Do Real Estate and Architectural Photographers Need their own Association?

June 12th, 2016

JoelPostThe following is reposted from Joel Rothman’s site We’d all like to hear your opinion on this subject.

Our firm represents many real estate and architectural photographers. Our experience suggests that the unique challenges facing real estate photographers are not currently being addressed by the different photography associations.  Which raises the question, should real estate and architectural photographers unite and form their own association to represent their interests?

The Existing Photography Associations do not Cover RE and Architectural Photography

None of the existing photography associations address the day to day concerns of real estate photographers.  The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) serves the needs of independent photographers who freelance for written and on-line publications.  The American Photographic Artists (APA), of which I am a member, focuses heavily on written and on-line advertising photography.  The Professional Photographers of America (PPA) focuses on wedding, portrait and studio photography.  While all these groups do wonderful things for their members, the have to date failed to address the unique challenges that real estate and architectural photographers face in the current marketplace.

Another great organization is PAPA, the Professional Aerial Photographers Association.  To the extent that real estate and architectural photographers are flying drones, balloons or taking pics from the air, this is a great group. But its only focus is aerial photography and it does not cater to the needs of real estate and architectural photographers.

The Blogs and Clubs for Real Estate and Architectural Photographers Cannot Advocate for their Interests

I am a big supporter of the places where real estate and architectural photographers gather online.   Photography for Real Estate is an awesome blog and I am so thankful to Larry Lohrman for featuring me there so often.

The Real Estate Photographers of America & International and the Association of Independent Architectural Photographers, both run by Alan Blakely, are great organizations that promote the professional success of professional real estate and architectural photographers.  All members must pledge to follow the highest level of honesty and integrity, and be above reproach in all professional business practices.  Alan is a tremendous supporter of the interests of real estate and architectural photographers around the world, and I commend him for his work.

Unfortunately, as wonderful as Larry and Alan are, and they are wonderful, they are just two voices among many.  Furthermore, Larry and Alan are naturally focused on the resources they have created on the internet, rather than the needs of real estate and architectural photographers generally.

Why I think Real Estate and Architectural Photographers Need a Voice

The reasons are many.  This is not meant to be an exhaustive list.  But I think I have covered the important ones.

  • To Promote the Value of Great Images.  It has been proven over and over again that professional photos taken by professional real estate and architectural photographers sell homes faster and for more money.  But what happens when everyone who has an iPhone in their pocket thinks that they are a professional photographer?  Bad photos and depressed prices for photographers.
  • To Protect Great Images from Infringement and Free Riding.  Unscrupulous real estate agents, or even scrupulous ones who just don’t know any better, treat the internet, MLS and even social media as their free stock photo database.   The hard work of real estate and architectural photographers is already under valued.  When agents and brokers take what they want without asking the photographer loses.
  • To Educate Photographers, their Clients, and the Real Estate Industry. Ignorance is not bliss, ignorance hurts.  It hurts real estate photographers especially.  Agents, technology providers, and MLS’s all have representation. Real estate agents, MLS’s and technology providers could not survive without great photography.  Yet real estate and architectural photographers have no representation.  No one is speaking to NARCMLS or Zillow on behalf of real estate or architectural photographers.

Why is this Important?  

Protecting great images protects the livelihood of every real estate photographer. Promoting the availability of great images, and the value they offer, promotes real estate and architectural photography generally.  Educating real estate agents and others who rely on professional real estate and architectural images to respect those images increases their value and the value of the photographer’s services.

What else increases value? Using a written or electronic licensing agreement increases value. Storing identifying information in EXIF metadata or watermarks increases value. Real estate agents and MLS’s respecting images increases value. And, most importantly, standing up for the rights of real estate photographers increases value. But who will stand up for photographers?

Case in Point: CoreLogic

I am one of the attorneys who represent members of a proposed class of real estate photographers in In re: Multiple Listing Service Real Estate Photo Litigation, Case No. 14CV1158 BAS (JLB) filed in federal court against CoreLogic, Inc. in the Southern District of California.  We brought this case to stop CoreLogic’s longstanding practice of stripping out copyright management information (“CMI”) metadata from real estate photographs in violation of the Copyright Act of 1976, as amended by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (“DMCA”). I know from my work with real estate photographers that it is a common practice among photographers to add metadata in EXIF to their photographs as a protective measure.

