"Nothing sells your Airbnb more than your photos," says photographer and writer Marni Epstein-Mervis of Struktr Studios in Los Angeles. "And you only get that one chance to make that first impression." That's really the long and short of it — photography makes all the difference when it comes to your Airbnb.
Airbnb itself says that hosts earn up to 40% more if they have professional photos — just one reason they launched an internal photography program back in 2011. "Photos are one of the top reasons guests choose to book," says Airbnb. The idea is that better photos better capture and convey what it's like to stay in your space.
For Epstein-Mervis, there's more to it. It's really about telling a story — and eliciting emotion. "The key to getting added to wish lists, or getting clicks in general, is having a listing that catches people's eye," she says. "It goes back to that first impression. People are enticed to click because they have an instant emotional reaction to what they see."
Here's what she keeps in mind as she works with Airbnb hosts in Los Angeles.
1. Mix it up.
"You want to create a mix of those wider shots, detail shots, and vignettes," says Epstein-Mervis.
2. Real estate photos won't do.
If you've ever commissioned real estate photography, your Airbnb listing is not the time to repurpose them. "This isn't a real estate listing," says Epstein-Mervis. "We don't want to show them the wide angle shots of a space."
3. Think about texture and scale.
Visual interest is everything — especially in those smaller detail shots and vignettes. Take the time to style the coffee station, the bedside table or vanity with items of varying height and shape, and add some textiles or plants. "It's about understanding textures and mixing up the scale of items and other elements if you're going to compose a scene," says Epstein-Mervis.
4. Tell a long-enough story.
"To do that effectively, we're talking between 16 and 25 photos, so that you have the ability to work in all the shots and tell the story," says Epstein-Mervis. Airbnb photographers typically provide two to three photos per room.
5. Showcase the neighborhood.
"When guests are choosing to stay at an Airbnb over a hotel, they want to experience their stay as a local," says Epstein-Mervis. While the focus should be the space itself, you can and should use a couple photos to showcase the view or local amenities. "You want to sell vacationers with a taste of what it's like to live in your town, in your city — and you can do that through those photos."
6. Consider the architecture.
Perhaps because of her background — she has a masters degree in Historic Preservation— Epstein-Mervis likes to pay attention to the architectural details that might help tell the story of a home or a neighborhood in general. "The architecture says so much about the time in which a home was built, and society," she says. "There's so much to glean from the architecture aside from the style."
7. Upgrade from your iPhone.
Although portrait mode can do a lot — it's typically not enough. If paying for a professional photographer is not in the budget, you can still rent or borrow a DSLR camera that gives you more control and capabilities. (And potentially a tripod, so you can take photos using natural light, which is the cleanest and most consistent).
"Photography makes a difference," says Epstein-Mervis. "The more you can help people visualize themselves in your space, the more likely [they are] to click and to book."