A Real Estate Photography Marketing Success Story

January 1st, 2019

There’s always a lot to be learned from studying real estate photography success stories. It’s been a while since I’ve posted a success story but recently I ran across one that is worth passing on. Remember, this is one person’s approach in one location. There is no one way to build a successful business.

Here is the background of the real estate photographer that this post is about:

  1. Location: The location is the Seattle area. Note that the Seattle real estate market has been very good for several years. This probably plays some part in the success story.
  2. Time in business: This person has been building their real estate photography business for the last two years (2015 and 2016).
  3. Previous experience: Extensive background in auto sales.
  4. Net income in 2016: As of the end of 2016 this photographer is netting $80,000/year.

Here is the marketing approach in the form of a list:

Go after new agents:
Going after “successful” agents I quickly realized they were, rightly or wrongly, pretty loyal to the photographer they were using. Most successful agents in my area were already using a professional real estate photographer.

My first green agent I cold called, after spotting the crappy photos of his first listing, was my best client last year and one of the highest volume agents in the Seattle area. He’s a kid in his late 20s that was trying to get a job at the fire department when we met. We now laugh about the enormous pay cut it would have been. But it wasn’t just him. 75% of my business comes from agents I met that were just starting. My photos (and a great market) have helped them succeed, Going after newbies is easy; just walk into a brokerage, meet the managing broker, and show him your photos and tell him you want to make his new people superstars. Then remind him every month or so. In person. NEVER email!

Email is not an effective selling tool IMHO. Regular mail might be better but it’s expensive and it avoids getting toe-to-toe with brokers. Personal face-to-face contact is important. I think a tri-fold brochure is perfect to hand to someone AFTER you’ve shaken their hand and talked a moment at least.

When you contact the managing brokers don’t bother with appointments. They’re always there; always busy. I think a quick, unrehearsed pop-in is best. I start off acknowledging I can see their desk is on fire. I ask them if I can have a minute to talk about helping a brand-new agent?

Don’t discount:
Don’t ever discount. Do it full charge or do it free. There’s a book full of the psychology behind that; I’ll spare you. Giving discounts is a mistake that has haunted me countless times so I recommend against it with a trainwreck background of experience. Being an affordable photographer is a bottomless pit and giving discounts is the autobahn straight into the pit. If you have a good client that needs a favor, just do it for free. With a smile and a good attitude. Waaaaaay smarter.

Outsource your post-processing:
It doesn’t matter how good you are. If you’re a great processor, perfect – you can explain exactly how you want it done, to someone else. You need to be out GETTING business, not buried behind the monitor. Find a good one. I’ve shopped in Vietnam, India, Sweden and the US. When you find the right one, make sure you pay them enough. Personally, I want to be the pickiest, highest paying client of a talented processor. The nightmare client they can’t live without. Controlling expenses is important. But it’s hard to save your way into growing.

No such thing as cancellation fees:
If they become habitual, just fire them. Ditto mileage charges for outside your area. Just do it or not. You never know how much you won’t mind driving if it’s been a couple days without shooting.

Never fire anyone:
You can always be ‘booked up” until you decide they’re okay. Or maybe they’ll apologize for whatever you’re upset about. I fired a dozen builders last year (I hate -most- builders) that kept me busy the last holiday season.

Never bad-mouth another photographer:
I did it non-stop my first year which resulted in several embarrassing situations. Not to mention I don’t think it ever got me a dollar of business. You see bad photos, it’s tempting, But it’s doesn’t make sense.

Try to never say no:
Phone rings; “can you shoot Thursday afternoon?” [schedule is booked solid]. Answer; “I can shoot Thursday am or Friday pm”. [Stop talking]. It usually works out and you’ll get the shoot.

Figure out which days you need off and work the rest:
If you aren’t doing a shoot you should be out meeting brokers (not behind the monitor). It’s simple. It’s hard.

Don’t look too professional:
Note I didn’t say acting. Be on time. Do what clients want. But as for your car, dress, website, and the way you speak, it’s a very, VERY fine line. Remember there’s supposed to be a genius artist buried somewhere in there, capable of making magical photos that sell houses. Give them a personality unlike all the mortgage brokers and home inspectors that come begging for business. Because YOU ARE different from them. You are a magician, not a worker-bee. As for wardrobe, I wear newer jeans and a logo (my logo) polo shirt. My shoes are the most expensive thing I wear.

You don’t have to do video:
I tell my brokers that poor video is a lot worse than no video, which I believe to be true. I point out that video sells a lifestyle, photos sell showings. I tell them that if they want good property video to open their wallets and get the good stuff (they rarely do).

Get a Drone:
If you don’t have a drone, get one. You can get a Phantom P3 for under $700 bucks. Almost painless. Then include drone photos “free” with your shoots. Even if you don’t have fun flying it, they’ll be the easiest and fastest photos you do. It’s an incredibly effective sales tool. Most good drone photos are roofline or below.

