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When Should Real Estate Photographers Charge Extra For Photoshop Work?

AppleGateLast week a Patrick asked:

Have you ever asked if real estate photographers access extra fees for removing power lines or issues not the fault of the photographer? I'd like to know what people do.

Yes, we've talked about this before (last time was back in May) but it seems to be a popular issue that many struggle with.

Let me try to sum up the state the PFRE community's thinking from past discussions on this subject:

  1. First of all it is not considered appropriate  to modify permeant features of a property because in real estate agents are prohibited from misrepresenting a property. While technically it is the legal responsibility of the agent to not misrepresent the property some photographers have reported being sucked into the legal proceedings that arise from misrepresentation via modifying photos. So be cautious!
  2. What kind of modifications are considered misrepresentation? Things like removing power lines, power poles, hiding cracks in cement or changing a structure are clearly misrepresentations. Some photographers do this kind of thing but get a signed request from the agent. Here's a summary of the ethics discussion we've had over the years on this subject. There is some disagreement about whether grass and landscaping is a permeant part of the property.
  3. Sky replacement is the most common change that photographers get asked to do. Most real estate photographers that do photo retouching (like sky replacement) typically charge $50 to $60 USD per hour for this work.
  4. Many real estate photographers do basic things to retouch photos for free. Like removing the basketball hoop and tetherball from the home I shot above. Another common retouch is enhancing TV screens or adding fire to a fireplace. This kind of thing can be turned into a competitive advantage if the competition in your area doesn't do this kind of thing.

One thing I've found over the years is that most people (agents in particular) don't realize what can be done with Photoshop. Once my long time Realtor wife discovered what I could do with Photoshop, I started getting many more requests for Photoshop work. She would routinely ask me to remove wrinkles in bedspreads, add vacuum marks to rooms, move pictures on the wall, remove refrigerator clutter (photos and notes hanging on the outside of refrigerators) remove cars and garbage cans and litter boxes. My 5 year old granddaughter discovered this summer that it is impossible to opt-out of a family photo because Pop will just photoshop her in later!

16 comments on “When Should Real Estate Photographers Charge Extra For Photoshop Work?”

  1. This is a issue that can get out of hand very fast with your clients if you do not handle it right. Simple enhancements are something that I will provide for selected photos that clients want. BUT.....when clients ask for extensive time, software, training have a price.

    While this is not a problem with most agent clients, just today I received a request from one that their clients/homeonwers wanted to have their home "fixed". Long story short, this was my response:

    "(Agent name), this “home” was a total mess when I arrived and not ready to shoot. Out of courtesy to you, I went ahead and shot the best I could. Normally and in the future with you, I will decline the shoot and walk away. The properties are to be ready for photographs when I arrive…..not a work in progress. The stains on the ceilings and walls are what they are. If you want to misrepresent the property with Photoshop, that is up to you but I do not “fix” that amount of damage for free. $150"

    Bottom line, whether you are holding a camera or a mouse/Wacom pen .... if you are working, you should get paid

  2. I agree with the comment that when you are doing work you should get paid. My normal work flow does not include Photoshop. I use Lightroom and Oloneo. In Lightroom I can do minor things in a few seconds without a charge like lighting up that exterior light that is burned out or a quick WB correction on exteriors through a window. That is my normal work flow.

    When I hit extra requirements like fixing a burned out lawn or adding bunny clouds and blue sky on a rainy day then I charge. Since I found a way to do those changes quickly with great results, and at a value point the agents will pay for, I do that all the time and they pay all the time. That minor charge when required has resulted in increasing my annual revenues by over 5%.

    Bottom line is fixing skies and seasonal lawn fixes are fast and represent a real value to clients. They never cross the ethics line and should be looked at as a way to increase revenues, improve client satisfaction and improve the look of your images. I think everyone should have this as a priced item and offer it any time it looks like a property needs it. Do it right in front of the seller and the agent will always agree and you will increase your revenues. Don't look at it as if it's a problem, it's a way to make money!

