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Is Post Processing For Real Estate Photography is A Business Opportunity?

July 13th, 2010

In the last few months I’ve talked to a number of real estate photographers who have reached a point in their business that they have become limited in the number homes they can shoot by post processing. This occurs primarily for photographers that shoot HDR and Exposure Fusion.

The reality is that once you get the marketing and customer service figured out a good real estate photographer in a large metro area can land more shoots than they can they can process. Very frequently I encounter real estate photography spouse teams where one spouse does the shooting and one does the processing. This is a natural solution to the problem of being post processing limited. But what do you do if you don’t have a spouse you can team with?

In the last six months I’ve been contacted by at least five different companies in India that are soliciting real estate photography work that they will turn around in 12 to 18 hours for $1 to $3 USD per image ( $3 for HDR and EF). I was ready to write a post today about how how real estate photographers could take advantage of these off-shore services to go beyond their post processing limit. But after thinking about it, I realized that these days with high unemployment all over why not just make use of those folks in your local area that are quite capable of being taught to do your processing exactly the way you want it. Or, looking at it another way if you are someone that likes working with Photoshop and Photomatix set yourself up a business as a real estate photography post processing business. You might be one of those folks I run into a lot that like the photo-editing part of real estate photography but can’t really get into the marketing that it takes to build up a good following of real estate agents to shoot for.

Here is what I think a real estate post processing service would look like:

  1. You’d have to be good  and fast at Photoshop, Lightroom and Photomatix and EnfuseGUI.
  2. You’d have to know real estate photography to the point where you know how to do all the standard real estate post processing. Converging verticals, barrel distortion, HDR, Exposure Fusion, window masking, sky replacement etc.
  3. You’d have to have a way of easily collecting and distributing images. Like a FTP server, Pogo Plug, DropBox or some similar service where you could easily exchange image files with clients.
  4. You’d have to be willing to do exactly what your photographer client wanted. HDR, Exposure Fusion and possibly window masking and sky replacement in exactly the way the client wanted it.
  5. You’d have to be able to turn around a job fast… probably within 12 hours guaranteed. Reliability and consistency would be a major issue to your clients.
  6. You’d have to be price competitive with India or provide a level of service post processors in India couldn’t provide.

What does everyone think? Are there photographers out there that would use a service like this? Are there people out there that would want to provide a service like this?

UPDATE: July 14. OK, this is obviously a popular idea! There are many folks that are interested in providing real estate photography post processing. What I’m going to do to help real estate post processors get started is that I’m going to create a list of links on the PFRE blog right hand side-bar (just above the PFRE Idol list of links) to the first 25 real estate post processors that send me their name or company name and a URL that describes their real estate photography post processing business. I’d like to see contact information, example of your work and statement of what services you provide. There are several people working on such real estate photography business pages. I’ll list the links in first come first serve order. To take advantage of this offer leave a comment with your info on this post or contact me at: larry @ lohrman dot com

Thanks for everyone’s discussion and ideas on this subject!

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39 Responses to “Is Post Processing For Real Estate Photography is A Business Opportunity?”

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  • This is a great idea. Not sure if we could figure out how to do it as cheaply as they can abroad, but I think it is important to keep our work here. If one could photograph more properties and have processing help maybe the volume would make up for how much you would have to pay to do the post processing.

    I would definitely chose to go out and take the pictures because as a sculptor/photographer I think I have a pretty good understanding of space and that is part of what I really provide to my clients.

    Carol

  • I worked as a freelance real estate photo retoucher for about 5 years. The downside to that business is you are competing with India. Low costs and a fast turn around. Honestly I have such a problem with outsourcing in any industry, so if you are going to go this route I beg of you not to give that business to India. I found my entire schedule being flipped around, working nights and sleeping during the day. I think the best way to go about finding someone to handle your post processing is to find a graphic designer right out of school and train them. Having a graphic design background will usually mean they already know Photoshop as well have good design aesthetics. This benefits you because not only is someone handling your images, but when it comes to websites and print material you’ll already have a person you can use. Another thing to look for is someone you can trust and is reliable. You have to be able to go to sleep at night knowing that tomorrow when you get these images back, you’re not going to have to re-retouch them because the person did a sloppy job or even worse didn’t do them.

