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Do Our Portfolio Websites Set Unrealistic Expectations?

December 15th, 2016

Rich in SC asks:

Do our websites set unrealistic expectations? I’ve shot quite a few homes now and made the transition from HDR shooting to Flash. I’ve taken some of my best images and incorporated them into my marketing and it’s worked well. For the vast majority of shoots, my clients have loved what I provide. I try to provide consistent results as best I can, however, every now and then a Realtor or homeowner will expect that Architectural Image while paying Real Estate prices. Any effective way to deal with that? There’s obviously a balance in time and money that needs to be played out.

Yes, I’m sure you are right. We put our very best shots on our portfolio sites so they will get attention for marketing purposes. Yet, each interior space we shoot contributes quite a lot a to making a stunning portfolio image.

There’s no amount of attention to composition and lighting that can make a very ordinary property look like a luxury property. Kind of like the old saying “making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”.

But I don’t think this should make you back off on what your portfolio site looks like. I think you should do everything you can to make your portfolio look breathtaking. It’s your marketing tool to get business. The vast majority of properties you shoot are not going to look good enough for your portfolio.

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19 Responses to “Do Our Portfolio Websites Set Unrealistic Expectations?”

  • I would market your site images as what a client/realtor should strive to present to you for photographing. The prep that goes into great images should be stressed to those that use your services. As to those that expect more than the norm in RE photos, offer a service for those that want the “Architectural look” with a a price point that reflects the added work involved. I never say no… just how much.

    The fact is that a good RE photographer can make a pig with lipstick look good, but in the end…it is after all, still a pig

  • Forgive me if I’m misinterpreting Rich’s words but to me it seems like he is likening “Architectural Images” to his own “best images”. And it seems like his best images came from real estate shoots. So if he charged real estate prices to produce those “best images” then why shouldn’t a realtor expect to pay the same amount for that level of quality? What am I missing here?

  • Another way to look at a portfolio is to put stuff in your portfolio that you want to shoot. It will naturally attract the clients that you want to work with based on what you have displayed.

  • I thought Rich was saying that he has 2 levels of products, RE and architectural, and he’s wondering about the ethics of using architectural quality images to sell his RE photography.

  • This falls more under the heading of what do I do if the client does not like my images. I put up the best images I have for my web site and try my best to duplicate them all them time. We have bad days. If the ones I do for a client are not good enough I will return for free and take just the images they are asking to be changed. What is more frustrating is the homeowner wants a different photographer to start with and the agent calls you instead. The agent and you are both out of luck if the homeowner is not satisfied until they get their first choice in photographers.

  • I take a different approach. I strive to show a few good images across all property types including low end properties. I set up a comparison section where I show typical RE shots next to what I will deliver and ask them to look at the difference. So a shot of a low end DR by a realtor next to a low end DR by me etc. I don’t make promises. I just tell them they need me and provide some examples of what sold quickly. I also stress how to stage and prepare a home for me. It seem to work better than a complete portfolio of my best shots. It’s basic feature / benefit 101 sales. Here’s what I do (the comparison) and here’s what it will do for you (quick sales), here’s how to stage (makes the rooms look better) here’s what I do (document that staging and the room in the best possible image).

    It works.

  • Sorry for the confusing question! I think what I was trying to say was that we often put out best images on our portfolio and website. The purpose is to demonstrate our art and product to attract clients or drive interest for good reason! Much of those photos however are not the day to day stuff that happens. Every now and then you get a client wanting all the extra bells and whistles while paying real estate prices. I wasn’t sure if the expectation set by the website has any part in that. Thanks for all the great comments!

  • A good question whose answer will probably have a lot to do with your particular clientele and the characteristics of your market. After working in many different areas of photography over many years, the consensus seems to be that you always want to show your best work in that portfolio regardless of the medium you show it on. Why? Because you want to show what you are capable of shooting to give confidence to a potential client that you have the eye and the skills to do the best job possible.

    That does not mean that even top photographers will be able to shoot any assignment and have the results look like gold. Rather, the photographer will probably produce results that are the best that can be achieved given the subject matter and the conditions that prevail.

    I have the good fortune to shoot many high end properties that are fabulously designed both architecturally and interior design as well as landscaped immaculately. So when I shoot more everyday properties for the same clients, they already know that I will not be making a 3BD, 2.5BA on a small lot look like the mansion on the hill. And unless I have to shoot a last minute property, I always do a walk through prior to the shoot with my client and point out the realities of what the results will be as well as things the owner can and should do to allow the property to show in its best light both in reality and figuratively. This helps drive realistic expectations.

    I am lucky that I can do this. Not all RE photographers can manage this. But if the realtor/agent accompanies you on the shoot, perhaps the same control of expectations can be achieved by a quick walk through proper to starting the shoot and point out the difficulties such as a litter of children’s toys, photos stuck to the fridge and so on so the home owner can do something as you are shooting other less problematic rooms.