This story clearly doesn’t cover all aspects of the real estate photography business but I believe this is a series of great relevant ideas that can help a lot of readers.

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11 Responses to “A Real Estate Photography Marketing Success Story”

  • I loved this post and it read like a check list of everything that has and hasn’t worked for me. Anyone out there starting out, take everything in here to heart.

    Funny thing is I’ve been doing this for 7 years and still feel like I’m still figuring this game out. The latest one I’m wrestling with is not looking too professional. It’s actually a new year’s resolution to walk back the polished appearance I’ve thought was so important all these years, and really just be more of myself.

    The last hurdle is the drone. The cost of the gear is a no brainer, but do I really need all the insurance and FCC license?

    Thanks for the post and hope you continue with the success.

  • Great advice. . .except nix the drone, a lot has changed since 2015-2016. . .nervous neighbors, license requirements, etc. . .get a pole. It’s easy to get roof line and below shots with a 12 ft – 15ft painter’s pole. The exception would be for a large property with acreage.

  • Great post. I agree with every detail, and I’ve lived most every aspect. One of the wisest, most valuable common sense posts I’ve seen on PFRE blog.

    Regarding roof-line-or-below elevated shots…I agree that, too. But more and more often, a pole cam (in light wind, 1-2 story structures) is a strong competitor of drones/neighbors/FAA.

    Thanks, to whomever took the time to write this.

  • Thanks for the article. You are right that there isn’t a perfect “way” to build a RE photog business.

  • Great post! Thanks for the tip about new agents – that’s something I hadn’t considered at all!

  • Great info… thanks for sharing. I have been considering adding elevated shots to our shoots. We shot just over 1300 homes last year (2 full time and 1 part time photographers on our team) and our goal is 1500 for 2019. I want to do more direct marketing and I like the idea of the trifold brochure handout. I am also considering a newsletter for agents… has anyone done that before?

  • Thank you for taking the time to share this. Great post. I really enjoyed and appreciated the information.

  • Great tips, Thank you ! A perfect way to start the new year! I will agree with Kevin Mc however in nixing the drone if all you’re doing is a front exterior. Better to get a 20′ pole, IMHO. I do have a drone and a Part 107 cert but mostly use it for bigger jobs like in construction. I also have a Wonder Pole ( that goes up and down in 5 mins and doesn’t have the neighbors calling the police on me.

  • Agreed—great tips and a great way to start 2019. My only resolution this year is to spend much more time marketing myself.

  • I discount all of the time, but those discounts are made available when it benefits me. I want agents to be thinking about consolidating jobs and booking me for multiple jobs on the same day in the same area. I’m not giving it all back, but enough that the agent will be thinking about it. I discount for vacant homes where I’m given a lock box combo. This gives me some flexibility. I’ve done some of them over two days or photographed part of the home early, did another scheduled job and returned later to finish up. This lets me pack my day nice and tight so I’m shooting the whole time I’m out of the office. My published price is for one home in the area and I’ve set that so I can discount. I might even try offering discounts to my busiest customers when they prepay the equivalent of several jobs (10ish).

    Outsourced post processing is an option, but I’d hardly recommend it universally. It’s good to be able to do your own post processing as it also teaches a lot about what you need to capture in the field. There will be times when you need to get images to a client faster than you can run them through your outside contractor and it also has to be kept in mind that when using somebody in another country, you need to keep track of their holidays (national and religious) so you can adjust the promises you make to your clients. List and weigh the pros and cons and see if it works for you.

    I may charge a cancellation fee or I might not but I want it in my ToS so customers understand that I’m not casual about them being late, not showing up or cancelling at the last minute. How you implement your policy is up to you, but if you don’t have a policy stated up front, you have nothing to point out. I agree that repeat offenders should be fired or limited. I’m willing to cut customers some slack, but they have to earn it. If they cancel their first appointment at the last minute or don’t show up, they either pay the fee or I never accept bookings from them again. It’s happened and I notice that they don’t have many listings anyway.

    I don’t charge a “travel fee” but I do quote prices based on where the home is located. My area is well spread out so others in a denser town might not be traveling more than 10 miles where I often travel 50miles each way. The line has to be drawn somewhere or I could be spending too much time on the road and paying much more in vehicle expenses per job. I’ve driven 4 hours to an area, but I was booked for 2 solid days and provided accommodations while I was there. I don’t list the travel portion of my fee separately since it’s not negotiable. If I get an inquiry about doing a job somewhere I don’t have listed, I have a formula that makes it very easy to create a quote quickly.

  • Great article and good advice. I work with one agent at the moment, and the other older agents that have been doing this for a while, dont want to pay for the photos. They only list middle of the road houses as I call it. So maybe targeting new agents might be the way to go, educate them young. As far as the drone. Thats a toss up if you dont have one already and are doing other work with it. Im looking at getting a pole, just seems easier.

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