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How to Become a Photographer for Real Estate

by Alex Coleman on Feb 17, 2020

Real estate agents are always looking for skilled professional photographers to help their clients sell their homes. Want to know more about how to become a professional real estate photographer? 

You can use your camera skills to provide high-quality real estate photos of agents’ listings to earn money! It’s easy to get started in real estate photography, and it can be a great way to supplement your income from other types of photography like weddings and portraiture. It doesn’t require any special equipment to get started, which makes it accessible to every photographer.

This guide will cover:

  • How to become a real estate photographer
  • How to promote and market a real estate photography business
  • Skills needed to become a real estate photographer
  • Salary potential for real estate photographers

How To Become a Real Estate Photographer

Photo by Stephen Leonardi via Unsplash

They key to unlocking a career, or side hustle, in real estate photography is understanding your strengths as a photographer. Realtors, real estate developers and new home builders, along with some speciality groups like interior designers and architects, all need high quality photos of real estate exteriors and interiors. To get these images, they’ll need to work with a qualified real estate photographer — you!

As a real estate photographer, you’ll be responsible for planning, shooting, editing and delivering photos of real estate interiors and exteriors for marketing purposes. Whether you’re shooting a 1,100 square foot home for your local realtor or a 20,000 square foot commercial building, one of the biggest challenges to real estate photography is aligning your images with the client’s vision.

For example, an architect may look to show off a property’s unique design aspects, and a realtor may want to emphasize the property’s spacious rooms and other features buyers like, all in one photograph. It’s your job to figure out how to capture that perfect real estate photo!

Your clients will have a vision of how they’d like to showcase their property. Many prefer neutral, but flattering light that makes the property feel bright and open. Having an understanding of your clients’ style is one of the most important details to know when working as a real estate photographer.

For other types of marketing photography, you may have a greater degree of artistic freedom than you’re likely to as a real estate photographer. But, remember that you’re the photography professional. Just because your client has a vision for the shoot doesn’t mean you can’t suggest something different that might highlight the property’s other strengths.

Still, it’s a good idea to check out local “For Sale” listings, view the real estate marketing materials for new home developments or ask your client to share examples of photos they like. The more you familiarize yourself with real estate photography, the more you’ll be able to understand what your local market looks for and what equipment you may need.

Gear for Real Estate Photography

Lenses

Speaking of equipment, you’ll definitely need a wide-angle lens. While lenses like a 50mm, 85mm or 24-70mm are the bread and butter of portrait or wedding photographers, 95% of a real estate photo shoots are shot on wide-angle lenses.

Real estate photographers use wide-angle lenses because they help create space in the image. Because they can capture more of a room, they do a great job at providing an overview of the interior.

Of course, it’s important to check that your wide-angle lens isn’t too wide. When your lens is too wide, it creates distortions in the photo that misrepresent the space. The key to real estate photography is to highlight a property’s strengths without being inauthentic!

For architectural shoots, consider using a tilt shift lens. This special lens has a moveable lens barrel that allows you to adjust the internal elements to better align the image with the camera’s focal plane. Essentially, a tilt shift lens gives you improved sharpness and reduced image distortion, including skewing in vertical lines.

Using an ordinary wide-angle lens and tilting it up to capture the top of a building will introduce visual distortion. This distortion causes the vertical lines of the building to “fall” toward each other. While Photoshop can correct this effect, making the adjustment in-camera is better and saves you time.

Tripod

Always plan to use a tripod. Fast apertures aren’t important in real estate photography since your subjects will be sill. That’s great, because it means you can use a lens like a 16-35mm f/4. A tripod also helps you get precise framing, sharp focus and a flawless images at a lower ISO.

Lighting

Basic external lighting tools will also prove very helpful in shooting real estate photography. By adding flash fill, you can balance interior and exterior light levels for a pleasing and smooth shot. If you don’t have lighting gear on-hand, you could also choose to compost in the view from exterior windows to avoid an oversaturated HDR look while still capturing an authentic view of the space.

Drones

Additional pieces of equipment will vary based your clients’ needs. For higher end homes with significant yards or great views, you might consider using a drone in your photography. Drone photography can also put you ahead of your competitors when you’re trying to land your first clients, since some realtors consider drone photography a bonus.

Contrary to popular belief, a drone for real estate photography doesn’t have to be expensive. Unlike for other subjects, real estate properties don’t require a speedy drone. Your real estate drone doesn’t need to be collapsible, either, since transport to the jobsite is easy.

Of course, buying a quality drone will still present some expense, but it shouldn’t require a huge investment. When it comes to brands, DJI is the major player in drones, with both their Mavic and Phantom lines offering quality drones at an affordable price point.

