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Real Estate Photographers Must Educate Their Clients About Photo Licensing

December 19th, 2014


Aubrey recently asked the following question:

I’ve had cases many times where my clients use my photos improperly, maybe we could start a separate discussion about this.  My experience hasn’t been a positive one. Example: I’ll take photos for an agent and for one reason or another the listing will switch to another agents without my knowledge. All of a sudden I see my photos being used by another agent when they didn’t pay for them. Should I consider speaking to them and letting them know those are my images and you need to pay for them?  I’ve tried that before and it did NOT go over well. Lost 2 clients over it. Any suggestions?

The underlying problem is that most agents have little or no understanding of photo licensing. The concept that you pay several hundred dollars for photos and you only get to use for a limited time, and a single purpose is not well understood by most agents. A real estate photographer in the Seattle area recently told me that he brought this subject up at a large real estate office meeting and none of the agents at the meeting, including the managing broker understood that the photographer owns the copyright to the photos.

The solution is real estate photographers must educate their clients in this area. It’s better to educate them up front before problems occur than to wait until problems occur.

I recommend that real estate photographers at least have a simple one page terms of service statement that explains their terms of service including their photo licensing policy and before the first shoot, have a discussion with the agent client and explain how photo licensing works and ask them to initial your terms of service. By having a written TOS and taking the time to explain it to all customers, you save a lot of potential confusion and misunderstandings. An even better solution is to have the client sign a photo licensing agreement for each shoot. I have and example of a photo license agreement written by copyright lawyer Joel Rothman, of Schneider Rothman, Intellectual Property Law Group in my Business of Real Estate Photography e-book.

How should Real Estate Photographers Handle Christmas Trees and Other Holiday Decorations?

December 18th, 2014

XmasLiving-300x200Vic asks:

How should I handle Christmas trees and Christmas lights and other holiday decorations?  It’s hard to ask clients to remove these decorations because they are in the middle of their holiday celebrations.  But, in a month photos with holiday decorations will look dated.  Is it worth pushing a shoot back until after the holidays?

Great question!. Yes, you are right on! Push back. Listing agents should not be including Christmas decorations in property photos. Property photos should not time stamped and having a Chrismas tree or decoration in the photo is just like having the photo time stamped. Next spring and summer when the market heats up, buyers will see the photo and value the property less since it’s been on the market a long time. Buyers nowadays can find out how long a property has been on the market, but they should have to do more than look at the photos. A good listing agent will do whatever is necessary to handle this issue. It is not the photographers job to handle this or confront the homeowner. At this time of the year, the photographer should be checking up front that the listing agent has taken care of this issue. It is well worth the effort to take down or move holiday decorations.

A large number of home sellers take their property off the market between Thanksgiving and early January because they just don’t want the hassle of showing their home during the holidays. This is why the listing inventory is always the lowest of the year in December. December is a great time for real estate agents and real estate photographers to go on vacation!

Getting Started In Real Estate Photography

December 17th, 2014

GettingStartedI get lots of questions like the following from people just getting started in the real estate photography business:

I’ve been reading your website like a dog. I’m out of work at the moment and was thinking about maybe starting something like this. I love photography and was a real estate agent in the past for a short time. I know what your thinking don’t do it. I live in Connecticut near the Mass state line. Think there would be a lot of agents to prospect to. Any advice would be great. So much to read on here its kind of mind boggling.

I think real estate photography offers a great opportunity to create your own job and run your own business and I’m dedicated to helping people do that. So occasionally I like to summarize the resources we have here for getting started:

  • Summary on the FAQ page: First of all, on the FAQ page I try to summarize all the resources of the blog.
  • Coaching: People always ask about and want a class in their local area. By in large it won’t happen because the most qualified people aren’t going to come to your location. It doesn’t make financial sense. This is why I’ve created and am promoting the coaching model. Use the PFRE coaching page to connect with the best people/coaches in the business and get quality instruction tailored to your needs remotely.
  • Join the PFRE Flickr group and get your questions answered and your photos reviewed 24×7 for free by some of the best in the business.
  • The PFRE monthly contests: I used to say look at Architectural digest to see what the best in the business are doing but since we started the PFRE monthly contests you can see what the best in the business are doing monthly in the PFRE Photographer of the month contest and the PFRE videographer of the month contest.
  • PFRE e-books: While all the information you will need is here on the PFRE blog in close to 2000 articles but it’s a difficult format to study from, so we offer the 5 e-books aimed at helping you get up to speed in a minimum of time.
  • Job Opportunities: If you want to start out by working for someone else, we have links to real estate photography job opportunities on the right sidebar under the title “PFRE Job Opportunities”


News Of Interest To Real Estate Photographers Flying or Thinking About Flying Drones

