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iPhone 11 Announced, but You Shouldn't Worry About Your Job

Author: Garey Gomez

Smartphones these days come with absolutely incredible cameras built in. The amount of technology packed into these tiny cameras in our pockets has gotten so good, that in many cases, the quality of the images produced with smartphones is nearly indistinguishable from our "real" cameras upon first glance.

Real estate photographers have to pull out all the stops (pun intended!) with lighting techniques, HDR processing, Photoshop compositing, and using every bit of data available to us in our high-megapixel RAW files to tame the high dynamic range when photographing interiors. It's a skill most of us have worked really, really hard to acquire; and practice has made us pretty efficient at it, too. The result of our expertise and our niche skillsets is a final image that is pretty (hopefully) and worthy of representing a property accurately and with a little sparkle and charm to attract potential buyers.

Every time a new smartphone is announced however, there is a buzz in our community expressing concerns about how the camera technology in the new phone could be the beginning of the end of our job. Today, the new iPhone 11 has been announced, and I have read 3 different threads in two different Facebook groups to that effect. I'm here to say: You can relax... your job is safe.

Here's why a good real estate photographer can't be replaced:

  • You still have to put the camera in the right place. It takes a photographer's eye and countless failed compositions to know what makes a good composition. I would argue that this, more than almost anything else, is what makes you a photographer.
  • You have to know what good light is, and know how to adjust for it when the light is not ideal. The in-camera HDR capabilities of the newest smartphone cameras works really well and can often capture a huge dynamic range, and in many cases, create a very pleasing white balance. But only a photographer will know which blinds to open/close, and when the option is there, to decide whether a property would photograph better in the morning or in the afternoon.
  • In-camera HDR handheld (high ISO) images from a tiny sensor really don't hold up to "real" cameras in terms of quality. This may change in the future but for now, it's apples and oranges.
  • Most good agents make better use of their time doing things they are good at and have the wisdom to delegate what they don't do well.
  • One more point, just for argument's sake: You can't argue the merits of full frame cameras and at the same time fret about smartphone cameras taking over our industry. Again, the image sensors in smartphone cameras are very, very small.

If you look at the images shared on the iPhone 11 website, what you'll notice is a lot of really great compositions in the perfect lighting conditions. While the phone's camera itself is capable of achieving a high quality with nice color reproduction, I would venture a guess that the images used to market the camera's impressive tech specs were shot by professional photographers.

I'm happy to see this tech!

This tech is GREAT for us! Imagine, as this technology starts trickling down into our cameras, similarly to how WiFi and GPS have become more common features on cameras. At some point, our cameras will be able to capture the entire dynamic range in one frame and unlike our current smartphone options, it will be done in a single RAW image with no computational wizardry needed. This will make our post-production a lot easier; making us more efficient and saving a lot of time. I consider this a plus.

Let's imagine for a moment that the image quality truly is equal; meaning that an iPhone's camera is pixel for pixel 100% equal to your full frame current camera. Non-photographers will still likely have poor compositions, and shoot in the "wrong" light, and our photos will still be subjectively better more often than now. This is the result of, in many cases, years and years of practice and day-to-day hands-on experience.

It is my position that this new smartphone camera technology only makes our talent and skill all the more apparent to non-photographers. When most non-photographers take a good picture with their phone, it's usually by accident--a really happy accident. Now, ask them to do it again with the next shot and see what happens...

 

Garey Gomez is an architectural photographer based in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a three-time PFRE Photographer of the Month, and the creator of the Mastering Real Estate Photography tutorial series.

23 comments on “iPhone 11 Announced, but You Shouldn't Worry About Your Job”

  1. Of course, another new phone err... camera touted to be the professionals tool... what will Phase One and RED do now?? Guess they are out of business! LOL! Oh well... was a nice run guys...

