What Is The Income Potential Of Real Estate Photography? How To Raise Your Price?

December 5th, 2016


I recently had an interesting discussion with a real estate photographer in the Huntington Beach, California area who said she “wasn’t making any money” and needed to raise her prices. She said she was averaging 55 shoots a month and getting $150-$200 per shoot. And although she wasn’t the lowest priced photographer in her area she was among the lower priced real estate photographers. Her concern was that whenever she talked about raising her prices, her clients complained and she was afraid of losing her best clients that were giving her 15 to 30 shoots a year. Here are some things that I pointed out to her:

  1. Grossing in the neighborhood of $100,000 a year isn’t all that bad so one first step would be to review all her expenses and make sure she was operating as efficiently as possible. She outsources her post processing ($.40/image) and has a contract employee ($45-$65/shoot) that helps her with shoots.
  2. Another obvious solution would be to raise the level of clients she is marketing to and raise the price she is charging. While in the short term this may loose some of her clients that wouldn’t pay the higher prices, in the long term her income will increase. This also may require researching who the upper-end agents are in her area and what they need and expect. It would also require overcoming her fear of losing old clients.
  3. A question that comes to mind in a discussion like this is what should one expect to make as a real estate photographer? While there are likely geographic variations, there are bound to be some natural limits. To get at this question I did this poll about 7 of years ago. The old poll was a little fuzzy since it didn’t say “Net income”. So I thought it would be interesting to do a new poll (the one to the right) for this post that clearly polled Net annual income.

What are your experiences with raising your prices to generate more income? I know this works because others have reported an increase in business when they’ve increased their prices.

Please take the poll before you leave! Remember the poll is about NET income in USD= YearlyGross – YearlyExpenses.

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27 Responses to “What Is The Income Potential Of Real Estate Photography? How To Raise Your Price?”

  • $.40 per image for post processing is crazy.

  • Pricing’s a tough one, but I’m convinced scheduling is at least as important for optimizing net income – and it’s been my challenge to be sure. I a get fair number of cancellations (99% of them are reschedules) but they hurt – including the income from the shoots I turned down for that cancelled slot. It’s simply not in my DNA to charge a cancellation fee – my clients aren’t happy; and, now I’m going to further their pain by charging them for something they presumably have no control over?!? If that’s not stupid business I don’t know what is. Sure, pricing’s important. But so is working smart. At the end of the year from where I sit, my net income for 2016 was damaged most by sloppy schedule management, not pricing.

  • It would help to know how many photos are being provided per job to know the amount of money being spent on post processing. Another issue is how much time is being spent on-site. 22 days is an average working month, so 55 jobs is in the region of 2 jobs per day. That’s not too much work to make outsourcing post production a requirement, but if an average job is 20 images, $8 for the editing is a good deal. At 2-3 jobs a day, an assistant is a luxury. A good assistant should make it possible to be doing 3-5 jobs each day and at $200ea, that’s $13,200 to $22,00/month of gross income or up to $264K/year.

    For me, the goal is to always be working to gain clients representing the higher value homes and being able to improve my skills so I can charge the higher fees that those properties can afford. I don’t want to work towards just maxing out my schedule with lots of middle class home at the same old low rate.

    Huntington Beach and the cities in the immediate area are full of high end luxury homes. An old roommate of mine had a home in nearby Seal Beach listed in the $900k range. Unfortunately, she left it to her agent to have it photographed instead of having me do it and the marketing was covered in clown vomit (tone-mapped HDR), bad verticals and horrible exposure. After getting no offers, she decided to hang on to it. Newport Beach just to the south is full of million dollar plus properties. Maybe it’s time to really raise prices and market services to clients with better budgets. Either that or work without an assistant.

  • I work in the “Huntington Beach” area and there are a lot of good photographers here.

    I don’t know her work, but if you’re not creating good images then don’t expect to get paid more simply because you’re not making money.

  • I agree with most everyone’s opinion. Having an assistant is a luxury. Two jobs a day is pretty good. Having someone else process at .40 is unbelievably good.

    I would try incorporating some higher margin services – whatever it might be. Maybe Drone work? Google Earth? Twlight Shots? Floor Plans? Try branching out to other types of work. For example, builders or interior designers? Contractors? Beach family photos?

    Lastly, I need to remind myself that I am a commodity – I’m a carton of milk. Anybody can buy a carton of milk anywhere…might be a few pennies more at a convenience store or a few pennies less at a grocery store. As an R.E. Photographer, my product is good. Sure, I can be better and I always try, but at the end of the day, the poster is right – she could loose her clients if she raises her prices. The R.E. agents can always find someone else – another carton of milk some place else. Sad but true. Knowing all of this, I try and over deliver – I’ll randomly throw in some freebie work for an agent. I try and deliver better service than the next photographer without bad mouthing or bashing the other guy. I incorporate “pop-corn” sales with higher margins to help drive up my margins. I want to make sure that my carton of milk (my work) is a good value and that the service is exceptional. So I get the posters dilemma of raising her prices and maybe loosing some clients.

