What’s The Difference Between An Architectural Photographer And A Real Estate Photographer?

September 22nd, 2015

ArchetectureI recently had an interesting discussion with Vic in Australia. Vic was looking for some training as an architectural photographer. Vic said:

Shooting real estate is not very inspiring, shooting typically boring and ugly boxes. To be honest, I probably spend more time cleaning up people’s crap than actually photographing!

I was charging $100-$200 for my shoots and I ended up getting undercut by some Chinese guys offering it for $75-80. I couldn’t understand how they could sustain that, but found out all they were doing was the photography. Apparently, they outsourced the post-processing work to PS experts in China for a very low fee. The quality of the post-processing was probably better than what I could achieve. So all they had to do is shoot, so this is how they made it viable.

So Vic wants to do “architectural photography” since it pays much more and was more interesting. My point of view is that the difference between real estate photography and architectural photography is just who you are shooting for. Architectural photography is when your client is an architect or interior designer that have had training in the visual arts and is working on projects that require a much higher level of quality of photographic quality than most real estate photographers can do. So what you need to do to work as an architectural photography what you need to shoot a lot of real estate and work hard at raising the level of your work until it is acceptable to architects and designers.

To be clear, I’m not basing this on any personal experience. I’ve never shot for anyone but real estate agents. I’m basing this on what I see others do. Everyone that I know of that shoots for architects and designers and does a very high level of work has started out by shooting real estate photography for a number of years. It appears to be how you raise the level of your work and get really good in interior photography. Moving to architectural photography is a growth path for real estate photographers.

So my advice to Vic is that you can’t just take a class in architectural photography to get there. You need to build your skills in interior photography and the way to do that is to shoot real estate photography and get a lot of practice. Any architectural shooters out there that can confirm this?

 

 

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19 Responses to “What’s The Difference Between An Architectural Photographer And A Real Estate Photographer?”

  • Larry and Vic,

    My career naturally gravitated towards shooting for architects, builders and designers and very high end real estate. I achieved this by reading Scott Hargis’ ebook and watching his videos, Larry’s ebooks, Mike Kelly’s Videos, hiring other professionals to come train me in my backyard, went architectural photography workshops in Santa Fe with Nick Merrick, read books, watched youtube videos and shot every single property like it was going to be in Architectural Digest. It was a lot of blood sweat and tears, but worth all the time money and effort.

    I would suggest all of the above and then reach out to others in the group to help you.

    Best of luck Vic!

    Ethan

  • I don’t have anything real constructive to add to this discussion but I just came to say that I agree with your POV. The standard 15-25 images in an hour real-estate photography isn’t going to earn you the title of a professional architectural photographer. I think we all start with the basics and as your experience grows so will your knowledge. What you do with that knowledge is what will ultimately determine what you end up shooting.

  • I think Ethan’s comment is right on. Lots of hard work and lots of skill developed by training. I think most of us that do real estate have a goal of doing this kind of work.

  • Getting good at shooting commercial properties as well as residential will help on the way to working exclusively on larger projects. The skill set is the same but the compositions will be different and one has to learn what to emphasize when shooting commercial spaces. Getting a foot in the door to photograph light industrial buildings is tougher than residential. In some ways agents representing commercial properties are even cheaper than agents that list homes.

    The catch-22 is that you need to build a portfolio of A&I photos to get those sorts of jobs. Be sure to market to companies that design commercial interiors as well as real estate/property management agencies.

  • I’d just say the main difference is what the end product is. For real estate, you usually create photos for home listings used to motivate property sales. The focus in an architectural shoot is different, possibly to produce photos that preserve a certain creative style.

    After producing many photos for real estate listing, you acquire a set of skills that enables you to handle just about any scenario you run into. Those skills become tools for creating the images you intend to create. Then you’re able to express in your photos an architect’s vision that went into designing a property.

    The focus isn’t as much on listing the property anymore, the focus is on highlighting the property itself. There sure are no gun-and-run architectural photographers.

  • Ciao,
    My experience is a little different: I started as an interior design photographer for great Italian magazines and ended up as a RE photographer! This happened because in Italy there are not RE photographers (I guess we are no more than four or five in the entire nation who does this job on regular basis) and, on the other hand, a lot of Interiors and Architectural phtographer who struggle among them and work for very low fares. This is Italy, boyz!
    Anyway, I strongly agree with Larry’s statement: If you shoot for an architect you are an architectural photographer, if you work for a Real Estate assignment you are a RE photographer. The skills and the commitment may be the same but the means you have to put into your job may be different (I mean: if you are working for a magazine you need of course different artificial light; an assistant photographer; stylist; etc.).

  • I know nothing of AP work, but no mention here about additional lenses needed – if any. Maybe I’m missing something, but isn’t a tilt lens a must? I don’t have one in my gear and maybe I need one for my REP work? Not to hijack this thread, but do most REPS already use or at least have a tilt lens?

  • I think the main difference is about $3000 per job 🙂

  • @Robert Moreno. Tilt shift is not a requirement for architectural photography, although it makes life MUCH easier. Number one Arch shooter in my town shot until last year without one. Not having one shouldn’t keep a talented shooter out of the game.

