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How Real Estate Photographers Can Deal With The Time Pressure of A Shoot

timepressureBrian asks:

I'm just now ready to start marketing myself, after learning techniques from Scott Hargis and so many others on PFRE and the Flickr group. That said, I'm wondering what the best approach is when starting out, to keep my shoot time within an acceptable limit.

Are there any posts where photographers are addressing this point specifically, time spent on a shoot? Different approaches of negotiating more time starting out? I know of course there are differences according to shooting high end larger properties, as opposed to smaller ones. But specifically, approaches to communicate the possibility of needing extra time, without turning potential clients off.

Sounds like you have concerns about getting through a shoot quickly with the agent waiting there tapping her foot waiting for you to finish. I've not done a post specifically on this subject although seems to be an area of concern for many of those just getting started using small manual flash. Here are some of my suggestions:

  1. If you read Scott Hargis's book or seen his videos. You know about his planning walk through at the beginning of the shoot. This is very useful in planning your time. Do the small rooms first and get them out of the way first (many can be done with one light) so you know how much time you have to shoot the larger more important spaces.
  2. I recommend pricing on the number of images. This makes it less likely you will be delivering 30 images. But at least if you are delivering that many images there will be expectations of the shoot taking longer.
  3. Loosen up and don't be overly concerned about getting it perfect! M. James Northen in the PFRE Flickr group summed it up nicely when he said,"real estate imaging is about quick and good - sometimes not perfect." This is especially true when you are just starting out. I assure you that your standards are probably much higher than 95% of real estate agents.
  4. Keep your number of lights and stands to a minimum. As you get more shoots under your belt you'll have more time for the complicated stuff.

I think if you just set your goal to stay under 2 hours a shoot and don't get obsessed with perfection and use just a couple of lights you will rapidly improve speed and quality to where you want it to be.

Any other suggestions?

11 comments on “How Real Estate Photographers Can Deal With The Time Pressure of A Shoot”

  1. I start on location with every new client explaining to them (many times in front of their seller) that as a real estate photographer I'm expected to pound out 25 images in 2 hours - which is interesting, because in the world of architectural/magazine quality photos, it can often take those 2 hours for just 1 photo. That plants a big seed, get's the wheels turning: Quality or quantity - I think it slows everyone down a bit. And, I'm VERY slow! Have never had any complaints about how long. And enjoy mostly repeat business at this time.

    It's not like getting your car fixed when a quick mechanic is obviously very knowledgeable. Good photos take time.

  2. I started my business last year in June. I was concerned about the agent waiting around for me to finish so I went fast. That was a mistake. I found that homes speak to me. especially if they are well appointed. I found the longer I take the better the shots. Most home are done in two hours but sometimes it's longer like when you your doing a 1.5 or 2 million dollar home. Sometimes it shorter as well. I let the agent know up front after a walk thru with him or her how much time it will take. It it take longer than 2 hours they tend to be ok with it because my portfolio shows my work. If your work is good, they will wait the time and pay the price. Keep in mind that after you do some homes for the same agent he or she will not be there. they give you the key or the lock code. they have better things to do than to sit in a home with you.

  3. The longest I have taken is 6 hours for 36 images. The shortest is probably 1.5 hours for 18 images of a vacant home. I always ask the homeowner or agent if they have any time constraints when I arrive. If I don't have much time, I shoot quickly with an eye towards what I will need in post production by lighting each zone of a composition or changing exposure to brighten an area. If I have all the time I want, I'll spend more time getting my lighting just right and the image done in the camera. It can be faster to shoot more tight images as the lighting solution is much easier than trying to light a large area for a wide composition. I state that I will spend from 2 to 3 hours on location as an average. If I walk in and find dark and shiny surfaces everywhere, I'll ask for more time right away.

    Scott Hargis' advice on doing a walk through first works very well for me. I also start off with the secondary bedrooms and bathrooms to warm up and finish with the kitchen where I have stashed my gear if I'm not going to have a problem with the sun streaming in later in the session. I bring some clean white towels to put on the kitchen counters so I'm not setting my cases directly on the counter tops. The homeowners are pleased with little touches like that. Agents will ask how the photo session went if they aren't there themselves and a good report every time means more business with that agent.

    I price by the image and I have a good idea on how much time it takes me per image so I can estimate how much time I need to be on site. There are exceptions where it's just going to take as long as it takes (those pesky dark and shiny interiors). I've been booking a max of 2 jobs each day, but I have been working on a technique that will allow me to do more if they are vacant (to start). I've never been late for an appointment and I want to spend the time I need to get the job done to my expectations. Booking too many jobs in a day could be a problem. The days I like the best are when I have codes to get in and don't have to adhere to a schedule.

  4. I will add that it's best not to labor over your compositions. The faster you can pick your comp, the faster you can light it and click the shutter. Critique yourself when you get back and look through good RE images to imprint what angles work. You will get better, but you will already be delivering better images than the agent can do if you expose correctly, get accurate color and have proper geometry (verticals).

  5. Keeping shoot times in a tight window is extremely important. Remember that successful realtors are extremely busy, and while the good ones appreciate your hard work and its value, you are always just part of the program. You will always be most respected for producing great, timely work with as little fuss as possible.