December 16th, 2014

ChetALPA (Airline Pilots Association) is lobbying congress for transponders on UAS and certified pilots: Captain Chet, a PFRE photographer and qualified ATP (Airline Transport Rating) pilot sent me this link to a recent ALPA press release. Chet commented that:

While I applaud the union for taking a stance, this is a bit absurd. Capt Moak is suggesting that all UAS have a transponder on board. Well that’s crazy as these radios weigh more than the entire Phantom quad. In addition, he wants pilots trained to the same standards as manned aircraft. While I’m fully qualified and hold an Airline Transport Rating (ATP), his suggestion will basically put the small quad out of business for commercial use. ALPA has a lot of money and power, we are the single largest airline pilots union. This is not good news based upon his testimony to congress. Let’s hope Congress doesn’t get pressured and implement such restrictions.

That’s Capt Chet in the photo getting ready to take his UAS real estate photography/videography business to the next level when he retires from ExpressJet Airlines next March. Hey, I don’t see a transponder on that rig!

The NAR posts another article reiterating it’s members should not use UAS or hire UAS until FAA issues final guidelines: I find it disappointing that the NAR is not out there lobbying for it’s members interests like the ALPA is. As far as NAR is concerned agents should just sit back wait a couple more years for FAA final rules. I think the NAR should be should be in there with the APLA demanding that there be immediate interim rules for commercial sUAS operation. Be serious, very few are going to wait another two years. They are already using them now!

New York City’s Drone Ban Would Be the Strictest in the country: Jason Koebler over at has an article today on the effort by council member Paul Vallone to make Drones illegal except for “agencies of the city”. Given the number of serious incidents in NYC it’s not surprising that they are trying to crackdown on drones. One problem with this kind of effort by cities and states is that it is not clear that anyone can legally regulate airspace besides the FAA.

New software for stabilization and correction of video shot with GoPros on multicopters: Greg Nuspel pointed out a review of some software that can significantly improve the quality of video shot with GoPros on UAS. This is the software.

Alaska’s Know Before You Fly Drone Safety Guidelines:  Greg Utton pointed out that Alaska has come up with their own rules for sUAS. They are basically just the rules developed by the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) for hobbyists and the FAA guidance in Advisory Circular 91-57.

Don’t expect all this craziness on drone regulations to get better any time soon. It will probably get more chaotic before it gets better.

Is The White Balance Variation Between Different Flash Brands Significant?

December 15th, 2014

speedlightsVic asks the question:

My question is regarding flashes.  I have four flashes, but three different models.  I have a Canon 430EX II, and old Canon 540EZ and two new YN-560 III’s.  I have triggers for everything and they all work well with my camera.  But, I wonder if you have any experience with white balance issues when using different flashes in the same shot?

The answer, I think, depends on how nit picky you want to get. Sure the WB between different flash brands is probably slightly different with different. Technically, WB will also vary with the flash power level too, but I never noticed that. I doubt that any WB differences between flash brands will be a big problem for real estate photography. You could always do a flash test against a white wall to see if you can see any noticeable WB variation between your flashes.
I have a 580-EX and a bunch of YN-560-III, but I’ve never used the 580-EX with YN-560s mainly because they take different triggers. So I’ve never experienced any differences between flashes.

Has anyone experienced WB variations in different brands of small flashes?

Update 12/16/2014: Thanks to Jeff for doing a test to demonstrate! Click on the image for this post above to see Jeff’s test described below in the comments.

Update 12/17/2014:  Scott Hargis made a comment that is important enough to highlight it here: “This is a non-issue unless you’re pointing your flash(es) directly into the room at high power (in which case you have much bigger problems than color). With anything resembling good technique, the flash is picking up more color from the walls, ceiling, umbrella, reflector, and every other object nearby than anything else.

PFRE Blog Links To Real Estate Photography Job Opportunities

December 15th, 2014

JobOppurtunityYou will notice that down on the right sidebar there is now a section titled “PFRE Job Opportunities” with a link under it that says “Aspen, CO.”

I know, I just said a few weeks ago I wasn’t going to post job opportunities but Michael Brands of Aspen, Colorado showed me a simple way that I can do this so it handles all my issues.

So here’s the way I’m willing to post job opportunities:

  • Send me a link to your job listing. Michaels is a great example. He used you could use some other job site. I just need to be able to link to the job listing page.
  • If I’m OK with the job you are trying to fill, I’ll post a link to it and send you an invoice for $50 USD.
  • I’ll keep the link there until you fill the job or give up and tell me to take it down.

The only reason I’m charging anything is so I’m not overrun with requests to do this and it takes my time to maintain it. The job poster is responsible for the job listing and the link from the PFRE blog just provides access for people interested and experienced in real estate photography to your job listing.

As Michael puts it:

I’m in the position where I’m looking to hire someone but am not having luck connecting with the right people – photographers with real estate photography experience and real estate video experience. I have found plenty of photographers and videographers that seem to be willing to learn, but they do not have a proven eye as many of your followers do.

