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A Real Estate Photography Success Story from Boston

March 31st, 2017

Marek Biela, a long time PFRE reader in Boston was recently telling me about his real estate photography business. Marek describes his business as follows:

I started a Real Estate Photography business in Massachusetts over 6 years ago. I would say that it took me about a year to realize that if I want to be able to expand and provide my clients with great service, excellent quality, and reliability and have the ability to be able to handle a large number of photo shoots per day without worrying about overload from the post-processing work, I had to have my post-processing done by someone else. I had to outsource.

I did work up to 15 hrs per day for some time, but that was just too exhausting and I had no life.

The problem was that I wanted to have excellent quality, fast turn-around time and reliability and that was just not something that I was able to find.

I did test a few post-processing companies that were advertising their services, but I knew right away that the quality of their work is just not good enough for me and I did not want to be second best in my area. I believe that the quality of photographs is most important.

A lot of post-processing companies will pick and choose a few nice photos for their website, but when I looked at the actual photos that they processed the quality just wasn’t there. At least it was not good enough for me.

Because of the high quality of our photography, we are able to charge our standard $250 per photo shoot and limit up to 30 photos and our biggest problem during our busy season (about 9 months out of the year) is we don’t have enough time for all the photo shoot inquiries. We shoot 10 properties a day during our busy season. We have 2 photographers and several post-processors to handle this level of work.

Because we have a separate post-processing department we are consistent with the quality of post-processing and can always deliver our photographs along with slideshows back to our clients by the next business day.

We also provide each of our clients with a YouTube slideshow. This an example of our final slideshow.

I truly believe that the formula for success in the real estate photography business is:

  1. Excellent quality photographs
  2. Not too much time spent at the property. Agents are busy. They don’t have time to waste waiting for the photographer
  3. Consistent quality. So agents don’t feel the need to request a particular photographer
  4. Providing agents with at least an MLS version of the fast loading slideshow
  5. Ability to handle many projects even at the busiest times of the year… agents consider us as part of their marketing
  6. Reliability.
  7. Consistent next business day turn around
  8. Professional and friendly staff

Thanks Marek for the summary of your business.

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26 Responses to “A Real Estate Photography Success Story from Boston”

  • @ Marek,

    When doing everything yourself, there is no doubt that the post work can be very time consuming and makes for long hours.

    So you decided to outsource, but then you talk about having a separate post processing department. I’m a bit confused, so my question is, Did you actually hire people and put on on your payroll doing the post processing, or are you outsourcing to people who work independently?

  • I get curious, looking at the schedules of some of the photographers around me as well, why aren’t price hikes used to curtail the effects of someone who may be getting too busy.

  • Congratulations on your success Marek!
    Interesting read. We also choose to do all in house just like you. It’s a huge undertaking when you manage a large volume, but it’s the only way to maintain the standards.
    We can relate to your growing pains. Being consistent with the quality and the turnaround time, even at the busiest peak, is the key but it takes a lot of work and effort to achieve it. All the best to you and keep up the good work!

  • @ George,
    I have 2 companies…. :
    1. BostonREP, which has only 2 Photographers (myself and my wife) and we just take Photographs of Real Estate for Agents. We are based in Swampscott MA
    Our way of taking Photos allows us to schedule only 45min for each property, which makes it possible to do as many Photo Shoots every day as we do.
    2. Photo Processing Services LLC (www.PhotoProcessingServices.com) – which is located in my home country (Poland), although I have lived in US for over 30 years. We have office there and currently 5 Post-Processors, but we are ready to hire more.

    Every day, after we’re done with Photo Shoots, we just send RAW files using Dropbox of ALL Photo Shoots for that day and we have everything ready by Next Business Day before 2:00pm next day (My processing offices are closed for weekends).

    Everyone in my Photo Processing Services LLC office is on my payroll.
    Each Project take between 2.5 to 3.5 hrs to process, so that’s why we need not only enough processors, but also backup person… just in case someone gets sick or needs a day off.

    What is important to me is that another member of my family is the General Manager and the main Processor, so I know he is 100% reliable and I will not face issue of suddenly loosing my key person for Post-Processing work.

    I hope this answer your question, but if there is any more questions, I’ll be happy to answer.

