Real Estate Photography Question And Answer

April 16th, 2014

QandAManuel’s Question: I read Scott Hargis’s Lighting Interiors book and it’s awesome, but I have one concern. Why does he never mention white balance?

Answer: Shoot in RAW, set your WB on auto and then touch it up as needed in Lightroom or Photoshop. Also, you’ll find that when using flash, the flash will tend to dominate the WB. I shoot with WB on Auto and very rarely have to change the WB in Lightroom.

Greg’s Question: I’m really confused on how this whole Virtual Tour thing works from the Realtor’s perspective. I understand how to make a basic slideshow in Lightroom, but how is that then given to the Agent? Then what do they do with it from there?

Answer: You can use Lightroom slideshow for tours but I don’t recommend it. If you are going to provide tours (which not all real estate photographers do) I recommend you use www.tourbuzz.net tours. They are inexpensive and allow you to do much more than you can with a simple Lightroom slideshow. In some areas you need to provide a tour with your shoot to compete against the big tour companies. A tour is just a link to a webpage that has the photos/video/360s/agent branding etc. Many agents put a link to the tour on their for sale sign, their flyer, their website and even their MLS. Many MLSs don’t allow branded tour (tours with the agents contact info) so tours are branded and unbranded. Agents want a branded tour to use everywhere but their MLS.

Craig’s Question:  My business is booming and I’m getting to the point I can’t handle the number of shoots I have. If I were to add an employee, contract employee or partner what’s the best way of expanding?

Answer: I’m certainly no expert in this area. Since the real estate photography business is seasonal in my guess is the easiest approach may be to find someone that would be a contractor and send them your overflow business as needed during your peak periods and have no commitment to pay a yearly salary.

Taking on a regular employee is more difficult because you have to handle the payroll accounting and make sure you are complying with state and federal legal requirements. As a real estate agent it was easy to hire an assistant because the main broker handled all the accounting and legal issues involved.

What recommendations do readers have that have expanded beyond a single person operation?

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17 Responses to “Real Estate Photography Question And Answer”

  • It sounds like Craig wants to add on help, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! However some people want to stay on their own and don’t want to deal with the headache of having additional help, relying on them, etc. So for those folks, when you get in Craig’s situation, raise your rates. Raise them on your website and only take on new clients at the new rate. Then when you get to that breaking point, take on additional folks at the new rate and either remove your “underperforming” clients, or have them step up to the new rate to stay on board. For your existing client base, come up with a long-term plan to ween them to the new rates and give them ample notice out of respect since they are the ones that got you to this successful position in the first place.

    Another option is to outsource just your editing. That may be less of a headache than trying to hire someone to actual handle the photography side.

  • Q – Craig’s Question: My business is booming and I’m getting to the point I can’t handle the number of shoots I have. If I were to add an employee, contract employee or partner what’s the best way of expanding?

    A – Hire on someone on a per shoot basis, paying them a set amount for each shoot you give them. The amount you pay out is a business expense and can be used against your taxes (at least in Canada it can)

  • The first question to ask yourself is IF you want to expand. If you add an employee, there are a host of issues to deal with such as registering for an employer ID number, getting set up with a payroll company (Doing it yourself is risky and the penalties for one mistake can pay for over a year’s worth of service), workman’s compensation insurance and a host of other regulations. If you work from home, your city might not allow you to have a non-family employee working at your house. Not only do you have to worry about the employee being reliable, you are effectively guaranteeing that you will have paid work for them as agreed. This could be an issue if your business goes through cycles. It can be easier to use a freelance photographer to take assignments, but you still have to understand how the IRS may define that person as an employee and bill you for back payroll taxes and penalties. It had never happened to me, but I do know of a few cases. Sometimes one could believe that the US government actively discourages small business. There are many publications available from the IRS and state governments on payroll taxes. A small business course at your local community college should broadly cover and there are thousands of books to read. Finding a mentor in your local area can be a big help.

    Outsourcing your editing is a good option as Lance suggests. There are some really good ones that don’t have an interest in shooting, they want to stay at home and bang away with Photoshop. You may also want to limit the services you offer so you don’t spend time on low profit margin work. If agents ask about flyers, partner with a local independent print shop with a graphic design department (or person) and outsource to them or negotiate a commission and let the agent deal directly with them. The Banzai technique is to stay a one man shop and work like a madman during the busy season taking one day off a week and coast through the slow season. If you stay consistently busy, raise your rates. There is a reason you are getting all of the work. If it turns out that you are only getting the work because you are cheap, there will always be somebody willing to work even cheaper. If your rates go up 10% and your workload goes down 10%, you are working less for the same amount of money. If you raise your rates 10% and your workload only goes down 5%, you didn’t raise your rates enough. If you hire several photographers and are getting the lions share of work in your area, you probably won’t be going out on many shoots. You will be sat at your desk managing the company.

  • Scott can correct me if I’m wrong but I think that he mentions it either in the book or video. He says he sets WB in camera at 4,800K.

