What Is The Income Potential Of Real Estate Photography? How To Raise Your Price?

December 2nd, 2014

I recently had an interesting discussion with a real estate photographer in the Huntington Beach, California area who said she “wasn’t making any money” and needed to raise her prices. She said she was averaging 55 shoots a month and getting $150-$200 per shoot. And although she wasn’t the lowest priced photographer in her area she was among the lower priced real estate photographers. Her concern was that whenever she talked about raising her prices her clients complained and she was afraid of losing her best clients that were giving her 15 to 30 shoots a year. Here are some things that I pointed out to her:

  1. Grossing in the neighborhood of $100,000 a year isn’t all that bad so one first step would be to review all her expenses and make sure she was operating as efficiently as possible. She outsources her post processing ($.40/image) and has a contract employee ($45-$65/shoot) that helps her with shoots.
  2. Another obvious solution would be to raise the level of clients she is marketing to and raise the price she is charging. While in the short term this may loose some of her clients that wouldn’t pay the higher prices, in the long term her income will increase. This also may require researching who the upper-end agents are in her area and what they need and expect. It would also require overcoming her fear of losing old clients.
  3. A question that comes to mind in a discussion like this is what should one expect to make as a real estate photographer? While there are likely geographic variations, there are bound to be some natural limits. To get at this question I did this poll about 7 of years ago. The old poll was a little fuzzy since it didn’t say “Net income”. So I thought it would be interesting to do a new poll (the one to the right) for this post that clearly polled Net annual income.

What are your experiences with raising your prices to generate more income? I know this works because others have reported an increase in business when they increased their prices.

Please take the poll before you leave! Remember the poll is about NET income in USD= YearlyGross – YearlyExpenses.

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32 Responses to “What Is The Income Potential Of Real Estate Photography? How To Raise Your Price?”

  • It maybe nice to see the percentage of real estate photographers net income, however to me that only shows half of the “picture”.
    The other half is to see what is the net income in relation to number of hours worked.
    Making $100k, or even a little more sounds great, but if it takes that photographer 14-16 hrs a day (and if often does) to make that income…. it suddenly does not look that great as that “successful” photographer is trading their life for the money and to me that trade is not a good bargain.
    I believe that poll should also include total numbers of worked either per day, per week or per month.

  • I “raised” my prices by widening the tiered system I was using. I originally was charging $150 for <3000 sq. ft., and $100 for every additional 3000 sq. ft., but I recently changed to 2000 sq. ft. for $125 and + $75 for every additional 2000 sq. ft. I did this because the majority of my listings were between 3000-6000 sq. ft. and there is a big difference between a 3000 sq. ft. home and a 6000 sq. ft. home in terms of the amount of time spent shooting and editing. In other words, I basically receive an additional $25 on average per shoot, and have doubled my income and the amount of homes I have photographed (100 this year compared to 50 last year). The amount of time spent has also increased, of course, to an estimated 300 hours.

    This pricing structure is also a benefit to the agents who have smaller listings as they aren't spending as much. It really is a win-win for everyone involved. I feel with this pricing structure, I will easily be able to increase over time as the demand increases.

    I should also add that I am not in a market where this will expand enough in the next year to take this on full time. I was the first (and currently only) photographer to bring RE photography to my area, and I don't see any competition coming in the next year or so. In the meantime, I have a regular full time job that pays the bills – RE photography is something I use for supplemental income, and also to upgrade my gear.

  • Larry — this is a very interesting post… and something that is well timed coming to the end of the year, reviewing the past year, and planning ahead.
    I assume you want pre-tax net income here?

    Also, @Marek makes a great point on hourly rates & time invested… I know Lawyers who make a lot of money, but do so effectively at close to the minimum wage because their hours are so long. One great thing about being a RE photographer for me is that I have time for other things, success is not the bringing-in the biggest net income, its earning a good living for the time invested, and having the freedom to do other things too.

  • @Jordan-
    Your comment is precisely why I am changing my pricing structure. I, too, use the size of house pricing system right now, but will change it to number of images system at the beginning of the year. Then, the size of the house doesn’t matter. I’m going to do something like 15 images- $XXX, 25 images- $XXX, 35 images- $XXX (my local MLS maxes out at 25 per listing). And then have my normal travel fees, extra services, etc. added on when necessary.

