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How Many Photos Should Real Estate Photographers Provide?

April 13th, 2017

Michael in Illinois recently asked:

My MLS has changed the real estate photography playing field. The number of photos allowed used to be limited to 25. They now allow an unlimited number of photos for each listing.

So for me, this is a great advantage, since my competition in this market typically provides only 25 or so images for their base service. I typically provide between 40 to 80 or more images depending on the size and value of the property.

I have received feedback here and on other forums from other photographers, that no one needs to see more than 25 to 30 photos online when shopping for a home. However, the feedback I get from agents and their buyers is the opposite; the more photos the better.

Yes, many MLSs these days allow an unlimited number of images. As I recall, the NWMLS in the Seattle area has had this feature for many years.

My personal opinion is that 25 to 30 images are more than enough to market any property very nicely. I rarely see more than 30 photos on listings in my market. I doubt that home buyers want to look at 80 photos. I sure don’t! But the only opinion that matters is that of your customers. If they want to pay for your time to deliver 80 photos, go for it. Just make sure you are covering your time.

Update 4/14/2017: Andrew below in the comments sites a study done by a New York brokerage that shows that the sweet spot for the number of photos in their listings is 11-14.

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28 Responses to “How Many Photos Should Real Estate Photographers Provide?”

  • Quality over quantity. Google the term “click fatigue” and it will become clearer. There was a study a few years ago that found the optimal number of images to use was around 12-15. It’s all about teasing the buyer with just enough high quality images to get them to pick up the phone and schedule a private showing.

  • Like many aspects of being an RE photographer, nothing is set in stone. As a rule of thumb, I Think we can assume that for most properties, the number of photos viewed, regardless of how may are in the “Gallery” runs between 8 and 12ish. But I have many properties where the average is in the 20’s.

    But that is just from the consideration of what is viewed by people who stumble on the MLS or property tour from providers like TourBuzz who I use. It doesn’t not take into consideration what my clients want to see which is as many as represents the selling points of the property. If that can be achieved with 12 shots (I personally have yet to find that on any property shoots I have ever done that that covers it) or 50, I simply do as many as necessary to feel I have done my job in representing any and all the marketing sales points my clients want me to cover regardless of how many they end up putting on MLS. They may pull up some of the unused shots if they have a client in the office wanting to know more about the horse facilities, or the orange groves and irrigation, or the pool and spa. Just because all the shots may not be chosen for the MLS or a tour site, does not mean a realtor does not need the rest to use as necessary for other things. So I take it as my task to provide whatever gives him or her what they need to sell the property and perhaps, even more importantly, to show sellers the sort of sales coverage they offer for their listings. I am convinced that that is the main reason for them paying the extra for video.

  • I have some Realtors that want as many as I can deliver and others that want only 20 images. The higher end Realtors seem to want less. I deliver 20 to 25 images ($395) for under 3,000sqft…. and 30 to 35 ($525) for 3,001sqft to 5,000sqft. Plus there are 5 to 10 aerials and 15 Twilights (if ordered). I also deliver a Photo Tour. Many realtors put 15 to 20 images into the MLS and link the photo tour, with all the images to the listing. So the listing images are fewer… but if the person wants to see more, they click on the Photo Tour.

  • The number of photos needed are dictated by the home where each photo needs to bring value to the marketing. When you look at high end home magazines, there are only 8-12 images. You will almost never see a secondary bathroom and certainly not the laundry room or the water heater. Different parts of the world have different expectations. I have seen photographers in Europe that provide 6-8 images for most listings. It’s unfortunate that US MLS’s have been moving to allowing unlimited numbers of photos but have not increased the quality level at all. The primary MLS in my area displays images at 767pixels wide. The secondary MLS (the two have some overlap so many agents submit to both) syndicates images at 800px wide with lots of compression and a watermark. I think that it’s Realtor dot com that will display up to 2,048px wide if the agent uploads their listings directly. I have presets for each web site and deliver a gallery optimized especially for them to the agent. The agents find value in that and it only takes an extra minute on my end.