Keep in mind that using a drone for commercial purposes can have significant legal prerequisites. Depending on your area, you may need to take tests or certifications for commercial drone operation. For example, in the United States, you can fly a drone for work or business by following the FAA’s Part 107 guidelines.

Also, keep in mind that flying a drone can be a risk — scuffing a floor in a house with a tripod is one thing, but crashing a drone into it is much more significant!

If you want to learn more about starting a drone photography business, which has applications outside of real estate, check out our guide. If a drone, flight training and certification is out of your budget right now, don’t despair! Real estate photography presents a promising opportunity regardless of your equipment.

Virtual Tours and Videography

While delivering compelling photos of the property is the most fundamental part of real estate photography, you can offer your clients additional photography-related services. Drones are a great example, but virtual tours and videography have also become more popular. Virtual tours make use of dedicated camera rigs and software to provide fully virtualized versions of the house for prospective buyers to tour from the comfort of their computer.

Photo by Aaron Huber via Unsplash

For more information about virtual tours, check out Matterport’s website — they are one of the leaders in the field. They operate as a subscription service but have great integrations with leading services that real estate agents prefer. That makes them a great fit for real estate photographers!

Videography is another great upsell option for a real estate photographer. While video requires an entire set of skills beyond photography, don’t be intimidated! The typical real estate video is pretty forgiving, and many of your photography skills will transfer. Real estate video doesn’t need special effects or complex transitions. Instead, most agents look for simple videos to function as a live-action walkthrough of the property. 

Picking up a stabilizer and mic can take your video to the next level, especially since many modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras already shoot high quality video. Using a stabilizer is important, as many agents want moving shots throughout the house.

An exterior mic also makes it easier to pick up the agent’s voice, which you can use to narrate the video. A lapel mic is a great option, since the often-empty interiors can present challenging echoes when using other mic options.

How to Promote and Market a Real Estate Photography Business

Marketing your real estate photography business is different than many other types of photo businesses. You should start with a very clearly defined client base.

For most beginners, your most attainable client base will be local real estate agents that list properties in your area. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them directly. Agents are used to networking and are often happy to speak about their business. Once you understand their approach to business, you can tailor your pitch to highlight the solutions you can provide to their problems.

Maintaining a social media presence is always helpful as a photographer, but don’t expect social media ads to drive all your leads. Most agents don’t look to social media when they need a new photographer. Instead, look to build your own real estate photography website, and encourage your clients to recommend your good work.

Where social media can be helpful is in connecting with prospective clients for other jobs. Architects, new home builders and interior designers are all active on social media. Sharing your work with them can be a great way to help build both your photography portfolios and lead to possible paid work in the future.

Your social media success may depend on your location, since design-centric metropolitan areas present more opportunities for this sort of work than rural locations.

Developing a social media presence will also show prospective clients that your images work on social media platforms. Since many agents market their properties via social media, they’ll likely want a photographer who knows how to capture images for their platforms. Being a “digital native” can help you show a fresh side to your photography, giving you an additional edge.

Skills Needed to Become a Real Estate Photographer

Photo by Francesca Tosolini via Unsplash

Of course, to become a photographer in any field, you’ll need to know how to use your camera to produce quality images. Fortunately, photographing buildings doesn’t present the same timing challenges as wedding or other types of photography. That makes real estate photography easier to learn at your own pace. 

Photography Know-How

The best way to build your skills is to practice photographing your own living spaces or a friend’s house. The same settings that make one room look good can apply to many other rooms, both big and small. The same goes for post-processing.

As a beginner, creating a consistent look from shot to shot will be one of your biggest challenges. Some rooms might have abundant ambient light, while others may be lit by only a few incandescent bulbs. That’s why understanding how to balance your exposures is key.

Marketing

Once you’re confident behind the camera, take some time to build your portfolio. Having a strong image portfolio will help you pitch to your clients, particularly commercial clients who have high expectations.

Marketing as a real estate photographer differs a bit from other types of photography. Whereas a wedding photographer might use as on social media to reach a large number of potential clients, real estate photographers have to take a different route.

Since your pool of clients is significantly smaller, take the time to reach out to them individually and present your value proposition. Showcase the ways in which you stand out from the competition. Maybe you can deliver better photos at a more competitive price. Or, maybe you can offer drone photography in a market where drone photography is scarce.

Realtors suffer some costs and concerns when they switch to a new photographer. So, you have to show that your value outweighs those issues. To better understand how to pitch clients, check out our guide on the best tips to become a successful freelance photographer.

As with other types of freelance working, managing client expectations and customer service are both key to getting repeat business from a client. As a professional real estate photographer, your clients rely on you to deliver quality images on time. Furthermore, they expect you to be a source of expertise when it comes to photography.

Time Management & Attention to Detail

Clients also value photographers who are easy to work with and punctual. When agents secure a new listing, they’re faced with a lot of things to coordinate. Getting the finished images over to them quickly can help them complete their listing on time, which makes a good impression on their client.

Additionally, it’s important that you deliver images in the proper formats. Many agents prefer a web-size JPEG, with sRGB color, as they’ll typically use your images online on the agents’s website or on systems like the MLS.

Consider using a digital service like Dropbox to deliver your finished images to clients. That way, they’ll receive your photos instantly and you’ll be able to update the images based on their feedback. It also saves you time and expenses by eliminating the need for physical copies via a USB drive or DVD.

Salary Potential for Real Estate Photography

Photo by Francesca Tosolini via Unsplash

Real estate photography earnings are highly variable and typically tied to your location. Regardless, you can use real estate photography work to turn your skills into cash. The quality of your images and your clients’ budgets also factor into how much you can earn as a real estate photographer.

Setting a Rate

If you’re just getting started, agents may only consider paying $50 to $100 for your services. Generally speaking, more value-oriented properties don’t come with high marketing budgets.

Additionally, at the low end of the market, you’re competing agents who shoot their own photos for free instead of hiring a photography professional. While this practice may seem silly to dedicated photographers, agents do not always see the value in having quality images of a property.

As the property’s value rises, your rates can rise proportionately higher. Of course, your client’s expectations also rise at a higher price point. If you do decide to set a higher rate, make sure you’re comfortable with drone and sunset shoots, as well as shoots that require more complex lighting strategies. Agents with budgets for more expensive photography will likely use those photos in printed materials and advertisements, so make sure they’re perfect!

You’ll typically have the chance to negotiate your rate ahead of time. That’s especially true for jobs featuring high-end properties like estates, commercial developments or commissions from developers. Landing these contracts can require quite a bit of networking, but they’re well worth it to gain experience and ethos.

Bundling Services

Your ability to upsell your clients on additional services also impacts your salary potential. Real estate photography presents a number of opportunities to add additional services to your client’s contract.

For example, some photographers charge extra for sunset or nighttime shoots, drone photos, videos and slideshows, digital enhancements like CGI furniture or expedited delivery. Of course, you must consider your skillset; don’t charge for something you can’t deliver!

Finally, remember that it’s better to land a client for $150, than to lose the contract over a small additional charge. At the end of the day, your client needs photographs of their listing. If you can provide that — and only that — they’ll still value your work.

Costs

If you’re shooting smaller homes for local agents, you can get away with inexpensive gear that you upgrade infrequently. You won’t necessarily need backups of major equipment, although it’s always a good idea. If you keep your jobs simple, you can keep your costs low. In the long run, that will allow you to keep more of the profit from your work.

Shooting higher-end listings or commercial work can impose a higher equipment expense. Drones, tilt-shift lenses, high end lighting gear and other tools of the trade add up quickly. Also, since these jobs tend to require quick turnarounds, having backups in case your gear malfunctions is essential. So, these jobs pay more, but they do require a more extensive equipment list.

Other costs, like marketing expenses, shouldn’t vary significantly, especially once you’ve established a strong client base. Your software services like Photoshop and Dropbox will be helpful for all your jobs. And, other subscriptions like virtual tour software offset their own costs by allowing you to set a higher rate.

Unlike seasonal photography, real estate photography is lucrative all the time. New listings enter the market every day, regardless of the season. While business may be slower during a market downturn or around the holidays, you’ll always find some kind of new active listings.

Expanding your coverage area to nearby neighborhoods can also help increase your business’s turnover. And, doing so only adds a small expense in commuting.

Remember to factor in your time expense when setting your photography rates. Depending on both style and subject, post processing can take significantly longer than the shoot itself. You might find that a job that was profitable at 3 hours becomes a loss at 9 hours. Understanding how to price your time into your business model takes experience, but it’s important.

Conclusion

Real estate photography presents a great opportunity for photographers to make money with their skills and equipment. With little more than a wide angle lens, you can start photographing basic listings almost immediately.

The field also presents a tremendous opportunity for repeat business and personal growth. As a real estate photographer, you can expand your skills and learn new techniques, while also earning money to support your growth.

With real estate photography, you can hybridize your skillset so that you’re an even more marketable photographer. This field will help you develop strong post processing skills, video production and editing skills, client management skills and software skills. If you’re able to navigate the expansive landscape that is real estate photography, you’ll reap great rewards in your photography career.

Whether you’re a newcomer to photography or you’re an established photographer in another niche, we hope that this article has inspired you to consider real estate photography!

For more information on real estate photography, check out these articles:

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