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What Should You Charge For Real Estate Photography?

Published: 09/12/2015
By: larry

Everyone starting out in real estate photography wants to know, "what should I charge for real estate photography in my geographic location?" There isn't a simple answer that works everywhere. Over the years I've done several posts that address real estate photography pricing from several different angles but recently while talking to someone about pricing I realized that I've but never summarized a complete pricing process. So here is my attempt at doing that:

  1. Determine your cost to show up: This is basically figuring out your expenses and distributing those expenses over the number of estimated shoot you do in a year. Take care that you are including all your expenses in your pricing estimates. Here's a post on determining your cost to show up.
  2. Determine what your time is worth:  The US dept of labor statistics says the average hourly rate in the US has been about $23 per hour for several years so it's not unreasonable to be in this range.
  3. Determine the average time you spend on a shoot: You've got to include driving time, shooting time and time spent on post-processing and delivery. Your total time is likely to be about 3 hours.
  4. Compute your ideal shoot price: Your shoot price is equal to your cost to show up plus your time charge. Ideal here means to cover all of your expenses and make a decent per hour wage.
  5. Research your local service market: This step is just a verification you are in the right ballpark. Compare your ideal shoot price to what other service people charge in your area. Other service people in your area are doing similar services to real estate photography in your area and have been in business for a long time. For example, routine furnace people have to show up, and spend slightly less time than you will spend doing a shoot so compare there charges to your ideal shoot price. So your shoot price shouldn't be less than the furnace maintenance guy! Here's a post on this kind of research I did several years ago.
  6. Research your competition: Check out what other real estate photographers in your area charge and compare your quality to theirs. Researching pricing can be difficult because not all real estate photographers list their prices on their web site. Find others in your area by checking the PFRE real estate photographer directory.  There's a tendency to do nothing but pay attention to what the competition is charging. The fact is far too many beginning real estate photographers don't charge enough to cover their cost to show up and their time.
  7. Determine your competitive shoot price: Be aware that the photographer with the lowest shoot price is not always the "winner". The problem with the real estate photography business is there are a lot of folks out there that haven't gone through the process in #1 through #6 above. They are in the business part time to just make a few extra bucks and so they tend to not include all their expenses like you need to to stay in business for the long haul. So if you just lower your price to their's you are going to be sucked into taking a big cut in what you are being paid for your time or if you go too far you won't even cover your expenses. Don't try to compete just on price!

One thing you need to understand is that a low price doesn't always get you more business. I have seen several cases where when photographers RAISED their price they got more business because the became more attractive to upper-end agents. Here are two specific cases:

Both Peggy and Robert have raised their prices over the last year or so and are doing much better as a result.

My goal in this post was to review ALL the factors you should consider in doing your pricing. I realize there is geographic variation in pricing. But what I run into time and time again in talking to people that charge $60 per shoot or $75 or $99 per shoot is they are only considering what others are charging. Many times they don't even know what they are making per shoot or what they make per hour. My whole motivation here is to help people take care of themselves! It tears me up when I run across someone getting $36/shoot from a large national company with no mileage and is supplying their own equipment. I think the first step in looking out for yourself is being independent and the next step is doing the 7 analysis steps above.


8 comments on “What Should You Charge For Real Estate Photography?”

  1. Larry,

    The link in #1, 404'd.

    Great advice, I'm currently going through this process. Hope that link can help me out. I have no idea what my cost to show up is or on what it should be based.

    - Jonathan

  2. @Larry - You give some much great advice - tips and tactics for how to take better photos - I'm a little surprised by this post.

    In my opinion, a professional photographer should never price their products based on how much it costs to provide the services. Never. Costs have a role to play, but never in setting the price. This is a very common trap that people fall into - way too common in the industry as far as I'm concerned.

    Pricing should be set based on the value that the client receives. How will the agent use the photos? How will they help that agent attract a buyer for the listing or secure a future seller? That is the critical question. If photos are just "good enough" - especially if the photographer is only taking photos in order to save the agent time, then the photographer will have a problem earning a professional-level wage. We have to think in terms of the market value that we're providing to the agent and make sure that we're providing a quality of service that the agent cannot provide themselves - that is first. Then, we price accordingly.

    Do costs matter? Absolutely. But only to determine if a photographer should be in the business or go do something else. If the photographer cannot get their skill level high enough to provide enough value to the agent to charge a high enough price in order to make a significant hourly wage for their time - they should go find something else to do that is a better fit for them. On the other hand, if the photographer has 'the eye' for excellent photography, and the appropriate equipment, they should not be setting their pricing in light of 'competition' that doesn't stack up.

