Real estate photography is often the underdog of the photography world, living under the shadow of the more glamorous photography niches like headshots, portraiture, or landscape. Real estate photography can be not only fun, but also profitable.
In this article, we’ll discuss how you can become a real estate photographer and also if it is worth it for you.
How Do You Become a Real Estate Photographer?
Becoming a real estate photographer is not much different from becoming a professional photographer in any other niche. In fact, it has a much lower barrier to entry than other photography fields.
Of course, you’ll need to have the gear and photography knowledge to start shooting real estate. But, building a portfolio is much easier. You can start by shooting your own house, friends’ and relatives’ houses, and get your name out.
Unlike wedding or fashion photography, there is not much on the line for someone letting you shoot their property, maybe except their time. That is how I got my start.
So, how do you become a real estate photographer? First, you invest in the equipment and gain the skills. Then you build your portfolio. Then you approach homeowners and real estate agents and ask them to allow you to take some pictures for them. If you already have a job, don’t quit it yet. Work your way up until you feel you can sustain yourself for a long time. That’s the process in the simplest words possible.
Do Realtors Hire Photographers?
Of course, realtors hire photographers. Almost every company in the business of selling physical products hires professional photographers to take pictures of their products.
This list includes jewelers, watchmakers, mobile phone brands, game console manufacturers, restaurants, computer manufactures, camera makers, and thousands of other products. Why should real estate be any different?
Having said that, not all realtors will hire photographers, but many of them will do. If you cold call a potential realtor and they turn you down, it is not the end of the world. Many times, agents shoot their own listings. If they do, politely ask to assist them for free. Not only will you get some real-world experience for free, but you will also develop some connections, which are essential in the business.
Is Real Estate Photography a Good Business?
This can be a tricky question to answer, as the answer can be both yes and no. Yes, real estate photography can be a good business, but it depends more on you rather than on the business (unless there is a pandemic).
Let me explain. Gyms are a great place to lose weight, gain muscle, and become fitter, right? But, you’ll find lots of people who go to the gym, and their health goes nowhere. Who do you blame in this case, the gym or the gym-goer?
Similarly, real estate photography can be an excellent business for you. Still, you’ll have to put in the work and put yourself out there consistently for some time before you can start reaping the benefits.
What Education Does a Real Estate Photographer Require?
Becoming a real estate photographer doesn’t require formal education or a photography degree. You can be a high school dropout or have a college degree; it doesn’t matter.
Just as in the regular job world, once you’ve had even one job, the next employer hires you for your experience. Similarly, if you have previous experience in shooting real estate and also have a great portfolio of pictures to go hand in hand, it doesn’t matter what formal education you get. When you produce good images that help sell houses, realtors have little use for your degree.
Should You Shoot Real Estate for Free?
Doing work for free is highly debatable amongst photographers, with strong points made for both viewpoints. Real estate photography is no different. If you ask any real professionals the same question, you will get mixed responses.
However, I have a simple opinion. Whether you like it or not, doing some work for free is essential to break into real estate photography, especially at the beginning.
If you’re just starting out, have no experience or portfolio, you wouldn’t expect someone to pay you, right? That is why you do some work for free while building your portfolio. Once you do have a decent portfolio and a proven track record of getting sales, you can start charging money for your services.
Part-Time vs. Full Time Real Estate Photography
I’ll be honest. Doing real estate photography part-time or on the side is quite challenging. Real estate photography requires a quick turnaround, not only for taking the shots but also for editing and delivering them. This means that either you’ll miss out on a decent number of shoots when you’re working full time, or you’ll burn yourself out by doing both. It is manageable but not desirable.
The situation gets more challenging when you’re just starting. You’re trying to make a name for yourself, develop relationships, work at your existing job, and shoot real estate. You’ll have little time to rest, and you might have to do this for a few years before you’re comfortable jumping it.
My recommendation would be to either prepare yourself for the grind or have at least 18 months of living expenses saved in liquid assets and jump in with both feet.
How Much Does a Real Estate Photographer Make?
This is one of those questions which is hard to answer precisely. It is easy to find the average incomes of real-estate photographers, but it is unlikely to give you any clarity of what you can expect to make. Your income as a real estate photographer will largely depend on location, skill, experience, network, luck, and you.
But I’m not going to leave you hanging. Based on real-world data, a real estate photographer’s average income is somewhere between $42,093 and $62,205 annually. Of course, there will be outliers, and usually, the more expensive properties you photograph, the more money you make.
Equipment for Real Estate Photography
Unlike some other photography forms, the equipment that you need to photograph real estate is not too expensive. Since you’re taking static shots, and the lighting is mostly under your control, you don’t need expensive bodies.
Technically, you don’t even need a full-frame camera; an ASP-C body (with the right lens) should also work. Here is an essential checklist of things you’ll need.
- A mostly modern camera body – Here are our recommendations
- A wide-angle lens
- External wireless flashes
- Some light modifiers
- A steady tripod
A good wide-angle lens is the only mandatory equipment here, and ideally, most of your budget should go towards it. You don’t need the fastest lens out there, but you do need a lens that will have the best sharpness, least chromatic aberration, and minimum distortion. As for the actual focal length, you can get a lens somewhere between 16-24 mm full-frame.