    Concerning the article, if that photographer was me, I’d reduce the number of shoots per month, get rid of the contract labor and do the post processing myself (like I do now). Can be done pretty fast with the right software. You’re gross income may come down a bit, but I bet the net would raise quite a bit. Do on average two homes per day at $175-$200 per home and that could be a nice income. No reason you can’t do two homes per day with the processing and not have to work all day and into the evening (unless you have a twilight to shoot, or something else like that). If you get a big house, price accordingly (something like $400) and do just that one for the day.

  • I think it depends greatly on the area and what others are charging; my area is super saturated with “photographers”, and still seems to be dominated by the $50-100 shooters. There is room for $200+ shooters like myself, but you have to be pretty good to command that price, and IMO, it’s still way under what it should be. I have found that when I raise my prices, I do lose some work, but my income doesn’t go down… which in my mind is a good thing 🙂

    However, $200-250 still isn’t enough, and here is why: I charge 3-5 times that much to shoot a home, building or space for a builder, architect, etc, for almost the same product… and what’s more, is that each of those jobs often double and triple their fees when I sell additional licenses… suddenly I find that I can’t afford to have $200 real estate jobs clogging my schedule for the same work. I still shoot for a few of my best RE clients, mainly to keep the pilot light lit, but it’s a tough, busy, business without a lot of return.

  • I increased my fees 20% at the start of 2014. With no additional marketing I experienced a 30% increase in business, and started getting calls from higher end agents?
    I had stopped marketing in my area as I felt I had reached the point where I could service all of my clients within 48 hrs make a decent living and have a life!
    A couple of years ago a graphic designer i was working with said to me ‘ shoot to amaze’ I took that little statement to heart and it changed everything about my photography and business!

  • It all seems to come down to time spent. The Huntington Beach photographer mentioned in the original post would have to be averaging 2.75 shoots a day (assuming 5 day work week). How does that even work? I have a hard time squeezing in two a day, not to mention logistics of two or more shoots. I adhere to the Scott Hargis method (I use 5 strobes) rather than HDR, so there is more time spent doing the shoot and most of the Realtors in my area want 25 images unless it’s a very small house. On average I spend about 5 hours per shoot broken down thus:

    1.5 hours drive time (30-45 minutes ea way)
    1.5 hours shoot time (often two hours)
    .25 hours load/unload equip, chat with owner or Realtor
    1.0+ hour post processing of 25 images
    .5 hours image handling, invoice management.

    At $150-$200 per shoot and averaging 1 per day (difficult to maintain), it’s clearly not a liveable income, but the good news is that I enjoy the work.

  • I did $75,000 in real estate photos last year. That’s roughly 300 homes averaging $250 each. Or… 1 house per weekday. That’s a pretty reasonable goal, and realistic for a town of 100,000 (with another 100k in the near vicinity).

    That said, that is all that is availible in this area right now. If even 1 other photographer competed here, there wouldn’t be enough revenue for either of us to make a living… not unless the other guy was able to inspire 40-60 more realtors to engage, which is the number of realtors I have on my client list. There are 700+ real estate licences in this area, but only 10% of them are doing all the selling.

    However, the local real estate market has been soft here since July 4th, and is terribly slow right now (last quarter), which is unusual. I also do the bulk of commercial photography in this area, as well as some business portraits…. and, because it’s unusually slow right now, I also got a licence to drive a school bus. LOL Don’t laugh… Even though it doesn’t pay worth a darn, it gets you going early, and forces the rest of your day to be very productive, and thus far hasn’t gotten in the way of shooting at least one house per day. I’m someone who needs to be VERY busy to stay focused – dead time drives me nuts (unless I’m on vacation).

    Moral: don’t count on real estate photography to be your sole source of revenue.

  • Marek is correct- how many hours per day/week to earn that net income is a very important variable. $100K could be $10 per hour or it could be $25 per hour. You would have a higher quality of life from the $100K if you were earning more per hour.

