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Real Estate Photographer Russell Freeman Talks About What Worked For Him In LA

September 25th, 2011

This weekend I talked to Russell “Rusty” Freeman who has been a long time PFRE reader. Rusty has been building and operating a real estate photography business in the LA for a number of years. Long time readers will remember many of the posts we’ve done about Rusty (just type “rusty” in the search box in upper left side bar).

Currently Rusty has two related businesses that he operates with a staff of 6 people. LA Digital Photography– real estate photography services and MI6films.com– aerial video shots from R/C Helicopters.

Rusty’s success is amazing! Remember as you read this, Rusty’s business success has been during the “great recession” of 2008 through 2011. Rusty says, “We now only shoot for a few clients in Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Malibu and Newport Beach. They are usual Realtors of higher end real estate market, Realtor’s who are the who’s who in this elite crowd. Take a look at the magazines, we’ve got the photos there, plus where most every home requires an aerial of some type, plus magazine quality images taken inside”. Rusty’s client list for his aerial video company, MI6films.com, are companies like the following: History Channel, National Geographic, Jeep, Chrysler, Subaru, Snoop Dogg music video for MTV, NHRA, Fox Extreme Sports and Hawaii Surfing Contest. His crew is shooting Military Tank video next week for General Dynamics.

Rusty wants to thank everyone in the PFRE community that helped him get started in real estate photography:

It was your “Books” that got us started in the first place, without that blueprint we would not of been even a little bit successful. Scott Hargis‘s lighting workshops did his part too, he pointed us in the right direction for taking “Flash” interiors… even an old dog like me, 30+ years in photography, way back when everything was shot on film, ask someone today about using film, they ask, “say what?” Digital was still new back 3+ years ago. There was a learning curve to shoot manual, plus Flash units on manual as Scott teaches but it’s worth it. Thank you Scott for the workshops! Let me not leave out all the PFRE flickr forum folks for all their help. Your blog too added information weekly to our success.

Rusty listed all the real estate photography marketing things that worked for him:

OK here is a short version of what worked in the marketing side. Again Your Book !!

