I’m now entering my second year as a professional photographer. I’ve learned a lot about photography from a technical perspective but the most valuable skills I’ve acquired have been learned by working with a wide array of clients. I’ve decided to settle in on real estate and architectural photography this year because this is where I think I deliver the best products. If you’re new to this industry you may find it challenging to get information out of other fellow photographers, I know I have! If you find yourself relating to that last statement then this post is for you! Here are the top 5 things I would encourage you to focus on and why. Take from it what benefits you and leave the rest behind. Disagree? Leave a comment below and tell us why! Thanks for reading and as always, sharing is caring!
1. It’s Not About YOU!
If you’ve never held a job in sales I would encourage you to try. Direct sales is without a doubt the most challenging job I’ve ever had. Getting people to transfer money from their account to yours is incredibly difficult. This is why sales people make such great money! When you’re photographing a house that’s for sale you’re doing it for a real estate agent, someone who is licensed to SELL real estate. You are providing them a tool that will help them close the deal. This is not your time to shine as a creative force, this is your time to LISTEN to what the realtor wants their listing to look like. Allow me to explain…
You may have a style that is worthy of Architectural Digest, but if the realtor you’re working for doesn’t like it or doesn’t feel that it represents their listing the way they want, then they are working with the wrong tool. This is by no means a reflection of your skills, but it is a reflection of your ability to LISTEN to what your client wants. To sell well, sales people need the best tools possible at their disposal. For the real estate agent a representative sampling of images that gets them enthusiastic about presenting the property is the right tool.
Lesson 1: Listen to the realtor.
2. The Price Is Right!
Wow, who would have thought that I would be getting to pricing so soon! Photographers who are new to this game will find establishing prices one of the more challenging and esoteric parts of being in business. Most photographers won’t share their pricing. I’m not really sure why, security through obscurity doesn’t work well in too many applications and I don’t think this is the exception. That’s why I’m going to tell you what I charge and let you be the judge if it’s worth your time and effort! Keep in mind that most (if not all) realtors are paying you out of their pocket in advance of the sale. This means they are INVESTING in quality photography and they rightly expect to get a return on that investment. The advantage we have as photographers is that houses are static objects without personality. They don’t talk back, they don’t have breakouts, bad hair days, or fly aways. All this means the post processing time (more on that later) will be less than portrait session or wedding.
My approach to every home starts with talking to the agent and making sure they understand it is their responsibility to have the house staged and ready to go. That way when I enter I know that all I have to focus on is doing what I do best, taking pictures. My estimated average time on site is 20-40 minutes to cover the interior and exterior. I shoot handheld mostly without a flash compensating for low light with higher ISO. This is my basic package and I offer it at a flat rate of $150 (as of 2017). I’ve found this to be a price most realtors are comfortable with and one that is commonly seen for similar services across multiple markets. If the agent is looking for something different I will offer them a twilight package for the exterior or an HDR package for the interior. The twilight package requires setting up in the evening and shooting from a tripod during the blue hour which is roughly 15-20 mins after sunset. The achieved effect is dramatic and a great offering for premium listings. Interior HDR packages also require shooting from a tripod and require more time post processing. The time in the house is not much longer than the basic shoot but the post processing time is longer. I offer both twilight and HDR packages for $250.
Lesson 2: Focus on quality, efficiency and scalability.
3. The Gear
Ah yes, the part most of us love to geek out about! My real estate kit is really simple because I’m a believer in the “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” ethos touted by Steve Jobs. Here is a list of what I carry to my real estate shoots.
- Canon 7D Markii (because I can’t yet justify a new full frame camera and the autofocus died in my 5D Mark ii)
- Canon EF-S 10-18mm F/4.5-5.6
- Canon 24, 35, or 50mm primes**
- Circular Polarizing Filter (67mm and 82mm)
- Vanguard Alta Pro Ball Mount Tripod
- Canon Speedlite 430 EX II
For capturing the entirety of a room I’ve found the Canon 10-18mm lens to be a hard competitor to beat and for $279 brand new it’s practically impossible to beat! In two shoots you can have your lens paid for and working for you. The downside to the EF-S lenses is it’s specifically designed to work on APS-C crop sensor cameras. What this means is that the effective focal length is 16-28.8mm (7D crop sensor is 1.6x so 1.6 * 10 = 16 and 1.6 * 18 = 28.8). To get a wider field of view you would need to step up to the Canon 11-24mm lens that’s 10x more, not to mention that you would also need to invest in a full frame camera to fully reap the benefits of it’s ultra wide angle. That’s a whole lotta houses to shoot before seeing any ROI!
**I personally carry a Canon 24-70mm F/2.8L with me on shoots now because I chose to invest in this expensive lens for other applications. Before making the purchase I used an EF-S 24mm F/2.8 ($149) and EF 50mm F/1.8 ($125) for what I refer to as design or architecture shots. Both of these lens are super lightweight, super sharp, and super cheap! The 50mm F/1.8 is probably my favorite lens and the one I would carry to an island if I could only take one.
I like to keep a circular polarizer in my real estate kit for exterior shots. Because I’m shooting on someone else’s schedule I can’t always shoot during the golden hours. In reality, this kind of real estate photography is a volume business which means I’m shooting a lot in the middle of the day. I’ve found the circular polarizer a helpful tool for making otherwise boring blue skies a nice deep blue. This is a cheap and easy way to give your images a unique feel that adds value to your product. Nice deep blue skies are also calming and attractive to the eye, both desirable qualities in a real estate listing. My chosen tripod is nothing fancy. I think any sturdy tripod with a ball head would work just fine. I like using the SpeedLite to brighten dark rooms by bouncing flash off low white ceilings. This is a nice effect and one that can’t be achieved with an iPhone which you will soon learn is your biggest competitor.
Lesson 3: The right gear delivers a high quality product and nets you a fast ROI.
4. Post Processing
I use Adobe Lightroom for organizing and managing my image catalog as well as all post processing needs. I use the Google Nik Collection of plugins but rarely ever do I use them for real estate work. The main function I use in post processing is the Lens Profile Correction tool. Lightroom has lens profiles stored in it and can automatically correct for barrel distortion, etc. My typical work flow after importing is to select the lens profile correction box, adjust sharpness (or noise from high ISO) and add 5-10 units of clarity to increase contrast. I then select all the photos in the group and sync them with the settings on the first image. Then I preview the images to make sure the adjustments work for the lot. If they didn’t I will modify accordingly. I aim to spend no more than 15-20 mins processing any one shoot. By following a predetermined work flow I’ve been able to reduce my time thereby maximizing my profit margins. An added bonus is a consistent and predictable product that appeals to both current and future clients.
Lesson 4: Get it right on site and standardize the post processing work flow.
5. Product Delivery
No matter the industry every client wants two things from a product they pay for, delivery on time and on budget. I pride myself on fast turnaround times. I strive for same day when possible, 24hrs if not possible and rarely ever over 48hrs. I achieve this by having a set procedure from start to finish. The final step of the process is delivery of the images via a shared folder in Google Photos. I export the finished images at 72 dpi at 1440 x 960 px which I’ve found to be a middle of the road size that doesn’t bog down mobile sites on cellular connections and looks great on nearly all screen sizes. Even on my 27″ Mac desktop where I do all my work, 1440px images are just barely pixelated. If clients have specific requirements for print I will export accordingly at 300 dpi. 99% of the time the images go from my computer to Google’s servers, to my clients computer, to the MLS, their agency website, or similar online platform.
Lesson 5: Real photographers deliver.