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Real Estate Photography Question and Answers – #7

Published: 16/06/2014
By: larry

QandAJerome's Question: I did my first real estate photography earlier this year and the realtor sold it pretty quick. I would like to do more but I'm not sure where to get a client base for that. I still have my day job that pays me well. But I would like to find a part-time gig that pays decent on the weekends, maybe even a couple of days during the week. Who can I work for?

Answer: Real estate photography works best if you create your own business and work independently. The companies that hire RE photographers keep most of the profit! There isn't enough profit in RE photography for the photographer and another company. You can market yourself and build up your own clientele. The best way to do that is to research who the top 5 or 10% of Realtors are in your area based on number of listings and sale price and then market those Realtors directly. Find the top 10% in your area just by doing online research. All your local brokers sites have a list of the agents and their listings so just make a list.

Tom's Question:  I am really struggling with over exposed windows with my shots? I used to do lots of HDR but have wanted to get away from it due to the over use of it and over baking that can occur, I have light stands I can bring with me but that is a lot of equipment to lug around in shots but willing to do it for better looking windows.   

Answer: Scott Hargis's classic explanation is here. Here's a way to start to get the feel of how to use a flash. Try this out in your front room for a while to get the hang of it:

  1. Start out by taking an ambient exposure that exposes the windows like you want them. All this is with ISO set at 400. Everything on manual. For most situations a good starting point is f/6.3 1/80. By trial and error and looking at LCD screen get the windows where you want them while the shutter speed slower than 1/250 so the flash will sync.
  2. While keeping the same manual settings, add a manual flash on a light stand to left or right of camera. Point the flash at a 45 degree angle towards the ceiling or bounce it off a wall from about 3' away from a wall. Start with 1/2 power... see how it looks. Adjust the power until it looks good in the LCD.

With some practice you'll be able to guess at all these setting and get them right. In small rooms one small flash will do. In larger rooms you'll need more flashes. For much more of the details on this subject see Scott Hargis's ebook and video series.

Matt's Question:  I must be overlooking it, but I can't seem to find which software you use for creating printouts for listings. I've been using Photoshop, which works, but its a bit cumbersome with resizing photos, rearranging layouts etc. Do you have a solution/workflow that basically gives you a template that you can fire off these printouts without too much fiddling around? 

Answer: Not many real estate photographers create flyers for agents because most real estate offices have internal resources (secretaries answering phones that need something to do to fill in between phone calls) and templates to create flyers. Plus the process of creating an effective flyer involves writing some marketing copy and a review cycle or two with the Realtor and most photographers are not into that. MLSs  and tour companies automatically generate crude flyers that some agents use.

That said, flyers can be a natural add on product for photographers for agents that care about how their flyers look. Along with my Business of Real Estate Photography ebook I include Photoshop templates for flyers, postcards and brochures that I used for years to promote my wife's listings. You are right Photoshop isn't the ideal application to use. Nowadays I'd use Adobe Indesign if I did it again. Most real estate offices use MS Publisher to create flyers but I prefer Adobe InDesign.
Realtors who are really into professional looking marketing materials use sites like because they provide professionally designed integrated and marketing materials.

Sherry's question: Have you done any articles on selecting a drone for aerial photos (not  video, if that’s possible)?  My clients are asking for it so I’m researching them.  I’m actually having a hard time finding the product!

Answer: I did this post early in March. The newest version of the DJI Phantom is the 2+. I think that is the best at this point for real estate photography. Both of these will do either stills or video. The 2+ plus has everything included and with the older version you have to buy a GoPro camera separately.

I think the DJI Phantom (2 or 2+) is the best for getting started because it comes ready to fly. All you have to do is learn how to fly it. To carry a full size DLSR you have to spend much more.
As I talk about at the end of the post the other issue everyone flying needs to address is insurance. Some readers say they have found acceptable insurance and others say they can't find insurance. 

15 comments on “Real Estate Photography Question and Answers – #7”

  1. Jerome’s Question - Last year I moved to New Mexico from Virginia where I tried for years to develop RE photo business. I contacted all the big agencies and the top broker/agents. They liked my work but basically they were too cheap spend a penny on professional photos.

    When I got to New Mexico, I contacted a person I knew back in 1999 when I lived here. About 2003, she sold her business and became a RE agent. I contacted her and she gave me four houses to photograph over a two month period. I asked her whats the best way to find more work and her answer was to go out to open houses on weekends and show my portfolio. I did that for nine weekends and met loads of agents. It worked, I got to meet the right people and now I'm actually making money doing what I love in photography.