  1. E-mail list of  “only” top  listing agents: We get the e-mails from the RE magazines, other ad’s,  just look around these agents advertise everywhere. When we are ever asked where we got their e-mail, spam issue, we point out we are members of the “local board of Realtors” , that satisfies the question, maybe one in one thousand ask. We do not send the e-mail often, maybe 1.5 times a month, every two to three weeks as not to be a spammer concept. The board has helped too with many agents e-mails, wonders works when you only ask.
  2. I had my sister typing e-mail address for more than three weeks, into a data base. Top agents only. Our list is about 10,000 agent for SoCal.
  3. We joined the local board of Realtors as an affiliate with an ad at the board, our color postcard flyers are display in the foyer with the boards approval, the boards web site we are listed as the goto company for photography, aerial photography services. We belong to two boards now.
  4. Everyone likes a deal: We package things up: Photos, web site, V-Tour, plus aerial if property needs it at one flat price. The higher end homes most all do take our aerial option.
  5. We give away printing services at our wholesale prices we get. I became a printer, new DBA, tax id, etc, so on paper we look like any other jobber printer. This gave us extreme low prices from major 24/7 printers in the US, China and Korea who only deal with other printers. Drop ship from the printer with FedEx direct to Realtor. Anyone can do this in their market too, it is just one more tool in our bag to get that repeat client. We make money on photography, not printing.
  6. Food to agents: When their mouth is full they like us. We found a speciality bakery, upper end custom place, if you saw the box you would know who they are in Beverly Hills and Hollywood. They have a standing order every Tuesday for 3 to 5 dozen “cupcakes”, packaged up in their box. Special decorated for us, trust me everyone knows when they are arriving, who they are from, where they came from too. Melissa takes these out on Tuesday mornings to her selected clients. Every week a new set, a thank you too for new clients, at the offices, of course we take business cards to the “inside” of the box, this has got a lot of mileage in new clients as other agents see and eat from the box at their office conference room or break room.
  7. Nothing beats cold calls: When we get one agent in a new office, we ask for who is the other top agents we should call on? ASK, this was hard at first for Melissa, now easy as pie. We have done many show n tell at the office meetings too, all you have to do is ask.
  8. We RAISED our prices: Yea sounds funny, but everyone has a perceived value. Less than $500. for a shoot, can not be good. A $800 shoot then is much better… yikes what brain power Realtors have. Upper range home our raised prices have got us more business, funny as it may sound.
  9. Staging: This is one of the best items we have every done. We bring fresh flowers or fresh roses bouquet , live orchids pants, fresh fruit bowl, kitchen items, table settings, books, designer magazines, patio table is set, pool side champagne bottle & glasses (filled with 7Up works), wine bottle too when necessary, many many other little items you will see to reflect a “life style” of the rich an famous, not just blank counters… some homes we do shot blank at the request of the agent, but most we stage. We have about a $40. budget on every shoot for the fresh items, not much, overall for the price range we are in.
  10. Post processing: We photoshop or Liightroom every image, a bit. Add fire to fireplaces, ad TV images, scrub walls & stainless appliances of our flash marks, shoot some in composite with multi layers blended together, thanks to Andy Frame for his magic help years ago pointing us in the right direction as he has some killer shots he has done. I do use an out source service for some of the tasks in Photoshop, as not to work 24hrs a day. We do window cut in’s to make the view come out on some where their is a view, sky swap on overcast days is common. HDR is a tool, but we take no HDR’s inside,none, we only use flash, maybe like 7 to 10 units in the bag, as Scott Hargis said once, “you can never have enough of them little flash units”. HDR we do use on exteriors only. We wet down concrete or have the gardener there to help, on some larger estates, ask in advance you will be surprised at what you may get, including the homeowners personal decorator who shows up to help stage. We take out [photoshop] family photos, trophy cases, the Oscar’s or Platinum Records on the walls are never shown.
  11. Melissa has taken over the front of the pack marketing for me, she is the go to person, her cell phone is on the web site, Realtors whom most are gal’s like talking to her, not me anyway, so it works fine for our marketing plan. I put up a new web site for her last spring, Larry it need’s update too, as we have many new homes with extreme better images, but it works for now.
  12. Head shots and Stock images: This is another marketing tool. We shoot headshots for agents, advertise at the local board of Realtor, for like $99. bucks, cheap, YES, but you get to meet them and get paid. They know someone who is the top agent in the office, your face is in their office too, use the marketing skills, the broker of the office, just by asking we have re-taken the office group photos too. Every agent has a biz card, web site images. We have sold thousands of dollars to my real surprise of “Stock Photos” use on the agents web site, corporate web sites. Not started out that way, but we have a catalog of 1,000’s of stock images, beach, piers, ocean views, city scape, downtowns, just junk to me, but the agent purchase a set for a few hundred, again I was shocked when first asked last year about a few image, it has now blossomed out. I have a new on line realtor purchase instant download, stock image web site, working on it now.
  13. I am working on a new updated LA Digital Photography web site too. This is old from spring 2011, images are not updated. I will add a blog for Melissa too where she can add weekly her images captured, talk to the agents, the blog connected to the new web, too much to do, no more hours in the week !!!
Rusty says they have done some real estate videos but has dropped it for a while since it wasn’t paying for the amount of time and equipment costs:

I do plan on a re-introduce video into the market of Video for Agents, with the “sellers” paying a part of the cost, even at COE, we have though about this choice too. Shot shorter less production on location, simple agent-home-agent video,easy. I did find a post house in India to process if we keep the same basic story board every time.

But in AU where Brett is from, they pick-up a marketing check from the sellers, way different than here were $100. on a still shoot, would break the deal, no one is paying several thousands for a “real video”. What are others doing that shoot video here in the states, quality vs money collected vs time to produce.

