Airbnb Photo Tips: Quality Photos With a Cellphone

Published: August 2, 2023
How to take Quality Airbnb Photos with a cellphone.

If you rent your home through Airbnb, you’ve likely put a lot of thought into your property photos. Your photos will help present and sell your property to potential guests. Having low-quality photos can directly affect your bookings. Likewise, having quality photos can help increase bookings and revenue. Many think they need to hire a professional photographer or spend thousands on a DSLR camera, but this is not the case. Anyone can take quality Airbnb photos with nothing more than a good cell phone.

Why We Retired Our DSLRs

That’s right. I am the digital media director for a 200-property vacation rental company located in Northern Minnesota. For the last three years, I have essentially retired my collection of expensive DSLR cameras in favor of my iPhone. Since the iPhone 11 Pro Max model came out, the quality of cell phone photo cameras has increased so much that they have rendered DSLRs obsolete for the company. Thanks to ultra-wide lenses and higher-resolution photos. And, no, I do not shoot in Raw! Unless the photos I am taking are going to be blown up on a billboard someday, the native, non-Raw resolutions in most cell phone cameras will be enough for editing for Airbnb.

Along with good editing techniques, the properties of cell phone photos quickly showed they outperformed the others. So much so that we have since gone back to reshoot every property to ensure they have similar-quality photos.

Cell Phones to Use

However, you also need to take photos correctly for them to be comparable to DSLR photos. Here are some pointers for getting the most out of your cell phone. Note that I shoot with iPhone 14 Pro Max now, but have also used the iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPhone 12 Pro Max, and the iPhone 13 Pro Max with very similar results. Similar Android phones, like the Samsung Galaxy and Google Pixel series, should be able to produce similar quality photos.

Learn Advanced Camera Settings

Most newer cell phone models not only offer the ability to take high-resolution images but also provide the user with advanced camera settings that can help improve photo quality even more. Take the time to learn your cell phone’s advanced camera settings. A simple Google search for your phone make and model + advanced camera settings should bring you to the manufacturer’s website and other blogs and guides to getting the most out of your cell phone camera. In the past, I have used add-on products like the Pictar Pro, an add-on device that allows you to adjust settings similar to DSLRs. However, as I became more familiar with cell phone photography, I found I no longer needed anything other than the phone itself.

Just like taking photos with DSLRs, automatic settings rarely work for every situation you will encounter in your home. Simply knowing how to adjust exposure can help. Increase exposure when photographing dark spaces to help brighten them up. Decrease exposure when shooting outdoors to enhance blue skies and reduce sun blowout.

Tips and tricks adjust settings when shooting out of a window so that you can see the view

You can also adjust settings when shooting out of a window to see the view but not make the room too dark. You can also use basic editing to help exaggerate the exterior while not making the interior too dark. I’ll give some tips and tricks for this later in the article when talking about editing. While there is always editing, taking the photo correctly makes the process go much faster.

Be Patient and Wait for the Perfect Day (and Time of Day)

I cannot stress enough the importance of waiting for a bright, sunny day to shoot your property photos. Shooting on a sunny day will result in brighter, sunnier property photos. Shooting on a dark, dreary day will make the home look dark and dreary, even if you edit the photos to be brighter. Many Airbnb guests book based on images alone, so having photos that show how bright your home is can help increase bookings.

A bright, sunny day to shoot your property photos.

If you can be patient, wait until the cloud formations help add some drama to a photo. If you get them, use them! In the photo above, the cloud formations help to spice up the photo and also help distinguish the lake behind the home from the sky.

The photo showing the home is missing the dramatic clouds.

This home was photographed on the same day as the previous home. As you can see, the dramatic cloud formations are present, but only over the lake. The photo showing the home is missing the dramatic clouds while the second photo of just the fire pit includes them. Which one do you find more appealing to look at?

Dramatic clouds over a fire pit.

Many consider overcast days the best day to shoot as it reduces sunlight and shadows through windows. However, blue skies make a property look more appealing. If you have the flexibility of time, wait until the sun is directly overhead of your home or is starting the set to reduce sunlight and shadows. But, in general, feedback from our guests and homeowners shows they do not mind seeing the sun streaming through a window. In fact, they often help if a room is otherwise dark.

Sunlight coming through the skylights help brighten up the living room.

In this photo, you can see that, although we went to the home when the sun was overhead, sunlight was coming through the skylights. This helped brighten up a room that is usually a lot darker because it is an older home with dim lighting.

