Let’s talk Airbnb photos! Guests make almost all of their booking decisions based on an Airbnb’s photos. As we swipe through a sea of thumbnails, the quality of the photos becomes a proxy for the quality of the Airbnb itself. Everything else in the Airbnb listing—the description, the amenities, the stars—become tools to verify that our stay will actually live up to the expectations set in the pictures. This is why the photos matter so much: they’re the very top of your marketing funnel. All of your bookings, revenue, and reviews start with this visual first impression.
Guests make almost all of their booking decisions based on an Airbnb’s photos. As we swipe through a sea of thumbnails, the quality of the photos becomes a proxy for the quality of the Airbnb itself.
So our goal is to help you create an irresistible series of photographs that grabs the attention of your ideal guest and doesn’t let go. Whether you’re on the cusp of launching your very first Airbnb or you’re an experienced host looking to update your listing, this post is for you. After years of photographing Airbnbs for blog posts and one-on-one consultations with hosts, we’ve broken down our professional photography shoot routine into this step-by-step guide.
All the photos you’re seeing here were taken at Holly Crawford Ellis’s incredible Airbnb in Greensboro, Alabama. Just follow the our 20 step process, and your Airbnb listing will be brimming with professional-grade photographs that reel in the bookings too. (If you want a sneak peak of the finished product, just scroll to the bottom of the post and take a look at the grid.) Just grab your phone (yep, loads of photos on bnbNomad are taken with a smartphone) and let’s get started!
This is why the photos matter so much: they’re the very top of your marketing funnel. All of your bookings, revenue, and reviews start with this visual first impression.
Prepare: How to Prep Your Space for a Photoshoot
A great series of Airbnb photos begins with thorough preparation. Before you start snapping pictures, prep your Airbnb for the photoshoot with these five steps.
PLAN YOUR PHOTOSHOOT
Let’s start with the end in mind: your photos should create a tour of your Airbnb. If you were guiding a potential guest through your space in person, what would you highlight? Grab a sheet of paper and answer these questions to jumpstart your photoshoot planning. Then create your checklist of the top 20 must-have photos. We’ll use this list as your launching off point when you pick up your camera.
- What tone do you want to set with your Airbnb photos?
energized, peaceful, playful, family-friendly, modern, rustic, business-friendly, cozy
- What are your Airbnb’s best features or amenities?
natural light, hot tub, professional-grade kitchen, hammock, office, bunk beds
- Where do your guests spend most of their time?
living room, bedroom, patio, out exploring the city
- What are the central pieces of furniture in your Airbnb?
king-size bed, large desk, dining room table, pull-out couch, washer and dryer
- How do the rooms in your Airbnb connect to one another?
doors that close, open archways, staircases, sliding glass doors
- Does your Airbnb have outdoor spaces for guests?
porch, patio, horseshoe pit, swimming pool, koi pond
- Are there local attractions to highlight in your listing?
coffee shops, restaurants, beaches, parks, tourist stops, roadside attractions
- What safety or logistical information do you want potential guests to know?
number of beds, guest parking, steep staircases and ladders, hazards for kids
Yes, your photos absolutely should capture the essence of your Airbnb, all that stuff that makes this place uniquely yours. But your photos should also include any make-or-break logistical information guests should know before booking. Even if you’ve included these practical details in your house rules, your listing description, or your amenities, many guests will make reservations based solely on your Airbnb photos. Folding safety and logistical information into your photo reel can redirect guests who would wind up disappointed at your place on to a better fit somewhere else. (And you’ll avoid the bad review.)
Yes, your photos should absolutely capture the essence of your Airbnb, all that stuff that makes this place uniquely yours. But your photos should also include any make-or-break logistical information guests should know before booking.
CLEAN LIKE CRAZY
Beyond some basic brightness and contrast adjustments, there are no heavy-handed photoshop recommendations coming up later in this post, so now is the time to make sure your Airbnb is sparkling! If you’re looking for some deep cleaning guidance, check out this post about spring cleaning your Airbnb. As you prep for the photoshoot, keep an eye out for these things in particular.
Vacuum lines will show up beautifully on plush carpet and couches. As you adjust fabrics, be sure to plump up pillows and bedding until they’re just asking for a belly flop.
Dust is especially noticeable on black surfaces and metallic fixtures. Also, check corners, lamps, and lights for any spider webs that could be illuminated by bright light.
