Last Updated on January 17, 2021 by Jose Barrios

It happens to all real estate photographers: you are hired to photograph a really ugly home.

And I’m not talking about bad taste ugly, I’m talking about dumpster fire ugly, the type of home that is uninhabitable, with a green pool, dead grass, and filled with trash.

Quick section links:

So, what is an ugly house?

Ugly houses can be defined as a property that no matter what angle you take, there is just no way of making it look good, or even passable. An ugly house is not a house that has decorations that are not of your taste, think velvet Elvis painting, it is a house that is just nasty.

They have clutter, trash, boxes, junk, dead plants, dead yards, no lighting, you will know one when you see it because you want to run away at the sight of it.

What to do in an “ugly house” situation

1. Make sure the house is safe to work in

Homes filled with junk or that are in extreme disrepair might have rodents, roaches, animal feces, or other unseen dangers like black mold. If you feel that the property represents a health hazard, you should politely walk away (tell the homeowner, if present, that something personal came up and you have left) and call the real estate agent to explain the situation as to why you left. Your safety and health are worth more than what you were charging to photograph the house.

2. Be upfront and manage expectations

When walking onto a property that is in bad condition, contact your real estate agent before you start to photograph it and explain the house’s condition to them. Be upfront about what you are seeing and tell them how no matter how you photograph the property, it will never look good.

You would be surprised how many real estate agents do not realize how bad the property is. I have had agents cancel the photoshoot so they could have the property cleaned for the photos.

Keep in mind that real estate agents and homeowners want to get the property sold, so your opinion as a professional real estate photographer is important to them.

3. Emphasize spaces, not objects

When photographing the house, try to make it point to showcase the spaces. Most persons that buy these ugly homes are going to be either professional flippers or people just that want to fix it up themselves, so showcasing the layout of the home is crucial since this will be the selling point of the property, not how it looks.

4. Be ready to use a lot of flashes

In my personal experience just about every one of these properties that I have photographed is very dark. Lights don’t work, blinds do not open, and for some reason, they are usually painted with dark colors. I have no idea why, but it is just the way it is.

The only way to get around this very dark situation is by using a flash, and the bigger the better. So, come prepared with lots of batteries and if possible, more than one flash. Coming in with remote flash triggers is a must in these situations and you should be prepared to combine several images in photoshop in order to get everything illuminated correctly.

5. Concentrate on the nicer features

Look at the property and make sure to take great photos of any nice features it might have. It could be a view out a window (do a window pull), or the house is in a nice subdivision so you can photograph the street and showcase the houses next to it. It can also be something simple like a pond, conservation area, or a nice fireplace.

I have yet to find a home that did not have some sort of redeeming quality to it, you just must search for it, so don’t be afraid of getting creative.

6. Photograph everything!

Just because it is very ugly do not assume that the seller does not want to showcase everything. You were hired as a real estate photographer, not a real estate critic. The decision of showing or not a part of a property is up to the real estate agent and their customer, not you.

I once had an agent that wanted to showcase just how bad the property was. He knew that the only people that would be interested in purchasing the house where flippers because flippers love ugly houses.

Ugly homes are very profitable

Unlike regular homes, where every photo must take into consideration things like furniture and lighting, ugly homes are just that, ugly. Everyone’s expectations are low, and this is a good thing.

It takes a lot less time to photograph one of these properties than a regular house. I personally love them!

In my experience, many photographers shy away from these houses because they do not see them as pretty (it will look bad in their portfolio, but hey, just don’t post them online) or because a lot of them can be in not so nice neighborhoods.

I personally love them, I photograph them in half the time, and my clients are always happy. Their expectations were lower than mine!

Some customers might want to ask for a “virtual declutter”. This virtual staging works on homes that have too much stuff in them, like furniture and boxes, but in these nightmare scenarios, virtual decluttering does not go that well and many times is just not possible to do.

Virtual declutter also changes the house a lot! And I do mean a whole lot. To the point where they might be violating your local MLS rules or local laws because of misrepresentation. So, you have to be careful when offering these extra services.


Above all always keep in mind that you are running a business, you are hired to photograph to the best of your abilities, not to critique. So the next time you have an ugly house to shoot, say yes and revel in the ease with which you photographed it.

I will take two ugly houses over one nice one any day of the week.

Jose Barrios

Jose Barrios


“What can I say? I love taking photos of houses.”

Based in Orlando Florida, Jose is a real estate photographer specializing in vacation homes, working for realtors and property managers to make their properties look great. You can visit his site at

Home » Guides » How to Photograph an Ugly House and still look good while doing it