Know When To Use Wide Angle and Standard Zoom Settings

About 75% of the photos I shoot with my iPhone 14 Pro Max are shot in 0.5x zoom, the widest angle zoom available on my phone. Wide angles help to show the layout and flow of the home. Guests appreciate knowing how the home is laid out when determining if your home is right for them. I make sure to shoot from all four angles of the room and leave doors open so guests can see which rooms flow in and out of each area. I do not use every photo in the listing, but I take them all to ensure I can show both room and home layouts accurately.

you can see layout of a bedroom off of the kitchen and a staircase leading to the second level.

In this photo, you can see a bedroom off of the kitchen and a staircase leading to the second level. The wide angle also helps give you a feel for the size of the room itself as you can see all four walls in the shot, although the beautiful bay windows at the front are cut off, so I made sure to take a second photo from the other side of the room to show those off.

Photo highlighting a bookshelf in a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home.

For featured amenities and detail photos, I shoot at a standard zoom(1x on the iPhone). Typically standard zooms result in less distortion and noise in dark areas than wide-angle photos, which helps pull out the details. For these photos, I focus on the decorative and amenity highlights in the home, like this carefully curated bookshelf in a Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home. These types of photos tend to be very popular with the average Airbnb guest, so don’t forget about them! But also, don’t create an entire listing of just detailed photos. Guests still want to see how rooms and the home are laid out.

Watch the Frame, Mind the Edges

When taking a photo of a room, pay attention to what is in the frame. Another nice perk of using a cell phone is that most have large screens, so you can see what will be in the photo you take. Try to take a photo that includes all parts of the furniture in the room. Don’t cut off the feet of the bed or the top of the ceiling fan. Don’t cut a bedside lamp in half. Does the photo show the layout? Does it look nice? If yes, take the shot! If not, adjust your angle and look again. I find that squatting down gives me the best angles, especially in smaller rooms.

Always look carefully at the photo you are about to take and see if anything in it is distracting. Are pictures on the wall crooked? Are lampshade seams facing outward? Is a blanket sticking out on the bed in a way that looks strange? These are the details I find myself overlooking the most and regretting later in editing. Fixing them when taking photos is much faster (and easier) than trying to fix them during editing.


A bathroom photo mistake of moving the plunger out of the shot.

Nothing ruins a bathroom photo like forgetting to move the plunger out of the shot. Or, as in this case, the garbage can.

Speaking of Editing…

Even the best cell phone and DSLR photos will need to be touched up. I use Adobe Lightroom to batch-edit and resize my photos, but many free options are available. Look at Gimp, RawTherapee, and even Google Photos. You can edit to your liking using your cell phone photo editing settings. You have everything you need as long as you can make basic adjustments to exposure, brightness, shadows, and highlights!

Pull down the highlights, pull up the shadows, and increase the exposure. Not too much because doing this will increase noise/pixelation, but just enough to reduce shadows and better show every corner of a room. Too much, and you can cause distortion.

A photo with a dark shadow and have been distorted in editing.

You can see in the photo above that the corners of the couches were in a dark shadow and have been distorted in editing. However, this is a detail that many overlook as long as it’s not the main focus of the photo.

Bright, cheerful photos have done the best at selling a property to guests, in my experience. While you can do this somewhat within your camera settings, I find it’s easiest to adjust in editing.

A photo edited to look the same way as living room photo.

Bright, cheerful photos can really help sell a space.

Try to be consistent. You want your home’s photos to look fluid as guests swipe through. If you make a change and update a photo, try to edit the photo the same way as the others in order to not make the new photo look out of place.

Sell the DSLR and Take Property Photos Yourself!

Save time and save money by taking quality Airbnb photos with a cell phone. Learning to take photos yourself will also allow you to update photos as needed without having to hire a professional photographer each time. Keep your listing current and accurate yourself using a tool you likely already have.

Learn how to turn your vacation rental photos into booking magnets. Uncover the 12 attributes of a winning Airbnb image and the key factors that increase bookings by $2,521 per year! Don’t miss out on this game-changing knowledge. Read Now!

Jaye White

Jaye White

Digital and Social Media Lead

Jaye is a skilled and seasoned professional photographer specializing in capturing captivating property photographs. In the role of head of media, she expertly conducts drone flights, engages in live Facebook feeds, and skillfully crafts compelling video productions. Additionally, she serves as the esteemed host of an adventure podcast Exploring the North Shore and has been a dedicated writer for owner newsletters over the years. 

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