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Making The Move Into Shooting Real Estate Video

Published: 05/02/2011
By: larry

I've been talking to Malia Campbell about her experiences expanding her real estate photography business into video.

Here is one of her recent videos.  What attracted my attention about Malia's video is the smooth left and right camera moves. It doesn't take long to realize that the rock-solid smooth left and right moves like this means that Malia is using a camera dolly just like the Hollywood guys do. Malia has built her own Chase Jarvis DIY camera dolly.  I think this little 1:53 minute video works very well. It comes across smooth and elegant. Just like you want to show off a small condo.

Malia is in the process of working out all the issues you have to deal with when you expand into video:

  1. How to move the camera around an keep the motion smooth and steady? There are two typical solutions, a stabilizer that lets you walk around with the camera and a dolly and Malia is using. I think Malia's DYI dolly solution works well.
  2. Were do you host the video? Malia started out at Vimeo but realized that Vimeo doesn't allow commercial video. I suggested that instead of trying dealing with the complexity of hosting her own video that she use at least and and as many other other sites that allow real estate video as possible.
  3. How do you price a video shoot compared to stills? Of course a lot depends on the details of the product you provide but in general, for the level of video in this example, I think it makes sense to charge in the area of twice as much as you do for a still shoot. You have a bigger investment in equipment, hosting and a much bigger investment in developing your skills to shoot video.
  4. Do you do just music background or narration? I encouraged Malia to find a professional voice person to work with. That way professional narration could be an option that could raise the level of her product when the agents she is shooting for are not up to their own narration.

Thanks Malia for the detail explanation of how you built your dolly. Malia's music is from Her editing was done mostly with iMovie 11. She is in the process of moving up to Final Cut Express. I'm sure she would like to have your advice on 1-4 above.

24 comments on “Making The Move Into Shooting Real Estate Video”

  1. WelcomeMat is not a good choice for hosting as they require you to get each agent you make a video for to also get a monthly account and you transfer the videos over to each agent. I talked to Christian over at welcomemat and this was how he explained it works, you don't just host unlimited videos for all agents in your account. Fred Light is actually the one who pointed this out to me to save me the headache.

  2. The WellcomeMat issue is true. If your agent is willing to become a PRO on WellcomeMat ($25/mo), they really have some terrific features (branded and unbranded versions, chaptering, instant "Craigs List" ads, numerous customizable players, multi video players, etc. For an agent who is committed to doing video on a pretty regular basis, this is a great solution. My problem has been to get that commitment from agents. Out of probably 300+ agents that I work with who do video pretty regularly, only one (that I'm aware of) has a PRO account on WellcomeMat. I've tried to convince agents that it makes sense if they're definitely getting into video, but I've not been very successful in selling it I guess. 🙁

    A real big issue for agents, sellers and video producers is that these videos MUST be on the MLS. They're almost not effective at all if you don't put them in the one place where 100% of buyers are actually looking for real estate! This gives the most exposure for sellers, agents AND the provider (and in turn, brings in new business!) I find many people who produce videos throw them on their website (and most real estate websites get hardly any traffic!) and YouTube. They thoroughly neglect the MLS.

    All MLS rules vary, and they change with the wind, but generally speaking ALL of them prohibit branding of the agent and broker. Some allow addresses, some do not. Most do not allow any external links (in other words, YouTube is NOT acceptable as it links to other videos and oftentimes show links or information on the listing broker, a big no-no.) Some will allow an agent to be IN the video, as long as they are not identified as the agent, some do not. But in the end, you need to understand the rules, follow them, and produce a video that can be placed alongside the listing on the MLS - it's that simple. Otherwise, the value isn't there for anyone!

    And then there is the problem that many of these external hosting sites forbid any commercial activity (at least on their free version) such as VIMEO, VIDDLER, BLIP.TV and others.

    Your best bet, since you have total control over everything, is to host the video on your own server. It's a bit expensive and far more work involved, but you make the rules, and unless YOU go out of business, you never have to worry about your provider shutting down, changing their policies, etc. I've gone that route, but I shoot about 2-5 videos every day, and the amount of work to host it myself just was overwhelming at that volume.