    Yeah, I am always excited to see new advancements in these kinds of things... most notably what might be working its way into actual professional tools in the near future... like AI and Machine Learning and the processor upgrades to aid power consumption and faster operations... I like the intelligent features of the cameras... would be great to be able to utilize some of those things in pro cameras... I dream of an Architect Photographers camera.. that has built in software to allow us to choose zones for automatic re lighting or pre selection of areas to blend lighting changes into our compositions on camera lol!

    All great things but Garey is 100% correct... all that teeeniny technology can't match a humans skill and choices for each scene... it can only help and thats the exciting part! I actually think 'how' a photographer handles a shot in the worst or wrong time for the subject separates the pros from the amateurs or inexperienced ... especially in RE photography where amateurs are everywhere.

    Also I thought the same thing when watching the iPhone 11 Pro video that was shot in a hollywood backlot by professional film makers!! LOL! I was thinking... well thats not the right way to showcase the cameras abilities... of course every element in a studios lot is controlled to perfection... all lighting is perfected for cameras... down to the cars headlights and the rope lights and everything else ... they really should have put it in the hands of filmmakers who shoot all over the world in real world situations and in difficult lighting situations and where most likely the operator won't have a dimmer and gels for every light and a gigantic crane jib for silky smooth crazy angled camera movement! Cracked me up... happened in the photos too... look at each photo and they are carefully and professionally chosen lighting conditions.. which is how a pro would most likely, hopefully utilize it but more often than not, the less than ideal situations have to be handled to get the shot... I would just prefer to see how it benefits "Pros" that are pro because they know how to handle those situations and come out with great work...

    but I definitely have more gear envy after today... of course, who wouldn't that still owns his iPhone 6 with a bent screen that still somehow works? =P

  2. I'm concerned that we will see this as a turning point someday. These new phones are equipped with 13mm eq. lenses, and a 120-degree field of view. That's as wide as I ever use, or wider. Up until this point, it took a hefty investment in an ILC/DLSR and an UWA lens. How many times have I heard, "You have that lens that makes every room look bigger." It was obvious to anyone who looked. We had an effective monopoly on the means of producing ultrawide images, and soon, we won't. My skill with lighting or your deft touch on the window blinds are worthwhile, but they're subjective refinements that some won't notice.

    High-end work will probably be affected less. But for the high-volume, mass-market, all-batched-HDR companies that claim so much of the market, they should worry. This phone automates that work. It doesn't need a tripod, and HDR simulates the better DR of a larger sensor. There will be features to help the user level their compositions, and one-touch cropping. It can do fill-flash at any shutter speed, with a choice of color temperatures. A lot of agents might be quite satisfied with those capabilities.

  3. Physics gets in the way of true parity in pixel count. Yes, a phone's sensor is tiny compared to a 35mm, Full-Frame sensor. Trying to cram the same number of pixels on the small sensor means they have to also be that much smaller. Crammed in so tight they also have a tendency to have more crosstalk.

    The optics on a phone aren't as refined as those on dedicated cameras. They're fine for snapshots, but irregularities become a bigger and bigger problem for larger and larger display sizes. They are also not nearly as consistent in production so it's harder to accurate correction profiles.

    I use a CamRanger with a tablet as a remote for my camera. Wouldn't it seem a big odd to use one phone as a remote for the camera on another phone?

    When I'm photographing real estate, I have the Camranger plugged in and a flash trigger in the hot shoe. I may have more connections when I'm doing other work. There isn't the same adaptability with a phone. The whole 3rd party eco-system of high quality accessories isn't there for phones. iPhones typically have more high quality acc than Android, but I don't see as much as I do for my Canon cameras. Yes, there is lots of stuff, just not quality stuff that I would consider useful for a pro.

    I agree that the most important thing needed to make a quality photo is the expertise to compose the shot, light the scene and finish the image so it meets the needs of the client. When I started, I used to do a lot of spray and pray, but that approach is a huge waste of time. I need to see my finished image in my mind's eye and be able to realize it consistently to make a living as a photographer. There can still be serendipity, but that's always an added bonus and shouldn't be counted on as a game plan.

