Should Real Estate Photographers Charge For Extra Photoshop Work?

May 18th, 2015

AppleGateLast week a reader asked:

I charge $20 per photo for special Photoshop editing for things that are beyond control of the agent or owner or that just did not get taken care of before my arrival like digitally removing water hoses, cleaning dirty driveways, repairable damages, or stains on the wall, etc. However, I’m not sure how to handle things such as Photoshopping fire in the fireplace, or sky replacements. This is extra work on my part though it was not my fault or the fault of the agent for an overcast day or no fire in the fireplace. Should I be charging them for these types of edits or just be that “nice guy” that bends over backwards to make my $150 for the shoot, and spend the extra time doing these edits to save the Mercedes driving realtor $60? Of course, common business sense says to accommodate your clients to maintain future business but where is the balance between standing up for yourself and getting paid for your services, or taking a hit to keep your rich clients using you? Basically–should I stand up or bend over?

Absolutely, you should be charging for extra Photoshop work. Especially sky replacement and adding fire in the fireplace. However, because you typically charge for it doesn’t mean that at your discretion you can’t do it for free for key clients in key situations just to demonstrate what’s possible or when the fix is trivial. Many agents don’t realize what’s possible with photoshop.

The photo above is an example of an agent not knowing what’s possible. This is the front shot from a shoot I did. The agent called me up after I delivered the photos and asked me to reshoot the front because of the portable basketball hoop and a tether ball hoop being in the photo. He’s right I screwed up. I should have pointed out that the shot would look better without the basketball hoop and tether ball pole. But he screwed up for not having the property ready to shoot when I arrived. Anyway, I spent 10 minutes in Photoshop, removed them and sent the new front shot to him. It blew him away, he had no idea that could be done. Needless to say, I didn’t charge him because it was as much my problem for not seeing the issue as it was his for not having the property ready to shoot.

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9 Responses to “Should Real Estate Photographers Charge For Extra Photoshop Work?”

  • Firstly I think Roy has his photo shopping a little backwards. To be cleaning dirty driveways, repairable damages, or stains on the wall is leaving him and his clients open to problems by miss representing the condition of the property. Sure, remove garden hoses, replacement skies and adding fires are usually actions we do as part of our processing that gives our images part of that extra edge over agent images. Unless its a specific request post shoot from an agent that requires lots of time I dont charge for the small extras.

  • This is a question that I am sure will have many different answers. Many of which will be based on different business models. Personally, I go in with higher prices than most of my competition in my area. For several reasons. One, people have a tendancy to rank quality based on what they have to pay for it. Two, I prefer to shoot fewer properties and have the luxury of doing them really well. Three, I don’t want to, as a photographer I once worked for as an assistant said, “nickel and dime them to death.” I would rather charge enough to cover a reasonable amount of “fixes” without having to load my invoice up with extras. To be sure, if special work needs to be done, I discuss this with my client before going ahead. But I always do a walk through of the property a few days before shooting it and point out all the things that I see that will degrade the appearance of the property in the final shoot. And always provide a “Prep for photography” list that includes hoses, childrens toys, tooth paste tubes, raised toilet seats and clutter of personal effects in general.

    If my clients cannot get the owner or, perish the thought, the renter in the property, to set it up for photography and I arrive to shoot and see that it has not been prepped, I call my client on the phone and ask them if they want me to go ahead. Usually they want to get the photo up on MLS asap and say just do the best you can. That’s when I ask the home owner if they mind if I move this or that. But since that takes time, and I am being paid to shoot photographs and not be a stylist, I can only do so much. More for regular and good paying clients than others. But basket ball hoops? I would have pointed this out to my client in advance and if it was still there just shoot the house but probably from an angle that hid the hoop or found a convenient tree to obscure it. If there was nothing for it I would shoot it as is and call my client and explain that the only way to get it out of the shot is with Photoshop work and quote my price or hourly rate. Great things cell phones but only useful if the realtor actually answers theirs when you need them to.

    Another business model is to price low and add on all the extras, if you offer them. But I know how I feel when I take my car in for work and the garage keeps calling with more things wrong and keep upping the bill. I feel it is best to charge enough up front to cover the basic fixes and only charge more for extraordinary circumstances but discuss it first with your client as you find such extenuating circumstances.

    But clients vary, expectations and markets vary, and you just have to strike a balance for your own situation. But I do think you need to be upfront with your clients who will probably be more interested in the end result than the reasons why. But equally, if they have not experienced what can be done, then some client education would be in order. What I try to do when I have the time, is address aspects of such offerings in a 5 or 10 minute presentation at the weekly agency meetings where outside supliers often make presentations. But unlike my own tendency, keep the presentation short. Attention spans are short. When you see the cell phones come out, ask for questions or wrap up.

  • I charge $50/hr for retouching work. It’s not until I get into the retouching that I know how much time it’s going to take. Sometimes Content Aware fill is going to make the task a slam dunk and other times I have to do the work the old and time consuming way. I much prefer to be behind my camera and not the computer.

    I can replace a sky pretty fast and if I am having a glare problem on a painting, I’ll take a photo from a different angle and cut it in in post. If I know ahead of time that I will be making edits like that, I’ll be shooting for process. If I know that I will be replacing a sky, I’ll work from a tripod (I don’t always do that for exteriors) and get a frame with the sky overexposed to make it easier to make a mask in PS.

    I always tell my clients that while PS is a great tool, sometimes things that seem like a simple edit can take hours of work to make look natural. It’s always faster and cheaper to get it right in the camera. I’ll scowl at them if they ever use the phrase “We’ll just fix it in Photoshop.” When I worked on rockets one of our jokes when we had hardware difficulties was to say that we’ll just fix it in software.