  3. Oh one more thing, as far as pricing goes I do get $60 an hour for that work at minimum. I do charge in $15 increments so it can be more than $60 an hour. Do one I charge $15 and it takes 5 minutes. Do 4 and it might take 20 minutes tops and I charge $30. So I make for $60 to $90 and hour on average for that work. It's a great rate for a small add on that clients love.

  4. I actually do front elevation skies for free. Its not that difficult, and by doing it for free, I have some latitude in how I want to attack it -- for instance, painting in LR vs dropping in a whole new sky.

    For other stuff, as long as its not outside the scope of ethics, I charge $10 per "item" for photoshop work. I have found that it dovetails nicely with the way the agent requests the work -- "Can you photoshop in two working lightbulbs" and its easy to detail on an invoice. There are some things I don't do, (vacuum marks? I need to see THAT tutorial!) but that list is fluid. As I learn to do things efficiently I add them to my list.

  5. I do my std processing using LR & various NIK Filters. I sub out all PS work & charge an average of $20/file for things like sky & lawn replacements, trash can, BB goals, garden hoses, etc

  6. Well, I do grass replacements, remove bed wrinkles, remove ugly pictures, blurr faces in pictures, remove wrinkles in carpet, remove clutter from the fridge, etc. etc. etc. etc. I guess this is why it takes me so long to process a listing! How do you guys charge for this though? Do you contact the agent and say "hey, I see XXXX and it would look better removed. For XX I'll do this for you", or do you just go ahead and do it and submit the bill to the agent at the end? The problem is, even after all the work I put it in a single image I doubt anyone notices because it just looks the way that it SHOULD. My clients hate to be nickle and dimmed so I would have to be real careful about how I approached charging for PS work.

  7. I think this article is spot-on. You need to do the basics, like removing a dead (but heavy) potted plant from the porch photo, or enhancing a sky, etc. But beyond that, the photographer's terms should include the phrase "Properties will be shot 'As Is'". It's the agent's responsibility to have the house looking the way they want it to look. Making the photographer take responsibility for the fact that the place hasn't been made presentable is unreasonable.

    One other thing -- re-touching fees are mainstream around $150 - $175 per hour. But I'd add that there should be a Half Hour minimum, at least. Charging people in $10 increments for little things seems like too much work to keep track of, and also comes of as nickle-and-diming the client. I can see the value in terms of discouraging requests -- each retouching request is a "cha-ching" of ten bucks, but even better to say, look -- if we're going there at all, it's a $75 hit, period.

  8. This may sound like sacrilege, but I do all the fix ups I can within the bounds of the MLS rules, including removing clutter, bluer sky, greener grass, remove garbage cans in the driveway, etc. I don't charge extra. I also return when rooms have been repainted or kitchens updated -- no extra charge for my best clients. And, if the home has not sold when the season changes, I return for new exterior photos. All at no extra charge. These services distinguish me from all my competition in the area. I've been doing it this way for the past 10 years. Oh! And my package includes brochures in MS Publisher, .PDF and printed form. My fees depend on the size of the home -- ranging from $200 for small condos to $800 for homes priced ad $800,000 and above.

  9. I have found including one each of blue sky, greener grass or fire in fireplace in each shoot works well. So, three things included, really does not matter if it is 3 fires, 3 skies, etc. After that, everything is extra charge. I charge $120 per hour for PS work removing cars, cans, etc., in 15 minute increments. I usually figure it all out before I leave the shoot and collect in full. A couple times, extras have been outside of the estimated time and the realtors were fine with sending more money. Has worked well. If I return for re-paint or season change, extra charge. I charge for everything, no reason not to. Anything else says that the guys who do not get the extra 'free' service are being overcharged, in my humble opinion. The plumber does not install the new faucet free because you are tired of the 'old' new one he did two months ago. I do not use the term free for any service, it is either included or it is charged. Nothing is free. Shows respect for me and for my profession.

