What does a real estate photographer do? Naturally they take photos of homes for sale, but taking photos is just one of many important aspects of the job.
In this lesson I’ll be giving a step-by-step look into the life of a real estate photographer. My goal is to help you make a more informed decision on if becoming a real estate photographer is right for you.
Table of Contents (Quick Links)
In this lesson you will learn about:
- How Many Photos to Shoot and Common Delivery Times
- Scheduling, Booking Systems, and Getting Paid
- Daily Sales Tasks to Keep Your Business Humming
- How and When to Deliver Photos and Media to Clients
- Workflow Management for On-Site Production
- Options for Post-Processing so You Still Have a Life
- Administrative Considerations to Keep You Organized
This is the second lesson in the How to Become a Real Estate Photographer course. A premium (and completely free) course written by the Kristian Pettyjohn, CEO of PhotoUp, the leading provider of software, services, and systems for real estate photographers.
How Many Photos Should I Be Shooting & How Fast?
Whether you are thinking about dipping your toe into real estate photography or just taking the plunge, one thing that takes most new photographers by surprise is the fast-paced nature of the industry.
Unlike wedding or portrait photography, where you might have days, weeks, or, eye-roll, even months to return photos to your clients, real estate photography is all about speed.
The most common turnaround time from shoot-to-delivery is 24-hours, though increasingly photographers are offering next morning or even same-day rush delivery for a rush fee.
Why So Fast?
By the time you are taking photos you are likely nearly or the actual last step before the real estate agent who hired you is able to list the home for sale.
Oh, and real estate agents want things yesterday.
Now, if you only have one or two shoots for the day, this might not feel too daunting. Unlike portrait photography, in real estate photography you typically only deliver 20-40 images per shoot (two per room is a good rule of thumb) and you can cull most of your images as you shoot.
However, if you have a stacked schedule of 4-6 shoots in a day, buckle up, it’s going to be fast and furious long after your last shoot.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the specifics…
A real estate photographers job can be broken down into the following major components:
- Scheduling & Payments
- Media Delivery
- Sales & Marketing
- On-Site Production
- Off-Site Post-Processing
The list above is a good starting point for your daily order of operations, but you will undoubtedly find a flow that works best for you.
Let’s take a look at each of these in more detail.
Managing Bookings & Payments
The one factor that will determine your daily workflow above all is your daily bookings. So naturally the first thing you should do every evening and morning is review your upcoming schedule.
1. Scheduling Software
Most real estate photographers don’t accept same day bookings online, though it’s not unheard of to have a frantic agent calling you to see if you can run over to listing that day for photos.
2. Collecting Payments
Take my word for it, always have your clients pay before you hand over the photos.
Sure, there are exceptions. If the biggest agent in town will only work with you if you invoice them you should consider making it work. Just know chasing accounts receivable is a lose/lose game you are better not playing.
The two best ways to collect payments are at the time of booking and at the time of delivery, before you provide a download link.
Most modern booking software allows you to have agents pay at the time of booking, as do a number of leading photo delivery solutions.
If you have to invoice after the fact, keep the payment terms short and be strict out of the gate on your deadlines.
In most cases, agents will ask you to receive payment out of ‘closing’ when they get their commission upon the house selling. But that is often 45 to 60 days later and I would strongly advise against this.
You’ll Always Need to Delivery Media
After you have checked your daily schedule, you should allow time to ensure all your previous day’s orders are delivered on-time. This will largely depend on how you handle photo editing.
For one, if you edit your own photos this is typically completed each evening, so you are free to shoot the next day.
On the other hand, if you outsource your photo editing, photos are returned typically before noon the day after your shoot. So you should allow time each morning to review photos, make any final adjustments, and deliver photos to clients.
While you can deliver photos with basic photo storage services like Dropbox or Google Drive, these solutions can get messy over time and don’t provide pay-to-download options if you didn’t already collect payment at booking.
If you have a good system in place, media delivery can be a relatively quick step. And as you grow your business, it’s likely that you will pass this off to a team member, such as a photographer digital assistant.
Spend Your Mornings Building Your Business
The hardest part of running a small business is balancing the demands of servicing current customers while ensuring you are doing enough sales and marketing to keep you busy after you deliver on your current jobs.
As a real estate photographer, you both have the advantage of having period slow days, allowing you to focus on sales.
However, because you will be so busy on other days that sales are not possible, it can be hard to find a rhythm to make sales a regular part of your workflow.
That is why I recommend doing your sales and marketing every morning for at least one hour starting at 8am or 9am, unless you have photo shoots.
Even those with the best of intentions will find that sales do not happen in the afternoon or evening as you will nearly always prioritize servicing orders and dealing with customer service. Or, just plain tired from a long day.
I cover sales and marketing specifics in later lessons, where we will explore different avenues to gain new customers from both online marketing and more traditional direct sales.
The Photography Workflow
Awwww, finally, the part of the job you actually signed up for, taking photos!
As previously discussed, real estate photography can be extremely fast paced with an average shoot taking 60-90 minutes.
This is pretty incredible considering you are bringing all your gear on-site, setting up in a completely unknown environment, shooting exteriors, lighting interiors, packing up, and heading off to your next shoot.
At the time of booking typically an agent will give you access instructions, but if for some reason you don’t have these, you will need to contact the listing agent the day of your shoot to ensure you can access the property.