  • Q – I often feel that i over brighten my photographs in post processing. When I compare to people I aspire too, it seems I would brighten some areas in their photographs as well. Is it better to show as close to an approximation of the room or brighter to catch the viewer’s attention?

  • Hi Hans please let me know if Scott says something about WB.
    Tks!!

  • WB is irrelevant for shooting if you’re saving to RAW (which you should be).

  • Scott can certainly weigh in on this, but he did mention at the Atlanta teaching seminar that he uses a custom white balance setting and that he didn’t care for AWB. I think 4700, but don’t quote me on that as there was loads of information that day.

  • Scott does mention in the LFPRE videos that he dials in a custom white balance of 4,800K so that the image on the back of the camera looks somewhat accurate. That said, he goes on to explain how he shoots RAW and corrects for WB in post using the eyedropper tool on a neutral white object or a color checker.

  • If it’s covered in the book it’s likely just casually — Larry and others here have it right: shoot in RAW and fine-tune the white balance in your RAW editor. I like to keep things looking more or less reasonable on the back of the camera just so that a crazy tint doesn’t distract me from assessing the other aspects of the photo, but I always assume I’m going to dial it in exactly later on.

    That said, when shooting mid-day real estate with speedlights, I often find that a WB of around 4800K is very pleasing.

  • There are many platforms available to provide virtual tours, with a wide range of services offered to both the photographer and the agent. In many ways, I think there’s a parallel to an agent working with a brokerage. An agent can operate as an independent, and they can keep a higher percentage of the commission at closing, or they can work with a brokerage and trade a little of their commission for the marketing and back-office support of brokerage. To further extend the analogy, there is a wide range of brokerages offering more or less support and taking more or less in the commission split – just as there are many options for virtual tour companies.

    At TourFactory, our platform is certainly more expensive than many (if not all) of the others, but the services provided are much more extensive as well. For example, TourFactory photographers get to focus on shooting – we take care of the accounting and customer support aspects that most photographers prefer not to mess with. Ever gotten a call for help on uploading photos to the MLS? TourFactory photographers don’t have to worry about those calls – if the agent does call about that, they can be referred to the toll free support number. Ever have an agent that didn’t pay right away and you had to chase down a check? TourFactory photographers don’t have to even think about that.

    For agents, the list of benefits of the TourFactory platform is staggering. So much so that we run three live webinars a week, walking agents through the importance of great photography and how the agent can best use those photos in a variety of tools in our platform to get the most value for their investment. Does it work? Well I can tell you that agents that use TourFactory win 68% more listings, on average, than agents that use some other platform.

    Clearly, I have a vested interest and a preference for digital advertising platforms – for obvious reasons. But we have been bringing aboard a ton of independent photographers in the last couple months that desire the support of a strong back-office team so they can focus on the thing they love – their craft. We’re seeing a real trend in this regard all over the country, and it really just started in 2014.

    The last little thought that I’ll throw out there for consideration… when thinking about the analogy comparing an agents’s choice to work with a brokerage or to be completely independent, and how that relates to being a real estate photographer… think about the most successful agents that you know. Are they independent? Or do they let someone else, with a series of proven systems in place, do the boring stuff so they can specialize and dominate in their marketplace?

  • And thank you for the shameless advertisement from the CEO of Tourfactory! You’ll get your invoice in the mail!

  • Thanks Larry! I have always loved the open discussions on your site, and appreciate the way you always make sure that your readers understand where the biases are, so people can make their own informed decisions.

    I didn’t mention any others, but there are many other virtual providers out there – all at different levels of depth and cost. I think the most important thing is that a photographer find the partner that is the best fit for their style. That will not always be our company – in fact it probably won’t be in most cases. But I do see huge value for photographers in finding a good partner – whatever their preference.

  • Anyone have a great source for outsourcing editing and processing?

  • @Robert – I used to talk about outsourcing post processing, but several years ago readers got upset with me talking about overseas outsourcing so I quit. My sense from past discussions about outsourcing post is that only a handful of RE photographers do it.

    I think Lance’s idea about making sure your price is as high as the market will allow before taking on more employees or contractors is right-on. This is part of what I told Craig in my response to his question. When I looked at the price he was charging it was very low in my opinion.

  • Just wanna say for the record, I hate tourfactory. They’ve done a great job of promoting the bottom feeder level of photographers, and all the cheap agents that stand by them 100%… Until they come across the $49.99 photo tour special that is.

  • @Robert, There are a few retouchers (myself included) that specialize in RE retouching, but those that I know all tend to be pretty booked up. When I was actively looking for customers, I got more work than I could handle (it’s a world-wide market). Now that I’m established and have regular clientele, I still stay booked but don’t have to market as much.

    Outsourced retouching does work for some photographers, but not for others since retouching costs can use up a bit of the budget. Some have done the math and the amount they charge * the number of increased jobs minus the retouching cost comes out greater than doing everything themselves with fewer jobs, then they can be ahead of the game. Some don’t like doing the retouching and just prefer to shoot all day and send out the photos once they get home and be done with it.

    If you check out the forums at retouchpro.com you may be able to find a retoucher that’s looking for work.

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