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What Does it Cost You to Show Up For a Shoot?

Published: 10/11/2010
By: larry

I've had several discussions this week and last that suggest that some people in real estate photography need some help analyzing their costs of being in business. I think there are many beginning real estate photographers that don't know what the lower limit is for what they can work for. $99/shoot may make sense in rural Iowa but it may not make sense for New York or Southern California.

I raise this subject because I've become aware of specific situations where photographers are doing shoots for $30, $50 and $99. The cases where the photographers were taking away $30 and $50 were for large companies. So they don't have marketing expenses or post-processing expenses but still, everyone should do the arithmetic or they could find themselves in a hole down the road and not know why.

I believe that and essential part of being in business (for yourself or as a contract photographer for a company) is understanding what it's costing you to show up for a shoot. If you don't know what it's costing you to show up you don't know the lower limit of what you must take home from every shoot to stay in business. That is, you've got a bunch of fixed costs that are the same no matter how many shoots you do. Costs like:

  1. Car payments, maintenance and insurance costs for the vehicle you use to go to shoots.
  2. Business insurance that covers your equipment and liability insurance that covers you if you inadvertently break some homeowners priceless art work.
  3. Health Insurance - yea, this is a cost of showing up, in the old days employers used to pay for this but most don't any more. It's up to you now days.
  4. Computer hardware costs- you are going to have to replace it every two or three years.
  5. Computer software costs - you are going to upgrade Lightroom and Photoshop every couple of years.
  6. Personal development costs - this is training costs for publications and workshops that keep you current and help you improve your craft.

I don't claim that these six items is an exhaustive list, you may have more or less. These are just typical fixed costs that are applicable for most real estate photographers.

The reality is I can't sit here and tell you what your cost of showing up is because health care, auto costs and business insurance are different in different states and different for different people. So my example above in the spreadsheet is intended to show you an approach not the specific numbers. In a previous post I've talked about ways to verify that your shoot price is in the ball park by checking what other companies in your area charge to show up.

In my example above, if it's costing you $215 per week in fixed costs and you are doing 7 shoots per week, it's costing you about $31 to show up for each shoot. This cost of showing up along with your shoot price and the average number of hours you spend on a shoot will allow you to compute how much per hour you are grossing.

Something to beware of when you are doing this spreadsheet is when you are computing how many weeks to divide your yearly fixed cost by, don't use 52 weeks a year. You'll probably have a couple of weeks for vacation, a week or so for sick days and a week for holidays that you don't work. So you'll be dividing by 48 or 46 to account for the time you don't work.

19 comments on “What Does it Cost You to Show Up For a Shoot?”

  1. I've always budgeted and kept track of this.
    My monthly "show up" per shoot was up around $40 based on previously 60 shoots a month, but now down to $24 due to growth of business.
    You need to include costs like Broadband, phone, Web Gallery (eg Pixoasis), NAPP, depreciation on car and replacement of tyres.
    Debatable costs that I haven't included are marketing/promotion. like hosting Web site, Yellow & White Pages (Aussie), which always lurk in the background before you get a shoot!

  2. This is a huge issue for real estate photographers, Larry. I haven't raised my prices since Jan 2009, and I thought I was priced right. A couple of weeks back I tore apart the numbers for the last financial year, and I actually worked out what it cost for each of the different shoots we do (my company has 5 different packages, including daytime and evening shoots). Obviously a shoot that takes 5 hours in total (for travel, shooting, and processing) is going to cost more than a shoot that takes 2 hours all up. So once I worked all that out, then I was really able to see the numbers and know where I should be pricing myself to achieve a profit.

    What does it cost to show up for a shoot? Using your example above, if it costs you $31 to show up for each shoot (it costs me a good deal more than that), doing 7 shoots a week, and you want to bring in a salary for yourself of $55K a year, then it's costing you $197 per shoot (not including taxes). You'd then want to add another $20 on top of that to give yourself a reasonable 10% profit.

    Some people (especially our real estate agent clients!!) think our job is cheap to run, and that we should therefore charge them very little to shoot a property. If only it were that simple 🙂

  3. Here's the sad reality of being a real estate photographer, especially when the majority of your business consists of shooting for Realtors. Darryl touched on this but I will expound upon his thought just a bit. I apologize in advance because this is going to be lengthy, as it is an issue that has eaten at me for the two years I've been shooting homes. I am going to be very critical of Realtors and if you are a Realtor reading this post, pay attention to the next paragraph.

