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Clean shots

By on February 22, 2021 in Arts with 0 Comments
Travis Knoop, seen here at the window of his north Wenatchee home, may be one of the busiest photographers in town. He works year-round for several real estate professionals who trust that his photos and 3-D videos will help home buyers see prospective properties at their best. Photo by Mike Irwin

For real estate photographer, the art is in the uncluttered details

By Susan Lagsdin

“I remember one of the first houses I photographed professionally,” Travis Knoop recalled. 

“[Realtor] Kathy Emerick, liked my work but picked out one shot and said, ‘Oh no! I can’t believe you didn’t see the tag on that bath towel.’” That was all he needed. His photos now help market homes in Wenatchee and across north central Washington, and he has gained a reputation for assiduous attention to detail.

“That’s good and bad,” Travis said. “I think sometimes Realtors tell homeowners, ‘Don’t worry about a thing; the photographer will make this room look great.’” That has meant, on occasion, a little strategic housekeeping for him — neatening a rumpled duvet here, picking up a dog bowl there, removing refrigerator magnets galore.

Travis has no ambitions to be a gallery photographer, though his landscapes and outdoor rec photos (on his website and on Chelan County Commons) are stunning. But he does seek perfection in his craft — or as close as he can come in a reasonable amount of time.

His career in real estate photography is an amalgam of two skills he perfected independently: knowing his way around cameras (“I’m a self-admitted tech geek,” he said) and knowing from first-hand experience how and why people purchase homes.

Travis has always enjoyed chronicling hikes, snowboarding, wake boarding and other outdoor adventures. “I remember my first digital camera was the size of a brick and just as heavy, but it had a cool little screen,” he said, “and there was instant gratification!” 

He was later gifted with a better one, a Canon 20d that was meant for taking pictures of his kids for their grandparents. But he also took it to work.

His work was selling real estate, relatively lucrative employment when he started in 2005, and less so when the market troughed in this area six years later. 

Some real estate photos present technical challenges, like this complex design in single color tone with few shadows. The interior of this Icicle Creek beauty posed an untypical problem, but Travis was able to create a pleasing scene that showcased the builder’s craftsmanship.

For those years, he’d enjoyed working with clients and found that taking pictures of his listings was a good way to showcase them.

Soon, he started taking house photos as a favor for colleagues. It was his wife Sarah who initially encouraged him to make real estate photography a separate but equal profession, so in 2011 he started his business, and he’s been at it full time — and what feels like more on some days — for 10 years.

2019 was crazy busy, Travis said, with 800 appointments, but he typically photographs probably 500 to 600 properties year-round. 

That includes taking still photos with his Sony a7RIII, FAA licensed drone shots of acreage, and the latest in multi-view imaging, a Matterport camera system for 360-degree virtual walk-throughs like those seen in his BNCW Home Tour portfolio. The latter synthesizes designated scan points throughout and can create with surprising accuracy a 3-D dollhouse effect, as well as a floor plan, of any structure.

“I was surprised at how much I enjoy the structure and rigidity of shooting spaces, lining up horizontals and verticals and composing images, and with a real purpose — drawing people into a house,” Travis said. 

Ironically, when times are good in the real estate business (“Who needs them?”) and when times get tighter (“Can’t afford them”), demand for his photos may slip, so Travis values especially agents who want to give all levels of homes excellent exposure, whatever the market conditions. 

Travis’s landscape photos, many of Cascade terrain, are a diversion from his regular real estate work. He was caught by the almost tropical colors in this photo of the four-mile long Chelan River, taken near the old Chelan Falls bridge.  

His prices are mostly based on a home’s square footage, $250 being a typical invoice, and he prefers to shoot two assignments a day to maximize his time in the house, in his truck, and at the computer.

Travis is in a niche profession that’s not too crowded and is happy to share some ideas. 

Owner/sellers or individual Realtors can of course opt to take their own photos. These first two universal rules work for a photo shoot or an in-person showing; he also shares the last three he discovered by trial and error. 

• Declutter drastically: Cull and compact the four-generation graduation and wedding photos, the teddy bear collection, packing boxes, religious icons, jammed closets, hobby projects, cleaning supplies, dresser detritus, magazine stacks. 

• Don’t over stage: Decorators are often the culprits here. Shabby chic, old west, Victorian, nautical or lodge accessories can add pizazz, but even in an immaculate house, overloading with pillows, knick-knacks and generic wall art steals focus from the home’s best qualities.

• Strive for attractive accuracy: dramatically magnifying the dimensions of a room can lead to disappointment. High, above-the-head angles give a spy-cam look. Avoid room shots where you’ve backed into a deep corner where no human ever stands.

• Let there be light: take advantage of ambient natural light or all bulbs burning, whatever it takes to avoid a murky, dungeon-like look. Open the drapes, use a flash, but be careful of bounce-back.

• Show what needs to be seen: Buyers want a home to call their own and will appreciate the whiteness of a master bathroom, the depth of a basement rec room, the burnished wood floors. Avoid your personal favorite spots like a cozy recliner with a lamp, a wall of art, your begonias.

Travis admits to being quasi-OCD, likely to lose the big picture while he perfects the camera’s focus. 

Recently, he said, he was set to click on a carefully-lighted, painstakingly composed shot in the kitchen of a million-dollar property when the listing agent popped in to ask, “Hey — did you want me to get all my stuff off the counter?”

He said COVID had an unintended good consequence for the Knoops: he reined in an instinct to please and learned to say no to reduce the number of shoots he does. 

“Our daughters are growing up way too fast and I want to be available for them,” Travis said. “I decided this wasn’t the time to squeeze every moment from the day working.”

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