  10. My post above got me to re-evaluate my pricing model to see if it was really working for me. This may not work for others, since RE photography is not my full-time job. I'm also an active Realtor, and a programmer and web site developer. So photography supplies about 1/3 of my income.

    So, I did some analytic queries against my job database -- looking at 1,063 photo jobs over the past several years, my average revenue per job was $283. An average of 5 hours per job equals $57 per hour. Yes, I know there is overhead to deduct. But so far, I'm happy with these stats.

    As a Realtor, I realized early on that my photo clients (RE agents) work many hours with no guarantee of payment. They get paid their commission only if they sell a home and make it to the closing table. Also their pay amount is based on the sale price of the property. That's why my pricing, also based on the sale price, makes sense to other agents. I believe that is why I have been able to attract and keep the agents I work with over the years. During the recent recession, for example, as home prices dropped, the agents income dropped correspondingly, as did my photo fees (since both are based on home sale price). This made it easier for my clients to justify continuing to use my services when it would have been an easy way for them to cut their up-front costs.

    Note that other professionals also work along with agents -- not requiring payment unless the transaction closes. Attorneys (may vary by state), home warranty companies, mortgage loan brokers, all perform work and don't get paid if there is no close.

  11. @Michael Allen,

    Photographers as you know generally fall into the category of Marketing. Like Printers, web designers, Graphic designers and developers ect. Realtors do work with a lot of different industries along their path, and the marketing side of their path historically always get paid per assignment as the work they perform is finished or some version along the way.

    I am not that knowledgable as to why home warranty companies, mortgage loan brokers and other industries bill after the sale is made, but if I had to guess a few factors may be:

    1) They likely don't have to do 100% of the work upfront.
    2) They stand to make much more money getting tied up into the contracts.
    3) Their business model would not support upfront high costs and remain competitive.
    4) Local, State and Federal regulations may "require" their services to be rendered (obviously not true with photography).

  12. I work in Lightroom and Photoshop to finish the images I will send to the real estate agents. If they want further post processing work, I charge $50/hr ($30min) for work that I am comfortable doing. Skies, lawns, dangling cable removal and additional touch up is all fine, but trying to remove a car or other large objects in view can be more difficulty than I want to take on. Past a certain point I'll recommend reshooting and I'll likely charge less to do that the next time I'm in the area than it will cost for me to spend an hour in Photoshop trying to do the same thing with dubious results.

    I saw a comment about fireplaces that made me stop and think. The photographer should know (or ask) if the fireplace actually works and what fuels it can be used with, wood/pellets/gas. Planting a nice burning log in a fireplace that only works with gas or perhaps not even at all would be a misrepresentation. I haven't done any fires and have never been asked for one. I'm sure that I will get asked at some point and need to study up on the best way to do it.

    @Michael Allen, you are in the minority by basing your pricing on the sale price of the home and way to the right hand side of the graph when it comes to deferring payment until a sale closes. Most RE photographers base their fees on the number of photos delivered (me) or the size of the home and bill upfront for their services or require payment within a set period of time. Agents have the risk of performing a bunch of work and losing a listing if it doesn't sell, but they also have a pretty substantial commission if they sell the home. I could offer to photograph a home for $200 paid upfront or $600 when/if the homes closes but I'd be taking a risk that the home is priced correctly for the market, a factor I don't have the knowledge to evaluate, and that the agent will be working hard to get the home sold in a reasonable amount of time. I'm also taking a risk that I will be informed when the home sells. This means that I will have to use what informational tools I can find to keep track of homes for which I have this arrangement (more time invested). Agents have much better access to tools that can track a specific properties' status. If I'm not paid when the home sells, I have nothing to repossess and a cost of collections that might equal or exceed my invoice. If I've extended this offer on several properties to the same agent who then fails to pay, I could be out a very large amount of money and not be able to pay my bills on time.