How you flow through a home will largely depend on the weather and shooting style. Time of day and weather conditions for instance may dictate if you will take your exteriors at the beginning or end of your shoot.
Your shooting style, however, will determine your workflow more than any other factor. The three dominant shooting styles are single shot with flash, HDR, and ambient plus flash, commonly known as flambient.
We’ll dive into each deeper in future lessons, but here are the basic pros and cons of each and how they will affect your workflow. You may in fact use all three depending on the property you are shooting.
1. The Single Shot Method
As the name implies, the single shot method captures each scene with a single frame or exposure with the assistance of flash lighting, popularly known as speedlites.
You often shoot hand-held, providing you a lot of flexibility in framing, especially in tight spaces such as walk-in closets or bathrooms.
The major advantage of single shot with flash is a high control over your exposure and faster (and thus less expensive) post-processing.
You also avoid the high-contrast look of HDR which some agents don’t love, and while it has an initial learning curve, it’s quite fast to shoot once you get the hang of it.
Some disadvantages of single shot are:
- Less than optimum window exposures
- The costs of purchasing lights, triggers, and stands
- The increased complexity of lighting
- Endless battery charging (you might shrug this last one off, but charging 30-60+ AAs daily is a real task and a small disaster if you forget)
Typically you will have a single on-camera or in-hand speedlight and at least two additional speedlites on stands.
However, for larger spaces you could use up to six speedlites to properly light a scene and in some cases you may need more powerful strobe lights.
2. The HDR Method
You probably know that HDR, High-Dynamic Range, is a technique which takes multiple exposures per frame and which are later combined in post-processing to create one final image.
The major advantage of the HDR method is that it is fast and simple to shoot in the field. Bring your camera and tripod, point, and shoot.
Other advantages include more consistent results, ease of training additional photographers as you build a team and lower investment in equipment.
Some disadvantages include images which can be high-contrast and thus a little unrealistic and the need to always use a tripod can be limiting in tight spaces.
HDR can be a great option for newcomers as well as less expensive shoots, such as a low priced condo or a home that is highly cluttered making lighting challenging.
3. The Flambient Method
This method has gained popularity over the years, in large part thanks to the prolific real estate photographer and author Nathan Cool.
The flambient method is a blend of single shot and HDR, blending a single ambient exposure and one or two flash images, all shot on a tripod. And is a simplified version of manual blending, which was popularized by LA real estate photographer Mike Kelly.
Advantages of the flambient method include the reduction of color cast and excellent window exposures. One could argue that it also produces the highest quality images, making it a great option for your higher end listings.
On the other hand, increased time in both production and post-production is a major disadvantage.
Unlike single shot, you shoot on a tripod, which is more cumbersome, and unlike HDR blending which is automatic, flambient post-processing requires your multiple exposures to be manually blended.
Moving Through a Space
Regardless of the shooting style you choose, the general workflow remains the same.
You will typically take 3-5 exterior photos, almost always as a single exposure. As you move through a home, you typically deliver 2-3 photos of primary rooms (living room, kitchen, master bedroom) and 1-2 photos of all other rooms.
As a result, this will culminate in 25-35 final deliverables images to the client, taking 60-90 minutes to shoot.
Increasingly, you may also be hired to take 360º images, create a digital floor plan, shoot a home walkthrough video and take photos from the sky with drone photography. Each which adds 30-60 minutes to your shoot.
Photo & Media Post-Processing
Congrats! You just finished a long day of shooting, but your day isn’t over yet.
Next, you will import and cull your images and footage from the day and either edit or upload your photos to a professional photo editing company.
Then, you will prep products such as single property websites, virtual tours, and social media posts for your agents.
While you are just getting started, it can be really helpful to do this all yourself, in part to earn more profit. But also because when you hand off your post-processing as you grow your business, you will know how to train your photo editors.
Others, however, choose to outsource all their post-processing from the start so they can focus more on sales and enjoy their evenings with friends and family.
There are a few approaches to outsourcing photo editing. The traditional model was to upload and send photos overseas to companies like PhotoUp or BoxBrownie.
However, more recently there has been a growing trend to hire dedicated virtual photo editors, blending the cost savings of outsourcing with the higher quality of an in-house employee.
Admin Tasks You Can’t Ignore
Finally, when the sun has set, you’ve sent out your photos, running a real estate photography business also requires administration like any other small business.
- Ensuring you have your income and expenses fully accounted for on a monthly, if not weekly basis
- Following up with customer service inquiries
- Designing and producing marketing materials
- Working on your website
- Paying contractors and employees
- Collecting outstanding payments from customers
- Continuing education
And the list goes on.
A Quick Recap: What Does a Real Estate Photographer Do?
In this lesson, we learned about the daily workflow of a real estate photographer. As it turns out, there is quite a bit more to it than just photography.
However, much of this work is front-loaded. And once you get your systems up and running and you have a steady client base, you will spend more and more time shooting.
Up Next – The Gear You Need to Invest In
So far if you are liking the earning potential, flexibility, and fast paced nature of real estate photography, it’s time to talk gear.
The amount of money you can drop on a complete setup can range from a few thousands to the absurd tens of thousands and you better believe everyone has an opinion on what you should do.
In the next lesson (coming soon), my goal is to cut through the noise and provide a foundation gear setup that requires less than $10,000. Even less if you already own a full-frame camera body.