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What Are Your Favorite Real Estate Photography Efficiency Hacks?

Published: 13/04/2020
By: Brandon

Kelly, from Columbus, GA writes:

“I was coming up to the end of my first year in real estate photography and I was starting to get the hang of using off camera flashes before the Covid-19 virus shut everything down. I’m trying to get more of a handle on things; especially related to getting more efficient in my work. I was hoping you could share some things that I can do to increase my efficiency at a shoot.”

Thanks for writing in, Kelly. This is a topic that’s really important to me because my own photography business is built-on doing multiple shoots in a day, This has forced me to become really efficient at how I get through a house at a shoot. If I’m being honest, I would love to slow down a bit but I’ve worked my tail off to be the top shooter in my market and it’s something that I’m not quite ready to give up to my competitors. So, if you’re looking for some “efficiency hacks”, I’d like to get the ball rolling by offering a couple of ideas, and I’m sure others will offer lots more in the comments section below.

Minimize Your Gear

For me, probably the easiest thing that I did to become more efficient was to minimize my gear. I figured out what the absolute minimum amount of gear I needed for the work that allowed me to get the quality-level that I wanted for each photo was. So for me, all I have in my gear kit is my camera, a tripod, a couple of lenses--although I use my Nikon 14-30mm lens for 99% of all the scenarios I'll encounter for real estate (I don't want to take a bunch of time switching lens throughout each shoot) and finally, no more than 2-3 Speedlites.

Develop a Repeatable Process

The other thing that really maximizes my efficiency is not spending a bunch of time taking multi-shot brackets. For me, through much practice, I’ve been able to figure out a system where I take only one ambient shot and one flash shot for virtually each room that I shoot. This two-shot system allows me to cover about 90% of the shots that I take at any given shoot. For me to get to this level of efficiency though, I had to review a lot of shots on my camera's LCD screen in order to train my eye to know whether I had the right exposure levels in both my ambient and flash frames, that would allow me to blend the shots well, in post.

This leads me to my main point which is: The goal is to have an approach that is highly repeatable and scalable. If you’ve ever followed professional golf, you’ll know the name Jim Furyk. He has one of the oddest golf swings in the history of the sport--so much so, that if you were teaching golf to your young son or daughter, you’d never do so using Jim Furyk's golf swing. That said, Jim Furyk has had a great career and is going to end up in the Golf Hall of Fame at some point. He’s been successful because his golf swing, while loopy and not pretty to look at, is highly repeatable, and he’s used it to his advantage. The same is true in our profession as it relates to efficiency. Your approach and execution in each space has to be virtually the same with each shot. In fact, the more time you spend trying to figure out the mechanics of the shoot (e.g., trying to come up with a perfect lighting set-up in every single space), the less time you’ll have to devote to how you want to compose the shot, which is by far, the most important variable in coming up with a great shot.

Anyway, these are my top-2 pieces of advice, Kelly. I’m sure folks will be adding their own comments that will give you many more great ideas to think about and use in your work. Good luck!

12 comments on “What Are Your Favorite Real Estate Photography Efficiency Hacks?”

  1. Everything Brandon said is absolutely correct and boils down to use a consistent method and gear. I used to carry a LOT of stuff with me so that I am covered for anything. Now it is one box and a tripod. I shoot an average house in about 45 minutes.

    Another item that can really help is to shoot the same camera positions, in the same order, as often as possible. So add "consistent flow" to the list above. Personally, I shoot these views, and in this order: 3 front views and entrance, a foyer, four corners of living and family room, 5-6 kitchen shots, 2-5 master bedroom shots, secondary bedroom shots from the door, 1 exterior rear, and shots of pools/screen rooms/fire pit, etc. Other shots are done as they are encountered. I "flow" through the house in the order above and it really helps with organization and naming. I do not worry about how many shots I take. I take as many as are needed.

    By repetition you gain the experience with your camera and flash to be able to "read" the display view and adjust your flash/camera settings on the fly.

