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6 Tips for the New Real Estate Photographer.

Published: 06/08/2019
By: Brandon

Bill from Texas writes:

"I'm relatively new to real estate photography and I'm finding that the learning curve is very steep. I've been able to find plenty of information from numerous sources online, but there seems to be a lot of conflicting advice from what gear to use, to what technique is best, to how you should conduct yourself with clients, and what your terms of service should look like."

Thanks for reaching out, Bill. I would agree that the learning curve is quite steep and although there is new educational content popping up every day, it's hard to decipher the good from the bad. So, the best I can do for you is share the top six pieces of advice that I would offer myself, if I could go back in time:

  1. Don't waste money on gear: When I first started out, I wanted to make sure that if my images were no good, I would know that the problem was me, not the gear. So, I spent a small fortune buying one of the best cameras out there and four of the best flashes I could find. The total bill was between $6-7K. I had no business spending this much money and it hurt me early-on as I was starting out in the red. You do NOT need a super fancy full-frame camera and brand-name flashes. In fact, almost any mid-range DSLR or mirrorless camera with a decent wide angle zoom lens and a couple of off-brand flashes will do the trick. If you're going to spend money on gear, splurge on a good tripod with a geared head.
  2. Get a coach: It took me a few years to finally reach out for a coach but when I did, it was a game changer. Getting a coach earlier on could have saved me three years of fumbling around on my own. To this day, it is the single, best decision I've ever made for my business. There are some great coaches available on the PFRE coaching page.
  3. Trust your gut: Be humble, willing, and eager enough to learn but if you have a strong gut-feeling about something, the type of shooter you want to be, and the type of images you want to create, there’s probably a something to it; so stick to your guns and don’t be afraid to be you. The sooner you develop the confidence to follow this principle, the sooner you’ll find yourself doing what you love rather than what you think others think you should be doing. Please be mindful that this is much easier said than done, so patience and perseverance will be key.
  4. Implement invoicing software immediately: I'm not sure how many people will agree with me on this one but for me, not using software to manage and track my invoicing is one of my biggest regrets from early on in my career. Like many people starting out, I just used an excel spreadsheet to track my business and this works fine if you are super diligent and can keep it up to date. However, with all the great invoicing software that is available today, it's just not worth the risk of missing invoices, forgetting to follow-up on payment, etc.
  5. Run your business like a business: Even though many of us in our industry see ourselves as creatives, we always have to keep in mind that we also need to be business people. This isn't always the easiest thing to accomplish when most of us get more satisfaction from the creative side of things than we do from the business side. Be strategic in your approach, build out a thoughtful plan, create a solid budget with reasonable expectations, and put the work in every day.
  6. Create and foster long-term relationships: Like it or not, this is a relationship business so approach your clients in a way that ensures they'll want to do business with you for the long-term. This doesn't mean rolling over and becoming their doormat. It means having clearly defined expectations on both sides of the transaction and creating a relationship that is full of mutual benefit and respect. Treat your clients how you would like to be treated and make yourself indispensable. Early years might be tough but by building good relationships from the beginning, you will create a solid foundation upon which you can establish a long a prosperous career.

7 comments on “6 Tips for the New Real Estate Photographer.”

  1. Bill, spend the time upfront getting to understand the criteria and workflow of RE photography before you start buying gear. Since you are highly unlikely to get multi-million dollar mansions right out of the gate, the gear you need is very modest. There is a lot you can do with one crop sensor camera, a good lens, one flash (speedlight) and a tripod along with a case to carry it around in. You will also need a computer and Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. There is other software, but the industry standard is Adobe and you will find a lot more help and tutorials.

    Coaching is a good way to get some expert advice, but I'd recommend studying some video tutorials first to maximize the value of having a coach. Scott Hargis has put out some very excellent videos. One series is on Lynda.com (Linkedin learning) and another was independently produced and there is a link here somewhere. Thomas Grubba has a series on KelbyOne.com. Barry MacKenzie has a tutorial but you will have to do a search as I can remember the website. Nathan Cool and Rich Baum have YouTube channels with lots of lessons for all sorts of RE techniques. Check your local library to see if they have free access to Lynda.com. Many do, but if they don't, subscribe for a month and watch Ben Long's "Foundations of Photography" videos as well. Mike Kelley has some very advanced videos on fStoppers, but you should save those for later as you won't get much out of them until you have some work under your belt. John McBay has a series as well as Gary Gomez. Check out the links on this page and spend the money burning a hole in your pocket that you were going to spend on gear and get some training first.

