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A Real Estate Photographer Success Story From Charlotte, NC

Published: 20/10/2011

Yesterday I answered several emails from struggling real estate photographers complaining about how tough it was out there and how hard it was to compete and answered some blog post comments that suggested that what I was preaching was totally unrealistic. It takes more than that to get me off message, but I was starting to have doubts. An then came this golden email from Cal Mitchener:

Just wanted to thank you for all the knowledge & experience you disseminate via your invaluable site. I am going to gross upper 5 figures this year from my real estate photography business & I owe it primarily to you. I am making much more than I thought possible & can see the light of 6 figures in the not so distant future. I have loved photography since I was a teenager, but the idea of making a decent living with my favorite pastime seemed like a pipe dream until now. I can't thank you enough Larry, you are the best!

Thanks Cal you made my day! I'm spending more and more time helping real estate photographers get started and have developed a real passion for it so I live for successes like Cal's.

Here's the story on Cal's business:

  • Cal was a general contractor until the US economy crashed in 2008.
  • Cal purchased my eBooks and started real estate photography in 2009 and spent most of that year learning the technique and business of real estate photography.
  • I talked to Cal many times via email from 2009 to 2011 giving him suggestions and feedback. In February Cal entered one of his photos in the PFRE Photographer of the Month contest and I was blown away. His work looked way better than it had before. I thought it was the best entry... but I don't get to vote.
  • Cal has invested heavily in top flight professional gear: Nikon D700 with Nikon 14-24mm lens, Pocket Wizard II triggers, WonderPole for PAP. He has also modified and tailored his equipment for speed and effectiveness.
  • Cal uses Lightroom 3, Photoshop CS5 and Nik Color EFEX Pro.
  • The technique he uses is Exposure Fusion with multiple flashes.

I asked Cal what he thought was the key to his success. Here is his answer:

My goal was to be the best in class, in my market. I built relationships with all the top producing realtors and they now view me as an integral part of their marketing strategy. I bend over backwards to make them shine and the clients are usually blown away by the imagery. This in turn makes agents look great. I tell owners whenever possible how lucky they are to have an agent that understands the power of great photography. I had relationships with many realtors when I started that were willing to take free shoots to show what I could do. I now deal with over 100 agents. Built strong business with builders (I charge them more and decorators. I am soon planning to go after commercial brokers. All these need great imagery, even if they don't know it yet. My key to success: Total dedication to producing top notch work, better than competition; persistence, stressing team relationships with agents. I want to help them sell houses, the more they sell the more I shoot! I coach them on staging and help them do it. Once relationship there, they are mine.

I asked him what his biggest challenge was and here is his answer:

My biggest problem was competing with long entrenched Tour Factory photographers that had an inferior product. I had to educate agents on the power of higher quality, at higher cost. They now use me as a tool to get listings. I have taken most of the Tour Factory's cream clients and hope to get more.

I want to make a few comments about Cals success:

  • Notice the Cal built his business during the worst real estate crash in modern history. I don't think the state of the market has that much impact on the market for real estate photography despite most peoples opinion to the contrary. In a bad market listing agents are needing every marketing advantage they can get.
  • I keep wondering how location dependent building a real estate photography business is. I don't know for sure. I know doing what Cal did may not be possible in small rural areas. I think what Cal did can be done almost anywhere, but it's undoubtedly easier in large metro areas.
  • I think a big factor in Cal's success is his passion and dedication. This is not a get rich quick business. It's hard work. And there are plenty of negative factors that can drag you down if you don't have persistance and focus.
  • I hope that sharing the details of Cal's story will help others see the way forward to making a success as a real estate photographer.
Thanks Cal for being willing to share your story with everyone. I'm sure it will help others out there.
Larry Lohrman

14 comments on “A Real Estate Photographer Success Story From Charlotte, NC”

  1. My first reaction to this article was that Charlotte, NC is one of the fastest growing cities in can not judge someones performance on his load of work, when other places are not doing as well in Real Estate. He is just lucky!

  2. Thanks for sharing this. Luck on a part but it certainly not why Cal is successful. What is pointed out here important for it's real and inspiring. Location does help. Passion, dedication, persistence and focus do make it possible.

  3. I disagree-his photos are wonderful. I believe his success is attributed to his strategy and hard work, not luck.
    Thanks for the inspirational post!

  4. Any successful business starts with a business plan. That is a classic example of executing a solid business plan. Congratulations.

  5. I'm new to real estate photography, and I found Cal's story inspirational. His strategy and goal to be "the best in class" in the real estate photography market is a big part of his success, regardless of his location. His story must give you great satisfaction, Larry. Your mentorship played an important role in Cal's success.

    Just so you know, I've bookmarked your website and I'm reading every one of your e-mail updates closely.

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

  6. Luck has nothing to do with it. His imagery is top notch. That's the way to compete with the budget shooters and come out on top.

  7. Cal is inspirational. You Larry are inspirational. You have set a goal to raise the bar in Real Estate Photography, not just in money earned but as a profession. Of course to be successful you need to be good at photography, but you also have to have the passion, the inner resources to push forward in creating your environment. Cal did an incredible job doing this. All of us face the same challenges no matter what market we are in because the bottom feeders are out there. We just have to stay focused and keep moving forward. I made a suggestion to my client in Australia - a reader of this blog and a very good photographer who seems to have a problem seeing his success. Since I have been mentoring, he has accomplished an incredible amount including selling to 5-6 agents who regularly pass him business. He has narrowed the geographic area of his contract business to another tour company. I have suggested that he create a weekly goal sheet that included financial, educational, communication and Misc. that he write these goals down at the end of the previous week for the next week and as he accomplishes the goals - highlight them. Then on Monday, look at the previous weeks goals. See if he pushed himself hard enough - i.e. all goals were fulfilled or not hard enough - not enough goals were completed. Put the completed sheets in a pile and at the end of the month see how much he has accomplished. This with his engineering mind, will help him to physically see, rather than just visualize meeting his goals. When you meet your goals, you are more positive and you are earning more money.
    All of us are in different situations as we come into or exist in this industry - but all of us have the same strengths we can draw on - our ability to learn from our mistakes and our ability to create what our clients want. We can learn the skills, but we must keep implementing, practicing and updating what we do.
    Good luck out there - we all need it, but as someone once said - luck is the meeting between hard work and opportunity.

  8. Cal creates his own 'luck'. His business is another example of the 20% rule.

  9. Larry, if I could elect the most important people in the world for real estate photography, you would be in the top 10. You are truly raising the bar. Those who can't will never succeed. Success takes very hard work, persistence, focus among many others. I'm 200% sure that everyone that follows your advices will succeed sooner or later.

    In difficult times here in Portugal we have an old saying that is something like this: "in times of storm, there are the ones who build dams and the ones who build windmills"

  10. Why can't people just enjoy his success and the story, and see that it IS possible to make a living at this? Instead, he's just 'lucky.'

    Because he was prepared, had lots of practice, put in the hard work and volume, knew what he was doing and how to do it, he's lucky?

  11. I found that Cal's story was inspritation and his pictures are wonderful. He had a great business plan and followed through to be successful.

  12. I can't get his site to navigate in Safari- the drop down menus appear, but don't stay when I go to click the links.

    Luck has nothing to do with it, I'm from there originally and there is a TON of stuff on the market to this day, and many agents won't bite to spend money due to the lack of turn over.

    A good product, with solid marketing, and strong personal skills is clearly what has him firmly entrenched in the area now.

  13. Thanks for all the kind words everyone! My site developed a virus somehow. The virus has now been removed, but site is a little out of wack. My web master is going to have it straightened out in next few days.

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