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Photo Editing--Don't Sweat the Small Stuff

Published: 22/06/2019

Author: Colin Forte

The amount of time spent on a real estate shoot and the edit should be relative to the cost of services provided. Most photography services offered to real estate agents tend to be at the lower end of the pricing scale. It would not be realistic for any real estate agent to expect photos returned to them at the same quality they would see in Architectural Digest magazine. As some of you may know, Architectural Digest can pay a professional photographer thousands of dollars to shoot a property that they will showcase in their magazine. For that kind of money, the photographer will bring in plenty of lights, do extensive staging, window scrims to block the sun in certain areas, and maybe even a designer or two. They may spend the entire day at the shoot from dawn to dusk because Architectural Digest demands "perfect" photos and are willing to pay for them. That's the time when a photographer must "sweat the small stuff" because they are getting paid to do so.

However, shooting and editing homes for real estate agents is and should be a different process because most agents have budgetary constraints. Their budget usually ranges somewhere between $100 and $400 for a real estate photography shoot. Therefore, the pricing dictates that you should provide them with a "great" photo, not a "perfect" photo.

When editing photos for real estate agents, if you find yourself having to zoom in a few times on an image to see something that you can't see when looking at the photo at 100% resolution and you start fixing it, most likely you are sweating the small stuff. Sweating the small stuff is costing you money because it's extra editing that you are not getting paid to do. As the old saying goes, "time is money," and if you're not getting paid for your time, then you are charitably giving away money. It's better not to lose sight that you are running a business and not a charity; your bank balance will thank you for it.

So when your real estate photos look great, stop sweating the small stuff and stop right there. Unless of course, you are charging thousands of dollars for your real estate shoots.

Colin is the owner of Hometakes and CEO of, a market leader in real estate photo and video editing for photographers. With experience as a successful real estate agent, photographer, and founder of a photo/video editing company, he brings an extensive skillset and diverse knowledge base to the PFRE community.

17 comments on “Photo Editing--Don't Sweat the Small Stuff”

  1. Logically it all sounds smart but it's not the way I built my business. In my view you can never know who's looking at your photos, so just do your best every time, over-deliver as best you can, and you will likely be glad you did. It's not easy. But if money's your primary reason for doing this you've found a tight gig. Just my 2c.

  2. Sorry but this is the worst advice I've ever heard. Didn't you just post an article about not running the race to the bottom a few weeks ago? This seems to contradict that piece.

    I'm also confused about the last paragraph talking about the photo/video editing company...? I'm assuming Colin wrote this article which begs the question, "Why would a company who claims to be a leader in real estate photo and video editing be writing about not doing your absolute best editing for a client? That sounds like an editing company I would never, ever, ever want to do business with.

  3. I expect this post to elicit a lot of comment on the negative side but he makes a very serious point.
    This is a business.
    Pride in ones work is wonderful but in fact is a baseline requirement of any endeavor. What is needed is a very hard look at ones entire process to ensure that the business you are so proud of continues to actually make a living for you.
    None of us declare we are making garbage but we also acknowledge that we are not going to spend 8 hours PP on a $250 shoot.
    The point he is making is that if you have an earnings goal of X, it will require a profit of y dollars per hour. Anything that puts you on the wrong side of that equation imperils your ability to continue producing anything whether you love the images or not.

    It stands to reason that the lower your price, the less time you can commit to it. Thus, despite any claim of quality and excellence, compromises are made.
    This actually argues for working to raise your price to reward yourself for the details you want to sweat. One also has to bear in mind that many of the details we are sweating are invisible to the client.
    This is not an argument for making poor work, it is an argument for charging properly for the work you do.

  4. Sounds like a race to the bottom. I do charge thousands of dollars for Real Estate!!. Not because I "overcharge" but because I spend 12 hours onsite to photograph each space at the right time and then I edit each image with painstaking attention to detail. Some of us always take each shoot to the next level and would never undercharge for our services.


  5. @mark I knew that this post would certainly ruffle some peoples feathers and get some negative comment. I am not for one moment suggesting that anyone should return poorly edited photos to their clients. I am saying that there should be a difference in quality between a $3000 shoot and a $249 shoot or why would any client pay a different price. Your reply is exactly my point and most eloquently put.

