Real Estate Photography Question and Answers

April 29th, 2014

QandAMichael’s Question: We are starting a brand new RE photography business.  What camera and software would you buy, $2500 is my budget. 

Answer: The first priority is your wide angle zoom lens:

  1. The most popular/best lens is the Canon 10-22mm – $649
  2. A good DSLR to go with it would be 60D or the new 70D – $1199
  3. Lightroom 5 is all you need to get started for software- $108
Don’t forget a tripod and flashes & triggers. To put it all together see: http://photographyforrealestate.net/faq/

Joe’s Question: Regarding Exposure Fusion/flash hybrid:

  1. I take 5 exposures -4,-2, 0, +2 +4 – on which exposure should the flash be used?
  2. What would you say is best for the flash exposures: full strength, slow-sync- or reduced power?
  3. I only have a single on camera speedlight. Any suggestions for using that ?

Answer: There are a number of ways to do E/F-Hybrid there’s probably no RIGHT way.

  1.  The amount of power that you want will depend on the size of the room for small or average size rooms 1/2 or 1/4 on several or all of the brackets. This means you would not be able to shoot brackets with AEB function in quick succession because AEB will fire too fast for the flash to recycle. This technique is pretty forgiving and that flash will help even if you are a little off on the power. When shooting brackets I like to do it in manual mode and watch the histogram on LiveView, walking the the histogram (with shutter speed) from just under clipping (touching the top of the histogram) on one side to just under clipping on the other. Then you know you have the whole range of brightness of the room and have time to be sure the flash has recycled each frame or shut the flash off for some frames. You probably want at least on nice ambient frame for the window(s).
  2. Used reduced power and bounce it off the ceiling or wall behind the camera.
  3. You’re always better off getting the flash off the camera but if you bounce the on-camera flash off the ceiling or on a wall behind the camera you will get good results. The EF process is forgiving and will actually remove reflections if you have a frame in the series of brackets without the reflection. The E/F process uses the best pixels exposed pixels in each position.

Tim’s Question:  Transferring the large files to customers. I have been using Adobe SendNow which has worked well for the last three years, but I have had a problem this morning where it won’t accept my files for uploading. With all the cloud systems that are out there now. What are people finding as effective ways to quickly transfer files to their customers?

Answer: Here are some of the more popular services used by RE photographers:

  1. Tourbuzz.net: is a tour hosting site for real estate photographers that has a delivery feature built into it. If you include a tour with your shoots this is a great solution because you deliver the photos and the URLs for the tour at the same time.
  2. Box.com: This is a great site that allows photo delivery very smoothly. It has a 10 GB free version so you can try it out, but the pay version has better delivery options than the free version.
  3. Dropbox.com: Dropbox is designed more for online backup and online syncing between computers, but it has a publicly accessible folder and a photo sharing feature that can easily be used for photo delivery. You can send clients a download link via email. The 2 Gig, free version is even usable this way. The lowest level of full service is $9.99/mo for 50 Gig of online storage.
  4. Hightail.com: This is a popular delivery with real estate photographers. It used to be called YouSendIt.com. The lowest level of service is free 2 GB.
  5. Pixoasis.com: Pixoasis is a professional looking delivery service available for $11.95/month.
I use dropbox.com and love it… I couldn’t live without it, just for sharing files between my laptop, desktop and tablet and SmartPhone.

What recommendations do readers have on these questions? Feel free to jump in and give your favorite solution.

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18 Responses to “Real Estate Photography Question and Answers”

  • In regards to Tim’s question: I have had a lot of trouble using DropBox to send my real estate agent clients their photos. I send them the download link and without seeing the blue download button, they start saving each of the thumbnails to their computer. As many may know, the thumbnails have a different coloring than the actual photos. I have had several agents complain that the color of their photos are wrong. And then I find out its because they are saving the thumbnails instead of downloading the actual photos. Their lack of simple understanding on how to even use DropBox has caused me to stop using it completely. Delivering the photos is one of my top challenges in this business. Any additional suggestions by others would be greatly appreciated.

