Are Most Real Estate Photographers Independent?

February 7th, 2017

I talk to a lot of real estate photographers. Perhaps several hundred a year. Since I’ve helped a number of them get started as independent real estate photographers after unhappy situations working for tour companies I’ve always assumed that the majority of real estate photographers and readers of this blog are independent rather than employees of other companies, but I don’t know that for sure. Recently, “Wannabeyou” in the PFRE Flickr group discussion asked for some data that shows what the split between independent and non-independent is.

So here’s a poll to see if we can get some data on this subject. Please take the poll to the right to help us find out.

Both the independent and non-independent business model for real estate photography have strong motivations. I believe the two motivations are as follows:

  1. Independent: Working for yourself so you can and run your own business.
  2. Non-independent: Having someone else do the marketing. Many creative people struggle with the business oriented tasks.

The problem is, there is very little profit margin in real estate photography. When you split it between a middle-man and a photographer, the photographer usually gets the short end of the stick.

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13 Responses to “Are Most Real Estate Photographers Independent?”

  • While most of my work is RE through my business, I do get work from a couple of Agency’s for the large hotels and resort work. So, independent?

    I would like to see a break down of those working part time with RE being the majority or minority of their income stream and if their plans are to go full time or just have this as another revenue stream.

    As to those working for a company, while I did not go that route, I would think it is a great way to get your foot in the door. You get experience with the agents, training, equipment and work flow that only comes with experience. That said, move out on your own as soon as you can, you won’t regret it.

  • I contract with ReslEstatePhotography.nyc they do a good job with marketing so I don’t have to.

  • Would be curious to see how this breaks down differs from country to country. US, UK Australia etc. The result so far surprises me, as I would have thought in the UK, that option 2 would be more common, but maybe not.

  • Sorry, option 3. Misread.

  • I just started my own business about 4 months ago. However, I am not opposed to working for a company that doesn’t require a Do Not Compete signature if it puts food on my table for my family. That’s how I started out this past summer, and while yes the pay wasn’t great, it was pretty easy to do what they wanted with limited hassle. If I ever had to sign a Non Compete clause I would be walking away from it. That’s just not right. Competition is the essence of good business.

  • I work myself and also under another Real Estate Photographer. I am under non-compete agreements that are not stringent.

  • I began working for a company in Houston. They didn’t respect their clients, so when they started falling apart and their checks started bouncing, I walked.
    I started with another company, used my following to build up a good business — they sold my part, out from under me, so I walked again.
    It was great, forced me to do my own business, I’ll never go back!
    Lesson learned, Don’t Not respect your clients and treat your assistants, if you have any, like you would want to be treated!

  • I started my own photography business 15 months ago. I was winding down another business and was shooting part time after work and on weekends. During 2016 I photographed 179 homes for one real estate company. I also created 3D Virtual Tours on about half of those homes. Now I am doing RE photography full time. I expect to at least double my volume this year and will be performing 3D Tours on all homes shot. All of this volume will come from the same company, however I am able to shoot for others if I wish. I doubt that I will want or need more than I’m getting here, with the exception of special projects for my friends or their friends. This company was my very first marketing call when I started in business. I was obviously in the right place at the right time! Plus, I had created a good website and a printed flyer with great examples of my photography, created from shooting friend’s homes and special projects for an interior decorator.

  • I started my own business in November of last year, so I’m a neophyte when it comes to operating a business and it’s pretty challenging, though I’d take being my own boss and making my own schedule over anything else most of the time. Up to then I was working on my parents’ real estate team (usually top-producing every year, so the work was coming my way) as their only photographer and also coordinated their listings as a licensed agent, so I made the appointments to photograph, did my thing, edited them, then input the listings, followed up with the sellers on accuracy of info and photos, and did print marketing for the listings and sold marketing later. I was technically contracting for them so wasn’t completely independent, but I knew work was coming as we were constantly taking listings, and I was the only photographer. It was up to me to decide if I had the time during any given day or week to photograph a listing that was coming up, and if not, I myself just contracted the photography out to TourFactory. Now I’m considering temporarily taking work for TF if they will contract me so I can stay above water until I get more clients. I was only allowed to photograph for my parents’ team at the time, though I still get work from them now unless they want me to get a Matterport, which I can’t afford.