    The two hardest things for me were, as I saw it someone else getting credit for my work and not getting paid enough for it. When I started I was freelancing for a company that was barely holding on. An abundance of work coming in and a lack of knowledge of how to do things more efficiently. Once I started working with them, the “style” of the images changed and the amount of work they could handle tripled. The style of the images became a signature of theirs and gained a boat load of new clients. They started generating six figures while I was left making less than 30k a year.

    It also becomes really hard to take a vacation when you hire someone to handle your post processing. If the photographer takes a vacation you’re left without work that entire time and if you’re retoucher takes a vacation you’re kind of screwed.

    Sorry for the ramble, I’ve just been on both sides of this.

  • Use Krissy: http://www.tayloredimage.biz

    Sure, she’s probably a bit much for ‘real estate shots’ (as opposed to architectural portfolio images), but for a key image or 2, she can far surpass 99% of photographer’s computer skills and in less time. I’ll blend shots quickly using exposure fusion for the client’s rough selection, but then I’m more than happy to forward the raw files for her to work her own blending magic on.
    By the way, I’m aware that she often provides retouching in the form of removing poles, power wires, etc, and many RE photogs have a big problem with this, but you just can let her know not to do that part if you see it as ‘unethical’.

    And a sincere pleasure to work with.

  • Editing is good for the consistency/value/expense/time saving etc of the images. But as Geoff mention, be sure that the editors don’t do things that create misinformation on the listing, such as changing colors, removing lamp fixtures etc, it must of course represent the listing no matter how it looks.
    In the area we cover, the agents must have their images on the MLS within 72 hours of signing the contract, if not the get fined $100 right away, so we need to be quick, therefore outsourcing is good for us. So in my opinion, find a or build a team that only concentrate on RE, then it works. We did try to find locals, but didn’t succeed with it.

    Kris

  • We use india… and are very happy with the results. We are paying $.30 per image and $.5 to stitch pans… The large jobs we selectively send but other than the rare occasion we have been very happy. And the off hours are fantastic…. we load the photos at the end of the day and they are finished by morning… and we now get some sleep!
    Ryan

  • I too am looking at outsourcing and I would like to keep my money inside the country, with all of the unemployment why send another job overseas.

    I think this is a tremendous business opportunity for someone here.

    Dan: Thanks for your informative post, however, if the people you were working for were making a fortune off from your skills and talent – why can’t you do the same now?

    Ryan: Which service are you using? I may be forced to go that route if I can’t find someone here to do it.

    Video: I am also looking for someone to edit and output Canon 5D2 video files as 720p HD MP4 or MOV. files.

    A very interesting thread, I’ll be looking for some answers here…………………Ron

  • You described my dilemma to a T. I have been so busy lately with shoots, clients are having to wait longer and longer for their finished photos and tours…I’m always working and my sanity and marriage are suffering, I don’t want to use any of the services outside of the USA. But having a hard time locating people willing to process images and virtual tours.

    As a small business real estate photographer, I’ve tried to stream line to keep things simple using Adobe PS Elements and Lightroom and PSE for the slideshow tours (I like the control it provides to pan through and around the images). I normally create several panned images from multiple shots for each tour, especially for exterior lake views and also for small rooms. I need 24 hr turnaround on images and 72 hr for tours. If you know of anyone who can help I’d greatly appreciate you forwarding their contact info.

  • @Lake Martin
    I work with several agents in my area and provide a full site tour using the images they have taken themselves. The tour includes a slideshow (ken burn effect panning), a full photo gallery, a virtual tour (using panos that i stitch), google map, walkscore (whats nearby) and a contact form. All the multimedia has full screen option and the agents headshot and info is also on the tour.