    Like Mike mentioned, there is click fatigue to worry about. I’ll see agent photographed listings where they have uploaded 12-14 images of the front of the house with only slightly different vantage points. They will follow those up with a photo of the back of the front door and then a couple of photos of a hallway. If there are any nice features of the home, a buyer may give up part of the way through the gallery and completely miss them. I even see agents taking photos of each plant in the yard chasing the myth that more images means a higher ranking. It doesn’t and it may be losing them potential buyers.

    The correct number is a balance of showing the best features of the home while leaving the viewer wanting more so they contact the listing agent or the buyer’s agent they are working with to schedule a showing. Too many photos could “talk” somebody out of the home quicker than piquing their interest.

    For most middle class homes without substantial upgrades, I deliver between 16 and 22 photos. If the broker is selling a HUD home under contract, the requirement is to have a minimum of 20 images although those homes are usually a wreck and I find myself having to make the types of photos I say have no marketing value to fill the gallery. I find that 30 images is overkill for a 3/2 or 4/3 home nearly every time and I top out with 26 images at the most. Two angles of each vacant small bedroom isn’t going to excite a buyer. Another factor to consider is what is common in your market area. If the professionally made photo galleries are running to between 15 and 18 images, that’s will be a good benchmark to work from. If the agent is focused on quantity, they probably aren’t very good at marketing. Given the choice, I’d stop making images of the small bedrooms and baths and spend more time on the common areas and deliver fewer images.

    MLS’s allowing unlimited images is another good argument for basing fees on the number of images delivered or a range. I’m often asked if I would deliver a large number of photos for a sub-minimum wage price and know immediately that the agent does not place any value on their marketing and is only looking for somebody to do the same quality photos that they are doing themselves.

    In the music world we would say “If you can’t be good, be loud.” In RE photo world it would be “if you don’t have good images, just post more.”

  • Who is paying you, other photographers or the Realtor? answer that and you have your answer.

  • How many photos to provide for what purpose though? If it’s to best promote and market the sale of the property, a very low number of very high quality photos is obviously best I would have to say. For whatever reason, this seems to be in direct contrast with what real estate agents actually want: as many low quality photos as possible.

    I stopped thinking about it all a while back and just “cover the house” now, whatever that means.

  • Thanks all for the feedback. It’s kinda the same as I’ve heard before. Larry says, “My personal opinion is that 25 to 30 images are more than enough to market any property very nicely. ” — However, it seems to me that most feedback is based on opinion and not so much on actual studies or facts. Realtor.com now supports up to 100 images, 3264 by 2448 pixels. They did so as a result of their study of their site statistics and customer requests. They found that properties with more and better quality photos received more and longer views.

    I am also an active agent. I always ask the buyers I work with for their opinion on how they search for homes on the net. Photographs are the first hurdle. Properties with only a few photos are passed over. They say, “The more photos, the better.” I have yet to hear from a buyer that, “I loved the photos and the home, but I got so tired of looking a photos after the 30th, that I simply moved on to the next listing.” Serious buyers spend hours looking at photos on the web before they even call an agent.

    My (Chicago area) MLS removed the limit on photos, and now supports 1920 x 1080 px size. They made the change because of feedback from agents and their own site statistics that have shown that a greater number of photos, resulted in more views and faster sales.

    I’m happy with the fact that my competition in my market agrees with the common wisdom that 25 – 30 photos is plenty, and that they tell their agent clients that — because some of those agents are comparing the results and are coming to me.

  • While I am convinced that the normal home buyer knows if they want to visit a listing after the first 10 or so photos, I provide as many photographs as possible to my agents.

    I shoot the whole house and lot under most circumstances. I shoot everything that looks compelling or like it is a feature of the home. I try to throw in a couple or three ‘artistic’ shots if the home has anything like that strikes my eye. I give the agent more photos than they need, and make sure they have everything they might want. I think it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.

    Some homes will naturally be conducive to larger amounts of photos. A 2/2 ranch in the ‘burbs is not going to be as photogenic as a historic mansion in the city. I run out of things to shoot in the normal, suburban home, but sometimes will get lost for hours in mansions and fine new construction homes or beautiful rehabs.

    I just don’t worry too much about how many photos I take – I just want to make my client happy. I stay happy because I am using my cameras to make a good living. I break most of the rules of thumb discussed here. This has worked well for me as I am booked for two – three weeks in advance most of the year.

