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Work Fast, Cut The Corners That Don't Matter to Anyone But You

I want to highlight some great wisdom that Fred Light gave on a recent discussion in the Video For Real Estate Flickr discussion group. Fred is an experienced real estate photographer and videographer working in MA and NH. In this quote Fred is talking about video but it applies to all of real estate photography. Fred says:

" many photographers and videographers obsess over details - technical details - that NOBODY (except other photographers and videographers) would ever notice or care about!

...If you want to make a business out of this, you need to work lean, mean and FAST. You need to price yourself competitively for whatever your particular market will bear ...

Spend your time figuring out how to cut corners to get a product out FAST and CHEAP. It needs to be good ENOUGH - not perfect. If you obsess over perfection, you'll be pursuing a hobby, not a profitable business.

If you can work fast, cut the corners that don't matter to anyone but you, and have a good and fast workflow, this is a great business! ..."

Fred is right on, real estate photographers need to be in touch with both the quality and the price aspects of their market. I say "their" market because all markets are not the same. The market is determined by agents expectations and sophistication and that varies. This is why real estate photography is different that what I call "architectural" photography. My definition of architectural photography is where the clients are architects and designers and professions that are trained in the visual arts and thus have high visual expectations.

16 comments on “Work Fast, Cut The Corners That Don't Matter to Anyone But You”

  1. Excellent points.

    I do believe there is should be a sweet spot for polishing your work that lands far beyond 'good enough' but doesn't take nearly as much time as 'total perfection'. While sacrificing perfection in real estate photography is required to be able to work fast and get that product to your clients, it is the attention to detail that separates the professional real estate photographer from an amateur one.

    The market here is not as saturated with real estate photographers like many other markets. St. Louis photographers and videographers for real estate should find balance in polishing their work and getting it out the door.

    BTW, I've always wanted a better explanation of the differences in terns of real estate photography vs. architectural photography, and Fred is right on!

  2. Like many other aspects of business, the photographer has ... No, must find the right price and quality combination that will allow him or her to operate profitably. Your work has to be priced competitively. It must also be completed with both the quality necessary to ensure happy clients and a level of customer service that makes you stand out as a go-to photographer.

  3. I think Fred's advice is good, but I think a couple of caveats are in order. "Good Enough" should not be an excuse for "sloppy" - I've taken a lot of really great clients away from other photographers who were obsessed with fast and cheap, at the expense of "good". Great photography will be rewarded, assuming the photographer has the business sense to remain profitable, and to market himself/herself appropriately.

    Secondly, anyone who aspires to shoot better material, and for higher pay, will have to disregard that advice completely. Being mediocre will ensure that you will have mediocre clients and mediocre invoices. In order to "climb the ladder" and shoot at a high level (pardon the pun), you'll need to demonstrate that you can produce work at that level. Consistently. Along the same lines, I can't imagine churning out "good enough" work day in and day out for weeks on end, without going crazy from boredom! Personally, if I'm not challenged, I'd rather be pursuing any of the myriad other (easier) ways of making money.

    I haven't been following the Flicker thread, and I'm sure that Fred understands all this, but I think it should be made clear here.

  4. Great point and it needed to be said. It's easy as a photographer to get caught up in the finer details and forget about the business aspect of what we do. If we spend an inordinate amount of time capturing or editing, we're butchering the ability to turn a profit quickly. Quality will make or break any business but as photographers, we can take it to the extreme. We should always have in the back of our mind that the objective is to grab the potential buyers attention and help them envision themselves in the home.

    On another note, there is always room for improvement. I wish I could be as experienced as some of the photographers on this site that can produce amazing images in half the time. In order to reach that level, I may have to spend time doing things that may seem over the top but the idea is that it will go faster as time goes on. It all comes with practice but we have to keep the big picture in mind. We're in business to make money and because we love doing what we do. Great topic all.

  5. I understand what Fred is saying, but I also think it is dangerous advice. If you are an accomplished RE photographer, then it makes sense to streamline procedures to save time. If you are saving time and that time is applied to gaining more business, then great. But compromising on image quality will only serve to keep PFRE as a poor relation, second cousin to Architectural Photography.

