Six Ways Real Estate Photographers Can Compete Against Established Photographers?

September 13th, 2015

CompetitionChristian in the Seattle area posed this important question:

I am reading a lot about marketing to Real Estate Agents. I’m in South King County (greater Seattle area). Many of the top tier agents in my area are using professional photographers. Some of the photographers however do not provide what I feel is “professional quality”. Though I am struggling to reach out to agents because they “have a photographer” and do not want to change. Do you have any good suggestions to reach out to agents in a competitive photography market?

Great question! I can remember back in 2003 there were hardly any agents in the Seattle area using professional photographers. Now, agents have to promise professional photography to win the listing contract. I’m sure there are many other markets where the competition is significant.

Here are some suggestions for getting started in a competitive real estate photography market:

  1. Understand your competition: You need to know what you have to do to compete so understand your competition’s price, quality what they offer and everything else you can.
  2. Have a great looking portfolio: Work at looking as good or better than your competition. The portfolio on your website is the center of any marketing you do so make it looks top notch!
  3. Meet your potential clients: You need to meet your potential clients if possible. Real estate agents are people oriented and respond best to personal face-to-face contact. Go to their open houses and their office meetings if possible to meet them face-to-face.
  4. Create a marketing piece: Create a regular size or jumbo size glossy postcard that has one or more of your very best images on it along with your contact info. Deliver your marketing piece to targeted agents office mail slots. You don’t have to mail these. Agents have mail slots at their office. You can personally deliver these to these mail slots. Distribute your marketing piece every few months.
  5. Be persistent: You have to stay visible to agents that may decide to hire you for whatever reason.
  6. When you get a chance to shoot, make a good impression: Word-of-mouth from other agents is the most powerful marketing. So when you get a chance, dazzle them with great customer service. Frequently, great customer service is more important than anything else.

What have others found to be good competitive practices to breaking into a market?


California Close To Creating No-fly Zone Over Private Property

September 10th, 2015

UAVsCalifornia appears to be very close to creating no-fly zones over all private property. California SB-142 has been passed by the state legislature and as I understand it has been on Gov Brown’s desk since August 28.

As I understand it, SB-142 says you have to have express permission to fly a UAV over private property below 350′. So for real estate photography or videography this just means you have to get neighbors permission. This seems reasonable to me. Seems like standard courtesy would suggest that you get permission from neighbors to shoot video if you need to fly over their property.

One seemingly valid objection is that states don’t control airspace in the US. Only the federal government is chartered to control airspace. So perhaps this law won’t withstand legal challenges but in the long-term but in the short-term it would make sure UAV pilots exercise standard courtesy.

Update 9/10/2015 afternoon: It looks like Gov Jerry Brown vetoed the bill. See: the article in wired from a short time ago.

Who Do I Recommend As Retouchers?

September 9th, 2015

filesharing  Caroline recently asked the following:

I’ve been looking at retouchers work and I haven’t exactly impressed with some of the post-production work. However, I’ve have found myself spending a ton of time wading through all of the india image editing firms. I am pretty much ready to raise the bar and start paying for what I need, something that I can actually present to my client. I was hoping to contact the folks on the list you refered to in previous posts, however, I wasn’t able to find the link to the list. By any chance, can you send me the list of image editors that you recommend?

Yes, over the years we’ve talked a lot about outsourcing your post-processing and there are two camps on the subject:

  1. One camp says, “get right in the camera so you just need a few quick RAW adjustments in lightroom for post-processing.
  2. The other camp wants to shoot 5 or more brackets for every shot so if you deliver 30 images there is a ton of processing.

I must admit, I’m biased towards camp #1 because that’s how I work, but I also don’t do high volume and actually love doing post-processing. I realize there are business situations that motivate one to outsource.