    As with a lot of real estate photographers, I sold real estate prior to becoming a photographer and have been a licensed Realtor for 12 years. Although I no longer actively engage in the sale of real estate, I still consider myself a Realtor (see, I capitalize it) have always understood the importance of "marketing" my listings. That's what the client is paying for - the "marketing" of their home, not the "listing" of their home. Whenever I speak at sales meetings I ask the question of those present, "who in this room considers themselves a professional; an expert at marketing real estate?" I'm lucky if in a room of 30 Realtors, one person raises their hand. If you needed to sell your home would you hire a Realtor who didn't feel they were accomplished at the marketing practices necessary to get your home sold?

    Here lies the problem. Most, not all Realtors, are in the business for the paycheck. Each home they list is tied to the paycheck they receive once the property sells and closes. They don't consider themselves business owners and would rather consider themselves employees of whatever brokerage they hang their license with, despite the fact that they have signed independent contract agreements to the contrary. When I talk to them about having a marketing budget for their listings they look at me as if I'm speaking a foreign language. It can be as simple as taking a few hundred dollars from this closing and putting it aside to market their next listing. I was always taught that as a Realtor you should spend no less than 10% of your commission on a listing on marketing that home. That's 10% of what the seller is paying on the listing side, not 10% of your cut. $300K home, $9K commission, $900 goes to marketing the home.

    If I've heard it once, I've heard it a thousand times. "You're work is great and I'd love to hire you but I don't want to spend any money, the home may not sell." I'm sorry, but that's the cost of doing business! You should be a professional, you should be an expert at marketing homes and if your sellers could hear you make that statement they would fire you in a nanosecond. If you're not willing stick you neck out financially or otherwise, to do the job that those sellers have hired you to do, get out of the business.

    Added to all of this is that most Realtors don't understand the importance of what we do. Does BMW bring Heimlich in from the maintenance shed with his camera phone to snap a few pictures of their new ride for they're latest marketing campaign? No! They hire professionals to depict the car in it's best light, from all angles to make potential buyers drool! Consumers are visually stimulated. If they're looking for it and they like what they see, they're more prone to buy it! You don't have to have a masters degree in marketing to figure this out. And, as Darryl pointed out above they don't have a clue as what we do. They don't understand the eye, the creativity, and work that goes into our craft. To them we're just taking a few pictures, pulling them straight off the camera and putting them on the web. RAW files? Photoshop? Exposure blending? I don't need all that, I just want some "pitchers."

    I struggle with what I should charge for my shoots and what I can charge. I'm already the most expensive in town and I believe that I should be. I know that I can't charge what my services are worth because no one will hire me. I was asked to lower my prices in order to become an additional "preferred photographer" for a specific brokerage. Their current photographer was overwhelmed and they needed another photographer. Of course he was overwhelmed, he charges $65 to shoot an entire home, with panos! I declined. I believe we should all be the most expensive in town. All you other real estate photographers out there - Quit setting the bar so damn low! We're all in this together and could benefit by striving to increase our worth to our clients. The public wants us and should demand our services. There's no way you can provide quality product by charging $50 to shoot an entire 2,500 square foot home. You can provide mediocre product for that amount and that soon becomes the standard that Realtors and the general public find acceptable. Any Realtor given the choice between mediocre images for $50 and stunning images for $200, is going to choose the cheaper option. Hey it may not sell...

    Sorry for the rant. If you're still with me, thanks for listening.

  4. One thing any Photographer should MAKE SURE they know before starting in the business is how much your biggest competitor is charging and if you can come in around that . While you may think you are the best and should be paid the best, the reality is 70% of agents would pay less for a B+ product than more for an A+. Remember one thing, you are trying to convince an agent to switch over to use you rather than their previous photography/multimedia provider.......why would an agent pay you more when they are already selling just fine with the B+ product from another provider?

    Everyone seems to have an opinion about pricing but in the end every market (city) is different and you would be a fool to listen to someone from Australia and price the same.

    I work for a company just outside Toronto and we do a very large number of the listings in the area (10-25 shoots a day, 4 photographers). The company provides "quality" service with a basic photo shoot for under $50 (15-35 shots)....and multimedia (virtual tour and slideshow) for $99. Some may say think is insane, and you are probably right (i just work here, dont make the prices etc), but I can tell you that most competition that has come along over the 6 years I have been here has fallen flat on their face if they cant come in around our prices. I have seen agents leave us to try another provider and most come back saying that the cost was just too high (3-4x) to justify the difference in quality, most houses in this area sell regardless of B+ or A+ photography/ I said, its all in the area.