  • @Jeff Spangler – I’m somewhat in the minority in that I don’t use a 3rd party delivery service for my photos. I have my own web domain (www.kennethbrown.pro) and after I have created a .zip archive for my customers, I upload it to a folder that is not indexed from my web site and send the customer a link they can click on to download the archive. (www.kennethbrown.pro/foldername/archivename.zip) As I deliver photos in multiple formats, I include a text file to remind them which photo set goes where. The customer doesn’t need to have any special software nor do they have to sign up somewhere to get the images. I’m also happier keeping control of my distribution. If you can use an FTP client, have your web site password and can copy files, you are all set.

    A day or so after I have sent the customer an email that their photos are available for download, I follow up with them to make sure they have downloaded them and were able to extract and post them. It’s a natural point to contact them and I inquire about any additional work they may have or expect in the future. Once I know the photos are in the customer’s hands, I delete them from my FTP space. I keep a copy of the archive so I can resend the photos if the customer loses them.

    I have a backup routine for my photos and I don’t need to sync photos across multiple computers so the added features of many services aren’t of value to me. I also don’t allow my clients to select photos individually online. For residential jobs, I send a set of the photos I feel are my best. My clients are welcome to ask for a different view or for me to re-process an image, but I haven’t had anybody want to make a substitution or see a different view. For commercial and higher end work, I like to make an appointment and meet with the client to show a prepared gallery. Even if the decision on which photos will ultimately be delivered will need to decided by people not at the meeting, I can generally get the selects narrowed down to just a few and eliminate the ones that are not going to work. It’s a bad idea to give a customer too many choices. Many customers will dither for ages and you will be waiting much longer to get paid.

    I’m happy with my system. There are no extra costs and it facilitates closing jobs quickly. The arrangement is not technically difficult for me to use and it is very easy for the customer.

  • I use both Dropbox and Tourbuzz. Tried “Copy”, a competitor to Dropbox but sequences differed enough where was confusing. I use Tourbuzz for tour only – not photo delivery. When mixing stills, panos and video in the tour, I may only use 15 stills – but deliver 25 in Dropbox and haven’t figured out how to segregate the unused. If it is uploaded, it is used in the tour. Plus, they are 1500 pixels for the tour while I deliver 800 pixels for MLS. While it is true that Dropbox gives you 2 GB, as each new person joins they give you more, up to 16 GB. I have never had to pay for ‘premium’ as I train the Realtor how to CUT/paste (not copy paste unless part of a team). One thing to be aware of with Dropbox after the first setup, be sure and send them an email that the new photos were added as they will probably miss the little Dropbox pop-up.

    Dropbox has served me well but thinking about going with Zenfolio. I have the account, just haven’t set up the web site (then “updating” my current website by using that url). It would give me more flexibility with different types of clients. Those that pre-pay (Realtors) direct download, where others (events, etc) pay per photo. That is a lot easier than trying to build a store on my website, plus resolve another problem where my (cheap) web building software seems to have lost the files it uploaded so I can’t even update my existing website, requiring a total rebuild.

  • I’ve been using http://www.wetransfer.com for 2GB Free download delivery link and TourBuzz for Tours but not for delivery. Optimal MLS size is different from optimal TourBuzz size. “WeTransfer” sends me a confirmation email when the download is complete which is a nice feature. If there’s a delay I know to followup with a client who might have downloading issues.

  • I missed the optimal settings for tour buzz delivery in the beginning and called them. I got an answer that it was user error. The trick is you have to put what MLS system you are using from the drop down menu and then if you don’t have the MLS number just put any random number where it asks for the MLS number and at that point…the “MLS” size photos from them are perfectly sized for your MLS system.

  • Two more options to send photos to your customers are pixieset.com, sign up required, 3GB free, and zoomfoot.com, no sign up, app for your computer, 4GB free transfer limit. Both solutions notify you when customers have downloaded the photos.

    I have just discovered Pixieset and is very popular with wedding photographers. It is a very professional looking service where you can use one of the images as background. You can switch of the function where you can sell prints. There are various paid options for more capacity.

    Zoomfoot is very simple, but effective. You have to download the app first, then simply drop the images in the relevant box. There is also a text box for some text, but it is very basic, no paragraphs, etc. The customer receives an email, which has a big download button. Photos are downloaded to the downloads folder, which some customers struggle to understand. It sends you an email as soon as the customer has downloaded the photos. If you get several emails telling you the photos have been downloaded, you then know they are have problems with the download and I give them a call asking if they manage to download the photos. You will be earning some points for good customer service. The download link expires after 10 days, which is in the text in the email. Yes, I had some calls from customers saying the download link doesn’t work, which always surprises me.

  • I use DropBox and it works great. I simply send them a public link to a single zip file with a “high_res” and “mls” folder inside. They download the zip, extract it, and they have it all.

  • Hey Jeff,

    We use Dropbox for our delivery, but we zip up the images first. We have actions in Photoshop that re-size MLS, High-Res and Print qualities and then just zip in the individual folders for each. Sharing that link via Dropbox is much more intuitive for the realtors in our experience.

    We use to upload folders of images, but 9/10 the realtors saved the square thumbnails and our images came out terrible on the MLS. We did try HighTail prior to signing up for the 100GB Dropbox plan, but we had a lot of the emails go to our clients’ spam folder and it created extra work.

    Sending the emails off our company domain name seems to work without fail.

  • Michael- Larry’s gear recommendations are good, but you could also step another revision back to the Canon 50D to save a bunch of money on the body. The Sigma 10-20mm works well enough for RE work and can be had on eBay for around $300. I use the Sigma and a Canon 17-40mm ($500 used) most of the time for interior RE work. Having a good telephoto is also nice (Canon 70-200 F4). Don’t worry about Image Stabilization/Vibration Reduction, you will be working from a tripod most of the time.

    Lightroom (v5.4) is a workhorse and cheap for what you get. You can skip subscribing to Adobe’s Creative Cloud and go with a copy of Photoshop Elements to handle any editing that goes beyond Lightroom. Photomatix is a well regarded HDR/Exposure Fusion application that has added some nice presets recently for the real estate photographer wanting a very natural look.

    A very good tripod and head will last decades with reasonable care so there is no excuse to cheap out. A common ballhead will work, but a geared head such as the Manfrotto 405/410 can be a big timesaver. Getting a head with an Arca Swiss compatible release plate/clamp is a good place to start. Check out Really Right Stuff for some top end support gear. I’m not saying to go out and buy RRS straight off, but it’s a good place to see what the best looks like and what features are emphasized.

    The small stuff is going to nickel and dime you to death, so leave budget for it. Strobes, stands, wireless remotes, cases, batteries (Eneloop), etc, ad nasueum.

    Lastly, sign up at Lynda.com or KelbyOne to access their training videos. CreativeLive has some good courses too, but they are more expensive to buy if you don’t watch them live online during taping (for free). Scott Hargis’ video series on lighting is nearly mandatory and worth the price. Mike Kelley has a RE video out with fStoppers that’s packed with a bunch of intermediate to advanced workflow tutorials, although the production quality is much lower than Scott’s vid. It doesn’t make sense to go overboard on gear if you can’t use it to it’s limits.

