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Real Estate Photography Vs. Architectural Photography–Why the Price Difference?

October 10th, 2018

Francesca in the Seattle area asks:

I’ve recently learned that some interior photographers charge $1000 for a half day and $2000 for a full day service. I know that interior photography is different from real estate photography however, there’s a huge difference in price considering that they are pretty much part of the same family. I was wondering if you guys can help me understand the dynamics behind it.

It all has to do with the difference in clients, what the clients do with the images, and the quality of images that the clients expect:

  • Real estate photography: Listing agents are typically not trained in the arts and don’t have very high expectations about the quality of the image. Frequently, they want images that are as cheap as possible and use them for a few weeks or months. They typically don’t see the images as part of their personal branding, except for very upper-end agents who are willing to spend much more on photography.
  • Interior design or architectural photography: In this case, the clients have been trained extensively in the arts and visually have much higher standards. The photographs document their personal creations which they use in their own personal branding. So in this case, the images are a much bigger deal and they see them as much more valuable!

Of course, there is a range of what you can charge in both of these areas.

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4 Responses to “Real Estate Photography Vs. Architectural Photography–Why the Price Difference?”

  • When a building exceeds $150 million to build the clients at this level are not looking through flyers at a realtors office.

    Many jobs take more than one day to shoot. Travel, lodging and meals may be involved.
    For a prestige property such as a NYC high rise, a museum, an opera hall, the client often will fly their favorite photographer across the globe to get the image they want. Before the Beijing Olympics, the spate of new, landmark buildings designed by notable architects provoked a small invasion of top notch photographers from outside the country to create the images the owners deemed critical to their promotional efforts.
    In many cases the photographer will write a contract to license the images to several co-clients so that each client gets a smaller bill and the photographer gets a larger payday.

    So yeah, they are related but it is a little like the difference between a good high school athlete and an Olympic level athlete. Both are remarkable but to get to the last 10% of performance takes 200% more effort.

  • It comes down to value to the client. A RE image is used for a short period of time by an agent that is going to make a few thousand dollars (more or less) on the sale of a home and that’s it. A company may want images that they will use to advertise themselves to the public as well as for internal documents for many years. A designer, builder or architect will use the images to attract new clients and earn far more money from the images with the business they bring in. With a much larger return, a photographer is not wrong to ask for a higher fee to use the photos.

    The production of the images can be more complex with more attention to detail and a day of photography may yield just a few deliverable images. The level of acceptable quality will be much higher for “commercial” work as opposed to an RE shoot. Clients may also expect a much greater caliber of equipment and larger file sizes with more exacting editing. While it may be a full day of photography for a job, the rest of the non-photography work may also be much greater. You will likely be in discussions with the client about what they want to wind up with from the work. You may visit the site with the client to plan the images and determine what prep work will need to be done and what can and can’t be done in terms of lighting, camera positions, moving items, etc. There is often some back and forth in post production to be expected before final approval is given for the images. All of that work is often bundled into that $2,000 for the one day of shooting. (I only do half days if the work is in-house. A full load out for a commercial job doesn’t leave me with enough time in the day to book another job). With RE, you show up blind, assess the property, make images as quickly and deliver within a couple of days with usage being primarily online and these days, viewed on tiny screen mobile devices. Production isn’t the price driver. it’s the usage and value the images are likely going to have for the customer. Still, many photographers will bill for the production and licensing separately. It’s a way to control on-site time and realize some income up front even if the client decides they don’t want to license anything. It’s not unheard of for advertising campaigns to get a thumbs down when they are complete and an ad agency gets replaced or a new direction taken for the overall concept.

  • I do mostly architectural now, and for the most part, it comes down to licensing; real estate is very limited in time and usage, whereas architectural will have a much larger audience and be used indefinitely for print, marketing, portfolios, and will most likely be published. I also shoot a little differently, focusing more on the design, details and architecture than the spaces and property, like you would for RE. Architectural clients tend to be more discerning, but also lower maintenance, if that makes any sense. But, the nature of the shoots, process, etc are very similar, and once I started shooting a lot of architectural work, real estate started getting in the way and it didn’t make sense to continue scheduling RE; it’s very frustrating to have an architect try to schedule a $1500 job on a specific date, only to find you have a $200 RE shoot standing in its way. The good news is that architectural jobs are usually scheduled weeks in advance, instead of the gotta-have-it-now nature of RE. The real beauty of architectural is that I can often sell multiple licenses for one shoot, ie: to the architect, interior designer, builder, property owner, trades, etc; I offer a multi-license discount to each party to encourage this. I still occasionally shoot some RE for choice clients and during slower periods when I have the time for it.

  • Your work will elevate too, as you give yourself more time to produce and charge for more value as you do with architects etc. On the mental side of things for the photographer, it’s completely different than RE. RE is all about efficiency… striking that speed/quality balance. When working for architects (fellow artists) its all about slowing down and producing your best work. You need the time and mental headspace to make art. This will go very understated as I write this because it is so important to change your mindset when working with these two types of clientele. My favorite Scott Hargis-ism is “Speed Kills”

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