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How Do You Grow Your Business By Adding A Photographer

Published: 04/11/2016
By: larry

istock_000005622581xsmallKara in NC says:

I need to grow and I have been resisting for a long time. Do you know of a couple of folks who have added a second or third photographer to their team? I am adding another photographer and trying to figure out the best way to structure paying them so that I make a little extra money, yet they get paid well enough to stay with me.

Frankly, I am skeptical that adding a photographer to your business is the most effective way to grow your business. The only real estate photographer success stories I hear about that involve growing the business by adding photographers is family members working together or adding a post-processing partner or increasing your shoot price or adding more products. All I hear about when there is a real estate photography business with multiple photographers is horror stories. The horror stories are always from the contract employee photographers. The complaints are about restrictive non-compete contracts and poor pay. Sure, there are companies with many photographers but talk to the photographers and see how happy they are about the employment situation. These arrangements are great for the employer but not for the employee. Employees deal with it to the extent they are desperate for income.

The fundamental problem is that profit margins in real estate photography are small. There's not enough profit involved in a photographic shoot transaction to be split my multiple parties and have both parties satisfied. Also, it doesn't take any competent contract employee working for you long to see how they can become independent and make better money.

Because of all the above reasons, I think it makes more sense to:

  1. Find someone to be a post-processing partner.
  2. Increase your shoot price.
  3. Find other ways to become more efficient so you can do more shoots.

Enough independent photographers in large metro areas tell me they gross six figures by themselves that I am skeptical that you need to add photographer employees to be successful.

But I'm all ears. Let's hear from those of you who have contract photographer employees and the employees like the job and stay with you.

13 comments on “How Do You Grow Your Business By Adding A Photographer”

  1. Well, here's my two cents worth. I do have a videographer that does all the listing that require videos, I also have a video editor since it is time consuming to edit video. I do all my own photos and editing since I actually like to edit. But we are getting ready to bring on a new photographer since our business has grown and we have grown strictly on referrals only. Both myself and my videographers are REALTORS, and because we are, we have a better "in" with leads. Now that being said, we have a good foundation of REALTORS and TEAMS that we work with on a weekly basis and more times lately we have more work then we can take on. Our prices are on par with our area and what REALTORS are will to pay. We are higher then some in our area and the same as others, so it's not a price factor in our area. We have seen a few groups now have 10 photographers in their business and are growing and doing very well. (some are better then others)

    We are getting ready to have my local real estate office merge into a huge group up north and once that is in place, we will be bombarded with work, whence we are training a new photographer for the smaller, easier homes so that we can concentrate on the larger homes (we also do drone).

    I really think it depends on your market. Here in the Greater Washington DC area, their are TONS of large corporate type photography firms, single photographers and groups of photographers. We will see how it goes -

    Best of luck to everyone that makes their business larger with hiring folks into your firm!

  2. I've been thinking and.... trying to get a Photographers that would work with us for some time now, but not very successfully.
    In order to keep the quality, style and feel of real estate photographs and Slideshows the same (so our Clients/Agents are Always Happy) we have our own Post-Processing Company (our Office and Processors), that we have trained and perfected for the past 4 years now.

    In fact.... we would be ready to start working with new Real Estate Photographers within the next 2 weeks (our new website should be ready by the mid Nov), charging about $1.5 - $2.00 per photo (we use bracketing photos (no flush) to get them to look great).

    We'd also would love to start working with Real Estate Photographers in our area (MA and Areas) to take just RAW Photos for us, so we can process everything and just pay Photographer for taking them, but.... of course my biggest problem is that I don't want to train a new Photographer for a few weeks or months, introduce him/her to our client base, so... he/she can approach them a few months later as Independent Photographers that suddenly become our competition by cutting our rates and trying to take our business away from us.

    We were thinking about paying that Photographer for just taking Photos about $100 per Shoot, but... I am just afraid of... training my competition... .

    If anyone has a good success in building your company by working with other Real Estate Photographers in your area I'd love to hear those stories... especially how do you protect your business by not loosing it to the people you train.

    We have right now only 2 Photographers (Myself and my wife), but because we have our Post-Processing office, we can shoot at the busy time 10 to 12 Photo Shoots per day and still have Photos and Slideshows ready for Agent by Next Business Day before 2:00pm.... .

    For me the reason why we were able to grow into doing 10 - 12 Photo Shoots per day (on top of this we also do Floor Plans, Aerial Photography and Videos and Walkthrough Videos), was that we created our Full Time Post-Processing Office that is able to spend 2.5 - 3hrs on each Photo Shoot... to make it look GREAT and still deliver everything to Agents by Next Business Day before 2:00pm.

    For Post-Processing Service or if you are a Photographer in our area that maybe interested in working with us as a Photographer, please visit our Main Website: (our Post Processing Site should be finished very soon)....