    I’m sorry you feel you may not be making much money, but bottom line there are several areas for you to consider:
    -minimize your cost – no more outsourcing or assistant
    -gravitate to higher priced homes in which agents have a bit more money for marketing.
    -build in higher margin products
    -branch out to different work -widen your portfolio – even head shots.

    Hope this helps!

  • I guess my yearly net from photography (about $50k) is not too meaningful for comparison. My wife and I are both agents. I’m also a software developer and website designer. So RE photography is about a third of our overall income. I’m the highest priced in our area (west suburban Chicago), working for a few high-producing agents, I’m working at capacity doing 3 to 4 photo jobs per week. 55 jobs per month would be impossible for me with the extra services I provide. I have too much pride and reputation in my work to outsource post processing. Given the amount of shots I take for each job and process before culling, it would be cost prohibitive anyway.

  • Your basic expense of editing and assistance is already over 50% of your revenue. This doesn’t include all your other indirect expenses. Depending on what that is you may only be making 30% net profit. My OPINION is that you raise your prices to be in line with the market, maybe you lose a few clients, and reduce the number of shoots you do. At the same time drop the assistant and do your own editing. You will be shooting less than two properties a day on average and should have time to eliminate a lot of your overhead costs. I would assume your home based as well and should be able to get your total expense down under 20%.

  • I agree with other posters that there is no need for an assistant. 50 or so shoots a month is manageable on your own once you really nail down your time on site and in post. I spend roughly an hour at a house and no more than 1-1.5 hours to PP. Three a day is very busy, but doable.
    If she would raise her prices a little, she may lose some work, but at the end of the year, gross about the same. Then she could lose the assistant and do her own PP and her bottom line would skyrocket.

  • I’m in the boat of just starting out my own business. Very slow getting it up and running, that’s for sure. I feel like I’m under priced for my area, but there’s a two fold explanation behind that. One, there aren’t but a few photographers in my area (and I mean just general photographers), and two, aside from only one brokerage making professional photos mandatory and having their own photog on staff, no one else has really hired out.

    I’ve always been an in-person type of business man, so I’m having a hard time trying to get clients because of scheduling. Is it ok to just drop off some business cards at the offices and then email the agents to meet with them first? I feel like trying to set meeting times in my area to discuss my work is just a frustrating event that ultimately doesn’t work. Some agents seem to think unless it gives them a means to a lead they don’t have time.

  • One problem I see with most small businesses is that they wait too long to raise their price, and then make too large of a change. We’re approaching the New Year and this is the perfect time for a small bump. By raising your price a simple $10 or $15, few customers will object, yet the difference in your bottom line will be noticeable.

  • An assistant AND outsourcing processing at 55 a month? No wonder why she’s not making money! I work a 50-hr a week FT banking job and can manage to 35-40/month. Sounds to me like she doesn’t want to work. I intend on going FT in 17 and won’t even consider hiring an assistant/processing help until I’m close to 100 listings a month.

  • First of all, I’m a commercial photographer and I do SOME real estate photography. In my area I charge $125 per shoot in part, because I’m not a specialist and probably don’t give that last 5% that they’d get from someone whose full attention was on real estate. My clients just want a nice job and want a professional to show up at their client’s house for the theatrical effect. I’ve decided that my business model will only allow for any single type of photography to occupy no more than 25% of my hours. Real estate is a particularly volatile industry, so I do a little less there. To have the $125 (a number I’ve arrived at after several years of talking to and working with agents locally) make any sense, I’ve had to streamline my process. I can shoot 25 images in a 2,000 sq ft home in around 45 minutes. I do HDR in RAW mode. Auto-bracket at ISO 400 using highest speed fps. I load them into Lightroom, perform the merges, flag the HDRs and filter them. Then apply a custom preset to all of them. I do a single run through to adjust exposure and maybe black clipping. The whole post process takes 30 minutes. Load them to my website and send an email with a link and a password. I could do 3-4 per day on my own. I don’t, but I have the capacity to.

  • There isn’t an easy answer. In my experience, there are limits to what you can charge, but there are less limits to how much you can work. Most successful people I know put in over 70hrs a week. It’s not unusual for me to put in over 100 hours a week for months on end. I finally slowed down long enough to take a nap yesterday after a year and a half straight of 15hrs a day including weekends. My initial goal was to break $100k. To do it, I had to work long days. But, it’s simple math. If you can get $200 per house, you gotta shoot 500 homes a year.