Despite all the posts on the blog on this subject, there are only two retouchers that I’m currently willing to recommend. I know both of them from working in the Seattle real estate market with my wife. They are:

  1. Mark Reibman – Currently resides in Cambodia. Mark is doing retouching work for several PFRE readers. Mark says he is at about 75% capacity so you’ll have to check with him to see if he can do your work.
  2. Matt Edington – Who  has recently built a retouching operation in the Philipines to do retouching for his Seattle company Matt says, “the editing and photography back-end services company we’ve been working on is currently in closed beta. We can’t take a large number of new clients at the moment as our infrastructure can’t quite support it yet. We’re going to put a beta invite sign up on our website tomorrow and we can grant people invite access one at a time for the time being, with a big launch coming within a few months.” The site for Matt’s retouching operation is:

We will have a post on Matt’s retouching operation when it officially launches in the near future.

The Canon 10-18mm Lens Is a Reason To Start Real Estate Photography With Canon

September 8th, 2015

Why10-18Elsa recently ask the following question:

My name is Elsa and I ran into your website today as I was doing some research on the startup of a real estate photography business. I am 19 years old and I want to get this going as soon as possible. The earlier the better right. it would be really great if you could give me some insight as to what camera I should use and if it’s worth buying the more expensive camera. I have been doing some research on the market around me and it seems there is not a large amount of competition but it is there.

First of all with real estate photography you should first think about wide-angle lenses because they are a more important than the camera body you choose. Here are some factors that can help you decide where to start:

  • You can do a fine job of shooting real estate with an APS-C size DSLR.
  • Over the last 5 or so years, the Canon 10-22mm lens has been the most popular lens for shooting real estate. See the poll at
  • About a year ago Canon introduced the Canon 10-18mm for $299 USD. It is quite high quality for the price as compared to the older Canon 10-22mm and other non-canon wide-angle lenses. See the review here. As indicated in the review, the Canon 10-22mm is a little better for twice the price and the Tokina has a wider maximum aperture for about $100 more than the 10-18mm. The other popular real estate photography lens, the Sigma 10-20 is $200 more than the Canon 10-18mm.
  • So I think the high quality of the Canon 10-18mm and it’s low price become a motivation for starting out with a Canon DLSR.

If one chooses the Canon 10-18mm as a wide-angle lens here are a couple of alternative DSLR bodies to go with it depending on what your budget is:

  • Lowest price: Canon Xti (used) + Canon 10-18mm = $443 USD
  • Medium price and latest technology: Canon T6i + Canon 10-18mm = $1048 USD
  • Update 9/10: Amazon and B&H are both offering a big discounts through 10/4 on the Canon T5. B&H is offering it for $399 so with the 10-18mm it’s only $698. Amazing for a good DSLR plus a 18-55mm and quality wide-angle lens!

In conclusion: my recommendation would be the Canon T6i and 10-18mm if you can afford it. Remember that there are many other expenses involved in getting started in real estate photography. Things like, tripod, tripod head, flashes, flash triggers, Lightroom software, extra batteries, memory cards, insurance etc. Expect to spend $2,000 to $3,000 for startup costs.


The Beauty Of Real Estate Photography: Low Startup Cost and Higher Than Average Wage

September 7th, 2015

field of spring grass and sunsetReal estate photography is an unusual business opportunity! It has relatively low startup costs, yet in most, but not all locations, you can earn more than the average local wage. I’ve become more and more aware of this as I talk to more real estate photographers over the world the last several years. This really hit home with me after reading a recent comment in the PFRE Flickr discussion where a Seattle photographer pointed out the same thing I’ve been observing:

I can’t think of many jobs that I could find where I work 9 months full-time and 3 part-time and still make more than twice the average wage for Seattle. I helped a friend get started shooting homes, he takes it very casually and still earns a good income on what amounts to a part-time work schedule.

This is a business you can capitalize for under $3,000 and start making money fairly quickly.

A day after I ran across this comment a voice in my head said, “yea, this is the essence of why real estate photography is so popular.” It’s a great summary of what I’ve been observing over the last 10 years that I’ve been promoting this blog. According to an op-ed in the New York Times, today freelancing is a huge trend going on in the US. More and more people are choosing to freelance because it offers the flexibility and independence that tradition jobs can’t provide. The benefits of real estate photography freelancing are the following:

  • Relatively not much investment required to get going.
  • Earn a better than average hourly wage.
  • Work for yourself.
  • You can start out part time or just do it to the level you need or want to.
  • Increase your income over time by either improving your quality or increasing your volume.

