What Should I Charge To Shoot Expensive Upper-end Homes?

March 3rd, 2016

ProtfolioAlex asks:

I’m running a small real estate photography business since last year and although I’ve made progress, still have a lot of things to learn. One question I have is how should I price the expensive listings (1 million and more)? Is it based on the same show-up cost, or you charge sort of “luxury fee”? My current pricing has three tiers:

$100 for small property
$150 for medium property
$225 for big one, which is more than 4 bedroom OR more 4000 sq.f.

But this last one is a very big category, which includes houses starting at 500-600K and up. Tomorrow I will go to shoot my first $1M house, so I was wondering if I’m undercharging.

The reasons to charge more for a shoot is because it takes more of your time or it cost you more to show up. What you charge for a shoot should have nothing to do with the price of the listing. Just because Realtors get a commission based on a percentage of the list price doesn’t mean it makes sense for photographers do so. Why should you charge more for delivering 20 photos of a $600K property than you charge for delivering 20 photos of a $100K property?

Most real estate photographers base their pricing on the square footage of the property because square footage is a rough indicator of how much time you will spend shooting and post-processing. Another sensible way to price is by the number of photos delivered because this is an exact measure of what you deliver.

I would make your price categories based on square footage or the number of photos delivered and NOT say anything on your pricing page about listing prices.

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33 Responses to “What Should I Charge To Shoot Expensive Upper-end Homes?”

  • Choose a target hourly rate and bill based on an estimation of hours required to complete the project. I have a formula that I use to make my estimates based on previous projects and that works very well for me. The bigger houses do take more time because of room counts and special features so do not be afraid to give yourself adequate time to do a thorough job.

  • Higher priced listings make for great portfolio photos. It’s also good to make a reputation as the go to photographer for top tier listings. If you want to charge more, you need to bring more service to the table and have the reputation.

    I charge per photo since I know how much total time, on average, that it takes to deliver a finished image. I don’t charge a premium for higher priced properties because I want to photograph as many of those as I can get. I do offer a premium service where I will spend much more time prepping, staging and massaging the details. I always deliver the best that I can, but that comes with certain constraints. I can only allocate a couple of hours on-site for my standard service or before long, my hourly income rate will drop below minimum wage. The same goes for post processing.

    Don’t price yourself out of a good market segment or your competition may wind up with the high value properties and still be making a decent wage.

  • I completely agree with the responses here. If anything you need to be charging based on the sq. footage of the home and not the home value. Also, if your agents know you are charging based on the home value it seems that your price increase is warrant-less and you’re just attempting to take advantage of the situation. I can guarantee that will not work out well in the long run. Personally, I charge $140 for a basic shoot (25 images) under 3k sq/ft. 3-4k gets an additional $50, 4-5 gets an additional $100 and anything larger than that will require a custom quote.

  • The method I use is to have several tier-based packages according to the number of photos delivered. Using the amounts above as an example, charge $100 for up to 7 photos, $150 for up to 15 photos and $225 for up to 30 photos, then charge a set amount (say $5 or $10) for each additional photo in each package. Sometimes agents only need a few photos for their expensive homes and sometimes they want lots for smaller ones so why charge a premium just because it’s worth more. The amount settled on needs to reflect the fixed costs of running your business (equipment depreciation, insurance, amount you want to take home) as well as variable costs (processing, car running expenses – note that this last one doesn’t change whether it’s a big or small house because you’re already there). Also consider that some MLSs only allow a limited number of photos per property, so your top tier package shouldn’t have much more than this many photos. Often, the more expensive homes generally tend to be ready for shooting and have better lighting (so their easier to shoot overall), so why charge more for them?

    Each of your tier-based packages should contain time limits (e.g. 30, 60 and 90 minutes) and you should charge for additional time past those times (I suggest a certain amount per additional 15 minutes or part thereof, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your next shoot). So if you turn up and the owner’s still getting the place ready or they have to move stuff from room to room, charge for it. For this to work, don’t stop to talk or have a coffee with the owner as you need to remain focused and get through the shoot ASAP. You should provide a decluttering guide to each agent and make it their responsibility to have the place ready for photography.