    Last fall I started using a service called It's a paid service (it costs me about $250/mo), but I use over 400 GB of bandwidth, and have 72GB of files stored on their server. Your mileage will most certainly vary, and they start at $30/mo. But the benefit's are there: I am able to post videos at several different bit rates, including a version that is playable on iPads, iPhones and mobile devices. So I'm covered everywhere that people are looking at my videos. There is no advertising or external links whatsoever, and their customer service it top notch. I'm able to post fully branded videos connecting directly to agents, as well as fully MLS compliant videos that work on our MLS systems in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

    Of course, eyeballs are eyeballs... and our branded videos are uploaded to about eight additional video sites as well for maximum exposure. All of those sites are indexed and ranked by Google's main search engine, so there is tremendous exposure to these videos in a lot of key places. And yes, they're manually uploaded as also forbids commercial use now, and will shut down your account (in case anyone suggests this!) LOL

  3. I like it. I think it's about the last length.

    Question...what kind of camera is she using and what kind do others recommend for this type of work?

  4. I am curious to know what kind of license fees you pay for the music from

  5. Another option for smooth camera moves, is to use a slider. I build one of these: I think it would be faster to deploy than the DIY dolly mentioned above. I think I will be building another one, but this one would be shorter - maybe only 24 inches in length. I liked Malia's video a lot. It is not too long. I find videos longer than two minutes for average sized homes like the one above, drag on too long to keep my attention. Great post!

  6. @Tony- Thanks for the link. Yes, it looks like the zazaslider would be fast and easy to use.

  7. Yes, it is a beautiful video. But you could produce almost the same thing with still shots by creating a pan and zoom tour.

    I'm in the Fred Light camp. I think to be effective as a selling tool you must show movement, show the property (all of the property) to prospective buyers.

    Yes the silky pans and zooms are pretty, but what do they offer that is different from still shots put together as a pan and zoom tour?

    The walk through video gives potential buyers a transparent look at the property - as though they were walking through it.

    I just don't get videos that look like pan and zoom tours.

  8. I have to respectfully disagree strongly with Michael about his opinion about using the "Ken Burns Effect" to get a similar type of tour. I absolutely HATE pan and zoom tours using still images. I don't know if it is just my hyper-critical eye, but I have always found the pan and zoom tours using still images a terribly cheap-looking alternative to simulate camera movement in slideshows. You simply cannot get the movement and perspective change that you get with a good dolly-move, or panning video shot. A panning video shot looks nothing like a Burns effect pan. The perspective change is simply not there, and all I can think about when I see these simulated camera movements, is how much I am reminded about how much I dislike this effect, and simulated video. Am I the only one that dislikes these simulated movements in slideshows? I would be interested to know if anyone else shares my opinion on this matter. I feel this way even when I see very good photography like Micheael's presented in this manner. Comments?

  9. My opinion on all of this comes down to one thing: Business.

    Face it, most of us are not doing this to make "art", but to make a living.

    In this business, we need to appeal to two different parties: Buyers, and more importantly, Realtors. Realtors are our customers. If they don't see a compelling value in the virtual/video tours that you offer, they won't buy them. Its really as simple as that!

    The majority of virtual tours online these days are just recycled MLS photos, put into an inexpensive program that now zooms in and out (randomly, I might add, which is NOT the Ken Burns effect, which purposely pans and zooms to make a point and tell a story). Throw in some bad funeral music in the background, and that's what the vast majority of "virtual tours" are on the MLS! They cost almost nothing which is why they're so popular.

    For buyers, the assumption is that if they take the time to download a virtual tour, that they will get MORE information, not the SAME information disguised in a different format. I don't think there's anything horrible about these type of tours, as long as you're presenting additional information. That could be different angles, closeups of architectural details, neighborhood shots, larger full screen shots, maybe adding narration…. there are many ways to enhance a tour in order to give buyers what they WANT. Sadly, most Realtors just take the exact same [usually bad] photos and just recycle them.

    As a product that you're selling to Realtors, you also need to show that your product offers the buyer additional information and insight to the property - otherwise there is really no compelling reason for them to spend an extra couple of hundred dollars for a virtual/ video tour that is marginally better (or just slightly different) than what the buyer just looked at in the still photos - which costs the Realtor next to nothing!!

    I love the slider "effect". But it's an "effect" and I find it massively overused. It's no longer an "effect" when it's used on every single shot. It's like using a different transition on every clip - it gets boring - fast. Everybody seems to be jumping on the slider bandwagon and I don't see that it offers much of anything more than a still photo can offer. Having a camera "slide" 3 feet to the left and 3 feet to the right just to add a little movement isn't terribly compelling - to buyers OR Realtors! And having that effect on every single clip is just plain boring. I would rather just pop through a bunch of higher quality stills at my own pace! As far as selling this type of video to Realtors, you're not offering enough of a difference in order to justify the additional expense. Why would an agent spend a couple of hundred dollars to do something just slightly different than they can do with their still photos and a $29 software program?

