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The Evolution Of Real Estate Photography Over The Last 10 Years

field of spring grass and sunsetMike in Tennessee requested a discussion of the following:

I believe that we can't change our future unless we have an understanding of our past. I don’t recall ever seeing any sort of discussion on how real estate photography has evolved or matured.  I know there are aspects of what I do now almost totally different from how I did them before, where somethings didn’t matter as much then but are so very important now in how my images look, feel, how I do my shoots. I recently have a request for pictures I took a year ago, looking at them now, knowing how much better I am in Lightroom, I'm spending time updating those pics to my “Look” now - got me thinking about how much I’ve matured in my work.

Since I've been doing the PFRE blog seriously for the last 10 years I've had the opportunity of watching what's going on in the real estate photography industry over that time. Here are some evolutionary changes I think have been significant over the last 10 years:

  • Off-camera Manual Flash: In my own experience, the evolution of using different lighting techniques has been a key part of the changes in the way I work. I used on-camera flash or no flash for many years before I met Scott Hargis in 2008. But Scott completely changed my thinking about flash. Scott's approach to small flash lighting I think, is a key evolutionary step for real estate photography as a whole because according to PFRE polls about 46% of PFRE readers now use some variation of Scott's technique. That's more than any other technique and it's increased from polls I did in the 2009 and 2010.
  • Hybrid Bracketing Plus Flash: About the same time, I met Scott I met Dan Achatz who has always done the best job of HDR that I've ever seen. Although I like the way Dan's work looks, I've never used HDR much because I could never make Photomatix work like Dan does. LR/Enfuse, on the other hand, I do use, mainly because I find it is easier to get good results. The PFRE Flickr group photos over the years is an interesting insight into how things have changed over the years. There seems to be a clear decrease in HDR posted to the PFRE Flickr group over the years. Shooters that shoot brackets appear to have moved to Enfuse. Polls show about 21% of PFRE readers use some variation of Enfuse processing. Most use a combination of bracketing and flash.
  • 360 Images: From about 1999 through 2009 I shot spherical 360s for all our listings in the Seattle area market. I quit because it was so labor intensive and some of our clients actually disliked them. This personal change I believe, tracks a general reduction in usage of spherical 360s for real estate. As MatterPort and other similar technologies become cheaper 360 technology will probably have a resurgence.
  • Blending Flash and Ambient images in Photoshop: Another technique that has become more popular over the last year or two is blending flash frames with ambient frames in Photoshop. You can see this trend clearly in the photos posted in the PFRE Flickr group. A large percentage of people posting photos use Mike's technique. It is clear that Mike Kelley's work is instrumental in this change because Mike teaches interiors photographers how to blend multiple ambient and flash frames together in Photoshop.
  • The Rise of Video: Ever since 2009 when most DSLRs started to be able to shoot video as well as stills the use of video has increased. Even though the trend towards video is significant, there are fewer photographers that shoot property video because it is significantly more difficult than shooting stills but use of video is increasing.
  • Drone Photography and Video: Photography done from small unmanned aerial devices has exploded in the last few years. Back in the early 2000's my wife and I had a beautiful waterfront listing on Lake Washington east of Seattle. I remember trying to figure out how I could photograph the listing from the water. I never managed to do it well. A boat was too low and a helicopter was too expensive and couldn't get close enough. Now with a small drone, this problem is easily solved and listing agents expect knock-out drone photography and video.
  • Photoshop and Lightroom Improvements: I think that the release and evolution of Lightroom has had a huge impact on real estate photography and the ease of post processing. Photoshop has also come a long way in the last 10 years but is probably been less significant than Lightroom.
  • The Evolution of  The Internet and Mobile Devices: When I look at the stats for this blog, traffic for mobile devices (smartphones and tablets) have gone from nothing in November 2007 to 21% this month. This means home buyers and real estate agents probably use mobile devices that much and more. This evolution has had a huge impact on the importance of real estate photography.

What have I missed? I'm sure there's something.



12 comments on “The Evolution Of Real Estate Photography Over The Last 10 Years”

  1. Maybe virtual staging. My builders seem very interested.

    Being only a year into this I can't speak about how things have unfolded in the last decade. But I sure can feel the momentum of change building in the here and now. The amount of bad listing photos is still quite high, at least in my area. I hear sellers talk about bad pictures a lot. Many seem almost angry about their last selling experience. And many tell me they picked their new agent because "his/ her" photos were the best! Meanwhile, lots of highly established agents (my city is crawling with them) continue on with their camera phones or worse - bragging about how low tech they are, like it's some badge of honor.

