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What Should Real Estate Photographers Charge for Rental/Leasing Photos?

Published: 08/08/2018
By: larry

Alan in the Seattle area asks:

While mostly shooting residential, I’ve been asked to shoot commercial real estate. The photos will be used to lease the properties. I have no idea what to charge for this type of project.  Do you have any advice?

Photos used for renting and leasing property are typically used over and over whereas sale photos are used once. Here are some things to think about:

  1. In general, for sale photos are used for a relatively short time but the transaction value is large. Rental photos are usually used for a long time over and over but the transaction value is much lower.
  2. Clearly specify in your licensing agreement how long photos are licensed for. The longer they can use them, the more they should be charged.
  3. Research your local market. See what the local expectations are. If you live in an area with lots of rentals, it certainly makes sense to treat rentals very differently. Rental owners may well push back if other photographers are not doing the same thing.
  4. You should have a different license agreement for rental photos. Rental clients are more likely to think that they own the photos and believe they can use them forever and even sell them to a new rental property owner. Are you going to transfer ownership to them, or allow them to use the photos for a specific amount of time? A discussion of the alternatives is a good place to start the pricing discussion.
  5. If you are going to transfer ownership to them, then my guess is that you should charge them 3 or 4 times the "for sale rate."
  6. If you are shooting a bunch of properties for the same client, a volume discount may be in order.

What are others' experiences with shooting leasing and rental properties?

10 comments on “What Should Real Estate Photographers Charge for Rental/Leasing Photos?”

  1. Alan, I've been trying to get my foot in the door to make photos for commercial buildings, mostly light industrial rather than office/retail and the agents are even less motivated than many real estate agents.

    As pointed out, make sure your licensing terms are spelled out and understood by your customer before you do the work. A light industrial building that is often leased by the occupant for years might not be a problem since they are often modified and new photos are needed each time they are available to lease again after several years. An office suite or multi-tenant high rise manager may have many similar offices for lease in the same building or complex and they could reuse images. Retail space gets modified a lot and the neighbors will change in something like a strip mall so images don't have a lot of shelf life.

    Find out from the customer what their expected usage is going to be. Do they just need images to advertise the space or is the company a huge national property leasing firm that owns billions of dollars of business property and they will use the images in corporate publications, websites, etc. Will they use the images to sell their holdings in an entire state or region. The value is much different in the latter cases. Be sure to do a little research to find out who your customer is. A big company used to spending large sums on advertising might not flinch at a quote that is many times what you normally charge for RE work. In fact, quoting too little may raise a flag that you don't know what you are doing. Sit down with your contact and find out what budget figure they have in mind. Use the pretext of needing to find out if you should be suggesting aerial images and how much retouching they might want. "Would $5,000 be out of your budget? Ok, I'll not suggest XXXXXX in a formal quote" $5k is not an exaggeration. If they aren't put off by a number like that for a day or so of photography, use it as a launching pad to see what the budget might expand to based on what they need and what they want to do with it. If you are very lucky, they might come right out with a figure, but I've always had to work a bit to get to see their hand.

    Value and usage are the key concepts. A local property owner with a small block of industrial buildings may only have a limited budget but may only be using the images once. A large company may be using the images much more and will be getting more value from them and you should get your share of that value. If you are dealing with somebody that has a bunch of properties, point 6, I suggest mentioning a volume discount on subsequent jobs rather than the first. You want to know that you will get further work from the client and also that you want to work with the client again. I can't count how many times somebody has asked for a discount up front with promises of lots more sales/work in the future over the years. Not a single one ever panned out. You are also going to be eating a certain amount of learning curve and possibly be buying or renting gear to do the jobs.

    If you have the chance, pick the brain of somebody in the commercial leasing market around you to find out the financial realities. If you are doing the work for a property manager, you want to know how much they get when they get a tenant to sign a lease and how much they earn (usually a percentage) on a monthly basis to manage a property. They aren't going to spend 6 months of management fees for photos. If you are working for the building owner, they may be in a position to pay much more. If the owner is a holding company, they may pay considerably more if they feel they need to. In a leasee's market where there is a lot of vacancies, attracting tenants and keeping rents flowing is a big deal. Big companies want to have very small vacancy rates to make their stockholder reports look good.

