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How To Survive As Amateur Photographers Shoot For Little or Nothing

Published: 02/10/2012
By: larry

Lee Jinks recently pointed out an article over at that was based on another article by Seth Godin. What Godin is talking about is going on in real estate photography. Everyone has access to quality gear and software and there's always an amateur out there that is willing to shoot a property $50, $60 or $90.

The number one question I get these days is something like the following:

" am I supposed to break into the real estate photography market when agents tell me the photographer they use normally only charges $40?"

Godin's solution is three pronged:

  1. "Find and lead a tribe of people that want you and only you." Godin uses the term Tribe because it's the title of one of his books. He's saying you need to create a following or group of clients that appreciate your work and will pay extra for it. This is what marketing is all about. Create a group of passionate customers!
  2. "Develop the skills and reputation that makes it clear that the amateur solution isn't nearly good enough." You need to do everything in your power to distinguish yourself from the amateurs. Your website, your gear, your post processing techniques.
  3. "Stand up and do your work in such a way there are no substitutes." This means you need to be passionate about raising the level of your work. Continuous improvement and innovation!

Of course these principles apply in most businesses and to do each one of these things you have to be innovative. Innovation and passion is the key to being successful.

One quality evolution that I see going on in just the last month is the increase in number of real estate photographers discovering full frame cameras and glass. Having the best gear won't make you a professional but because of all the new full frame bodies are becoming available for less then the were the last few years more people are purchasing them. The standard is rising. Lee Jinks was telling me:

"...I've noticed is that better equipment can make a difference.  What I mean is that I shot a wedding a few weeks ago with two cameras.  A D700 with an 85mm f/1.4 and a D5000  a 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6.  It almost looked like two different events. Probably because of the difference in the glass."

So one of the things you can do to raise the level of your quality is make sure you are using the very best gear and glass. But the gear isn't going to get you the competitive edge by itself. Some great example of the kind of things you need to do to survive and compete can be seen in the descriptions of the lighting and post techniques that the winners of the PFRE photographers of the month are using.


17 comments on “How To Survive As Amateur Photographers Shoot For Little or Nothing”

  1. I see this post occasionally. Can someone explain to me how (in a very small market) you're going to get an agent, who may be struggling to make ends meet, to pony-up $350-$800 for photos on a 950 sq ft home that has a price-point of $200,000 - oh, that hasn't been updated in 30 years? I charge up to $1,000 for large homes. However, I also charge as low as $50 for anything under 750 sq ft that will take me comparatively minimal time and effort. I do this for a living, I've had homes featured in national real estate magazines and am continually upgrading my gear and increasing my knowledge (and rates), but I'm considered "amateur" simply based on my current pricing?

  2. Couldn't agree more, Anthony. These "pros" get serious hurt feelings over the whole pricing thing. They seem to think that if you charge any less than an arm AND a leg that you are cheating yourself and undercutting everyone else.

    This couldn't be further from the truth. I set my prices according to my market. There is NO WAY the agents would pay the exorbitant prices these guys charge in their areas. I invite them all to come here and try. Please clue me in on how to successfully get someone to pay that much money in my market.

    There are people that will drive a BMW and people that will drive a Ford. If you don't have prices for BOTH of those types and situations, then its not us affordable "amateurs" that are undercutting. It's those high priced "pros".

  3. There will always be amateurs and low-ballers in every industry. If you believe you have to compete with them you are perhaps using the wrong business model. Cultivate relationships with other professionals, build your reputation, your skills, in the long run you will find that the amateurs do not impact your business.

  4. I am a real estate broker/investor and also a shooter. Looking at it from the agents point of view their main concerns are lead generation and increased productivity or efficiency. It is my opinion that they do not see “professional” photography as a need, instead as a cost. Less than 20% of the active listings on our MLS use professional photography (also, 20% of the expired listings used professional photography). For the average agent it is a gamble they can not afford so they turn to DIY technology (iphones, point and shoots and etc) to minimize their risks. On the other side of the coin, most real estate photographers have another source of income to subsidize their photography rates. For the low ball shooter they rationalize that with 3-4 hours of effort to gain $40-50, that is better than most people make working in big box retail stores. In the end, properties that are properly presented and priced right will sell, regardless of how they are photographed.

  5. This is such a minefield! I'm in the UK where there doesn't seem to be as much comparable pricing or market data for professional residential property photography. Add to this, I'm just starting out so my experience of pricing jobs is limited. I specify 'residential' because I think the market differs from working with more commercial clients e.g. property developers, housing associations or architects practices.

    I totally agree with Rohnn's comment that properties that are properly presented and priced right will sell, regardless of how they are photographed.

  6. " In the end, properties that are properly presented and priced right will sell, regardless of how they are photographed."

    I don't think anyone has ever disputed this. The point of professional photography is that it will help sell the house FASTER and for MORE MONEY.

    "Less than 20% of the active listings on our MLS use professional photography (also, 20% of the expired listings used professional photography)."

    I'd like to see some raw data to support your numbers. I'm willing to bet that your expired listing data is off.

  7. To add to my point above, in addition to professional photography selling the house faster it will also generate more interest in both the property (read: more viewings) as well as the agent (read: more listings). Something to think about.

  8. @ Malia
    I looked into this a couple of months ago and will refresh the numbers.
    It hinges on what is meant by "professional" photography. I based my analysis on if the walls were reasonably straight and these was an attempt at a decent window pull. I could not tell by looking at the images what camera was used or what the lighting setup was or what post production was done.

