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Should Independent Real Estate Photographers Hire a Second Shooter?

Published: 30/04/2018
By: larry

Keri in Wichita says:

I’m shooting 15+ houses a week. I outsource my post-processing. And have occasionally hired a 2nd shooter when I get too busy. I really have not established a percentage to pay the 2nd photographer. I just pay $75-$100 per shoot which is about 60-75% of my rate. What are your thoughts on hiring a second shooter?

I think your question gets at a classic and important question for independent real estate photographers: When and why should you hire additional shooters. I think there are several underlying facts that you have to consider:

  1. Around 15+ shoots a week even when outsourcing your post-processing is the limit of what a single shooter can do.
  2. 15+ shoots a week charging around $150 a shoot is what almost most would consider a very respectable one person gross income.
  3. What are your options if you want or need to increase your income from the 15+ at $150 level?
    • Hire more shooters and try to keep your look and quality consistent
    • Increase your price
    • Become more efficient
  4. A real estate photography business with multiple shooters requires much more training, management, and coordination skills than a single shooter operation does.

Readers here on PFRE have demonstrated that both single shooter and multiple shooter operations are very viable. The primary owner of the business needs to be clear about whether they want to run a more creative business where the quality and your personality attracts clients, or run a high volume business where you compete on price. Your location is a factor in this decision.

The most important factor is what is your motivation for being in business?

15 comments on “Should Independent Real Estate Photographers Hire a Second Shooter?”

  1. Hi Keri,

    This is an interesting subject. I think there is a middle ground between getting hired for your personality and having a high volume low price model.
    I have 2 shooters working for me doing both photos and videos yet I still consider us a boutique company where I am able to give all the clients the personal attention they deserve and what we are known for. For me the reasons for having other shooters beside of me are many.
    1. We are able to help more customers than I could alone
    2. We are able to serve them faster (before I hired my first shooter I was booked up for 2 weeks ahead and now we can schedule anyone 2-4 days ahead...this is very important for realtors)
    3. I am able to provide a constant and great income for my shooters (they make $5-8K a month without having to edit a single image or having to buy their gear or fix it if it breaks down)
    4. I am able to provide a full time position to my editor in Russia who has a great life there thanks to the income
    5. I am able to provide a full time position and great income to our video editor also in Russia
    6. I am able to make more money than what I could on my own.
    7. I can go in a vacation and the business can still function well.
    On the minus side:
    1. I am responsible for everyone's job and personally check every product that goes out.
    2. I only take the jobs my shooters can not take as I want to make sure that they have a steady employment.
    3. I find it difficult to just get lost in my work during a shoot since I constantly have to answer phone calls and respond to emails which makes my shooting time longer.
    4. I have to send out and collect on 3-4 time as many invoices as before and pay everyone even before collecting payment on some accounts.
    Well, for me the pros are out-weighting the cons and I feel like a man for being able to help so many people with our work. And my wife is proud of me 🙂

  2. I think you would be much better off to outsource your post processing so you can handle the extra volume of shoots. It's easier to get consistent results with editors than it would be to try and train someone to shoot like you.

  3. Yes you COULD be training the competition. But consider this: not everyone is an entrepreneur. It's not easy to start a business in general, and I think it's equally as hard, if not harder, to start a business in this field. What are the chances that an employee or contractor will want to leave to start a business after seeing the work we put into running it? As long as it's big enough for them to make a decent income (I might hire younger photographers if anything, especially during the summer), would the likelihood be high that they'd be tempted to try and start their own business if they are younger and mired in schoolwork the rest of the time?

    You'd run that risk in many businesses. BUT, this IS different. I could run a restaurant and be reasonably assured that most of the staff wouldn't feel confident in opening up a restaurant (I've heard food service is one of the most difficult businesses to break into). Mainly, I think that it's different because we are the type of business where the only people we'd hire would have to know EXACTLY how to do what we do. But if I run a store or restaurant, not so much. Most of the staff wouldn't have to know how to do MY job like they would in real estate photography.

  4. Hey Zoltan - are you looking for more shooter? Where?

    "I am able to provide a constant and great income for my shooters (they make $5-8K a month without having to edit a single image or having to buy their gear or fix it if it breaks down)"

    Really? That's a heck of a lot of shooting for the second shooters.

  5. I don't think that 15 shoots a week is any where close to the limit of what a photographer can shoot. That is only 3 a day. If you are outsourcing your post-processing you should be able to shoot 10 or more listing a day. Look at what is taking you the most time, and look for ways to minimize or automate that portion.

  6. I kind of agree with Neal... 15 shoots a week is what I consider (for my business model) a good week. That's 3 shoots a day... nothing crazy. Time on location and time processing images is an 8 hour day for me. Lately, we have been shooting more than 15 a week. My oldest son is my assistant on every shoot. He sets up and breaks down the gear, preps the homes, collects payment, etc. This allows us to be very time efficient on location. When work gets really busy I can always have him work as a second shooter. However, in the past, whenever workloads maintained a steady busy pace (busier than I could keep up with) I knew it was time to raise prices. I have increased pricing 20-25% each time (three times in the past 5-6 years) and it has curbed my volume while increasing revenue at the same time. Less work, more money.