    Do your research for your specific area BEFORE you start, if you cant come in with a good combination of quality service, selection of products and competitive could be wasting your time. If you are planning to charge more, make sure you can provide something different from your biggest competitor (like video, floor plans etc) which helps give a reason for an agent to switch to you.

  5. @Mark
    You say "All you other real estate photographers out there – Quit setting the bar so damn low! We’re all in this together and could benefit by striving to increase our worth to our clients"

    Come on man, are you serious? That is the nature of business and especially when offering a service. How many people do you know who have a mechanic they go to who they say is "cheap" and does a good job? How many people do you hear say they have a mechanic that is very good but 2-3 times more money than most? Another example is cell phones.....90% will simply go with the best package at the cheapest price, not the best reception for 2-3 times more.

    Any business is going to have to deal with competition, and as a business if you are not willing to "compete" you might not find yourself in business too long because eventually someone will find a way to do what you do (or reasonably close) for less money.

    Fred Light is (in my opinion) the king of video tours and has become the "king" because he provides a good service at a very good price. I see a ton of providers trying to sell their video at 2-3 times more and while they may get some clients here and there, they wont have the constant workload that Fred does.

    Photography and multimedia is used to attract buyers to come and actually view the house in person.......not sell the house online. Alot of realtors are seeing that B+ photos do in fact get the buyers attention to progress it to the next level and come for a viewing and they really have a hard time paying 2-3x more for excellent photography that in the end does the same thing.

    Also, dont blame the competition, blame the fact that digital cameras have come so far in the last 10 years it allows average photographers look more professional than they really are....alot of agents are just buying the camera and trying it themselves.

  6. All of this is good stuff. What I think is missing from all of this discussion is a definition of a standard Property Shoot. This is the easiest way to compare pricing across the globe. So here's my take:

    Standard Property Shoot = 15 photographs sized for publication on MLS - nothing else!
    = 1 hour shooting time
    = 2 hour processing time
    = 1 hour travel time (included)

    My price $79.99 + Taxes (I live in a part of the world (Vancouver Island) where the minimum hourly rate is $8.00 CAD = $8.00 USD).

    What would you charge? Where do live? What is the minimum wage in your area?

    It's very clear to me that I can not live on this rate in a major city and it's pretty tough surviving around here on those rates.

    P.S. I did a presentation for a brokerage firm yesterday and quizzed them as to why some of them don't use professional photography services. I'll post something later.

  7. What a sad discussion.

    I feel awful for all you old shcool photogs out there suffering the competition of young digital hacks with genius Japanese cameras.

    Pretty soon the young point and shoot realtors will be taking taking high quality pics and HD vids on their phones with apps that do perfect post for them.

  8. @ Chris

    You charge your clients less than $50.00 for a shoot? What on earth are you guys thinking?

    Volunteering to be the low-price leader, is just plain stupid. The only person you are undercutting -
    is yourself!

    The "market" isn't dictating this, YOU are setting that bench mark. You're right, why would a realtor pay more than 50 bucks, they've got you!

    If you think selling a $200 item for 50 bucks is good business, you have no idea what it actually cost to operate a business, and as Cynthia pointed out, try this exercise for a reality check:

    More importantly, at $50.00 a shoot, you are working for less than minimum wage by the time you are done travelling to location, shooting it, travelling back, post production, and delivering to client. And, that is not counting any of your fixed expenses.

    That does not take into consideration, the fixed cost of your car, gas, telephone, office, computers, cameras, lighting, insurance. At 50 bucks a pop, you will never have enough to replace the car or equipment when they wear out, and they will. Even less to pay for foos , lodging and all the other cost of basic living. Christ, the termite inspector charges more than you.

    So I'm not sure what you are so proud of?

    When you told Mark "not to blame the competition, it's because of digital cameras that make photographers look better than they really are", you are partially right. But what you are missing is this: the camera is a tool, it does not set pricing, you do. So, if "the digital camera made you a better photographer than you really are", why would you not take advantage of that opportunity and make some money?

    Chris, I've been in this business a long time and have seen a lot of changes. In my market, I too have "photographers" that will work for virtually nothing. They come and go after complaning that they can't make living, I'm still here.

    They can price themselves wherever they want, because at the end of the day, having the lowest price only lasts til somebody is willing to do it for even less. So, next year when somebody comes in to your market and is willing to do what you do for, say $35, - are you going to go to $29.95 a shoot? You and I both know that that is a no-win situation. The results is simply a distroyed market place.

