October 19th, 2011
Yesterday I answered several emails from struggling real estate photographers complaining about how tough it was out there and how hard it was to compete and answered some blog post comments that suggested that what I was preaching was totally unrealistic. It takes more than that to get me off message, but I was starting to have doubts. An then came this golden email from Cal Mitchener:
Just wanted to thank you for all the knowledge & experience you disseminate via your invaluable site. I am going to gross upper 5 figures this year from my real estate photography business & I owe it primarily to you. I am making much more than I thought possible & can see the light of 6 figures in the not so distant future. I have loved photography since I was a teenager, but the idea of making a decent living with my favorite pastime seemed like a pipe dream until now. I can’t thank you enough Larry, you are the best!
Thanks Cal you made my day! I’m spending more and more time helping real estate photographers get started and have developed a real passion for it so I live for successes like Cal’s.
Here’s the story on Cal’s business:
- Cal was a general contractor until the US economy crashed in 2008.
- Cal purchased my eBooks and started real estate photography in 2009 and spent most of that year learning the technique and business of real estate photography.
- I talked to Cal many times via email from 2009 to 2011 giving him suggestions and feedback. In February Cal entered one of his photos in the PFRE Photographer of the Month contest and I was blown away. His work looked way better than it had before. I thought it was the best entry… but I don’t get to vote.
- Cal has invested heavily in top flight professional gear: Nikon D700 with Nikon 14-24mm lens, Pocket Wizard II triggers, WonderPole for PAP. He has also modified and tailored his equipment for speed and effectiveness.
- Cal uses Lightroom 3, Photoshop CS5 and Nik Color EFEX Pro.
- The technique he uses is Exposure Fusion with multiple flashes.
I asked Cal what he thought was the key to his success. Here is his answer:
My goal was to be the best in class, in my market. I built relationships with all the top producing realtors and they now view me as an integral part of their marketing strategy. I bend over backwards to make them shine and the clients are usually blown away by the imagery. This in turn makes agents look great. I tell owners whenever possible how lucky they are to have an agent that understands the power of great photography. I had relationships with many realtors when I started that were willing to take free shoots to show what I could do. I now deal with over 100 agents. Built strong business with builders (I charge them more and decorators. I am soon planning to go after commercial brokers. All these need great imagery, even if they don’t know it yet. My key to success: Total dedication to producing top notch work, better than competition; persistence, stressing team relationships with agents. I want to help them sell houses, the more they sell the more I shoot! I coach them on staging and help them do it. Once relationship there, they are mine.
I asked him what his biggest challenge was and here is his answer:
My biggest problem was competing with long entrenched Tour Factory photographers that had an inferior product. I had to educate agents on the power of higher quality, at higher cost. They now use me as a tool to get listings. I have taken most of the Tour Factory’s cream clients and hope to get more.
I want to make a few comments about Cals success:
- Notice the Cal built his business during the worst real estate crash in modern history. I don’t think the state of the market has that much impact on the market for real estate photography despite most peoples opinion to the contrary. In a bad market listing agents are needing every marketing advantage they can get.
- I keep wondering how location dependent building a real estate photography business is. I don’t know for sure. I know doing what Cal did may not be possible in small rural areas. I think what Cal did can be done almost anywhere, but it’s undoubtedly easier in large metro areas.
- I think a big factor in Cal’s success is his passion and dedication. This is not a get rich quick business. It’s hard work. And there are plenty of negative factors that can drag you down if you don’t have persistance and focus.
- I hope that sharing the details of Cal’s story will help others see the way forward to making a success as a real estate photographer.