    If you outsource post-processing i would think that you should be able to do more than 3-4 shots a day. As far as using a second shooter, it's certainly a viable option, but at 60-75% of your revenue... once you pay taxes, you're in the red. The point of a second shooter is to make you more money when you don't have the available time to shoot. This is a business afterall.

  7. Hi Shannon, we are based in Miami and eventually yes, we will be needing additional shooters.
    I am always amazed when you guys are talking about more than 3 shoots a day. Probably, because you guys all do HDR shooting. Tha way we shoot, it takes me 2 hours to shoot a 2Br condo and 4-5 hours to shoot a 6000sqf house. I have only seen one guy who could deliver similar results to our quality doing HDR only but I think he spends like 5-6 dollars an image on post processing.
    My post processing cost is $50/30 images and it takes about 3-4 hours to process that many photos.
    The advantage is that this way every single photoshoot is a challenge for me to this day and I feel very satisfied when I finally finish a shoot. And even more satisfied when I see the final images coming back from my editor at 2am. 🙂

  8. I have a second shooter and editor. I pay 20% of invoice total for photos, and $.75/ image to edit. Great for when I want to go on vacation or just need a break.

  9. Zoltan, thank you for the last comment. I've been doing real estate photography more or less regularly for over a year and it takes me around 1.5-2 hours to set up the lights and shoot a 2 br apartment. Reading comments like "shoot 10 or more listing a day" made me always wonder if I was really this time inefficient. You let me know I'm not alone, and your success indicates that I'm moving in the right direction!

  10. Keri, what are your long term goals for your company? Are you hoping to expand your business with more photographers and staff or do you want to keep it to just you with a second shooter from time to time to help service clients when it's busy? Could you do more work in a day if you had a non-photographer assistant that works along side you getting the previous jobs images transferred from memory cards into a laptop and ready to sort and send to your post processing person? This might keep you from training your competition and still make more time for you to do another job or two each day. An assistant could also help move your equipment in and out while you do your walk through and talk with your clients and make sure each room in a home is prepped and ready to photograph as you get to them.

    It's also an option to raise your prices. While you may lose some clients, you might possibly wind up making more money without taking on any more work. I like to only do 3 full jobs a day myself, but I also like doing my own post processing and doing any more jobs, if they aren't mini shoots, doesn't let me get enough sleep. 15 jobs per week at $150/job average is $9,000/month gross. That's a pretty good income these days for a photographer and RE isn't usually a very high paying niche.

    Larry brings up a good point in that by having more people working for you, you have to spend more time managing them which takes from the time you can spend photographing homes. This is really a big issue when you bring somebody new into the fold and you need to work with them to get the images they make up to your standards. It's a catch-22 that when you can really use somebody to take some of the load, it slows you down until you can get them up to speed and sometimes they just aren't going to work out.

  11. 10 or more shoots a day - Really?

    What quality product can you possibly be delivering shooting 10 plus houses in a day? Show me!

  12. Hi Zoltan,

    Thank you for your invaluable insights for the rest of us!

    I just wanted to ask, if you’re happy to say, what you pay for post processing? I see you mentioned $50/30 images, but was hoping you could give a bit more info..

    I ask, as I’m really considering outsourcing post processing so I can have a better work/life balance. Although, I’m scared that the hard work I put in on location could be ruined by poor editing..

    Thanks in advance!!


  13. @George, I agree about shooting too many homes in one day. It's not just the image quality, it's also being able to get to each job on time. I try to train my clients to show up on time, but occasionally there are hold ups and I could tell them they missed their appointment if they aren't at the location right when I arrive, but that's not going to be received well. By only doing a maximum of 3 full jobs a day, I have some cushion to wait 10 minutes and still get to my next appointment on time.

    If I tried to do 10 homes a day, I'd be shooting .jpg and only applying global edits. No post production window pulls, sky replacements, RE sign removal per MLS requirements or digital touchups. In essence, all of the little things that my customers appreciate about my work in addition to spending the time on site paying attention to details to make the home look its best. I can't overdeliver if I only have 40 minutes to make 20 images. I want my service, if not my images, to be so good that my clients wouldn't think of switching to somebody else. Besides, if it only takes a very short amount of time on site, customers may not feel they are getting good value for money.

  14. I certainly could never do 10 in a day, but I have done 6. I've gotten faster over the course of 8 years - there is very little that I haven't seen in our area, and I rely on past compositions that I like from memory to go from one room to the next without having to reinvent the wheel.

    An Average week for me is 23-25. That's plenty, especially on a 58 year old body. But I agree with others, 15 shouldn't be too many.

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