    A real time consumer is studying the house and rooms for the best camera views and angles. By following a consistent pattern you know what you will do before you get there. Obviously there will be times that the normal flow is not possible, but keep it as standard as possible.

    I always ask that the house be prepped and ready when I arrive. Prepped meaning that blinds are open or closed, according to the outside view, lights are all on (or off according to your method), fans are all off. If the house is not ready when you arrive, you can spend a lot of time doing the prep work that could have been easily done prior to your arrival.

    I have "fired" a couple of customers that insisted on arriving at the same time that I do, chat with owner for 10 minutes, go through the listing paperwork at the kitchen table, measure the rooms, and leave me trying to find areas to shoot that are not occupied. The Real Estate agent did not look at this as a photo shoot so much as the final appointment for the listing. These appointments can take twice as long as other appointments and puts you late on your schedule for the rest of the day. I actually added a menu item to my online order form for an additional 30 minutes to allow for prep time when needed (yes, it is a cost item!).

  2. I can't agree with this post enough.

    When I got up and running with this I started with a big nFlash. Because I saw a podcast with Randy Henderson in it that said that that's what he used. One big ceiling bounce flash from a wide-brimmed 680w portable studio strobe with enough power to light up a large room painted dark brown.

    I didn't like the look of adjacent rooms though. And after watching videos on YouTube and seeing lighting descriptions in various groups and forums I quickly added 2 speedlights and 1 ad200 to my kit. I used this more complex workflow for about two years and then, last year, I started to realize that...

    It didn't matter.

    Or didn't matter ENOUGH. I was essentially using a workflow on real estate that was properly matched to the pace and (more importantly) the price point of an architecture shoot. The customers very likely were not even looking at the images they were so busy and they certainly weren't critiquing them for finesse. I realized that there is a "line in the sand" where quality is concerned. As long as your quality is "above the line" then your customer will be satisfied. I you are 5 "points" above the line in quality or 25 "points" above it or 125 "points" above get no benefit. They're all seen effectively as the same in the eyes of the customer. You get no benefit for going the extra mile. Sure sure might win one customer here or another customer there....but are these onesy-twosey customer that you scored because your quality was 5% better than what you could produce on a speedier workflow really a justification for all the extra time you have to invest in EVERY shoot for EVERY agent that does NOT fall into that category?

    My answer to that is: No.

    So last year I created the "Two-Light". Only two lights. The nFlash and one speedlight-on-a-stick. That sped things up a bit. But this year I'm enacting the "One-Light Rule". No light other than the nFlash. All the other lights stay in the bag for real estate shoots and only come out for architecture shoots. I'm literally right back where I started.

    And here's the crazy thing....

    I also have just in the past 30 days switched from shooting a 3-shot bracket set and a flash shooting a single ambient and a flash frame. Just like Brandon. Sent them to the editor and I'm done. I need to claw back shooting time/editing time to accomplish two things.

    #1) Train My Wife to be My Editor - I have a very strong suspicion that the pre-school she taught at prior to the Corona shut-down is NOT going to be coming back. They closed down and it seems pretty clear that they won't be opening back up. I have told her for the past two years that she needs to sit down with me and learn how to edit since I spend just as much on outsourcing photo editing as she earns at her perschool job. But she liked it and felt a loyalty there so I didn't push it. Now it makes sense for her to skill up since the writing is on the wall and move into the next phase of life. That means I need more time available. The faster I can shoot houses the faster I can get back the more time I have to sit patiently next to her and instruct her on how to do the work.

    #2) Marketing - I laid out a comprehensive Facebook Marketing plan a while back...but never have had the time to implement it. So now it's the time to do that. So more efficiency means I'll be able to deploy marketing plan. That will mean more customers. Which will mean it's a good thing I got the extra efficiency put in place to handle that extra volume BEFORE I launched the marketing plan.

  3. Brian Kurtz is going to shoot me, but...

    I started using the Nflash about 10 years ago. It was 680 watts, but almost 7 lbs. Last year I switched to the Flashpoint 600, about the same form factor and weight, but easier to get parts.