    I'll give those agents a break. Maybe it's not the two hundred bucks they're so worried about saving. It could be they actually believe their photos are adequate. They walk into the home, see it, feel it, snap their shitty pictures.... And when they look at them later their mind fills in the gap between image and reality. Anyone that says; "this photo doesn't really do the place justice" is admitting they've done their client a disservice. Sure, in this market it sells anyway. But for how much? Can good photos create a multiple offer situation? Of course they can.

    Sellers are learning. The wind of change is picking up. Old agents die, new ones are born. This is a good business to be in today.

  2. I think the evolution of re photos in the past 10 years has been that most agents are stuck about 10 years in the past when it comes to the styling and aesthetics of their imagery.

  3. As a virtual tour provider, we've seen the agent demand for HDR increase sharply and in some markets on the west coast, it's practically a standard.

    The requests for drone and full motion video are also on the rise, but mostly for higher end homes because of the cost.

  4. Dave, Andrew and Bill.
    You all have hit excellent points - as has Larry - but the real question is the future of real estate photography - not the past. I see it as an evolution of mobile and social media - tying into the MLS which basically serves as a database to pull from. As millienums pick up real estate licenses - we will see many more trying to create their own photography with their do everything smart phones - i.e. take all the images, and post immediately into a tour or the mls. They may or may not take classes in how to do this, they may or maynot subscribe to services, but I definitely see the app coming up quickly. This is what scares me since many of the real estate photographers I meet are on second careers or on evolved careers from portrait photography that want to get into another venue. This is why belonging to a professional association, subscribing to a blog like this one, will help all of us keep up with the latest technology and trends. We are very lucky to have an active community and we must learn to move together towards a future that includes all of us. Large companies here in the US that are multi-state like Remax, Keller Williams, Sotheby's all have companies that do their marketing services for the agents. This even includes some apps for uploading images to tours, etc. This is why it is hard to break into an entire office rather than individual referrals. The agents are given training in how to maximize these services. A good way to get an agent is to look at these services and see where they are lacking - because they aren't personalized but branded to the broker's office. It is in these gaps we can help out. Keep your eyes and ears open - its happening and it going to happen very fast in 2016 and 2017 - I see it in the Phoenix market already with the new agents.

  5. I think one of the best things to happen with Real Estate Photography is Larry Lohrman. He took the time to skype with me when I started out and PFRE is international. So we have a community of photographers that have access to great information, photography, and teaching from Larry and Scott Hargis. I don't know of any other resource that has helped so many people and elevated the profession. Thank you Larry.

  6. I've got to agree with Bruce above. Larry, you are a treasure for the the Real Estate Photography world. Thank you for your hard work and tireless commitment to keeping this blog interesting, informative, relevant and up to date.

  7. @Bruce, John, Suzanne,
    Well said, I'm also with you.

    "Thank YOU" for your service to the Real Estate Photographer community for the past 10+ years and introducing Scott, Mike and other great photographers and their techniques to the rest of us.

    Just to add to the list on the evolution,
    I would think growth of underlying technologies (web / mobile / cloud storage & sharing / DSLR / digital tools/ multiple form factors of the smart devices ), digital savvy consumer & seller has changed the life cycle of the photo from creation to delivery process.

  8. I think a good analogy to what we see happening with real estate photography today is if we had someone like joe Biden curate a high end fashion show. The thing is, we have fashion people for that, and we are smart to leave the job to them as well.

    I don't quite understand, and probably never will, what happens with real estate photography, and why the content would not be curated more so by the... Photographers. Yeah, photographers deciding what the best imagery would look like, seems like a foreign idea. If I had to guess it may be that there is so much poor re photography that the realtors feel compelled to get in there.

    That is what I believe is the future of re photography... Photographers deciding content. Fantastic frank is the best example. Obviously pro photography driven compositions with what looks like to be an underlying theme/style (and a beautiful one at that, no doubt come upon by other creative professionals, and not by the agents) that the brokerage guides them with.

    What will come along with this transformation, if I am correct, is images that convey a feeling, or longing to be in a space, and not an over saturated, ultra wide, blueprint. And not even a good blueprint at that.

  9. Larry,
    I also agree with most here that this site alone has caused many of us to raise our game. My big thing has been the addition of lighting and I never stop on improving my LR/PS skills.
    The realtors lack of understanding and appreciation has a lot to do with education, do they want to become winners or are they satisfied with the status quo. I am so fortunate to have as clients some brokers that really strive to do their best. There is a reason some brokers are way at the top and the majority at the bottom wondering how they do it.


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