How Much Work Do Real Estate Photographers Do For Stagers, Designers and Builders?

January 5th, 2016

ArchetectureDave in New York asks:

I am wondering how much work real estate photographers do for businesses such as home stagers, interior designers, builders, remodelers, etc. And how that is different from basic real estate photography.

1- From a photography standpoint: I assume there would be many of the same concerns as with real estate photography. In addition, I assume you’d need to deliver product close-ups (in a kitchen or bath remodel, for example) and well composed vignettes (for a home stager, for example). What other differences are there? Is a wide angle lens generally the best choice or is lens choice more situational?

2- On the business side: I assume the license would be for a longer (and clearly dated) term and that the value (and therefore cost) would be greater. How do you determine the value of (and how much to charge for) a license for home stagers, interior designers, builders, remodelers, etc.?

Working for interior designers, builders and architects is something that real estate photographers usually grow into as they raise the quality of their work. I’ve personally never worked for architects or interior designers so what I say here is learned from photographers that I’ve talked to and friends I have that are designers, architects, and builders. I have worked for home stagers and remodelers which wasn’t any different from working for Realtors.

Shooting for designers, architects, and builders (usually you interface with a designer on their staff) is more challenging that working for Realtors because these people are typically trained in the arts and are visually more sophisticated than Realtors and therefore, more demanding.

  1. From a photography standpoint: My experience is that interior designers and builders tend to be much fussier about photos than listing agents. Listing agents like wide-angle shots because the exaggerate the space. People trained in the arts don’t like the exaggerated perspective and distorted objects. Also, designers and architects are going to want to be involved in and direct the shots – listing agents frequently don’t even want to show up at the shoot if they can avoid it.
  2. On the business side: The value and the licensing depends on how the client wants to use the photos. They are more likely to want to either use the photos long term on a website for their advertising or in print media. Both of these uses are significantly different and more valuable that what a real estate listing agent’s usage so you have to charge more. How much, I can’t tell you. You have to negotiate with the client based on their intended usage.

In summary, as you get more accomplished as an interiors photographer it’s a natural progression to move from shooting high-end real estate to shooting for designers, architects and builders. And if you can deliver quality work, you make more shooting for designers, architects and builders than Realtors.

I’m sure that those that shoot for designers and architects can add to this.

Update Jan 6: Be sure to check out the comments below in this post – many great insights on this subject.

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9 Responses to “How Much Work Do Real Estate Photographers Do For Stagers, Designers and Builders?”

  • Hi, my wife runs a staging company here in Denmark with me doing the photography as and when needed.

    When agents want staging, then we offer the photography as a combined package.
    It works sometimes, but a lot of the agents are tied in to bigger photography companies so have to use the photographer supplied.
    Both wide angle and close up lifestyle shots are great for staging, and this normally gives us the edge over the general ‘in & out’ bigger companies.

    As for licenses, they’re not that big here in Denmark. Its more of a relaxed approach. The photos are yours to use for whatever.
    We find too that its too hard to ‘police’ which photos are used for what and how long………
    I could give 1000 different shots of a living room, so whats one more.
    Licenses do work for more ‘architectural’ situations, but those jobs pay a lot more and aren’t so common.

  • All of my photography work is for an interior designer (my partner); my only experience – which in itself is still limited – is in that realm and not in real estate photography. In our case the photoshoots are not requested by the client, but rather by my partner for her portfolio & Houzz page. As of yet we haven’t run into any licensing questions/issues, nor any concerns from clients regarding posting photos of their spaces online.

    Although I have no experience in real estate photography, from a photography standpoint I feel that a few notable differences with interior design photography are:

    1. Composition isn’t as focused on following a “flow” through the spaces: Instead, composition is on capturing particular design elements, or how those elements work together in a particular space.
    2. The designer is indeed demanding, but so is the photographer: Real estate photos are to a degree ephemeral; their purpose is for the sale/lease of the space. Interior design photos are intended to be viewed over extended periods of time, and in some cases are intended to portray the designer’s artistic expression. As such, the attention to detail is heightened – both during the shoot and during post-processing.
    3. Photoshoots are focused only on the spaces that the interior designer worked on: Whereas a real estate photoshoot might include every space in the residence, an interior design shoot is focused on specific spaces… sometimes not even every space that the designer worked on (depending on what they want to capture for their portfolio).
    4. Focus on staging is also heightened: As every element of the interior designer’s photo composition is crucial, I’ve often found that we spend a lot of time replacing elements that the designer didn’t have a say in. For example, if my partner redesigned a master bedroom but the client insisted on keeping a set of cushions on the bed that the designer didn’t particularly “agree with”, those cushions will be replaced/restaged with a different set of cushions.

    I’m sure there are many other differences that didn’t come to mind, but I’d wager that there are a much higher percentage of similarities from a photography perspective (e.g. wide angles, balanced lighting, strictly tripod, low ISO, etc).

  • I do most of my property work for developers and builders.

