Advice from a Pro: Getting into the Real Estate Photography Business
LORI: Hi Niels. Thanks for agreeing to share some of your photography secrets with us today. I know real estate photography isn’t as easy as just showing up to a realtor and telling them you want to take photos of their listings, but, on a scale of 1-10, how hard do you think it is compared to fashion photography or commercial work?
NIELS: Well, on a scale of 1-10 (1 being the easiest and 10 the hardest), real estate photography is weighing in at about a 2 or a 3. Just think about it, you don’t have to deal with models, divas, bridezillas, neurotic hair-stylists, or a cranky art director. It’s just you and the building, the most patient model you will ever work with.
The only unpredictable element you have to deal with is the weather and, sometimes, the Blackberry-engulfed realtor walking into the shoot. As someone who also does fashion and lifestyle photography, real estate photography is V-E-R-Y attractive. On top of that, it requires minimal equipment and may just be the perfect field of photography to start out with if you are a beginner. If you follow a few ground rules, you’ll be able to produce great images that sell real estate — and that’s what it’s all about: Pictures that sell real estate! Once you master that, people will be calling you for jobs.
LORI: Can you give us an idea of what kind of equipment you might need?
NIELS: Sure, you’ll need a digital camera with a rectilinear wide-angle lens (non-fisheye) that can shoot in manual or semi-auto/creative mode, a decent tripod, and editing software. You can spiff it up with a shutter release cable and a bubble level, but basically that’s it.
LORI: What is a typical day like in the real estate photography business?
NIELS: A typical day starts with a carefully-planned week. On Mondays, I work in my home studio shooting portraits, headshots, and whatever else needs studio work. That’s the “side effect” of real estate photography — you get a lot of referral work… and all real estate agents need headshots. You can easily pick up an extra $200 to $400 on a lazy Monday while the cappuccino machine is steaming a hot latte and the music is blaring from the speakers in your studio.
Tuesday through Thursday is dedicated to field work and I try to fit all agency real estate shoots into one day if possible. Every property gets Google-mapped with satellite view — to get an idea of the orientation toward the sun — and then scheduled accordingly. I am “in and out” in less than an hour. An average 2,000-square-foot home can be done in 30 minutes if you have successfully instructed the real estate agent how to prep the property.
Working like this, I can usually shoot four to six agency real estate listings in one day. Real estate agency listings are usually always shot during daylight hours. If the property has night-shoot appeal, it will be done on a different day and for additional fees. When I return home, I download all images from the day, sort them into folders with property addresses, and begin processing.
Once the computer has done its miracles, the images are ready for the final touches. I open each image to check for any technical issues. It takes about a minute per images, and, since most real estate listings yield between 12 and 20 images, I typically have about a couple of hours in post-processing. Finally, Fridays are for catching up on everything that didn’t get done during the week.
LORI: You said this was open to beginners. Do you think someone with no training could do it or would you need at least a little training?
NIELS: This is definitely something beginners could do, mainly because it is less stressful than fashion, portraiture, and the like (which involve photographing people and extensive knowledge of Photoshop). Architectural photography (which this is) is all about lines and how to control them.
You have to practice the rule of thirds and also learn how to capture all vertical lines as true vertical in the camera or in post-production. The technique I teach in workshops is also based on available light only, making it a lot simpler than having to deal with strobes and flash. There are just a few technical terms to learn for this type of photography… it doesn’t change much after that.
LORI: And, I can’t let you go without talking about money really quick. You told me on the phone that you charge about $500 a day for this kind of photography. Do you think that’s typical across the country? And, how many listings can you get photographed in one day?
tNIELS: The “typical” day I just described to you is really two days’ worth of work if you want to have a life, as well. At the $150 per listing that I charge for an average 2,000 to 2,500-square-foot home, it still brings in around $500 per day if you do the math. Also remember that you can also offer to sell virtual tours, videos, etc. I think that anywhere in the world where real estate is sold, you have a potential market regardless of market conditions.
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