  • I think the best thing to do here is shoot as many as necessary to cover every major room of the home and let the agent choose which ones they want to use. I say this for a variety of reasons:
    – Agent opinions are all over the place as to how much to show a buyer and it may be different for the same agent based on each home. Does the agent want to be transparent and show everything or be selective? My opinion is to be transparent but that’s me and I don’t pay your bills 🙂
    – You don’t want to have to return to the home if an agent or homeowner asks, where is the photo of this or that?
    – A while back there was talk that homes with more photos got a preference in search return results on sites Realtor.com so that’s why some agents lean towards more. That and our MLS allows X amount of photos so that’s what I want.

    Having said all this, it’s probably good to have a policy in place so you don’t get taken advantage of. If you flat rate your service @ $XXX.XX per home then you could limit it to X number of photos (with x being the number of photos the local MLS allows) and charge extra for additional photos if they want more. You could also charge by the size of the home. Up to 2000 square feet you get X number of photos and up to 4000 square feet your get Y. The danger you run into with any photo count policy is some agents will count photos and say, I don’t like this photo, I’m not going to use it so I’m not paying for it. However, those are the agents you probably don’t want to work with anyway….

    At the end of the day and as mentioned above, you want to keep your good clients happy and at the same time protect yourself from those who will try and take advantage of you.

  • It turns out that the quantity over quality mindset most likely is coming from the seller, not the agent. Have a conversation with your agents on “why 25, why 35, why 50”. You’ll find that the agents are just trying to please their clueless sellers. The ultimate goal is to not use arbitrary numbers that the mls and seller want, but come up with something more intentional to market the property. The agent then needs to convince the seller that less is more, but this is hard since all the other agents are giving more. And this brings it back to everyone doing more quantity instead of quality. But it’s totally possible to carve your own niche of quality RE photos and serve a small base of discerning clients that love your work, that’s the idea!

  • “The higher end Realtors seem to want less. “-Patrick K

    Bingo.
    They know the ENTIRE point of the images is to get the client to call and request a tour.
    Too many images allows the romance to slip away and convince the client they know enough about the property to dismiss it.

    We are selling sizzle not an insurance inventory.

  • When selling anything (I hope we can agree that we selling showings) too much information is rarely a good thing. Advertising photos are simply a call-to-action. It’s all about creating emotion – not at all about documenting.

  • Most of my clients order 15 or 20. For a 3 or 4 bedroom house, that’s pretty good. I can get every space at least once. I can get the more important spaces such as kitchen and living room at least from 2 angles. And I can get the front and rear exteriors. I rarely do close ups of details such as “here’s a picture of the faucet” or “here’s a close up of the granite countertop.”

  • Sorry to chime in again but we do have a range of opinions on this. Michael did ask if there were any studies done on this. I would be interested if there are some out there and what they conclude. Until then we are dealing with our individual experiences. But this business is nothing if not multi-faceted. One size does not fit all. So much depends on your clients (and I mean the realtor/agent who hires you), your market, the type of properties you shoot and the individual properties being shot. And it is not just about selling the property in question. My clients all say 80% of my photography/video is about gaining selling to list with them.

    I agree that advertising is about creating a few wow shots to get buyers to pick up the phone and call. But I would suggest that that is only one of the ingredients involved in RE photography in many instances. I just reshot a property with stills and video that I had covered a couple of years ago. At that time the buyer lived on the East Coast and just told me it was the video that made him buy the property sight unseen. He then spend 2 years totally refurbishing the structures and the landscaping (all 50 acres of it) and wanted me to shoot it again for sale.

    Probably not going to happen on your standard 3BD | 2.5BA | 1/4 acre property. So I don’t think absolutes work in RE photography. We need a sliding scale, one that takes into consideration all the interacting elements at play. So we need to be flexible and respond to the marketing needs of our clients on all the levels on which they work.

    But this was true when I was shooting advertising photography. I shots one shot ads following very precise comps that had been approved by many committees. Then I shot many additional photos for brochures as well. Nothing stops with the ad. There are many other levels that advertising covers. And I think RE is the same.

  • @Peter Daprix it’s the study of processing fluency. Specifically; perceptual fluency. Been around a looooong time… Super-interesting stuff!