Do a final sweep for any clutter that can be removed. This is especially important for Airbnbs that have been up and running for a while. (We once did an entire photoshoot without realizing that last night’s pizza box was teetering in the window sill. And yes, one of these photos even slipped into the blog. Oops.)
Prep for Guests
Once it’s squeaky clean, prepare your Airbnb the way you would for a guest. Arrange your flowers, set out your welcome snack, write hello on your chalkboard, turn down the corner of the bed. Leave your hospitality fingerprint on the space before you photograph it. These details will help set you apart online. Just remember that each one of your Airbnb photos makes a promise to all your future guests. You’re saying this is what the space will look like when you arrive. Don’t make any promises you won’t be able to consistently keep.
Leave your hospitality fingerprint on the space before you photograph it. These details will help set you apart online. Just remember that each one of your Airbnb photos makes a promise to all your future guests.
Wait for Sunshine
No one wants to go on a cloudy vacation, so be patient and wait until you’ve got several hours of full sunshine before you start your photoshoot. Bright photos translate to happy spaces for potential guests. Here are a few ways to maximize the natural light in your Airbnb photos.
Raise all the blinds in your windows for the entirety of your photoshoot. (Just be sure those window panes are clean!) This will let in significantly more light than just twisting the blinds open. Plus the view will help potential guests better anticipate your Airbnb’s surroundings. If you’ve got a particularly unsightly scene out one window—maybe a dumpster-filled alley or an air-conditioner unit pressed right against the panes—still keep those blinds up for the extra light they provide any time you’re not shooting in that exact direction.
The less clouds on the day of the photoshoot the better. A cloudless sky will give you even lighting as you work and create a cohesive feel throughout the photo series. A comprehensive photoshoot should take a couple hours, so plan accordingly.
- Patchy Spots
If you’re having trouble with small, patchy spots of sun throwing off the lighting of your interior shots, wait until the sun is directly above the building for even lighting throughout the space.
- Time of Day
If your Airbnb has rooms with remarkable natural light in the morning or in the afternoon, be sure to photograph those rooms during that time of day. A piecemeal photoshoot (which becomes especially common for larger houses) will allow every room to be at its best in your Airbnb photos.
- Exterior Shots
Follow the light for outdoor shots as well. As you take photos of the front door, the backyard, or the entire building, ask yourself whether you’re shooting shadows or sunlight. You want that sunlight! (If you’re unsure whether you’ve got proper lighting, walk around the entire building and see if you’re photographing the brightest wall.) We often will watch how the natural light moves through and around an Airbnb for a full day before shooting.
And just to be abundantly clear, never take your Airbnb photos at night. 100% artificial lighting won’t come close to doing your space justice. (And every once in awhile, photos taken at night unintentionally introduce an almost creepy vibe to the Airbnb listing.) On the off chance you have an amenity that is particularly suited for the evening (like a fire pit with s’mores), take these photos during the golden hour: just after the sun has dipped behind the horizon, but before the light has disappeared altogether.
No one wants to go on a cloudy vacation, so be patient and wait until you’ve got several hours of full sunshine before you start your photoshoot.
Turn On Every Light
As you may have guessed by now, the more light, the better the photoshoot. Just before you’re ready to start taking photos, walk through your Airbnb and turn on all the lights.
- All Lights
We mean literally all the lights: overhead lights, lamps, track lighting, that little light under the microwave, even bulbs you’re sure won’t be in any photo. The brighter your space, the more inviting it will feel. The majority of light illuminating any given shot won’t actually appear in the photo itself, so leave all the lights on until you’re completely done shooting.
- Yellow Light
The only exception we might make in our “all lights” recommendation would be turning off any small reading lamps that produce a distinctly different yellow haze that distorts the photography. If you’re unsure about whether a specific light is helping or hurting, take one photo with it on and another with it off. Then check the results and follow your gut.
Photograph: How to Take Professional Airbnb Photos
With your Airbnb fully primed, it’s time for the photoshoot to begin! Our day-to-day lives are flooded with smartphone photos, but our goal here is to create beautiful compositions, not just another round of snapshots. Slow down and frame each shot intentionally. This methodical cadence will give you an abundance of top-notch photos to choose from later.