    I also disagree that NOBODY but photographers will notice the details. The client may not be able to tell you why they like or dislike an image, but like all of us, they are subjected to high quality advertising images endlessly and they know crap when they see it.

    In my book, it is the result that counts. The advice from virtually all business gurus is to perfect your business. I really wish the terms "cut corners" and "good enough" had not been used. At the bottom right hand side of this blog is a list of PFRE Idol Award winners. I don't see any cutting of corners here. If someone like Thomas Grubba or Daniel Milstein or David Palermo can create a great image in a few minutes and it takes me an hour to do it, then I spent the hour. Maybe later, I can learn to do it faster.

  6. As real estate photographers, our goal is to shoot and edit as quickly as possible. As someone fairly new to the business, I don't mind spending extra time to refine my technique. I know that the more homes I shoot the better I'll get at knowing what works in what situations. As someone who wants to grow their business, it is important to me to provide the best images I can for my clients. I have had experiences with agents that saw my work and thought it looked great when I looked at it and only saw what could be better. When I look at some of those sessions compared to my later work, I can see a big difference (and of course the time I take is less). I really don't have a personality that allows me to do "just good enough" work. I do the best I can do with what I have (equipment and skill) and look for ways to be better. That why I read this and my other sites.

  7. @Brian Allen: I agree, "cut corners" & "good enough" could have been phrased better. Streamlining the business and not sacrificing quality is what I took away from it. Any good photographer wouldn't let something poor or sloppy out the door. I pray for the day when I have the skill to turn things quickly and to the quality level similar to Mr. Hargis or Palermo. Plus, we should always conduct ourselves as if the client is looking over our shoulder. If we do that, there shouldn't be any worries. Like you mention, the PFRE Idols don't show error in what they produce and I hope their business volume reflects that. For those of us who are still learning, we're bound to spend more time.

  8. "The perfect it the enemy of the good." Voltaire did not, I think, mean to advocate mediocrity, just that you have to say at some point that you have done the best you can for the moment and move on. I think there is in Fred's comment a hint of advocacy of mediocrity. Mediocrity may very well suffice for a certain period of time, but in this rapidly changing economic environment that we all have to deal with, if you are not constantly trying to improve the quality of your product or service, as well as the efficiency of your production methods, you will eventually get left behind. Maybe some details you fuss over now will not help you in the short run, but they may in the long run. Of course you have to try to decide which currently unnecessary details might be of help in the long run, which is not easy to do.

  9. @David- Well said- Yes, I certainly don't advocate mediocrity. I think the Voltaire quote goes right to the heart what I saw in Freds quote. A more in depth discussion of Voltaire's quote can be found at:

    It says, "I believe Voltaire's original point about "perfection", specifically, rather than simply "better", is that to attain a perfect thing, whatever that is, becomes infinitely more difficult as you near it. So, at some point, you have to cut your losses, and simply say -- "Good enough". This is not a justification for shoddy workmanship or laziness, for that certainly would not be, per se, "Good enough". The point is more to know when to realize that any additional effort toward improvement would result in a negligible improvement, especially in comparison to the effort required."

  10. my dad used to say if you have time to do it wrong, you have time to do it again.

    While i agree there is a need for speed, and certainly maybe spending an hour trying to remove a stray shadow would be a waste, I am not so sure 'quick n dirty' is the way to go either

    When I first started and was trying to figure out how to price it out, one of the things I did was make HDR merges 'optional' I soon found out, ok, I spend maybe an extra 5 min or so on this shot to blend 2 exposures together, why shouldn't this quality be available for every shot at a base price

    And, I think some of the 'details' that only photographers notice is a little overstated too. Many people would have no idea why anybody would, for instance, want to pay 85k for a BMW when a Ford Focus will get you to point B for for 50k less - until they drive a BMW and understand what quality is and what they are paying for.

