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When it comes to real estate photography, the first thing that always comes to mind are phrases like “how big is the home?”, “what’s the listing price?”, “will the homeowners be there?”, or even “will the agent/client be there?” The list goes on. Residential real estate photography is where a high majority of us make our money and it is typically the first thought when it comes to real estate photography. If you tell a stranger you’re a real estate photographer, chances are the first thing that pops into their head is a vision of a home. And it’s perfectly understandable; all the info and content available out there, from tutorials and YouTube videos to blog posts, and even our podcast, Shooting Spaces, the focus is primarily on residential real estate photography.
While most people I speak to have shot at least one commercial real estate job before, I wanted to shed a little light on the commercial real estate photography side of the business and hopefully convince some of you to prioritize it as a 2021 goal.
On a more personal level and to put 2020 into a bit of a perspective, I actually photographed more commercial real estate properties than residential this past year. Last week, I totaled my 2020 numbers and by year's end, I photographed 1,399,093 sq. ft. of commercial real estate space with an average sale of $1,718.22. My 2021 real estate photography goal is to be shooting only commercial real estate by the end of the year. I’m putting this out publicly so hopefully everyone can hold me accountable.
As far as my work specifically, my commercial real estate photography services consist primarily of photography, Matterport, and video here and there. The Matterport has been fairly new among my clients with the pandemic and it has allowed me to instantly make more money on every job. Additionally, a lot of my Matterport commercial referrals have turned into photography clients. In terms of getting the work, commercial is very similar to residential as far as being able to scale very quickly using your referral network.
What is commercial real estate photography?
I often get asked this since I also shoot architecture, design, and retail work; and the term “commercial” gets confusing to some. Personally, I do consider real estate photography (both residential and commercial) a form of commercial photography. The LawTog describes commercial photography as “photography that involves the taking of photographs for commercial uses." These photographs are often used for the promotional marketing of a business including website placement, product previews, and business card/marketing material images. Based on that definition, clearly, real estate photography should be classified as commercial photography. When I talk of commercial real estate photography, I am talking about photographing anything that is non-residential, for the purpose of a real estate transaction. Being in New York, the bulk of my work is office space. Everyone knows the amount of office space available in New York City and unfortunately, the pandemic made that even worse (dare I say a silver lining for my business?). Besides office space, I also photograph commercial retail spaces for lease and sale as well as residential and commercial buildings for sale. Personally, I do consider the sale of a residential building a commercial real estate transaction.
Now that you have a better understanding of commercial real estate photography, why should you get into it? Below, I have outlined the three biggest advantages I find shooting commercial real estate over residential:
On every single one of my commercial real estate shoots, whether an old or a new client, the clients are always a pleasure to work with. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying residential agents aren’t a pleasure to work with but we have all had that agent. In residential, the agent is always working for the homeowner and their wishes usually take precedence over yours. Because the agent is working for the homeowner, they are sentimentally involved in a residential real estate transaction from the homeowner’s perspective, and that can often times trickle down to us or the way the agent carries out their business with you. In commercial real estate, a landlord has no sentiment to their empty space. They just need it rented, asap. The transaction between landlord, agent, and myself is always looked at as a business transaction and it is always treated as such. (Unfortunately, that comes with downsides: I typically get paid Net 60, but you can’t always win!) On commercial real estate shoots, I also get paid by the landlord directly (most of the time). This has its advantages because in most scenarios, my agents will get a quote for a job from me and then sell their landlord clients on why they need my services. Essentially, my agents are selling for me to the one who is signing the check. More often than not, access is prearranged prior to my arrival and I am left alone in the space to shoot. I’ll take these type of client relationships any day versus some of the residential agents I’ve worked with and hear stories about!
For me personally, I shoot all my commercial real estate shoots natural light, with a 3-image bracket. (2 stops apart). The main reason, for me, is most of the spaces I shoot are huge open floors (my biggest in 2020 was 86,000 sq. ft.), and even if I pulled out my 600w flashes, they most likely wouldn’t do anything. A big feature in NYC office space is floor to ceiling windows (especially in offices with skyline views), so showing off that natural light is a must. Landlords love it and agents use it as a selling feature. This obviously does present lots of white balance challenges but I always carry a gray card to help with color in post. For post-production, I use LR Enfuse to blend the multiple exposures. After batch blending in LR Enfuse, I apply some presets, some final touches and done. This presents an extremely fast and efficient workflow both on site and in post with extremely good results. After all, the more efficient we are, the more money we’re making per shoot!
The most important part! While there is no exact formula, my commercial real estate photography prices start at 260% higher than my residential real estate photography pricing. That is significantly more money for what might end up being an easier workflow. Why so much more? The first thing to remember is my commercial agents aren’t typically paying for my services. In residential, the agent is almost always paying the bill. My invoices usually get paid by the landlord or the landlord’s company. These companies are usually worth millions (or sometimes billions) and they have a budget allotted for marketing their empty spaces. To throw out some hypothetical numbers, what is my $1,500 invoice to a company that is looking to sign a 5-year lease on a $200,000/month office space? ($12 million for those who don’t want to do the math). The value of the marketing content we’re providing in a commercial real estate photography transaction is significantly higher monetarily than that in a residential, so our rates should be higher. Besides the skill and experience we bring to any job, the value of our final deliverables should play a major role in our rates. Length of time and usage also plays an important factor into determining rates. While my images are usually used for the leasing of the space, it is not uncommon for the owner, investor, or management company to want to use these images on their website to show off their portfolio of spaces. This is true especially for amenity photos. I very often shoot lobbies, bicycle rooms, gyms, and other building amenities which are used in the leasing of the space and then in turn for owners' websites. These images can often be used for several years and that helps justify my additional costs.
If commercial real estate photography isn’t part of your current offerings, I hope a 2021 goal will be to explore the possibilities of shooting commercial real estate in your region. I am fully aware, being in NY might give me more commercial real estate opportunities than elsewhere but every town or city in every state has office space and retail space for rent. So, now that you have a better understanding of the possibilities of commercial real estate photography, how are you going to integrate this into your business?