Competition In Real Estate Photography?

March 23rd, 2009

Does the PFRE blog and flickr group and related training items create too much competition in real estate photography by helping new real estate photographers get started? Several times in the last year I’ve encountered established professional architectural photographers that are critical of helping new real estate photographers get started. Does having more people that can do interior photography drive prices down?

Perhaps. Here’s the way I look at it. Technology and the Internet have and continue to “flatten the world” (Tom Friedman’s metaphor for viewing the world as a level playing field in terms of commerce, where all competitors have an equal opportunity) making all information available to everyone. This is a fact of life in the 21st century. It’s more realistic and effective to work at figuring out ways to live with and adapt to this fact and turning it into an opportunity rather than fighting it. You are not going to win if you fight it! For those architectural photographers that are still carrying a truckload of hot lights, using a medium format camera, spend all day on site and take a week to deliver 3 images and expect to clients to pay $10,000, perhaps they should take a good look at the work being displayed in the PFRE flickr group that’s done with mid-range DSLRs and a few strobes or no strobes at all.

In this era of rapidly changing technology everyone needs to be constantly learning and improving their products, skills and effectiveness or someone will eventually “eat your lunch” or completely eliminate your job. Think about what will happen to interior photography when Canon releases the G20-HDR that you just put on a tripod, level it up and push a button to capture a perfect interior photo with windows perfectly exposed and the dark corners nicely exposed. Oh ya, and It will probably be a pocket camera for under $500USD. This scenario is not all that unlikely considering the direction of the Ricoh CX1 that was announced at PMA.

The fact that technology is going to continue to rapidly change the business of real estate photography is why I think it is important to focus on service and client relationships more than just the technical and creative aspects of photography as you build your business. I know this is not what many photographers want to hear. Many are drawn to real estate photography by the creative and technical aspects, but it’s those people skills that go the  give you the biggest competitive edge. Trust me, many clients can’t even appreciate your technical and creative brilliance.

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19 Responses to “Competition In Real Estate Photography?”

  • Larry,
    What can I say other than I agree with you 100%. Service and client relationships are as much or more important than the quality of work we produce.

  • Larry,

    Everyone knows that I’m an architectural photographer–one of those guys with a truckload of lights charging thousands for my work. That being said, let me offer a few points for consideration:

    1. Great photography has always been about talent–not tools. Photographers have and always will be rewarded for great work, not the equipment they own or the price they charge. Owning expensive gear no more makes one a great photographer than owning a stethoscope makes one a great physician.

    2. To those who contend that their work is “just as good” as an experienced shooter, or that they can do the same work with minimal equipment and a lower price, I simply say: Prove It! Photographs speak for themselves.

    3. In 25 years as a professional shooter I’ve never turned away a novice photographer’s inquiries. In fact, I think the vast majority of architectural shooters are quite willing to offer advice. However, most pros do expect newbies to do the hard work of learning this craft on their own–or at the very least as an interested assistant.

    4. Each year roughly 20% of my business comes from re-shooting projects that were previously shot by less-experienced and less-expensive photographers. I concur with you in your assertion that many clients don’t appreciate quality–price is often the determining factor. However, a far greater segment of the market appreciates and rewards good work.

    5. One of the greatest photographers I ever knew was Ansel Adams. What many don’t know about Ansel was that he was constantly testing new equipment, new chemistry and new films and papers. However, in the end it was the finished photograph that really mattered. Gadgets and techniques should never be a reason for a photograph–only a means to an end.

    5. Lastly, to adapt a quote from E.L. Doctorow (with apologies), “Planning to photograph is not photography. Thinking about photography is not photography. Talking about photography is not photography. Only photographing is photography.” Great photographers are great simply because of the photographs they produce.


  • Alan- Well said. Thanks for you input.

  • Larry,

    I have to say I agree with Alan on pretty much every point he made. As a photographer you should rely on your knowledge of lighting and composition rather than on a button on your super-high tech camera for under $500 bucks….To me, that’s looking for an easy way out. It’s part of the problem with America today….everyone wants instant gratification, no one wants to work hard at what they do….we’ve become lazy!! Even with advances in technology, the definition of a professional photographer will not change….you’re still going to need to master lighting to be a real pro. A photographer’s portfolio will reflect that.

