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How Do You Move from Real Estate Photography to Architectural Photography?

September 24th, 2018

Ray in North Carolina asks:

I have been shooting residential and builder properties for almost 5 years. I really want to diversify my business with more commercial and architectural work. Was there a previous article posted that addressed this specifically or is there someone in the PFRE “family” who is known to have been a great teacher of the process?

We’ve talked about this a couple of times (here and here) over the past several years. It comes down to the level of work you do and who you market yourself to. So the biggest factor is working to raise the level of your work. Here are a couple of workshops coming up soon that would be a good place to start:

  1. Workshops by Scott Hargis, Wayne Capili, and Mike Kelley.
  2. Workshops by Ethan Tweedie.

These guys are the best of the best and can help you move beyond real estate photography.

Here are few other great resources to help take your photography to the next level:

  • PFRE Coaching: Some of the best real estate photographers in the business are available for one on one coaching.
  • PFRE Photographer of the Month Contest: The POTM contest is a great way to put yourself out there and get thoughtful feedback from some of the most accomplished and respected real estate photographers in the world.
  • PFRE Flickr Group: The PFRE Flickr group is a tremendous resource. There are currently over 13,000 members, almost 42,000 images, and 11,550 discussions.
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9 Responses to “How Do You Move from Real Estate Photography to Architectural Photography?”

  • Yes – this is my question for 2019! I also have been doing RE photography and also have a team to assist in Northern Virginia. But my passion is Architecture since back in high school and at OSU I wanted to be an architect, but I was not ready for college and joined the US Army. Years later I am finally doing my passion which is RE, builders and would love to move over to buildings since I love their size, difficult lines and being outdoors for their exteriors. I am signed up for the Scott, Wayne and Mike Architectural Workshop in Kansas City this November and cant’ wait to soak in all their expertise and teachings. RE Photography pay the bills, but another dirty bathroom just gets old, plus I just love buildings and their vast space which is different then the small colonial style I get to do the Northern Virginia. How do you move – I am hoping the workshop by the power folks will guide me that way.

  • Take extra time at your best listings to shoot your absolute best and create your unique style. Have a conversation with an architect and you will find out architects don’t want the photo qualities that are in real estate. They want tighter shots, they don’t need to see everything. They prefer natural reflections, instead of avoiding them like real estate. They prefer a more natural blown out window, so the exposure is more outside than inside. They hate flat images where there are no shadows. They love one-point perspectives. They love less-is-more. They are artists too.

  • Q: How Do You Move From Real Estate Photography to Architectural Photography?
    A: Stop shooting homes and start shooting buildings!

    * Sorry for the lame attempt at humor, Tuesdays are like that some weeks!
    Have a great day all!

  • Actually, Russell, you’ve got it just about right. As I was once told by a wise friend, “The way to stop shooting real estate is to stop shooting real estate.”

    All that stuff about standards being higher and clients being more demanding and fees being heavenly is baloney. Well, sort of. The thing is, “Architectural Photography” exists on many levels, just like “Real Estate Photography” does. There are RE photographers who literally spend 20 minutes on location, apparently sprinting from the car to the house, leaping from shot to shot and then ‘burning rubber’ to get away (“Bye! Gotta GO!”), and then there are RE photographers who would be horrified at shooting more than 3 or 4 listings a week. Likewise, PFRE fees can range from $50, all the way up to the mid four-figures. It all depends on what kind of photographer you are, how good you are, and who your client is.

    Same thing is true for Architectural shooters. I know people who shoot UFWA HDR, producing 30, 40, 50 images a day and who work exclusively for architects, have never shot a residential real estate listing in their lives (well, I’m describing one guy in particular but I’m confident he’s not alone out there). I also know architectural photographers who are true artists in the purest sense of the word, and who routinely command fees in the 5-figure range. And that is a direct reflection of the “levels” of architects that are out there. Joe Blow Architect working out of his basement, cranking out layouts for cubicles and backyard BBQ decks is totally happy with iPhone shots. But someone like Santiago Calatrava is unlikely to work with anyone who can’t rise to his own level of artistic expression. And that’s a pretty small group.

