Photography Top Tips with Ben Thornton of Planpics

December 2016

Why should you look to use a professional photographer rather than just letting the estate agent take them? What value can a photographer add to the process and why it makes sense to instruct one. Hear it all from a photographer widely used by the agents to hear his viewpoint.

Photography Top Tips with Ben Thornton of Planpics

Interviewer: Very exciting indeed to have Ben Thornton here in the studio with me. He really is a very experienced property photographer. Ben, thanks very much for coming in. I suppose, one of the main questions that you often come across, and certainly I come across, is why people feel that it’s necessary to use a professional photographer when at the end of the day, a lot of estate agents nowadays they’ve got the, I say, professional-looking digital camera kit. What’s the difference between an agent just doing a point and shoot camera versus someone like yourself at Planpics?

Ben: Well, I think the most important point is an estate agent has got 101 things on their to-do list, whereas a property photographer has one thing, and that’s to take images that will sell the house. Firstly, they’ve got the latest and the best kits, lighting, cameras, lenses, whereas the estate agent possibly won’t, will be just, in most cases, using their iPhone or point-and-shoot camera. The professional photographer will also advise on room layouts, you know, presentation, also revisit when the weather is better, possibly.

Interviewer: You mentioned about sort of presentation of a room, and I know this is very much a hot topic. What do you feel are the key points that you want to, I suppose, convey to people? Because often, it’s something that they get a bit het up about, they’re not quite sure what to do. With your experience, what are the key points they need to look for?

Ben: The advice I usually give is to de-clutter everything. That’s the first bit of advice I’d give. For an example, look at a sitting room. We’d normally pull all the sofas out as far as possible…

Interviewer: Yeah, good point.

Ben: …to make the ground space look as big as possible. What we’re not trying to do is to distort the truth by using fisheye lenses, but by, you know, moving the furniture to the edges of the room, we’ll make it feel lighter, brighter, airier.

Interviewer: Is it true that you want to be taking internal photographs on a bright day, or a rainy day, or how do you actually fit that in?

Ben: In the ideal world, it would be brilliant if we could have sun throughout the whole year in England, but for the majority of cases, an overcast day for internal photos is an advantage, because with the lighting kit that we use internally, we can control the lighting and create some really fabulous pictures.

Interviewer: I guess it’s a case of when you sometimes see that you’ve just got that big flash of white light against the windows, with what you use, you can actually see straight through into the garden. It’s as your eyes would see it.

Ben: Yes, that’s right, yeah. I mean, it’s down to a number of things. It’s down to the actual cameras we’re using, the techniques we’re using, and the lighting, but, you know, getting all of those things right makes the shots that we provide the agent essentially look like what you’re seeing. If anything, better.

Interviewer: Yeah, I know. And correct me if I’m wrong, I think it’s a common misconception whereby people almost get confused, because what you’re very sensitive eyes see versus, let’s face it, sadly, a bit of plastic camera kit sees, then has gotta be printed out, I think are two very, well, I think, extreme opposites and it’s how you sort of work the room and get the best presentation out of it.

Ben: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I think it’s just getting the balance exactly right, everything from the colors to the room presentation, the lighting. We put a lot of effort, I would say probably over half of the time is in the editing, which again is over and above what your agent would do with a point and press camera.

Interviewer: Again, it’s a real hot topic because I often see, again, it’s two extremes. You often see these very heavily edited, evidently it’s done through on Photoshop where you’ve got the Mediterranean skyline that we had today, but hold on, the original picture was taken in winter, or it’s actually pouring with rain. Where’s that fine line for you?

Ben: As we talked about the internal pictures, it’s not always a beautiful day, so, but with the external pictures and blue skies, for about 80% of the time, we replace and add blue skies. But we do it in a very, very subtle way.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Ben: So to the untrained eye, it’s not noticeable.

Interviewer: I know there are alternatives such as masked photography, and just talk everyone through that because I know it’s, again, it’s a term widely thrown around, but what does that actually entail?

Ben: Yeah, so we use portable elevated masts. And basically, what they do is they give us…the camera sends up on a telescopic pole, around 40, 50 feet. In most cases, we only use elevation probably about 20 or 30 feet, max. And what it is is to, is basically to straighten the perspective of the property, rather than looking up at it. And it works just as well for a terraced house as it would do a £5 million country house. And the advantage of the ones that we’ve got, they’re portable. So, rather than driving a van through somebody’s garden, we can jump into the neighboring field, or tuck ourselves into a very tight space.

Interviewer: So it’s handheld, and it goes where you go, rather than, if you like, there are a few of them in and around the area whereby it’s actually bolted on physically to a van or a car, you are restricted by where that vehicle can go at the end of the day.

Ben: Yes, exactly. Yeah, the convenience is brilliant. So we can go into, like you say, neighboring gardens and get the perfect shot.

Interviewer: Where does it stand, once you’ve taken the images and you’ve…fine, you’ve given them to the estate agent? Who actually, I say, owns those photographs? Is it done on a license, is it copyright, does the agent own them, does the actual homeowner own them? Where does the land lie with you?

Ben: Well, usually the agreements that we have with the agent is that we own the photographs.

Interviewer: Yep.

Ben: The instructing agent can use that photograph for whatever purpose they see fit, whether it be for selling the house, for just general presentation on their website, other marketing. If a homeowner instructs us directly, they’ve got full use of the pictures, and if they swap instructing agents, they can take those pictures with them also.

Interviewer: So, if for example the agent instructs you, but it’s actually the homeowner that, effectively, is paying you directly rather than the agent, what happens then? Do the photographs belong to the homeowner, or do they belong to the agent?

Ben: Well, in that case, where the homeowner is paying us directly, yeah, the homeowner gets the full use of the pictures, and can do whatever they want with them. It’s only when the instructing agents pays [inaudible 00:06:25] it’s for their use only.

Interviewer: It all comes back to effectively, who’s paid you. Whether it’s the agent, in which case it’s over to them, and if it happens to be the homeowner, albeit could be through the agent, then they own it as well.

Ben: Yes, that’s right.

Interviewer: Got you. Just in summary, what should people who are thinking of coming on to the market, what do they actually need to look for? Because again, it’s a fairly competitive sector, property photography. There are quite a few people that do it. What are the key elements that homeowners need to look for in a professional photographer such as yourself?

Ben: Well, firstly, I think when looking for a photographer is to, well, for property, is to find somebody who only takes pictures of properties.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Ben: Rather than moonlights as a wedding photographer, as a portrait photographer.

Interviewer: That’s a very good point, yes.

Ben: You know, someone whose speciality is property photography. And then, secondly, you know, looking at the experience, what they’ve done. Because anybody can buy a camera from Jessops and call themselves a professional photographer. But, you know, you need to see examples of what they’ve done. Whichever agent you ultimately go with, they should be able to provide you with plenty of examples of, you know, what they’ve done, internal, external pictures, elevated shots. Obviously, with using a specialist property photographer, they’ll be able to give you the time to, you know, discuss property presentation, and if the weather is poor, to revisit.

Interviewer: That’s really great, Ben. Thanks very much indeed. Just tell everyone, if they want to reach you, just tell them the website and your contact number.

Ben: Yes. If you would like to contact me, please go to, and my number is 07968-445329.

Interviewer: Ben, that’s great. Thanks very much indeed for coming on.

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