On June 8, 2016, the Court held a hearing on several pending motions, including motions for summary judgment and a motion for class certification. Judge Cynthia Bashant presided over the hearing.  Her questions and observations were interesting and important for all real estate photographers concerned about their images. In particular, Judge Bashant wanted to know whether real estate photographers actually used metadata stored in EXIF to protect their images, and if they did what was the connection between stripping out that metadata and copyright infringement?

On behalf of the real estate photographers we represent and the class of photographers who are the plaintiffs, we did our best to convince Judge Bashant that the pictures taken by real estate and architectural photographers, their livelihood, are deserving of respect. We urged Judge Bashant not to permit CoreLogic to continue to strip out information that identifies who took the pictures so that CoreLogic so that further disseminate them, and infringe on photographers’ copyrights, with impunity.

Is it time for an Association of Real Estate Photographers?

There was no one at the hearing whose sole purpose was to represent real estate and architectural photographers. I think real estate and architectural photographers need a voice to speak for them and raise their concerns at venues like the annual NAR Convention, the Council of Multiple Listing Services, at the Copyright Office, as well as with huge technology companies that misuse their photos like Zillow.

Do you agree?  Should real estate photographers establish a 501(c)(6) not-for-profit trade association that represents their interests?  Let me know what you think.  You can call me (561-404-4335) or email me (joel at I cannot wait to speak to you.

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19 Responses to “Do Real Estate and Architectural Photographers Need their own Association?”

  • Count me in! An association that not only protects the interests of it’s members, but also raises the standards of the craft and the awareness of this still rapidly expanding market is something I would be proud to be a member. Thanks for the great article.

  • An association that represents the Real Estate/Architectural photography industry would be a wonderful thing to have. One of the questions to be answered is does it make sense to start from scratch or to partner with an existing trade organization open to expanding their scope and base of membership. For example:

    PPA does include and accept members who focus on commercial photography…not just weddings and portraits. Unfortunately, just based on member volume specializing in each photographic specialty the commercial end of things is virtually ignored in terms of any public facing activities. Would Real Estate/Architectural photographers be able to align with PPA and get them to actively promote/support our product lines in a meaningful way?

    WPPI (Wedding & Portrait Photographers International) recently expanded to accept PSPI (Professional School & Sports Photographers) as an arm of their organization. Until recently the school photography organization had been affiliated with PMA (Photo Marketing Association) as PSPA (Professional School Photographers Association) PSPI realized that they would be able to accomplish more in a synergistic relationship with an existing organization instead of going it alone.

    An organization dedicated to the support, education, and advocacy of Real Estate/Architecture photographers is definitely needed. The questions is how best to organize it, staff it, define it and finance it.

  • ASMP is a wonderful association that not only services all professional and commercial photographers, they are extremely dedicated to architectural photography. They may have started in media services, but are now the premiere organization for commercial based photographers. I have never felt a “poor cousin” or anything less than a full member as a company that concentrated on architectural photography and, most members (at least in my chapter) look forward to our annual architectural photography speciality presentation. In fact, most members look up to their fellow architectural members. ASMP stands for the rights and professionalism and has educational and business platforms that are exciting and informative and lead the industry.

    PPA is a great organization also serving the professionalism of the industry and in many cases does and accomplishes the same things that ASMP does – but is a little more focused on the portrait type photographer. In fact, if you identify yourself as an architectural photographer, and you like belonging to an organization – you probably like one or the other for the support they offer their members.

    That being said – real estate photography, because of the way the industry is presented, charges and holds itself or directs itself is the “poor cousin” in professional photography. That doesn’t mean that real estate photographers are actually any less professional, earn any less or have less skills, – all it means is that up until recently, real estate photographers have ignored the standards and methods of other “professionals”.

    Should they be more recognized by the major groups – I think so – and as a board member on ASMP AZ chapter – I reach out all the time to real estate photographers in our area to come to meetings, meet members and of course join. In fact, in the last 7 years only one real estate photographer has actually joined. Why – because I don’t think the average real estate photographer has the background or training that allows them the ability to understand or mesh with the existing profession. Real Estate Photography – because their clients are willing to accept good enough, cheap enough or barely good enough, go for quantity over quality – although I believe that some of the photographers in the groups I belong to on social media exceed some of my photographer buddies in the professional associations.