    End of year is a great time to send out a newsletter to everyone and make a great announcement – i.e. “including new tour format starting in January” or “both high res and web optimized images now included in the price”. At the same time, announce your price increase.

    Rob, its great that you have a list of clients that provide the type of life and income that you want to have. That should be all of our goals. When I do coaching and we set goals and rather than pricing as a goal, we set the goal based on number of hours worked per week and annual net income to be brought in. We then create the plan including pricing with features and benefits, add-on products, marketing and business practices to make the goal become a reality.

    Kevin – great that you are doing commercial as well as residential. And, portraits are always a great add-on item. Finally, video testimonials are an easy way to segway into video and are a great add-on.

  • I’m also wondering if anyone is factoring equipment and marketing costs. I have at least $5,000 invested in equipment (with limited life span). Then there are monthly software expenses, time spent on marketing, marketing material, vehicle expenses, self employment taxes. It all takes a bite out of the bottom line and adds up quickly. And of course there is the seasonal nature of the business to contend with.

  • I firmly believe, that any customer that will leave you because you raised your rate $25-50, is worth losing as they clearly do not value your work, nor the contribution you make to their selling success!

    I find it interesting that $150-$250/shoot seems to be the number that everybody refers to as if it’s a national going rate. Yet the cost of living for a photographer living in say California, is vastly different than say, Ohio. If you live in a low living cost area, making $75K/year is not a bad living. But in NY, or San Francisco for example, it would be impossible.

    Remember, there will always be somebody cheaper in your market, always. Through the years, I certainly have had many-many in my own market that came in and charged $100-200/shot…until they either disappeared, or wised-up. I’m pretty sure that I am by far the most “expensive” in my area, yet most of my clients have been with me for years (some for 10+ years). Somebody mentioned that raising their rates generated more business, I couldn’t agree more.

    People don’t like change. If you are their go-to person, the person that they know gets the job done, the person that don’t cause problems, and that they know will interact professionally with the home owners, they are not going to suddenly start-over with a new photographer, just because you need to make a decent living.

    You need to decide what you need to charge to make a decent living, not your client. Yeah sure, I know – “they won’t like it”, or “they’ll go with somebody else”.

    Please, read my first run-on sentence again, because I’m telling you your clients aren’t going to volunteer to pay you more – you have to ask for it.

    My 2 cents

  • @Wanda – All those things you mention are expenses. An important part of running your own business it tracking your expenses carefully (monthly) so you know if you are making money. As you will notice the poll is intended to record Net income, which means your gross income (the total of what clients pay you) minus all your expenses (gear, software, marketing costs, vehicle expenses, taxes of all kinds).

    One problem is that many real estate photographers aren’t tracking their expenses until it’s too late.

  • I live in Southern California near the Foothills in an average small town.
    And I know that Huntington Beach is a very expensive high end real estate area. That said, I think the photographer in that area should adjust his/her price accordingly. Maybe there is balance in the agent commission and the charges a photographer should charge.

  • Wanda is right. You’ve got to take a truly honest look at what your cost of doing business are. Yeah, you’ve already got cameras and flashes, I know. But, they will need to be replaced in the not so distant future. Replacement equipment is a reoccurring cost that you should include in your cost of doing business calculations. New camera bodies every 3-4 years add up. How about the fact that you are putting a lot of miles on your car, and that it too will need replacement sooner than later?

    I budget $5K/year towards replacement equipment, and $15K/year towards a replacement location truck every 5 years. So that means that in my case I add $20,000 on top of my standard yearly cost of doing business calculations.

  • So this is sort of the opposite for me in terms of service. I started in real estate with video tours, as I have a background in film, and then slowly integrated photography into my business along the way.

    For me, agents would always ask me “why don’t you offer photography as well, you have the know-how and equipment”, so a year later that’s what I did. Instead of prospecting for new agents/brokerages and widening my client base with the one service, I began to market my “new service” (photography) to my existing client base and was able to charge about 50% more per client per listing (I offer a discounted price for photography when a video is also added). After that, I split the service and offered a tiered service by adding hdr for higher end and was able to charge even more.

    I guess what I’m getting at is, if your camera is capable of video what’s stopping you from learning it since you would already be a the property shooting it.