    You should also consider cancellations. If the agent/owner/tenant calls me before I hit the road, I don’t charge. Chances are it’s not ready and you’ll get to shoot it later. However, anything between the start of travel and the start of shooting and they tell me, I charge 25% of the scheduled fee (at least I don’t have to edit anything), after that it’s full price. I know others may charge full price if less than 24 or 48 hours notice is given but that’s just me.

    If they want location shots, you could also stipulate clearly that there’s no charge if it’s within short walking distance from the property (e.g. the park across the road) ANY it’s within the number-of-photo and time limits in the package they’ve chosen. Any more and you’ll need to pack your gear, travel and unpack your gear, and this takes lots of time, especially if they want the nearest school, railway station, shopping centre and so on.

    Finally, work out how far you’re willing to go for the amount you’re getting for those package and charge for more (remember to double the mileage rate because you’ll need to travel back). Also, factor the average milage into the package price so you win some and you lose some, but on average you’ve covered yourself.

  • I find it kind of strange when I hear the comments not to charge by listing price and the justification is you aren’t doing more work and the agents won’t understand that.

    That is very far off from reality. Yes the agents do understand pricing based on sales price tiers that’s because that’s exactly how they charge. When does it take more effort to market and sell a $500k home than it does to sell a $750k home in the same market? The answer is there is no difference in effort yet they get paid 50% more for the $750 k home.

    It should come as no surprise that a person who is selling a $1million home would expect the agent to spend more money marketing that home than a $500k home. So who should it come as a surprise that you want to charge more.

    Pricing is always based on what the market expects and can bear not what makes someone “feel good” based on some false sense of “fairness.” Every one of those agents wants to get as much as they can out of any sale and it’s always based on what the market is willing to pay never on what is fair or how much time is spent. It is always what they can get away with. There is nothing wrong with that.

    Now if you need some justification for that it’s because of course there will be higher expectations of the part of the seller and the agent. Those homes will always tend to be larger. Those homes will always tend to take more processing time and attention to detail. Those homes will tend to require more thought as to time of day and lighting. Those home owners will expect the agent to pay more for marketing those homes because they are paying the agent more to market the home.

    Now as far as what Dave Williamson said, I think he is right on as far a tiers go with limits on time and number of images. That is exactly how I charge but I don’t base it on sq ft. I use listing prices for three tiers. Those will vary by market but 0-$299k and 30 minutes and up to 29 images is tier one, $300k to $449k is up to 60 minutes and 45 images, $450k to $700k is up to 90 minutes and up to 60 images. Over $700k I say custom pricing but normally charge the same as a $700k property if they are good clients and the time and effort are not greater. Of course I have all kinds of add-ons and restrictions on the distance I’ll travel for those tiers.

    I have another tier that is more than the tire three that’s FSBO. If they want me to shoot a $299k home they have to pay more than I charge for a $700k home. Why? because their expectations and the amount of time I might have to spend with them is unknown. They also have to pay cash BEFORE I start shooting.

    Lastly I have never had a single complaint or question about pricing based on listing price. I have had more question about my policy for charging mileage than anything. No one will question charging more for higher price listings. They will get it without complaint. Just make sure your tiers and the time and effort line up for you to make as much as you can get away with while delivering a quality product. That’s how they work and they do understand.

  • I charged based on listing price simply because if I shoot a 3k Sq ft home listed at 5ook I am going to deliver alot more than if I shoot a 3k Sq ft home listed for 199k.
    So at least where I am at going based on Sq ft would be stupid.
    The more expensive the house the more detail and architecture there is. Has nothing to do with Sq ft.

  • I feel that there is a lot of room to be charging larger sums for high end properties, even when the same amount of photos are delivered.

    -Many photographic campaigns are charged based on the budget of the marketing campaign in question, I’m unclear why real estate should be any different.
    -Can we really say that there is not more pressure on the photographer to produce great images of a home that is worth ten times more than another?
    -Go buy a gallon of gas right now in the richest neighborhood around, then a gallon in the poorest. It’s seems they don’t have any trouble charging quite a bit more when circumstances change a little, why should we?
    -There are fewer high end properties to shoot, so all things being equal, if you shoot high end and another photographer low end (assume same skill set), then how could you charge lthe same? There is less volume there.

    I think ideally everything should be custom quotes. If you’re busy, prices go up. If it’s a pretty exceptionally high end home, prices go up. For more standard hems I think it’s a good idea to have a firmly set rate as I feel that’ll keep those clients happy. On the high end I don’t think the rate needs to be so static.

  • @Frank Gutowski, @Walter,

    I agree totally. This has been discussed several times before here… The higher the price, the more photos I take — the more time it takes for the shoot and the PP. I have done 2,000 SF homes priced at $250K and 2,000 SF homes priced at $500k. The two jobs are completely different in terms of effort, time, and number of photos. My fee is based on .1% (one-tenth percent) of sale price — a fee that all agents I deal with understand completely and feel is fair. In many cases they are paying 20% to 30% referral fees to other agents. My cap is $800 for higher priced homes. I’ve been doing it this way for several years with absolutely no complaints (except here from other photographers).

  • I only use sq ft to give sort of a ball park estimate.

    Sq Ft doesn’t tell you very much… Maybe it has white paint everywhere, or maybe it’s a deep amber cabin with wood walls and ceilings, or… Geez, I had a house that was painted dark chocolate brown walls and ceilings throughout the entire house. I’ve had homes with lots of Windows, and some with very few windows.

    I tend to ask what the interior is like before I even bother with a sq ft consideration.

  • I charge by the listing price using tiered based packages. I’ve photographed 3500 SF, 250k homes and 2200 SF, 1 mil+ homes. At one time, I did the SF pricing but it never worked out. I also think pricing structure is localized. In Metro Atlanta, SF and listing price can be extreme. For example, there are 1500 SF condos selling for under 200k or 700k+. The 700k will have views to capture and just a higher expectation of what I’m expected to produce and may even require an additional visit. For now, this formula works for me and the type of client I want to work for.

  • Square Footage and list price are meaningless when it comes to photography. Neither has any direct impact on what the photographer is going to do, or deliver. Imagine the reaction if other professionals began basing their pricing on these arbitrary, dis-connected statistics.

    The painters would charge more for a 2-bedroom condo in a downtown highrise, and less for a 10-bedroom McMansion out in the suburbs, simply because the high-rise condo is going to sell for more money? What kind of sense does that make?

    Window washers should charge more for houses that are more expensive, regardless of how many windows, or whether it’s a ranch or a 3-story colonial? Seriously? You think the agent wouldn’t say, “Gosh, this house only had 10 windows, why are you charging me more than last week when the house had 40 windows?”

    Housecleaners should charge more for a small but expensive house that’s in pristine condition, and less for a giant rambling house that’s disgustingly filthy? Why?

    Photographers are in the business of providing PHOTOGRAPHS to their clients….and so it seems to me that we ought to charge our clients for just that: PHOTOGRAPHS. Anything else just throws a completely useless filter between what’s being done by the photographer, what’s being received by the client, and what’s being billed.

    All of these maxims being put forth by the apologists for the “charge-by-list-price” and “charge-by-square-feet” schemes (how come no one charges by how many floors?) fall apart immediately in the real world.

    * Expensive houses do not always mean “more photos”. Indeed the reverse is often the case.
    * Expensive houses are not necessarily larger than cheap houses.
    * Big houses are not necessarily more expensive than small houses.
    * Big/Expensive houses are no more difficult, or easy, to photograph than small/cheap houses.
    * Poor people care just as much about the marketing of their houses as rich people do. And arguably, it matters more to them.

    And there’s always the question of what you’re going to do when your client lists a small place but, for whatever reason, wants to make a gazillion photos of it (which happens all the time). If you’re charging by square foot, or by list price, you can’t bill more money for the extra work.

  • I’d like to see these guys who charge based on list price try that in the market I work in – how will you justify £7500 to supply 6 images? That’s what I would need to charge for the most expensive property I’ve done so far this year, assuming that I charge £75 for 6 images for the least expensive one I’ve shot this year, which would seem about right. It would also mean an average fee of £1250 for 6 images. I’m sure you can get away with it in a market with a very narrow price band, but why not charge per photo? I think all these price bands or tiers that people use only exist because they have done since the year dot. If your market had no experience of how PRFE was priced then what could be more straightforward, and be applicable to all properties in all markets, than charging an attendance/location fee and per image?

  • Exactly what Scott Hargis said – price per image. I went this route several years ago, and find that agents have less questions about my service. I do keep a minimum price amount. After my minimum is reached, I add to the photo total. Agents I work with that know that I offer by the image pricing usually are good at estimating how many images they need for any given property. If I have a price, say $162.00, I usually round down to $160.00. The difference for me is 1.2%, but agents remember I did that for them and usually come back again.

  • @Matt Davis,
    I cannot understand how you can represent and market a property with only 6 images. In my market (Chicago USA), agents require a minimum of 36 photos. This is the number that Realtor.com allows and recommends for best viewership. The last job I did for $800 (cap rate) (List price $1,449,000), I took 150 shots and pared them down to 60 for the virtual tour that I supply.

    If I were to charge $10 per photo, should I have charged $1,500 for the 150? Or, $600 for the 60? I also supply 25 smaller sized photos for the recommended size for the MLS. Should I charge another $250 for these in addition? [note that my price includes a printed brochure — in this case 10 pages.]

    My pricing strategy works out better for most properties. The agents don’t have a clue about how many photos best represent the property. My background as an architect and RE agent, engender their trust in my judgement for what to photograph, how many photos, and what works best for marketing.

    @Scott Hargis,
    I’m sorry, but I simply cannot follow your logic. It seems to consist of several logical fallacies of false equivalency. No, I would not charge to wash windows based on the list price of the home. So what? Square Footage and list price actually do have direct impact on what the photographer is going to do, or deliver. Price provides a more consistent correlation than square footage IMHO.

  • @Michael Allen. Matt is in London, where I think things are a little different partly because if the size of the houses. More like Condo$?

  • @Michael Allen,
    I made several analogies that I think are perfectly relevant. You don’t mention what the problem would be with my proposed window-washing price system — or why it’s different from photography.
    But my logic is this — photographers are hired to make photographs. So why not charge for photographs? To me, this seems brilliantly simple.

    If a photographer bases his or her worth in terms of time spent on a project, then it surely follows that more photographs = more time, and therefore the pay would increase.
    If a photographer bases his or her worth in terms of value to the client, then again it follows that more photographs = more value, and therefore the pay would increase.

    So my question to you is, what, specifically, is the problem with charging per photo?

    “…If I were to charge $10 per photo, should I have charged $1,500 for the 150? Or, $600 for the 60?…”
    First, this makes absolutely zero sense to me. Why are you making 2.5 times the number of photos that you’re delivering? What a colossal waste of both your time, and your client’s. Why wouldn’t you just make 60 good photos, and then deliver them?
    Regardless, if you think that your photos are worth $10 each, then yes, you should charge $600 for 60 photos. I don’t understand in any way how you could even consider charging for photos that you made that you aren’t going to deliver, so your question about charging full price for photos that didn’t make the cut and aren’t being sent to the client just seems kind of silly.

    “…I also supply 25 smaller sized photos for the recommended size for the MLS. Should I charge another $250 for these…?”
    If these are 25 new photos, then yeah, you charge for that. Now you’re delivering 85 photos (which in my opinon is an absurdly large number). But if you’re just re-sizing some of the 60 original shots, then no (are you really asking this or are you just trying to make a rhetorical point?) – I don’t think you can charge the same client 2 licenses for the same image. You could certainly charge a fee for doing the resizing, but that seems like nickle-and-dime stuff, to me.

    HOW MUCH to charge is a completely separate conversation. You can charge any amount you like, but the basic formula would be that the more photos you deliver, the more money you make. Your clients are perfectly able to specify quantities in every other area of their lives – they know that every candy bar they buy, every gallon of gas, every dozen eggs, is a little “cha-ching” at the cashier. They even know that every kilowatt of electricity they use will be billed, even though hardly anyone really calculates their electric usage that carefully.
    They’ll be able to handle the notion of each photograph being worth a set dollar amount. Give them some credit for being intelligent!

  • 90% of what I shoot is valued over a million. I think there are too many factors to consider to apply some kind of pricing formula when it comes to the bigger more expensive properties, and that giving a custom quote makes more sense. What if it’s a thousand acres? What if they want 30 property exterior shots and 5 interior. Or 30 interior and 5 exterior and property shots (3 times as much work)? Winter (snowshoes needed to get to the spot your going to shoot exterior at 6am and it’s zero degrees out) vs summer. Dusk shots are almost certainly wanted, sometimes morning and night. Larger strobes are needed for the 2,000 sq/ft dark poorly lit great room with a view out giant windows of bright snowy mountains. Sometimes it takes me over 30 minutes to turn on the lights and open the shades! At least half day is needed for the job, sometimes two or more days. Having a very high end listing usually means the realtor is dealing with a more discriminating and demanding seller who expects top notch professional photography. These realtors are also more savvy and understand the value of photography to their image/brand and how it will help secure more listings in the future. All that said I believe realtors are willing to spend more on these expensive listings. I often charge much more for the same number of photos delivered for higher priced listings and not once has anyone complained or asked why. They understand these properties are more involved and the photos come at a bit more of a premium. Prices generally start at $750 and to up from there. Just wanted to share my perspective and experience.

  • @ Michael Allen

    “I cannot understand how you can represent and market a property with only 6 images.”

    I guess only an estate agent could honestly answer that question, but my guess would be that my clients who only use up to 6 photos would tell you that they’re happy to only show either the very best aspects of the property or that in London an average 2 bedroom flat (say £1m) will only warrant 6 photos – external, 2x bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, living room. I remember supplying photos for an incredible and unique home that was renting for £11,500/week and the agent bought just 7 photos, and yes, they rented it out. I alluded to it in my original post that not all markets are the same, but I’ve yet to see an argument which would suggest price per photo is not suitable to all properties in all markets. And how anyone can take 150 shots is beyond me – I reckon I’ve taken more than 40 shots just twice in the last 2 years; once for an architecturally stunning home of around 4000 sf listing at £14.5m (circa 50 photos) and once this week for another stunning and rare home of 10,000 sf listing at £30m (circa 50 photos). But these numbers are by the by – there is no argument that I’ve yet heard for not charging based on number of images supplied. I also believe that the agents at the high end know exactly what they’re doing, and that the agents at the lower end of the market employ a certain level of hit and hope strategy. One more thing – even though I work in an expensive market, there are a ton of agent who are cheap and will refuse to pay more than £100 for 6 to 8 photos, or use more than that number, per property for a £1m to £3m listing.

  • Edit: I meant a lot of houses there, not all of them are smaller, and i may be wrong.

  • @ Caleb

    You’re correct – the most common size of property I shoot would be 1000 to 1500 sf I guess, although I shoot 5000 sf + properties every month I would still rarely get more than 30 photos for those. In my market there simply isn’t this notion that more is better. Better is better.

  • Have a base rate, build in add Ons.

    Agents and brokers are extremely smart with money, most of the ones I work with also are investors and flip houses.

    So I have found other ways to maximize my revenue on listings with larger budgets.

    1) Offer a premium twilight package
    2) Offer a video package production add on
    3) Offer community area photos to give a sense of the lifestyle
    4) aerial photos
    5) multiple visits to maximize the best light on various locations on the property
    6) elevate your half and full day pricing that offers zero compromise on quality which is best suited for “luxury homes”.

    The trick is to let them spend the money, not make them.

    If a window washer had a special “platinum process” the most likley person to order it will be higher end clients with elevated budgets.

    Photography has nothing to do with business, mixing the two is tough but roll up your sleeves and get crafty to keep shooting for a living.

  • I’ve seen a couple (maybe 3) homes where I was sold on the home in less than 3 photos. All of the photos for these were just stunning, but I would honestly have to say that if I were in the market I would want to see a few more just to convince me to pick up the phone and call the agent. 6-8 photos could work. I might have delivered as many as 36 images on no more than 2 properties in 3 years and find that number of images to be a maximum and not an optimum count no matter what Rupert Murdoch (Realtor.com/NewCorp) says. I should have been able to cut some of those out and still have a fantastic gallery.

    Nearly all of the time I come back from a job with the number of compositions I end up delivering. Occasionally I delete 2-3 that I already knew had issues but wanted to look at on the big screen when I got back. I’ve learned from a few people to do an initial walk through and get an idea of what the compositions will be. I look again when I’m ready to photograph that room. While I may have 150+ frames on the card, there aren’t all that many compositions. As I get more confident, my frame count drops. I am also taking fewer set up frames.

    The goal is to highlight a home so a listing will get a potential buyer to pick up the phone and inquire about the property. 80 photos is an insurance documentation gallery. Even a large estate doesn’t need that many. A double-wide mobile home with 90 photos, and I’ve seen a few, is a complete waste of time to even look at.

    I’ll be very happy if any competition in my area wants to charge a premium for high value listings. This gives me a great opportunity to book more business photographing much nicer homes than I typically get. Underprice your work and you will starve for your art. Overprice your work and you won’t get any.

    The higher price for gas in the expensive neighborhood is most likely because the gas station is paying considerably higher rent than the location in the ‘hood. The profit on gasoline is very low at the retail level. The gas station is making their money on sodas, smokes and snacks where the profit margins are sky high.

  • Scott says: ” photographers are hired to make photographs. So why not charge for photographs?”
    No. That’s not how I see my job, nor my “value proposition” — The agents I work with consider me to be part of their marketing team. They present my services that way in their listing presentations to convince sellers to use their services. They credit me with contributing to their success. I provide more than just photos — virtual tours, brochures, flyers for email marketing. Basing my licensing fees on home price has worked out to have the best correlation with the actual work involved. Here’s a false equivalency for you: do fashion photographers charge based on the number of images they take?

    Scott says: “Why wouldn’t you just make 60 good photos, and then deliver them?” Well, I must be a terrible photographer, because I take lots of different angles and views, sometimes with different lighting setups, then pick the best for publication. Do you really publish (deliver) every image you shoot? [I didn’t mention that I shoot 3 brackets for each final image, so, in my example, I actually have 3 times as many image files to select from … ]

    Finally, some have suggested that 6 photos are enough to sell a home. Some have said 36 is the most they have supplied. They cannot understand why anyone would do more. I talk to a lot of buyers (with my RE hat on), who all agree, “There’s never too many photos. I discount listings with only a few photos”.

    So, here’s an experiment. Below is a link to the example I mentioned in my previous message. The agent team loves it. The homeowner loves it. Buyers are responding to it — it has received over 400 views and resulted in many showings. The slideshow was even embedded in an online version of Crain’s Chicago Business -Real Estate Daily. So, if you have the time, take a look and tell me which photo you would remove from the set. Which are not needed to tell the story of this home. How would you present this home with only 6 photos… or 36. I’m open to suggestion. How would you shoot this home? How much would you charge?

    http://www.foxvalleytours.com/?ID=59075&b

  • @Michael Allen, There isn’t a good way to name the photos to remove, but an approximation would be about 60%. I’d start with the images that have the worst color cast and cut the gallery down to between 20-25 images. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t have gone with more images that were more unique/detail shots. For a home as shown, I don’t make and include as many photos of the front, dining room and kitchen as you have.

    I too have been told that homes I have photographed have had 100’s of views, but I am more interested in days on market/sold price. The number of showings is also a soft metric. A home may get a lot of requests for showings if it is underpriced for the area. Several homes I have photographed in the last 6 months have sold on the first day listed at a price over asking. My clients swear that they weren’t under pricing, the photos were a big part and both they and their clients were thrilled with results. Job done.

    My approach is to highlight a home to compel a shopper to call the listing agent or the agent representing them. I want to leave people wanting to see more. If you subscribe to higher end real estate magazines, you should count the number of images used in the articles. 8 is fairly common and articles with more tend to have several much smaller frames. Those articles do a good job of “telling the story” of the home in images before reading the text.

    I always recommend against large image counts for two reasons. The first is that, artistically, the photographer should look for the least number of compositions to highlight the best features of a property and to leave people wanting more so they will want to visit the home in person. Viewers online have been shown to have a very short attention spans and might click to the next listing before they get to the best features if a gallery drags on and on. The second reason is business. There is a cost to just show up to a commission and a cost to produce each finished image. The market will only pay a certain amount of money for listing photography and many photographers also have competition to worry about. If one is looking to make a living wage, the business side has to make sense.

    I have a very good idea of how much time it takes me to produce a finished image from start to finish. With the narrow price range that agents are willing to pay, I would have to cut my production time in half or accept half the pay to deliver twice as many images. Another factor is turning the job around and delivering the images the next day (I guarantee a 2 business day turnaround). Cutting 150 compositions down to 50 and then processing those would eat up too much time. As the de facto art director on the job, I walk through a property and make a list of what shots need to be made and then execute that plan in the same way I do when a customer’s art director hands me a shot list. I experiment here and there and may come back with 2-3 additional comps over my list. As time goes on, I’m learning that my first choice is almost always the one I’m most happy with. Keeping the customer happy is very important and the agents I work with want images as fast as I can have them ready so they can post the listing. The quality has to be there too. The only thing they don’t care about is whether I get a chance to eat or sleep. I have to structure my workflow to make sure food and rest gets accomplished.

    Finally, I want to be the photographer in my area getting the calls to photograph the best properties. If I’m trying to make a livable wage and delivering large images counts for every property, I’m going to have to sacrifice a lot of quality to get jobs done fast enough. The lower quality images are going to work against me in the long run.

    I delivered a job last week with 16 photos. The homeowners have three small children (all there when shooting) and his wife was away at a conference (complete mad house). This home was “well lived in” to put it politely. I normally deliver around 20 finished images and was worried about what the broker was going to say with this smaller gallery. He called me about a half an hour after I made the images available and told me that he couldn’t believe it was the same house that he saw a couple of days before and congratulated me on doing such a great job getting him visuals he could work with. There isn’t an offer yet, but the calls are coming in steadily. I highlighted this property’s best features and skipped the mess. By cutting down by a few photos, the homeowner and I were able to do some quick staging to get the best photos. I spent about 40 minutes more than I like on-site but the next/last property that day was vacant and I had the lock box code to let myself in, so timing wasn’t critical. I earned my biscuit that day and the broker has scheduled two more jobs next week.

  • Bingo Michael Allen, you got it. Your job is to be part of a marketing team WITH the agent. That’s your Value Proposition. People, especially technocrats, and yes many very good photographers are just technocrats, can’t see beyond the technicalities of their craft.

    They see only the number of clicks, the techniques, the light needed, how do I white balance the scene, what kind of pole do I need to take elevations. From there they place a value on their work based on how they think the agent or a commodity market will perceive value in their “Commodity.”

    Just like coal out of the ground or Pork Bellies on the exchange. They view their product as a commodity. News flash folks when you raise your participation in the process above the “commodity” perception, you are playing by a whole new set of rules.

    Of course in business operations, which is part of what you need to understand when running your own business, you do have to think about time and clicks and effort ect. That is the part where you figure your cost of doing business. It is only one part of pricing the value you bring.

    When thinking “Commodity businesses” you figure only on getting your cost of the commodity down and selling at a specific “mark up over cost.” In the commodity business you count weights of coal and grades of coal then try to capture market share based on price not value. After all, it’s all the same lumps of coal or numbers of windows etc. right?

    Stop thinking your value is only in the number of clicks or images or the perceived quality of your images. Start thinking that you are part of a Sales and Marketing team. However you are an outsourced part of that team. If your presence on the scene is just to push a button a certain number of times and bring a fancy camera you are a commodity and what Scott Hargis said here will hold true.

    Frankly I’m a bit surprised by what Scott said. He is without a doubt one of the top Architectural photographers around. He is accomplished and gets it when he runs his own business. When you look at his work and how he runs his own business it should become apparent he understands the value proposition he brings. It is not click counts and shoot and scoot. He is selling himself and pricing himself not clicks, despite what he has said here. That being said however he is an Architectural Photographer and not a Real Estate photographer. Perhaps his comments are made from his perception of RE as only a commodity.

    Back to pricing… you look at your efforts (clicks, travel time, time on site, post processing time, work flow etc.) as PART of the equation of your pricing. You look at it to determine your cost and determine what the base of your profit will be not to determine your price or how much to charge.

    What you “Can Charge” will depend more on your value proposition to the agent in your market than what the cost of the “Commodity” you are selling is based on. The value I present to the agents and what the sellers see when I’m on site goes way beyond the number of shots I take or how technically “good” they are.

    So I will repeat. Reduce your cost of delivery to the minimum (this is with your business hat on) then make sure your quality is equal to or better than the competition (this is with your technocrat hat on) then work on your value proposition (what you bring to the table, your presence on site, your understanding of their business, your understanding of how the seller perceives you, the “Art” you bring to those clicks etc.) Then go out and charge as much as you can get based on the market and the individual site circumstances. Of course always keep in mind the operations and your cost (clicks) and don’t lose money. The market will tell you when you are charging more than your value, not Scott or me or Allen.

    You are either going to be a “commodity” (what Scott seems to be making the case for with window analogies) or you are going to be a Professional Creative Business with a clear value to bring to the engagement (this is actually how Scott runs his business I would imagine). I run mine that way but let’s be clear I’m in no way the same class as Scott. He’s the bomb, so take his technical advice not his business pricing advice. That is unless I read him all wrong. It’s value, value, value, not commodity.

  • Oh by the way Ken Brown gets it also. While he is disagreeing with Allen it seems, he has found his unique “value proposition” that he brings to his specific market. He has considered his operations cost as well as the technical level he needs to be at and combines that with an individual value proposition that works for him.

    There are hints and tips he is providing, all very valid, all important to how he runs his business and the quality and value he brings.

    In the end he brings value his clients recognize and want. It’s different than the exact value Allen or Scott or I bring. It’s not a commodity, it his personal value.

    So again, as the night follows the day, understand your operational cost then work on your individual value proposition then charge as much as the market will bear and your value brings.

  • I’ve really enjoyed this discussion so I thought I would add my own experience – When I first start working with an agent they show up with me and have made sure the property is ready to shoot. Over time agents get less and less involved and I end up dealing with their clients on their behalf. I have agents I shoot for exclusively that I have not seen in well over a year. I call their seller, give advise, visit the home before the shoot and even help move grandma and oxygen tanks from room to room while I shoot. Now I know my fee is several times that of other RE photogs in my area, but my clients know my quality is always going to be a certain level, their client is going to be treated with utmost care and the agent is going to be kept informed. I’m never late and I always deliver on time. This has become my personal brand… which I see as a set of promises, consistently kept, that creates a profit for me and my client. My client’s “profit” is not just the value a set of quality images bring, but the time saved they can spend on more important things. This freedom to never worry about this important step in the process is very valuable.

    I don’t know why my business has evolved into more client management, maybe its my personality or my market. My advise when setting or evolving your price structure is not to discount all the other valuable things you bring to the table when its time to bill.

  • What gets me is all the comments about the larger, more expensive homes means that the images have to be better than the images for a TBSH. IMO, you should be delivering the same quality regardless of the size or price of the home. If it wasn’t for the time and effort I put in to create the best quality images that I can for the TBSHs I probably would have never gotten the opportunity to shoot the McMansions.

    I have found over time that, on average, it takes me the same amount of time to create 10 images regardless of the size or value of the home. That is why I base my pricing by the image. Sure, I will probably spend more time in a large, expensive home as compared to a small, inexpensive home. But, it’s only because of the number of images created. Also, the size, value of the home has nothing to do with how easy or difficult it is to shoot.

  • @ Michael Allen

    That home would be among the largest that I shoot, so I would probably deliver 30 to 40 photos. I would shoot the best compositions rather than shoot each room from all four corners. I would get maybe 3 shots of the kitchen, for example, and also have the cabinetry the same colour in each shot. I certainly wouldn’t take more than two shots of the front, and I wouldn’t need to show the very average entrance hall in 6 different shots. If I delivered 30 to 40 images the chances are my client would only use 10 to 15 on the property portals and maybe up to 20 in a printed brochure – more than their average as this home would be bigger than average. I’d charge around £400 to £600 depending on the client.

  • I also meant to say that that many photos, to me, looks like documenting space rather than selling a lifestyle.

  • To start with, I’d like to see Larry post a poll on what criteria RE photographers charge their clients, what area they service (general location, not city, say Southern California, etc.) and the approximate amount of product they deliver.

    To say that one way or the other is the ONLY way to charge is very naive. The demographics of your area will have a huge impact on how you market your services. If you are new and start a service in an area that is used to paying one way or the other with a different tact, then you are putting a obstacle in your way. If it were me, I would ease in with using what the clients were used to, adjusting my pricing to get the same amount and then once established move my criteria slowly to the way I want. Established clients can be worked with… and “Educated” (I hate that term, so pious), where as newbie clients are already taking a risk moving over to you and that could swing the decision.

    I think Frank hit the nail on the head with being part of the marketing “team” attitude. Once you establish that kind of repore with your clients, Everything is much easier to deal with.

  • Okay now…. Who stole all the “i”‘s from the above messages?

    In case the thief is still working, I’m talking about the missing letter that comes after “h”.

  • The lowercase “I”‘s “i”‘s are back! Thanks!

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