    In short, show the best you can do to inspire confidence in your capabilities, then control expectations prior to the shoot. Most of my clients are both experienced enough and smart enough to know what is possible and don’t expect more than that. Besides, if you downplay potential results and the photos come in better, you will have a happy client.

    Now owners are something else.

    They see their house that they love, not all the things that someone else will see. They have lived with it all too long and almost everything carries memories especially older folks down sizing. I gently try to point out that buyers want to see see their own imprint on the house and property, not those of the current owner’s. And you can show some of your portfolio shots that demonstrate that. All done gently with compassion.

  • This is why I recently removed my “portfolio” from my website. Anyone can snag 5 great kitchen shots, 5 great bathrooms, master bedrooms, etc. from a few hundred different listings but it doesn’t show any consistency (in my opinion). I now have a small slideshow (15-20 images) of a single story home on my landing page. Nothing super lavish about it but just an ordinary listing (although it is nice). I think it speaks louder than my top 20 images from the past 5 years.

  • I look at the website as a display of the photographer’s skill and abilities, or what he’s capable of. In all cases it should jive to a reasonable extent to what you’re delivering, but duplicating that quality in every photo delivered isn’t necessary or even possible.

    If you think about what our portfolio represents, it’s akin to Barry Bonds using the fact that he hit 73 home runs in a season. I think any reasonable teams wanting to put him on their roster realize this is what he’s capable of, not necessarily what they are going to get. And, there’s certainly no reason why he should not be able to use that number of home runs in negotiations.

  • I don’t think anyone would argue with the merits of showing your best work, or at least the work you want to be doing, on your website.

    The obvious problem arises when it turns out that you can’t deliver those results consistently. This goes perfectly in line with the topic on this blog from December 7th, where I argued that if your process is 100% dependent on software, then you’re going to be delivering, at best, properly exposed photos of crappy light – at least some of the time. That notion seemed to upset a few people, but I still think it’s a valid point, and I can testify that I’ve taken a lot of clients away from photographers who simply couldn’t cough up a great photo unless the existing conditions were perfect, which of course they rarely are. Their clients were quickly disillusioned, and went out looking for someone who could “make things happen”.

  • I don’t think this is even a matter of consistency. It sounds more like a photographer who works with a variety of clients (with a variety of budgets). And of course the higher paying clients are going to get more of your time with composition, lighting, staging, etc. Naturally it’s those images that will be going up on your website because you spent more time perfecting them.

    So even though you are able to accomodate clients with lower budgets by scaling down production, your online portfolio only shows the creme de la creme shots. How then do you give realistic expectations of quality to your lower budget clients when only the high budget work is being displayed on your website?

  • I have gone a different route on my real estate photography website. The last 1,200 properties (about a year) are posted. Yes no shame here, the good and bad are posted. The average 3,000 sqft house costing under $350,000 is where I make most of my money not the luxury homes 5,000 sqft, costing over $750,000 and above where most of portfolio shots would come from. It is all about SEO, the link-backs from agents using the slideshows is about 1,500 hits a week. With that being said, we pick up most of our new agents from other means, not our website. Most agents never personally visit our site. However builders, re-modelers, and trades people have gone to my site before calling.

    Some agents will never be satisfied with the images of the property no matter how much time spent on site or in Photoshop. I say to that agent “perhaps my photography style is not in line with your marketing needs, maybe (insert competitors name) would be a better fit” and walk away. You cannot make everyone happy and not every agent is your client.

  • I haven’t seen everyone’s portfolio pages but as a new guy trying to get started I can tell you the pictures I see in the Flickr group are amazing but intimidating. I live in a city that is still suffering from 2008 and many homes that were built in the 40s have never been updated. I know showing your best work to clients is the right thing to do but I was wondering if some of you ever photograph “ugly” houses?

  • I want my hamburger be just like the one on the menu.

    I spend some extra time in post with my portfolio images that I select out of the thousands of images that I shoot. It’s been a while since I’ve updated my portfolio so I feel my current work is better than what I am using to advertise myself. I’m hoping to have some time before the end of the year to get some work done on the web site depending on how quickly I learn pressure vessel design for cryogenic applications. I tend to do many different things.

    It could be argued in many cases that the seller hasn’t prepared their home as well as an image that will make it to a portfolio. I rarely “get lucky” now. The images that I make are the images that I envision when I see the space. Of course I am going to present myself using the best images I have made.

  • @Matt Ross; “You cannot make everyone happy and not every agent is your client.”

    A f’in men.

  • Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I think this comes down to how you are positioning yourself.

  • You need to keep it real and don’t oversell the property. Of course, the photos need good composition and lighting but that’s it. You don’t want to set expectations you can’t deliver. If you focus on the strengths of a property and try to shoot them naturally, I believe you’ll have a great portfolio.

  • Maybe it is just me, but I just do not get this attitude of not putting up you best work. I’d rather be under the gun to meet the clients expectations rather than dumb their expectations down. It is one of the ways I am driven to do better.

    If you must, have different categories such as one for properties that are maintained, clean, staged and then one for sold as is……

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