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Do You Charge for Augmenting Your Images?

Jason in Spokane asks a great question about adding enhancements to the images he delivers to his clients:

"I’m pretty sure it’s the same in other marketplaces but here in Spokane, there are a lot of people doing the run-and-gun thing. In order to appear different, they’re starting to deliver things like sky replacements, adding fire to fireplace hearths, and even adding a “scene” to a TV. Agents seem to like this and I’m hearing that many of them are willing to pay a little extra for it. I’ve just started to do sky replacements but my results are hit-and-miss. I have a much better time with inserting fires and TV screens, but for the TV scenes, I’m worried about copyright issues. Do you think doing this is worth it?"

Okay Jason, here are a couple of thoughts for you: First, I’ve spoken to a number of photographers recently, including one who does 80-120 shoots a month, depending on time of year! What he’s done is establish a relationship with his outsourced editing company, where he’s shown them what kind of sky replacements, fire insertions and TV “scenes” he likes (e.g., for skies, he wants them to be about a stop brighter than the interiors, so as to avoid that “poster-pinned-to-the-windows” look) and he promises them high volumes, in exchange for a reduced rate on doing this kind of editing. When he got that agreement (and after a few back-and-forths with his editing company until they were able to consistently deliver the look he was after re: these new edits), he went back to his agent clients and offered an add-on to his existing pricing packages. He told his clients that “for an extra $25 per photo package, they will never have to worry about cloudy/rainy day photos for their listings, black TV screens, or dark fireplace hearths.” He told me that most of his clients have come onboard and that while he doesn’t make a lot of money on this work, it serves to further cement his relationships with these clients.

If your finances don’t allow you to outsource your editing and/or you prefer to do your own, then there are a bunch of different plug-ins you can use. I see a number of advertisements about a plug-in called Kaotec. Maybe some of our readers who use it can share their experiences with the tool. If you don’t want to learn how to use new software and would like to try doing your own sky replacements, here is an easy way to do a sky replacement, thanks to Peter McKinnon and his "Two Minute Tuesdays" series on YouTube. Keep in mind that this is only one of many such tutorials out there, so do some research, find one you like and then practice-practice-practice! Here is PFRE's complimentary sky library to get you started. Inserting a fire into a dark hearth follows similar principles as a sky replacement. As for fires, the updated version of Photoshop CC allows you to add flames pretty quickly. You can find it in the Filter menu (i.e., Filter>Render>Flame).

As for inserting a scene onto a TV screen, personally, I rarely do this--and not because of any concerns I have about copyright infringement--I simply don't like the results I've seen. My strong preference is to make a selection along the inner edge of the TV screen (with 1-2 pixels of feather) and then add a gradient (from medium gray to black), with its directionality placed on the same angle as the incoming light. I then reduce the opacity to about 90% on the gradient's layer, to allow for just a hint of whatever was originally being reflected on the screen, to come through. I think that reflections are beneficial because they add both realism and depth to the image.

I’m confident that our readers will offer their own thoughts about charging for these types of augmentations, as well as suggestions and resources that have worked for them. Thanks for your question, Jason.

Tony Colangelo is a residential and commercial photographer, as well as a photography coach, based in Victoria, BC, Canada. He is a long-time contributor to PFRE and is the creator of The Art & Science of Great Composition tutorial series.

8 comments on “Do You Charge for Augmenting Your Images?”

  1. I think it's an excellent upcharge.

    Sadly, in my area, all of that is free. Ive even seen free drone shots just so photographers can get some business. Here are my citys norms and they are just making it worse for each other.

    HDR striped of the color, free sky replacements, free fire inserts, painted in window views from the darkest exposure in the bracket set, and the newest addition I have been seeing is detail shots. The average 2500sqft home on my MLS has about 50-65 images.

    The real problem that perpetuates the issue is that replacing a blown out sky with some over dramatic purple sunset will cause realtors to dislike shots taken when the real sky is fine.