    Then I discovered the Flashpoint Evolv 200. I bought 2 of them for smaller houses, and on a whim one day, I held them together and did a number of tests with a LunaPro F meter, to see how much light I was losing compared to the 600 watt strobe.

    I don't know why, but it turns out that the Flashpoint 600 (weight - 7lbs) puts out the exact same amount of light as 2 Evolv 200s (Total weight, 2.2 lbs.) held together.

    So my efficiency went way up by carrying two Evolvs, using them together when I need to, and splitting then into different rooms a lot more than I thought I would.

  4. Not sure if they're considered "efficiency hacks" but two things that I'm constantly leaning on in a quick/efficient manner:

    In-camera level to maintain proper verticals, and digital zoom to check sharpness.

    I have my camera set to show the in-camera level when I switch off the live view. I toggle back and forth almost like second nature to insure my camera is level and verticals are vertical in between each shot. It's especially helpful when moving to different floor types (going from carpet to tile or hardwood).

    Thankfully my eyes haven't completely failed me, so I can still dial in manual focus/sharpness on just about all images, but for high contrast scenes or bright surfaces, I quickly use the digital zoom to insure everything is focused properly. Again, it's a second nature "efficiency" situation for me.

    Lastly, use a LIGHT tri-pod. I know the typical recommendation is to use a heavy, super durable, stable tri-pod that insures your camera becomes a sentinel in the room. I think there's a middle ground which pays major dividends. I use a compact "action" tri-pod by Manfrotto that cost maybe $75.00 ? It's steady, durable, compact and most importantly light enough that I can move from shot to shot with absolutely easy, one-handed. The stance of the legs are wide but narrow enough that I can tuck myself with the tri-pod nicely in to corners or tight spaces of interiors.

    I would not recommend this tri-pod for landscapes, outdoor areas with wind, or really any circumstance where you might be away from the tri-pod shooting remotely. But for my work flow with RE photography, I'm always right there with my camera (unless adjusting something in the room, which is fine). I do understand there is a little risk involved with a light tri-pod, but over the years my back and shoulders have thanked me for keeping a light set up, while a little extra caution has curbed any toppling accidents.

  5. I agree completely with Brandon that "the goal is to have an approach that is highly repeatable and scalable.", which is why I developed our process to be what it is. We shoot 5 ambient only brackets plus 5 brackets with flash, and let our editors choose the best frames to work with. I know it's overkill, but it eliminates mistakes and it's pretty quick. It sounds like it is basically the process Brandon uses, but we eliminate the unneeded frames on the back end rather than while shooting. When you can create muscle memory in the exposing process or "mechanics of the shoot", it leaves more room to think about the creative side.

    Now, I wish we could eliminate the need for a tripod, lights, and brackets all together! It is so much more freeing to create without it. Here is a shoot I experimented with lights off, fully handheld:

  6. I mentally map several shots I want to take in a room/area *before* shooting the first one. I used to simply go at it one by one once my gear was assembled but now I envision 2-6 positions to take shots then sequence through each one by one. This method ensures I capture the whole room/area. It’s also a decisive way to move from frame to frame.

  7. This thread is something I am trying to work on as well. Great timing Kelly! I shoot pretty slowly by intent because I am still new to this and learning. That said, I am trying to find the line between good enough/not good enough. I'm sure I do more than needed, but my clients do like my work. Also, my business has grown only through word of mouth.

    That said, one thing that I can add to shooting style that has increased my speed/efficiency is something that I saw Wayne Capili do. Basically, visualize the shots and set up your lights for your shots in multiple places and back up through the spaces working from single room shots to multiple room shots as you back through the spaces. When I started, I was all over the place with my ADD brain(shooting at "squirrels") with an inefficient workflow. The above process, along with what others have listed above has helped immensely.

    Reading above has got me thinking more about simplifying my kit to speed things up even more.