  • when I said crazy I meant in a good way for the photographer. At $.40 per image they can do all my pp too. 🙂

  • One thing I don’t see anyone talking about here is controlling expenses by changing to a different business structure. You only have so many ways to save money as a sole proprietorship but creating a legal entity offers much more creativity in how to move money and expenses around. One big example I do is my company owns nothing; it rents camera gear from me. That changes active income (you, the company) earning income through direct labor (physically taking pictures) into passive (rental) income which eliminates the need to pay self-employment tax legally. There are a lot of other ways to save money through an arrangement like this and if you’re interested you should get with a certified tax planner. A CPA, while good at crunching numbers come tax time, is not the best person to explore all the arrangements you could implement to actually save taxes at the end of the year. You can be more competitive by having fewer expenses than the next guy. There’s an old adage I learned in business long ago: it’s better to save a $1 than to earn a $1.

  • Being very familiar with the Orange County area, she is right to stress on how much she can charge. The area is over saturated with very good RE photogs. Most are part time and ruin the market for those shooting full time. They can get all their benefits from their primary employment and have a huge advantage with the cost of doing business.

    Looking at the poll, I was surprised at the numbers, but then I realized that the poll lumps all part time and full time photogs together. Maybe a poll with just part timers and those with other employment and then one with just full time RE photography, not baby shoots, weddings, etc.

    There is also the issue of business income stability. For example, if you have a large client list, in the course of a year, there will be some that retire, move, drop out, etc. and you will acquire a few new clients (hopefully more). Your income is not prone to major setbacks. But, if you cater to select few and you lose one or two, you will see a dramatic shift in income and struggle to deal with it.

  • @Jerry Miller

    I completely agree. It’s hard to get a real feel for income if the polls are mixed with those who shoot PT voting.

  • First, the way to raise your prices is to, well….raise your prices. It’s not a terribly complex thing to do.

    As for the OP, there’s a lot of missing information, but we can safely assume a few things. I’m reading the bit about a “contract employee who helps with shoots” as a person who is actually out shooting, on a sub-contract basis. As such, along with the outsourced post production at a extremely low fee, it sounds like this is not an operation that puts a high value on quality of work. When clients push back on a higher fee, it’s because they don’t see the value proposition, and this is where our OP has an opportunity. Create work that’s so good that they can’t live without it, and the clients will pay your fee. I’m not saying it’s easy, but no photographer with any skill level at all is going to work for $65/shoot, so step one is to drop the contractor and do the shoots yourself. Second, do your own post production, or else find someone good (as has been pointed out, $0.40/photo means a digital sweatshop, there are actual professionals who do good work but they charge living wage fees).

    Trying to increase volume (with the requisite drop in quality) as a way to get more revenue is not a good long-term solution. The only business models that function well under that formula are very, very large operations who can work with a “pie” so big that a 1% or 2% profit margin is real money (think fast food, or Walmart etc.). Photographers, in general, are never going to achieve the massive volume necessary to work with the low fees associated with that kind of plan.

  • I would suggest not being so casual about what sort of gross income seems adequate. Need to consider cost of living, which is quite high in Huntington Beach, CA, largely due to housing costs (and long commutes might play a significant role for some as well). The current COL for Huntington Beach is twice the national average overall and four times the national average for housing. While upcoming interest rate increases might slow down the rapid increase in housing costs in the area, it is hard to imagine that the increase will not continue. Currently, the average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment in Huntington Beach is $1,830 per month.

  • @David E.-
    Bingo! Where I live, CoL is very low, so if you make $50K, you’re doing pretty decent for yourself (respectable). A $250K home here is pretty nice (once you get out of the historic district by downtown). We bought our house back in ’11 for $229K (worth about $300K now) and it is a custom home, roughly 2,000 sq/ft and with quite a few ‘upgrades’, and five miles from downtown.

  • What David says, applicable for any part of the world you live in! — I made a very deliberate pitch changing my business model to target the higher end of the market back in July so I could charge accordingly for quality, turn down the volume and enjoy my Sunshine Coast lifestyle in my golden years. So I do approx 2 MEGA’s a week on average and have the luxury of having the week to turn around the media (no stress, attend gym, go on beach-walks) It seems odd but agents that use my services today have their photographers for the day to day listings and I only get the call up for their luxury million dollar listings (Like the specialist from Pulp Fiction) 🙂 I’m cool with that becasue that tells me the strategy is working… I only want to work smarter not harder, been their and done the 5-7 shoots per day and for me there was no glory in it, just a world pf pain and lack of sleep.

