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episode 20

Getting Started In Real Estate Photography

This will be an ongoing series on how to get started in real estate photography. It’s going to be about the things you need to start thinking about and get a mindset of when starting with different styles of photography. I will start this first episode with a landscape style of photography because that is kind of generic entry point for many people who are starting out in photography. We had someone write an email by the name Alicia and she wanted to know some of the tips for getting started in real estate photography. That’s the business that I work on the side as real estate photographer and I built up my personal business pretty good and I want to give my take when getting started from zero clients to having clients that do marketing for me. If you’re looking for a great place to start, Sleeklens offers a great Real Estate Photography Course. Check it out. Anyway, let’s start.

The required gear

If you have been in real estate photography before, you know that you need a minimal amount of gear. Even if you have done just a couple of homes, you know that the amount of gear you need is not the most expensive type of gear out there. If everybody who started landscape photography or photography, in general, began with landscape photography, most likely you have the gear that you typically need for real estate photography. Most of the gear needed for landscape photography and real estate photography go hand in hand. Typically, you will need things such as a wide-angle lens, a steady tripod, and a decent camera (not something like point and shoot but a good DSRL or mirror-less camera) and you are good to go. Typically the kind of gear you’ll need for traditional real estate photography shoot is a very stable tripod. If you will do a technique such as HDR to capture the images, you probably need to drag your tripod with you even if it’s kind of annoying or cumbersome to walk around the house. But if you want HDR to capture the images, a tripod is very much necessary.

As I mentioned, a wide-angle lens depending on what kind of a camera you have, if you have a full-frame camera, then you are probably looking at something in the range of 16-17mm at the low end and that will give you a very good wide-angle view. I personally use a 17mm and if you can get a good price for this or the 16mm then it will help a lot. You really don’t have to worry about the aperture of the lens because a lot of people concentrate on the f2.8 side of it when they go out to buy a wide-angle lens. However, you really don’t shoot at 2.8 and thus you shouldn’t pay the extra money to get a lens that has a wider aperture. You kind of shoot between f8 and f10 and that is what most of your shots will be. Better get the cheaper lens based on the f4 aperture and that will get you in the right ball pack. Once you get your business growing and you are getting more clients, then you can probably move to tilt-shift lenses which are great for real estate photography because they allow you to move the camera and that basically moves your viewpoint to get rid of converging lines.

Typically, with the normal wide-angle lens, you probably have a lot of distortion that can be corrected easily in Lightroom or Photoshop. Tilt-shift lens can help get rid of this kind of distortion in camera and that is very helpful but they are very expensive. Don’t think about getting that kind of gear out of hand but it’s something you can build up to. If you already have a good DSRL, you will be able to get rid of those two things. If you have a good crop sensor camera, you might want to get a 10mm lens. Those are cheap although many people do not think they can get good quality photos with a crop sensor camera but the camera is not really the one that’s making all the really nice images but it’s the lens that makes these nice images. Sigma makes a nice one 10-20mm and that’s a really good lens to have which is a good one to have. That’s the basic gear that you need and you don’t really need much to get started if you already have this with you.

Building your portfolio

You probably don’t know how to get images for use in your portfolio especially if you have never done any particular style of photography in the past. When it comes to real estate photography, you need access to homes or nice places to help you build your portfolio. But the best thing with this is that you can get many images from a lot of different places. When I  first I started building my portfolio, I asked people who maybe had nicer homes than the one I was living in whether I could come into their premises and clean up their homes for them and stage it a little bit then I can take some photos of their homes. When people look at your portfolio especially real estate agents or brokers, they are not going to look at the pictures on your website and say it’s your friends home and not a real client. They are basically looking at your work and that is one way to build your portfolio. If you happen to live in a home that has a nice modern kitchen, you spend a week cleaning it up and take some photos of your own home especially the exterior because a lot of people would want to see nicer exterior images of a home.

Another way to build your portfolio would be to look at business in the neighborhood. This is something else I did when I was starting. I identified businesses in my area and not asked them whether I should shoot their buildings or something like that. I would go in after-hours, maybe do a twilight or sunset shoot, and then tag their building for them on the social media saying, “here is an image for free and just wanted to let you know that I photographed your building”.  That gives you the opportunity to take the time with editing the photo to make it look as perfect as possible. That is also another way of doing an outreach to get your name out there.

You can also do it by getting a weekend getaway and book yourself in a nice hotel. While there, photograph the interior of the hotel such as the rooms, the lobby and such stuff. The truth is that although it’s not real estate photography as far as homes are concerned, it is another way of building your portfolio and have your potential clients looking at your site. I have also been thinking of another method that can be helpful when you are building your portfolio and that is Airbnb. A lot of people use Airbnb when out of town and they need a place to spend the night and you can also find nice homes in your area, pay to spend a day and a night there and just take cool photos of the place. That gives you an opportunity to go forth from one room to the other and even stage things a little bit. When building your portfolio, you want to make sure that at least you have 10 good images that you can show off. Obviously, when you start building your business, you can add more images and have galleries of images but as you start, you need to have at least 10 good images. This gives people an idea of what they are looking at. Those are just a few ways of building your portfolio.