    I agree with you on the service aspect. If you’re small and run a solid customer oriented business, you will reap the benefits because it’s a good way for you to distinguish yourself from the competition.

    And as far as price goes, this is the one that drives me nuts while at the same time, it actually helps to weed out the red-shirted freshman….it drives me nuts because it drives down prices for this service, which hurts all real estate photographers, not just the seasoned architectural pros….I wish the newbies would realize that….on the other hand though, these people provide great examples for a compare and contrast marketing piece….it’s almost becoming a “you can’t live with ’em, but you can’t live without ’em either” situation….

    …I always tell clients you get what you pay for when showing compare contrast samples….

    …..Remember to value your work properly, if you’re good, do not be afraid to ask what you think you’re worth…set a quality standard for yourself and try to reach that….the industry as a whole will benefit….

    Anyway, this is a great blog, keep up the good work….

  • one more thing…my personal numbering system doesn’t necessarily repeat the number five (I thought I proofread this).

  • […] Source and Read More: […]

  • Larry,

    my first time on this blog following Alan’s invitation.

    Adding to what has been said, one of the key elements in all that one does, and most certainly professional photography, is to have ones Heart in it. Having your Spirit and Soul engaged in the process are essential.

    For me, who left a corporate career of 20 years to pursue my passion, photography is a matter of your inner most capacity as a human being. The technical aspects, equipment and know how etc., while very important factors, are almost secondary.

    When you successfully make a living from your photography on a sustained basis, your capacity as a human being has no alternative but to increase and elevate. (Architectural) Photography is not a profession for a quick buck artist. For me it is about creativity, inspiration, craftsmanship, precision, immense attention to detail, courage, persistance, love and being a professional business person. A rare but vital combination.

    Wishing you well,

  • If you don’t think it makes a difference… You can ask all the interior designers and contractors who have tried and tried to win a design contest with “do it yourself” photography.
    Now, all the organizations tell them flat out you really don’t have much of a chance if you do it yourself. This is a given for AIA competitions.
    There is no possible way a “do it yourselfer” with no lights or skills/eye can produce winning work unless it’s by luck.
    I work for a few RE salespeople. They tell me (and so do yacht brokers) that really good photos sell their homes and yachts faster.
    That’s actually something you can take to the bank regardless of any other argument.

  • There will always be those who insist upon the DIY approach and, while they will save some money on the front end, a legitimate case can be made that they lose it elsewhere through the use of an inferior image.

    It’s sort of a cyclical thing too, since those who fail to adequately market their services and/or products with professional photographs tend to not have enough money around to ever make it happen.

    I used to think it utterly insane that anyone would pay big money for a 30 second TV spot on the Super Bowl. Add to that the 750,000.00 it cost to produce the ad. Believe me, the get it back in results in the marketplace.

    I rest my case.

  • There are some pearls of wisdom and sage advice from the posters above. To add another nugget from the AIAP forum:

    “The Federal Bureau of Statistics states that “pro photography is one of the the only professions that has not had any income growth in 14 years. Only 5 percent growth in 27 years. Equipment costs 10 times what it did 30 years ago”. It is, after all, about having fun isn’t it. Do we really do this to make money?”

    Larry, one aspect of photography that should not be overlooked on your site is the one entitled: BUSINESS
    1. The Cost of Doing Business
    2. Setting Up a Budget
    3. How to establish pricing to afford a decent living, cover the cost of health insurance, sending kids to college……..
    4. Etc.

    It is not all about the wiz bang of technology.

    Best Regards,

  • So many excellent points above – thank you all for posting (I found myself nodding over and over again, especially Alan’s post at the top). I have a great mixture of clients that range from budding self-shooters to agents who couldn’t identify the shutter release on a camera and have no interest in learning… In all cases the feedback I get is that they will cut corners where they can to save a buck in this market but when it has to be done right they will pay what I charge.

    The only people who ever question my prices are the people who have never worked with me. They see my shots online because my site has really high ranking and they call because they think they can get me to shoot it for what the cheap guy charges. My answer is, “No.” They always seem surprised that I won’t budge but I say let the market be flooded with low-ballers. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve re-shot a bad photographer’s work which really drives home the point that it is much more cost effective to do it right the first time! They provide a great source of marketing material for good shooters (by comparison) and I know from experience that even the price-shopping agents will end up booking me when it has to be done right – and lets face it… doing it right feels gooooodddddd!

