Get the Perfect Shots for Your Vacation Rental with 7 Tips from Photography Pros

Ensure Views & Drive Bookings with Effective Vacation Rental Photography

By: Brad Greiner, CEO of Open Air Homes and OpenAiRE Brokerage

October 24, 2022

Photography is our secret weapon at Open Air Homes, and for good reason. Adding professional photography to vacation rental listings accounts for a 63% increase in click-through rates. 

Read on to learn how the right photography can provide a massive ROI that drives bookings and referrals for short-term rentals.

Why Vacation Rental Photography Matters

When Airbnb began in 2008, hosting was pretty straightforward. Platforms mainly consisted of homeowners who wanted to share their unique spaces while they were away. Hosting was as simple as creating a listing with photos from your first-generation iPhone and watching the bookings roll in. Believe it or not, Airbnb came into existence about one year after the very first iPhone!

Just as your iPhone has changed drastically over the past 15 years, so has the short-term rental industry. To attract guests and book a vacation rental property out, cell phone snapshots likely won’t do the trick. We recommend investing in professional-grade vacation rental photography to stand out and capture your home in the best light.

We tell our homeowner partners that solid photography is their second-most valuable asset when marketing a short-term rental property – the home obviously being the most valuable!

Finding the Perfect Short-Term Rental Photographer

We’ve worked with the same photographer for nearly 8 years to shoot the majority of our listing photos here at Open Air Homes. In an effort to help other hosts, below is the story of how we forged a long-term partnership with our photographer Paul Barnaby.

We first became aware of Paul Barnaby’s work when his work was featured in an LA Times article. His name was in the bottom right-hand corner of a beautiful home he shot in the Hollywood Hills, similar to this more recent work above. At the time, we were cycling through various MLS photographers, and not really getting what we wanted. While our earlier photos did look like MLS photos, they didn’t convey the feeling of a finished home.

Differences: Real Estate Photography vs. Vacation Rental Photography

Tip: There’s a big difference between the photography necessary for real estate/MLS, versus the style of photography necessary for a vacation rental.

When we first met Paul, it was obvious that his interests didn’t stop at standard MLS photos. For inspiration and to help create a mood board, I showed him some of our favorite Architectural Digest shoots. We knew we wanted something to differentiate us from other short-term rentals on sites like Airbnb and VRBO. 

It’s crucial to find a photographer who specializes in vacation rentals. Real estate photography is typically geared toward potential buyers, which means imagination is key. Homes are often lightly staged so prospective buyers can imagine their furniture, decor, and lives in the home. 

This isn’t the case for vacation rentals, which must be fully-realized spaces. Think about it: when booking a vacation rental, what do you do? Picture yourself in each home, utilizing the amenities and features. 

Photography: Secret Weapon for Marketing a Vacation Rental Property

We discussed architecture often – our homes were not just places to sleep, but unique architectural builds that we wanted to highlight. Trees, plants, and outdoor environments play a large part in a vacation rental’s photography. What’s more, we have the ideal climate for a wide variety of trees to thrive in Southern California. It’s crucial to incorporate the natural environment into our shoot. 

Are you renting out a ski-in chalet that you hope to book throughout the winter? If so, it’s important to capture the home in snowy conditions, along with mountain vistas.

We enjoy working with Paul so much that we try to also book him for our Palm Springs homes even though he’s based in LA.

We’ve grown with Paul over the past 8 years, and watched him continue to develop as an artist. Just last month, Paul gifted our founder a photo he shot during a lightning storm in Joshua Tree. It proudly hangs in Brad and Julien’s home. Watching Paul develop as an artist while still delivering impeccable photos to us has been a highlight for Open Air Homes. 

Photo courtesy of Paul Barnaby

How to Nail the Vacation Rental Photography Process

1. Find a photographer who specializes in Airbnbs or vacation rentals.

Keep your eyes open for that photographer you think has a creative, unique perspective. Finding someone who pushes beyond the boundaries of standard MLS real estate photography is key. Have them mix in “moments” of the home that can elicit emotion when guests are looking through your listing. These lifestyle shots help potential renters better imagine themselves in the home.

2. Discuss the first shot of your listing with your photographer.

Spend time getting that first shot right, as it will be the reason why someone clicks on your listing. Natural light plays an important role in capturing the best photos. If your home is styled completely by the time your photographer arrives, they can capture the best images while the light is ideal.

3. Pay for twilight shots.  

It may cost more but trust us. Twilight shots stand out and convey not only what the home feels like during the day, but also at night. 

4. Stage your short-term rental.

Before your home’s close-up, get flowers, fresh fruits, and vegetables (we love to use oranges, lemons, grapefruits, artichokes, and avocados in our shoots in large bowls). Home accessories like art books are also a great choice. You can also hire a stylist, or find someone whose creativity you admire and have them “style” each and every shot. 

Related: What to Know About Staging Your Short-Term Rental Property

5. Leave it to the Pros.

Stay out of your photographer’s way.  Let them do what they do best.  Foster a calm environment on shoot day so they have room to roam and each room in the best light. 

6. Make the Most of Your Vacation Rental Property’s Most Unique Features.

Fill your photographer in on the 10 features or areas of your home that you think are special.  Are there large Bismarkia trees in the backyard that shimmer with a silver-green sheen in the light?  Do you have a hammock that looks especially inviting and lovely at a certain time of day?  Is there a reading nook that deserves attention, so guests can envision curling up and reading on a quiet evening? 

7. Market to families and remote workers will keep your neighbors happy.  

In the inverse, photographing a beer pong table will market your home to bachelor parties that your neighbors will hate. You want respectful people in your homes at all times, and this starts with how you market your home online.

Related: Should You Host Bachelor & Bachelorette Parties in Your Airbnb?

Key Takeaways

At Open Air Homes, we believe that our industry as a whole must work together to change consumer perceptions about short-term rentals.

We are a design-driven company and pay very close attention to every single detail when staging, marketing, and photographing our homes.

Effective vacation rental photography is a necessary investment to strengthen your home’s online presence.

Are you an aspiring Superhost? Or do you already operate a thriving short-term rental that you’re always working to improve?

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