    Home owners are always commenting about how I must be a pro when I load in from the gear I bring. I have to chuckle to myself as I'm not using the latest or most expensive equipment. My not camera case is neatly organized with technical bits and bobs, but most of that doesn't get used on every job and if I knew what I was walking into, half of my camera bag could be left at home too. If I walked into a job with a handheld light and a cell phone, I might still be able to create the same images from a technical standpoint, but I would be taken far less seriously by clients and home owners. Sometimes a little showmanship goes a long way.

    What I'm surprised at is that Canon, Nikon and Sony haven't introduced a professional level camera body with no LCD, EVF, only a button to turn on power and an LED to let you know it's on. Working with a CamRanger, most of the time I am not touching the camera at all. While I'd still want a camera that I can operate handheld with all of the controls available other times, for RE and product photos, I don't need them. Perhaps I'd still want a memory card in the camera to store the RAW files and only have the jpegs sent to the remote for viewing. I might want to ability to send the RAW files to the tablet on demand so I'm backing up when I'm not making a photo and that would just be a software change. I would expect that a "headless" camera could be made fairly cheap.

  4. I'm with John McMillin on this one, as I was with Andrew Pecce on the last conversation of this sort.

    The impressive advancements in computational photography with smartphones outpaces any advancements by the firms who develop our "real" cameras 100 times over, if not more. You can look at the latest crop of smartphones and say "yeah, but it has a tiny sensor...yeah, but where are the real photographers...people don't understand light" and whatnot, but the fact of it is that this tech is advancing at a blistering pace and once a viable HDR app for interiors emerges (one that would pull windows and fix verticals) our clients are going to drop us like a hot turd. You see, real estate agents don't need perfect images...they're not pixel peepers nor are they enthusiasts like we are. They need pretty photos shot wide and bright to get warm bodies through doors and to pick up new listings.

    It's true that there will be a market for our services in the architectural and design world, and I actually think real estate video will continue to grow as it is a more advanced skillset to edit than the stills are....but, once that vertical correcting window pulling HDR app emerges, we're done.

  5. "making us more efficient and saving a lot of time" -- Every advance in efficiency is, at the end, a benefit for the customer, not for the seller. We won't be able to save time, because the expectations rise simultaneously.

  6. I'm with Brian R. on this. I've been shooting real estate since 2003. If there's one thing I know, most agents want it just good enough and need photos yesterday. They aren't too concerned on how it gets done.
    Until pro camera companies devote more R&D to technology, we are a sinking ship.

  7. In 2010, most of us who had been photographers for 20-30 years had to re-invent, or close our doors. Why? Readily available cheap technology changed everything about our business environment. Instead of 12 competitors, we now had 100's. Very few studios still following rigid to the old school mode of business survived. They found something else to do. Those of us that survived it, had to re-invent to compete with a new group who didn't adhere to any of the standards we had set for quality and predictable results.... millennials didn't value those things over immediacy.

    What changes with these new phones for our business, is the inclusion of an ultra wide angle lens in addition to 2 other lenses. That is something we have to take very serious, and it is our greatest threat, because even though the Galaxy phones have had it, the iPhone has the greatest market share, and that means we need to be thinking NOW what sort of strategy we might employ to survive it.

  8. In the quality driven industry I serve Its all about education and value and very little about what new gimmick comes along. My clients pay a premium for consistency, solid compositions and onsite professionalism. The next new low cost competitor rarely affects my business and if it does those agents may not have been the best fit anyway. There are agents who will uses these type of photographers the same way there are homeowners who use discount real estate companies and agents content accepting 2% commision. Good enough works for both homeowners and agents I have decided to build a business that steers away from these types of clients.My point is if you are a professional photographer losing business to someone using a new cell phone technology you need to reevaluate your business model.

