How To Shoot Expensive Homes For Your Portfolio?

September 14th, 2016

ProtfolioGeoffrey asked:

How can I find expensive homes, to shoot for my portfolio when I’m just starting out?

I’m been writing to staging companies, offering free images in exchange for a photography session. The staging companies are not responding as enthusiastically as I had hoped for.

I know I could offer real estate agents, free photos, but is there another way to access expensive homes for my portfolio? The reason I don’t want to offer real estate agents free images is because those same agents could be my future clients and I don’t think they’d like the change from free to charge for photos. Also, they’ll know that I’m new to the industry.

I also contacted large development companies for model homes and condos, but none returned a response. How can I find expensive homes, for my portfolio? What would you recommend?

Don’t even try to cover up the fact you are a beginner. Any experienced agent will probably see that you are a beginner.

  1. Model homes in new developments: You don’t call or contact the builders! Of course, they won’t bother to call you back. They already have marketing photos… probably better than you can produce! You simply SHOW UP at the model home when it’s open. Typically, the person that will be there will be the listing agent for the development. You tell her, “I’m a beginning real estate photographer, I’d like to practice on your beautiful model home”. She won’t care. Just don’t get in the way in a busy time. Choose a time when there aren’t many people around. These kind of model homes are te best place to practice because they are beautifully staged and nobody cares if you photograph the place unless as long as you don’t become a nuisance.
  2. Home stagers: Yeah, this is more of a long shot. You’ll have to do a selling job just to give them free photos. Most good stagers already work with photographers. You have to find one that’s a beginner too and can benefit from some free photography. You’ll have to convince them that your work is worth their time inviting you to shoot some of their work. Best to talk to these people face to face and do a selling job.
  3. Free shoots for listing agents that do upper-end listings: I’ve heard arguments on both sides. Some beginning real estate photographers tell me that giving a free shoot of a multi-million dollar property was a huge advantage to them. Others will argue as you do that you don’t want to give away free shoots. The fact is this may be the only way a beginner will get to shoot a multi-million dollar custom property! You are not going to fool many upper-end listing agents that you are an experienced shooter! Be honest, and completely truthful. Tell them you are just beginning and you’d like to shoot some expensive properties for your portfolio. You’ll may have to show them examples of your work just to let you do a free shoot. Letting you shoot is an investment in time and a risk for them.

Again, #1 is the best and easiest option because you don’t have to sell anyone… you just do it and stay out of the way.

Does anyone else have any advice for Geoffrey?

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11 Responses to “How To Shoot Expensive Homes For Your Portfolio?”

  • In the case of number one, do you typically need to get a property release in order to use those model home photos in your portfolio or for marketing? If so, would the listing agent present there be the appropriate person typically to give that authorization?

  • Just a tip on the model homes, go on a weekday. The agents won’t mind and the foot traffic is minimal. Weekends tend to be the busy times for model home builders and they will ask you to leave.

  • I appreciate the zeal to hurry forward in this field, but patience and experience cannot be rushed in my humble opinion. High end homes come with large spaces, lighting issues, and high expectations. It might not be the place to start. Be sure to master on some level your angles, lighting, editing, and other skills, before jumping into a large estate so your efforts will yield the showcase images you hope for. Seek out smaller projects when starting out. It will teach you the subtleties of how to work with agents and homeowners with confidence. And delivering finished images will provide needed objective feedback on your readiness to go for the beauties.

  • Has anyone thought of the possibility of finding an experienced photographer in the area and asking to shadow them? I did that for about a month. He trained me to shoot for his employing broakerage company, and then hired me to fill in for him during his vacation. After he returned he suggested that I start my own business. All the photos I shot I can use for my protfolio since I own the copyright. I got the opportunity to shoot homes from $30,000 to $750,000 so it gives me a great range for people to see. Obviously, I choose the best photos to display for future clients.

  • Dare I say to skip a portfolio until you can get enough quality images to create one on your site? I did not have a portfolio on my site for the first 1.5 years and I recently removed it from my new site. I just have a single listing (maybe 15 images) slideshow on my home page. I’d rather show an agent a single listing to show consistency then “the best of” from 50 different homes.

