental property’s photos. Are they up to date? How could you use Jill Stuefer’s expert tips and techniques to enhance your listing and boost views for new bookings? It is so important to have recent photos documenting your short-term rental property in case damage occurs and a claim needs to be filed. Capturing new images now can reduce stress later knowing you have the photos or video required for a claim. Begin the process of being insured and stay stress free. Start a free comprehensive CBIZ Vacation Rental Insurance quote today!

Thank you Jill for taking some time to chat with us. If you wish to contact her or see more of her work, you can do so here: 

Jill Stuefer Photography  Website: https://www.jillcaren.com/

  Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jillstuefer/

  Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jillcarenphoto/

  Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/jillcarenstuefer/

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About Us

CBIZ Vacation Rental Insurance, a division of CBIZ Insurance Services,Inc., is the largest insurer of short-term vacation rental properties in the United States. As part of an $850 million New York Stock Exchange traded company (CBZ), we are the first broker to develop specific policy coverage to meet the needs for vacation rental properties and the amenities offered by these businesses. We have insured vacation rental properties since 2002.

The CBIZ Vacation Rental Insurance team knows insurance, specifically the risks and exposures related to short-term vacation rentals.We won't confuse you with technical "insurance speak" ~ our representatives are well versed in explaining your coverage in plain English. With hands-on, personal customer service, we guarantee swift communication and a 24/7 claims team that is ready to respond to your call any time of the day. As specialist in the industry, we leverage our knowledge and passion to ensure you and your business are adequately protected.