    A full time agent doesn't have an "upfront cost" to cut if they are consistently selling property. They have an ongoing advertising expense tied to the number of homes they have under contract. If the agent is taking their last commission check and not reserving a portion as part of those ongoing expenses, they are starting from scratch for each new home they represent and doomed to fail. The termite inspector, the appraiser, the plumber, the painters and carpet cleaning service all get paid when they do their work and are unlikely to defer payment until/if the home is sold. If the agent is so underfunded that they can't afford professional photos, they should consider having the seller hire the photographer directly and offer a refund for the cost on closing.

  13. @Ken Brown,

    Being in the minority is the story of my life

    Just to clarify, I DO get paid up-front. I split my fee: half paid when I deliver photos and second half at close. This makes a higher total fee affordable to agents who don't get ANY payment until close. My first half fee by itself is competitive with my competition and higher than the gun&run VT services. As I said, this will not work for others. As an agent, it's easy for me to keep track when my projects close. I have never not been paid at closing after nearly 2,000 jobs.

    The termite inspector, the appraiser, the plumber, the painters and carpet cleaning service all get paid by the home owner -- not the agent. In most cases, my fee is the largest marketing expense they have. I adopted this method to make it possible for agents to pay a higher total fee than most of them would be able to otherwise. It's been working well for many years.

    I've been reading the "Per Image Pricing" topic on the Flickr forum. That would drive the agents I work with crazy. I'm sure I would lose them as clients. Some of my less expensive competitors have tier pricing based on the number of photos -- all the way up to 36 photos! The service I provide is to present the home at its best, regardless of how many views it takes to do that. For larger expensive homes, I typically take over 100 shots (counting brackets as one shot). I end up post-processing most of them. I select the best and most representative 40 to 60 for the VT slideshow. This, plus my other services (, justify the up to $800 fee for high-end properties.

    This home, featured in "Crain's Chicago - Real Estate Daily" (, is a good example. I took 104 views. The VT has 59 images. I was paid $800. Agent could afford it. Agent is happy, I am happy.

  14. @Michael Allen,

    I come back from a job with more well over 100 images from bracketing and things like having lights on and off. I rarely have alternate compositions unless I am contemplating delivering more than one composition of a room. The more I work, the more confident I am in the views I choose. It's down to anticipating problems I might have in post with exposure and/or color. I deliver between 18 and 28 finished images on average for each home. I find 40-60 images overkill. To provide that many images, I would have to charge far more or strictly shoot in a run&gun style with much less work in post to achieve the modest $/hr goals I have set. If I can spend 4-5 minutes per image on-site (including brackets, lights, staging details) I'm happy with the results I get. 50 images would be 200-250 minutes (3-4 hours) on site plus travel and post. I would only be able to do one home per day (I book 2/day) and I don't see that the extra images would be adding value to match the higher prices I would have to charge.

    I don't provide or recommend Virtual Tours. When I talk with people, a very large percentage find VT's annoying. Agents that have VTs as a separate page tell me they get very few clicks. They just don't draw in visitors in my market area. Some agents in other areas say they do very well with VT's, but I'm not sure if it's because there is no way to view the images any other way. Most of those agents are using their cell phone pictures and probably aren't tracking their ROI on their marketing anyway.

    My "package" is that I have a minimum charge for each of the cities in my rather large coverage area. The charge includes 20 photos which I have found to be a very good number to highlight an average property well. I will often deliver a few more images at my discretion and after I have worked with an agent for a few jobs, I might deliver as few as 18 for a smaller home. If the agent wants to be guaranteed to receive more than 20 images, they can request and pay for more images ahead of shooting. I rarely shoot "on-spec" unless I see a composition that must go in the gallery and then I will include it. I take the time I need to get the images I am contracted for and I want to get back to the office to process and upload them to my server for delivery. My customers value a faster turnaround more than having the option to purchase more images. When I have asked, they all were not interested in viewing additional images. I'm somewhat lucky that most of my clients know exactly what they want and will let me know what is most important to have images of for each home they represent.