  3. My story is an opposite story - I worked for a company out of Dallas, I lived in Houston. I had been working for a company in Houston, $50 to $60 per shoot, they started losing clients: no Client services! when my pay checks stopped coming and I started complaining about where my $$ was we ended up parting ways.

    It was the early 2000's, I found a company in Dallas, I went to all my previous clients, they were not happy with the Houston company so it was easy to get them to follow me. I was the only Dallas company photographer in Houston and I built the Houston RE photography business for the Dallas company at $100 per shoot, $50 of it was mine, I had lots of homes to shoot! Over about 50 clients. One day got a phone call from some guy who had bought the Houston business from the Dallas company - he wanted me to hand over all my clients to him, my new rate was going to be $40 per shoot, I was now working for him. This was the Best that ever happened to me! I was never given an opportunity to purchase the Houston business, so I told this guy to go take a swim and I found a better way to make a living doing my own work with my own clients. Lesson Learned: Create a relationship with your clients, they will be more loyal to you. I eventually moved to Knoxville. TN. I'm doing pretty good, not getting rich, ($165 to $200 per) but staying pretty busy, and pretty satisfied. Smiles.

  4. We hired a photographer a year ago and it has helped our business immensely! We charge $110 per shoot (competitive pricing for Mpls area). We pay our photographer $50 per shoot, then have them upload to our Google Drive account and we process from there. My business partner, also my mother, is our other photographer and she takes photos and does all of the processing. I do find it fortunate we have found someone to train the way WE want her to take the photos/angles, but she has also helped us in different areas with on-site functionality, etc. We are still working on the legal contract and non-compete to protect our business, but I am confident it will continue to work well for us the way we have it set up. We pay for her e-key to access the properties, MLS affiliation and we pay her trip charges for properties further than 35 miles from her home.

    I do wish we could find a person that does post-processing of the photos full time but I'm not sure we can afford it? I have no idea how to go about paying someone to process photos AND make sure we can get them processed same day?? Any suggestions??

  5. @Kimi Coulson

    The issue I see with hiring someone to shoot AND process FT is that you won't be able to make any money by the time they're done (unless you consider raising your prices). Also, looking at it from the photographers perspective, if they're going out and shooting/processing/delivering the images to you why not do it for themselves? It just doesn't make sense for someone to do that.

  6. Adding an employee(s) to a business is a big step. If you hire a photographer, chances are that you will need to train them for the RE aesthetic and how to make images for your post production workflow. They will also be creating a relationship with your clients that may choose to stay with them if they start their own RE photo business. Outsourcing or hiring staff for post processing or office work might be a better first step. You will also need to research employer laws and speak with an accountant about payroll taxes. If you are working from home, there may be restrictions that prevent you having anybody but family members perform work there. Employees are typically given a certain number of days off for sickness and holidays. Employees may be subject to overtime rules, rest and lunch breaks. It's not just a matter of cutting somebody a check for a certain amount each time they do a job.

    If you plan to call the people working for you "independent contractors", you must make sure that the IRS is going to agree. If they work only for you during the course of a year, they will likely be classed as an employee and you could be liable for back employer payroll taxes plus penalties. If you are directing when, where and how they do their work, they may get retroactively classed as an employee. If there is a blanket contract that assigns you the Copyright in the images, that could be a factor. Your business liability insurance probably isn't going to cover independent contractors working for you. This will mean that they will have to carry their own insurance and file/operate as a business with licenses, banking, etc.

    Having several employees is easier as the costs for a payroll service and additional insurance (don't forget Workman's Comp) amortizes better than for just one. I strenuously recommend using a payroll service over trying to do it yourself. One mistake and the fines can be more than several years of service fees. Payroll services very rarely get audited since they usually know more about payroll taxes than the government agency workers.

    Hiring your first employee can be like getting a raise and finding out your take home pay is less since you are now in a higher tax bracket; you might wind up making less, even much less per month. If you don't keep an employee or IC busy enough, they will look for better opportunities elsewhere. This could mean sending them out and paying them for jobs that you could have done so you earn less money. When I had employees, I made sure that they were always paid on time. This occasionally meant that I didn't get paid and/or I had to call up vendors to let them know I was going to be late on an invoice (which led to late fees). Yes, it can work, but you need to do some homework first and understand what your costs are going to be. You don't want to spend the time to train somebody only to find out that it's costing you too much to keep them. If your goal is to build a business with several employees (4-5 is a good amortization point), go for it.

  7. Expect that a new employee is going to slow you down for at least a couple of weeks. Anybody with experience that can be up to speed in a day or two is most likely to be in business for themselves already or will be after you familiarize them with your local market.

  8. Why not do it like a broker does with an experienced agent? Make it an 80/20 split. The agent is not too tempted to go out on their on when it is only costing them 20% of the fees they generate. Additionally, give them some incentive by reducing the split based on volume of sales. Just my2cents.