GRAB YOUR SMARTPHONE
If you have access to a more comprehensive camera, go for it! A wide angle lens can make shooting interior spaces a breeze. But as we mentioned at the top of this post, loads of the photos you see on bnbNomad are taken with smartphones. (Approximately half the shots in this post were!) The camera in your pocket is now more powerful than the professional equipment sold a decade or two ago. Your technique will actually matter more than the price of your gear.
The camera in your pocket is now more powerful than the professional equipment sold a decade or two ago. Your technique will actually matter more than the price of your gear.
TURN OFF THE FLASH
Regardless of the camera you’re using, be sure to disable the flash before you begin shooting. Flashes create these harsh, shallow bright spots that make any space feel smaller than it actually is. Between the sunshine and the lights, you’re Airbnb should be plenty bright enough for the photoshoot. (And if it isn’t, you might be discovering that your guests actually need better lighting during their stays.)
HOLD THE CAMERA HORIZONTALLY
All the photos on Airbnb’s website and app will display horizontally, so set yourself up for success by shooting all of your Airbnb photos horizontally from the start. Every once in a rare while, a vertical shot is the only way to accurately capture a critical space in your Airbnb, like a bathroom. But since this creates a disruptive experience for guests swiping through your photo series, keep those vertical shots to an absolute minimum.
SHOW THE 3X3 GRID
In the software settings, many smartphone cameras have the option to display a 3×3 grid while you take photos. If you have this feature, turn it on! It will help you in a few big ways.
- Rule of Thirds
First, displaying the 3×3 grid during your photoshoot will help you leverage the fundamental photography theory known as the Rule of Thirds. Essentially, this tried and true technique says that compositions that leverage one of the junctions created by these two horizontal and two vertical lines produce more intriguing and powerful photographs than ones that simply place the focal point at the very center of the image. Look for opportunities to align the horizon with the bottom third of the frame or place key features at one of the four crosses where these grid lines meet.
Most folks will take all of their photos at whatever height they happen to be, but this might not actually be the ideal height from which to frame every photo. (In fact, it probably isn’t!) Play with adjusting the height of your photos by squatting for some or standing on a step stool for others. The ideal height will depend on what you’re trying to emphasize, but keep an eye on those grid lines for guidance.
- Parallel Lines
These grid lines are also infinitely helpful as you try to create images that feel level. As you shoot, create parallel lines between the grid on the screen and straight lines that occur naturally in your Airbnb. Look for horizontal lines created by ceilings and floors, countertops or windows, or large pieces of furniture or framed art. Vertical lines will pop up in doorways, where walls meet, or near tall appliances, like refrigerators.
As you level out dominate lines, keep an eye on the four edges of each frame. Yes, you can always crop photos later, but you can’t add back in information that’s been accidentally clipped out of the photo during the shoot. Pretend that there’s no opportunity to adjust the framing later, and ask yourself: is this the crop of the room I want to publish?
Displaying the 3×3 grid during your photoshoot will help you leverage the fundamental photography theory known as the Rule of Thirds.
ADJUST THE EXPOSURE
A photograph’s exposure has to do with how much light you’re allowing to hit the lens. This will translate into how bright or dark a photo turns out. Here are some tips to give each photo the best possible exposure.
With a smartphone, we can often adjust the exposure by where we touch the screen. If the shot is too dark, touch an area of the frame that is very dark (or underexposed). This will shift the exposure to compensate for that spot you’ve indicated is important and the entire shot will brighten up.
In order to get a room’s interior to be bright and correctly exposed, we often have to blow out the windows. This means we allow so much light into the lens, that the final image has almost completely white windows (where the photo literally has little to no information about what is visually happening outside.) That’s often just fine! The goal is to properly expose the focus of the photo. Which leads us to the next step.
SET THE FOCUS
Finally, make sure that the shot is focused on something intentional. Ask yourself, where do you want the viewer’s eye to go? Are you focusing on that throw pillow in the center or the bed? On the faucet over the kitchen sink? Make sure the focal point of this image is nice and crisp. With a smartphone, this almost always means just touching the screen where you want that sharp focus to be. Some smartphones will even programmatically blur the background to mimic a shallow depth of field, creating additional emphasis on the shot’s focal point.
We almost always start photographing an Airbnb space from its corners. Moving systematically through every one, we shrink back into the walls to create the widest possible angle of the room.
