Airbnb Photography: Make Your Listing Photos Stand Out

December 21, 2019


Listing photos. Ask 100 hosts if they’re important, and you’re liable to get 100 “yeses”, but unfortunately, that doesn’t mean all listings have great photos. Far from it.

Let’s take a moment to see just how important listing photos really are to the success of a vacation rental. And then, assuming the evidence is convincing, we’ll follow up with some easy-to-implement tips for optimizing your listing photos.

On Airbnb, Every Book Gets Judged by its Cover

Sad but true. I know that Kati and I have probably bypassed dozens of great hosts, simply because the photos were subpar. Ironically, the biggest reason that poor photos drive away guests isn’t even the photos themselves. It’s that they sap trust. When most guests see poor listing photos, they think to themselves, “If they got this wrong, where else are they cutting corners?”

It’s not fair. Most hosts weren’t trained as professional photographers. And according to a Learnairbnb survey, only about 15% hire one. But the unfortunate truth is that listing photos are like the top of the sales funnel. If not enough potential guests are clicking on the lead photo, it’s nearly impossible to generate enough sales at the other end.

Airbnb did an internal study and claims that listings with professional-level photographs earn 40% more revenue than those without.

And a Carnegie-Mellon study dove even deeper. The study identified 12 separate parameters of Airbnb listing photos that could be optimized. Things like brightness, composition, and image clarity. Each parameter was assessed in terms of how many extra nights of booking might be gained from optimization.

The results were dramatic. First, 72% of the half-million photos analyzed were characterized as “low-quality”. And even more important, if all 12 parameters were optimized, a rental could potentially book an extra 60+ nights per year!

Any way you slice it, poor listing photos are costing most rentals thousands of dollars in revenue every year.

The 80/20 Rule of DIY Airbnb Photography

Statistics are most helpful when they point the way forward. In this case, the takeaway is - better photos lead to more revenue. And by improving yours, there’s potential to leapfrog much of your competition.

Should you run out and hire a professional? Quite possibly. But, before you do, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

1. Use the 80/20 rule to your advantage.

It’s the idea that approximately 80% of effects are due to 20% of causes. An example: if there are 100 elements that go into being a great photographer, you only need to learn the most important 20 of them, in order to get 80% of the benefit of learning all 100.

Here are just a handful of the disproportionately helpful tips relating to listing photos:
- The lead photo is key. We call it the magnet photo, because it needs to pull guests into your listing. No one’s looking at the full sequence (or booking) if they don’t click on the magnet photo.
- Always have at least 20 photos, but not more than 40.
- Make sure at least ⅓ of them are of the interior, but no more than ⅔.
- Use landscape mode (NOT portrait). This little mistake can kill what would otherwise be an excellent photo. Sometimes, the photo gets cropped and the viewer only sees a sliver of the center. In some instances, the photo itself gets distorted and stretched.
- Color and contrast. Make sure your key photo has something to draw the eye. If the living room is mostly white, add a dash of color. Too many rooms are monotone and don’t give the eye something to grab onto, so the viewer will scroll right past your listing.
- Zig when your competition zags. Do a search of your listing that shows you vs. your competition. When your key photo is one of 6 or 9 other magnet photos, does it stand out? Or blend in? If your competition is all about the beige rooms, break up the pattern by showing off a colorful exterior, or a view.

2. Pro photographers can/will only do so much.

They won’t clean your place. They won’t help you set your room up in the most flattering way. They won’t wander downtown to get shots of your favorite local restaurant, or the secret path to the beach.

We encourage hosts to think of themselves as ambassadors for their town/city/country. What can you offer guests that no one, not even the host next door, can offer? Maybe it’s your intimate knowledge of the best hiking trails within 5 miles. Maybe it’s your personal relationship with 3 of the best craft breweries in town.

Whatever it is, you should emphasize it, in words and in photos. And that means that your ‘around town’ photos need to be good enough to not stick out like a sore thumb when mixed in with those of the professional.

If you’re clear-eyed about your current photos, statistics would say there’s a 72% chance they’re not good enough. Actually, it’s probably less than that because AirDNA blog readers are a cut above.

Upgrade Your Photos, Drive More Revenue

If you conclude you could use an upgrade, we’ve seen tons of hosts pull it off with just their smartphone, a bit of instruction, and a few hours of effort.

But you could also hire a professional, and then learn just enough to supplement the pro’s photos with complementary ones of your own that don’t look out of place. In either case, it’s likely there are $1000’s of bookings available for the taking.

We believe improving your photos is the single most impactful thing you can do for your business (potential dollars earned vs. time / $ / effort involved).

If you’d like to learn more about creating listing photos that don’t oversell your place but get guests to click the ‘book now’ button, we invite you to download our guide to Realistic Airbnb Photos.

– Brian & Kati,


Get started with MarketMinder today.

With powerful, easy-to-use tools, MarketMinder helps hosts and investors succeed in the short-term rental market. Ready to jump in?

Try it for free