Do You Need Insurance for Real Estate Photography?
Yes, you do need insurance for real estate photography, just as you’d need it for any other business. Real estate photography might seem harmless from a distance, but there are several risks you would want to be protected against:
- You want to be insured to protect your gear. There is a possibility of breaking your gear, getting it wet, gear being stolen, etc.
- You want to be insured to protect yourself. If you or any of your team members accidentally break precious items during a shoot, your business will be on the hook for the damages. This is especially important if you shoot with drones indoors or out.
- You want to be insured to protect your clients as well. If, while shooting, your client’s foot gets tangled in some cables that you laid out, and they fall and hurt themselves, your business will be liable. Having proper insurance coverage will put you and your clients at ease.
The good news is that insurance premiums for real estate photography are usually relatively low. You’ll probably be able to find decent coverage for less than $2000 a year.
Dynamic Range in Real Estate Photography
High-dynamic-range (HDR) photography in real estate photography is almost mandatory to use. Without it, your images might look good, but not great. Specifically, it gives your images a close-to-real-life look, and it shows the home in the best light. Of course, all of this results in beautiful images, which means a faster sale or a better sale price.
Working with HDR in real photography isn’t challenging. All you have to do is come with a workflow that works for you and your clients and stick with it. Some photographers use the bracketing functions of camera bodies to capture a combined HDR image straight out of the camera. In contrast, many others prefer the other method of capturing multiple shots and combining them in post.
The process is pretty simple too. Place your camera on a tripod, set your frame, and then take multiple shots at varying exposures. For the best results, use a self-timer, or trigger the shutter through a remote control.
As for the actual number of shots to take, some photographers settle on 3, while some go as high as 7. Remember, when working with HDR, more is not always better. Using too many exposures may make your images appear un-realistic. Even with limited images, correctly processing the images is critical. It is easy to go overboard in this step and make your images look terrible. Subtle improvements will work best. For the processing, you can use Adobe Lightroom CC, Photomatix HDR Software, or any other software of your choice.
Here is a link to a guide on our blog on processing real estate images.
How much to Charge for Real Estate Photography
Pricing real estate photography is quite different and tricky than other forms of photography. In other popular types of photography like weddings or events, the price is usually derived relative to time spent. However, that is not the best way to price real estate photography. Real estate photographers usually charge based on per square footage of the house they are shooting with some additional fixed fees for add-on services like drone shots, videos, etc.
But how much do you charge for real estate photography? Well, the answer depends on a lot of factors. Your experience, brand name, the property itself, and the locality that you operate in; all affect the final price. Instead of giving you some estimated numbers, let me share a framework with you using which you’ll be able fairly price your services.
Start by calculating your costs. Consider your camera, memory cards, fuel, depreciation, food, equipment wear and tear, taxes, everything. Once you have a decent approximate, divide the number of houses you plan to shoot each year. If you’re just starting, use the number that you would like to shoot per year. This will give you an approximate cost that you incur per house that you shoot. To keep this simple, let’s say the number is $25 per house.
Next, price your time. Let’s say you have a 10-hour workday (including commute), and you shoot 4 houses a day. If you price your services at $40 an hour, you should be making $400 a day in revenue. That means your per-house price would be $100 + $25, which will be $125. Keep in mind that the $40 an hour is after taxes and expenses, so it can be a little lower than what you expect.
Now, these calculations are not perfect by any means. There are many other variables that you’ll need to consider. But, I hope that this will help you price your services in a fair manner for your clients.
A couple of more things you should keep in mind: These numbers will work for established photographers, but you might have to work around these or work for free when you’re first starting out. Also, if you’ve settled on a price and are not getting enough work, lower your prices. If you can’t keep up with your work load, then raise your prices.
Should You Invest in a Drone for Real Estate Photography?
If someone asked me this question a few years ago, I would have told them they don’t need to invest in a drone. But, times have changed. Drones, especially from reputed brands like DJI, have become quite affordable. Hence their usage in real estate photography has exploded as well.
So, my answer today is yes; you should invest in a drone. If you don’t invest today, you will invest in one eventually. Better get ahead of the curve and start early. If there are not a lot of photographers who are offering aerial photography, then this could be your way in, or it could also be your competitive advantage.
What About Real Estate Videography?
If a picture says a thousand words, a video is sure to say many more. However, despite its benefits, real estate videography won’t be a service that you’ll provide to all your clients. The reason is that it is expensive.
You might be able to shoot pictures of a small or medium house in an hour, but if you shoot videos too, that time will go up significantly, and your fee will too. Not to mention capturing the video, editing it, grading it, and producing a beautiful video highlighting the house is a much different skill than simply taking pictures.
So, should you focus on real estate videography? It depends. It can be beneficial to provide this service to agents who sell houses priced at a million dollars and above. Still, it might not be affordable for the agent or the homeowner to spend that much money on the listing. So, make a call depending on the work you’re expecting to come your way.