    All work is done in 24 hours from receiving the photos from the agent.

    If you are at all interested just email me at chrisgjack@gmail.com and i can send you a sample and discuss further, I am out most of the day today (writing this on my blackberry, what a pain!)

  • I also share the sentiments regarding keeping our Americans and American service industry working. I’ll take this action. I have some great talent on staff that are not busy enough. Since I don’t use freelancers, I have to staff for the peak demand. All are very well versed on the fine balance between overtouching and enhancing. We use every technique in the book and some that aren’t in the book. We also process video and create hybrid tours. Now I don’t want to step on PFRE’s toes since they offer a nice tour mechanism, but I can expand these services to include creating tours, workflow databases, FTP services, streaming video services, etc… I am also willing to build the workforce if this is a viable business model. Ok, with all that being said…Let’s talk about what a fair rate for processing is. Then perhaps we should create another thread to talk about other ancillary services that might be of help to real estate photographers……..Barry

  • @Ron I have since stopped working and have ventured out on my own. My biggest problem right now is building up a client list. Most people go with what they know and despite having better images and having similar rates, it’s hard to get people to go away from what they know.

  • Wow, wow, wow!! About three weeks ago, while on a trip to Seattle, I started to think about how I could spend more time doing post processing instead of photoshoots (strange I know), then I started seeing posts on the Flickr groups about photographers looking for this service, and now this post!

    I’ve contacted a few individuals on the Flickr group about doing their work (after they posted a request for retouchers) and they’ve looked over my work and liked what they saw. I’ve now worked on a few of their images and hope to do more. This seems like such a great opportunity for me that I’m adding a section to my website about retouching services (not viewable yet).

    I’ve been contributing to the Flickr groups for a couple years now, so I’ve developed a good understanding of what most RE photographer’s needs and wants are, so I think I meet all of Larry’s list of criteria – except maybe the last one. 🙁 I’m too much of a perfectionist to make retouching at $1-$3 per image worthwhile. If the original image was very well done in the first place, then perhaps I could offer $3 as option, but for most images, it takes more than just white balance, straighten verticals, sharpen, and export. I would still like to make it affordable, so I hope to offer the service where it works for me and the client.

    If you’re interested in more information, please click on my name in this post to view my website or contact me through the form on the website. You may also view my Flickr photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/shawnclabough/

  • Here’s a fella who is well known for helping out the wedding crowd across North America with their post processing needs, his name is Brian Tao and he has a company called “Raw Pudding” and the website is http://www.rawpudding.com/

    BTW he’s based in the Toronto area (at least it’s North America!)

    Cheers,
    Eros

  • I would be interested in doing some post processing for folks if they like. You can see my work at http://www.bradelimages.com. I had done a fair amount of real estate photography when I was in western Washington, but I am in Alabama right now, (had to go through some cancer treatments, but doing alright now) and looking to make some more money to get back to the northwest. If interested you can contact me at tim@bradelimages.com or call 205-662-8626.

  • Ryan, I would love to have the contact details on the company you are using in India at $.30/image. I am in Aust and would like to contact them and see their work.

  • I’m looking forward to finding out about outsourcing my post processing to India or the States (if it’s cost effective). I don’t see how someone can survive off $.30/image but I’m not in charge of their business plan.

  • I can pass on the info for the company that I’m using… but obviously I don’t want to get them too busy!!!
    email me ryanvgta@me.com

  • A point was made on the Flickr forum that I think bears repeating here: it makes a huge difference whether the photographer is shooting single-exposure, or HDR/Blends. If the post-processing service is to include the blending, that’s an entirely different job!

    Regardless of who’s computer is batching the images, the HDR/Blend post-processing is still drastically more involved. I would not do that work for anything less than half the total fee being collected for the shoot. Post processing is arguably more important than the camera work, for that technique, and certainly it’s more time-consuming.