We’ll give this a try and see how it works for me and for those of you that want to use this. I can’t promise that I’ll link to every job listing anyone sends me. As I discussed a few weeks ago I don’t want to participate in publicizing jobs don’t pay people a living wage. I know, that’s not very specific. Show me the job listing and I’ll tell you if I’m willing to post it.

Should You Use Deferred Payment Strategies For Real Estate Photography

December 14th, 2014

DeferredPaymentStephen in Spain asked the following question about deferring payment until closing:

A client with whom I am about to begin working with, has told me that some photographers in my area agree to invoice the jobs only after the property is sold, and whether I would consider doing the same. My immediate reaction was of course to flat out reject linking my fees to a condition like that, but it got me thinking. What about negotiating a share of the sales commission? This would increase the risk the photographer takes, so the eventual reward would naturally need to be in proportion to that. Several factors would need to be considered when establishing the share, such as the realtors inventory turnover, whether they have exclusivity, average sales lead time and surely many other aspects. With respect to this particular client, this aspect of the contract is certainly not a make or break issue, and I am confident I will be working with them extensively regardless, on a normal post-shoot invoicing basis. But I was wondering whether anyone has ever established an agreement with realtors by which they are compensated by sharing the sale commission of the properties they have shot, and if so what experience they could contribute?

On the PFRE blog and the flickr forum over the years, we’ve discussed variations of defer until closing payment schemes number of times. Here are some points that you should consider:
  1. Successful agents have enough income that that can pay for their marketing costs up front. In the long run, photographers are better off working for successful agents that pay up front.
  2. I heard of this kind of payment arrangement used (in Europe) where a percentage is paid up front (like 75%) and the rest when the property closes.
  3. Any photographer doing this kind of closing payment type of arrangement should get the contract in B&W and even have the payment listed on the closing documents so your fee must legally and automatically be paid just like a lien from the water company on the property.
  4. On the average, typical listing agents close less than 50% of the properties they list, so the payment on closing arrangement is extremely risky.
  5. Doing this kind of thing means you have to take time to track the sale of the home. Not something that most photographers want to spend their time on.
This kind of risky arrangement and a lot more work than is necessary. The photographers shoot price is small in the overall scheme of selling a property. It is not unreasonable to expect to get paid up front. Has anyone had a positive experience at charging this way?

Are Your Clients Pressuring You To Shoot Real Estate On Weekends?

December 12th, 2014

WorkingSatSunJeff in New Zealand asks:

I really enjoy your blog, although many of the rules and things you deal with in the US is different to us in New Zealand it is nice to see the feedback and ideas that flow in the comments.

With that in mind, I had this question that might suit the blog:

I have a number of agents that push me to shoot listings on Sat and Sunday, (weather, vendor not ready, deadlines for press etc) Frankly this one favour turns into a regular occurrence and I want to “fight back.” I want to charge a weekend fee for sat and double time on Sunday to put them off forcing me to do it, and if they do go ahead with it then I get more money and am happier to be put out. I wonder if any of your readers have done/had the same experience and what their solutions were. I’m not in the business of working 7 days a week, my down time is important to me.

Jeff, one of the great things about running your own business is you get to decide on things like, do you work on the weekend or not! However, getting the job done when it needs to be done is a big part of good customer service.

My experience from working with my wife in real estate for 10 years is that you won’t get much sympathy from real estate agents for not wanting to work on weekends. Saturdays and Sundays are the busiest days of the week in real estate, with open houses and people wanting to write contracts. If this is a big issue, it is within your control to set the rules.

Are you being pressured to shot real estate on weekends?

Update 12/15/2014: Interesting article in that relates to this issue that I just ran across. You think you work hard now; it used to be a lot worse!

Homes For Sale Get More Attention With The Huizenpromoter in Ermelo Netherlands!

December 11th, 2014

Thanks to Jay Robertson in the Seattle area for pointing this out to me.

How Long Do You Take To Deliver Real Estate Photos?

December 10th, 2014

Todd recently asked the following:

I love that every so often you post polls that help us get a better understanding of the industry. Did you ever do one on the typical length of time between shooting and delivering the final images?

No, I never have. But here is the poll that Todd requested. As an ex-Realtor, my experience is that 24hrs is a worst case; almost too long. I moved to digital in 1999 primarily because the local film processor as too slow. They were taking 24hrs… and what was worse, they were closed from 6PM Sat to 8AM Monday. Once most listing agents sign a listing agreement they and the home sellers usually want it on the market ASAP.

Also, fixed the old PFRE poll page that has most of the Polls we’ve none here on PFRE since 2007. I guess I should put a date label each one so it’s possible to can tell when the poll was first put up.

