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What Hourly Rate Should You Expect To Make As A Real Estate Photographer?

Published: 26/02/2016
By: larry

WillWorkForFoodRecently Diane, who is starting out in real estate photography and had purchased my Business Of Real Estate Photography e-book was going over the spreadsheet that comes with the book that helps you decide what your target shoot price should be. One of the parameters you need to decide is what your target hourly rate is.

In my example spreadsheet, I use an hourly rate of $30 because the US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the 2015 average hourly rate for professional and business services was $29.77. Diane seemed to be incredulous that I should suggest that a real estate photographer should have a goal of making $30/hour.

There are a number of things to consider when doing an exercise like this:

  1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics clearly shows that hourly rates vary widely depending on what location you are in and what type of work you are doing. And there are some places in the US that are much worse than others. Just yesterday a New York Times article highlighted 10 cities in the US that are the most distressed.
  2. I think if you are running your own independent real estate photography business you clearly are doing business management type work and the category of professional and business services describes your work quite well.
  3. A huge factor that influences your expectations of what your target hourly rate should be is what your employment history has been. Someone who has been working in food preparation or retail that has been struggling to make $15/hour may find $30/hour unrealistic.
  4. While you may be attracted to real estate photography because you love the creative part, the management and customer service part is much more important in making money.

My point in all of this is: despite what your employment history is or what attracts you to being an independent real estate photographer, the key part of your job is managing your business in a creative and effective way and if you do that successfully you should expect to make the average salary for professional and business services or above ($29.77)! You may not make that when you are starting out but it should be your target to get there.

22 comments on “What Hourly Rate Should You Expect To Make As A Real Estate Photographer?”

  1. Larry, is the $30/hour figure net or gross? Those that work as a regular employee may not realize that their cost to their employer is at least 2x their hourly rate when taxes, insurance and other costs are considered. For a moderate self-employed income, taxes may add up to 1/3 of gross income. If you haven't been making quarterly estimated payments, the penalties could drive that percentage up.

    I have friends that think I'm doing fabulously well when I tell them what I charge. They don't stop to take into account that I am not working 40 hours every week for 48-50 weeks each year. I also have to absorb the cost to redo work that a customer rejects. If I were a regular employee at a company, the cost of advertising, facility/equipment maintenance and other business costs would not be coming out of my revenue.

    Knowing what it costs to be in business for oneself is step one in determining what the hourly billing has to be to stay in business. $30/hour may be way to low. $50/hour gross may be a better target to aim for with a constant eye on the books.

  2. I was at a seminar where the photographer was talking about a job where the client was bound by contract to only pay $X amount for photography. He worked for the small sum but then charged them for leasing the equipment he used. Of course he owned the leasing company. Over the years I’ve seen more ‘formulas’ than I could shake a stick at. The problem with this formula is that it fails to take into consideration the investment needed and the amount you NEED to get an ROI. Camera’s, lenses, cars, computers – none of them are free. $30 an hour may be OK as an employee. As a business owner, well, you’ll be an employee soon at that rate.

    Just for fun, let’s be honest here. You charge as much as you can and still keep working. When you’re first getting started, you’ll charge less to get the work. If you’re successful and you get lots of work, the rate goes up. If you’re not successful, maybe you should go work for a photographer that is and stop whoring up the market.

  3. $30 an hour is too low. That's only $60,000 a year IF you're able to get 40 paid hours per week, which we all know doesn't happen. And of course that doesn't factor in paying for equipment, gas, marketing, etc. t haven't seen your spreadsheet so I don't know how you take everything into account. But the bulk of the bell curve for good, professional photographer, who is working her/his business full time, should be a profit between $50-75K per year.

  4. I don't think that a hourly rate is the right approach. You also have to consider the location of the property, the size, etc. I would suggest creating packages that include different features, for example: 20 photos and 2 panoramas, 50 photos and 5 panoramas, a photo only package, etc .