  2. Sherry's question: Since your question was directed at Larry only he could answer it, my comment is more to Larry's answer. There has been a professional aerial photography industry for decades, its just that its been cost prohibitive and the barrier of complexity too high for people, like architectural photographers to leverage profitably.

    About six years ago there was an online democratization of DIY manufacturing, I could design a part, post the design online and have someone who I had never met bid on it, manufacture it, and send it back to me very inexpensively in a relatively short amount of time. At the same time people started using parts of the Wii game console to develop the MultiWii flight controller, if you could follow instructions and had a little experience in electronics and soldering you could build your own flight controller. This is what really launched the MR hobby.

    Several years later DJI, who manufactured hobby grade flight controllers for RC helicopters launched their hobby line of multirotors. Trouble is when stores like B&H and Sammy's Camera started selling Phantoms to professional photographers the line between professional equipment and a toy became very blurry overnight. Simply Google "DJI flip of death" or "Fly-aways" and count the number of results. That is enough to cause the hair to rise on the back of the neck of FAA officials and insurance underwriters alike. It is very doubtful that any MR using a DJI controller will receive certification for commercial use from the FAA.

    My crystal ball is not that much better than anyone else's, this is just common sense. Until flight controllers and other electronics rise above the level of hobby products, and are manufactured by business that extend after sale support to the customers I don't think we'll see FAA certification or much reduction in liability costs.

    So what does this history lesson have to do with Sherry's question? Sherry, the Phantom is a great trainer, its relatively inexpensive, durable so you can fly it around for hours in a safe area to hone your AP skills. But if you use it professionally and there's serious damage or injury at a customers location, that customer's attorney knows how to use google too and it is highly likely that they will want to know why you knowingly put their client at risk.

    Good news is that there are small businesses developing industrial grade multirotors that are application specific such as real estate photography, industrial inspection etc.. They won't be as inexpensive as a Phantom but they will be much better supported, the solution will be targeted more for your specific needs so they will provide you with better quality imagery so you can hopefully charge more for your services and will be quicker and easier to deploy so that it will be much more efficient to get those great shots.

    Although this video is not real estate specific, it does demonstrate several things that I've mentioned. This video was shot at a major commercial airport under the watchful eye of the TSA, we were allowed to do the aerial of the plane in part because the MR had a powered tether, they also inspected the MR and we demonstrated that it was safe to fly in the environment that we flew it. Keep in mind that many of the people on the top of the plane were about 12 feet above the ground, we were not allowed to fly above 30 feet. Even though it was quite windy, as the day went on we got more confidence and started getting closer to the acft. There's no way you could get these shots with a Phantom.

    The first aerial shot is at 1:16. Although this footage was what was delivered to the customer this edit is just something I put together to share with the people that did the work, so there's no narrative and no real point to it.

  3. A lot of photographers don't know that you can sync speedlights at higher than 1/250 sec. On Nikon equipment go to: custom setting menu/bracketing and flash/flash sync speed/ and change it to 1/250 s (Auto FP) or 1/320 s (Auto FP). You now can sync up to, I believe 1/5000 of a second. This only works if you are using speedlights. I think that Canons have a similar setting but I don't know what it is because I use Nikons. I know this works because I have used it many times to do sport shots outside.

  4. Jerome, I would recommend taking pretty much whatever you can get at this point. Building your portfolio as well as relationships with realtors is your key to getting more business. When I started, I had a few shoots under my belt so I made flyers and hit the pavement. I know this sounds old school but it's what worked best for getting the most work. I got a few jobs that way and referrals from those realtors are what led to more work. Getting the top 5-10% of realtors is difficult when you don't have a decent portfolio because they typically already have a photographer and, if they're selling high-end properties with success, they won't want to change their formula. Hope this helps.