    So what Mark was saying is, have some pride in the work/service you perform. Charge enough so that you can make a decent living, you've earned it. Like you said, some realtors in your market are shooting it themselves, despite the fact that they can get you for mere 50 bucks! So how low can you go?

    You can't be everything to everybody. If you are good at what you do, there will always be enough clients out there that are willing to pay you fairly for your services. Are you making a great living now? Do you have to run from place to place 7 days a week just to make it?

    If you charged, say $200.00, how much less time would you have to work to earn the same amount? How would it change your life?

    - What do you mean they won't pay it? What, because of that guy out there charging only $50.00?

    - Yeah, he sure educated them didn't he!

    Catch my drift?

    That was the point Mark was making and he is right. When one player "takes a dive", it makes the whole team lose.

    My 2 cents

  9. I live about a 2 hour drive from Toronto (in a much smaller market), and I shoot homes starting at about 3 times the price, that Chris's company charges. I would be interested in seeing some links to some of these "quality" service shoots. Even at three times the price, I am priced low, in my opinion, for what I provide. I have a tough time believing that for 50 dollars a pop, you are getting much in the way of quality.

  10. When I asked a group of Realtors why they didn't hire a professional some of the responses were:

    1. When I book the listing - I'm right there and I can shoot the house (read: I don't need to book & wait)
    2. I wouldn't waste the money on many of the low end properties I have. I might consider it on million dollar properties (read: cost).
    3. I always have my camera with me and it takes pretty good pictures (read: good enough).
    4. Pictures haven't been a problem for me - it's always been about location & price (read: good enough).

    Only one mentioned cost of photography.

    Miguel is right when he stated "Pretty soon the young point and shoot realtors will be taking high quality pics and HD vids on their phones with apps that do perfect post for them". But do we want to go after those Realtors?

    It is clear that professional services are not needed by the majority of Realtors in that particular office - "It is not a pain point". The trick is to find those Realtors who need to own more of their own time to do what they do best and that is Market your Home (as Mark said). Those are the one that will need yours, mine, our services. It's no coincidence that these are the same Realtors who are in the top 10% at anyone brokerage firm. They are the same Realtors that have a team of people already working for them. Hunt them down!

    Great discussion going on here!!!

  11. I do agree with you, that photographer should have a reasonable price for quality work. Someones are doing it for near free and that's not good for the whole market.

  12. At first I was alarmed at Chris' post; thinking "oh crap, this is the direction our business is headed." I was pleased to read the following posts that understood my point. My position is this, todays sellers expect, and in a lot of cases demand more from their listing agent. They're paying some pretty hefty fees to have their home listed (marketed) and they are entitled to it. I sold real estate for 12 years, I've been in the trenches with these folks to get homes sold. I understand the business. The truth of the matter is that I may spend more time and energy making their listing look beautiful in an attempt to get it sold then they will in it's entire listing period. I take the images, I edit them, I create the tour, I upload the tour and images to where ever they need to go, I create the exposure that sellers demand. When that home sells the Realtor walks away with thousands. My fee...$89-130. Does anyone see where I'm going with this?

    Fine, this is the career field I've chosen. I enjoy it immensely more than selling homes. Realtors are as entitled to their commissions as the sellers are entitled to superb marketing efforts. The days of doing the "bare minimum" or "good enough" are over. I'm not saying this as a photographer, but as a Realtor. And, I don't care how much a Realtor may spend on their camera, unless you know how to use it, all you're doing is taking bad images and spending more money to do it.

    If we were to apply Chris' philosophy from above to the real estate industry, full service brokerages would be a thing of the past. Why pay 6% to a Realtor when you can hire Larry's Low Budget Realty for 4%? Realtors were incensed when cut rate brokerages entered the market place several years ago. "How can they get away with only charging 4% or a flat rate?" By cutting corners and sacrificing quality of service, that's how! Just like you're doing to the clients who are paying you 6%. At least the budget brokerages are coming right out front and saying, I'm not doing to do squat!

    George, you're right. We all should to take pride in what we do and stand behind the value of the services we provide and be proud enough to charge what they're worth while remaining competitive. That doesn't mean underselling your competition because Realtors will always pick the lowest option. Doing so cheapens you as a professional and is minimizes the skills you've worked hard to obtain.