Real Estate Photography Tips
The basics of photography apply to real estate photography as well, but there are many practical things you’ll need to know if you want to work as a professional.
Although we already have a post on our website covering real estate photography tips for beginners, having more knowledge about the profession you’re trying to get into can’t hurt. So, here are some practical real estate photography tips to give you a head start.
Talk To Your Realtor
Before taking the first shot, you must speak with the realtor about the shoot. Remember, you know how to photograph, but the realtor knows what to photograph. Speak to them about the best features of the house they want to highlight, the angles they need, the number of shots they want for each room, etc. It will show the realtor that you care, and you’ll be shooting exactly what will help sell the house. Typically, exterior shots, shots of the bedroom, and shots of the kitchen are considered most important by most realtors.
Clean the House
If you’re shooting a previously occupied house, it is well worth your time to clean the house first. Take out the trash, or move it someplace it is not visible. Make sure no rubbish or clutter is lying around anywhere. Also, make sure the toilet seats are down, and personal items like toothbrushes, cosmetics, and pictures of the family are not visible anywhere. It is entirely possible to find questionable items when doing the cleanup, so be prepared for it as well.
If you’re shooting a large house, it might be worthwhile to bring along an assistant to help with the cleanup while you focus on taking the pictures. Your job is to present the home in the best light (get it?), and putting in a little bit of work to make everything presentable will go a long way. If you need a reference point, think of a nice hotel room and clean and present the house to that standard.
Turn On All the Lights, but Not the Fans
Even when shooting indoors, you’ll want to turn on all the lights in the room to light up everything. If there are lights with mixed color temperatures, stick with the daylight ones. For rooms with large windows, you might not have full illumination to all areas. If that is the case, you can choose flambayant lighting (flash + ambient), or you could also shoot bracketed to preserve the dynamic range.
Shoot from the Right Height
This is a real pro tip. When shooting rooms, make sure the tripod height is at the eye level of a sitting adult. When shooting a kitchen, the tripod height should be in line with the cabinet height. For exterior shots, use the maximum tripod height possible.
Shoot at the Right Time
Cloudy weather is excellent for outdoor portraits as it creates a soft and flattering light. However, cloudy weather is the worst time to take exterior real estate shots. They will make your shots look flat, and the white sky will provide poor contrast to your shots.
The best time to shoot exterior real estate shots is twilight, when the sun is going down. This will give you the most pleasing shots. Make sure to turn on all the lights in the house (tip above), and for rooms that have insufficient light, make sure you’re carrying some pocket RGB lights to light up those rooms.
Use Backlighting or Side Lighting on the House
If it is not possible to shoot exterior shots at twilight, you’ll have to figure out the best lighting and angles to create a good shot. Try to pick an angle so that the sun is not directly hitting the front of the house. That kind of light is not flattering for real estate pictures. Instead, try and compose the shot so that the light is either hitting the back of the house or the side of the house. Backlighting is also a great option in many cases.
If you have to pick between great lighting and a great composition, always choose great lighting. A shot with pleasing lighting and not-the-best angle will always look better than a shot with bad lighting and a perfect angle.
Vertical, Vertical, Vertical
This tip is for the composition of the shots you’re going to take. Every interior shot you take will have some vertical lines. It may be from windows, pillars, ceilings, etc. When composing your shot, make sure all the lines in the shot are vertical. Shooting it this way creates more realistic and immersive pictures.
It might seem like a small detail, but it will improve your shots significantly. If you angle the lens for the composition and the lines start converging, then you’ll need a tilt-shift lens to take those shots.
As you’ll be able to tell from the image below, the vertical lines in the shot are just a little skewed. The overall shot would have been much better if that was corrected.
Exposing for Interior Shots
Most people don’t understand photography; they only care how a photo feels. This will include many agents as well. To please your customer, see if you can expose your shots to be a little brighter. Usually, half a stop overexposed works best, but sometimes you’ll need to go a full stop over. You might think that the photos are too bright, but that is pleasing to home buyers.
Preparing Rooms Before Shooting
You’ll be cleaning and tidying up a lot, so you better get quick and efficient with it. Here are some simple tips that will make a massive difference to your shots.
- Always carry a spare vacuum in your car. You never know when you’ll need to use it.
- Take multiple photos from different angles. Decide on the best one later.
- Too much furniture can clutter up a space. Always try to make the rooms look spacious.
- You’re not photographing a room; you’re photographing a lifestyle. Make sure your pictures showcase it. Add a centerpiece, cutlery, candles, hand towels, flowers, and other things that you’d expect the owners to do. It will help them see the house in a personal way and will also make the agent happier.
Below is a useful video on shooting real estate:
Are You Ready to Become A Real Estate Photographer?
I just shared a ton of real-world information with you on how to become a real estate photographer. There’s the good, the bad, and then there’s the somewhat-ugly. It’s not all sunshine and roses, I’ll admit, but if you have the passion and the drive to do it, you’re likely going to make a successful career in real estate photography. I wish you all the best.
Also, don’t forget to check out some additional resources about real estate photography from our website: