Transitioning From A 9 to 5 Job To Full Time Real Estate Photography

August 22nd, 2016

ChangeMichael in Atlanta asked the following:

I’ve shot professionally 3-4 years ago (while in college) and have since taken the more traditional career route of a 9-5, however, as of late I’ve felt an overwhelming urge to go back to my roots. Photography is definitely a passion, but the lifestyle it affords is almost as, if not more, attractive.

My question revolves around the schedules that most real estate agents prefer – I’m ready to begin pitching listing agents, though I’m hesitant as I’m still currently employed for 40 hours per week. Have you found agents willing to schedule shoots on the weekends? I would like to have a longer “proof of concept” that this idea could work prior to leaving my secure job.

Do you have any advice for those making the transition from a traditional 9-5 to real estate photography?

I’ve talked to real estate photographers who work part time. They all seem to make it work to some extent.

Most listing agents that want a home shot ASAP. When they sign a listing agreement with a home seller the seller always seems to want it on the market right away. So there will be some shoots that you won’t be able to do. Having been an agent for 10 years with my wife, agents tend to work on weekends so I doubt weekend shoots are a big issue for most agents. In fact, it may be an advantage because some real estate photographers only work 5 or 6 days a week.

There will still likely be a period of time during your transition where you’ve quit your 9 to 5 job and still haven’t got totally up to speed in real estate photography. So, I would build up a cash reserve that will cover expenses 9 to 12 months before you start the transition.

Are there readers out there that have made this transition that can give Michael some first-hand advice on how to pull off a smooth transition from a traditional job to real estate photography?

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15 Responses to “Transitioning From A 9 to 5 Job To Full Time Real Estate Photography”

  • I have recently completed my full transition from a full-time job to full-time real estate photography.

    I was photographing real estate in New York City for five years when I decided to move to Hawaii and stop photography in order to follow my passion for scuba diving.

    All went well and I worked as a scuba diverting instructor in Hawaii when opportunity to photograph a very high-profile home came up.

    I jumped on the opportunity just to get a feel for photographing homes in Hawaii. Pretty quickly I got bit by the bug again and decided that I want to do real estate photography again.

    Being a broke dive instructor, I couldn’t afford to just quit my job and throw my luck at the market.

    So I needed to work VERY hard, luckily I was working at the dive company in the evenings which left my mornings available to photograph.

    So I woke up at 5:30 AM to deliver last nights photos. Went to shoot at 7:30, got back at noon grabbed a bite to eat, And off to the boat work. I finish my day on the boat at 10 PM come home and guess what, edit photos!

    I was working seven days a week with both jobs combined about 18-19 hrs. a day. But I made myself a name in the RE photo communty and slowly but surely I could cut down on my diving shifts and took more photography jobs. This went on for about five years.

    Last year I put in my notice with the dive shop and I am photographing 2 to 3 homes a day every day and I even take one day off a week to relax.

    Unless you have money to live on, it can be quite a difficult transition without having a flexible day job.

  • I shot real estate “on the side” during weekends and lunch hours for 7 years slowly building up my skills and my client list. It eventually got to the point where I was burning out trying to do both so had to choose one or the other. Stick with the full time IT job or go full time RE photog. I’m now in my 2nd year as full time RE photog and loving it!

  • Thanks Michael for bringing up the subject. I am very interested in what others have to say regarding your question. I am still new at this Real Estate Photography job. I have been doing it part-time for 1.5 year now. I used to work 12 hrs shifts (2 days/2 nights/4 off) and it was easy enough to schedule shoots during my days off or when working nights but I have been in a 8am-5pm job for the past few months and it has been fantastic as far as my sleeping schedule goes – anybody that has worked shifts will know what I’m talking about – but challenging to book appointments with real estate agents and homeowners. I try to do most shoots during the weekends or if I have to, and the property is close enough from my work, I can squeeze a shoot here and there during my lunch breaks. I would love to be a full time RE photographer but I honestly don’t think I could make a living doing it where I live now. I would have to move to a bigger city and this alone puts a damper on the idea of a smooth transition. If I ever have to move to a more populated area for work, I will consider full-time RE photography very seriously. Thanks in advance to everybody for your comments on this topic!

  • Michael, I’m a full time RE photographer in Atlanta. I have regular clients that I work with year round. During the busy months for listings most of my agents are showing homes or doing open houses on weekends. While many of them don’t need to be there when I shoot, some of their clients prefer that they are. My clients usually want the shoots done during the week so they can get the listings in the MLS by the weekend when they know buyers are looking. Almost all of them ask me to have the images edited and online within 12-24 hours of the shoot. Buyer’s agents schedule back to back showings on the weekends. That means if I’m truly working “full time” I’m shooting in the day and editing at night 5 days a week. I do however pick up remodeling, construction, and Interior Design shoots on the weekends. One other issue with weekend shoots for me is I like to have the fewest number of people I can in a house when I’m shooting. With family homes it can be tough to coordinate on the weekends. Most weekdays the kids are in school and the adults are at work – that’s just the way I prefer it.

  • Even with a 9-5 job, you don’t have to limit your shots to just the weekends. For much of the year you can also photograph real estate after work with the longer daylight hours. The beauty of this is the ability to catch those amazing exterior evening glow shots where you turn on all the lights in the home. And, if your lucky, even a great sunset shot that you can only get in the evening.

  • My answer is simple: Conquer your fear and just do it. The timing is good; the market is on fire. Not having anything to fall back on will drive you through difficult actions that are highly effective (like getting toe-to-toe with brokers)… The chance of failure while ‘dipping your toe in the water’ is far greater than making a solid commitment and just doing what it takes. …all imo and easier said than done… Good luck!