  • Well said Scott,
    Just started a company providing retouching for the masses.There is so much opportunity here .Good post processing is very hard to come across, I intend to bridge that gap.
    I want to offer top notch retouching and HDR for all photographers, I will also be offering online photography training.
    A good shooter will be able to shoot 6 properties a day, and have a result the next day. A team of two people can make a good living , and can undercut most larger groups, servicing larger agencies
    Real estate groups need to look at the costs in thee tough times and larger groups have larger over heads, it gives smaller groups and teams consistency and the reliability on delivery.

  • Good post, what is needed is some courses, books and training.I am in Sydney Australia, and there is little I can find.The best post production is being controlled by the larger companies.I have the experience hav been shooting real estate for years, my shots have better angles and style than most but I am not so hot in Lightroom or Photoshop.If there are good post production operators out there it would be brilliant for me, Paul can you let me know you details.

  • This is great! I am in the process of setting up in real estate photography and web development. I’ve taken practice shots with a realtor friend, and turned them around for her for the next morning without even thinking I could do just the processing part for clients. I’ve been working in photoshop for years, and this is a perfect addition to the services I can provide! I’m not online yet, but it will be scottkcooper.com when I do.

  • There are plenty of books available for photoshop and lightroom.

  • @Brian, There are Books on Photoshop Lightroom Aperture, there are courses, believe me I have done a few, but they need to be specific to Real Estate.
    Two companies in Sydney, Mind The Gap and Imageination, they must have learned the post production somewhere, books, courses?

  • Just finished my shift, big day.
    There is a crowd in Sri Lanka that do a good jib, good pricing too.International Floorplans I use them and I am happy with the work, price and turn around.
    They have a large team of postproduction people.

  • Ryan can you let us have a look at the quality of the work done.There is no need to tell us where or the address just the standard.
    I have been approached many times by India tried them with test jobs twice, but the work was not to my standard, I have fussy customers, but if the quality is good then thats another thing.

    Thanks Phillip

  • @Phillip the quality of India is pretty average, maybe OK for Aust but would not meet the standard in the US.
    Sri Lanka is much better.

  • I’m too picky about how my pictures are processed to have someone else do it for me.

  • I definitely think its a viable business, But for $1 an image… How could something like that work in the states? I mean just to make min. wages you would have to be turning out a finished product every 8 minutes or so… And $0.30 an image, no way that would work! Am I missing something here?

  • I think what Larry is saying is there needs to be a difference in quality or India will get the work.
    There is no way i would use Sri Lanka for my top customers ,I offer a variety of products , this would be used for the very low end and the quality, one shot. Anyone who has seen the product from India will understand, inconsistent, its very hit and miss, but price is attractive.
    Some people try to make a killing using them for everything, its just not worth if a customer wants a set of ping clubs, he wouldnt be buying them from India, if you get my drift.

  • Larry, good post. We have been using an India company for all most a year now, with great success. This process took a while for them to get all of our custom photoshop methods done, they now can complete the exact processing we would of done here. Our PS Wizard here wrote a detail package of our exact process, the India company has a few very VERY experienced Photoshop people on their staff. This does take a while with any India company. After a month or two, going back, back again with examples, to let them know what else to do, or better methods we now have our way of doing the process our way, but now done in India.

    Turned in by FTP to them every evening USA Time, they return images next morning by 7am, USA time. India is about 11 or 12 hours difference.

    We pay $1.75 per image, no matter what is necessary, compile of 4 to 5 images, add fireplace fire, insert TV, remove flash marks, remove photographer from mirrors, etc, plus all our normal processing, sharp, color balance, PT Lens,,, etc.

    I am looking for another company to complete our Twilight shots, of one blue sky base image, with 10 to 15 flash images we have light the home up. Not able to train any India company to do this in our style yet, no matter what the price, these we photoshop in house still. Anyone out there in USA who may wish to do this processing contact me.