  • I really don’t understand this “copied the thumbnail poor resolution” on Dropbox, and first I have heard of it. The first thing I do is tell them to ignore Dropbox.com – I know I do. The only time I log onto Dropbox.com is for sharing a folder as it is much easier. Far easier than that is to use Dropbox as it is installed on the computer, but be aware with Mac users that Apple has used the word “Dropbox” in their operating system currently and prior to the existence of Dropbox.com. Speaking from a Windows perspective – the initial invitation “installs” Dropbox, which on the surface is nothing more than creating the folder in Windows Explorer and a desktop icon that links to that newly created folder. However, I usually get to it the long way by manually launching Windows Explorer and choosing the folder I want to work with. Within Windows Explorer, copy the appropriate sub-folder(s) in the “Picture” folder and paste to the appropriate sub-folder (client name) in the “Dropbox” folder. DONE! Dropbox does everything else in the background from there, however, I do send them an email as they may miss the notification of new files in Dropbox that occurs during the transfer. I do train/warn them to CUT/PASTE (copy/paste only if multiple users) to where they want to permanently store on their computer because after 6 months or so – when Dropbox gives me the warning that hitting my free 16GB max – that will purge aged uploads to create space. It doesn’t get any simpler, all done on the computer and no need to go onto Dropbox.com to upload or download anything

    While I have explained it to them, to save time with new clients am about to create a .pdf that walks them through with screen shots – just as I did with where to place the tour link – and more important where not to place the link – in the MLS listing setup screen. (I’m a Realtor with access to that screen) However, when I read this “thumbnail, poor resolution” issue noted by several above, got concerned. Checked my Windows Explorer Dropbox folder, ignoring the files I originated, but some my daughter sent me. EXIF data of the file in the Dropbox folder is a full size 4912×3264, 2.72MB, taken with her NEX-5 camera.

  • No “Edit” function available for post, but my post above should note: The EXIF data was taken from the thumbnail in Windows Explorer, right click “Properties.” I didn’t load the file into another program, such as Photoshop, to read the EXIF data.

  • I have had similar problems with Google Drive where folks can’t open them even though I have clicked on the option to share with everyone.

  • I, too, have run into a problem with Dropbox. One agent called me to complain that the “sides of the house were cut off” and he could only see half of the garage door. I realized that he thought the square thumbnails were the actual photos. Back when I worked in Hollywood, we always had to make the equipment we handed to the directors and producers “producer proof.” It seemed no matter how simple we designed it, they would figure out a way to turn it off or change the frequency. The same holds true here. I will soon switch to a pay site for my photo uploads, and it probably won’t be Dropbox for that very reason.

  • I just send them 5 MP pictures and that is it. I have exactly same equipment that you describe. 60 d with 10-20 canon lens plus ex430. Tripod is a must and Lightroom 5.4 . Works great.

  • Michael, a used Canon 5D II and Canon 17-40mm is a good combination too.

  • The main problems I’ve had with DropBox are the following:
    1. Even though I have it set up so that so that recipients can share files with others, it doesn’t work that well. Sometimes its fine, other times, not so much. Have no idea why.

    2. Sometimes my clients want to share with third parties who won’t accept photos by DropBox and they want me to upload to their servers individually. A couple of these vendors were such a PITA and so uncooperative about the uploading process that my new policy is that once the full-sized photos are delivered to the agent/broker via DropBox or CD that my responsibility for delivery is finished. Although I’ve never had takers on the CD’s.

  • @Ruthmarie – I would never want a service that allowed the agent I delivered photos to share my dropbox with a third party… I didn’t even know DB had that feature… sounds like a bad idea to me!

    @Jeff – I always zip the photos I’ve delivering into a single file, that way DB or whatever cloud service you’re using can’t monkey with the photos. Everyone that successfully uses and likes DB seems to zip the photos in one file. I’ve never had an agent complain that they have to unzip the delivery file… never even had to explain a zip file.

  • As of this week there is a new transfer service called mividio (mividio.com) that was specifically developed with Real Estate Agents and Professional photographers in mind. The service is free to use while in beta and is being slowly rolled out due to demand. Mividio uses RBAC (Role Based Access Control) to allow Agents to create listings and set access permissions for their assistants, teams, and for their Photographers to upload directly to the listing, which in turn auto-generates Digital brochures that can go live immediately. Here is a demo that shows how an agent and a photographer can work together using mividio. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IeEeidpvkK4

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