WORK IN FOUR PASSES
As we move through each room in an Airbnb, we work in four passes or phases, starting from the big, comprehensive shots and working our way down to the details. Here’s what to look for in each phase to make sure you capture the entire room.
We almost always start photographing an Airbnb space from its corners. Moving systematically through every one, we shrink back into the walls to create the widest possible angle of the room. These corner shots usually produce the most comprehensive photos of the space, the ones the help guests piece together the Airbnb in their mind.
- Straight On
Then, we’ll shoot broad sections of the room straight on, working to capture beautiful symmetry or balance that naturally exists in the Airbnb’s structure. These could be characteristics of the architecture, bold furniture pieces, striking windows, or pops of color. These straight-on shots usually feel the more artistic than the corner shots, and will often wind up at the beginning of an Airbnb’s photo reel to hook potential guests.
Once the primary shots are done, we’ll move on the the detail shots. These might be unique amenities we want to highlight or interior design accents that set the tone for the room. Often these smaller details provide a fun opportunity to shoot top-down photos, where we hold the camera directly above the detail shot we want to capture.
Finally, as we leave one room and move on to the next, we document the physical transition between these two spaces. These photos may not be the stars of your final reel, but they are essential pieces of information for potential guests attempting to understand how your Airbnb’s rooms fits together.
TAKE TOO MANY PICTURES
Perhaps the most important piece of advice is this: take more photos than you could possibly use. For a larger space, this could mean hundreds of shots that you’ll whittle down to your three dozen best. (When we’re doing consultations, we’ll often end up with thousands of photos!) Think of your photoshoot as one big experiment. Some simple ideas will photograph beautifully and other exciting thoughts will turn out to be lackluster on screen. You won’t know which are which until you try! And after you’ve used all of the techniques above to frame the perfect photo, take multiple shots of every composition you create. While they’ll all look very similar, often the last photo you take will be your best.
Perhaps the most important piece of advice is this: take more photos than you could possibly use.
Post-Processing: How to Finalize Your Photos for Your Airbnb Listing
With an abundance of potential shots to choose from, it’s time to finalize the photo reel for your Airbnb listing. Follow these post-processing steps to create a finished series with a professional polish.
SELECT YOUR BEST SHOTS
Time to narrow down your Airbnb photos! In your first sweep, tag your absolute favorites. These are the images you can’t wait to publish, the ones that accentuate the very best of your Airbnb. With these staples in place, reference your must-have photos list you created in Step 1 and fill in any gaps. As you start to compile your final series, it’s very likely that you’ll realize you’re missing a shot you need to create a cohesive photo series. That’s ok! Go back and grab it. (We rarely capture every photo we need in a single pass.)
CROP EACH PHOTO TO A 2:3 RATIO
Airbnb photos have a 2:3 ratio, the same ratio as the classic 4”x6” photos we all used to print. Different cameras shoot different ratios, and even if yours has a 2:3 baseline, you’ll want to crop each photo anyways. This is the second opportunity to frame the perfect shot. Set your cropping aspect ratio to 2:3 with a horizontal orientation. Now tighten up the framing around the most interesting aspects of the photo while still allowing the edge of the composition a bit of breathing room. If the photo feels lopsided, now is the time to level it out by tweaking the angle of the photo until all of your predominant horizontal and vertical lines follow the edge of the frame.
ADJUST THE BRIGHTNESS AND CONTRAST
Now it’s time to enhance the image itself. While we use Adobe Photoshop for all of our final tweaks, any photo editing software will work. (For example, Apple Photos comes free on all Macs and works wonderfully.) If there is an “auto” enhancement option, this is probably your best bet. You’re looking for a bit more intensity that makes the image feel nice and sharp, but not fake. If you’re making more manual edits, these are the two adjustments we always recommend.
With all the attention we’ve paid to maximizing natural and artificial light, and setting our exposure during the shoot, adjusting the brightness of a photo in post-processing is usually a pretty quick tweak. You’re goal is to maximize that bright happy feeling of a well-lit room without losing the dimensionality of the photo. If large swaths of the image start to look blown out, you’ve gone too far.
In addition to the brightness adjustment, we usually want to bump up the contrast of the colors in the photo just a touch. We’re looking for rich blacks and bright whites without losing the midtones of the photo. In the age of Instagram filters, adjusting the contrast of a photo is easy to overdo. You’re striving for rich, but realistic colors that show off your Airbnb.