    Don't be afraid to sell your Copyright, but make it worth your while. If you are licensing the images with an expiration date, you have a perfect opportunity to reconnect with the customer if you haven't been doing more work for them in the mean time. There is no multiplication factor that applies to every situation. You have to know the customer and have some estimate of the value the images will bring to them. The images themselves will also play a factor. The better they are, the better the subject, the more they are worth. There will be some that you are perfectly happy to sell out for $50ea after being paid for their production. I get houses like that every week. There are some where I know the chance of secondary licensing is hugging zero. I have a few that could bring in big money with the right customer so it's impossible to apply a consistent price or multiplier.

  2. Charging according to the physical size of the property is akin to charging more for headshots of tall people and less for short people. If you ask your client, they'll tell you they think they're paying for (wait for it....) Photos.

    So, charge them for photos. Not square footage, or time, or whatever other collateral statistic.

  3. I charge my normal rate for a standard RE listing or large size RE listing, plus a small fee (usually $150.00) for commercial buildings. The client gets a 4 year terms of use. Almost always, I end up re-shooting the building earlier than the four years due to renovations, new landscaping, a tenant moving out and upgrades being installed. I include aerial images (takes an extra 15 minutes) and I spend a little more time making sure to capture any parking areas, what the street view looks like (commercial agents usually want to show traffic flow), and maybe a neighborhood shot where the building is at.

  4. Scott Hargis' comment that charging by the physical size of the property is akin to "charging more for headshots of tall people and less for short people", is a little puzzling for me. At least in my experience, both short and tall people typically only have one head to shoot. Whereas larger houses almost always have more rooms to shoot and more angles, requiring more time to take pictures and to process. In addition, most agents and brokers want to choose from a variety of photographs. They may lack the time and energy to decide which room, and which angles are worth shooting and which ones to leave out before the shoot begins. I give them a wide variety of images, since in most cases they don't know what they want until they see it. They never argue or fret over the price after the fact, since square footage is a matter of public record.

    It would be nice to charge per photo, since that factor most directly correlates to time spent, but I do not see that happening except on very high-end shoots where the agent can put considerable time and experience into planning what to include and not include in the shoot. Scott undoubtedly works with some very sophisticated clients, but here in the hinterlands most agents and brokers are pressed for time, are not sophisticated about photography and do not want to devote mental energy into figuring out what rooms to leave in or leave out. That's not to mention the problem of owners and their pets being around at the time of the shoot. In addition, agents of low and mid range properties do not want to think about whether 15 or 25 photographs are enough, they don't really know. They hire photographers to enhance their business at a predictable and reasonable price, with minimal input from them. This is vastly different from the marketing of multi-million dollar properties with large budgets and specialized staff.

  5. The above blog article is misleading, since it only addresses short-term rentals. Most rentals that the real estate agents we deal with do are long-term rentals that are typically at least one year, and the agent/client may not necessarily be involved when the property is re-released. In such cases you can treat the terms and fee in the same way as a listing for sale, in which the client's right to use the photos will end when they have leased the property, and they must pay an additional fee if they want to reuse the same photos for a subsequent listing of the property.

    As far as pricing for short-term rentals, I would consider the term of the usage. If we assume that the maximum period of use for homes for sale or long-term lease is typically one year, then the fee for usage to market a short-term rental for one year would be the same, and you can make adjustments based on that rate for longer or short periods of use. However, as the article notes, fees for real estate agents from rental listings are often lower than for sale listings, which some may need factor into your fees, though I have not normally reduced my fees because of this.

    The blog article also fails to mention photos that will be used to market multiple units in an apartment complex, which should typically entail a higher fee per photo than for marketing a single residential unit, assuming the same level of quality for the photos.

    In the end, the simple formula for pricing is, the more potential economic benefit to the client from using the photos, the more you charge.

  6. Charging per image works perfectly for me and my clients. If a house has 4 bedrooms and 3 of them are in poor order and say the master bedroom looks perfectly fine then they'll only want the nice bedroom photographed. I've delivered around 50 images for a 2000 sf home and 6 to 10 images for 3000 to 6000 sf homes. The size of the place never matters but the condition, décor, style and tidiness do.