    Sometimes the homes are for sale, and so you need to cover the basic room views but mostly the imagery (both stills and video typically) is meant to show off the abilities of the developers / builders to potential future clients. In practice this means also shooting interior design type angles (as Graham describes above) as well as classic RE. I also tend to shoot loads of close-ups of architectural details / material finishes etc in order to show off the quality of the scheme and provide contrast to the wider shots in the videos. Clients particularly like to use these detail shots – such as BCUs of marble or fabric – for textured backgrounds in print brochures or on their websites.

    Re the level of involvement from the client during a shoot, I would echo Larry in that I find designers to be much more hands-on. There’s lots of shooting – reviewing – tweaking in order to create the perfect shot. Obviously this takes much longer than working on your own, so you’ve got to be realistic in your assessment of time and price when pitching for a job.

    A note re working for builders. Be really careful re health and safety when shooting on operational building sites. Firstly in terms of getting a proper safety induction to a new site and preferably having someone with you at all times to make sure you are not putting yourself and your gear in harm’s way.

    Secondly, it’s really important to have a client’s representative with you to make sure what you are shooting complies to regulations. It might be simply a temporarily discarded hard hat or hi-vis jacket or something much more dangerous but if there are H&S infringements on your footage, the client will not want to use it.

    We learnt the hard way with one top-end builder client when much of a day’s shoot was unuseable. Now the big boss comes with us on all his shooting days to check H&S, make sure the site is clean and tidy, wrangle builders to perform particular tasks in particular locations and offer suggestions for best angles.

    Interestingly (with reference to the comments above re how working with designers can slow things up) having him on site speeds the process up considerably. So much so that we can typically cover 4-5 building sites (representative video / stills) in Central London in a single day. After a day’s filming we’ll typically produce a ‘best bits’ assembly of the footage, which he will check again and then highlight the bits he likes in advance of the edit. It’s labour intensive for him for sure but really helps make sure we showcase his company in the best light.

    Weblink below to one of these projects if anyone’s interested. http://www.beestonmedia.com/video/knowles-shell-core

  • @Hamish – Thanks for the great insights Hamish!

  • There are real estate photographers who work for $50/shoot (god help them) and then there are real estate photographers who work for $1500/shoot.

    So it goes with other clients. I’ve encountered architects who thought $200 was too much to pay for a set of photos. And I’ve licensed individual photos for licensing fees in the mid-four figures. There’s nothing special about real estate, or interior design, or architecture with regards to photography, and the title on someone’s business card bears very little relationship to the value they place on good photographs.

    That said, if you want to make really good photographs, you’re unlikely to do it on a real estate shoot, because you will rarely have the time or client involvement that it takes to do good work.
    I average between an hour and and two hours per photo for residential interiors. Here are a couple of blog posts that show what it looks like behind the scenes.

    http://blog.scotthargisphoto.com/behind-the-scenes/
    http://blog.scotthargisphoto.com/behind-the-scenes-video/

    It’s a lot of work! But so fun, and more rewarding than I can ever express. When you work hard for a photo, and then nail it….it’ll carry you for many weeks, trying to get that feeling again.

  • Over 90% of my work comes from custom home builders. Just like any other client they are all different in what they want or don’t want.

    One client told me “What I don’t want are photos of 10′ x 14′ spare bedrooms with a double hung window. Every home has at least one.” Another builder wants at least two photos of every finished space. They all want detail shots showing their craftsmanship and images that show the relationship with adjoined spaces or how the home flows. What I try to do whenever I shoot for a new client is sit down with them and go over the delivered images to learn what they like or don’t like. It really helps me to ensure that I am delivering the types of images that they are willing to pay me for the use of and continue to use me in the future.

    Larry is right that they are going to want to use the images on their website/social media and in print media for advertising. Whether it be a brochure or an add in a local magazine/newspaper. They have also used images for TV commercials and vehicle wraps. Two clients have me print contact sheets with 6-8 images on them on brochure paper of each home. They place these in binders and use them to show their clients all the different styles of trim, tile, flooring, windows, etc. that they have done in the past which helps their client to actually see what is possible. They feel it works better than just showing them a sample that they have in their showroom.

    In my opinion when it comes to pricing….it’s really not any different than pricing for RE. For RE the shelf life of our images is limited to a relatively short amount of time and limited types of media. Once the home sells or the agent loses the listing the images are no longer of value to them. Where as, with builders our images will probably be used for a much longer period of time and in more types of media. Thus, more use = more value to the client and the more they should be willing to pay for that use. My licensing fee is per image and the licensing fee is determined based on the use of the images.

    Also, if you are going to market to home builders seek out the ones that are building custom homes. They are more likely to use your services to shoot all of their projects since each one is different. Avoid the spec home builder that builds 150-200 homes a year. Chances are they only offer 10 or 12 floorplans and once you shoot each of their floorplans you won’t hear from them again unless they introduce a new one.

  • Loved the Knowles video Hamish.. especially the triple image layout: interesting what you say about Health and Safety: that must be so important when shooting video especially.

    If I could chip in re: the differences between RE stills photography and shooting for interior designers: I often find myself shooting for BOTH the property developer (who sometimes extends usage of images to a realtor by agreement ) AND the interior designer/ stager for the project, which is interesting because their needs are often very different. Simplest way I can put it is that the developer and the realtor want to sell the property itself (obvious huh?): so it’s the standard RE brief: lots of big wide shots to show connecting spaces/ views/ facilities etc. Whereas the interior designer wants to come away with a set of shots that gets him or her hired for another installation: I often have to tell my interior designer clients that we are not looking to sell the actual property to their own clients. Rather we’re looking to sell their vision, something that can be taken from this project and “transposed” to another one: in truth they are selling something that hasn’t even been created yet! We want visitors to their site to say “Do something in a similar style for me” . So I am looking to pull out or distill from the existing space elements which “speak” of their style, not to tell the whole story of the property : so: it’s a case of more carefully structured, detail-focussed images . Not too detailed though! A close up of a set of bath taps for example is a good ad for the makers of the tap: what is more useful for the designer is to show elements of design choice, e.g. colour schemes, placement of artworks etc. It’s a more subjective brief with a perhaps more abstract aim. So I find myself shooting a lot at around 35mm-50mm, and a lot of portrait format with occasional vignette shots at longer focal lengths.

    A day’s shoot will contain everything from the very general to the particular: there is of course plenty of overlap : the interior designer may certainly use a hero shot as a record of the project and it’s nice when the developer or builder gets excited about a very non-RE type abstract detail and chooses to use that in their marketing material. But as you can imagine, from a business point of view, you need to be crystal clear about who’s going to pay for what and avoid the “but we didn’t ask for those kind of shots” situation.. another story!

    That brings me on to some other differences: images shot for interior designers often get published as a series or singly in interiors or “shelter” magazines: flick through one of these and you’ll see what a high ratio of portrait to landscape photos there are: with the portrait format you can help to convey design rather than space .. it almost presents a selective “slice” even when shooting at say 28mm. Interiors images in magazines are often presented four to a page , in 3:4 proportion , approx equal to the A4 magazine proportions. If you want to help an interior designer client get featured in one of these magazines, you need to shoot accordingly: that means shooting a lot more portrait format, and mentally cropping the usual 3:2 proportions of many DSLRS to more of a 3:4 crop which would fill a single page or work as a quarter page vignette shot. Magazines are also allergic to tungsten: very often the editors prefer a day lit look with all interior lights switched off , whereas your developer client/ realtor may want to show how great the lighting is. So I shoot a lot of daytime interiors with tungsten on and off.

    It gets more complicated : interior designers are neurotic ( and rightly so!) about correct representation of colour : that means that if they also want tungsten switched on it can’t have any yellow cast which will distort the “proper” rendering of fabrics and paint colours. So a lot of my images need to be double processed so that the tungsten on version is blended over a daylight only shot: all great fun in post but I need to keep an eye on the time to keep profitable! A properly colour managed workflow is essential.

    I hope Larry will forgive me for including a link to one such project : it’s a single apartment, representing about eight hours actual shooting and same again in post: both interior designer and developer were joint clients and some of the images were used on a real estate listing for the five seconds it was on the London property market! I also sold licences to the architect. I think the set illustrates many of the differences in approach that I bang on about above!

    Images can be viewed at the following link:

    http://simoncmaxwell.photoshelter.com/gallery/PP-Gatti-Unit-4/G000005L3z5sqe7s/C00005aXS68c2thI

    you’ll need password: pfre123

  • “For RE the shelf life of our images is limited to a relatively short amount of time and limited types of media. Once the home sells or the agent loses the listing the images are no longer of value to them.”

    I think this a major misconception among real estate photographers. This may, perhaps, be the case with a lot of very ordinary listings that have not been prepped to a high level for sale. However, for properties that are well prepped and staged, real estate agents may use the photos to promote themselves, long after the property has sold. At the very least, they may retain the photos on their websites long term, and use any brochures and ads in listing presentations; and, if there was a custom property website, they may leave that active for several years after the sale, as an example of their marketing, to help them win new listings.

    As for “limited media”, that might be the case with many properties. However, with some higher end properties, agents may use the photos in ads in consumer magazines and in specialized luxury real estate magazines that have worldwide distribution.

    In short, when real estate agents are using the photos for their own branding, as well as for marketing the properties for sale, their usage of the photos may be considerably more extensive and longer term; and I think that, when catering to this kind of clientele, real estate photographers should consider this broader usage in their rates and licensing terms.

  • Everyone — Thanks for your insights. Highlighting the differences helps me to focus on what I will need to do differently. I find all the comments very helpful. They will help me first as I practice some of the techniques and then as I approach potential clients. Larry, thanks for facilitating the exchange of experience and ideas among all of us.

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