  2. There are a bunch of ways to do sky swaps and it's a good idea to know how to do as many as you can to use with the particular situation. For a plain blue sky, I have a palette of "Sky" brushes in Photoshop to very simply brush in a few clouds. It's also worth bracketing your exposure to get a frame that makes selecting the sky as simple as possible even if you don't use that frame for anything else but generating the mask. I'll do sky swaps at my discretion for no-charge if they are very easy and I have the time. If the customer requests them, it's around $25 as I'd do the swap on all of the exterior photos that show the sky.

    Fires in a fireplace are easy to do with the feature in Photoshop, but there are considerations. Number one is to make sure the fireplace works. For the best look if you are going to fake it, put a speedlight in the fireplace with an orangish gel to light up the interior a little bit. It's much more convincing that way. I don't do fires in the summer since I'm in the desert and I don't do them in vacant homes as that makes no sense.

    TV's get a picture, are left alone or get a photo depending on how distracting they are. I had a family room with an 84" TV and there was no way that anything but an image was going to conquer the black hole effect of that beast. The Library of Congress has a presence on Flikr where you can chose from thousands of public domain images. You can use the front photo of the home, but that's a bit cliché these days. I shoot all sorts of landscape images so I have no shortage of my own (registered) images to select from. If you are using a color image, I suggest desaturating the color until it doesn't dominate the scene or preparing a sepia-tone image that compliments the decor. Like Tony, I'll fade the overlay to let a little bit of reflection peek through for a more natural look.

    I think it's worth doing these edits for no-charge if they substantially improve the image, they're easy and it's a good customer. Just let the customer know that you did them but it's not standard so you have the option of billing for it in the future. My price list shows extra editing at $50/hr in 1/2 hour increments so an easy sky swap that takes only 10 minutes is a real money maker. Discuss the options with your customer before you photograph the property. You may want to capture different exposures to make post processing simpler. Going the extra mile now and then smoothes over the times when you need a little forbearance for something that didn't go as planned.

  3. Overseas editors charge as little as .75 for an edited 5-bracket HDR. They all include blue skies. Compete with that. Even through the window views. Agents and photographers like this since it reduces the need to go back for an exterior reshoot.

  4. The issue for many here has been revenue. Offering a "no-frills" package that does NOT include sky replacement or images in a TV screen and other such enhancements seems like a way to do nearly as much work at a low price for a cheap client.
    Including it may not allow you to increase your baseline charges that much but it certainly keeps you from those conversations as to why you nickel and dime your clients.

  5. I think Jason answered his own question when he said "Agents seem to like this and I’m hearing that many of them are willing to pay a little extra for it." If there is a market for it, then you should consider adding it to your pricelist. The main question is a matter of price. If offering the service increases you total profits, then yes add it in. Otherwise don't.

  6. Agree with Neal here. My opinion is: if your agent loves it, you love it.

    TV replacement, fire adding are simple techniques but they definitely bring huge impact. They make your picture more lively and give the viewer/home buyer a feeling of what it would be like to live in this house. You also don't have to worry much about the weather by replacing sky.

    Normally applying these techniques in all of your work takes a lot of time. If your capacity is increasing, you should hire an outsourcing partner to edit your work. Most of their package price is reasonable and includes a lot of requirements that you mentioned above.

    About the copyright issue, there are a lot of free picture sources for commercial usage as long as you try to dig it (I love Unsplash btw). In my perspective, I prefer using natural photos (forests and rivers) for TV screens, because they bring a more relaxed vibe.

  7. We have our own editing team and find it more and more time consuming to add all these extras...... for free.
    The TV and fire thing doesn't happen, but the blue sky inside and out is a guarantee if you want to keep high end clients.
    Photographers have made the job harder and harder by offering everything for free.
    The Realtors still get their money, the home owner still gets the sale and we still get less each year.
    'One man bands' can offer everything for less, but get staff, an office, accountant, insurance....... blah blah blah.....

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