    As for the main topic - I only shoot residential rentals (rather than commercial/office space) and charge the same as I do for sales listings. Although the images could theoretically be used more than once, and they often are, I find that there are frequently changes to the properties over time, such as redecoration, refurbishment, change of furniture or furnishing a previously empty property, and so I'm hired to re-shoot.

  7. I agree with Andrew Held. It takes way more time shooting and editing a 4,000+ sq. ft. house than a 1,600 sq. ft. house because there are usually way more rooms. I shoot every room including the basement, laundry room, tool shed, chicken coop, and even the garage if they ask for it, because here in Western North Carolina, that's what they want. I deliver a lot of photos and let them pick what they want to use. My square footage pricing works fine for me. The MLS allows for 36 images in my area so I usually provide 40+ images. Price per photo would simply not work here. And I charge the same rate for short term rentals as residential listings.

  8. @ Rick McEvoy, The size of a building may suggest an image count. A higher priced property may need more images to highlight it's features, but, for me, it comes down to how many images I'm being asked to provide. For convenience, I have set prices for a nominal 20 images with pricing based on location. I know how much time on average it takes me to create a deliverable image and I know roughly what my travel time is going to be for each area. Knowing my time and hard costs lets me formulate a pricing schedule that makes me money. I initially charged by the square footage of the home and found agents lying to keep from being in the next higher tier and winding up in homes that were carved up into a large number of separate rooms that all needed at least one photo and then some photos to show the flow. That means I'm getting walking into jobs where I have no idea what my costs are going to be and I also can't schedule sessions very tightly since I have no idea of how many photos I will have to make on a job.

    Setting prices based on the value of a property is great, if you are the one doing it and I'm the one that isn't and we are in the same market. Chances may be very good that I'll be quoting a lower price to do the job. I want those million dollar plus properties. They're more likely to be much nicer, decorated well and tidy. In other words, great portfolio material and much more satisfying to photograph than a TBSH or a well lived-in 3/2 in the 'burbs.

    The OP's question is in regards to commercial rental property. That could be 1,000 sqft of warehouse with one office or 100,000 sqft with a suite of offices and work rooms. It could also be offices in a professions complex or retail. This is the sort of work where I quote separately for the production of the images and also the usage. I do often charge more since I have to meet with the client, visit the property before the shoot and spend more time on the business end. If the job is on the small side, it can be possible to virtually visit the address with Google street view and give the customer a quote based on the number of photos they want. That quote could also be an all in one package where I'm not breaking out anything and a license renewal is the same price or a percentage.

    Think about the cost to do the job. The entire job including phones calls, advancing the shoot (visiting the property beforehand), meetings to discuss what images the customer wants to come away with and what the usage will be and any gear purchases or rentals needed to do the job. If you are billing, you have to factor in that you may have to spend time getting your invoice paid. A big job may involve contracts and an hour of time with your own attorney. I'd suggest aiming for a personal paycheck that is around $100/hour. Don't forget the 1/3 of that, at least, is going to be paid in taxes. Your company has to earn a return as well even if you are the company.

    Residential rentals are a different beast.

  9. @ Andrew, Scott's comment was in response to Rick's comments. I agree with Scott that it makes absolutely no sense to base your pricing on the size of the property, or the value, you are shooting. I charge by the image and feel that is the only method that is fair to both you and the client. I don't create extra images and let them pick and choose. Doing so only means that you are leaving money on the table. For me, it takes the same amount of time to create an image regardless of the size or value of the property. Obviously, larger homes will result in more images. But, to create 20 images in a 700sf bungalow will, on average take the same amount of time to create 20 images of a 10K sf mansion. I give the agents a choice. They can provide me with a shot list ahead of the shoot or be on site to collaborate with me on what needs to be shot or to trust me that I will know what needs to be shot. 99% of the time they trust me to capture what they need for marketing the property.

    Pricing by the image also upscales well to working with other types of clients as well. For instance, builders, architects, interior designer, etc. The bottom line is that how much you charge a client should somehow be tied to the use of the images. More use=more they should be willing to pay for that use. Shooting strictly RE normally the use of the images is short-term and once the home sells or the agent loses the listing then your images no longer have any value to them. Whereas images created for other types of clients the "shelf-life" of the images may be for a longer period of time, in more types of media and possibly in a larger geographical area.

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