    An actual walk through of the property offers something that buyers LOVE. It's almost like actually, physically being there, and is effectively a first showing. They get to see the entire house, and the layout of the house (which cannot be conveyed at all in still photos or slider videos). The layout is THE key component! And of course, you can throw in a drive through the neighborhood and some community shots as well making it a very compelling package!

    Realtors love it because it offers SO much more to buyers and if someone calls to see the property in person - it's a SECOND showing. A super serious customer! It also gives this Realtor a huge leg up over everyone of their competitors on listing appointments.

    Most important, as a product you're selling to Realtors, you're offering them something 100% different than anything else on the market. Something that adds a tremendous amount of value to their listing as well as to their branding. They see the value and are willing to pay for it!

  10. Other than a few shots here and there, you really cant tell if its video or just stills with left and right panning. Using a slider seems to the "easy" way to do things but the final product is really not providing the viewer with any additional information over the stills.

    I hear many guys using a slider say they are creating "emotion" or "telling a story" by showing pans coming from behind a lamp to "reveal" the room, or show a slide of the dining room table all set up or the water running in the kitchen tap....etc etc, always the same "cheese" shots used over and over.

    Last time I checked a person viewing a house on the internet is looking for as much information as possible, and a slider provides nothing more than stills for the most part. A viewer already knows what they are looking for when buying a house, attempting to "create emotion" or "tell them a story" is really just wasting their time, they want facts like the layout being shown in more detail and how it actually feels like to be walking from the kitchen to the family room etc....a bunch of cheesy slider shots is just missing the mark in my opinion.

  11. Very well explained. We really like Melia Campbells video, we think its great. Melia really seems keen to crank up her selling options, and will to! But firstly I must thank the passing on of friendly music link. I have been using smartsound inside Adobe premiere elements 9 which is considerable more expensive. So this is a great site with a huge choice. To steal Fred lights sentence as it seems right on the money on the way an agents seas it (An actual walk through of the property offers something that buyers LOVE. . The layout is THE key component! And of course, you can throw in a drive through the neighborhood and some community shots as well making it a very compelling package!)

    I did buy the glidecame HD 4000 around Christmas time, in the theory of how hard can it be just to show the outside of developments. Boy was I wrong. I have to tell you my arms were burning after 10 minuets, and I am 6 foot and quite fit. Emm over at pointed me to this clip he did to avoid fatigue
    Here is my effort Very unstable I know! and edited in Adobe premier Elements 9. The things is its woks for great for search engines

  12. Sheesh! What's with all the negativity on here? If this isn't your thing then don't do it.

    From my perspective video can be divided into two types, much like still photography: the photographers who shoot everything in the house including powder rooms, laundry rooms, every single bedroom, etc. And then there are the photographers who work with the agent to really market the house and only shoot the money shots - the living rooms, kitchens, master bedrooms and don't worry about the second and third bedrooms or other rooms that don't really matter. I don't think there's anything wrong with either approach but I've decided to approach videos with the latter method.

    There's also the approach for agents that the marketing they're doing for the current house is just as much about creating their own brand as much as it is marketing the current house. These are the agents who are spending big bucks on every single listing, even the $250,000 condos, because to NOT do it would be more telling about their own brand. These agents want the glossy, high-class effects and not a "walk through" video because, again, it's about their own brand as much as it is about marketing that particular house. And really, as cheesy as you think dolly slides are, agents seem to love it. At least, every single agent I've run this by has.

    To each their own.

  13. Sheesh is right.

    I happen to love the slider, and want to use it in every video. It’s not an effect. It’s a moving camera that enables one to capture different rooms and relationship from room to room in a smooth, steady way. We’ve been seeing this type of camera action for decades and now it’s just become way more affordable. It’s so much more that an effect and my gosh it’s so much more that a still picture . . . I’m not even going to go there for if you think that, then I’m not going to try to educate you.

    Video is another way to create emotion for a piece of real estate. To get people to engage. To view more information, to pick up the phone and make a call.

    Shoot some great video, put in some engaging music and some nice editing and you’ve created some feelings and images that buyers can fall in love with.

    To each their own is true, but you’re missing the boat if you don’t get it!