  • @ Andrew,
    I am not sure about the rest of the country, but here in New England we have very busy seasons (7-9 months our of the year), when I shoot 6-8 properties per day and slow times when I only get around 4-5 Photo Shoots per day.
    I want my schedule to be as full as possible, and I believe that if I set my pricing too high… I will make enough during the busy season, but at the slow time I will hardy have enough work during slow seasons, as… I would be working with much fewer real estate agents.
    So yes… you can regulate how busy you are with pricing, but I think it has to be just right… not too low and also not too high either.

  • @ Marek,

    Thanks for answering my question. Well that sounds like an ideal situation then. Then again, you got 7 people to feed, so it’s a lot of responsibility as well. I congratulate you on your success.

  • @ George,
    I completely agree with you… it is a lot of work…. even too much work… .

    I am convinced that the best, easiest, simplest and most effective way to run Real Estate Photography business is for Photographer to just handle Scheduling, do Photo Shoots, build great relations with quality Agents and then…. have someone else process Photographs.
    Post-Processing is so time consuming that Photographer will end up with more in his bottom line if… he/she uses Post-Processing company… if fact I did some calculations and posted it all on my Photo Processing Services website.
    The only key is that Post-Processing company has to be:
    1. 100% reliable
    2. Do a GREAT job in Post-Processing which will help the Photographer to build even better Photography business.

  • Great job!
    I deal with seasonality by raising prices in season and then cut price in the off-season when we are slower.

  • Marek is spot on. The only deviation I have taken is that the post processing is also in-house, literary in-house. My wife, after a career in insurance has joined as a photographer for the southern territory and part time processor, My son has joined as a photographer for the north end and special projects manager (there are other things then homes, or at least homes on a foundation to go after). When the season gets going, my step son who is a college student takes over the processing, helps support his family and dependable. My next step will be brick and mortar. But bottom line, keep it in the family. As they say, give a fish for a meal to teach to fish to stay fed.

  • These success stories are inspiring but always seem to lead to outsourcing the post. I respect the idea that in order to grow your business you’ll need 10-12 shoots a day and provide fast-turnaround, but what about about the greats like Scott Hargis, Rich Baum, and Mike Kelley? I’m just not convinced that the only way to be successful is to outsource part of your workflow.

  • @Brent – Excellent observation. Another way to be successful is to progress beyond real estate photography. That’s what Scott Hargis has done. Scott doesn’t do traditional real estate shoots, like we are talking about here, anymore. I believe Mike Kelley has done the same.

    I’ll try to get some non-outsourcing shooters to tell us their story.

  • @ Bill Jones

    The reason of why I believe in outsourcing Post_Processing work is because Photographer can easily charge $200 – $300 for Real Estate Photo Shoot.
    I would much rather have my wife taking Photos than working in Post-Processing on my projects…, which she could not process all of them anyway… .
    It takes me up to 45 min plus travel Time to charge my $250 Photography fee (in my case).
    Each project processing time takes 2 – 3 plus hours. Outsourcing simply makes financial sense, unless someone just LOVES photo-processing, but I would guess… not to many photographers do.
    If I’d have to choose between doing 4 Photo Shoots and spending about 7 hrs (with travel), make $1,000 and pay around $200 for Post-Processing… I’d end up with $800.
    If I’d do 3 Photo Shoots and do my own processing…. I’ll end up working for probably 12+ hrs and end up with $750 in my pocket…. . That is working much longer hours and making less money… .
    I’d much rather spend the extra time (if I need to) meeting real estate agents, even doing office intros (which I have not had to do in years), than in my own post-processing work.
    By the way… what happens if there is an opportunity for 5 or 7 Photo Shoots for 1 day… .

    Now… someone would ask “so why did you set up company for your own post-processing, rather than simply outsourcing?” The answer is that at the beginning I could not find a quality company that would provide me with very high quality post-processing and then we expanded to the point that I decided to expand even more my other post-processing company Photo Processing Services LLC, (I was already paying for office, equipment, accounting, etc) and grow 2 businesses at the same time.

    Of course there are times that business is slow, employees need paid vacation, employees get sick… but payroll, office expenses still need to be paid, but… that’s just calculated into the operating costs.