    The simple answer to your question is practice. Take your current living space, and shoot it over and over again. Shoot if for composition. Shoot it for speed. Experiment with new techniques in your own home first, and take them live when they are perfected. Like most other things in life, learning on the job can be hard, especially when the customer expects you to be a pro when you hit the door.

    Also, I suggest adopting a simple technique and learning the hell out of it. Then get more complex. If you are going to work with natural light only, learn to take some extensive brackets for each comp, and sort it out at the computer, not on the screen in someones house. If you want to shoot with a light, learn to shoot with one light first. I keep a strobe on my belt with a Spyder Clip, and handhold it - its my only light for 80% of my shots. Its fast, quick, and Ive done it so much that I know pretty much whats going to happen when the shutter fires. Get to that level of competency with a simple technique, then start worrying about adding more strobes. And when the time comes to add more -- practice at home.

    On average, I take about 1 hour per 2500 sq ft of home. With about 30 minutes on the back end for editing, that allows me to keep my rates reasonable and stay profitable.

    Good luck with the new business!

  6. I fall in the same general time frame as Ken Brown. A photographer I assisted in my early days would say to clients whose feet started tapping and fingers played the keyboard "Do you want it good or do you want it fast? You don't get both." I amend that. I take as long as it takes to get the kind of coverage I want to be known for and for which my clients hire me. Some homes have more to shoot even if the square footage is the same and the number of rooms as another home simply because there is more to shoot, architectural details, more interesting kitchens with features that will help sell the home, more interesting land scaring, different and better views.

    My most loyal clients just leave me with the property as long there is someone from the owner's side present. What I hate most is people around who keep wandering into my shots. With stills I can always just reshoot if I know they are there but they often seem to take up residence outside French doors just after I have committed to bracketed exposures and am crouched down on the floor to stay out of the way of lens coverage or back around a wall. My last drone shoot as I was flying through tree branches and trying not to fly into one, the realtor wandered out of the front door and started taking measurements something I only discovered when I was at the computer. Ruined one of the best clips of the shoot.

    But my advise is take as much time as you feel is required to get the results the client is paying you for. In the end, no one cares how much time it took. What they care about are the results. And it does not matter at that point when they are disappointed if you point out they were rushing you. If they don't like the results, they probably won't hire you again. If they do, they will.

  7. I carry one Yongnuo-YN-560-IV in my vest pocket and use a Nikon D5200. I take one flash and 3 brackets per location. If it is a great room I might take a second flash for the far end. I use Photomatix Pro to process the 3 images and when finished I will layer the flash image under the bracketed image. I PS the flash image to fix the colors, use the dodge tool at a low % to add more light where needed, and sometimes remove a shadow. I apply the Viveza2 Plug In to the flash image. It takes me 45 minutes sometimes less to do an average 3 bedroom 2 bath home. I did this Ranch Style 4 Bedroom/3.5 Bath Home with Pool 1 1/2 hours http://tours.montereycountyvirtualtours.com/public/vtour/display/635729?idx=1

  8. All appointments will exceed the time allotted. Guaranteed.
    In my experience a two hour project invariably takes three hours. So, plan accordingly.

  9. In my market, most homes are under $300k, so I've adopted an approach that keeps my pricing appropriate for that price range. I need to produce quality images, but target completion of photography in one hour and completion of post in one hour. To reach my photography target time, I ditched the tripod and go handheld for interiors. I use on-camera flash (aimed behind/above the camera) and my camera has on-sensor stabilization that allows me to get sharp photos as slow as 1/3 second. Could I increase quality with tripods, light stands, light clamps? Yes. Will my market support the added cost? Probably not.

    Regardless, it's good to communicate your time requirements ahead of time so the realtor is aware. I usually tell agents that a typical house will take between 45 minutes and 75 minutes.

  10. When I photographed my first house in 2008, it took me three hours to photograph a 3,000 sqft house and 6-7 hours in post. By the time I did my sixth house I had it cut in half. It wasn't long before I got it down to one and half hours each for photo and processing. The very day I updated my equipment to a Sony a6000, I was able to reduce my time to one hour each for photo and post times, for a total of two hours including delivery of 25-30 images over the net. All I know is it was so much easier to use the 6000 than any camera I've ever had. I found the in camera auto color balance works very well with very little tweaking in post.

    As for the tripod, I've been told I needed the best I could buy like the $500 to $1000 or more models. Well, I use my 30 year old $50 Bogan 3001 and 10 year old no name $50 ballhead. Because my cameras are all light weight and with flipping view screens, it is very easy to make adjustments, an average of less than 20 seconds to setup for each image. One other thing that helped to reduce time is a $10 tripod pouch that fits between the legs. I use this to hold my bounce flash which I use to misplace when moving room to room.

  11. For real estate shoots, my goal is about 3 minutes per photo. Usually it averages 4 minutes. I can shoot 20 photos in an hour. I'm not sure how people are making money charging less than me, spending more time on the shoot than me, and producing less quality shots. Goes to show that there is a market for every price point and it doesn't matter how good you are at doing the thing that you sell, all that matters is how well you can sell.

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