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How to Get into Real Estate Photography

by Alec Druggan on Oct 1, 2019

Real estate photography, at its essence, is large scale product photography. Depending on the size of a job, you may be taking quick snapshots or blending exposures, replacing skies, and paying attention to every detail. How do you become a real estate photographer?

Starting a business in real estate photography is difficult. Unlike product photography, there are a limited amount of times you can shoot outside of location.

Your portfolio should contain both internal and external shots that show variation in houses. Furthermore, you want your portfolio to showcase the different living spaces available to your target market.

The startup costs for real estate photographers can be rather high. Depending on your situation, you will need specialized equipment. A lot of this equipment can be replaced with software and other hardware tools, but it is important to know how to get your images looking professional.

When starting your business, you must toe the line between low costs and attracting quality clients. Without an established rapport with real estate agents or firms, you will have difficulty getting the first few clients, especially if your work doesn’t shine.

This guide will look into getting your first clients and the steps you can take to getting those first paid jobs.

Overall, your goal when opening a business is to be profitable. Don’t overspend, and don’t feel like you have to get the highest tier equipment. If you can’t afford something, there are plenty of other solutions.

What do you need to do to get into real estate photography? We’ll look at

  • The benefits of starting a real estate photography business
  • Tips for starting a real estate photography business
  • How to earn money with real estate photography

By the end of this guide, you will have an understanding of the basics of being a working real estate photographer.

One great part of this job is that you can do it almost anywhere, as long as there is real estate to be sold. It also allows for extensive set redesigning and decoration, so if you fancy yourself an interior designer, this might be the type of photography for you.

White themed kitchen

Benefits of Starting a Real Estate Photography Business

Luckily, real estate photography is a field in high demand. As digital marketplaces like Zillow expand, real estate marketing finds itself in dire need of photographers.

Real estate firms, construction companies, and other, smaller businesses often seek freelance photographers. While some of these places may not allow for maximum creativity, the bigger jobs come to those that over-perform in smaller ones.

Certainly, you need to take the first couple jobs that you get from clients almost too seriously. Spend the extra hours post processing, and deliver the cleanest and highest quality images possible. That way, you get your foot in the door and will be offered the bigger jobs in the future.

You’ll also need to learn about your local market before you become a real estate photographer. Knowing the ins and outs of your local market will make you more successful than your competitors. Here are some questions to keep in mind:

  • Is there a lot of movement in real estate around you? Is there cash flow in real estate around you?
  • Are there large firms with high budgets and high transaction volumes?
  • Are there local construction, electrical, plumbing, and landscaping companies you can work with?
  • Do you live in an area with multiple easy access towns, and other areas where you can spread your work as you grow?
  • Are you somewhere where you can work all year? It is substantially harder to photograph architecture in some lighting and weather conditions that accompany seasonal shifts.

Think about these questions, and reflect on your answers. Keep in mind, though, that a perfect market doesn’t exist. Look to see how many job listings are open online, public, and how long they’ve lasted in your area to gauge your competition.

Best Reasons to Get into Real Estate Photography

There are many reasons you might want to be a real estate photographer. Real estate photography is all about making a property look as perfect as possible. As a real estate photographer, you’ll need to use your creativity to sell something, like a product photographer would.

The level of polish demanded of a professional real estate photographer is high, so this is not the job for someone that isn’t invested in perfecting their work.

Professional real estate photography work might get you into some amazing architectural spaces, as well as allow your infinite creativity in set design and lighting to shine.

Keep in mind, however, that not all jobs will be perfect. Sometimes, you’ll have to work in less than ideal conditions. Maybe your employer needs a fast turnaround on a shoot. Or, maybe the venue doesn’t have the lighting and level of cleanliness you’d prefer. Nevertheless, your job is to get the best photos you can that highlight the property’s selling points.

It is all about working around any problems to get a great shot.

In order to be a successful real estate photographer, you’ll also need to understand what exactly you’re trying to sell. Once you’ve identified the property’s selling points, you can tailor your shots to showcase them.