  8. I have all of my gear cased up/in a backpack so it's one trip from the car into the house. I keep extra grip in the car to tackle problems that come up once in a while, but I'll only walk in with what gets me through the vast majority of homes. My ideal spot to put everything is in the kitchen mostly because there are counters put stuff on. I'll plan to photograph the kitchen last. If I'm going to see the gear in other compositions, I'll try to find another place so I will only have to move things once.

    I'm in the camp of getting images done in camera as much as possible. I bring 5-6 speedlights so a wide shot with adjoining rooms doesn't have doorways into black rooms or dark halls. After getting the Yongnuo 560 series flashes with the controller, I would never go back to a system that can't be remote controlled. I could make multiple exposures with each room flashed separately and assembled later in Photoshop and I do that sometimes if my time is limited on site. Either way seems to take the same total amount of time, but I'd rather be shooting than sitting at the computer. Getting the Camranger has also made shooting more efficient. I have a 10" screen to compose and review images rather than a tiny LCD on the camera. I can also tuck the camera into awkward spots or have live-view on while I stage a scene and see how it looks to the camera.

    Speaking of composition, the turning point for me was (finally) taking confidence in my choices. I know from my walk through what my compositions are going to be so I'm not shooting more than I'm going to deliver. All I'm doing when I have the camera is refining my POV and exposing the image. RE, for me, tends to be formulatic for most homes. I'm not trying to be super creative but just out to get photos that show the space well. When I get a really nice home, I spend more time and do more looking before I press the shutter. There's not much inspiration in a vacant beige box.

    Knowing how to get a good exposure just takes time to learn. When you develop an intuative feel for what settings will be close right out of the gate, your work will speed up. I still shoot a quick 3-frame 1stop bracket. I'll also make a window pull and sometimes a second flash frame with the flash moved to repair something. For me it's insurance so when I'm editing and find something I don't like, I have some options that only involve brushing in a repair rather than patching or cloning. I don't want to have to spend an hour rescuing something or having to go back to re-shoot which is way more time than adding a bracket at the time. I'd love to get to the point where I'm only making one ambient and one flash frame and done. It's that confidence thing. Most of the time, I don't need the brackets or extra flash frames, but I'm still scared I'll be rescuing stuff if I don't have them.

    I use Lightroom to manage my photos and for global adjustments. I have a RE preset that's applied to photos as they are imported that I've worked up over time. Every adjustment I make to every photo is in the preset. Things like lens correction, a little clarity, some sharpening with mask, a touch of noise correction, etc. The setting are on my laptop install of LR too so if I have a busy day or need a quick turnaround, I can import the job into LR with my presets and when I get home, all I have to do is hook up the ethernet cable, fire up the desktop and import the library. I'm ready to start working in the time it takes to put batteries on chargers and brew a cup of tea. All of the preview building and conversion to dng is done so I'm not waiting on that process. BTW, My laptop is an ancient MacBook, not even a pro. It's not good for much these days, but fine for this job. Even if I stop at the grocery store on the way home, work is still getting done.

    Lightroom presets along with Photoshop actions are big time savers. A LR preset doesn't have to be perfect. If it's close, all you have to do is some minor tweaking. Anything you do in PS repetitively needs and action. For a basic bedroom I might make an ambient frame, a flash frame, a window pull and a window view without flash (for repairs). The next bedroom I'll shot in reverse order rather than making that extra set of camera changes. In PS, I have an action that reverses the order of the layers so I can cycle my window pull frames to the top. It doesn't sound like much, but it's one button rather than dragging the layers around. Selecting all of the layers and aligning them is another action and so is changing a layer to darken mode, adding a black mask and turning the layer off. Another action sets the layer to lighten mode, adds a mask and turns the layer off. I do those things so often that it's much faster to just press one button.