    Setting aside (the exceptions to everything) like the property you just mentioned, or an engineer for a client, or the possible but improbable sight unseen buyer etc… I’d argue that an online visual display is only as good as the worst photo – so why take the risk of publishing the ‘wrong’ one? We all know what the money shots are. The rest are fillers. They increase the odds of hitting the wrong switch in the buyer’s thought process. I’d go so far to suggest that it really only takes 2 or 3 photos to accomplish the goal (a showing visit) and that the rest are fillers.

    The idea of promoting a broker’s marketing acuity with good photos is a sexy idea. Possibly more quantifiable I think (for our purpose) is the showing activity.

  • A lot of people are opining that ‘the only thing that matters is what your clients want’. I think that’s backwards thinking.

    The only thing that matters is what kind of photographer you want to be. There’s no shortage of examples of photographers in a wide variety of markets who provide a tighter, higher-quality set of photos for a premium fee, even as their “competition” provides dozens or even scores of photos at a lower fee.

  • Only yesterday I got an email from an agency I photographed for back in Virginia over ten years ago. It was for a house that looked like it was photographed with a cell phone. Everyone of the images was crooked, all kinds of lens distortions and there were 99 of them! Yuck!

  • Our agents (WA) typically tell us to get as many photographs as it takes to market the property, trusting our judgment. We typically provide 20-25 photographs, unless the property truly calls for more, such as outbuildings, extended entertainment areas, unique land features, etc. These are top area agents and their marketing dollars are not tight, but they are more likely to use additional media services, rather than more unnecessary photos.

    On the other hand, as a recent buyer in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, The MLS allows 36 photos. I cannot tell you just how tired I was of multiple photos of the front of the house and of each room. Click fatigue for sure! And most of the time there was no room relationship gained by the photos (not to mention run-and-gun HDR gone bad everywhere). We did not want to be teased into visiting homes, we wanted to visit homes that had the features and a layout we found desirable. We are busy and very often going into homes was a total waste of our time, therefore, our agent’s time.

    Personally, I would offer them add-on services that enhance the listing. As we all know, the quality of photos in the listing is not just to market that home, it represents the agent. By pushing more photos, we are not helping our agents get more business. If I was listing my house, I would turn and run from any agent that profusely posted photos in the listing.

  • Is there any truth to the idea that listings with the maximum number of allowable photos rank better?

    I had an agent tell me last week that she wanted 36 photos of a home because 36 was the maximum for the MLS and it was her “understanding that when there are less than that amount of pictures, the listing does not get as much traction on realtor.com.”

    Is there research/evidence for this or it just an anecdotal assumption?

  • I found a couple of articles, I don’t know if you could even call them studies. One stated that 11-14 photos is the “sweet spot”. I suppose that’s just avergaraged for all different house sizes?
    http://streeteasy.com/blog/ideal-number-listing-photos/

    There was another article I found interesting about selling used cars. The study seemed more robust to me. They found that nine photos was the sweet spot. They were mentioning how the order of the photos is very important, and that you can lose people if there are too many photos and they aren’t seeing what they want right away.

    Both studies seem to indicate that as the number of photos goes up from one, to two, etc… that interest increases, up to a certain point. Once you get to a certain number of photos people’s minds just tend to bog down. I believe the exact same to be true of video as well, but I know people have different thoughts on this stuff.

    I highly agree with the posters who are saying look at what the top people in your market are doing though. These are the people that are probably spending big bucks to hire people that are very good at this stuff.

  • @Andrew thanks for the link to the “sweet spot” study… I’ve been looking for that!

  • PFRE is a business and has to be approached as a business. Just giving the customer what they want when the MLS decides to pull off the limits without charging more for the service is going to put your books in the red. 90 images is going to take me at least an entire day to shot, edit and deliver perhaps longer. I’d be effectively duplicating many compositions and there wouldn’t be any professional satisfaction in doing the job, although if the agent wanted to pay me triple my usual fee and I needed the work, I’d do it. The huge question is whether the client is willing to pay more for the added images. I have to work hard to convince agents that professional photos really do add value to their brand and their first question when I introduce myself is “how much to you charge?” If my reply is $500 for 90-100 images, I think the conversation is at an end. They’re thinking more along the lines of $30 for 30 images.

