The Camera So Often Lies

Photographs are becoming increasingly important in property journalism - the word count of articles is dropping, on average, and the use of pics of homes, buyers, sellers and others is increasing. But the camera lies, possibly more insidiously than words.

A few days ago I received pictures of a block of apartments festooned with the developer’s banners - not even a tasteful flag, but a string of banners across one floor of the block. I replied to the PR who sent them, explaining that no paper would use that photograph as it was really a crude advertisement.

The reply? “That’s ok, I can get the studio to retouch them”.

It’s hardly the biggest issue in the debate about accuracy and truth in the media, but is this approach of faking photographs - rife throughout the property world - right and proper?

I’ve written the occasional newspaper story on this in the past (like this one here). We are already used to ‘doctoring’ of shots in property details and in the property press:

- retouching photographs to ‘improve the weather’ by inserting blue skies;

- the use of lens to make rooms look larger or views appear wider-reaching;

- removing wheelie bins or cars left in a photograph of a house;

- clever cropping of pictures to omit the garage or kebab shop next door;

- boosting or suppressing interior colours; and, of course...

- CGIs of properties still completely unbuilt.

Now most agents and developers could put a reasoned argument for all this: “sellers want their homes presented in the most appealing way” or “why penalise chances of a sale just because it was cloudy when a home was photographed?” It’s difficult to argue against this - I would like exactly that approach when I next instruct an agent to sell my home.

But does this actively, now very widely used by (I think) all agents and developers, make it right? More pragmatically, does it backfire by increasing cynicism?

After the exchange of emails with the PR over the banners-on-the-flats, I asked 10 friends - neither journalists nor property people - to give me their views on the general subject of property detail photographs. Two had no view but thought such pictures should be treated with general suspicion; the other eight gave specific examples of what some called “fraudulent”, “downright misleading” or “lies” put across in photographs of homes on sale they had noticed in the past.

Does this matter? Not to sellers, perhaps. But does the cynical attitude of “I can get the studio to retouch them?” do anything to enhance the public’s view of those who sell homes, or those who write about them?

I doubt it.

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