    I believe there is not a need for a professional association specifically for real estate photographers. I believe there is a need for real estate photographers to take a good look at themselves and say – “I am a professional photographer and as such would benefit greatly from joining with an existing organization. I want to do my genre proud and represent a very large group of photographers who earn a good income and produce good images and follow best business practices” I believe that real estate photographers aren’t willing to spend the money on a national organization that has the reach of a national organization or one of the existing organizations for real estate/architectural photography out there today would have progressed further than they have. Additionally, tour companies like RTV and tour buzz have enough customers – in the tens of thousands when combined, but cannot get more than 100 together when they have a “dealer” meeting.

    The closest thing we all have to a national association is this blog – people here seem to be professional, willing to share and willing to look at the real issues of doing business and growing the industry – great job Larry and we all thank you for it. I think we should have one- no, not now – do I think we should belong to an organization that exists first, learn what is necessary and then form something – yes.

  • Agreed, real estate and architectural photographer are an identified speciality and requires proper representation.

  • Yes, I think we need a professional association.

  • I would definitely join…. and further I would support an organization such as this to provide trade shows and conferences for us to attend and learn more.

  • I think an association for us would be awesome!

  • I think that Joel Rothman’s description of the ASMP above is not accurate. The membership of the ASMP is very broad, and ranges from advertising photographers to Fine Art photographers and there is nothing in the ASMP’s mission statement that limits its activities or membership to particular categories of photography. The ASMP is interested in protecting the intellectual property rights of all photographers and videographers. The business practices that the ASMP promotes do tend to relate most closely to editorial and advertising photography and videography. However, real estate photography is advertising photography.

  • There currently is an organization AIAP, The Association of Independent Architectural Photographers, that I and many other architectural photographers belong to. Having said that, I would certainly support any organization that understands and represents the interest of our specialized field of photography.

  • While a lobbying organization to help protect copyrights of RE photographers might be worthwhile, I would oppose anything that tried to set a “Quality” standard. Such standards are best set by the market. Trying to impose some arbitrary set of quality standards is counter-productive for a service based industry.

  • As an AMSP member I found the members to be good people, but at least in Colorado focused much more on studio photographers with med-large staffs, and high-priced (good for them) individual photographers accustomed to regularly using assistants. Not the stuff of RE photogs.

  • I think an association that promotes our specialty is good idea. Count me in.

  • I think we need our own professional association… count me in

  • As to the litigation involving CoreLogic and the matter of the stripping of metadata from image files, that is of equal concern to photographers in all genres of commercial and art photography, and to all the organizations that represent them. I believe that the APA and ASMP have been trying to lobby for better legislation regarding this matter, although I don’t know what progress they have made lately. I believe that it is already illegal to willfully remove electronic copyright notices from intellectual property, as it is illegal to remove printed ones. However, I guess it comes down to what constitutes willfulness.

  • PPA has been very active in working with lawmakers in DC to actually rewrite and create laws that protect the copyright of photographers with punitive damages being spelled out against infringers. A lot of progress has been made in modifying old copyright laws and updating the laws to reflect the realities of current business practices and technology. This is just one of a list of reasons (including insurance!) why I continue to belong to PPA. PPA has the membership and the strength to represent professional photographers when in comes to dealing with federal copyright law. Bills are being prepared by legislators that PPA has met with to bring copyright laws that protect the interests of photographers everywhere. I also need to get current with my involvement in ASMP.

  • I think first we have to ask ourselves what it is that our organization would do, especially if we decide to build our own from the ground up. I think some of the main reasons you would join an organization are for networking and improving your work through shared knowledge. The latter is already for the most part done here and a few other places.

    I think it would be beneficial to create an organization where we can come together and solve the issues we struggle with often. For example, when I was researching how I should form my licensing and copyright terms, there were a lot of different people here specific to real estate photography, and a lot of people in other forms of photography with a lot of different solutions that weren’t very complete. I think if we all put in one effort to lay out a set of standards for going about copyright and licensing our photos, specific to real estate photography, it would benefit everyone. The same goes for liability protections regarding to going into someone elses home etc…

    We come here to stay up to date on PFRE, I think we could take it a step further and when we do find something that will benefit everyone, or when we have a problem that we need to address as real estate photographers as a whole, like licensing, we can come together and to find a solution and have a place to frame that solution or that thing that is beneficial. It doesn’t have to be whole society, it could even just be a section of this website, but I think having a real organization and membership promotes people to do more. A society of real estate photographers with clear goals will probably get a lot more done than a bunch of real estate photographers with individual goals that aren’t really aligned with each others.