Sure, it takes the initiative to start and manage your own business and some technical know-how but wow, what a great opportunity in the overall scheme of things. In a world where college graduates that have spent huge amounts on their education have difficulties finding a job, real estate photography as a full or part-time job has amazing potential!

To make independent real estate photography work you need to:

  1. Be independent: That is, be careful not let 3rd parties like post processors and tour companies that do your marketing suck off your profits. There are 3rd parties that will help you scale your business but be careful having control of all aspects of your business is usually the best strategy in the long run.
  2. Learn to Market: Marketing skill is probably more important than photographic skill. Good marketing can sell average work.
  3. Focus on Your Passion: For some it’s the artistic or quality part and for others it’s the marketing/business part. There’s no right way. Both approaches work.

While there are downsides to freelance jobs, on balance freelance opportunities are pretty amazing compared to many traditional types of jobs. And the pay can be better!


Why JP Danko Is Not Ditching His DSLR For A Sony A7R II

September 6th, 2015

SonyA7RIIA couple of weeks ago I featured a YouTube video by Michael Reichmann raving about the Sony A7R II. And then just a few days ago I ran across this post by JP Danko over at that takes a little different view of the Sony system. I think JP Danko’s post is an interesting counter point to Michael Reichmann’s video.

Here is a high-level summary of JP’s points:

  • When you by a camera you are investing in a camera platform, not a camera.
  • Sony is not a complete camera platform.
  • There is no market for used Sony gear.
  • The marginal size difference isn’t worth investing in a new camera platform.
  • The A7R II is especially attractive for those wanting to use it for video

Be sure to read JP’s complete article.

Are There New Rules In California For Real Estate Photographers?

September 3rd, 2015

rulesMicah, a real estate photographer that recently moved to California asked the following:

I heard something interesting today that I hadn’t heard of before but thought maybe you knew: Someone was telling me that photographers who shoot real estate in California need a real estate license in order to do it legally. Is this true? I can’t seem to find any information on it but he claims he’s a real estate broker.

After doing a little research and talking to some long time real estate photographers in California, I can find no evidence that suggest you need a real estate license to shoot real estate in California.

The probable cause for confusion is that when photographers are licensed Realtors it allows them access to listed properties without being accompanied by a Realtor. This is a big advantage and some real estate offices may be looking for photographers that are licensed Realtors. So yes, it’s a rule in most MLSs that photographers cannot go in a property unaccompanied to shoot the property so the custom all over the US is that the licensed Realtor (listing agent) comes to the property during the shoot and accompanies the photographer.

My experience in Oregon and Washington is that Realtors routinely ignore and work around this rule and a long time real estate photographer in California tells me that:

My understanding has always been that, officially, no one is supposed to be in a listing unless they’re accompanied by a licensed agent. EVERYONE ignores that. I’ve never met an agent who brought it up (but this is why they use those blue “Supra” lockboxes. And it’s why they get around the rule by having another lockbox that just uses a combination – e.g. a “contractor” lockbox.

So my conclusion is that: No, you don’t need a real estate license to shoot listed properties in California but legally you need to be accompanied by a licensed Realtor to be legal. But expect to have your clients completely ignore this MLS rule.

What do you California shooters think?

Update to The PFRE Real Estate Photography Directory

September 2nd, 2015

PFREdirectoryBack in March of this year we dropped the yearly reoccurring payment aspect of registering for a listing in the PFRE Real Estate Photographers Directory. We didn’t announce this change until now because it only affected those that had set up a reoccurring registration. We also wanted to make sure that all the reoccurring payments in PayPal got canceled and we were running smoothly on a non-subscription model.