In the age of Instagram filters, adjusting the contrast of a photo is easy to overdo. You’re striving for rich, but realistic colors that show off your Airbnb.
SAVE HIGH RESOLUTION PHOTOS
The minimum resolution recommended by Airbnb is 683 x 1024 pixels. We’d recommend saving your images as much higher resolution photos. If your images are bigger than 1MB, perhaps consider saving a slightly smaller file, but as Airbnb’s technology has improved, the complaints about fuzzy uploads have decreased significantly. When in doubt, start by saving the maximize size and work backwards only if your uploads to your Airbnb listing are rendered blurry.
CREATE A TOUR WITH YOUR ORDER
Finally, it’s time to upload your photos! The order here matters more than you might think. An intentional photo reel takes guests on a seamless tour of your Airbnb, one that highlights everything it has to offer. An arbitrary order creates a jarring, convoluted picture of what you actually offer. Here are our go-to tactics when we order Airbnb photos.
- Cover Photo
Put your best foot forward. Your cover photo is your very first (and potentially only) opportunity to hook the attention of potential guests. Lead with your Airbnb’s most desirable and unique feature. In a sea of options, why should a guest book your Airbnb? Answer that question with your cover photo.
- Photos 2, 3, and 4
Use the next three photos as a highlight reel that shows off the best amenities and unique qualities of your Airbnb. We almost always include a photo of the main bed in these initial teaser photos. Seeing where they’ll sleep puts guests at ease, and a beautifully-made bed will help guests relax and propel them on to the full tour.
- Start the Tour
By the fifth photo, we’re on to the tour! The tour strategy provides the scaffolding for the order of the majority of your Airbnb photos. We often start the tour with a shot that literally shows the front door opening along with the interior view just inside the door. Then we simply arrange our best remaining photos in a way that most fully captures how it feels to walk through the Airbnb. Once you’ve wrapped up the interior spaces, move on to the exterior spaces.
- Rough Blueprint
Remember, for hosts who know their space inside and out, it’s easy to assume that others can see how all the different photos fit together in the physical space. But for potential guests, your Airbnb is a big, disjointed unknown. This is where your transition shots come into play. Use these photos to lead guests from one room into the next. By the time potential guests get to the end of your photo reel, they should be able to sketch out a rough blueprint of how all the individual spaces in your Airbnb fit together.
- 25 Total Photos
Finally, keep your series streamlined and succinct. Remember, as guests, we’re flipping through tons of Airbnb listings, not just yours. Include detail shots. Include location highlights. But also look for opportunities to eliminate redundancy and keep your viewer engaged. Of course, the size of your Airbnb will affect how many photos you end up with in your listing. But if you only had 25 photos to communicate the essence of your Airbnb, which photos would you choose? Start with those 25 and then add in the missing puzzle pieces.
Captions are one of the most underutilized features on the Airbnb listing. It’s the perfect opportunity to introduce your personality and share the stories behind your Airbnb. With your photos in their final order, take the time to caption each photo (not just the first few). Use this space to narrate, to explain what guests are seeing on the screen, and to highlight what you personally love the most about this space you’ve created.
Captions are one of the most underutilized features on the Airbnb listing. It’s the perfect opportunity to introduce your personality and share the stories behind your Airbnb.
UPDATE YOUR AIRBNB PHOTOS
And finally, don’t forget that your Airbnb will (and should!) evolve overtime. As you update, upgrade, and continue to sink money and love into your place, document and advertise that progress in your Airbnb photos. If you’ve got reviews like “the photos don’t do this place justice!” you’re leaving good bookings (and money) on the table.
THE FINISHED PRODUCT
When you’re all said and done, you’ll have something that feels a little like this. Below you’ll also find some of the workhorse tools behind bnbNomad. And if these photos have convinced you that you need a little front porch vacation in the south, read more about Alabama’s Black Belt region here. We can’t recommend it enough.
The Google Pixel Line of Phones have some of the best cameras we’ve ever seen on smartphones. We never travel anywhere without our own Pixel phone. The output rivals our professional gear.
Thank you so much for reading about our Airbnb photography routine! If you’re an Airbnb host and this post has helped you up your Airbnb photos game, we would love to see your before and after series! Just send us a few your before and after pictures and we might just include them in an upcoming post here on bnbNomad. Until next time, happy hosting everybody!