Maybe an apartment has a spectacular view, or is nestled in a quiet neighborhood. As the photographer, it’s your job to figure out how to capture those positive aspects in a photo.

You’ll need to learn how to creatively interpret some things. A great view is a material thing, and as such can easily be incorporated in your shot. On the other hand, if the neighborhood of key importance to a listing, you’re going to have to figure out how to implement that in the shot.

Aerial view of neighborhood

Benefits to Being a Real Estate Photographer

If you love spending time editing your photos, real estate photography is a great job for you. You’ll spend countless hours using Photoshop to edit your images if you don’t have a dedicated retoucher. So, over time, you’ll pick up an incredible level of editing skills as a real estate photographer.

Because real estate photographer is a slower-paced environment, you’ll have the opportunity to paint your perfect scene. You’ll have time to spend on perfecting lighting, color, and furnishings in any given set. All these things are adaptable to you, so you can highly modify your subject to fit your style. 

Unlike some other types of photography, you can practice architecture and real estate photography for free. Shoot your own house, and your friends’ houses. Or, simply take a walk through your neighborhood!

Do you know someone that spent too much money and energy on furniture and design? Steal their house for a day in return for some shots of their place to help you build your portfolio. While having images that are actually commercial in your portfolio is important, having the best possible images is just as necessary.

Birds-eye view of houses

Creative Freedom in Your Own Professional Real Estate Photography Business

If you run your own business, you are afforded the double edged sword of endless creativity. You must reach for balance in your images, and figuring out where that balance is important.

On one hand, you might be an incredibly creative individual. However, at the end of the day, you are trying to help sell a piece of property. You need to understand and limit your creative influence so that it does the best job at selling the property you’ve been hired to market.

So, you have two options. You can be a higher end real estate photographer, where you spend time perfecting each scene. This route allows you to exercise more of your creativity and have more editing influence.

The other option is much less attractive for most creative photographers. Running room to room, around a piece of property, and spamming the shutter button to get the couple shots that are going on a listing right out of the 2000’s.

It is a good option if the housing market in your area is on the cheaper side, as the more intense and grandiose real estate market is what will require the higher end photography.

WIth your own business, you always have the option of experimentation. Try doing listings different ways. See what you enjoy and what makes the most money, then work at the intersection of those two criteria.

Here are some free lightroom presets to help with your editing process!

DSLR camera

Cost of Real Estate Photography

Real estate photography can get pretty expensive. You could easily invest thousands — if not tens of thousands — on a camera and lenses alone. That still leaves editing computers, software, lighting, tripods, tripod heads, equipment, and all the hardware you might need! So, what do you really need, and where can you cut corners?

Here’s a basic list of what equipment you will need:

  • Digital camera with a higher megapixel sensor
  • Sharp and wide glass
  • Tripod and associated gear
  • Lights, light stands, and associated gear

The Right Camera for the Job

Typically, you’ll be shooting longer exposure times with either a shutter release or a timer. This means that you can get away with an older camera with higher megapixels, which can soften the price. For higher end real estate photography, somewhere around 24-30 megapixels should be more than enough. 

Only for the highest end properties will you need anything beyond full frame. Even for lower end properties you will be completely fine with an ASP-C or crop sensor camera as long as the image quality and sharpness at ISO 100 is high. 

Since you are shooting at ISO 100 and a smaller aperture, the camera’s quality matters less than the lens. Look for something reliable with weather sealing, so that you can take photos in any weather. You don’t need many bells and whistles. 

Although it is arbitrary for the most part, look for DSLR cameras instead of mirrorless cameras, especially for crop sensor cameras. Why? Sadly, many believe that the size of a camera is directly proportional to the quality of the photographs.

So, throwing on a battery grip might make your camera look more professional to potential clients and thus increase their confidence in your abilities.

Similarly, having a second camera with you on shoots not only as a backup, but to show you have more gear, might even let you bill more in equipment and photo costs.

Beige home interior

Lens Choice in Real Estate Photography

Stick to wider angle lenses for almost everything. Sharp, wide angle prime lenses, especially those that are manually focused, are relatively cheap. Sure, manually focusing lenses can be a tedious, but it can save quite a bit of money on glass.