    Expectations are different for each market and part of running a successful business is to provide the level of service the market wants if it can be done profitably. In some areas, the market has been skewed by a few photographers that have been willing to deliver an excessive number of images for far too low of a price. It seems that when one finally figures out that they are making less than half of minimum wage and drops out, another takes their place and agents, used to the abnormally low price, won't pay more. That can make it tougher to break into that area (profitably) than if there has been no professional imagery to start with.

  15. @Ken Brown,

    All good points Ken. I'm relatively new to this forum, but already have learned many useful new techniques and benefited from seeing how others run their businesses.

    Just a couple responses:

    On virtual tours: I provide slideshow type VTs on my web site and post between 30 and 60 images depending on the size of the home. I post a link to the VT in the MLS and on Since our (Chicago area) MLS only allows 25 small sized images, the VT is a way to show many more full-screen sized photos. allows 36 high-res images and claim that listings with VT links and 36 photos get more views than the ones that only have the small ones pulled from the MLS. Since I host my VTs on my own custom site I can track views. It's highly dependent on the price and location, but most of my VTs get 100 or more views during the first week.

    On number of photos: Anecdotes: Sellers sometimes say: "You post 50 photos? I don't think anyone will look at that many!". Buyers say: "We came to see this home because of the 50 photos online. We only wish there were more!"

    This one: displays 59 images in 3 minutes on my system -- not too long for prospective buyers interested in seeing as much as possible online before booking an appointment.

  16. This is an interesting and useful conversation thank you Larry! Most good Realtors understand "ready to shoot" is the same as "ready to show," and if the home is not ready most will reschedule the shoot. Experienced Realtors understand respecting peoples time and valuing their work. It does not take long to figure out who will always take your time for granted and not value your work. If the home is not ready to shoot how much time would it take to solve that with Photoshop? Sounds like a huge time suck! Also, if the home is not ready to shoot and you do your best to shoot around the issues, guess who will be blamed for mediocre photos!
    Scott Hargis posted many times about the time it takes to shoot a house in terms of time spent on each room and that helped me understand a lot about pricing. The time it takes to shot a tract home may take 5 minutes a room, while estate homes with window views may take 20 minutes a room, so size is not the only factor in pricing. When asked about price differences I explain that I don't shoot your estate listing the same as I shoot your tract listing, even if they are the same size. That resonates with Realtors.
    When asked to do extra photoshop work some of that is already built into fees for estate type homes such as sky replacement, vignettes, special detail shots, color correction targets, flash gels, etc. I have $50 per half-hour fee "can you photoshop that out or in" work, but mostly I refer tougher challenges to professional photoshop people. I stay busy enough improving on my core skills and photoshop is not one of them!
    I have been a commercial real estate appraiser and photographer in my own business for over 25 years; 8 years ago I ramped up photography and (tried) to ramp down appraisal So many things I learned about pricing and clients in photography came from lessons learned running the appraisal business. Never accept payment when a sale closes; that will always imply to the client payment of your fee is optional and based on their success and not your skill. The home and termite inspectors may be paid out of escrow, but they only make that deal with larger firms when payment is contractually required; they will be paid even if the deal does not close, you won't be! If the work is for a private party and not well known agent or firm, don't be afraid to ask for a deposit before starting work, or, don't accept a huge job first time out; share your risk. On larger jobs that are delivered in stages ask for partial payment when the first phase of work is delivered. A few nuggets I made note of over the years: Respect the value of your work, all of it; Learn your craft then charge market rate for it; Let the market set your fees, not the cheapest competitor in your market; When experienced peers tell you what the going rate is, let that be your target; Don't worry about the client walking out the door, worry about the client walking in.

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