  9. One of the things I like most about this business is being by myself. I do outsource some processing but client interaction is just me and them. I get all the glory and loyalty when things go right (and the stress over mistakes made and there's been plenty of those the first year). Best of all, when I stop in the evening the 'overhead tap' is truly turned off. I think about my previous businesses when it seemed like the object was always to get bigger. Many times, as Ken mentions above, more gross income became less net. And, EVERY time it meant more stress. RE photography probably isn't going to make me wealthy but it's the first time in 40 years I've actually enjoyed what I did for a living, and the money's not bad. My 'vote' is stay small 🙂

  10. I do most of my post work, but I have two companies on stand-by for post work when I get too busy. One is in Vietnam and the other in India.

    The Vietnam company charges me .78 an final image and the other .80 an final image. The service includes free sky replacement on all exterior photos and flash-shadow removal whenever the flash is obvious - mostly ceiling fan stuff. It also includes window pull.

    My style of photography is bracketing and flash - between 3 to as many as 7 frames. So when either company receives my order and despite the 7 images, I still get billed for only the final image. And of course, this includes color-balance, lens correction, etc.

  11. I have to agree with the original response.
    The entire principle of adding employees is that you add enough profit to make the additional hassle worth it.
    As many seem to note shoots going for $100 to $150 I see scant opportunity to keep an employee happy and the owner profitable.

    Low pricing is the bane of this business.
    Small business is never about volume. Ever. You are thinking of sweatshops.
    Successful people who are in small (1-2 people) charge high prices to ensure the margins can support a lifestyle that is not one of suffering.

    If you are not working with family members, your employees will need/demand more return than your business can provide for a job.
    Usually that employee sees themselves learning a trade and the low pay is tuition they are paying.

    With any wit they will start their own business, steal your customers and lower prices again.

  12. Wow! Lots of responses which ran the gamut of my thought processes. Thanks to Larry for posting my question and for all of you who put your two cents in!

    I do want to remain small, but I have found someone who wants to do the work, but does not really want to do all of the business stuff. She also does weddings, so she has been following me to learn the nuances of real estate photography (not that I am an expert by any means compared to all of you guys). The good thing is, that she doesn't want to be overloaded with work since she has a one year old and does a couple of weddings a month. We would both like to do about 10 per week, depending on the season, market fluctuations, etc.

    I have talked extensively with my accountant and have talked with a couple of lawyers, as well as researching the difference between subcontractor and employee statuses with regard to taxes. My lawyer is helping me draw up a contract addressing compensation and competition.

    I live close to my college Alma Mater, Elon University, and I still have connections there. I have considered starting an intern program to get help in the spring with editing. Their MassComm program is pretty extensive and cutting edge, so I am sure I could find a student with photoshop experience...still thinking that over, though.

    @Rohnn--my knowledge of business models is mostly of real estate companies since I tried being an agent for a while. Right now, while she is still learning, we are doing an 80/20 split that will probably change as she needs me less--this flexibility is being worked into the contract. I thought that would work nicely, too, along with a rate increase the first of the year.

    My goal is not to make tons more money, it's to have a little more time with my family. I hate it when I have to go back upstairs after dinner to edit more. My income is supplemental to pay for private school for our daughter, contribute a little to the household income and to be able to do some extra things all while doing something I really love.

    Also, is anyone out there using Full Frame? I am very interested and would love some input!

  13. Good morning. I have been shooting convention photography for roughly 10 years and decided I wanted to try Residential Real Estate Photography. I think I have more "stories I can tell over a drink" shoots than good shoots. Both selling agent and home owner contributed to the issues I had on bad shoots. Lack of communication between listing agents and homeowner, listing not ready and clean for shoot, homeowners "helicoptering" while I'm there, listing agents either not visiting property or not being upfront about the condition/vacancy of listing and expecting 30/40 HDR quality pics for $50.

    My advice to Real Estate companies is that if you think your iPhone is a camera for Real Estate Photography, you need to rethink your marketing strategy. A photographer that isn't worried about squatters, ceilings collapsing due to water damage or being asked to take pics of the "landscape lighting" of a condo at night in a neighborhood where you would hate to have your car breakdown on you is a happy photographer, and the pics will reflect this.

    And my advice to potential photographers is that your safety should be your #1 concern. If your shoot takes you to a very sketchy location, ask the agent to be there with you. Be set on a price for each shoot and remember that you should always consider your drive time (to there and back) and most importantly, processing time if you shoot in RAW. Agents who use their phones as cameras DO NOT AND WILL NEVER understand the times it takes to process 20+ pics for them to finally post on their site. And finally, expect the unexpected. Sometimes what you thought to be a simple location shoot could be your worst nightmare.

    All this goes for Commercial as well.

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