What’s Happened To Real Estate Photography Income Between 2007 and 2014

December 9th, 2014

2007to2014A week ago I did a post/poll on the income potential of real estate photography. The post was partly about raising your prices, but it also had a net income poll. Due to the format of the poll and the earlier similar poll I did back in 2007 it was a little hard to compare the two polls unless you put them in a spreadsheet and made your own graph. I did that and the result is very interesting.

The result is shown in the bar chart to the right. Click on the figure to see a larger version that easier to read. Even though the polls themselves are not perfect for reasons I’ve discussed in last week’s post, I believe the difference in the polls tells us something about the real estate photography industry.

Here are some interesting things:

  • Notice that in 2007 52% of real estate photographers were making below $20K. That’s dropped to 22% in 2014.
  • In 2014, there has been a big (10%) increase in the number of photographers making over $100K.
  • In 2014, each income range we polled has increased 3% to 7% over 2007
  • There are still 45+% of photographers making under $39K. Presumably these are people just starting and/or people doing it part-time.

This result is what you would expect to see in an industry that is growing like real estate photography. There are significantly more people making a good income in 2014 than there was in 2007.

Can You Prevent Someone From Linking To Your Real Estate Photos?

December 8th, 2014

copyrightCraig asks the following:

One of my agents called me the other day to say that a seller she had been working with had decided to go “FSBO” and was using the photos I had shot for her. I sent him an email that basically said “stop by midnight tonight, or I’ll consider legal action…”

He apologized profusely and promised to take the photos off his site (by the way he is a copywriter and has language on HIS website that forbids un…).

Here’s the problem: The agent called late to say that she had received another email from the seller stating that he had to take the photos down, but wrote “Here is a link to some fabulous photos!” which linked to a Trulia page of those same photos. I think the guy is a tool and I’m intrigued by his apparent lack of ethics …but do I have a leg to stand on?  I know you’re not a lawyer, but do you have any thought on the subject?

In other words, do you think I can forbid him to even link to the photos since I own the rights?  Can I single-out a user to keep them even from linking to a site like Trulia?

Craig, you’re right, I’m not a lawyer but here is my non-legal opinion: Continue Reading »

House To Hold Drone Hearing

December 7th, 2014

According to “The Aviation Subcommittee, chaired by U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), will hold a hearing next week on the status of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) integration into U.S. airspace and the development of the UAS industry,” the panel said in a statement about the hearing.

“While the United States has the technology and practical expertise to be the global leader in the UAS industry, many complex policy issues remain to be addressed,” the committee’s statement continued. “Moreover, there are growing signs that governments and entrepreneurs outside of the United States are making significant strides in this growing industry.  This hearing will focus on the state of the emerging UAS industry in the United States, including the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) ongoing efforts to safely integrate unmanned devices into the airspace, unresolved legal and public policy issues, and U.S. competitiveness.”

Also in an article in “The right way to balance safety and innovation is to create a set of rules for commercial drones that depend on their size, use and so on. That is what happens in some countries: Canada, for instance, exempts small drones from regulatory oversight. The rules should also vary according to location, since surveying the outside of a building in a city is more hazardous than flying over a field. Japan recognises this. And requiring drone pilots to have experience flying manned aircraft is daft. Far better to say, as Britain and Australia do, that drone pilots need to be certified as competent to fly a drone.”

Questions About Virtual Staging

December 7th, 2014

FurnitureRussell in Portland asks some questions about virtual staging:

During the slow winter months I’ve been going through my past shoots collecting “digital furnishings” in an effort to build a library for “virtual staging”. I don’t see anyone in my area offering this service, but there is a handful found on the web. I have a couple questions about the practice of virtual staging:

Am I within the RMLS rules when I add furnishings? My feeling is that if I don’t make any changes to “permanent” items, such as telephone poles, wires or walls, I’m within the limits. Some agents question ANY changes.

Next, it looks to me like these “other” virtual staging companies don’t do the actual photography, but edit existing images. Isn’t this a direct violation of U.S. copyright laws?

Continue Reading »

Who Should Be The PFRE Photographer and Videographer For 2014

December 7th, 2014

WayneCapili2008It’s time to choose a PFRE Photographer and Videographer for 2014 from all the monthly winners from throughout 2014.

So the main message of this post is there will be no entries accepted this month for either the photographer of the month or videographer of the month. Instead, the juries will be voting for the photographer and videographer of the year.

A number of years ago I naively tried to have the PFRE readers choose the photographer of the year. Turns out, that doesn’t work because it immediately turns into a contest to see which photographer has the social network followers that will vote for them. So it will be up to the respective juries to choose.

Our target will be to have both photographer and videographer of the year chosen by December 20.

By the way, the photo to the right is the first winner of the PFRE photographer of the year for 2008, Wayne Capili, in Monterey, CA.