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Photos are your first impression.

Whether you're trying to sell a property, lease it as a traditional rental or find nightly customers on Airbnb, when potential guests see the photo before your description, your amenities, or anything else. Your key photo is the first impression OF your first impression.

Most potential buyers and tenants will never even look at your other 24 photos if the FIRST ONE doesn’t grab their attention. This first photo is about grabbing eyeballs and getting clicks. Your key photo needs to make the viewer desperate to see more.

How? Follow these tips to get your lead Airbnb photo right.

1. Use landscape mode (wide, not tall) for the lead photo.

Photo by Rowan Heuvel

Photo by Rowan Heuvel

Photo by J S

Photo by J S

That means always make sure your key photo is wider than it is tall – “landscape mode”, not “portrait mode”. This little mistake can kill what would otherwise be an excellent photo. All listing sites (and nearly all websites, period) are set up to favor pictures that are wider than they are tall.

When you use a portrait mode photo, things get weird. A tall key photo wastes valuable thumbnail space (or the listing site will crop the image and the viewer sees a blurry cut-out). On Airbnb, the key photos serve as a banner at the top and they can turn really ugly really quick in portrait mode. That ain’t gonna drive traffic.

Always make sure your photos have a minimum resolution of 1024 x 683px (although we recommend you go higher!) and keep the width to height ratio at 1.5 at all times.

2. Focus on clarity for the lead photo.

airbnb dining

Photo by BNB Mastery

airbnb bedroom

Photo by BNB Mastery

airbnb kitchen

Photo by BNB Mastery

There is beauty in clarity. “Clarity” may sound vague but it’s actually quite simple: make sure your image is clear and easy to see.

This means, bright and well balanced, not too busy, and high resolution. Key photos begin as small thumbnails so “clarity” is really important for attracting clicks.

You want to see more, see it better, have the actual rental appear brighter.

1) Bright: The opposite of dark. Well-lit, easy to see rooms and outdoor areas simply are more attractive than dark ones. If you have an outdoor picture with a bright sky but dark grounds, bushes, and trees, there’s a simple fix: reveal the grounds in editing by “lifting” shadows and add just a pinch of saturation (never hurts!).

2) Well balanced and not too busy: Clean up! The photo shouldn’t look cluttered or we can’t see the forest for the trees. But at the same time try to make sure a photo of a room isn’t all floor or ceiling (often happens with wide-angle lenses); they make the image dull.

3) High resolution: Your image shouldn’t be blurry and pixelated. There’s no excuse for this. It just implies you don’t try that hard – how could you not notice the poor quality of the key photo? Make an effort! It’s worth it.

3. Color and contrast tips for the lead photo.

airbnb patio

Photo by BNB Mastery

airbnb couch

Photo by BNB Mastery

airbnb outdoor

Photo by BNB Mastery

Your key photo should have 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 anything to grab onto. The viewer will scroll right past your listing without a strong focal point to your pictures. Blue skies and green leaves tend to look a little bland straight out of the camera (nothing compares to the human eye) so edit your photo and add a little saturation before posting it.

4. The lead photo is your best foot forward.

airbnb living area

Photo by BNB Mastery

Not all photos work as a great key photo. Your key photo should impress the viewer.

Does your renter really want their first impression to be of the toilet? Probably not.

A good exterior shot of the house is often excellent. A nice living room can be terrific. A plain bed almost never is. A pool is often a winner. Bathrooms almost never are. If you get a chance, run your set of photos past 10-20 friends. Ask them which one they think is the most eye-catching. There’s a good chance you’ll get a near consensus.

5. Zig when your competition zags with their lead photos.

airbnb dining table

Photo by BNB Mastery

airbnb living room

Photo by BNB Mastery

airbnb bathroom

Photo by BNB Mastery

Do a search of your listing that shows you vs. your competition. When your key photo is one of 6 or 9 other key photos, does it stand out? Or blend in?

When Kati did some research and went through key photos she discovered that towns tend to have trends. If everyone nearby has a log cabin, your key photo could show the snow-capped mountain view out the living room window. If everyone has greyscale living room photos, grab a view with a blue sky or throw in orange pillows and a rug.

Click Here for the Photography Checklist!

Check out the galleries of real vacation rental listing key photos and see what you think! Who stands out? Which photo would you click? Not every town has a key photo “trend” but you never know until you do a little research.

A Closing Note

The number 1 mistake I notice in most of the multi-thumbnail listings is that nearly all hosts use a very similar photo for all 3 spaces. All inside or all outside, very similar colors. I’m not getting any new information out of the three photos. Again, many listings are still very, very nice. Just not memorable.

This article originally appeared on via

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