Photography Tips for Vacation Rentals

How to photograph your vacation rental so it looks great—even if you only have a camera phone. Professional photographers offer their tips. 

Karma B.
Karma B.

Of course, the best way to get professional-looking photos is to hire a professional. But if you’re just starting out and you need to get some photos in a hurry, these photography tips should help you present your place in the best light. 

Before you start, scrub the place until it shines. Outside make sure the grass is cut and stray leaves have been swept up. Open all the windows and doors. Then it’s ready, set, shoot!

Take more photos than you think you’ll need.

Don’t think of this as taking a few necessary photos. Think of it as staging a photoshoot, and your property is the star. Take way more photos than you will need so you can choose the very best. Capture the room from every angle. This is more than just a way to ensure you get enough photos; it provides more information for potential guests. They may be looking for things you hadn’t considered, like room for a surfboard or a wheelchair. You can’t guess what they’re all looking for, but you can provide the answers by offering an abundance of perspectives on your property. 

Let the photos give a tour.

Open doors to show the layout. Photo by Adam Winger

Another way to get a variety of photos is to photograph a walkthrough of the property. Start with a photo of the property that will help them find it from the street. Capture a pic of the entry, with the front door open, inviting them in. Take photos that reveal the adjoining rooms and any views beyond. 

The photographers I spoke with advised to take horizontal wide shots that show how the space is laid out.  “For example, an extra wide shot of the living room can show where the other rooms are in relation to it,” suggests Erin Derby, an interiors and architectural photographer in NYC with over 23 years of experience. She adds,  “Try standing in each corner of each room and taking a photo from there. You might find you need multiple angles of each room, or that an unexpected angle is the one that works best.”

Brian Wittman is not a photographer, but as a multi-state, short-term rental manager he's photographed many rentals over the years. He says, “The tour doesn't necessarily need to be an exact walkthrough of the rental. Highlight common areas like the living room or backyard oasis.”

Set the Stage with props.

The pool likes lovely but the bubbly creates a scene. Image by Hairboristpro

Sell the experience you want guests to have. Potential guests are more likely to take action if the photos bring to mind a situation they can visualize. Aiming the camera at the fireplace tells them you have a fireplace. Instead, set the scene a little: a roaring fire, a beautiful hardbound book and a steaming cup of coffee will tell a story of snuggling up to the fire to read. They will be able to picture themselves living that experience. A carefully placed hammock, wine bottle or  pitcher of juice can all get the guest imagining experiencing those items. Staging props can also help you find new angles for the photos, as you outfit  your rental for the different stories you want to tell. What feeling do you want to invoke? 

If you aren’t sure how to stage your rental, try looking up stock photos for the experiences you want your guests to have, such as: cozy winter room, beach fun, or fishing cabin. You can even filter out the photos with people in them to find examples of ways the pros strategically stage props in a room.

Capture what makes your rental unique. 

Capture the details. Photo by Andrea Davis

When considering props and what to photograph, emphasize the particulars of your location. Wittman gives the example an Elvis-themed rental, “We made sure to photograph all the Elvis memorabilia and themed Elvis items, like pillows and such.” Even if you don’t have such a specific theme, your props may emphasize geography (snowy cabin vs summer beach) or audience (families vs honeymooners).  Be focused when doing taking photos that play up your theme. Says Wittman, “only things that are very unique do you want to take extra time to photograph, like a wall with electric guitars as wall ornaments.” 

Take care with the vertical angle of your camera. 

When I think of photography, I think of lighting. But surprisingly the first tip several of these professional photographers offered had to do with simply how you hold your camera (or phone). You probably know to keep the horizon straight, but one sure sign of an amateur is about keeping things vertically straight. Derby notes that some amateurs will hold the cell phone at stark angles in the attempt to show a full space. Don’t do it! Instead, Derby advises, “Hold it at stomach level and back into a corner, or even out the door a little, to get a more flattering angle and the widest shot possible.” 

Paige Elizabeth Gribb, a full-time Paris-based photographer, agrees, adding, “For most interiors, you'll want to lower your camera down to chest height or even a bit lower. But even for details up in high corners, try to get in the habit of physically moving the camera upward as much as you can rather than tilting the lens up. This will make all the vertical lines (doors, walls, windows, etc) look as straight and polished as possible, and make your space look that much more enticing.” 

If your camera has a gridlines setting, use it to help get the angle straight. 

Natural lighting rules. 

You may think the overhead lights are sufficient to take good pictures, but the pros say otherwise. In fact, Derby says not to use your interior lights at all! “To make photos look more professional, turn off the lights inside, and shoot using only daylight,” Derby says.

“Shoot during the time of day when the space gets the most light. Not only will it make the space appear bright and cheery, but various light sources are different colors, and you won't have a mix of those colors. It'll be a much more clean and professional looking shot,” Derby continues.

It helps to think of photography as painting with light. Taking photos with natural light doesn’t only make the space look better and brighter, it will also make the photos more crisp and sharp and thus overall more professional. 

Don’t rely on flash!

Show what guests will expect when the drive up. Note they've swept away any stray leaves and tripped the bushes. Photo by Hans

The best way to mess up natural light? Using flash. Flash is useful for candid portraits, where the subjects are a few feet away. It won’t sufficiently and evenly light an entire room. The professional photographers I interviewed know how to make flash work for them, but explain that amateurs should not. “All lights have a color cast that we tend to ignore in real life, but when you’re editing your photos later, you'll start to notice them pretty fast. There's often a huge difference between warm indoor lights and the outdoors,” says Gribb. “If you add flash on top of that, the colors in your space may not look right at all.” Moreover, the flash will make some parts of the room too bright and others cast in shadows. Better to open all the windows and photograph the room during the time of day when it is brightest. 

Edit your photos.

You should not be using the zoom setting on your camera, do your crops when you edit. Instead take the biggest, highest-quality photos you can. Wittman reminds that even if taking pics with a phone ensure it’s on the highest setting and use HDR. “The pictures will be a bigger file, but you'll end up saving them for later.” Crop photos to zoom in on what is working and cut out dull or unnecessary areas of the image.

Increasing the brightness and saturation a little can go a long way. Use the white balance feature to correct colors that are making your whites look slightly blue or yellow. 

Be wary of editing your photos on a phone, where the small size makes it hard to make out details. Avoid using filters since they stylize a photo too much. Guests want to see the room, not an artistic rendering of it. If you’re not comfortable with doing your own photo editing, Wittman suggests using a site like boxbrownie.com for simple enhancements.

Great photos do more than just show off your rental. 

Not only do photos capture attention and show guests what the vacation rental has to offer, the quality of your photos establishes credibility and professionalism. Put yourself in the guests’ shoes. Who is likely to offer a more accommodating experience: the host with a few dark photos, or the one with numerous, brightly-lit, well-staged images? Being a great host is about the details; this is one guests will notice even if they don’t have the artistic background to say why.  

As  World Photography Day approaches, remember there are other ways you can partner with local photography pros besides hiring them to capture your rentals.  We shared some ways you can take advantage of this holiday to both promote your hotel or short-term rental and elevate a local photography business. 


Now that you have some gorgeous photos of your rental, send them via text message to your guests with an Akia digital welcome guide or registration form.

Time is one the greatest asset and one of the things that [Akia] has helped us out as a property tremendously.

Karma B.

Content Strategist

Time is one the greatest asset and one of the things that [Akia] has helped us out as a property tremendously.

Ethan Fishbane

Director of The Front Office, Prince Waikiki

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