Let’s Talk about Professional Photography for your Short-Term Rental

What are the two largest factors in getting a listing booked?  Photographs and rental rate. Today we’ll talk about your listing photos.

The whole idea of great vacation rental photography is that your potential guests will be able to imagine themselves staying at your property thanks to the mood and feelings evoked by your photos.

Airbnb research shows listings with professional photos get booked at higher rates than those listings who use owner or manager photographs – at rates up to 20 percent more! That’s a significant difference that will translate into a healthier bottom line! 

The photographs on your listing will either catch the potential guest’s attention or cause them to go on to the next listing.  I always recommend getting professional photographs done with a photographer who specializes in real estate or architectural photography. 

You can find these photographers in many ways. Getting a personal recommendation is the best: ask your fellow hosts in local area hosting Facebook groups for their advice. The next best way to find one is simply to google “real estate photographer” and your geographical area. Most photographers have a website where they catalogue their work.

Prices vary with experience and with the number of photos you’d like. I have paid about $150 for a one-bedroom condo with a relatively new photographer to $725 for a 4-bedroom house with a well-known photographer. 

Professional photographers know how to highlight the most impressive parts of your property using lighting and angles. Using a tripod for stability means the pictures are more crisp, and taken at chest-high height – the best vantage point for a photo. Professionals use high resolution cameras and wide angles. These photographs show more detail and can make rooms appear larger and more appealing to guests. They will also take vignettes – closeups of objects or groups of objects – for you to use on your listing platform or social media sites.

By preparing before your photo shoot, you’ll be able to receive flattering photos that help guests envision themselves in your space.

Decluttering your rental is essential. Clutter causes our brains to feel disorganized and chaotic – which is the opposite of what guests want to feel while on vacation: happy and peaceful.

You should aim to have some vivid elements in your photos. Add a splash of color with decorative throw pillows or fresh flowers. Photos with bright and clear colors stand out over photos with opaque and dark colors. This is related to how the brain processes visual information and subliminally highlights those elements that are brighter.

Get ready for your photoshoot with this checklist:

  • Take out anything that is too personal or might offend a potential guest such as overtly political or religious items. Remember that guests will come from all walks of life and you as a host want to make your guests as comfortable as possible.
  • Open all the curtains and blinds for maximum light
  • For rooms with windows, turn off the lights when photographing
  • For rooms without windows, feel free to turn on lights to make the space feel cozy
  • Hide cords in each room
  • Wash all windows
  • Sweep or vacuum the floors. Mop where necessary
  • Dust all wooden objects and wash reflective surfaces with window cleaner
  • Empty trash cans and make sure the lid is on

The exterior of your home is the first impression that guests have of your home. Having a photo of the front of your home will help your guests locate it when they’re checking in. If the property has a garden, terrace or a balcony make sure to include the entire space to which your guests will have access. Make the area welcoming and be sure your photos reflect that:

  • Remove cars from the driveway
  • Hide unwanted objects (gardening hose, toys, tools, etc.)
  • Neatly arrange any decorations or plants near the front door
  • Use an air rake or broom to remove leaf and lawn debris
  • Tend to any gardening needs, like dead plants, brown spots on the grass, or bushes that need pruning

Living areas should be filled with enough comfy furniture to accommodate all the guests in the rental. If your space is on the smaller side, add additional seating with bright poufs that can be stored under side tables or in a coat closet. 

  • Clear unnecessary objects from tabletops
  • Fluff pillows, and arrange blankets on the sofa
  • Turn on the fireplace
  • Turn off the TV
  • Hide wires from electronics 

Provide a bedroom that feels like a sanctuary so guests can relax deeply and sleep comfortably. Set the room’s ambiance with thick duvets and numerous pillows. 

  • Make the bed with clean sheets that are tucked in along the sides and bottom of the bed. Consider ironing your linens for a crisp fresh look. If you don’t want to iron the duvet cover at least iron your pillowcases.
  • Check that the comforter is smoothed out and even at the foot of bed
  • Fluff pillows (include two pillows per guest) 
  • Clear clutter from the bedside table, dresser, and desk

Bathrooms should convey cleanliness and hygiene to help guests feel comfortable.

  • Clean the bathroom thoroughly
  • Open the shower curtain
  • Close the toilet lid
  • Fold towels or hang them neatly 
  • Shine the mirror and glass shower walls
  • Arrange toiletries neatly on the sink
  • Replace the toilet paper with a new roll
  • Hide items such as toilet plungers

One of the biggest reasons travelers are choosing vacation rentals over hotels nowadays is the added benefit of having a fully furnished kitchen. Guests want a decently equipped kitchen with plenty of counter space to make cooking easier. Kitchens are a gathering spot in vacation homes so highlight the spaciousness of the room and its layout.

  • Put away dishes, food items and cleaning supplies including paper towels
  • Clean countertops and surfaces. 
  • Display your coffeemaker on the counter but be sure to hide any visible cords
  • Place all cooking ingredients inside cabinets or on shelves
  • Arrange visible objects symmetrically (hanging pans, counter chairs, etc.)
  • Check that any additional decorations are arranged neatly (such as a bowl of fruit or flowers)

Having high quality photographs in your listing can drive additional venue by increasing bookings. One of the best decisions you’ll make in starting your short-term rental is hiring a professional real estate photographer who can highlight the best features of your property.


Barb is the president of NASTRA and has spent her professional career in hospitality and real estate. After acquiring her first short-term rental in 2018, Barb moved her focus to legal advocacy after she sued the city of Nashville over a permit issue. Over the last three years, she has mentored more than 2,800 new STR hosts and is the Community Leader for Airbnb in Nashville, as well as an Airbnb “Ask a Superhost” Ambassador. Barb has appeared on numerous radio broadcasts, television shows, and podcasts to talk about her love of hosting. She also manages and co-hosts a number of short term rentals across Tennessee and Arkansas. Barb and her husband Pat own a hotel brokerage, development and consulting company. Look for her upcoming podcast series, “Women of Airbnb.”

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