  • @Andrew, thanks for the links but it also indicates the difficulty of a study as it may study the wrong question and have to interpolate to your question. While mine has never been a formal study, it is more observation as I review each tour on MLS when I syndicate it to Realtor.com. Occasionally I catch them (or their new assistant) using the branded version and they are appreciative that I give them a real quick heads up on a finable offense. At the same time, since MLS was generally not created (I discourage the iPhone front shot just to get it listed) when I delivered the photos and tour. Local MLS only accepts 25, and yes, syndicators allow more. My official policy is that I TRY to deliver 25, but may fall short on small houses and exceed on large houses which they understand and are personally happy with, and many times they can round up to 25 with community shots, or more likely have the community shots compete for selection with the other excess. My observation is two-fold. 1) about 25% don’t even fill the MLS allowed 25, only posting around 15 despite having far more delivered. And 2) MLS puts their watermark on the photos, so I tell them that not only can they post the excess on the syndicated sites by logging into their account on those sites, they can remove and re-post the same exact picture without the watermark that is even better quality photo as it lacks MLS processing degradation. That is like talking to a brick wall as I have never seen any Realtor do that. So really, the research study to answer the question comes down to the local issue of what males the Realtor/client happy which they can tell you both verbally and non-verbally.

  • It should boil down to providing your clients with what they want….. Not some study that is slanted, opinion that is unfounded or practice that is outdated. These studies do not address the reasons for the increase or decrease in interest. Maybe with a larger number of photos, the potential client was able to ascertain that the property was not what they were looking for and saved themselves, the realtor and the homeowner from unnecessary visits.

    I question the notion that 10-15 is the sweet spot, if it truly is, then why are ALL the sites, mls, Zillow, etc increasing their allotment of allowable photos on a regular basis? Maybe because there is a demand?

    Bottom line, look at your business model and adapt it to the client’s needs. At some point, the client and you will come to a sweet spot of how many photos, the quality, the turnaround and for how much. As long as they are willing to pay….why not?

    PS, last month I was shooting at a property that the agent was having a Broker preview and one of the agents stopped me and asked if I had time to talk with their team. Long story short, they wanted to switch photographers to my firm and it all came down to the one they were using only provided a few photos for each listing, insisting that more would only spoil the “experience” They said that they were tired of being told what they needed and wanted someone that would give them what they wanted….. Something to think about

  • @ Jerry – “It should boil down to providing your clients with what they want”

    If you charge by the image then yes, why not. All my clients pay per image and some will leave it up to me how many I produce and will always buy them all, and some occasionally tell me to ‘go wild’, which is always nice.

    I notice form your own website that you supply 100 images for a 5000 to 6000 sf home – if an agent only wanted 20 images would you only charge them a fifth of your rate? Would you charge double if they wanted 200 images?

  • @Matt, while my website is out of date as to what I charge (I know…), I still charge based on the size of the home, not per image or the price. Agents understand going in how much they are going to be charged regardless of the amount of photos or the fact that their 1,400 sq ft listing is 2.5 million.

    My business plan involves covering the property, so the average is around 50 photos delivered. condos less, large properties more.

    I don’t do “deals” with agents that only want a “few” shots, if the property is 5,000 sq ft, then they will be charged my rate, even if it is only 10 photos. I don’t play games with my clients, they know how I work and let me do my thing with out micro managing, etc. They know that I expect the property be prepped and ready to shoot when I get there. Recently, I shot a 4.5 million beach house and they did ask for “extras”, but they understood that came with a fee.

  • Jerry, it sounds like you are well in control of what you do for your clients and that you decide what they get, or can get. I think that’s at odds with the attitude of ‘providing your clients with what they want’.

  • Without getting into a pissing match….

    I am at a point in my career where I get to call the shots as to how and what I will do in my business. I make well into the six figures and have the luxury of working with those that see eye to eye. Those that don’t, well, there are those out there younger and hungry that will kiss the ass of a donkey for work. Not putting them down, I’ve been there and if that is what it takes to make it, well so be it. I am just to old to put up with that PC crap anymore. I treat all my clients with respect, professional service and good ethics…and I demand the same from them.

    So, to be clear, not everyone is a good fit as a client, that’s just life

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