Here is the story on Rusty’s aerial photography company MI6films.com:

Here is the other side of this: We broke this company out in spring 2011, to a separate web site to get away from the Real Estates Photography web site, hence now two sites.

What can be said, word of mouth one producer to another and good SEO work from our team, production company’s do talk with each other, “what’s new”, one MTV Music video, to another, to Discovery Chanel, to a TV Reality show, can say as yet the video is copyrighted we can not release the show name yet, but it is for a Realtor type reality TV show coming soon.

Starting with the “mast system” on top of my car, we could not get high enough, led me to selling this mast, with your blogs help, to purchase a RC Helicopter that cost us about $15,000 dollars was the first one. We shot a still aerial image for a home in Beverly Hills who was a film producer, he liked the set-up, RC, remote camera, impressed asked about video, dumb as we were we said. ” yea the 7D takes video…”  which lead us to another home in Malibu, you got it another Hollywood producer too, got us a auto commercial job, which like dominos keep hitting the next, next. Take a look at who we have shot for in only one year is like the who’s who of Hollywood and we are booked in advance till November !! I need a second video team.

The RC Helicopters we have now are custom made, our own 3 axes camera mounts, all radio controlled, the camera mount is separate control, two person crew one pilot one camera guy, plus live video downlink system to the DP, directory of photography can see and direct the actual action video capture. Our new RC Helicopters are in the $30,000 range, we have three of them. The boys are out filming on some movie set now 3 to 5 days a week, every week, booked out a month in advance, flying internationally too.

The one photo showing the RC Helicopter on our web site is the original$ 15K older model, I do not have images of the new one’s up yet. soon and flying the RED Epic X camera too. I will update our web site with the new helicopter images.

Much of the work we have done on feature films, TV shows are copyrighted so we can not use on our web site as a demo reel, hence very limited video is on our web site for samples to see, but there are a few.

Now what does “m i 6” stand for, it is really, Marketing intelligently to the sixth sense [degree]. I came up with that one, but others think it is the UK James Bond mi6 or mi5, but let them think that.

Staff: We are now six in the team, working full time, in this business from one, “me” , to now supporting 6 other families. Plus a host of folks in India [joke].

In summing up, I’d like to add my perspective on why Rusty has been so successful. I believe Rusty’s passion for what he’s doing is key. Rusty is “on fire” about this stuff and is always going way beyond what others are doing in the field. He’s the only one I’ve run across that has vigorously implemented every idea in my Business of Real Estate ebook with excellence and also comes up with more ideas of his own. It also doesn’t hurt that Rusty is doing this in a market with plenty of rich and famous people and Hollywood producers. I doubt that these businesses will work quite  this well in  say, Wichita, Kansas.

 

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7 Responses to “Real Estate Photographer Russell Freeman Talks About What Worked For Him In LA”

  • Up until now, I’d never heard of real estate photography, as a profession in of itself. Though I am perfectly aware of the photos taken of a home for home listing purposes. I guess it’d be an area of photography, unlike wedding photography where it’s possible for an individual to specialise solely in that.

  • Wow. So impressed. I’m actually exhausted from just reading about all that you’re doing! Congrats! Better start hiring though, as you’ve probably barely touched the surface of what’s in store down the road…..!

  • You sound busy! Congrats on the success! If you put your mind to it, you can make a living at real estate photography. Once you get the Realtors believing that your shots really do help sell homes, they’ll keep coming back.

  • Congrats! Where did you do your website? I like how the webpage fills up the screen on my iPad and my desktop.

    Thanks

    John

  • Now I want an aerial rig…

  • Congrats for your great business!
    But i dont like your pictures at all…
    Ceiling dominates the composition,strong flash effect at many surfaces,no lens and perspective correction,”unreal” window and exteriors exposure balance at interior shoots,etc.
    I think that you would have to improve your photographic skills a little
    Sorry my english is crap

  • I love the scott argis techniques but i think that loads of photographers are just a copy of his style…

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