    However, I have also since shot two somewhat local apartment complexes for a management company in Austin, but I took a big hit as I got the work from Thumbtack, and I feel as though the only reason I got the work was that I came in the lowest; I realized during the first apartment shoot that I could have, and should have, charged more. I’m constantly getting undercut on pricing and get passed on either because I have only one review (5-star, from the management company) or because someone with a larger and longer-running business was able to afford charging $50-60 less than my quote because they also do other forms of photography primarily.

    It’s a lot of work to be independent, and even more work to run the business properly. Agents often don’t see the difference between a lower-priced competitor’s photos and your own, and thus will hire the lower-priced competitor 9/10 times. You could go back and look at their photos and think to yourself, “I know for a fact I do better than this guy,” but at the end of the day that’s not, it appears, what agents in my area are looking for; they’re looking to spend $99 on 25(!) or more photos when you know that the work you put into creating those images demands more than that.

    Nothing wrong with contracting out to larger companies but remaining independent otherwise, I think.

  • Almost 18 years ago I started with Virtual Imaging Corporation to get the paycheck, experience, and meet the agents. We took the exterior front images only for our local MLS two days a week and virtual tours the other days. They were panoramic images using the bamboo technology for the virtual tours. After approx. 18 months I taught myself how to do the virtual tours and purchased the equipment and started my own business taking most of their clients. I added still images with the panoramic images and did a better virtual tour. My only competitor was CirclePix. Breaking into the businesses is hard now days since there are so many real estate photographers. There are approx 30 of them in the Monterey Peninsula.

  • I am probably a subgroup of ‘independent’ – both photographer and Realtor. It was actually the encouragement of my fellow Realtors after the saw my listing photos that got me back into photography at the professional level. While shot various types of photography and worked retail at local camera store during the film era, with marriage and first child on way in the 70’s, needed stable employment, worked in other areas and considered myself an “advance amateur” as I continued pushing my photo and darkroom skills. On their encouragement, I created the formal/legal business entity and market myself to other Realtors and is split 75% photography 25% Realtor, essentially considering a home sale a bonus. My dream is to bring a buyer to a home I shot…but thus far that has not occurred. I also am careful to draw the line and be “photographer” when shooting a house, even wearing a logo’d shirt, where the owner only knows I am a Realtor if their Realtor tells them.

  • Im not sure where I fall in the poll, I guess the first option. I started my business over 10 years ago. My company has about a dozen people working in it now. One of the first persons I trained was very aggressive in wanting to be a photographer and even though I didnt quite need him, I knew I would so I agreed to bring him on and train him. He was a new client of mine’s father. To make a long story short he took all the training from top to bottom (never held a dslr before) and when I finiahed with him he promptly quit and opened up shop as my competitor. Total dick move. It was a huge waste of my time and now I have some jerk that bought all of my equipment and using similar techniques to poach my clients. I would be more forgiving, but Im pretty sure it was his plan all along. He talked so many times about how his former employer and him got into legal issues because he started a similar business. He told me so many times that he had no desire to run his own business and didnt ever want to go through the legal issues again, I made the mistake of believing him. I should have read between the lines that this guy would do the same thing to me. So now when we vet our teammates a non compete is never not part of the equation. In the end I was much happier without him, and thankfully he quit before he built a relationship with my clients. But it was a learning experience and the other side of the coin when it cones to non competes that I dont think people often consider.

  • Off subject but…
    Like Chris, I have been burned to many times by con artists that say one thing and then do another. You spend the time, patience and secrets of your success to hopefully build your business only to find out you have just set up your competition to work against you. The younger generation is full of “me, me, me” attitudes and have no ethics. Even in this forum you see it with those that sign a non-compete contract with no intention of honoring it. And worse yet, a lot of forum members that condone it…..

    I owned a wedding studio for many years (back in the days of film) and never had this problem. We trained our photographers, supplied each of them with top line Hasselblad systems to do the work and paid them well. It was like family.

    Now because of the nature of the work were you have a large segment of the client base looking at the cost rather than the quality of the work, you get these amateurs that produce crap.

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