  • I have only been doing RE photography since February. I tried it part time but that only lasted a month. I did find that most realtors are on a tight deadline for photos so I missed several opportunities because of my other job. To make it worth it to quit my “real” job, I had to expand my radius that I was willing to drive for jobs, but it has worked well and I’m doing anywhere between 8 and 14 a week.

  • I agree that having a cash reserve of 9 months of living expenses would be HIGHLY advisable, as it will take time to get a full time salary doing photos. Of course, to play devil’s advocate, desperations is a far greater motivation for getting out there and hustling and working your tail off than is contentment and a cushion. The best advice is to have a cushion and to work as if you don’t, because 9 months of living expenses go by real quick.

    I also agree that many agents will like that you can shoot weekends and weekday evenings as that’s when home owners are there to let you into the houses. You could easily do 5-10 houses a week if you only shoot evenings and weekends.

  • Is your “9-5” flexible at all? How about 7-3? If you can get enough time in the afternoon/early evening, you could definitely do one or two sessions. During the busy season, I’m working on the weekends. I get plenty of days off as it is, so I’m not turning down any work. I have other jobs that I do as well since the agents in my service area still live in the stone age. Photography takes precedence, so my other work is very flexible. There is nothing wrong with only working on weekends if that’s all the time you can carve out. If you sock that money away, you can build that safety cushion that lets you go full time without having to resort to eating Ramen noodles for every meal and living in your car until you build up your client list.

  • I recently (after 10 years) left the military and decided to move back to my home with the family. After trying to get a job for months unsuccessfully in my field of work I decided to give RE photography a run. We had saved up a decent amount of money with the military and we can survive for a bit. I’m honestly at the beginning of the process since making the decision to go all in on this. It started with emails to head brokers in the area and designing a business plan comparable to others in my area. That’s when I kind of fell into an interesting position. The top realty company in my area (over 125 full time agents) contacted me to set up a meeting. Now at this time I had little experience and was going off of a very small portfolio. So now after weeks of back and forth emails I gave them a free shoot in a very nice home to compare to the quality of the scheduled photographer. If all goes well I may have the offer of making a contract with them making myself exclusive as a photographer for them and they make me the top choice as their RE photographer doing pretty much as many shoots as I want since they list over 100 properties a month. I am really betting on this working out but it’s nerve racking as hell.

  • @Charles be careful about putting all your eggs in one basket if you do it will always be ‘nerve racking as hell’.

  • @Dave yes I have read that many times on here, but at the same time I’ve really done my homework on this company and found that they have a great history and no real chance of slowing down at all. I mean 90% of their listed properties get shot professionally. I have gone to other companies in the area just to get blown off for lack of experience or been told I can be an alternate photographer after 5 other guys they have in line. This company is rather huge and has multiple offices in the area. If it happens to work out good but if something happens and everything goes south I will at least have a good portfolio and the experience under my belt with the backing of some of the better realtors in the area. But believe me until I hear back I’m out there daily trying to find opportunity.

  • @Charles, if you wind up working with one company exclusively, the IRS will classify you as an employee. As an employee, the copyright on all of the images you make while on assignment become the property of the agency unless you have a contract that specifies otherwise. There are plenty of photographers with that type of arrangement so it’s not out of line to ask for it. Be sure to make a list of concerns when/if you talk to them. Will they be providing insurance for your equipment? Will they be providing equipment? Maintenance? Computer/software/training? Will they provide a car or what is the reimbursement rate for using your own? Research this yourself. A business can write off 100% of a lease on a car they provide to you to get to job sites. If the area is not too big, an electric car like a Nissan Leaf would be exceptionally cheap to operate. Also find out if they have a defined Look that you will be required to hold to or if you have some creative freedom. Will you be able to do your own scheduling so you can photograph homes when the sun is in the best place? If there isn’t properties to photograph or the weather is bad do you turn into the office utility outfielder doing filing, running errands and cleaning the bathrooms?

    You want to be known as the visual marketing person and not “the picture guy”.

  • Sorry to be late to this party… I was traveling… something I can do now that I left my 9-5 to do photography full time!

    I recently quit my 9-5 (actually 6-3) job in order to do what I really loved instead… BYOB (Be Your Own Boss) For me that happens to be photography. First off, I am a “retired” design engineer who took on a leadership position at a local grocery store. While it didn’t nearly pay what I made in engineering, it paid me enough to survive and allowed me to build my business. For three years, I shot after work and on weekends… slowly building my skill-set and client base. This past year has been real struggle keeping up with all the listing photo assignments. My day job was now getting in the way of photography job. After careful consideration, building my savings and lots of prayer I knew it was time. And I just did it. So far, it’s been the best decision of my life.

    My advise…
    – don’t rush into it. I spent three years thinking that tomorrow would be the best time to do it. When I really knew it was time to move on… I REALLY knew it.
    – Build your client base now. Build relationships. Work with your clients and they will work with you. My clients were as excited about my decision to do photography full time as I was. They rallied to help me fill my calendar. Because I built relationships!
    – Save your money now and keep saving. This will also factor into when you know the time is right.
    – don’t burn bridges with your 9-5… you might have to go back
    – Pray… ask God for wisdom and guidance… He’ll certainly give it to you.

  • Howdy,

    One of the key considerations to make when evaluating this, is to make sure you look at all the ‘hidden’ costs you need to cover. A classic, for me, is the ‘Affordable’ Care Act. Making enough on the surface is one thing, making enough to cover healthcare and all the ‘extras’ in life is important not to dismiss or overlook.

    This has been one consideration for me, as much as the market I’m in, when considering whether to make the leap. My local market, Detroit, simply will not bear the market price required to do this full time, as a Dad supporting family of 5. When I have realtors listing $15M properties (yes, we have those in Michigan) feeling $100 for a photographer is ‘outrageous’…

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