The reason we dropped the directory registration yearly payment is many people didn’t realize the $40/$30 was a yearly reoccurring subscription when they signed up. So some were confused and surprised when the renewal happened. We decide that the easiest solution would be to just drop the reoccurring payment part. This made it a better value for photographers and made it easier to manage for us.

So as of last March you just pay once up front and have the directory listing forever. Everything else is the same. $40 gets you listed highest in the directory than the $30 basic registration. The paying more to get listed higher was a reader requested feature. PFRE contest winners get listed the highest in the directory.

During the directory registration process, you set up a directory account and password so once you create you entry you can come back later and update it. If you leave the registration process without paying you can’t come back later and finish. The account is dead and I delete them.

So after years of refining this directory of real estate photographers I think we finally have it set up so it’s a great value for photographers and it doesn’t take a bunch of my time to maintain.

Update Sept 3: I need to point out a couple of links that apparently aren’t very obvious:

What’s It Worth To Get 3 more mm Wider Effective Focal Length?

September 1st, 2015

16mm19mmDwayne ask the following question about wide-angle lenses:

I use a Nikon 7100 with a 12-24 mm lens. I only shoot horizontal for continuity. Small bathrooms are a problem. Would it be worth spending the money for a 10-20 mm lens even if it were say a Sigma. Does the 10-20 mm really make that much of a difference?

I agree about shooting small bathrooms horizontal so slide shows of the property don’t have a vertical format mixed in.

The effective wide end difference between a 12-24mm and a 10-20 mm is 19.2 mm vs 16 mm.

I did a quick handheld test in my small bathroom with my 5DMkII using a 16-35 mm lens. One shot at 16 mm and one shot at 19 mm. This bathroom is 5′ x 6′. I run into bathrooms much smaller than this all the time, but it gives you a feel for what the difference between 16 mm and 19 mm effective focal length.

As you can see, you can see from the animated GIF above, the difference but is noticeable but not huge. Is it worth $450? It’s hard to say. It depends on if you have $450 laying around. On the one hand I love having 16 mm available for shooting bathrooms like this (it’s almost the only time I use 16 mm) but on the other hand in the overall scheme of things small bathrooms don’t matter much. I would never suggest going wider than 16 mm, but 16 mm is handy.

Dwayne decided that in the end, having an extra 3 mm in effective focal length was not worth $450 to him.

Special Promotion Going On In September For LightTrac App

August 31st, 2015

lightracThe LightTrac App is celebrating its fifth year anniversary. To celebrate, they are announcing a discounted price for the month of September. The App which normally is $4.99 will be $2.99 during September.

For those not familiar with LightTrac, it’s App that allows you to see exactly where the sun will be at any address at any given time. Just what real estate photographers need to do to when planning a shoot. It can prevent showing up at a home and having to shoot into the sun for the front shot.

While LightTrac is available on most smartphones and tablets, the developers have recently made a bunch of improvements to the IOS version of LightTrac recently:

  • Completely refreshed UI now optimized with support for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus.
  • Landscape view on iPhone has been much improved.
  • A New feature to set up reminders from within an app to remind yourself of a future photo shoot.
  • Compass integration to auto-orient the map to user’s position.
  • Google Maps is back as the default maps provider.
  • Search locations feature in iPhone version can be accessed from the main screen toolbar.
  • Save any spot to favorites with an easy-access save feature on main screen toolbar.
  • Share your location via a unique LightTrac URL. Copy-paste this into your email, blog posts or social media
  • to share the selected location, date and time for a proposed photo shoot with others.
  • You can now zoom in by double-tapping on the map without changing your map center as well as you can zoom out by tapping once with two fingers.

While there are several other Apps and websites that do similar things LightTrac is one of the most popular Apps of this type and during September it will be one of the cheapest too.

Ten Rules For a Real Estate Photographers Portfolio Site ?

August 30th, 2015

Patrick recently asked the following question about his website:

How many images would you showcase for a particular gallery (i.e. Real Estate, Commercial, etc) ? I’m thinking 40.  (20 exteriors and 20 interiors).