    Maybe it is because I am getting older (hopefully also wiser) but I truly believe that someone could be a very successful Photographer, making decent amount of money, having not very complicated professional life and… have time for himself and his family by running Real Estate Photography business the… right way.

    I started this business from nothing, so I know what Real Estate Photographers face in terms of running this business. I only hope that what I share will help others in this very challenging business.

  • I hear stories from real estate agents that I work with that some Photographers will take 2.5 – 3 hrs to do a Photo Shoot for an average size house and end up with fewer Photos…. what’s your experience?
    I understand that agents prefer if Photographer does not spend too much time at the property as… time is money…. what’s your experience?

  • Marek, we aren’t that different, just different stages. You do have the advantage of having your processing done by family in a land far, far away. The employees may not be kin, but management is. I too would rather have the wife taking pictures only, but it takes time to grow a new territory. We live in a vertical strip. She will be doing new business from the south. I will remain in the core and son is developing business to the north. Although every image gets a final straightening, dodge or burn or slight color shift the bulk has been done batch processing. Only 1 out 5 shoots need to be guided start to finish.

    My car is my mobile office complete with desk and computer. so if it takes 2 hour to process a job I have done 80% of it by the time I get home.

    Wife only processes overflow, get real busy on a single day, it’s still got to be done. Every growth step is a hump that we have to get over. You got over the hump, I am still working on it but I have faith. I too am to old to take unnecessary risks, but experienced enough to know when go forward.

    Sadly I live in an area where every one with a camera thinks they are a pro, the come and they go and some manage to stick but this is still a depressed market.

    When my processing is finally fully outsourced it will still be in house. The goal is that when comparing shoots you wouldn’t have a clue to who pressed the shutter or who tweaked the colors. That’s easy to say but in reality it takes hard work.

  • Time on a shoot, an hour at most and that’s if they are getting a 360 tour as well as images. Images aren’t numbered, just what it takes to do the job right. I also have rmls access so 25% of the time the realtor never shows up, just go in and do the job. I remember a newbie asking me to critique his work, he proudly said he spent 2.5 hours there. I told him the Realtor will NEVER call him again, wasted their time.

  • I am not sure the term outsourcing applies if the retouchers are employees of the photographer and are thus under the photographer’s direct supervision, or that of a trusted subordinate.

  • @ David Eichler

    At least to me Outsourcing means that Photographer does not process/retouches photographs, but rather send RAW files to another person/company and they spend time on post-processing, rather than Photographer spending his/her time.
    Post-Processor or Retoucher, at least to me, are different words for the same position.

  • @ Marek and Bill,

    Rarely do I outsource post. It’s not because I’m against it, but rather because of the need to find somebody that delivers consistent work and I haven’t found that yet.

    I read with a bit of amusement Bill’s comment: “I remember a newbie asking me to critique his work, he proudly said he spent 2.5 hours there. I told him the Realtor will NEVER call him again, wasted their time.” I typically spend 4-5 hours onsite and most of my clients have been with me for a minimum of 5 years, some for 15 years. I would say that they are with me BECAUSE I’m willing to invest the time necessary to get the shots the way they like them.

    I have zero clients that feel the need to be there, and any in-residence home owner is told what to expect, and often leave. Rarely do I shoot more than one assignment in a day. The idea of dashing from one house to the next, to the next – “spraying and praying” is not where I would want to be, and neither do my customers.

  • @ George

    Having only 1 project per day sounds great, but I can only assume that you work with agents that list multi million properties and don’t mind to pay at least $1,000 or more for a Photo Shoot, but in area where I am that would just not be possible… at least I can’t even imagine it.
    Of course the other possibility is that you don’t need to make much and you are doing it for fun… then it would absolutely made sense as well.
    What would worry me is that if I make my living on relying on such expensive jobs… when business slows down… I’d be without income, which I could not afford either.
    I’d love to learn more about your business and I am always open for new ideas.
    By the way… I’ve taken a look at your site and… WOW!!! what a beautiful properties and… your Photography is just ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL.
    However… this is just not what 99% of Real Estate Photographers would ever photograph.