  9. Those who based their careers on high quality content & creative clients won't feel this burn as much as those with assembly line processes. Creativity has value, and lucrative work will still be very present in this industry.

    This phone is only going to help sift out those unwilling to push the industry forward.

  10. This thought does not even enter my mind. What I think upon these releases is, "wow, a new tool I can fit in my pocket, always have on me, and... ".

    There is a new gopro coming out too. In camera stabilization is amazing on these, and the phones. Pictures in sunlight are great right out of the camera. The gopro has so many frame rates and resolutions it makes your head spin. It fits in your pocket, does clean & stabilized hyperlapses in seconds, it can go 30 feet under water, you can mount the thing anywhere, or drop it and it is fine.

    We still need our dslrs but there is no doubt they wont be accompanying too many vacationers and casual users in the near future.

  11. So I actually watched the Apple keynote yesterday. Without a doubt this phone isn't going to put us out of business tomorrow. However, Phil Schilling of Apple said one thing that should be concerning to all of us.....He said that in the coming months, Apple would be releasing a software update that will turn on this new Fusion AI setting that will take 10 images and go pixel by pixel and come up with the perfect blend to get an "amazing photo".

    On one hand, I am actually excited about the possibilities of what this camera could be as a new tool, especially on the video side. But if the history of smartphones has been any indication, it makes my life as a professional harder because it opens the door to other "photographers" that once had to spend thousands to compete in my world. Now, they can spend $1k and be there. And it's not the quality of their work that scares me, it the constant battle with these bottom feeders over their pricing schemes of giving it away.

    I want to stress that my comments are specifically directed to the RE Photography market in my area. I don't worry about the iPhone for the other genres of photography that I offer (yet!). The irony for me is as someone who has made 100% of my income with my camera since about 1997, I just picked up RE Photography as part of my business about 4 years ago. It was a good genre to offer to get away from all of the bottom feeders doing $25 portrait sessions. Their skill sets weren't good enough to offer RE photography. Well here it is 4 years later and tech is allowing them to get in the game cheap.

  12. @Grant G, Phil Schilling's comment of going pixel by pixel highlights that he and his script writer have no clue about photography. At no point am I working one pixel at a time. Even if I was selling prints at a million dollars each would it be worth the time or give me a better image. Photo quality is highly subjective and images are judged in their entirety.

    The hardware improvements improve all of the time, but the iconic photos by noted photographers live on. Technically, those images aren't anywhere close to what can be achieved today, but the image as a whole will live on. This is why I question when somebody says they are going to sell off all of their __________ brand gear and buy a whole new ______________ system to do RE work. Work that's generally done in manual mode under controlled conditions where all of the bells and whistles on a new camera body don't come into play. New cell phones may be "good enough" technically for many cases, but the people using them as a business tool aren't good enough at getting the best composition framed up to capture.

    I say "many cases" because it's those difficult interiors where cell phones will fail miserably. We normally have no idea what's beyond the front door when we show up for a job. We have to cover all sorts of challenges on the spot and right now. This means we have to have the tools and expertise to do the job to a deliverable quality level. We can't look at a kitchen with dark Cherry wood cabinets and black granite counters and tell the agent we'll have to come back another time to get those images.

  13. Cheap.
    Fast.
    Good.
    ........Pick two.

    You can't be all things to all people, so go ahead and figure out who your ideal client is and go knock their socks off. My ideal client would laugh at the idea of replacing me with a non-photographer using a smartphone (or using their own phone to replace me).

    Or...
    If an AI camera can take your job away, then just go buy one and be the first to market as a full-time RE photographer shooting with a smartphone. Go ahead and test your theory. If it really is going in that direction, then lean in and shake things up.

  14. What Garey just said.

    If the only thing you bring to the table is the fact that you own an expensive camera, or a wide-angle lens....then you probably SHOULD be worried about new technology. The marketplace is littered with the remains of business models that relied on barriers to entry in order to protect themselves.