    And I agree with Suzanne F. re: testimonials. Once you learn the technical basics of video you can offer many different types of video (property tours, testimonials, agent bio, community tours, realtor events/trade shows etc)

    And I forgot to mention, but earlier this year I picked up a Phantom 2 drone with a gopro 3+/4, and now offer aerial photos and video to my same client base 🙂

    Hey, I’d love to trade my video knowledge for some fancy photography techniques!

  • I’d love to see a poll which will show different Photographers income based on following calculations:

    1. Take your NET income (Money coming in, less all of your operating expenses: equipment appreciation, gas, 3rd party vendors, advertisement, etc)
    2. Figure out how many hours do you work per month but do some kind of a calculations (some months we work harder than others), where you average based on a year/monthly average to come up with average hours per month.
    3. Divide your income by hours worked and then…. see how much do you make per hour.

    Now, we’ll have the actual per hour rate.

    Besides Net Hourly Pay, the poll should also show income per year as… those photographers that work only 3 hours per week… making a lot per hour, but not able to make living with real estate photography.
    I would be more interested in those, that make Real Estate Photography their only source of income.

  • I couldn’t agree more with what Kevin said “Moral: don’t count on real estate photography to be your sole source of revenue.”

    When the market crashed in 2008 so did my business. I quickly realized I was too focused both locally and in RE photography. I have since greatly expanded my working area and also teach a photography class at my local community center 40 evenings per year. This was something I self started with the Community Development Office in my town! Book a maximum of 10 weddings per year. I also shoot business and agent profile shots where I book at an RE or business office for a day and shoot all of the agents or staff. A great way to make new contacts too!

    RE photography is very seasonal, I can look back at past years to predict the slow down, when to book other work or keep my schedule open for RE and also when to take vacation time! Don’t be afraid to take vacation, your clients want to work with you and will wait a few days to get the great service you provide.

    This topic really fired up the discussion.. this is great!

  • @Marek – yes, I agree a more complex poll would be nice, but it’s just not practical to do polls that are very involved like you ssuggest. Even this simple poll that I have on this post is problematic because there’s a good chance that many of the folks that are voting don’t really know what their expenses are.

  • Grossing $100k is decent for the Huntington Beach area although an agent I know that serves Newport Beach 10 minutes to the south happily pays $250/home for what I consider just “good” photography. Expenses are going to be where this photographer is getting clipped. Outside processing at $.40/image is not bad depending on how many images are being provided to the customer. I charge by the image so I can manage my costs better. If I were only shooting 2 properties a day (and I’d love to be getting that much work), I would do my own processing. At 3 jobs per day, I might farm some work out and try to improve my workflow so I could do all of the work myself. If I could hit 4+ each day, I would have to outsource at least some of my post production if not all to be able to do a good job on site.

    Having an assistant makes life much easier, but it might be 30% or more of annual gross for the help and some liability on top. I’ve only had one or two situations where an assistant would have materially saved me time on location. If I had two sets of flashes and an assistant that was trained up on lighting, I could have them setting up the next room while I was shooting. I’d have to try that out to see if the time savings was worth what I would pay. I’d want to pay much more than $10/hr to be able to hang on to a good assistant.

    In the US, it seems that the self-employment tax keeps going up. The percentage doesn’t change, just the way the math is done. It’s as if the government is actively trying to discourage people from being self-employed. Just a rough calculation of income – expenses is going to be wildly off the mark. We also have to now factor in the health insurance tax. It’s a tiny $95 penalty if you don’t have insurance in 2014, but will jump next year to $325 in penalties if one goes without and more each year after that. I’m not sure if the self-employed will qualify for payment assistance if they can’t otherwise pay for coverage.

    It’s a great topic, but without any additional information on expenses and income goals, it’s hard to say much more.

  • Maybe she can lower her amount of deliverable images, instead of charging more. I’m in NYC, and I’m always amazed at these 25-35 photos people are giving their clients. I charge $200/shoot for 6 images, and $30 for each additional. Granted, I’m doing more apartments than houses, but there can’t possibly be 35 worthwhile photos in an average house. Explain to the agent that these photos are to get the potential buyer to call them. Showing every angle in every room in the house only lets a buyer make a decision on the property without the realtor ever knowing they existed.