  5. I started out also about 8 years ago figuring that $20 and hour for part time work for retired guy was pretty good. I now target and bill $60 an hour for every hour of effort involved (travel time, on site time, process time, deliver time, billing time) I also bill mileage for travel on top of that. While not great I'm busy all the time with billable work of one kind or another. I figure it equates to a $40 hr regular job. And not employees don't cost 2x the salary. The normal calculation of cost of employee is 42% mark up over salary. So I figure I'm making about what a $70k a year employee makes even though billing is 6 figure billing.

    Note to all, the best way to make more per hour is to take improvement of your workflow more serious than quality of deliverables. I take it vey serious. Quality that takes twice as long to deliver and does not pay double is foolish business. Take your business very serious or it's just a hobby your are very good at.

  6. Simple answer is to start charging what your competition does, why should you work for less? The market will determine how many billable hours you will have. As you become more efficient, you make more per hour. If you need a second or third job to fill in a cost of living hole then you should find another way to make income from photography.

  7. "Quality that takes twice as long to deliver and does not pay double is foolish business"

    On the contrary - you're more likely to have to improve your quality before you increase your rates rather than vice versa. There's nothing wrong with over-delivering on quality while you hone your craft.

  8. I really struggle with pricing. I hear it over and over; "You should charge more". But my competition is about the same, and a few of them are pretty darn good.

    I thought the answer was to over-deliver product and service, work on my skill level and keep pushing for bigger jobs on nicer homes. But so far that's backfired. What I didn't realize was that the owners and brokers involved in 2 or $4mm home marketing tend to be very weather focused clients... It's one thing to do a sky replacement on a nice $395k sub division home, and quite another with a 7000 sq ft, 2 acre waterfront home featuring expansive Puget Sound vistas (these are Gig Harbor prices, double them for Seattle and 5X them for S CA perspective).

    'Upper-end' clients chase weather reports - and in the Northwest that's a folly. Many of the calls I get these days are clients pushing their shoot forward (at the last minute) to when the weatherman guesses will be the next sunny day.

    As I turn down one 'normal' shoot after another to accommodate these 'special' ones my plan to shoot upper-end, and eventually charge more, is losing it's luster. I can hear what everyone's thinking now; just charge a cancellation fee. I've given that a lot of thought too, and decided that a weather related cancellation fee (in the NW) isn't a good idea.

    In the last 6 months I've exceeded my projected income by a wide (wildly wide) margin. But hourly? If I'm being honest? I doubt it's much over minimum wage. I agree with an above poster that if a person wanted to have somewhat of a normal life doing this, that 50 to $70k is probably where it stops... That's about $30 an hour. And for me, it ISN't doing upper-end.

  9. "There’s nothing wrong with over-delivering on quality while you hone your craft."

    On the contrary - if it continues to take you a long time to deliver quality you will never be able to effectively raise your rates. If you deliver accepted quality in half the time it takes others to deliver the same quality you will make twice their rate for the same quality. You will make even more as you increase your quality but not at the price of time. With quality a given you have to work smarter and faster. You only ever need to be just a bit better than the next guy as far as quality goes. If you are twice as good and you take twice as long it's a wash at twice the price. If you are just as good and take half the time you make twice the rate.

    I do agree that you are very likely to improve your quality over time. I'm saying don't do that at the price of time. Improve you workflow and business practice and it will pay off when quality alone won't.

  10. "On the contrary – if it continues to take you a long time to deliver quality you will never be able to effectively raise your rates."

    Not so - I've just raised my rates fairly considerably for existing clients and have roughly doubled them for new clients. Also, I don't even know what speed other photographers work at, and I only have a vague idea of what they charge, so in reality what they're doing is irrelevant to me and my business outside of quality. My point was that I've been happy to take the hit of earning less per hour last year than I was the year before for the sake of improving my skills and delivering higher quality images by taking more time shooting/editing.