  • @David Eichler, $1,830/month for an apartment in HB? Whoa. My first apartment was on Main street straight up from the pier and The Golden Bear. I might have been paying less than $200/month for a one bedroom upstairs. The last time I looked on Google Earth, the apartments are still there. I have to admit that it was “a few” decades ago, but I couldn’t come close to affording the COL there now.

  • @David Eichler; I left Huntington Bch for the Northwest, indignant about the price of a $220k home 3 blks from the water (in 1984). Guess I should’a bought it 🙁

  • This past year my goal was $100k gross – if I would have had eight days a week with about four more hours of sunlight I might have done a little better, but I did pretty well. Next year I am going to cut back on the smaller jobs, hopefully. I spent way too much time on the low end, but that is actually where the bulk of the work is. It’s kind of a balancing act.

    I found that it takes a lot of hard work and long hours to make $80 to $100k in this business.

  • Regarding long hours and hard work, I have read comments from all too many real estate photographers who say they are working very long hours to generate a very high volume of assignments, and I suspect that this volume is far greater than with any other genre of professional photography other than mainstream retail portrait studios (which are probably much more remunerative than real estate photography). So, a major consideration is whether the business model is sustainable at a particularly high volume, assuming the photographer wants to continue with that business for a long period of time. I suspect that most real estate photographers who work extremely long hours do not do so because they are workaholics, but because they are either unable or are too timid to price their photos at a level that is sustainable for them over the long term, so they must generate a high volume of photos and assignments to compensate for this.

  • New pricing means new customers if the leap is significant. How much of your customers will translate to the new pricing? Depends… the ratio of translation is inverse proportional of the price hike. Meaning, double your prices, probably nobody will translate, raise 10%, maybe 80% will translate… etc. numbers are just guestimated. However… in her case, raising the prices is not the solution

    At 55 shootings a month you are definitely shooting “anything” that’s thrown at you, as a high volume shooter you’re in the LOW mode. With a median invoice $150ish, in the HB area, you need to shoot 4-5-6 a day everyday to make money, if you’re doing bracketing and completely automate your process. To survive… 1-2 a day will do but don’t expect miracles. Probably that’s where you at.

    Your costs are very high… hiring an assistant and then paying for postprocessing, what’s left? not much I guess..

    Solution?

    1. Loose the assistant
    2. Start working your images…

    Do that and you’re probably up 40%

  • I have been a photographer for over 10 years. Only in the last few years have I been doing work professionally that is to say getting paid for it. I pretty much stumbled into Real estate photography but one thing that had always kept me away from it was how cheap a real estate agent is. The digital age has significantly driven down the price of photography but being the optimist that I am I feel that if more local photographers would get together we could demand more money for our services. I personally only do million dollar homes or greater in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I have a working relationship with a local agent that calls me once a week or so. This is not my main source of income but it would be nice if it could be. I’ve only been doing it for about a year but I get paid anywhere from $600-$1200 depending on the price of the house. I don’t understand how anyone can shoot the house for 150 or $200. I realize that could be a different market but those same numbers I here in my market as well. For me post processing is a bit of labor of love and I could certainly see where I could spend quite a bit of time on the computer if I had to shoot more then two or three homes per week. I know a few other photographers in my area that shoot the same type of houses and we all spend about 4 to 6 hours shooting the house. Post processing it is at least that long. Personally I would rather spend more time shooting a house and getting paid a fair amount for that house then shooting two or three at day.

    The value of good photography is unfortunately a very abstract one but more often than not can be tied to the success the the sale of the home. Another huge mistake that I think realtors make is too many pictures for a property but that is a topic for another discussion. The purpose of our photography is to peak someone’s interest, not to sell them the home, that is the job of the realtor. I feel that they rely on the images to sell the home.

    I feel it really needs to be drilled home to the real estate world how valuable our photography is. They just really don’t equate the sale of the home with good photography. I know it’s just me but the whole “it’s good enough” is not the client I want. I’ve had many real estate agents call me to Ask me if I am available to shoot and then I tell them what I charge and then I never hear from them again. I guess that’s just the price I’m willing to pay.

    I realized that since this is a second source of income for me that I can easily say this: I think all real estate photographers should go up at least $50 to $100 on their pricing, Regardless of the market they are in. If you cannot do that then you may consider offering extra services like drone photography, or something I have recently introduced is to put leaves back on the trees for those properties that have dormant trees. Most realtors have no idea that this can be done and are more than happy to pay for it once they see examples of what I’ve done with other properties. I only do this for a few last winter but plan on being a little more aggressive with it this winter. We will see how that goes.

    I realize my situation does not represent the norm but just wanted to add my $.02 to this thread.

    Many thanks,
    Houston

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