    Another first step is to work out your business costs and income goals. Simply looking at what others charge is next to useless. It will inform you if your market is flooded with tons of cheap operators but until you know what you need to make, you won't know what you MUST charge to make a business of it. If you don't know where to start in estimating a budget, find a local small business person you know and buy them lunch to pick their brains. Most of the expenses for any business are pretty much the same in a broad sense. Remember to count yourself as an employee that gets paid for hours worked and not just getting what profit is left, if any.

    Above all, real estate photography is a service business so you have to provide great service. You can be a very mediocre photographer, but if you show up on time, present yourself as a professional and deliver images when you say you will, it won't matter much when you start out. Show up late sloppily dressed with an attitude and you can be the best photographer in the region and never get more work. Realize that most middle of the road real estate agents aren't going to be able to tell the difference between good photos and ones that are flippin' perfect. Agents and offices that handle the top end homes are far more likely to know quality, so you want to get your technique down and your quality up before you start spending time and money marketing to them.

  2. The most overlooked aspect to this job is whether it is right for you. Not if you can take a picture, but is self employment what's right for you. My wife, by her admission is a worker bee, she wants to hold a position and do it well, she does NOT want to be the boss.

    I know I said BOSS, but you need to realize that it is different being a boss and being YOUR boss. Can you emotionally handle the lack of security, will you save money for the lean times, can you afford health insurance. If your married and the spouse needs insurance, can you provide it. This in't a money pot, at first it's a money pit. Can your car handle the mileage, can you afford new tires every year. Have you any reserves and do you have credit to even out the rough spots.

    Point I am trying to make is being a self employed entrepreneur requires you to work twice as hard, pick yourself up when you fall (nobody else is going to pick you up). Keep your spirits high when needed, do the necessary and constant marketing. If you think that worth of mouth from one or two realtors will make you rich, your delusional.

    I have been around for a long, long time and haven't met very many that can do it alone., and we do it alone.

  3. Thanks Brandon, this is a really helpful list. I am still just getting started in my second year. I think I really overlooked the amount of marketing, networking, and sales required to get my name out there as a real estate photographer. It is also disheartening to see brokers in my nearby luxury real estate market satisfied with garish looking HDR images for multi-million dollar homes.

    I find taking care of the business end of things a lot less fun than shooting real estate.

  4. My advise is to shoot something else first. Kids, seniors, etc. Something with far less pressure attached to it.

    RE is one of the most technically challenging types of photography you could attempt, and its one of the most demanding on perfection, performance, and delivery. By the time I entered RE work full time, I already had 20+ years of weddings, portraits, commercial, business, and racy nudes under my belt. None of those things even compare to the daily demands of RE work. RE is like shooting and delivering a wedding every day in terms of volume. I shot 5 houses yesterday - 6 hours of shooting, 6 hours of processing. And none of those had video in them which adds a whole nuther level. That's pretty much my life on a daily basis.

  5. 1) most listings are no where near Million+. There is a whole country full of under $500k listings. This is the bread and butter. 2) undercut your competition and learn and improve. 3) as you get busier, lose the problem agents (or agents that expect the world) by raising your prices. 4) find tools that will increase your exposure online. 5) offer more than 1 service. 6) the tour companies have 2 distinct advantages over independent photographers. They are a) marketing $$$ and b) office staff/customer service. You are competing against these 2 things the most. IMO. There is a reason tour companies do so well even though their quality can be beaten easily.

    IT ISN'T ONLY about quality.

  6. I’m still pretty new to RE, but for my money, I don’t think you can go wrong with a combination of Garey Gomez and Tony Colangelo’s courses. They complement each other quite nicely and are very reasonably priced when you consider the tremendous value you get from both.

    Garey helped me get over the “technical hump” so to speak. His flambient approach is simple, straightforward and resulted in an immediate improvement in my photos.

    Tony’s guidance on composition is backed by research and will surely stand the test of time. I felt like I was listening to an engaging college professor. The course is packed with info - I’ve watched it twice through now and I’m still picking up more and more.

  7. @ Kevin Sonoff - Hey Kevin, thanks so much for the shout out re: my composition video tutorial...I really appreciate it! I'm glad that you've found it helpful. I also agree with your assessment of Garey's video ... it's a top-tier resource for RE shooters, for sure.

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