  11. I have enjoyed this site for over a year and have never commented. I appreciate the publisher for all the useful information you provide.
    Had to comment on this one. I don't know what the person that is charging 30.00 per hour is producing but I charge 100.00 to 150.00 per hour. Depending on if I have to stage the house, size, time, processing, etc...
    Just wanted to put my 2cents in.

  12. @Annette and @trevor ward. I think you might be confusing the hourly salary rate of a photographer, with the hourly photography charge that you charge clients.
    I charge $235 AUD (app $167USD) per hour for commercial photography (architects, interior designers etc) here in Australia plus all the peripherals, travel, post production etc. But that's not my salary. That's my salary plus my professional costs, such as equipment upkeep, insurances, business costs etc. Cheapest property shoot is $295 AUD ($210USD) for 4 photos only. Inclusive of all costs. It goes up from there.

    That hourly rate being discussed is based on what your annual salary projection is. As an example $75k/48 weeks/40-45 hour week roughly $30-35 per hour. My hourly rate based on my salary and the preceding formula is $55 AUD (roughly $39 USD). Salary rate for the photographer as an employee of the business. As am I with my own company. And as most photographers such consider themselves as.

  13. What I think everyone is confused with is "hour salary", "Hourly rate" and "Effective Hourly Rate".

    Some folks, very few, charge an hourly rate. When that is done there are typically other chargeable expenses involved. There are unknown variables involved and there is a great difference between Commercial Architectural Photography and the more common "Real Estate Photography" in the original question.

    Most RE photographers charge a fixed price per shoot. That price of course may involve tiers and extras but none time may vary per shoot but averages out to something.

    So let me say my commentary only deals with "Effective Hourly Rate" in relation to "Real Estate Photography"

    An effective hourly rate is what ((total revenue you take in)-(sales tax))/(total hours you have involved in the business Travel+admin+onsite+processing) equals in rough terms.

    This rate can be compared to being hourly employed by a third party when you take away your capital and operational expense and benefits that any other employer would cover.

    So if you bill $100k US per year for roughly 2,000 hours Total Business Involvement you have Revenue of $50 an hour. That is not an Effective Hourly Rate.

    You take that annual billing and subtract only your capital and operational expense that an employer might cover. Let's say that leaves you with $80k in that year. That's a good starting point. Now consider that employers (and this depends on countries) cover additional overhead in the way of benefits and perhaps tax benefits (in US it self employment tax). We have already removed the capital overhead so it's pretty much the benefits and that special tax we need to account for. That may be about 25% of the salary of an hourly employee. So that leaves you with roughly $60k Comparable "Income" to a salaried employee of a big firm.

    So you now see that pushes down your "effective comparable hourly" rate to $30 an hour if you run your business perfectly and have full billing for the year targeting $50 and hour for your total business involvement.

    This is kind of right in line with the standard "seller doer" model which assumes you will "Look for business" 50% of the time you are involved and "Do billable" business 50% of the time.

    So my friends Des from AU is kind of right on the money also. You should always charge twice what "hourly rate" you are targeting and then get all the business you can. This is where my comment comes in about your workflow being more important to increase your effective hour rate than quality. The market will have more impact on what you can charge than your quality will. Of course quality matters. You won't get the business of you don't have quality. You won't be able to get fully billable if you don't have quality unless you are real cheap.

    The only thing you can do, considering the market pressure on pricing, is to improve your work flow and become more efficient. No matter what the market will always determine the price. It's up to you how to get market share and how to make the most of that share turning it into profit. You can't do that by simply being the best photographer out there. A great photographer who is a good business person beats the profits of a great photographer every day.

    Thus the statement about workflow having a greater impact is true.

  14. Hi guys

    I havent read anyone else's comments at this point, so forgive me if i'm repeating, but my thoughts are you should not be thinking in terms of hourly rate whatsover except for in your own behind the scenes calculation to pay people to do re-touching for you etc if your employing them.