  6. @Colin, I whole heartedly agree. My basic pricing is to return a given quantity of good images for a mid-level level property. I know from experience how much time it takes me to photograph an average home and I've done my calculations to know what I need to charge to meet my income goals. When I first started, it took me forever to photograph and edit a gallery of photos for a home. I knew going in that I was going to be making much less than I'd like to due to my inexperience. Now my times have come way down and pretty much leveled out.

    I do spend more time when I have it if I am handed a property that's something special, but the vast majority of my clients don't acknowledge the difference when I do go the extra mile. Sometimes it's hard to put that extra work in as an owner or agent is tapping their foot and looking at their watch while they ask how much longer it's going to take.

    I really wish that I could convince agents to pay me what it would take to have me spend an entire day on principal photography and another day editing and outputting images. At that point I would have the time and budget to fix every stray cord on site and precisely level each photo on a wall in post if I didn't catch it previously. The reality is that for most middle class homes, that would blow the marketing budget right out of the water and the agent would be sacrificing a very large percentage of their commission. In places where the seller (vendor) is paying for photos, it can make much more sense for them to spend more on a more detailed approach to the photography. If the better images were to attract multiple offers and raise the selling price by $5,000, that's worth it to the owner. The commission to the agent on $5,000 might not cover the increased cost. I do let customers know that there are compromises made on a standard jobs such as time of day, time spent detailing the rooms, time spent on lighting (theme: Time) and if they do get a luxury listing, perhaps we should talk about more of detailed approach to the images where I spend more time on site. Editing should be a breeze if I do it right, so I expect that I will have less time spent on the computer than many other jobs.

    I've read people saying that every job should be treated as if it were images of a mansion being featured in a top magazine no matter what the job pays. I have to wonder if those people have worked out their CODB both on a static/fixed monthly basis and the costs associated with doing each job. Do they have any income targets? Are they realistic? How many jobs per day/week/month/year at what average price will it take to break even, earn a moderate income or do well enough to justify the risk of working for one's self?

    I know what my business has to make every month to cover its expenses. I know what I need to make every month to cover my personal expenses. I know what agents in the area will pay regularly enough which informs how many jobs per day/week/month I need to do to get to where I need and want to be. Sadly, agents aren't willing to pay me enough to spend a whole day or more on one job. I also have to balance how much time I will spend on jobs to set a proper expectation with customers. If I spend a whole day on a $200 job because I have nothing else booked, I could be in danger of a customer always expecting that level of service going forward for $200. That doesn't leave me any room to charge more based on the time I put into the job.

    Always do the best job you can within the budget of the job. It's ok to charge more for more service. Always make sure you are making more money making photos than the PFY stocking shelves at the grocery store. He didn't have to bring thousands of dollars worth of tools with him to the job and the store pays worker's comp/liability insurance and a bunch of taxes that you get stuck with when you are self-employed.

  7. Brandon, if you hadn't mentioned Colin in the last paragraph I would have guessed the article was authored by you. It's your name under the article....not Colin's. Is there a way going forward to insure that the author of any article is clearly identified?

  8. Sorry for the confusion folks, this was a guest post from Colin Forte, I added it to the system so my name was automatically attached.

  9. "How much is good enough?" is an age-old debate. As artists, we should strive for "near-perfection": only short of perfection since I am a believe that the moment you think something is PERFECT, is the moment complacency will suck the life out of your craft.

    I struggle with this often - wether it be on personal photographs, a makeup job, or the real estate work. When I am teaching, I always instruct students to back up by 10 feet, look at the model, and then walk back over and figure out what you are going to do next. I think the same goes for photography. There are so many hours in a day if you are doing it yourself.

    One of the reasons that some of us don't do our own editing is efficiency. That efficiency allows for a far greater attention to detail vs time than shooting and editing your own stuff allows. It's not uncommon for one of our editors to spend their entire day on a single (albeit large) job. I am also cognizant that some percentage of that work and effort is never truly appreciated by our clients. Why do we do it? because we have pride in our work, and the very small percentage of clients that have usage which warrants good attention to detail appreciate it, and start to understand what they are getting through us compared to low cost competitors.