    Honestly, the real estate market seems to be saturated with 'good enough' - almost every RE agent you talk to says his photos are 'good enough'

    I may be cynical here, but this original post sounds like it was written by a typical RE agent who doesn't like high quality photos showing up in his area because it is putting pressure on him to 'step up his game'

  11. Excellent discussion with everyone making cogent points. This is one other reason to continually strive to improve, even though as Larry correctly points out perfection may be out of reach. It makes business sense.

    Here are two examples: Look at Joe is a top level wedding photographer. If you read about him, you find out that he never settles. His goal isn't photographic perfection but to perfectly capturing the story of the wedding. He's done JLo's wedding and Christina Applegate flew him and his crew to Paris to shot her wedding. Why, because he build a reputation for creating something special. Something that people clamored to pay for. Some will argue that we aren't in the same business and I'll say you're wrong. We are all in the business of not only satisfying our clients but blowing their socks off.

    A second example is easier. In this economic down turn, it isn't Mercedes or BMW or Audi or Lexus who's in trouble, it is Chevrolet, Dodge, Cadillac, and Chrysler all who make cars that are good enough.

    I'm just sayin'

  12. Larry, I think we are on the same page. You qualify your comments by noting that local market conditions will vary.

    Regarding mediocrity, the word does not necessarily connote laziness or sloppiness (although many use the word to always imply "below average" or "poor quality"). It just means average, whatever average may be. I don't know, perhaps the average for real estate photography is poor quality.

    I think it is also worth bearing in mind that Fred's business is heavily oriented towards videography. Videography for real estate is very new, pricing pressures may be very severe considering the amount of work that goes into producing videos, and the quality expectations at this time may generally be pretty low. As Scott suggests, with still photography for real estate there are clients who value high quality. I think the best advice I have seen is to find the point at which you are always slightly exceeding your clients' expectations.

  13. Let's face it... the real estate industry is just "different" than the rest of the business world! It's not a local issue, it's a global issue. I get calls and emails almost daily from real estate videographers around the world, and most are perplexed by how to market to this particular industry. Kansas or South Africa - marketing to realtors is a real 'head scratcher' no matter where you go. For some reason, basic logic and business just doesn't come into play in the real estate world. has no problem posting 8 high quality photos of a $35 pair of sandals, yet most Realtors still resist spending a buck for high quality photos or videos for their $800,000 home they are attempting to market!

    Realtors are NOT willing (and in some cases, able) to pay many hundreds or thousands of dollars for super high quality visuals to market their properties. That's just a fact! Even with a $2M+ property, most agents can't justify (or won't) spending $1000 on photography or videography to market a home. Some might - most won't. Especially in this funky economy.

    I'm not advocating shoddy work. All I'm saying is to sustain a successful BUSINESS model, you don't want to strive for mediocrity, but you do need to keep it all in perspective, or you will not make a decent living in this business.

    Clearly if you're driving to and from a property, spending 45 minutes on site and spending 4 hours in post processing obsessing over minute details that most people will never notice - for a $150 - it just doesn't make sense to me.

    All I'm saying is look at your audience and cater your business model and pricing to that specific audience. Obviously if you're shooting for a glossy magazine or a book, you're in an completely different league - and charging (hopefully) a completely different price to reflect that.

    In most creative fields, the most successful are those who know how to market and know and understand their target demographic. It's 70% business and 30% talent! Sad, but true. The most successful actors are those with the best agents, not the most talented. The most successful photographers are those with the best marketing skills and business sense - not the most talented.

    I know that I am not even remotely CLOSE to being the best at what I do, although I am always striving to become better. It's not about producing a mediocre product, it's about producing the right product for the right price for this particular industry and application. There are far more people out there that are infinitely more talented and creative than I am - I'll never deny that! But I DO know business, I DO know real estate (I've done online marketing for realtors for 15 years) and I also know that I work more consistently and make a far better living than the vast majority of photographers and videographers out there! And believe it or not, I have had an unlisted phone number for 7 years and do NO direct marketing to realtors in any form - and I still work every single day taking pictures and videos of houses.

    That's why I don't spend a great deal of time on these forums obsessing about minute details that most CUSTOMERS never notice nor care about. I'm out shooting houses and making a living - all day, every day, all year unless it's pouring rain - like today!

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