How Do You Build a Credible Portfolio of Real Estate Work When Getting Started?

August 23rd, 2018

ProtfolioNina in Florida asked the following:

How do you find high-end properties to show on your website? I know you need to show your best work to get started. Is going to interior designers a good idea to shoot their projects?

This is a classic problem for real estate photographers getting started. How to build a portfolio of work? Yes, you need a good looking portfolio and you preferably want some images of upper-end homes. There are two approaches that work pretty well:

  1. Find a new home neighborhood that has some high-end model homes. New home neighborhoods always have model homes that are professionally staged and no one is living there. Just what you want. Go in and talk to the site agent (the agent(s) that hang out at the office near the model homes) and tell them you’d like to shoot their model home for your portfolio. Usually, they will let you shoot their model homes unless it is extremely busy. These new home open houses are better than a standard open house where someone is living because many people are sensitive about having their private space photographed.
  2. Find some upper-end listing agents in your area, either on local broker sites or just drive through some upper-end areas and look at agent names and phone numbers on for sale signs. Contact the listing agent and tell them you are building your portfolio and you’ll do some shoots for them if they will let you shoot one or more of their listings. Give them a reduced price or free, if necessary.

Both of these approaches work pretty well. Number 1 is the easiest but the very high-end homes are usually custom homes so you may have to use number 2 if you want upper-end homes.

Does anyone else have tricks for building your portfolio?

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5 Responses to “How Do You Build a Credible Portfolio of Real Estate Work When Getting Started?”

  • Start with some average homes. Being allowed to photograph a Model home can be tough. I’ve never had any luck and the sales office was rude in the way they said no on a couple of occasions. (Their photos weren’t very good either). Getting to photograph high end homes is something you have to work towards unless you get very lucky early on.

    If you are renting and on good terms with your property manager, ask them if they have any properties they want photos for. That worked for me and I didn’t hurt my market at all since my manager was really cheap and would never pay for images (ever). They didn’t “believe” in them but were more than happy to use the ones I made. If you own your home, talk with the agent you worked with. If you have friends with nicely decorated homes, bribe them with their favorite wine (that you can help them drink). Your own home can be a really good place to start. The bonus is that you will be motivated to clean and primp more than you might usually and you can spend all the time you want fussing over every detail.

    You could also invest a bit in a newly minted agent with lots of energy and drive and grow with them. I’ve never had any return shooting for “free”. Get something out of the exchange even if it’s only gas money and some lunch, but always deliver an invoice showing the full price of what you would normally charge (+10%) and the discount that you are giving them. You want to fix in the back of their minds that at some point, they are going to have to start handing over payment for your services.

  • In the beginning you may have to offer to shoot a property “gratis” in order to get some nice portfolio pieces. That’s usually the best way in fact, when we first started producing RE property videos we shot everything gratis until an agent finally hired us to shoot videos for her.

    Contact a broker or broker associate about shooting MLS photos gratis. Tell them you are just getting started and I’m sure they will accommodate you. If they like your work they may even offer to pay you. That’s how you build a client base. Good luck!

  • When I first started, I did sort of an apprentice type deal with a really good photographer in another city. I mostly shadowed and observed, but towards the end I would take some photos along side of him to help build a mock portfolio. You can also reach out to friends and family that may have a nice property and just ask them if you can clean up and “stage” a room or two, just do a guest bedroom, a bathroom, and maybe one living area. Also, promoting your business at a discount in a neighboring city where you may not pursue work down the road is a good option. With this option, you won’t have discounted prices advertised locally where you’ll pursue your primary market eventually.

  • I went to open houses of some above average homes and a was upfront with the agent there. I told them I was starting out in RE photography and would they mind if I took a few shots to practice. As I recall only 1 out of 5 said “no” and I got some shots of nicely staged homes to practice my processing skills on and use in my initial portfolio. I did it hand held with available light, which is pretty limiting, but you can stick with the kind shots this works for.

    Often times the open houses are being run by someone other than the agent, a lower level ‘not yet an agent’ type who is bored stiff and happy to have someone to chat with.

  • I’m just getting started myself and what I did was look at listings already on Zillow, but clearly had photos done by the agent. If I thought the house had portfolio worthy shots, I then contacted the agent and offered to shoot the house for free if they let me come in and get portfolio material. The three agents I contacted all said yes. I got 15 decent images out of it and had enough to get a basic web page started.

    They say you shouldn’t give stuff away for free, because clients won’t want to pay you what you are worth in the future. But I say who cares. These agents were cheapos who aren’t going to pay for photos anyway. One listing was a $1.2 million home and another was $2.7 million. If they aren’t going to shell out for photos on those homes, they aren’t the customers I want anyway. They gave me some of their time, I got some decent shots, and I was off and running. Win-win.

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