  • It seems RE photography is, possibly, the WORST compensated form of photography short of “kid at mall kiosk earning minimum wage”. With that in mind I would definitely raise prices across the board. If you lose clients you can fill those with better paying clients (commercial, headshot, anything). If you work less but earn more per shoot you can still end up close to the same pay. Work less, charge more and be happy.

    Most people work solo (if you’re hiring staff or contract workers you have to pay them even less so you get a cut – You should see THEIR message boards!) so you have a business with a set limit on work time (how many hours a day/week you can work). Fill those hours at a price and then raise your prices. Yes, you will lose clients, but then you market yourself to get more clients. EVERY business raises prices EVERY year. So should you.

    Fill your hours. Raise prices. Clients depart. Market to gain new clients. Fill your hours. Raise prices. Clients depart. Market to gain new clients. Fill your hours. Raise prices. Clients depart. Market to gain new clients.

    Rinse and repeat FOREVER.

  • @John P – The highest number I’ve delivered is 85. 🙂 We’re not talking about an apartment, it’s more like shooting Yellowstone Lodge. Some of these places have 10 bathrooms. Then you have the usual bedrooms and living rooms, plus custom theaters, garages, shops, outbuildings, workout room, spas, multi-tiered decks, indoor swimming pools, and then you still have 60 acres of land to deal with. (Montana)

    Many of these properties are being looked at from people out-of-state, who pretty much want to see every nook and cranny before they will even consider flying out to look at it personally with the realtor.

    And yeah, a property like I described above is much higher to shoot then normal. But even on my average single family homes, it’s not uncommon to give 20-30 photos. This helps the realtor weed out folks who wouldn’t buy the property, and instead selectively targets who actually will buy it, allowing them to close the average sale in less then 40 days (many times they have a buy/sell the same week the photos are posted). Realtors are telling me that its similar to fishing in a stocked pond… the home practically sells itself, all they have to do is close the deal. An extra bedroom only takes me a minute to shoot, and about a minute to process later – the that little extra effort makes it very easy for the realtor to sell it.

    ——–
    Our job is to make buyers slobber. I do as many frames as it takes to get that done. My average shoot is 1.5 hours, and another 1.5 to process and deliver via Dropbox. I have eliminated external bills, so I have virtually no overhead. A camera will last me 5 years usually, and longer if I put a new shutter in it (though I usually upgrade). So even if I spend $2000 on a body, that’s $400 a year, which doesn’t even register on my overhead-meter. In fact, I generally overbuy on equipment just to purposely reduce my tax bill, since you can write-off everything you buy, and it goes directly against your income. Then again, I’ve been doing this for 25 years, so I’ve already got all the equipment, and I only need to replace it if something fails. To be honest, if I was starting from scratch with no experience or equipment in place, with a mortgage and kids to raise, I’d probably find a different career path. This probably ain’t gonna make you rich. I want to say that the national statistic for photographers in general, is that most GROSS under 50k a year (i want to say 80%). http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/photographers.htm#tab-1

  • @kelvin-
    Man, that about nails it on the head for me, too (and I’m in Idaho)! The most I ever delivered was 130, but it was for a 10,000 sq/ft. McMansion that is marketed worldwide, so the realtor wanted everything shot, including the pump room for the saltwater aquarium.
    I made sure I got paid for it, too.

    Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have chosen this career path, either. And I bet your 80% estimation isn’t too far off.

  • @Kelvin – If she can get her shooting and processing times to be as quick as yours, then more power to her! It would take me at least 2 days to edit 85 images!

    My usual line I tell agents/homeowners that are looking for a ton of images is “these photos aren’t information: they’re bait. The purpose is to make them want to call you (the agent) to see the property, and your salesmanship makes them buy this place instead of any of the others they’re looking at. Too many photos, and they make a decision on the listing without you never even knowing they existed.” And I honestly believe that. I’m not just saying it to make my life easy 🙂

    As far as this being a bad career path: it sounds like the hardest part of your clients’ day is putting a suit on in the morning. Why not become a realtor yourself? To have been able to support yourself in this business for this long, you’re already a better salesman than 90% of them. Let those 30 photos = 6% commission, instead of $150.