    By the way… I started my own Post-Processing company exactly for the reason you have mentioned… “find somebody that delivers consistent work and I haven’t found that yet”

  • Marek,

    Thank you for the very kind words!

    Indeed you are right, most of the work I do is high-end properties and they are often quite large. That is not by happenstance. I decide from day one, that I had no interest in competing on price, nor that I wanted to have to jam through multiple jobs to make a decent living. I deliberately passed on clients that were not willing to pay for my time. I’ve been told that I quickly developed a reputation for being pricey, but also being “the guy that you call when you have important listings, or homeowners with high expectations of their listing agent”. Truth be told, I never wanted to be everything to everybody. I wanted a few very strong, like-minded clients, who appreciated what I do, and how I do it.

    I deliberately sought out the clients that were most invested in their brand, and thus had the most to gain (or lose) in how they presented their properties. Typically those high-end clients are willing to pay for quality, and recognize it when they see it.

    Every single market has it’s own high-end segment and Realtors that operate like the ones I typically deal with here. Every market has high-end, mid-range, and low-end real estate and agents that specialize in those segments. It’s a choice what we want to work with.

    While real estate does indeed have it’s ups and downs, it’s been my experience that the people in the high-end market are less sensitive to market swings and are not lowest-price focused when it comes to their marketing. Yes, they may cut back on the number of advertising pages, but not on how their brand is perceived. They understand that the photos they put out there, isn’t just about a particular property, but also the about the next level of listings that want to represent next – it’s a direct reflection of their brand in that community.

    While I do enjoy what I do, I definitely work for a living. In fact, it’s because of those 12-15 hour days that the out-sourcing issue keeps coming to mind for me, as I keep looking for a working solution.

    Marek, clearly you are doing a terrific job and are thinking out of the box and being proactive in the real estate photography business. The lines above is just the path I chose to take, and why.

    Best,

    George

  • George, if I remember correctly, you are an architectural photographer who does some real estate photography, as opposed to someone such as Marek, for whom real estate photography represents most or all of their professional activities. Nevertheless, I think it is good to be aware that real estate photography does not necessarily have to be a high-volume, low-budget kind of business that typically has to compromise significantly on quality in order to be viable.

  • I’ll still never understand how some of you are managing to shoot 5+ properties a day AND process on your own.

  • @ David E,

    Actually for the past few years, I’d say that most of what I do in my hometown area, is now real estate work. Part of that is because some of my long time real estate clients have really grown and keep me increasingly busy. Yes they pay a little less than commercial work, but it is easy and drama-free work that allows me a lot of freedom as to when, and how I work. Of course I still have architects, designers and builders that I work with as well, but the lion share is clearly high-end real estate for the past few years and I’m fine with that.

  • @ George

    I want to congratulate you on your impressive business and thank you for sharing some details of how you run your business.
    I am very impressed and I know it took serious guts to make a switch to service only a very particular group of clients that are, I am sure, very demanding, but clearly you deliver outmost beautiful photographs that not only you should, but… I am sure you are very proud of… I would.

    I wish you all the best and I will definitely use your photographs as such an excellent example of beautiful Real Estate Photography for myself and my Processing Team.

    Thank you,

  • @ Daniel Bigley

    Hello Daniel,
    I completely agree with you… I believe there is simply no way for a Real Estate Photographer to be able to shoot 4 or 5+ Photo Shoot per day, process them without using Post-Processing company and at the same time deliver a very high quality Real Estate Photographs to their clients.

    I believe that the lower quality of Post-Processing will actually cost the Photographer a whole lot of more in a long run than using a quality Post-Processing company.

    Yes, with low quality photos Photographer can get a lot of business but…. it will most likely because of charging discounted rates, giving a bunch of Special discounts or working with problem agents that… other good photographers do not want to do business with.

    I feel very strongly that by delivering Hi Quality Photographs…. photographer can charge more per Photo Shoot and end up with more or the same income by possibly working less and…. have comfort of always getting business and business referrals because… of Hi Quality Photography.

  • Thanks for another informative discussion.

    @Marek Biela I love your video and photos. (I did notice a spelling mistake “Houndreds” instead of “Hundreds of Satisfied Top Producing Agents”. Thought it might be worth pointing it out.)

    Good luck with all the work and look forward to more insightful comments.

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