    My point is that there’s nothing magical that happens when your client has the word “architect” on their business card. It’s who and what you are, along with who and what your client is.

    Be serious about your work, understand your clients and, more importantly, understand THEIR work, and you’ll do just fine. Don’t listen to the people who will sneer and say “You can be an ‘artist’, or you can put food on the table!” They have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about, and it’s a false choice — you can make far more money by being an artist than you can by being an automaton, cranking out “product” via Photomatix and a 12-mm lens. Far, far, FAR more money. But yes, that level of photography requires commitment and lots of work. If you don’t love architecture and design, I don’t recommend it. Much easier ways of making money out there!

    Just as a great portraiture photographer spends time learning about the personality and career of his subject, an architectural photographer should be able to hold her own in a conversation about architecture. You don’t have to be an actual architect, but you need to know some vocabulary. Can you name an architect who is doing significant work today? Can you explain why it’s significant? You need to understand your subject before you can hope to express it in a photograph.

  • Just signed on to say that was an excellent reply Scott. I don’t think Ray was the only person here who will benefit from what you have to say. You should write a book or something… 😉

  • I think Scott’s explanation has a lot of merit to it. However, I don’t agree with his first statement. I think that, if you are really serious about being an architectural photographer, you need to stop being a real-estate photographer, that is, someone who primarily shoots high-volume, low-priced assignments primarily for real estate clients. As an architectural photographer, you can still shoot for real estate clients, but this will probably not represent the bulk of your business and you will deliver a level of quality and charge fees that will be similar to the quality you deliver and fees you charge your architect clients.

  • @David Eichler, I don’t see any problem with continuing to be a real estate photographer while building an architectural photography business. I would suggest having a separate web site, business cards and marketing. It’s not different than doing any other sort of photography. I do several different things, but they all have their own web site. I’m not putting product or journalism images on my RE web site. I want people to think that all I do is RE when they look at my RE website.

    The nice thing about architectural work is that it usually has some lead time so it’s possible to not schedule any RE appointments at the same time or fill in with some RE work if it turns out that a building you are supposed to photograph isn’t ready yet. My concern would be burning all my RE bridges and hitting a slow patch with bigger projects. When I have journalism assignments or projects that pay more than RE, I can tell customers that I’m booked for that day(s) and try to schedule them before or after. That’s never lost me a job. It also makes it seem like I’m in demand for RE work.

  • @ David — My first statement was, “The way to stop shooting real estate is to stop shooting real estate.” I think that fits pretty nicely with your rebuttal that one needs to stop being a real-estate photographer in order to become an architectural photographer.

    But, I should clarify that what my friend meant with his aphorism was not that I should call up all my real estate clients and inform them that I was no longer working with them. He meant that I should stop shooting as if I were a real estate photographer, and stop presenting myself on my website and other social media as a real estate photographer. He meant that I should undergo a change of mindset, treating every opportunity as a chance to make a photo worthy of the clients I hoped to acquire in the future. It would no longer be a goal to attract new real estate clients, and I would not care (much) if my existing clients objected to any change in the style of my photos. (In the event, they loved it, which ironically made things harder).

  • Scott, I think your last comments provide some additional useful clarification and advice. However, I want to emphasize that I do not think you necessarily need to stop shooting for real estate clients. I think what you need to do is to understand that shooting for architects can require a business and stylistic approach that is different from most real estate photography, at least if you want to work with architects who are serious about their marketing and are willing to allocate significant marketing budgets to that end. I think this involves ceasing to market yourself as someone who caters largely to real estate clients, but you can still shoot for some real estate clients, as long as you recognize the stylistic and business differences involved. For some, in order to adequately develop a different style of shooting, it might be necessary to cease doing any real estate photography for a time, to avoid confusing the styles. However, we both know accomplished architectural photographers who also do some high-end real estate photography with production values and fee structures that are comparable to their formal architectural photography, though the compositional styles tend to be different between the two genres.

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