  13. @George
    Maybe you should spend a little more time reading someones post before replying, I CLEARLY stated the following my friend:

    "Some may say think is insane, and you are probably right (i just work here, dont make the prices etc)"

    My opinion is simply based on 6 years at the company I work for, whether what they are doing is good or bad....its working as they are the #1 photography and multimedia company in their area and have been for 10 years. Unfortunately if one was to start a business in this area it would be tough to convince alot of the agents to pay 3-4x more for something they are already getting and works.

    So George, Im not "proud" of anything bud, just giving my opinion...something this blog is here for........its people like you that deter others from getting involved in discussions here.

  14. Chris, I read everything you posted, and that's why I responded to it.

    No need to get defensive. I understand that you do not own the business, but that you only work there - and don't make up the pricing. I get it. Yet you were talking about it as if it is the end all be all for all realtors. It is not. It may be for the "cheap".

    I think you are missing my point, and the points of some of the others on here who actually operate their own businesses. Shooting for $50.00 a pop is not a sustainable business model, period.
    If that is all they (the incredibly successful company you've spent the last 6 years working for) are charging, what on earth are they paying you, the employees? You can't possibly feel happy with your share, right?

    So, don't defend the low benchmark, strike out on your own and start charging what you are worth.
    It's easy giving it away, the "profession" requires you to make a living at it!

    Don't tell me it can't be done. I'm doing it quite successfully, as are most others on this board.

    Seriously, go to the link previously mentioned, input your own numbers and see where it takes you. It's not a challenge, I just think it will open your eyes to the cost (and opportunities) of actually operating your own business as opposed to collecting a paycheck.


  15. I'm confused George...... you say you understand that i dont own the business, but before you were saying "The market isn’t dictating this, YOU are setting that bench mark. You’re right, why would a realtor pay more than 50 bucks, they’ve got you!"

    And again George, please read the original post again say "Shooting for $50.00 a pop is not a sustainable business model, period. If that is all they (the incredibly successful company you’ve spent the last 6 years working for) are charging, what on earth are they paying you, the employees?". It clearly says in my post they also offer a 99$ multimedia package my friend.

    But I guess you missed that too. It gets hard to carry a conversation with someone who isnt making an effort to at least get the information straight.

    Anyway, thx for your opinion and good luck with your business.

  16. There will always be bargain bin agents who pay for bargain bin photographers. One mark of a successful RE agent is that they actually value quality and service are willing to pay for it. In turn, this is what they offer to their clients.

    On one hand, I feel that the run-and-gun $50 shooters harm the industry by undervaluing what we do. On the other hand, I'm glad they lack the ambition and/or talent to actually try to make a real go at having a successful photography business. It means less competition for those of us who actually make a very nice living doing what we do.

  17. It's always interesting doing the math. Let's say you want an income of 60,000 which is very modest in most metro areas. Add Larry's 11,000 business costs. 71,000. 5 shoots per week, every week of the year. So divide the 71,000 by 260 = $273. Charge $273 per shoot and you can make a modest living if you shoot one property a day. And now you're on the pricey end getting hammered by low cost guys on the bottom, and vicaso from the other side. It's interesting doing the math, really sets in that real estate photography isn't the path to riches.. Keep in mind a entry level engineer in a big city makes around 80,000, just showing up and plugging away for the man. Photography is not the big money maker, that's for sure.

    Now if you can dramatically increase your output, perhaps 4-fold by delegating the processing work, then you are getting somewhere...

  18. Personally, I think the biggest things in real estate photography that you can do to justify your prices are:

    1) Be reachable. Everyone has a cell phone these days. Responding to the call immediately is very important. Realtors are usually working on a short time frame.

    2). Be flexible. There's a lot of juggling to get a property ready to market (stagers, landscapers, contractors, etc.). Although I wish more realtors would plan ahead, most just don't. They don't want to pay for photography unless they have a signed contract. Once they HAVE the contract, they usually need to get the listing on the MLS within 24 - 48 hours. That means you need to be available when THEY need you.

    3) Deliver on time. I deliver photos same day - always. Video the next day (almost always!).

    It's a lot of long hours and it can make me crazy at times, but most of my clients use me over and over and over - and even refer me to other agents (their competitors!). I'm not aware of any who have gone to someone less expensive.

    I think dependability is more important than price. They know they can call me and I will show up on time, and get the job done on time, every time. They KNOW they can count on me to deliver, and I think that outweighs price.

    Delivery quality service and quality products, and you can command the price that you're worth!

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