    I’m very willing to put in some work to form an organization that benefits everyone, it clearly has a purpose and a use, look at all the other photography organizations in this thread that have formed and that a lot of us are members of. With that being said, I’m curious who else is willing to put in the work that it takes to form a society for us? I’m not sure how much work it would take, but I doubt it would be anything near extreme.

  • I am a prior real estate agent and current architectural/commercial photographer. Of course I have extensive dealings with Zillow at al from multiple relationships.

    Based on very similar prior experience I am confident that if a few of us were to mobilize behind collective action to protect our copyrights from these predatory publishers they, especially Zillow, wood contrive new ways to blacklist or otherwise disadvantage us in the marketplace that they have so much impact on. Real estate consumers don’t care, in fact they simply want the predatory publishers like Zillow (and some mls’s) to wantonly violate any and all copyrights in order to embellish their published listings with our images.

    I wish that one of us were smart enough to contrived an association business model that could bring enough photographer membership numbers to collectively threaten the predators more then they can threaten us individually

  • Perhaps a viable association business model would be similar to International defense alliances like NATO. Ie, If you strike one of us, we have the collective power to treat it as if you struck all of us. “One for all, all for one.”

    But such defense alliances seem to invariably depend upon at least one superpower. Given that, I just don’t imagine how such a photographer copyright protection alliance could organically sprout as an independent entity from scratch.

  • The other day, I did an “infringement search” using my Pixsy account. Result; 3,204 infringements. As I started digging deeper into some of these, I appears to me that the vast majority of these images were swiped off of Zillow. Not off of Zillow property search, but off of Zillow Digs which has nothing to do with a home being offered for sale. Take a look at Zillow Digs and ask yourself who’s content is being used to sell all kinds of advertising and merchandise – yours and mine.

    I know that the last time Zillow was the subject, people thought I was unfair in my assessment of Zillow and it’s predatory business model. Unless you simply get your jollies from being an Official Zillow Photographer (which has as much credibility as a Pep-Boys Certified Ferrari Technician), as a photographer, you have to see what is happening here – they are screwing us.

    Here is part of the issue; unlike mls, Zillow stores all images regardless of whether a property is still for sale or not. So in the relatively near future they will essentially have photographs of just about every single house sold in the nation for the past 10 years. So, right now they are simply giving your work away for nothing to anybody who wants it. What will you do when they decide to sell them?

    Think about that – they are holding all our work, and do as they please with it, without offering any compensation or protection for us. We never authorized their use, we just never did anything about it because we were afraid that our clients the realtors would not like it, right? Ultimately I think Zillows goal is to circumvent realtors too, and then who will be paying your bills?

    As much as I think an association for RE Photographers is a good idea for many reasons, Zillow et al’s ancillary use of our images can at this point only be curbed with legal action.

    Another important move, would be to insist that various MLS’ allows watermarking of our images. There is truly no reason why they should not, if presented in a way that them dis-allowing us to watermark images, facilitates copyright infringement as they allow the use of our images, not us the creators.

    So why does this bother me so much? Well, 3,000+ webpages out there are using my images without authority, nor any compensation. Up till the last 6-8 years, I was typically earning $100K plus/year from additional licensing/stock sales. Today that is down to $10K. The fact that my images are being used without compensation has essentially dropped my earnings by more than 50 percent. Not because I’m not shooting as much (I am), but because my product is being used by entities that have built their business on finagling access to my work through a 3rd party, in this case MLS without compensating m for their use. Needless to say, I will be going after commercial use, but none of it would be necessary if not for Zillow and a few others that simply don’t care about intellectual property rights….except for somebody using theirs. Ever read their TOU?

    Maybe you all should check to see how many of your images are being used without permission or compensation? The take that, times what you think your image is worth, and see what’s been stolen from you!

    My 2 cents

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