The best shot: A photography lesson for home sellers (©  Image Studios/Getty Images)

Since I'm house-hunting, I've spent many hours over the past few months surfing through dozens of slide shows of home listings on real-estate Web sites.

Many of them are just awful. For instance, one listing showed a series of rooms with unmade beds and clothes scattered about, and dirty dishes piled in the sink — all bathed in bluish fluorescent light. Another displayed a façade that had been shot with a wide-angle lens so that the walls looked as if they bowed outward, as if the house were about to explode. Still another showed a close-up of two birds feeding each other on a deck railing — but didn't show the deck itself.

Since nine out of 10 home shoppers begin their search on the Web, according to the National Association of Realtors, I'm appalled that some sellers don't make much of an effort to make their houses presentable and visually appealing. After all, listing pictures are your main mode of advertising. If the pictures are poor quality, or don't show every room of your house, as well as front and back views both of and from the house, many buyers won't bother to visit.

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Of course, in these tight times, many sellers don't want to spend more than $1,000 a day to hire a good architectural photographer (unless the house is worth millions). Instead, they rely on their agents to take the photos, which are usually taken hastily with a handheld digital camera. And since agents aren't required to take photography courses to get a real-estate license, it's not surprising that the results are often poorly framed and lit, grainy and washed-out.

But you don't have to accept poorly done photography; if you're handy with a camera, you can take your own photos. I asked a number of architectural photographers to tell me what homeowners should and shouldn't do to get the most flattering pictures.

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Surprisingly, some of their answers ran counter to what real-estate agents generally recommend. For instance, agents often suggest that you paint rooms a light, neutral color, but several of the photographers noted that darker shades make details such as molding stand out, and brighter colors make a room pop. (Perhaps the best compromise here is to paint rooms a medium, neutral hue and introduce spots of color in pillows, paintings and throws.)

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Similarly, agents usually suggest that owners depersonalize their homes by removing family photos, clearing off tables and countertops, and removing evidence of hobbies and trophies, so buyers can better visualize themselves in the space. But while clutter is never good, a few personal items in a room make a photo livelier, says Minneapolis photographer Jerry Swanson (and the items can always be put away before a showing). "You want the home to look as if someone lives there," he says.