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  • 10.17.11

Airbnb’s Small Army Of Photographers Are Making You (And Them) Look Good

For added customer security, and general prettiness, Airbnb is growing its platoon of photographers on six continents.

Home sharing service Airbnb has struck up an unlikely partnership with 1,000 photographers that’s helping their customers drum up business.

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When hosts sign up to use Airbnb’s free professional photo service, they’re visited by a pro to get their properties lit, framed and shot. Airbnb revealed that photographs made a difference to bookings: Their places were booked 2.5 times more frequently than customers who didn’t get pro shots of their place on the Airbnb site, and on an average, the images brought in $1,025 a month.

“Taking crisp, well-lit and composed photographs that accurately convey the look and feel of the space is the most difficult part of creating a listing, so we make it easy,” Airbnb explains. So far, 13,000 properties in Airbnb’s catalogue have been visited and photographed by pros in 383 cities in six continents. Their photographer army has grown quickly, much like the rest of Airbnb, and they intend to keep growing.

Airbnb’s “Photo Service,” the Airbnb blog says, began when its founders went from apartment to apartment to photograph to take photos of listings in the early days of the company. It’s been around as a more formal pilot project from the summer of 2010. Now, “the program effectively runs like a small business within Airbnb,” a spokesperson for Airbnb wrote in an email to Fast Company, with eight in-house photographers managing their global team of contributors. Airbnb prefers photographers with a background in architectural or real estate photography, but does consider photographers with other portfolios if “their portfolio showcases impressive professional skills in composition, lighting, and technique.”

Within a few days following a photo shoot, the photographs make their way to the Airbnb website to accompany the home-owners’ listing. Airbnb also uses the photos in their luxurious “Airbnb Collections,” which group properties by theme (Grape Expectations, Life’s A BeachTrees & Zzz’s), and gives them a dazzling, exclusive-y feel.

What else do they do with the photos? Not much. For now, Airbnb doesn’t tag the images, but may do so in the future to help out with SEO searchers. (Though, Airbnb is careful to point out, the house owner will always have the option of opting out of such a feature.)

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Beyond prettying up the site, a big part of the feature’s popularity comes from the fact that it suggests an additional layer of security to guests who are booking themselves into a place they’ve only seen on the Internet. Photo Service photographs are marked with a “Airbnb Verified Photo” ribbon, so guests know a member of the Airbnb team has visited and checked the place out. “…We have more secure inventory to offer our guests than any other travel site,” Airbnb explains. “The potential for a ‘bait and switch’ scams isn’t an issue with these properties.”

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That could be a good sign for the company, which has been wrestling with some trust issues after starting out as an investors’ darling when it launched three years ago. When a host’s blog post described how rogue guests destroyed her home in August this year, it exposed the inherent risk that home renters were opening up to. To top it off, Airbnb’s response was slow and cold, leaving it it open to criticism. The fiasco was a symptom that it was growing too quickly–and failing fast. After the dust settled, Airbnb’s founders took steps to slow down, and put some thought into preventing events like #RansackGate from recurring. Founder Brian Cheskey apologized in a blog post and announced a new set of security measures to reassure people who used the service.

Yes, the unlikely partnership between the home-sharing company and pro photographers may be working great for Airbnb’s and home-owners’ business, but if the the photo program seems to be offering some reassurance, Airbnb says, it favors the hosted more than the host.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about technology and science. Follow on Twitter, Google+.

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