    Don't pressure yourself on it. Look at it as a dial and a tool. You can turn the dial to 5 and get a solid result in a reasonable amount of time, or you can crank it to 11 and provide something truly portfolio worthy. Introduce editors into the mix and you can look at that dial as cost instead of time, and figure out what your YOU multiplier is worth.

  10. Very good article addressing the business side of RE photography, something that is much needed here. There is very much a business and an artist side to photography. The business side looks how to make the most money, the artist side wants to product works of art. I am sort of upset that several of the commenters complete misread or misinterpreted the post.

  11. What we sometimes don't remember is that that every job is an interview for the next job. In this, taking care of the "small stuff" is important.

  12. "Look at the wood and the way he carves it,
    Must have taken him years!
    Asked him the price and he said it was free,
    And I couldn't believe my ears.

    'Tell me old man how long have you lived,
    To have such amazing talent.'
    'I'm twenty years short of a century,
    And the best years are in the balance.'"

    - GS

  13. Yeah, this is pretty terrible advice, and a terrible attitude to promote. It’s *all* about the details. Worrying about whether your hourly revenue average is suffering is a sure way to achieve mediocrity, quickly. Especially in real estate work, with super-high volume, you can let things average out over time. Some jobs will take way too much time, others will be quick and painless.
    If you want to make a lot of money, DO REALLY GOOD WORK. It’s that simple.

    Bottom line: if i couldn’t explain any of my business policies or decisions to any of my clients openly and honestly, then I’d be super uncomfortable about the way I was doing business.

  14. I am glad to see all the different replies from disagreeing and semi-agreeing, all points are correct to each person leaving the comment. I also thought I was the only one that felt uncomfortable when I am really into the shot and the agent and homeowner are tapping their feet and staring at their watch, and saying "oh take your time Kathy"! So I'm glad to hear that someone else feels that way! Actually I ask all my agents to just let me photograph the home with no one there!! It works most the time!

    Anyway, I can see your point Colin and appreciate your taking the time to write the article. This is a sensitive area, and it is based on how passionate you are about your business vrs how passionate you are about your images. A highly passionate photographer, that is working towards pride in what their photos look like, get on PRFE and do tutorials, look at other photographers winning images, and images that did not make the cut - I don't think they are thinking about profit. Their passion is in their photography versus their business profits.

    In other words, is it all or none? There can be a happy medium. Just look at the house and the areas that are so so, do the best you can with the image, but look for that selling shot and take your time with it. TIME TIME TIME, yes its all about TIME. Which does fly by, in life and in work. You only live once right? Do what makes you happy. You chose this business for a reason, your passion for photography and to be paid for it.

    Myself, I take pride in my work. I do take my time for the most part. I'm not rich, but I am making a living (been in business since 2002) and that is what counts. So really this is all about how each individual feels about PRIDE vrs TIME.

  15. I guess I'm guilty of processing to the best of my ability.

    The older I get and the more I am competing with the younger photographers, (who grow up with Photoshop) I get very anal about the finished images and have to try my best.

    My feeling and what I learned when shooting film, is to get it right, or the best that I can in camera, and later tweak my images in the darkroom. We didn't have the luxury of Photoshop or Lightroom, so I had to compose, light and shoot to my best ability. even now, I'll use a minimum two, to sometimes 3 lights, because I get stuck sitting at my computer. ( Scott's idea of having a small flash on a radio and the little flat holder that comes with the flash is great) it fills the black hole that we sometime get in adjacent rooms or hallways.
    I'm also guilty of over shooting more angles than many of you guys. I just see a shot and shoot it. I'm trying to cut back on the amount I shots, I take but always afraid I'll miss something. but I just cant send out an image that I don't think is the quality my agents are used to from me.
    the feedback I get from my agents and new agents is that my photography or images reduce their listing times. so, I just keep doing my tweaking in post.............yes, sometimes I regret shooting too much as I'm attached to my computer. wish I was faster in post.

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