Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Photography Advice from an AirBnB Newbie

In 2014 when my daughter and I decided to travel to Rome for 5 days, I looked into AirBnB for the first time. I found some totally intriguing places - none of which were perfect - but in the end chickened out and reserved a room in a hotel that was really great for us.

Very recently I started making arrangements for a short trip to München and my trip to visit my daughter in Philadelphia, and both of my travel companions (that is, not M) were willing to try AirBnB. In a rather short time span, I booked a place in München for two nights and a room in a small town in New Jersey for one night. Both places have good reviews and seem to fit our needs, and the hosts responded to my inquiry and questions quickly. I think we'll be in good hands, and I'm looking forward to trying this out.

Even though I'm an AirBnB newbie, I do have some advice for people who are listing apartments or properties on the site and who want to attract rather than repell potential guests. For obvious reasons I'm not putting other people's photos here (except one, source noted) to use as bad examples. The photos were all taken by M or me of various places we've lived. The photos are all based on ones I have seen recently on AirBnB while searching for an accommodation.

1. Photos of the Accommodation

Post photos that are in focus, upright, and show the actual accommodations. A photo of a blurry orange cat and no additional photos of the place or room you are offering....No.  A blurry sideways photo of what might be a bed as your cover photo for the accommodation....No.  I actually exclaimed "OMG" at several that I'd clicked on because the price was right, but the photos sent me screaming and running.

Seriously - I saw a photo like this, except that it was also blurry.
And it was the cover (or main) picture.
Again, not helpful. Get (photography) help.
This is our end table. It's a fine photo if I'm selling it on Ebay,
but not for including in an ad for an accommodation I'm renting.
This is not artistic creativity. It's....weird.
For the love of photographic decency, look at other hosts' photos of their accommodations, and copy the good examples. There are a lot of good examples! If you can't distinguish the good examples from the bad, I wouldn't bother listing your flat or room.

2. Cover Photo of Accommodation

I don't have a property listed on AirBnB and therefore don't know how if the cover photo is randomly chosen or if the host chooses it. I have to believe, because I have seen so many good cover photos, that the host can choose it. After you do so, check out what it looks like from a potential client's point-of-view and change it if necessary.
This isn't the cover photo I would choose for a room in this house, but it does show
that it's a bungalow-style house with a patio and a good-sized yard.
If I did choose that for the cover photo, though, it might come out like this (apparently, according to some I have seen:

not flattering

3. Photo of You as Host

Ask someone who is not a close family member or friend, who might actually give you an honest response, which photo you should use as a profile picture. Or possibly go to a cafe and show your potential profile pic to a stranger. Tell her you're thinking of renting a room from that person, and ask her what she thinks. If you look like a creeper who wants to get into the pants of any guest you might lure, you will frighten people away. If you resemble Golom on your photo, I'm not renting from you.

I adore Sheldon. But I'm not renting a room from him.
I vetoed several accommodations because of this. Sorry, but sometimes people DO judge by appearance, especially in a photo that was chosen by the host.

4. Skip Photos of the City

When I'm searching AirBnB for a flat, I want to see photos of the accommodation, not the city it's in or near. Searching in München and finding a place with photos of Oktoberfest, Nymphenburg, and Marienplatz is wasting my time. If I want to know what Oktoberfest looks like, I'll search for photos of that. And even if I wanted to go to Oktoberfest (which I definitely do not. Ever.), such photos are not helpful if I'm searching for a flat in München in March.

I love this photo M took in Hamburg, but if I'm not advertising one of the visible flats,
it's not helpful for AirBnB.
Five good photos of the accommodation are better than 15 photos of the city.

5. Other Photos I Would Not Include

These are recreations of actual photos I saw while looking at AirBnB accommodations. All photos were taken by M or by me.
Since as a guest I will not be spending much time at this particular location,
it's not a helpful photo for your ad. "The room is on the second floor" is sufficient.
I will assume there are stairs to get there.

This is a window. I'm not sure what the point would be,
because it doesn't even show much of the view (which isn't nice anyway).

This is not a photo of the accommodation; this is a cat.
Unless you require your guest to care for the cat, it's not helpful.
Not even if you really love your cat.

Local amorous wildlife in the yard. Why?

Nice bonsai plant. What does this photo tell me about the accommodation?
Nothing except that the photographer (I) doesn't know how to set up a good photo
of a bonsai plant with a bright white background.
Even if s/he did, are you renting to me a room, or a bonsai plant?

I'm sorry for sounding so critical, but when potential renters have to base their decision on your written description and the photos you personally chose for your ad, you want them to be the best possible. For me, it says something less than positive about the owner if the photos are crappy or not helpful. If I look at an ad in which there are few photos of the rooms I'll be renting but several of the grass outside (with or without ducks) or the city, I'm guessing the flat is not flattering in photos. If the owner can't make the flat or rooms look appealing on a few photos, I don't want to stay there.

Perhaps other AirBnB customers are less picky than I am. But if you have listed your place there and haven't had many responses or guests, take a hard look at your photos and see if the problem might be there.

P.S. Our AirBnB experience in München was fine! The host's photos made the apartment look a little nicer than it was, which was to be expected - hotels do that, too. It was a comfortable-enough college kid's flat in a perfectly fine location accessed through a pretty sketchy-looking Hinterhof (courtyard). He didn't include any photos of the Hinterhof, which was a good choice. Although we didn't meet him personally, he patiently and quickly helped us solve two problems by phone (we couldn't figure out how to get the volume on for the TV to watch the news, and we blew the fuse to the entire flat on the first morning and couldn't find the box).

The place my daughter and I are staying in New Jersey later this spring is just for one night, and the host is a young German woman. I settled on that one because of the great photos, one of which showed that the bed is German-style! And unlike the second photo I posted above, hers was nicely in focus...


  1. Hear, hear! This is a great entry and so spot-on.

    How about one on no-nos for photos of horses for sale, since you are a fellow equestrian? (I'm mostly kidding.) Egads, I can't even count how many times people post pictures of a small speck off in the distance, which is the horse, grazing. Um, one can't do much with that kind of photo! Even worse is the photo taken straight on, showing the horse's face. It's not flattering for any horse.

    1. Ha! Indeed! After I read your comment I searched on an American site for selling horses, and of course a lot of people do get it right. But the bad photos - you just really have to wonder. Does THAT photo seriously look even ok to you?!? Oh well, to each his own, I guess.

  2. Exactly! I mean, how hard is it to try to take some good photos? If the seller doesn't have a second person to hold the horse, at least tie the animal up and try several different shots to get the horse squared up. However, having a second person is pretty much a must. With digital cameras, there is no reason for crummy sales photos any more.

  3. I find this problem in not only Airbnbs but also in overall websites for selling houses, like Immobilien sites. WHY do I need to see your doorknob???