  • 6% commission John P? I think you are dreaming. Most of the sales end up with two Realtors, the listing agent and the buyers agent. That means each office ends with 3% and that 3% has to be shared between the office Broker and that Realtor. If it is a 5% listing, then the office ends up with 2 1/2%, and so on. But the important part is where do you sell or list homes, in an average $300000 area or in a $1300000 area. After this each person and broker still has to pay their cost of marketing, and so on and his or her taxes.
    20% of the Realtors have 80% of the business and this has been nearly every year. I have been a Realtor for 27 years, I think I know!
    Because of the above info, it is hard for a photographer to get business from Realtors. You have to hunt for the top listing Agents, because they need the help of your photo-work.

  • @John P While I’ve thought about becoming a realtor, I’m averse to biting the hand that’s been feeding me. I’m not sure that going into direct competition with them would be met with unbridled enthusiasm… and from what I’ve seen, the best scenario for success in real estate is having good relationships with other realtors. I have no idea how they would react to it. I respect and enjoy these people on a very personal level, and they are without a doubt, half the reason I do reasonably well at this. The other half is me working my butt off to deliver the best product I can. In fact, I just shot for a new realtor today, delivered them via DB a few minutes ago (47 images) who just sent a text “These are magical !!!” Those are the words I live for.

    I’ve been working with Photoshop & Lightroom since they were invented, and I’m pretty darn good & fast at it. I did however, put in a b-load of hours using it and learning it… probably an entire decade of a learning curve, and before that, I did the work in a darkroom. Yup, burning & dodging real estate prints… and THAT was good learning, but terrible money. This business has it’s dues, and they really don’t come easy. I was fortunate to have a wife who was making big $$ while I trained myself one day at a time.

  • Holy Crap! I just re-read Larry’s original post. If she’s shooting 55 listing a month, and NOT making money… ?!?! At my rates that would be $165,000 a year. Even with expenses I’d clear 140k. Pretty sure I could live on that… with ease. Sounds like she’s outsourcing her profit (assistants and retouching), but that may be the best thing she can do if she doesn’t have the software skills.

  • I am starting out RE Photography. I have to stay the rates charged in general for this genre of photography is really poor. My sister a pro-photographer also, just did a commercial shoot for a brand name. The shoot took half a day, post-processing the rest and the net fee was $2000. Granted there is a lot of research and planning that goes into a commercial shoot architectural photography is quite involved also. The pricing gap is not just in my opinion.

  • @David-
    That’s why I do other types of photography to supplement my RE stuff. It’s difficult, but with the right marketing, it can be done.

  • Greetings,

    Even with the info provided, there is a lot of missing information. For instance, I’m wondering whether a business plan was ever laid out. What the goals/expectations may be. Assuming $175/average shoot, where’s the margin for a subcontractor?

    Looking at George’s comments which are reasonable, Wanda’s as well, then considering taxes, this person’s easily under $49K/yr Net, without having paid for a subcontractor. And, the rent, utilities, and dinner haven’t been paid for yet. I’m left with the conclusion that this is someone who’s living may be materially subsidized by another revenue stream. And, that’s fine. The comments suggest many/most are not using this as their primary source of income, either.

    To the core point of increasing prices, no client will ever thank you for raising their cost. I’ve yet to meet someone happy their expenses just went up. Price setting is the single biggest challenge. How does your deliverable compare to the market’s expectations, how do you map price against that expectation, and can it sustain you? You’ll find tons of articles on how-to but none that tell you what -your- pricing should be.

    That’d be nice though, wouldn’t it?

  • If you are counting on a spouses income to subsidize you photography income what will you do if the spouses income is unavailble, health, job loss, etc. If you cannot support your family on your photography income than you are not a viable business.

  • This is a very timely post for me because I am in the process of changing my pricing structure. I started out several years ago charging $89 – $159, to compete in my area, and this past year I have averaged 22 – 30 shoots per week and I am working 7 days a week. I want to work less and not decrease my income. I know I may lose some of my customers but at this point I am ok with that.

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