This is also helpful as it allows you to learn what your favorite images are. Learn what focal length is best for you and how it impacts your workflow.

Lastly, look into used options for lenses in your camera system. Maximum aperture doesn’t really matter. So, saving money on an f/4 used lens that is still sharp might cut your cost down considerably. 

Tripods, Mounts, and Hardware

Feel free to cut costs on all your gear — except tripods. While you don’t need a top-of-the-line tripod, a great tripod is an investment that lasts through the lifetime of several camera bodies. Some great alternatives to the most expensive versions are:

  • Colorado Tripod Company
  • Manfrotto
  • Gitzo
  • Feisol

Instead of looking for the lightest tripod, buy something heavier. It is cheaper to buy a sturdy metal tripod than a carbon fiber alternative, so don’t overspend on something unnecessary.

Lastly, tripods are something you can buy used, especially the legs. Finding a great pair of used legs and then attaching a great tripod head can get you a solid kit on a budget. This can sever the cost of higher end setups and deliver similar results.

Lighting

Lighting is likely the area where you can save the most money. While buying some great monolights is fantastic, you will often get better results with a bit more work.

Stacking exposures, using a camera trigger and a light on a stand, you can easily get the same results as someone with extensive lighting gear. This may force you to spend more time editing. However, you will reduce the time of setting up gear, and have less to carry.

When stacking exposures, you need one of two things. You can either have an assistant move your singular strobe or speedlight for you, or you can invest in a rangefinder and wireless trigger. The first option is cheap, but the second has its own benefits.

The second option, with enough practice, will be cheaper, more efficient, and allow for more creativity from your standpoint. It is however a more expensive alternative to getting an assistant or intern to help you light your shots.

Access to an assistant you trust, however, is definitely a bonus in the long term. Having someone to set up your shots for larger jobs can streamline your workflow and make your shoot easier.

For one, an intern will know how you want to stylize and work on a shoot. They can end up doing a lot of the grunt work for you. Secondly, they know which shots you need to get, and can keep track of the minutia while you nail your exposures.

Finally, they’ll understand your workflow and can make sure you are as efficient as possible while shooting.

Exterior home with manicured lawn

Tips for Starting a Real Estate Photography Business

There is a lot of nuance to the professional real estate photography business. This section will deal with some tips on finding your target market, marketing yourself, and other tips in professional real estate photography.

From presenting to clients to building your portfolio, make sure that all your bases are covered!

Finding Your Target Market for Real Estate Photography

Remember the questions I posed several sections above? Spending some time answering them will give you a base idea of your local market.

More broadly, most markets have a lot of openings for lower end jobs. Look through local classified ads for jobs, and reach out to construction companies with new developments. They may be looking for photographers, and then you can offer your services!

Photographing a new site, building, or home will be easier than photographing for something established. If your client is happy with your photos, they’ll post them online and they can be picked up and shared by other sources. That’s one of the ways you can spread the word about your photography.

Attention from a variety of reputable sources helps distinguish you in the marketplace.

Similarly, building your brand on social media by following this guide will yield the same results.

Another part of the real estate photography market you can break into is architectural photography. Taking photos of architectural landmarks, especially those touted by tourist bureaus, can lead to large licensing fees for things like postcards or brochures. See if local travel agencies have poor images, and work to replace them with your own. 

City skyscrapers shot from amongst the buildings

Marketing Yourself in a Real Estate Photography Market

As a professional real estate photographer, there are several things that you need. Real estate businesses are run to a high degree of professionalism, so your real estate photography business must be, too.

In this case, you don’t want to depend on Instagram as a portfolio. You’ll need to have a professional presence that mirrors those of the clients you’d like to work with.

Marketing Through Your Portfolio

Your portfolio should be perfectly professional from start to finish. From the first introduction to your work to your contact page, your client must be impressed.