  5. I'm in Jerome's shoes almost exactly. I have a great paying job with great benefits, but I am not happy with the work, and I can't exactly quit and just try to make this photography dream work all at once (wife and kids depending on me for steady income). I am, however, extremely happy when I am shooting Real Estate listings. So far I have one client, my brother, whom I've done about 18 listings for over the past 14 months. This has been a perfect scenario for me. I think my pictures sucked starting out, but I did a better job than he ever did with his point and shoot (or cell phone camera in a pinch!), so it's given me a lot of opportunities to take some risks and try new techniques and get better and without the risk of getting fired!
    I would LOVE to some how talk a brokerage into hiring me as their full time "staff photographer", but I know this is something that would just never happen. In the mean time, I've been trying to pick some of my best work so far so I can build a website to showcase that small 'portfolio'. I'm actually in the process of nailing down my rough draft of a website using Squarespace (Thanks to Larry for pointing me in the direction of this awesome site!). I'm hoping to have my site launched in the next week or so, and then I plan to negotiate with my brother to spread the word around his office (discounted photo shoots for him per paying referral!) and then maybe hitting up a few other brokerages with a couple dozen donuts and some flyers/business cards on their weekly meeting days!
    Good Luck Jerome!

  6. Regarding Sherry's question and Larry's answer, what is "acceptable insurance" for drone work?

    Thank you.

  7. @Chris - I'm sorry, but the idea of a great "staff photographer" for a brokerage is a myth. It ain't gonna happen. The reason is Realtors are independent business people and as such, in the US they each pay the marketing costs for a listing. Sure agents split the commission to various degrees with their broker and some of the top brokerages have programs to help agents market better but the economics just aren't there. As proof, checkout this flickr group discussion where ( where trichrider415 says he's doing that and get's $10/hr. My whole motivation for doing the PFRE blog is to help people realize that they MUST be independent to make real estate photography work as an acceptable job and to help people do it. There are endless stories about people shooting for tours companies, brokers etc that are being ripped-off. The profit margins are just too thin in real estate photography to have anyone else but the photographer in the food chain.

    @Steve - You'll have to go ask the people like Dan Milstein and others that say in comments they can't acceptable insurance... my sense is that the majority of people flying RCMA nowadays believe they have acceptable... although you never know if you've read all the fine print until you need the insurance.

  8. @Larry Fields, its not the flash that controls the sync speed, it is the camera's shutter. My 7d can only sync at 1/250 without shutter clipping showing up, my 6d can only do 1/180 without it. Believe me I have tried syncing at higher speeds wihout using HSS. The results are not worth it.

  9. @ Tim and Larry...There is also another variable beyond both the flash and camera. The flash triggers. Using pocket wizards as an example. Their last firmware upgrade for Nikon (and presumably Canon) was over a year ago. Since that time the D4, Dfx, D610 and whatever is just around the corner with the D800 have been introduced. Most, you set the sync to 1/250 (with the exception of the D600 which is 1/200) and it syncs beyond that range. With my D610, not only wouldn't it mimic the D600 firmware, but my maximum sync is 1/160 and banding above. As I was troubleshooting and frustrated with the banding, I discovered that if I set HS at 1/250 (per the manual) and had a single speedlight on camera, I could take it all the way up to 1/500 and didn't try higher. Likewise when I used Nikon's CLS with multiple speedlights. However, as soon as I put the Pocket Wizard on, 1/160 max without banding. Pocket Wizard NEEDS to do a firmware upgrade to support the newer cameras!

  10. Tim and LarryG,
    I know it's the shutter that controls the sync, I've only been doing this for forty plus years. Believe me my Nikon D300 WILL sync faster than 1/250 sec. with speedlights (but only with speedlights). I do it all the time. Maybe Canons won't do it but NIkons will if you go into your settings and change the sync to "FP". Maybe you should buy a Nikon? I have actually tested it at 1/5000 sec. and it works.

  11. @Steve, I haven't used these guys but I've been talking to people getting recommendations for drone insurance:

    Pat Costello
    480-967-3828 Fax Office Email Website

    $1M to $2M liability is standard for commercial ops in most businesses. A 5 pound aircraft going through a windshield of a bus / car killing multiple people in the resulting crash etc. Or maiming someone for life all play factors into needed coverage. Also the higher cost is to allow "Co-Insurance" so you can add the client to the policy for the duration of the job.

  12. @Larry G.
    Your Nikon FP is the same as Canon's HSS (High Speed Sync). Yes I can use it to get above the 1/180th limit with the speedlights, but the output power is cut by close to 2 stops, and more importantly, range is cut by as much as 45%. That may or may not be a game changer depending on what your situation is (i.e. if you have enough leeway in DOF to absorb both of those limitations). And yes I know, you can double/triple the lights to compensate for it..

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