    Take the time to analyze what you are doing. In industry it's called time and motion study. This is how I know that something takes the same amount of time between photography and post to deliver the image no matter what workflow I'm using. I know what to do if an agent or owner tells me I have very little time on site. I also know that I can use a different workflow if I have all the time I want. Quality can change a lot between workflows, so some things are a quality decsion. I can work fast and make an acceptable image, or work slower and get a much higher quality image. It's never either/or, details are important. I can still make a really bad image over a long period of time and a really nice one really fast, just not consistently. There is a XKCD cartoon that mapped out time spent optimizing a process vs return for doing it. Something that saves you 30 seconds once a day will break even over five years if you spend 12 hours on it. Making a simple PS action doesn't take that long and if you use it 3-4 times on each job/day, the payback time is short. The same chart can be used to work out if spending $6,000 on a new computer will save you money in the first year if it's speeding up your work significantly. Or, if it's worth the time spent to try and save a few dollars building a PC and then having to use a Windows. "Look honey, you can see that by saving me 10 minutes on each job over the course of the first year gives me back 200 hours (that can be used mowing the lawn, dishes, etc (yeah, like that's what will happen after the new version of Grand Turismo is released))."

  9. I used to bring several lights and stands inside with me. Now for 90% of properties I use just one light, the AD200, and keep it holstered in a lens pouch on my hip. If I need more light I do have another AD200 and an AD400 in the truck, but I enter the house with my camera/tripod, light on my hip, and iPad (to trigger) slung on my body. That’s it.

    I used to bring my whole case inside, and was always having to move it around as I worked. Plus, with all that other stuff at hand (different lenses etc) I’d spend a considerable amount of time switching around gear because that shot would “clearly look much better with a 50 instead of a 35...”

    Time suck

  10. I'm still new but I'm constantly looking at work flow. Always looking for that minor little change that shaves only seconds off.
    I only bring in one bag and tripod. I'll walk through the house for 5 min with cell phone and snap shots of angles creating a shot list and flow. Eventually I hope to get as good as these other cats and just see it as I'm there. But for now this helps me focus on composition and not the next shot. I compose in live view and focus, then shoot three brackets with first being flash. One shutter click. The flash is direct pointed but with a white soft umbrella to soften the shadows. The umbrella and flash are mounted together so they are one unit hand held. I hang the whole setup on a hook hanging from tripod, quick view of the shots and it's on to the next. I keep the cell phone in a fanny pack (yeah, I still got mine from the 90's) and delete the pic.
    I look for little things to change. How I close my tripod, I do this, then that, then that....always.... repeatable. All this so I can focus on composition. I also constantly tell myself to slo down, cause I'll get amped up and forget something, like that big bay window in the half million dollar home....ugh
    My biggest hang up are bathrooms. I just can't seem to get out of the bath room fast enough.

  11. "I used to bring my whole case inside, and was always having to move it around as I worked."

    @Brian, I think it was one of Scott Hargis' videos that got me using the kitchen counters as a staging point and shooting it last. I used to constantly be moving my gear to get it out of the shot before that. I almost never change lenses. I mainly use a 17-40mm inside and a longer zoom outside if it makes sense to move back and zoom in to narrow the field of view. Only on rare occasions will I get out the 50mm f1.4 for a shallow DoF detail photo. Most jobs are all done with just the 17-40mm. There are times when a tilt-shift lens would be a great tool, but as you alluded, changing the lens a bunch of times just isn't cost effective for most RE jobs.

    @Steve Shorten, you are making scouting photos with your phone at the job? It's good to slow down, but you may be putting an unnecessary step in your workflow. It certainly doesn't hurt to get the camera off of the tripod and work a composition "free hand" now and again and if you are advancing a job that you will be doing later, taking photos with a phone or point-and-shoot can be helpful.

    I always do a walk through so I can spot problems with where the sun is or will be. For a furnished home, I can give the owner or agent a list of things to fix while I set up. If I have to move my car, the walkthrough also lets me know if I need anything I usually leave in the car most of the time. My CRS is mostly peoples names, so I don't have a problem remembering compositions I want to make that I find during the walkthrough. Sometimes I don't see the composition right away for a room I'll be shooting later in the session and I'll just put making any sort of plan until I get to it. Allowing those to percolate for a little bit often works out. I might just been figuring out the home's "story" as I work along when I get to the room I didn't have an immediate feeling for.

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