Real Estate Photography Question and Answer – What Happened To Simon?

May 7th, 2014

QandAPeter’s Question: What happened to Simon Maxwell’s LR/Photoshop tutorials? I hope he is OK.

Answer: Simon is doing well, busily running his architectural photography business in London. He is very busy and decided to take down his tutorials because he doesn’t have time to tend an online presence like he would like to. So I’ve managed to convince Simon to give me the tutorials and I’m going to put them on my YouTube channel (I should have them up in the next week or so) so we can all access them again. Of course this is going to cost me a few pints the next time I’m in London!

Robert’s Question:  I’m looking for suggestions on companies that will host the site and provide an easy-to-use template and content management system.  

Answer: This is not a place to cheap out. I would not be hesitate to spend $400-$600 a year on a well designed photographer site template. This is the centerpiece of your marketing… you want it to look and work really good and you don’t want to look like everyone else. Here are some alternatives:

One thing that all of the above sites do is they work on ALL devices, tablets, SmartPhones, laptops, desktops. This is very important these days since agents use mobile devices almost exclusively so you need your marketing to look and work good on mobile devices.

Bernie’s Question:  While on the blog I read a reference about using a Gary Fong Lightsphere but can not find the article it refers back to. Is a Gary Fong Lightsphere good for real estate photography?

Answer: I’ve never tried a Gary Fong Lightsphere for real estate shooting  but I’ve read discussion threads on the PFRE flickr forum by shooters that have and there doesn’t seem to be complete agreement on the subject. Here’s a thread that say’s yes they are great and here is a thread that says no way! I guess you have to try the out and see what you think.

Drew’s question: Do you know of any photographers that have direct marketed their services to homeowners that have their home listed for sale?  I feel like I’m pounding my head against a wall advertising to Realtors.

Answer: This is a very delicate situation/subject with listing agents in the US. It’s done all the time in AU and kind of the norm there.

The reason it’s delicate is that the real estate business convention in the US is that the listing agent is expected to provide and pay marketing costs… if you go straight to homeowners that have bad quality marketing you risk make the listing agent look bad and that word spreads quickly in the RE community. Not a way to win clients. We’ve talked about this subject many times on the blog over the years and here are a few ways to deal with the problem:
  • With the permission of the listing agents you shoot for put a for sale sign rider (hangs under the for sale sign) promoting yourself or put out door hangers in the neighborhood of homes you shoot for. These techniques take advantage of the fact that other sellers to be in the neighborhood will see your work and specifically ask their listing agent for it.
  • A couple of photographers over the years have created websites that have good SEO for homesellers and promote the concept of good visual marketing to home sellers and agents. One that is still in operation is PGlistings.ca in Prince George, BC run by Daniel Abraham.
If you are having marketing difficulties the first question that comes to mind is: “are you focusing on the top 5-10% of listing agents?” Don’t market to all listing agents! The bottom 90% of listing agents could make more at McDonalds than they do in RE so sure, they won’t hire you because they can’t afford to. You MUST focus on the top listing agents because they are the only ones that can afford you!
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17 Responses to “Real Estate Photography Question and Answer – What Happened To Simon?”

  • @Larry – Thanks for getting Simon’s tutorial library and posting it. I contacted Simon last month when I wanted to review a technique I remember him covering and found the cupboard bare. I promised him a pint if I ever get over there long ago. If many of us manage a trip to the UK, Simon is going to need a good hangover cure.

    @Drew – You can advertise on Craigslist and scour same for people looking for photos. Most of the wanted ads I have seen only offer a fraction of what I normally charge agents. Search for “FSBO” (For Sale By Owner) websites that cover your area and see if they have advertising opportunities that will fit your budgets. Plan to advertise for a entire year as it can be very hit and miss. My local newspaper puts out a glossy color real estate magazine with the first Sunday paper each month. Brokers, agents and sellers will be looking at a publication like that. If you create an advertisement that is customer neutral, you may get some inquires from sellers. Your best return on advertising investment is going to be much like Larry is saying. The top 5-10% agents are going to be the ones that purchase photo services. It certainly doesn’t hurt to keep your eyes open for other marketing opportunities. You may find boutique offices that cater to the upper-end home market. While they may not be selling lots of properties, they might be willing to invest more money in photography per property and those are usually the jobs that look good in a portfolio. There is nothing that says the agent has to pay for photos. For properties selling on the lower end of the scale, there may not be much room in the budget for professional photos from the agent’s perspective. Suggest to agents that you will pay a commission if they send you a referral to an owner that will contract with you directly. The agent could earn some lunch money and the improved photos will make their job easier.

  • @Ken – Local newspaper advertizing is DEAD. It is a total waste of your money. As listing agents in the eastside suburbs of Seattle market my wife and I ran local newspaper ads from weekly from 1999 to about 2006. I carefully tracked the results of that advertising and it went downhill the whole time. By 2006 we stopped because the data showed it was a waste. We still subscribe to the local newspapers we advertized in during the early 2000s and as of 2 years ago ALL agents have given up newspaper advertising. In 2006 when we stopped there were two pages every week of real estate agent advertising now there are ZERO ads by real estate agents. Any one that advertises in local newspapers these days is just not paying attention to results. It doesn’t work! It’s a total waste period! Why do you think local newspapers are going out of business?

  • @Larry – My little ad in the the monthly real estate supplement has paid for itself a few times over. If I can keep getting repeat business from the agents that found me through those ads, my ROI gets better. I don’t do any advertising in the “pulp” edition of the newspaper, only the glossy monthly. The cost is $50. The paper also covers a large geographic area. There are a couple of smaller papers that cover very limited areas that I would never bother advertising in.