Sure twenty images per gallery may work fine if you have that may top quality images. After looking at Patrick’s site, I realized Patrick needed to have my sermon on portfolio websites. There are many things that are more important than how many photos you have in each portfolio. I’ve done this post several times over the years and readers always help refine this list. Here is the latest version:

  1. Dedicate a site to real estate photography: Web sites are not that expensive for the value they provide. Don’t mix so many types of photography together on one site your visitors are not sure if you are a full-time real estate photographer. If you are working at being a full-time real estate photography have a site dedicated to real estate photography.
  2. Portfolios should play automatically: Organize your site so that when a viewer hits your URL a series (8  to 30) of your VERY BEST images automatically play without any action or navigation on the part of the viewer.
  3. Allow the viewer to easily take control: Have it so if the viewer wants to they can take over control and exit the automatic display and go to some other gallery or page.
  4. Carefully review your portfolio images: If you are just beginning have someone review your images that can give you feedback on quality. A great venue for this is the PFRE Flickr group. The point is, you want the few images in this auto displayed portfolio to be your very top images because they will be part of you brand.
  5. Use large images: Large images create more impact than small images.
  6. If you use vertical images use a diptych: If you use vertical images combine two vertical images side by side to use the same space as a single horizontal image. This this prevents switching between vertical and horizontal.
  7. Your site must look good on all mobile devices: Your portfolio and whole site must work on all devices (including smartphones and tablets). Check it out to make sure it does.
  8. Have a photo of yourself on your contact page or about page: This is about giving your site and business a more personal feel. The online world is cold, anonymous and impersonal. Do what you can to give your business personal feel.
  9. Have your cell phone number on the contact page: This is a customer service issue. As a real estate agent, after I sign a listing agreement with a home seller I know the seller will immediately ask, “when can we be on the market?” I want to call my real estate photographer before I leave the sellers home and book an appointment. I don’t want to send an email, wait 24 hours for a reply etc. In this business, you need to carry a cell phone and be instantly available. This is not that hard to do. Real estate agents do it and expect their contractors to do it too.
  10. Have as many images of upper-end homes in your portfolio as possible: Upper-end photos say, “I shoot for upper-end agents” whether you do or not. Upper-end homes make you look more professional even if most of the homes you shoot are not upper-end homes.

Here are a few of my favorite real estate photography sites. Most of them follow these rules:

Have I missed anything?

Do Professional Voice Overs In Tours Help Sell Listings?

August 27th, 2015

QandARob, a professional narrator, asked the following question:

Do professional Voice Overs – when appropriately and strategically placed in a tour – help agents sell their listings faster? Does the voice over compel a buyer and say something different that cannot be captured through our lenses? I’m not talking about a one to two sentence per photo frame. Rather, 3 to 4 sentences spread over 4 to 6 photos, then perhaps a pause in the narration of about 3 additional photos that might be related to the same room. The narration picks up again when a new room is introduced during a tour.

You may be asking the wrong question. Maybe your question should in what situations will agents pay an extra $75 to $100 (what you would have to charge) for professional narration?

Here are several of my thoughts on narration:

  • Professional narration on tours and video is very compelling when done well. I know of no data available on the effect of professional narration.
  • Half or more of doing it well is writing the script. Most agents typically aren’t very good at writing scripts. Most agents I know want someone else to write the script for them.
  • I’ve seen professional narration used on still photo tours, but I doubt many agents in the US would pay $75 to $100 extra for it. In the mid-2000’s our broker in Seattle (John L Scott) provided free professional narration for all of the still tours on their listings in the Seattle area on their website and the agents didn’t have to write a script. The narrator would create a script from the photos posted on the listing if the agent didn’t supply one. 99% of the agents didn’t supply a script. They stopped this great service when the narrator retired about some time ago.
  • Professional narration is more frequently used and expected on property video for upper-end homes. It is more likely agents would be willing to pay for narration in this market.

What do you think about Rob’s question?