    We too are looking for an out company to do our 7D & 5D MOV files, into YouTubers,,, anyone out there, ??

    The India company direct e-mail is prashant@overnightretouching.com ask for Prashant Parikh We get good service from them, use us as a referral.

    @ Colin: We use this company for our high end clients, and everyone else. The training is the item, to document what you are doing plus giving them exact examples, a complete step by step process, as the results in the final images are only a factor of how much time you explain what you “really” want with any India company. They have people [staff] there that are truly Photoshop experts, you just need to find the right company. The quality we get is the same as if my staff in the next office was doing it, photoshop is photoshop.

    Take care

    Rusty @ mi6films.com

  • @Russell exactly.

  • @Russell
    I would have to disagree Russell, Photoshop is Photoshop, cars are cars, paint brushes are paint brushes, cameras are camera.You need better staff.

  • I tried the India route – several have contacted me and they provided samples on my images. They came back looking exactly as I sent them out. I find that if you take a good picture to begin with, post time is minimal. We have about 7 steps to post a picture and assuming we got a good white balance and color card, we can post in about 30 minutes per house in the most extreme cases.

    We market our photography, not our price. Yes we get fewer jobs, but they are much higher in price and we can take the time to get great photographs. I’ve just hired a new lower end market photographer, but not in terms of quality of photography, just that he’s a little faster, doesn’t use lighting (uses bracketing) and will do initial posting for me. We looked for 6 months before we decided to hire this work out, but we are quite pleased.

  • A timely post this one –

    I am only a small time operator so paying $1 or more per shot is really just giving away my profit. I do about 2-3 houses a day which leaves me enough to to post process – I am fairly versed in photoshop etc however I have hit a post production hurdle. I really want to learn to how to end up with images like these guys from TopSnap – they are great imho

    http://www.mcgrath.com.au/100917/?searchID=2854722

    perfect view out the windows and even in reflections on mirrors – clean and crisp inside without any colour distortion from flash etc – these images look as close to the what the human eye sees as any I have seen before

    Does anyone know how topsnap do it ? It couldn’t just be HDR or masking – no one would spend so much time cutting out windows – and how do they get the lighting so good inside ????

    Will name my first child after you if you can crack it

    Saul

  • A professional photo editing service is already in place at http://www.MegaFixels.com. MegaFixels has been offering photo editing for not only real estate needs, but for all personal and commercial photo editing requirements, since 2006. MegaFixels services are safe and affordable and is located here in the United States. MegaFixels’ corporate office is in sunny West Palm Beach, Florida and provides their clients with excellent and dependable digitally remastered results in 24 hours or less for most projects. The best part of this service is NO FINANCIAL INFORMATION IS REQUIRED until you have viewed the edited pic(s) and decide to purchase. Therefore, there is no obligation to give it a try. Samples are available for viewing on the website. MegaFixels offers photo restoration, picture adjusting, photo airbrushing, bulk photo repair, photo enhancements and more.

  • The trend is moving towards cameras doing a lot of the post processing work. Tech is improving to allow hdr, pano, blending in camera.
    see for example Sony’s new cameras at http://photo.net/equipment/sony/a33-a55v/preview/

  • @Saul, By the look of their photos, this company doesn’t use a flash when taking shots. Try bracketing 3-12 shots at + & – exposures then fusing them together, then use a plugin in photoshop that can adjust individual light and colour groupings. The process takes a lot longer to do than flash photos, and you need to charge for this time hence the million dollar houses. Most people who own average houses don’t want or need to pay for this level of high end photography when choosing a real estate agent.
    My suggestion is to get a job with this photographic company, they will explain things in more detail.

  • Hi Nice post, Here also some nice work about Photo retouching services

  • Saul,

    Top Snap is a Franchise and their photographers don’t post process their own images their head office (in Sydney) does all post production. They use Studio lights not flashguns.

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