Business cards are key. Check out this tutorial on how to make your own with Adobe Photoshop. If you can, giving a professional looking, modern business card to a potential client in person is better than simply forwarding them a web address.

Being able to make a professional first impression through your site is a great first step with any client. Additionally, in more old fashioned markets in smaller towns, this process will be more in line with what clients expect.

Your website itself should be simple, easy to navigate, and showcase great images. Your portfolio should be easily accessible and the primary focus of the site. Include a variety of different types of real estate photography, but keep it constrained to real estate photos only.

Your portfolio should showcase you as a real estate photographer, not a photographer who dabbles in real estate photos. To do this, almost all the images on your website need to encapsulate some aspect of real estate photography. 

This doesn’t mean you need to only display real estate photography. Strong architectural photography and cityscape images will give a potential client an insight into your capabilities. From your portfolio, they’ll see that you have the ability to shoot more than the front door of a suburban house.

Geometric, modern home exterior

Selling Yourself as a Professional

In a similar vein, you need to look and feel professional. How you communicate and present yourself needs to meet the expectation of the industry you work in. Be present, work hard, and show clients a distinct level of professionalism that sets you apart. 

Do your research when presenting to new clients. Be prepared with examples similar to what they are marketing themselves, and show how your images embed into their format. All this preparatory work is how you land larger clients with lasting relations.

Earning Money with Real Estate Photography

How do you attract clients that support your business? There are several different types of clients to look out for, and leveraging which jobs and opportunities you take can change how you make your living.

Present to larger clients and firms once you have the portfolio and equipment to do so. While working for smaller clients can make you money and get you there, the majority of the money real estate photographers make is working with repeat customers. Using the tips above, find and work closely with several different customers.

You would much rather deal with several large jobs than a multitude of small jobs which may not always be available. While getting a base of larger clients that you can depend on is a daunting task, this will allow you to move your business forward and increase your rates and revenue over time.

The Current Real Estate Market

Currently, real estate is expensive. This means that operating budgets are increasing, which will result in you getting hired. Firms garner a commission off of each sale, so if you are helping them sell, you will get more of these commissions.

There is something to be said about finding a client who values photography. Work to find clients that are willing to pay a premium for more work and higher quality production. These clients are where you’ll find the money.

If you are in a lower cost housing area, you may need to work more quickly, as the jobs may require basic images taken at a fast speed. However, if this is the case, you can still put in the extra work editing and making things look better to sell yourself as a photographer. This stands particularly true if you are new to the industry. 

Another part of the industry that you may find work in is construction and interior design companies. Both these adjacent industries desire photographers to show their work off in the best possible light, and you can book longer more extensive gigs and contracts with both these types of companies. 

What Should You Charge?

Charging for photography is tricky. It depends a lot on demand in your market, as well as the level of imagery you provide relative to other photographers in the area. If you are doing day-long gigs, make sure that you cost covers expenses as well as the profit margins you want to make.

Keeping track of various expenses such as gear costs, travel, time, processing time, and any other miscellaneous expenses is a good place to start. Insurance and other costs must also be taken into account.

Find what your operational costs amount to for a certain and typical shoot, and then account for what profit you want to make. 

Your profit should break down into a fair salary. As you gain notoriety and skill, your own salary goes up, similar to how experience gains you a higher pay. Do not sell yourself short, and make sure that you can cover the cost of new gear and any emergencies or problems you may encounter.

Make sure you are charging differently for licensing and print releases. Learn the difference here. Also, read up on some great tips for getting started as a pro.

Another way to judge your pay is to talk to other photographers in the industry. This may seem strange, but doing research for a specific market is literally what most businesses do. Do this research and see how your calculated pay matches with that of others. 

Lastly, make sure that you aren’t just paying for expenses, and that you are placing a premium for your work. Adding an additional 10-20% on your asking price may seem steep, but to most companies it shouldn’t change their opinion if the rest of your work speaks for it. As romanticized as it is, you don’t ever want to be the starving artist.

Did you like learning what you need to do to become the next great real estate photographer? If so, please follow us on Facebook and Twitter for other such resources and other fun photography related guides.

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