Combining a Flash Layer(s) With a Ambient Layer For a Real Estate Interior Photo

August 26th, 2015

AmbientPlusFlashYou may have noticed that more and more real estate photographers who post in the PFRE photo forum describe the technique they used as blending a flash layer with an ambient layer (like anjie b). Also, you will frequently see this technique used in winning photos in the PFRE monthly photo contest (like Anders Carlson). There is much more of this going on than there was just a few years ago. That is, because if you shoot a flash image and an ambient image, you can quickly combine these two in Photoshop to get the best of both.

What’s The Motivation For This Technique?

  • Flash lighting and ambient only lighting each have their own distinctive look. Sometimes it can take more time on site to get a good flash image with no shadows.
  • You can get the best of both ambient only look and flash only look in a way you can control directly.
  • You can easily remove shadows from flash shots with an ambient layer in Photoshop.

How Do You Use This Technique?

  • As with anything you can get as carried away with this technique as you want. You can combine just a couple of layers or 100 layers or more.
  • Kevin Vitali has this fairly good example of combining one flash layer and one ambient layer.
  • You can use the “open as photoshop layers” feature of Lightroom by selecting the images you want to open as each image on a layer in Photoshop.

If you are not practiced in using Photoshop layers, this may seem complex but once you get familiar with using Photoshop layers it can be quite fast.

What Size Photos Should Real Estate Photographers Deliver?

August 25th, 2015

RMLSLast week Tom ask about the size of photos he should deliver to his clients:

I have been uploading photo files to my agents at the guidelines recommended in the September 9th, 2009 article you posted titled “What You Need To Know About Uploading To MLS” . Yesterday I had an agent tell me the 800×600 pixels are too small. Up until now no one really complained about it. He also said the minimum should be 1600×1200 but prefers 2048×1536. What is the NEW standard everyone is using today? Is there a new standard?

The problem with recommending a specific size is that MLSs run a wide variety of system software. Because of this there is no such thing as a standard. Some MLS software does a good job at downsizing if you give them a bigger size than they like but in the past MLS downsizing has been notorious for mangling photos files so the theory has always been that if you give them the exact size they want they end up not touching the files during uploading. Here are my updated recommendations for figuring out what size photos to upload to your MLS:

  1. Call your local MLS(s) and ask them what size (pixel dimensions) they recommend for photos that are uploaded to their MLS.
  2. Try to get them to tell you what pixel dimensions to use rather than a file size because it is the pixel dimensions that trigger their downsizing.
  3. For photos that will be displayed online, always deliver in the sRGB color space because this is the color space that all browsers use.

Some readers have told me that when they call their MLS they have trouble getting photo specification information. Be aware that MLSs are set up to support their members (agents that pay them monthly fees) so explain that you are a photographer that supplies photos for their members and you are inquiring so you can better serve their members.

8 Steps To Learning Real Estate Photography

August 24th, 2015

8StepsPostLast week Liz in Texas said:

I am interested in taking a workshop on Real Estate Photography. I am in Texas, there are evening short workshops in Austin at Precision camera. I am more interested in totally immersing myself in learning the elements of RE Photography. FYI, I do have a degree in photography from Brooks Institute in 1981-when we shot film! So although I have quiet a bit of experience in the photo/film world-see website. I do not have the digital technique and post-production experience.

Liz’s request for a workshop to learn real estate photography is not unique. Everyone thinks in terms of face-to-face classes because that’s how we all grew up. But the world is changing. Streaming video, electronic media, Skype, YouTube and Google Hangouts offers ways to inexpensively provide training in subjects where it’s no practical or economical to do large-scale face-to-face training. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go to workshops. Spending time with an expert is still  the best approach at learning if you can get it… it just isn’t always practical. So use online learning and if you can get into a workshop, for it.

In the process of explaining to Liz the real estate photography learning resources that we have available here on the PFRE blog, I realized that even though there are a bunch of links to all the resources along the top and sidebars of the blog I didn’t have a concise step-by-step explanation of how the resources fit together. So I’ve updated what used to be called the Store page to the 8 Steps to Learning Real Estate Photography page which does a better job of explaining how all the PFRE learning resources fit together.