    Also, my slideshow, is a 1,700 sq/ft home from a retirement community. I don’t really see the need for elaborate portfolios. That’s just my .02.

  • Look at the images on your local MLS and see if you can beat the ones that are posted. Look for the BEST ONES… and work to do as good as or better they they are. Look at the worst ones and call that agent and offer to do better images for free. Go to open houses and agency meetings to build your client base. No one starts out being the best in this business. The bigger homes are normally done by the best photographers.

    We all get better so always update your web site with the newest images that you are doing.

  • @Jon – while shadowing an experienced photographer is possible, the majority of real estate photographers are not interested in helping train more competition in their local area. You were very luck to find someone that would do this.

  • I’ve asked at model homes and been told that the company has a No Photography rule a couple of times. Maybe if you know somebody that is working in the sales office, they can slip you in. I agree that doing that on a weekend is unlikely.

    Mike B, Property does not have privacy rights so a Property Release is nebulous. All of the attorneys that I have seen comment on them have said they have never seen a case involving one. If the property is not “Iconic”, trying to get a property release might just be borrowing trouble. As soon as you present one, it might set off alarms and either generate a No answer or be sent to an attorney that won’t know anything about them and get marked up with all sorts of indemnifications and additional clauses so they can bill an hour or so to the client.

    Denise brings up a good point about upscale homes being more difficult. Many of the ones that I do are a bear. Larger spaces and, even more of a challenge, dark shiny finishes. All of the middle of the range homes are big on beige and mostly lighter colored flooring and cabinets. Expensive homes can be more impressive in a portfolio but that doesn’t mean that the more average homes photographed well won’t have value.

    I am one of the people that doesn’t like to do “free” photos. Instead, I might do a job at “no charge”. The difference is that I will provide an invoice for the full amount with a 100% discount so the agent understands what I normally charge for that level of job. I’ve done no cost sessions before and none of them lead to more business. Those agents went right back to shooting homes with their cell phone so if you aren’t getting access to something stunning, it might not be worth it. An alternative could be to offer only a few photos of an especially nice kitchen, master bath or well decorated living room with a nice view. If you see a home listed that would be awesome for a twilight, offer to do one as a demo. The idea is to get great portfolio images without having to make photos of the rest of the property than aren’t all that special. Since you might not be under a time constraint for only one room, pull out all of the stops by doing a little staging and taking the time to get the image perfect in the camera. It’s good to let the agent know that you are working to a higher level so they don’t think that you always take that long or that they will always get that same attention to detail.

  • You can do free or discounted photography for real estate agents. It’s probably the easiest way to get into a home. The trick is to shoot out of your immediate area. Find agents 50 miles away. Most likely you won’t be going after their business once you start working.
    Don’t go looking for huge luxurous homes either. These are listing pictures not Architectural Digest. The agent will probably have to remain on site with you. An hour to an hour and a half is about what they will give you. They aren’t making money if they are sitting with you. A nice smaller home is quicker to shoot.
    You will still need to show them something in order for them to trust you with listing pictures even though it’s free or discounted. They don’t want to go back to their seller requesting a reshoot. It will make them look incompentent. Practice on your own home or ask your relatives and friends to shoot their homes. Just a room or two from several homes is all you need for samples.

  • Ken makes a excellent point. When you shoot at “no charge”, work up the invoice and give 100% discount, but remember to charge off the cost of the shoot to “promotion” for income tax purposes so it is not a total loss of your time and effort.

  • Offer to shoot a house on a no cure no pay basis rather than working for free. It gives the client the assurance that they won’t pay for something they don’t like. If they are happy with your work they are willing to pay the price.

    Besides that, why does everybody always want to put high end property in their portfolio’s? If you can make excellent work in a 2 bedroom condo you can do it anywhere. I have 12 houses in my online portfolio (I shot around 2000) and they range from small apartments to high end property and everything in between. Every RE agent that ever hired me loved the sincerity that I put in my portfolio. They are able to relate to my portfolio because they market and sell houses in every price range anyway. So rather put together a portfolio that your prospect can relate to than just million dollars houses.

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