    Taxicabs are going out of business because it turns out Uber can do it cheaper and better. Uber is suffering because it turns out that an e-scooter or e-bike is faster, cheaper, and more fun for those short trips. But meanhwhile, limousine companies are doing fine, because they provide more than just a ride across town -- they carry a prestige and an experience you can't get from just any guy with a Honda Civic and an Uber account - and the back seat won't smell like weed, either.

    Photography has never been about the camera. And by the way, this EXACT conversation happened in the 1960s, with the advent of the SLR 35mm cameras, and again in the 1970s with the advent of auto-focus, and again, loudly, in the 2000s with the advent of digital cameras. Each time, there was a cohort of grizzled veterans who claimed that the business was ruined, and who couldn't survive the transition. But there were also those who not only transitioned, but flourished. Photography has never been about the camera.

  15. There might be certain kinds of photography for which cell phones can be a viable professional medium. And, at the low end of the range, if these cameras eventually gain the ability to resolve extreme dynamic ranges, they may prove to be more useful for real estate agents doing their own photo and for entry-level photographers. However, photographing architectural subject matter at a reasonably high level is more than just the ability to record detail through the shadows and highlights. It is about the quality of the light, and that can be a very different matter, requiring being there at the perfect time of day (with the right weather conditions), using supplementary lighting or modifying the existing lighting, and doing sophisticated digital process, all of which are beyond the abilities of an amateur or most journeyman professionals. Then there is the sense of composition, adjusting furnishings so that they fit the overall composition, and having excellent photographic technique so that you can actually make use of the quality that the photographic equipment offers.

    In short, the equipment is just a capability. Knowing how to use it well is a whole different matter.

  16. Several months ago I began shooting apartment walk-through videos with my Samsung Galaxy S10's wide angle lens and an inexpensive gimbal instead of my Panasonic GH5 with a 7-14mm lens and a more capable gimbal.

    The overall quality is superior in some ways, inferior in others. None of my clients, who are mostly sophisticated national management companies, have noticed the change.

    As video becomes more prevalent in real estate, smartphones with wide angle lenses will have a huge impact.

  17. We have seen this all before.
    What WILL happen is that the lower end will become a more unpleasant place to be.

    The answer is the same as it has always been for the small business. Don't be the cheap guy.
    The foremost error of small business is the conceit they can compete on price, volume or whatever other metric the bottom feeder wants.
    You can't.
    Look upward to the good paying client who wants a quality product. Learn to make it reliably and you will most likely survive.
    Get caught up trying to beat the guy with a phone and you will lose.

    I will order a pizza and watch videos of my granddaughter on my phone.

  18. I'm glad Scott made the point he did—many non-photographers will now have access to a very wide angle lens capable of capturing a whole room that they never had before, all while the phone itself figures out how to perfectly expose the different parts of the image with complex math and machine learning. So... if all they were hiring you for was access to a wide angle lens and some HDR or basic exposure blending, then you're hosed. For basic lower-end real estate, frankly I would probably use my phone if I were an agent. The end result might not be as nice, but the turn-around and ROI more than makes up for it.

  19. Garey—I'm happy to see this tech too, but I'm not very optimistic about it "trickling up" to our Sony/Canon/Nikon cameras anytime soon. Your wifi example is actually perfect—the implementation of wifi in every camera I've tried with it is an utter joke, so much so that we're all considering buying a CamRanger 2 in order to make up for the deficiencies of the range & speed of built-in wifi. But, even a CamRanger doesn't come close to the seamless integration with our computers that a phone has... When I take a photo with my phone, it's immediately available to edit and post wherever I want, and it's automatically uploaded to the cloud for backup.

    To me, the most impressive use of phone-like tech in modern cameras has to be eye-tracking AF. I would love to see cameras start including some of this exposure blending "HDR" tech... My canon has a basic HDR mode, but it's nowhere near as useful as what my iPhone gives me automatically.

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