  14. As always with this industry, it breaks down into two camps. If you're pursuing a volume-based business and cranking out a couple of dozen of these things a week, then I think you aren't going to be too concerned with creativity or quality - it's going to be more about consistency and a formula that satisfies a price-sensitive clientele. Nothing wrong with that at all, so long as you can remain fulfilled and happy doing it over the long haul.
    The other approach is to pursue a clientele that wants to stand out more, and is willing to pay a premium for something with a high production value. I think there's a regional facet to this, as well -- some areas of the country will have different sensibilities in terms of what's acceptable. Hell, even within the Bay Area there are different sensibilities based on the type of housing being shown! A 3br/2ba bungalow in the suburbs does not need or want the same treatment as a condo in One Rincon Hill.

    I guess my point is that one size does NOT fit all.

  15. Interesting discussion. As an agent/ photographer, I definitely think there's room for both camps in real estate. I think the sliding effect is nice, but often times overused. Not sure why one would perceive a slider video as having a "higher production value" or being more creative or higher quality than a walking tour. They're just two different styles and two different ways of telling a story - all pointing to the same desired end result - to get a buyer to the property. Walking tours are amazingly difficult to pull off - I've tried on and off quite unsuccessfully. When done well I think they can be much more interesting to view than just 'sliding' a few feet.

  16. Michael, I don't think we're saying the same thing at all.

    You said:
    " be effective as a selling tool you must the property (all of the property) to prospective buyers."

    I couldn't disagree more. The last thing we should be doing is showing all of a property. My clients are very clear about this, and I think they're absolutely right -- showing every last room and corner and closet just gives people more opportunity to talk themselves out of a property prematurely. My job, instead, is to show them just enough, and make it interesting enough, for them to go out and see it in person. I know that there are unique anecdotes about buyers from overseas who rely 100% on video and photo tours to assess properties, and then buy them without having actually visited, but I believe that these are rare enough to be irrelevant.

    You said:
    "...the silky pans and zooms are pretty, but what do they offer that is different from still shots put together as a pan and zoom tour?"

    OMG. Not even sure where to start. First, I have NEVER said or implied such a thing, and I wouldn't say it. A slide show with Ken Burns moves is not the equivalent of video. Movies replaced magic lantern shows about 100 years ago, because the sense of depth and experience that cinema provides just can't be matched any other way.
    And while any technique can be over-used, or done poorly, I think that a well-thought-out video that utilizes multiple techniques including slides, pans, zooms and steadicam, will do the job better than one that relies solely on a single technique over and over. Most advertisers and visual storytellers seem to agree with me, based on what I see at the theater, on TV commercials, and other venues that feature high-quality video.

  17. Michael,

    I don't see the similarity of your statements with Fred or Scott either.

    Fred does video. He is the master at what he does. He’s got a great business model that works and he’s very busy. He’s efficient and concise. He may not use sliders but he's mastered the steadicam and does it well.

    Scott does photos. And he too is the master at what he does. He doesn’t just capture a room, he elicited emotion and tickles the pallet for more. He’s always pushing for in his highly competitive market, if you’re not exploring you dead.

    And Michael, think about this “Within four years, Cisco Systems predicts over 90% of data over the Internet will be video”. Ninety percent. Hmm. That’s a lot. And you really can’t tell that video is better than still – You say, “But you could produce almost the same thing with still shots by creating a pan and zoom tour”. Really, almost the same?

    But in the end I need to apologize for all my comments. I hate reading negative comments for it turns people off this site and I too dislike it. But passion for art and my craft just makes me want to reply . . .


  18. Lively discussion.

    I'm doing the "Fred Light" style videos and have been for some time. The market is here for that style and price. Sorry for any misunderstandings.

    To each his/her own.

  19. Caution as you venture in to real estate video if you are at the helm, skipper of your own productions, others will criticize. The loudest critics of your work you will discover have not videos or very very few promoting their properties, their area, their brand.

  20. When the real estate agent, broker is at, all around the property listing, narration, which is 40% of the video engagement, connection can be from out of his /her own mouth. In their words, one on one simple, not scripted to deliver that listing's features. Or to show the real estate buyers around the area, neighborhood they are brand new, not so familiar with. Until you started producting, shooting, editing, rendering and uploaded real full motion videos.

  21. Thank you all for all the insight, old but good thread. Scott said it all in one phrase:

    "And while any technique can be over-used, or done poorly, I think that a well-thought-out video that utilizes multiple techniques including slides, pans, zooms and steadicam, will do the job better than one that relies solely on a single technique over and over.

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