  • Some will disagree with me (and that’s ok if you do, we can still be friends) – but I see real estate photography and architectural photography as two different products.

    The business-ethics savvy photography will say “Tony, why not put all of your creative potential and full professional effort into ALL shoots? You are such an unethical photographer! Why treat architectural photography different than real estate photography?!”

    It’s because they are two different products for two different clients!

    RE agents need images FAST. And you all know this rule about images: Fast, Good, Cheap… pick two.

    When it comes to creating killer images, you know what I’ve found to be the #1 contributor? Slowing down. Can’t do that in a typical RE shoot, you just can’t.

    Now there will be opportunities where a discerning realtor will approach an architectural photographer to get architectural quality images for their branding and sale of an amazing listing, that’s different.

    Two different products, for two different customers, two different price points, two different shooting scenarios… that’s how I see it.

  • RE Philosophy: More is more VS Architecture: Less is more

    Coming from the arch world, clients desire one-point perspective much more than the two-point obsessed RE.
    Architectural compositions are about implying features of the home and not crafting overt visual diagrams.
    RE agents have a specific mood on the mind. Saturated happiness. Whereas architects are more interested unique lighting and darker tones.
    RE agents are more concerned with making a space look larger (aka distortion). This is cancer to the architects.
    Architects care very little about capturing mediocre features of the home. While the RE agents make sure you documented that half bath.
    Post-production is also one of the biggest differences. I spend just under 2 hours on average per photo for arch clients. Lucky enough to spend more than 15 minutes in RE.
    This also means you have to be on top your photoshop game. Knowing tricks that are too impractical for RE like hand painted vector masks for D&B, Localized color adjustments, and tons of healing techniques.

    I would imagine this list could go on, but the truth is if you want architectural clients they have to think you’re a purebred architectural photographer, not a hybrid RE/Arch photog. A distilled portfolio, no mention of RE on your website, and definitely don’t mention RE when you’re meeting new clients. The power is in the facade. Architects want to believe that they’re paying you 8x the cost of a RE photog because you’re different than them, even though as Larry pointed out the only difference is in personal development and adapting to client needs. Never underestimate the power of branding 😉

  • “…the truth is if you want architectural clients they have to think you’re a purebred architectural photographer, not a hybrid RE/Arch photog.

    George, what about interior design and hospitality photography? These are things that some architectural photographers may do as well. Do you advocate not marketing to these clients at the same time you market to architects? Seems like architects alone is a very narrow client base.

  • My point was mainly to avoid branding yourself in RE, as fewer higher brow clients will take you seriously. So yes, if you work with interior designers and hospitality, that’s a totally different scenario. Architects and Design and Builds mostly fill up my schedule, so your experience may vary.

  • There’s also a big difference in the tools. A seriously good architect’s photographer comes with cameras like Alpa’s ($7000.-15,000) or medium formats like Hasselblads H5D with 60megapixel backs ($27,000), Lieca S ($17,000 body only),or at least Nikon 810. An architect may want to blow up the photos to murals. One of mine is 8ft x 12ft at the TWA terminal at New York’s JFK. There’s no skimping on equipment ! With an architect you take much more time on the shoot.

  • The line gets really blurry when you include “luxury real estate”. Multi-million dollar homes are often not lived in and they staged rather nicely 24/7. This means you have one of the most important things needed to create great imagery, time. Coupled with the fact that homes in this price range were likely designed and built well, they become more photogenic than a track home.

  • Michael, I don’t think the line gets blurry at all, if you are talking about differences between high-end real estate photography and architectural photography, and I think that George has it right.
    Regardless of the amount of time available for shooting and processing, there are typically distinct stylist differences between the two genres, and I would say that, even for most high-end real estate, there tends to be much less time available than for architectural photography, partly due to tight marketing schedules and partly due to the tendency for real estate agents to want more photos of building than an architect typically would want.

  • Imho Not much really.

    Its all dialectics.

    At the end of the day, its all shapes, sizes, spaces.

    How do you wrap it up, in brown paper or beige paper!

    Architecture or Real Estate? brown paper or biege paper??

    its up to you

  • Here’s another thought; if you want to shoot for architects, select your best work, blow them big 16×20 into a portfolio, (and a great new website)even go out by yourself and shoot some commercial spaces (int or ext.) put them in the book. Find architects in your city (many) and try to see them. It may take 50 -100 trys to get to see one architect. Remember they already have photographers, so why should them bother with you. Perhaps their guy moved / retired / screwed up…… Find new architects coming out of graduation. Make up great ‘leave-behind’ promos to leave after your interview. Connect at architectural events (E.I. Open House NY in NYC, check out architizer.com, Archpaper.com…etc) connect with that community!
    Peter

  • @Peter it might be easier for the inexperienced to go after smaller firms (under 15 employees) that have never hired a professional photographer. Maybe these firms are harder to come by in NYC, but they are plentiful on the west coast. Also real easy to find them on Houzz as the site is conveniently picture focused, so they’ll just have a few renders up or use MLS images for spec homes.

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