  9. This is a perennial issue in many fields. "Pros vs. amateurs". The fact is that the pros trying to eke out a living doing photography full time who complain about amateurs have not made the conceptual leap to the pro life. They are still stuck looking at the same low paying gigs but expect to get paid more for them.

    As others above have pointed out, (and as Seth Godin vividly describes) the clients you need are not the clients you may have now. I too, struggled early on with agents that wanted a full day shoot and another day of post for their listing and wanted to pay $200 because "I get flyers all day offering that for $150". I then was fortunate enough to get called by a developer who truly wanted good work and had been used to paying 4 and 5 figure fees for that kind of work. I made them happy and they referred a lot of their colleagues to me. Meeting with local architects and designers and being able to show better projects gave me the credibility to be seriously considered for their bigger projects. These clients are employees of larger organizations whose jobs are imperiled if the photos suck. They want great stuff and have the checkbook to get it.

    I still get calls from people who want to pay me $50 to shoot their birthday parties. Some days when it is slow I get mad that I am tempted by those calls but when I do get them I just make a short list of prospects I want to introduce myself to and I get out of that slump.

    Oh, and the idea that if you are cheap you will only get calls from cheapskates is baloney. If you do a cheap job you will find out that your client will forget you faster than anyone because they didn't care about the pictures anyway.He or she will not even remember your name to refer you. So go ahead, in slow times do a cheap job. It will never be recorded in your bio and you amy get a good portfolio image out of it.

  10. Rohnn is correct, "In the end, properties that are properly presented and priced right will sell, regardless of how they are photographed". But at the same time he is wrong. Such property will only sell with a viewing. No viewing, no Sale.

    The realtors job is selling the property, the photograpy has the job of selling the viewing. The better it views online and in print, the better the chance of more viewings. I can ball you as many low, slow balls as you like but if you cann't bat ....

  11. "Everyone has access to quality gear and software and there’s always an amateur out there that is willing to shoot a property $50, $60 or $90."

    Every market is different...period

    Classifying someone as amateur simply because of his/her price (and not by the quality of their work), without knowing their specific market is just lame .....makes you look foolish.

  12. I do think there is a minimum rate at which your business can survive in the long run, but that will be different in every market. Beyond that, it's up to you to decide if you're selling an economy car or a luxury car. There will always be a market for both.

  13. Its just funny how people on this site refer to some as an amateur because of their pricing, but when it comes to other services they need in their lives (car repair, landscaper, house cleaning service etc) i would bet 100% these same people are constantly looking for someone who is cheap and provides a good service.

    I bet these same people have told friends at one time or another "i found this great mechanic that charges half of what canadian tire (in canada) charges and his work is great". I guess that makes anyone in life who has figured out a way to keep their pricing down by developing a good workflow an amateur? Are the products you buy at walmart poor quality because they are prices way cheaper than most of their competition?, or maybe because walmart came up with a system where they buy is such large quantities, get a discount which allows them to sell cheaper.

    It all comes down to how much you are making an hour. If you are taking 2 hours shooting photos and another 1 hour editing you MUST charge $300 to make $100 an hour. If you can provide a service similar in regards to quality, something that the agents want and are happy with....but can get in there and shoot the same photos in 30 mins, edit in 30 mins and charge $90 you are pretty much making the same per hour. With the lower price point there is no question you will get more regular business because agents will use you on every listing and not just the higher end ones.

    We have a cleaning lady that comes and cleans our house every 2 weeks and charges 1/2 of what every other company charges. She is fast and somehow has a system to get in and out in 1/2 the time as any other company we have tried before. Does this make her an amateur? does it make her service quality less than her competition? Absolutely not, in fact my parents use her (they referred her to me), 3-4 of their friend use her and I have referred her to at least 5 people, 3 of which use her. Anybody that has used her says she is the best they have had and cant believe they ever paid more for less quality work. She does 6-8 houses a day and makes a great living.

    I just dont get all the whiners on this site crying because others have figured out a way to provide a service that agents clearly want, but do it at a substantially cheaper price by developing a good workflow. If you are happy with your pricing and your product and have regular business there should be no issues should there?

    Many people keep saying that someone charging $90 wont survive in the long run. If thats the case why do you even care?, let them burn out and by your own logic you will get their business in the end anyway.

  14. @Ian

    One thing many realtors are starting to realize is that regardless of a listing price or size, they NEED to provide a good multimedia service for all their listings. Every listing is a change to market themselves to hundreds of people, whether it sells in 1 day or in 1 month. All it takes is an agent deciding to cheap out and take photos themselves for 1 or 2 listings that are "priced so right it would sell itself" and have hundreds of potential future clients see it and form a negative opinion. Those who saw those 1 or 2 listings potentially tell some of their friends when the agents name comes up and so on......

    I have countless agents tell me that they got a listing because the client saw one of their previous listings and liked the multimedia/marketing for it.

    Pricing yourself right makes it easy for a realtor to use you on every listing regardless of size/location or price.

  15. It really depends on the shoot. For instance, one client may want only a few exterior shots while another wants 30 or more. Most realtors know the difference in time and are willing to pay for it. I have been doing real estate photography now for over 5 years and always endeavor to try to keep learning and getting better. Technology is always on the move and top equipment is a must.

    Point being that you build a reputation and stand on it and expect to be paid accordingly.

  16. There are also other reasons why a photographer charge his real estate client a lower price. I am a retired Realtor of 76 years and photography has been my hobby for more than 30 years. I hate doing nothing and have the right dslr, lenses, flashes and other stuff to keep me busy. If I get compensated for the time spend, what is wrong for receiving $90?

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