    If you are charging a full service price, a certain amount of extra tweaking is expected. For a basic listing shoot, clients should be told to not assume that much Photoshopping will be done without having to pay extra.

    If you have the time and want some practice, drop in a fire or other custom edit and point it out to your customer. Tell them that it would be normally be $xx, but you were experimenting with a new technique and liked how it came out, so you included it for no extra charge this time. It does actually give you some practice and shows your customer what a few extra dollars might do. I have one customer now that has a standing order for sky replacement if there is a job with a boring clear or gray sky. He only wants a fire in the fireplace when the weather cools down. In the middle of a hot summer, a fire doesn’t conjure up cozy, it points out how hot it is today.

  • This question is one that the market you are in determines, not the photographer. So there are many correct answers. If the market you are in allows you to make some extra money by charging for Photoshop work, then do so. However, I suspect that most of us are in markets were that is not feasible. We are expected to provided finished works.

    I do agree with Dave, editing out damage & stains is misrepresenting the property.

  • For me, like most here, basic Photoshop editing is part of the package. Removing the basketball hoop like Larry did or painting our camera and tripod out of a room full of mirrors. Today I used Photoshop to: add grass to a lawn that recently had been dug up for plumbing issues. I removed an annoying pole with a birdhouse in the middle of a beautiful lawn and I also fix some missing paint on basement wall. (the owner was in the process of repainting it but didn’t finish yet.)

    What I DIDN’T do…
    Yesterday I got a text from an agent about photos that we took in the winter. She asked if I could just go into Photoshop and remove the snow and make the grass look green… but just to the exterior photos. WHAT?! That’s extra. I told her that it’s $60/hr for Photoshop editing like that and it will be at least an hour of work or $50 to re-shoot it. I also explained that in the end, the Photoshop option would still have bald trees, thus look fake anyway.

    The sad thing is that I just ended an email campaign offering to re-shoot winter photos at discounted rates (even more discounted if they got with their office mates and booked multiple locations). She ignored that and went straight for “fix it in Photoshop”… and in her mind, for free! We used to say that we had a button for that… F4… instant snow removal!

    Anyhow, time is money. If it’s part of the process to get the shot, then you just do it. If its a failure or something on their part that costs you more time… charge them.

  • I charge $60 an hour for photoshop work — but I rarely actually bill it. I use the idea that my exterior always look good as a marketing too. Just did a shoot where I removed a portapotty from an adjoining property and put sky in on the main exterior shot. Wasn’t that much work — customer says wow — everybody wins.

    Reading between the lines – “Mercedes driving agents”? Based on that comment, it feels like you might already have made up your mind. You should be charging, because you feel underpaid already. Sounds like you definitely need to adjust your rates for your own sanity.

  • I never remove deficiencies that a potential buy and or home inspector will find. For examples, cracks in the driveway, dirty driveway, cracks in the pool, holes in the wall, damage base boards, mold, etc. These all become negotiating points between the buyer and the seller.
    By removing these deficient elements it is a misrepresentation of the property and can potentially get you in trouble. No doubt the real estate agent will blame it on you the photographer.
    In countries like, England, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, and some others, it is illegal to add or subtract from the photos deficiencies to the home. They have no problem with blue skies or fires in fireplace because you could actually take them if the conditions were right.
    I know of a photographer who got in to hot water for removing cracks on the exterior of a house. It got into a she said, he said with the agent until my friend produce an email where the agent demanded to have the cracks remove. Both of them were reported to the Better Business Bureau.
    I had real estate agents ask me to photoshop the other homes off the lake photo I was about take. I told her I wouldn’t because it is a photo manipulation and misrepresentation of reality. She asked me if I could take a photo without showing the other homes. I said yes, pointed my camera at the water and took a picture. She didn’t like my sarcasm. I told her the integrity of my photos if my greatest asset to my business.
    Photo manipulation has been going on since the invention of photography. It has called into question many a photographer’s or magazine’s integrity. For instance, Art Wolfe, National Geographic, Time just to name a few off the top of my head.
    Lastly, when photoshop came about, I was a Coast Guard Photographer and we were told not to manipulate the photos and if we did, it had to state…”Photo Manipulation by:” Now I pretty sure the military doesn’t even allow it.

  • There are certain things I will “photoshop” for free. One is the names of children on the walls and other places in their bedrooms. I don’t know if anything has ever happened from exposing those names, but I know property photos have the possibility of thousands of views on the Internet. I don’t want to be the photographer who put that information out there.

    Another thing is, especially on upscale properties, I ask if there is any potentially valuable art on the wall the owner would not be comfortable showing on the Internet. In the cases where there is, I go ahead and layer in one of my photos or something like that into the frame.

    Other than those, I might have to remove myself from a reflection I didn’t notice while shooting, or maybe my camera from a bathroom mirror that was impossible to stay out of. I think it is important to represent the home as it stands. I never bother replacing a sky – sometimes a realtor will ask me to catch a new front exterior if I am in the neighborhood if they feel the cloudy sky won’t do. I do that for free as a service to my clients, as well.

  • I agree it all depends on the business model and if ones done their research on competition around them, I think charging for replacement sky, adding fire to working fire places, sprucing up the grass, removing hoses, covering family portraits/childrens pictures on walls, removing magnets etc from fridges should all be included in the price you offer.

    then moving onto things such as cars if they cant be removed, really any editing that you know will take extra time then advising on the day if there is an additional cost that will incur so they are aware.

    personally i prefer to shoot on overcast days then add in a beautiful sky (i find looking at others photos they dont get the proportion and proximity of the sky correct when adding them in and it looks very fake)

    One of the biggest things I think to remember is these photos are not only for your client to sell the vendors property but they also represent you and your business

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