Pricing

Pricing is a controversial topic when it comes to photography. Many people do not know how to price their images but it really depends on your location. One can charge a $100 USD for real estate shoot but that same image, the same amount of time and work will go for $400 USD in another high-end city. Therefore, it just depends on where you are. When setting my pricing, I would spend let’s say a weekend and document or be on Google the whole time to check other photography businesses in my area and then make a spreadsheet of what they are charging for certain styles of real estate photography. Many people would break it down to square footage to come up with something like 80 bucks for 1500 square feet home or 150 bucks for 3000sq homes.

Most people would break it down like that when setting the price for their work and I spent a lot of time on Google researching as many real estate photography businesses as possible and came up with a spreadsheet that helped me come up with an average of what I found out. If the lowest was charging $100 USD for a real estate shoot and the highest $300, I settled for $150 since I was still working on building my portfolio. What I would do is charge the middle to low end of the spectrum and what I would do is over deliver and under promise. What that means is that I would promise to do some good shots for someone and then come up with the best images I could possibly do. Since you do not have a lot of clients when starting, you do have a lot of time to play with the images, make them perfect and deliver quality images to the agents. The very first agent I shot for still gives me business today and it’s great that he still comes to me and the reason is that I spent time on his images and made them really perfect.

When it comes to pricing, there is no specific figure that’s cast on stone but you really need to do your research in your area and see what other people are charging. If you want to be on the high-end, changing prices is always possible with time. If you are getting too many jobs with time, it might mean that you are too good at what you are doing but charging less for it. That means you might need to increase your prices because you have too much business that you are unable to concentrate on very well. By increasing your prices, you might lose some agents and gain some more but that should balance out because if you lose some then you are charging more and that makes it up for it. Just because you choose your pricing at the beginning doesn’t mean it has to stick. You can always change your prices and that is a good thing when it comes to inflation and other factors as well. That’s basic when you are trying to figure out pricing in your area. It just takes a lot of research.

Getting your first clients

There is no magic pill for getting your first clients. However, there are a couple of things you can do on this. The first thing I will recommend is setting up a Google business listing for your business. Make sure you have the word real estate photographer or photography in that business name somehow. This works as the keyword to help people searching for a real estate photographer in the city you’re in to find you. Try to be the first one that pops up when people are looking for a real estate photographer in your area. Typically, potential customers won’t be looking at your website at times but will call you directly from the business listing. I have found this to be the case for me where they don’t even look at my images or my site but they just go ahead and call me directly and then have me walk them through the process of what’s going to happen when I get to the house.

If you don’t do anything else when it comes to marketing and getting your name out there, the Google business listing is probably the main thing that you need to do. You should build your listing by putting the working hours of your business, the name of the business, photos and even posts although they expire and link back to your site.

Another way of getting as many clients as possible is by emailing the real estate agents. Once you have your portfolio on your website and you’re ready to go and you want people to start looking at your site, go to the store near you and grab one of those real estate magazines that are usually at the entry or exit of a grocery store that have all the listings of what’s currently available in the market. Almost every real estate agent that I can think of has their email address either on that magazine or website of their brokerage company. The emails are very easy to find and you don’t have to work very hard to find them. Grab as many email addresses as you can and send emails to them. You won’t get as many responses as you would want most probably because they will be considered as spam but you might hear from some and they’ll want to look at your site and if they are not photographing their houses for themselves, they will probably call you when they have a project. A lot of real estate agents just go ahead and photograph their homes with their cellphones and the results are really bad. You must look for the ones who really know the value of professional photography.

You can also go in and talk face to face with the agents if you are really personable with people. Just stop by in the morning and drop a couple of doughnuts or something like that but have your business cards with you and say you’re available for real estate photography. You can take an iPad with samples in case they would like to see them and just introduce yourself. Most real estate agents are personable and will appreciate the personality or meeting with someone new and discussing things face to face. It’s very easy to ignore an email but it’s not easy to ignore somebody standing right in front of you asking for business.

Actual business side of photography

When it comes to starting your own photography business or any other business in general, if you are a one-man show or you’re just doing it by yourself, you are not only a photographer, a marketer, an accountant, a graphic designer and all these things wrapped into one. Many people struggle with this thing simply because you are 30% photographer and 70% business manager in a way because once you get down to a shoot you must invoice them for the cost of the shoot, edit the photos, deliver the photos via an online service, if people don’t pay you to have to follow up with them, you have to keep up with the social media to make sure you are constantly getting your name out there, posting stuff on Instagram and Facebook and almost every other thing when it comes to business.  As such, don’t think it’s going to be as easy as going into a home and shooting a couple of photos and delivering them but you must keep track of your expenses and invoices among other things because this is what will keep your business going. You need to keep your business organized as far as the business goes and make sure you have everything you need when it comes to issues such as taxes among others.

A lot of people struggle with that and that’s why many get out of business just because they can’t handle all this. However, if you’ve done photography in the past including portrait and wedding photography and the like, you probably understand this stuff and this will just be a small piece that you have to add in you’re starting in a new style.

That’s just a quick intro on how to get started in real estate photography. Just as mentioned at the beginning, this will be an ongoing series and there might be a part 2 to this when it comes to getting a little bit more advanced but a lot of people who are just starting out really need some basics on how to get started and few ideas on how to get their name out there. One thing I would recommend if you want to get more business and more people to look at your stuff is to concentrate on social media especially Facebook and Instagram where you can tag your location and also tag a bunch of people. So, if you post a photo of a home you can tag a number of agents in your area and that will get them looking at your stuff. That’s another way of just being a marketing machine and get people looking at your stuff quickly.

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