    You need to start thinking of your shoots as a whole product, plain and simple, you need to create a "product" that provides great "value" and think in terms of the value your "product" brings to the table for your client to achieve the results he is after.

    What is the value of result your client is after? & what is your place in this value in terms of essential to the result?

    Think not only your photographs, but your standard of service and speed of delivery and all facets from start to finish to derive what your value is to the equation.

    & how does this relate to your competitors and their pricing/ offers. This all needs to be taken into consideration to work out how much you should charge for your "offer".

    good luck!

    cheers Grant

  15. I work a lot. Like 12 hours a day, often 6 days a week in summer. I would say, on average, my week is 65 hours (counting computer and billing time).

    My cost per shoot is about $27 - that's everything, from car depreciation to equipment to internet to branded clothing to camera wear and tear. My average shoot price is $120 (pretty low home prices here). So my net is about $90 per house (pretax). I work about 45 weeks a year. 45 weeks x 65 hours = 2925 hours a year.

    Last year, I shot 988 homes. 988 x 90 = $88,920 in net income (pretax) / 2925 hours = $30.40

    I literally did this math for the first time just now. So yeah, you can make $30 an hour.

    I could make more, I suppose, if I raised prices, but I would lose business to competition, and honestly, the money is great, but the shooting is better.

  16. Randy, you work like a dog but I think you get it. After you calculated the burden of self employment tax and the lack of some benefits you are earning the equivalent of about a $50K a year job working for someone else. That is about $25 and hour.

    Now you can't handle more work so an improvement in quality won't on it's own increase your effective hourly rate because you can't take on more work.

    That being said however by taking a close look at your work flow, which has to be good already to do that many homes, any improvement there increases your hour rate without raising prices.

    This is exactly the way to look at hourly rates and your business. If you want to make money you have to fully analyze your business. Anyone starting out in the business needs to make sure their quality passes or exceeds the local standard then work as smart as possible to make money.

    Grant, you're right about value but you still left out of the equation if it is worth it to you to deliver that value and make money. You must pass the value question to get business. You must pass the "does this make me enough money for my efforts" test in order to run an effective business. So in the end you must start with what you want to make (effective hourly rate), then make sure you deliver what the market wants (value) then do it in a manner where you make money (efficiency).

  17. I agree with almost all of that. A lot of the benefits that I would get from a company, I add into my expenses, for example my health insurance. And as much as self employment taxes cost me, the government also gives me ridiculous benefits on some things. For example, I get what $0.59 a mile for mileage? I Drive a civic and I'm paying a buck and a half for gas. I've done the calculations and that's probably a little bit of a money maker.

    I also am an LLC, & I have my wife working for the business so I can get rid of some of theself-employment taxes through her salary.

    Honestly though , for me it's about doing something that I love to do. I never get tired of shooting pictures, I run my own show, and my income is certainly higher than I thought it would be when I went to commercial photography school 35 years ago.

  18. This is a great post and excellent feedback for those who made comments. I am a Canadian photographer living in Medellin, Colombia.

    I am one of the few real estate photographers in the city. I think that the $30/hour rate makes sense but it isn't the rate that I quote to clients. After editing, shooting and travel it works out to be about $30 an hour. I tend to quote clients for apartments/condos based on the number of rooms not time. The reason being that they don't know how long it takes to do the shoot and edit. For that reason I try to give a flat rate for the job.

    I say that my rates start at $100USD and go up based on the number of rooms. So a 1-bedroom will be $100 (with a gallery of edited photos) and a 2-bedroom will be $130, 3-bedroom $145, etc. I then charge additionally for a twilight/night shoot.

    So for the $100 (1-bedroom shoot), It will take me about 1.5 hours to shoot but about 1.5 hours to edit. So basically that is 3 hours of work for the one job. My rate goes up by bedroom because I spend more time shooting and editing each additional room.

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