    I agree that local newspapers are dying left and right. Even ones such as the Chicago Sun Times are cutting their throats by eliminating staff and buying most of their content off of the wire, turning themselves into a bland reproduction of everybody else. Some papers in some markets may still be viable. A good test is to see how many pages of real estate there is in the Sunday edition and if there is a mini-magazine every so often, that might be a good sign.

    I’m still trying to ferret out good sources to help me list the top 5-10% of agents that you mention. The only method I have now is to go through listings one by one and copy out the names I find. It’s a big, but thinly settled area and there are loads of agents that are probably using RE as a hobby job while their spouse is earning the real paycheck.

  • Thank you Simon for allowing Larry to host your videos! I refer to those videos constantly.

  • Have been looking to buy a new home. My wife and I have been doing the look at listing for a while. What strikes me, and is very disappointing, is the grosely distorted wide angle lens the photographers are using. The image and the actual room have no resemblace. You have discussed this many times, many photographers are just not listening.

    Maybe the push should be to the companies thar are hiring these photographers.

    Thank you

  • Bernie’s question:
    Years ago, I purchased the GF (clear) light sphere to shoot interiors and events.
    I found it heavy, and sucked too much power from my SB-800 flash. Due to its weight, and the terrible way it attached to the flash, it often would fall off the flash while shooting a wedding or interiors.
    When I spoke to Gary Fong at a photo expo, about an issue I was having, he said, just tape it to the flash, and walked away.
    Now, Instead of using the annoying, expensive Gary Fong light sphere, I bounce the flash backwards into a 32”round white/silver photoflex reflector, which is a wonderful accessory to carry with you. This gives you a great large neutral surface to bounce your light and fill in some dark areas, when you have no other place to bounce your flash. Price is about $50 from B&H. it’s also great for lighting portraits.
    For white balancing, I use an expodisc which helps greatly in mixed lighting situations. The 77mm was about $120 when I bought it, but now, due to competition, only $49.00.This is a great help when doing your post production.

  • As for websites, please do not leave out photodeck. Its what I use and I couldn’t be happier. It’s highly customizable too. Oh yeah and it’s probably the fastest platform out of all the photography platforms!

  • Couple of comments:

    FSBO and owner paid photos: Lately I’ve been contacted by a number of homeowners who are just not happy with the agent taken photos and decided to pay for them themselves. Seems the agent doesn’t care as long as the homeowner pays. It becoming more common, for me at least. That’s a great sign that the sellers are learning about good photography. Also, none of the agents (which is not that many) seem upset with me for shooting a FSBO. I tell them who it is and allow them to use the images if they list the property. That seems to work.

    @Sonny; I think you will find the the true professionals are not providing images as you described. Maybe bad real estate photographers and certainly agent shot photos (or the most part) will be like that.

    Photo Websites: I have been using Pixieset for client delivery and could not be happier. It’s free (but you can buy more space), very nice looking and has perfect options for that purpose. My high end clients like it and for RE jobs, its easier than dropbox, ftp, or even Smugmug which I also use. It’s worth checking out.

  • @Sonny – Most photographers left to their own devices will not shoot UFWA images. Since we like to get hired (and paid), we must deliver to the customer (agent) what they demand. Most agents will only hire photographers that deliver the entire room in one photo, aka wide angle. Some agents will even post images shot with a fish-eye lens. If the agents don’t think the photographers they hire are making images wide enough, they will go back with their phone’s camera augmented with a strap on wide angle lens and shoot the images you are complaining about.

  • @Eric Hilton – You can find 40″x60″ collapsible 5-in-1 reflectors on eBay in the $26 range. They might not be as good as a name brand, but I’ve had great luck with mine and they’ve lasted for years.

  • Larry-“Local newspaper advertizing is DEAD.” Wrong. Okay, maybe it is dead or moribund for marketing real estate in many areas, but it is alive and well in my primary market area, not so much in what remains of the major local newspapers, but in smaller, often free, local newspapers targeting the more upscale suburbs. My real estate photos routinely get used in full and double page color ads in local newspapers, sometimes for as many as 5 or 6 homes at a time in a single issue. Now, this is in a market where “entry level” homes often start at over $1,000,000, and the populace tends to be very interested in local current events, so this is hardly a typical market.

  • RE agents put ads in newspapers not because they think it will sell houses, but because (clueless) sellers expect it. It’s one of the few tangible things an agent can do to show a seller that they’re working diligently on their (the seller’s) behalf.

    Show me a buyer who is searching for a potential new home by perusing the newspaper and I’ll show you an octogenarian.

  • @Scott – Exactly right! In 2006 it took me 6 months of arguing with my wife before she would agree to shut of our monthly newspaper ads because, despite the fact they produced no business, the listing customers thought it was such wonderful marketing for their home.

  • I’ve been using ProPhotoBlogs for over 5 years now. They are WordPress based. Super customizable and great on line email customer service. Highly recommend them. http://www.prophoto.com/ I’m not sponsored by them nor is there any monetary gain for me. Just think this company rocks.

  • Thanks for the very interesting insights.

    May I add ShootProof (https://www.shootproof.com/) to your list of sites? I use them in conjunction with my own site. Since they don’t charge a commission (just a subscription, lab fees, and credit card fees), I can give my clients free digital downloads with not additional expense to me. It’s an ideal site for anyone who runs their own main site and just needs a selling/download/private site solution.

  • “@Scott – Exactly right! In 2006 it took me 6 months of arguing with my wife before she would agree to shut of our monthly newspaper ads because, despite the fact they produced no business, the listing customers thought it was such wonderful marketing for their home.”

    that’s exactly the same and only reason why I still advertise on newspapers. makes customers happy. that’s what I work for.

  • Thank you, to all those who responded to my post on the apparent use of ultra wide angle lens. You input is much appreciated.

    Sonny
    Images by Sonny

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