    Happy, productive shooting!

  • Competition is good for 2 reasons:

    1. it seperates the the good work from the garbage (which there is alot of these days). If you produce excellent work, having alot of subpar competition around you will only make your work stand our even more and that much easier.

    2. it does keep the prices a little lower….which is better for clients and probably more in line with what the work is actually worth. Too many photographers are charging WAY too much for a product knowing that they are really the only option for alot of the agents in their area…which leads again to my #1 point.

    Bottom line is that if you have a good product and at good price you should have ZERO problems with the competition….let your work speak for itself.

  • Larry,

    As an architectural photographer, it is not only my duty as a professional to provide excellent service to my clients and saturate this planet with nothing but awesome and informed photography, it’s also my calling to educate my fellow clients.

    I have been a professional architectural photography business owner for 4 years now. Prior to my start, I received my Master of Fine Arts Degree in Photography and taught for a couple of years at a UC school. I entered this market at an interesting time; the time when the old guys with a truckload of lights packing large format cameras were not able to compete with the emerging digital market and were slowly entering retirement. I used to use a large format and medium format camera so I understand the skill that is required to satisfy a client in an evolving market, on budget and on time.

    When I entered this profession, I’m afraid to say that I was not equipped with the experience needed to set my prices with respect to what a professional photographer should charge and I made some serious mistakes. I was working for too cheap from my lack of experience as well as my nearly nonexistent portfolio. After a couple of months of building my portfolio from mostly real estate and construction projects, I sought out other photographers for their pricing structure, joined organizations, created my business identity and website and bought professional pricing software to help me develop my rates.

    It didn’t take long for me to see the difference in projects I was now being sought after for. After careful consideration for the direction that I wanted my business to go, I left the real estate jobs (for the most part) and marketed my look toward architectural projects that were more challenging and of course, pays better.

    I have exhausted a lot of time, money, effort, money, and more time into educating myself to be able to compete for large, more sophisticated projects. With that said, for me, real estate photography was a stepping stone to what I do now. I tailor my pricing for the individual project rather than having a set rate. Every project requires a particular degree of sophistication (different lighting, assistants, scouting, etc.) and every project is backed by a client with a different sized wallet. I will not expect to receive the same day rate from an independent residential real estate person as I would from large marketing firm for the same project nor should the smaller projects expect the same degree of a finished project if their budget cannot afford it.

    As a professional photographer in a rapidly changing market and in a terrible economy with clients with a suffering marketing budget, I must be flexible with my services yet remain true to my principles of maintaining a price point within this profession of photographers.

    There will never be a day when a camera does everything for you. A camera is a tool and nothing more. It lacks the experience, the eye and technical and artistic sensibilities that only a seasoned and educated professional can provide.

  • With more interior shooters out there, more homes are being professionally shot. This is good news for all of us. The homes that have professional photographs are getting noticed by other home sellers. They want their homes shot as well. I’ve had a couple clients that have contacted me because they new I shot another listing that they saw.

    More competition could mean more demand.

  • Larry:

    My wife picked up a flyer in her office today from a new real estate photographer. He’s offering to do shoots for a $75 down payment, with balance due on closing. Plus, no closing, no balance due. Yow, I think he is desperate.

    I’m not going there.


  • Michael- Yes, he’s desperate… to many properties don’t close these days. Sounds like a bad idea!

  • Larry,
    Maybe this isn’t such a bad idea. This is an extension of the “teaming” idea. We, as photographers, are a part of the Real Estate “team”. Realtors charged commission of results. No result, no commission. Why not us? I have long considered charging nothing down and a commission at closing. I just don’t know what it should be. It seems like half of one percent might be about right. If we think great photography matters, why not bet our money on it?

  • As an outsider, the problem I see that’s killing architectural photographers is the MLS system and the way it degrades and butchers image quality. I’ve been impressed by the quality of the pics people post on their websites, but those pics just don’t show as well on the MLS. And, as long as that’s true, it narrows the difference between the good photographers and the average photographers and hacks.

  • Josh, I respectfully disagree. As a first time home buyer recently, I found the MLS made the bad pictures look like absolute garbage and we wouldnt even consider those houses. It may close the gap on high end and medium-high end quality pics, but crap will be crap.

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