    We tell our photographers all of the time - if you want to give yourself a raise, do it! Since you set your own prices in our system, all you have to do is improve the quality of your photography and raise the price. As long as your photos are better than the agent can take by enough of a margin that the agent can easily tell the difference, they'll pay you well because they know that you're the key to growing their business. Agents will ask for a discount, and try to negotiate the price down because they are trained negotiators. They'll tell you that other people are cheaper, talk about using other photographers, and use every tactic they know of to put pressure on your price. It's what they do. It's not a reflection of how they value your service - so don't fall for it.

    In our 20 years in the business, and with over 50,000 pro shoots by our network last year, we've seen that the quality of the photos is the key to winning business. In some markets we do this really well, in others we're working to improve. So my advice is don't be afraid to price by value (not cost). Just make sure the value is there.

  3. How would this math work if you don't know how many shoots you will do in a year if your like me and just starting out? This is something I haven't given much thought to, when I started I found what was the lower range pricing, figured that being at the lower end of the spectrum would be the best way to get clients and priced myself at that.


  4. I think Herb's comment warrant special attention and ultimately have a bearing on the concept of rights-managed licensing of intellectual property, which commercial photographers commonly use to help calculate the fees they charge their clients for the usage of their photos. I have a feeling that many real estate photographers do not really consider how their clients will actually be using the photos when setting their rates, and just give broad usage rights to their clients, regardless of what those clients actually need. Many real estate agents will just use the photos for the mls and for cheap flyers that they make themselves on the office printer, which costs them nothing, whereas other agents may also use the photos in expensive magazine ads and custom websites. While the basic usage may be the same in both cases, Internet and print, the actual media presentations will be very different. In the first case, a real estate agent may not need photos that are of particularly high quality and thus may not be willing to pay very much for them, while the second case might require photos of much higher quality, which should entail a higher fee, due to the higher marketing value of the images, since these are photos the agent will use not only to market the home, but also to market themselves for new listings, often long after the current listing has sold.

    Also, while I am at it, I would like to emphasize the potential for relicensing the listing photos to other parties who may have been involved with the home, such as the architect, interior designer, building contractor or stager, who might also want to use the photos for their own marketing. Thus, the listing photos may have additional value beyond their immediate purpose. This only tends to occur in a relatively small percentage of cases, and more often with higher end properties than with more typical ones, but it is potential supplementary income that photographers should not ignore, if they are in the right kind of market for it. To this end, photographers should be very clear in their license terms that no third-party usage of their photos is permitted without their written authorization, and they should not agree to any type of exclusivity that prevents them from relicensing their photos, at least not without charging a substantial premium for such exclusivity, to compensate them for restricting their ability to generate income from the images from other potential clients.

  5. When I just started in 2006 with my REphoto business it was a hard time to now the market. I started with low aerial photography with a 15meter pole and was quite unique. But I had no clients yet, no network, so stRted call calling. I even hadn't determined a price. At that time it really wasn't important to me. But this was a mistake. For my first clients I've been working too cheap and couldn't rise my prices. So after 2 years trying with an annual income of 8000€/$ I've started to run my business with a new vision. Just start the interior RE business and focus.

    I have been calculating what I needed a mont / a year. I worked 4 days and had one Daddy(?) day 3 kids now.

    So started to calculate. How many shoots can I do? What Re my costs for insurance, how can I replace my stuff when needed, how about Hollidays, bad weather etc. I needed at least 70.000€/$ a year for income insurance taxes and costs.

    i was planning for 3 shoots a day, 4 days a week, 40 weeks a year,
    I determined a price of 150€/$ a shot ex vat. Max 1 hour on location, 30 min travel, 30min post. 2hours so 75€/$ an hour. Impressive. For me it worked.

    Several years later by business still exists and having more work then I can handle myself. At this moment i have a 200k€/$ business. In 2011 I found a software partner who created an order system to connect clients to photographers. Every shoot I can't do myself I'll connect it to another photographer. We have 3 self employed photographers with spare time where we work with. All the photographers we provide with poles, 360 equipment and some training to equal quality.

    Still we keep the 150€/€ as magic number because it works for us. Covering expenses, paying the 3 photographers out faster then we get paid and getting their loyalty as reward.

    2014 whe had an annual business of 140k 2015 we grew with 42%. Let's see what's possible for 2016!

    Just want to say: make a plan, enjoy your business and stay happy. It's all possible!

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