Real Estate Photography

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Let’s say that you have been shooting some real estate and you are interested in taking your work to a new level.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that shooting real estate and/or architecture is not as easy as you might have first imagined. Each assignment involves a host of lighting issues and it’s difficult to always understand exactly what your client has in mind. The time of day and the weather can make or break a project and a host of other issues seem to present themselves at the most inopportune times. Maybe you feel that your work needs some help?  If you are like me, you are continually striving to improve your skills and learn new techniques. So let’s take a look at a few elements of the world of real estate photography and beyond.

Transitioning from shooting basic real estate photography to much more interesting projects for Architects, Designers, Hotels, and Resorts in order to get paid at a much higher rate presents some challenges. One of the first is getting a portfolio of images to display on your website and social media.  As you grow in your photography skills, your real estate clients will get better and better listings.

Don’t be caught off guard when one day your favorite agent calls you out of the blue to tell you about the really important listing they just got and it is a multi-million-dollar listing.  This will be your opportunity to ask them if you can get the whole day or as long as possible with the house (often these higher end homes are not occupied!). This will give you the opportunity to take your time and experiment and really do your best to shoot the home to produce some great portfolio images.

Prior to your shoot, think about who else might also be interested in the work you produce?  Different types of clients are interested in different types of images.  Here are some examples and something each type of client is looking for:

Architects – They are looking for interesting documentation of the home, think about shooting at different times of the day to highlight the best light in each space and exterior.  In general, you don’t need to light these spaces up as much or at all if you pick the right time of day. Shadows are your friend. Look for interesting angles and compositions that tell a story.  What are some of the amazing architectural details? Study architectural images online prior to the shoot to get the ideas flowing.

Luxury Real Estate Agents – They are interested in photographers who are able to show the views out the windows! Maybe plan a dramatic light painted exterior twilight. Each room needs to be well lit.

Interior designers – They like more detail shots with light and bright interiors. Think about vertical shots as well and look at fabrics and other design elements. Your 50mm, shallow depth of field, lens could come in handy here!

Pool companies – They need beautiful pool shots!  You are there anyway, so why not take some extra time on the pool, especially if it is unique and well designed?

Landscape Architects – You are shooting exteriors in the best light anyway, so why not make sure you have some shots that make some of the landscape the focal point.  Your agent may like these, too!

Luxury Home Builders – Any of the images you produce could be used to market to builders. You could take the best of the best from all aspects of the other categories. They always need hero shots of their homes so the exterior twilight shot is a winner!

The bottom line is you can shoot the same home many different ways and produce a body of work you could show all of these different clients!  Think about the direction you want to take your photography business and focus on that style of images!

When you have really honed your skills and your work is getting very good, you can create new ways of earning income. Some of the same professionals listed above would be interested in buying or licensing images for their own portfolios. When you shoot for a recently finished construction project, ask the agent who the architect, landscape architect, pool company, interior designer is. You can get paid by your real estate client and other project vendors. It’s not uncommon for me to get paid multiple times on one project!

The point of all this is why you should keep improving your skills. I won’t forget my first portfolio worthy project. I had been shooting real estate for various clients. Sometimes I would shoot homes for $100 each and do three a day. One day I got a call from an agent. His wife had seen my work on social media… but mostly just my landscape images.  He asked me if I photographed homes. Of course, I said “yes!”

He mentioned he wanted to do some artistic shots similar to my landscape photography, sunrise and sunset, and that the home was on the golf course with ocean views.  I met him several days later at the resort entrance at 6:30 in the morning where he proceeded to take me to the house. To my astonishment and fear, this house was listed at $28 million and was very large with huge windows looking out to the ocean.  I was perfectly comfortable shooting the “landscape” type shots of sunset, but the interior shots were a whole different story.  I can tell you this was way beyond my current capabilities at that time!

That day, I “pretended” to know what I was doing and went about using the skills I had at the time and made the best of it.  Luckily for me, the weather had gotten cloudy and we decided to end for the day and come back the next day. This gave me time to go online that night and learn as much as possible in that time frame to “up” my game and pick up some additional gear at the camera store!

Day two was still challenging for me but I managed to get some shots that represented the home for the listing and the best part was that my client was happy! Having those images allowed me to market myself in a whole new way and I never looked back from that opportunity. The point is that it is important to be ready!

You won’t hone all of your skills on one photo shoot and neither did I. But it did teach me a lesson and that was to reach out to anyone I could think of to get help. I never wanted to be in a situation like that again where I was unsure I could do a great job for my clients. Being a true professional means you always produce excellence.

Back in 2010 there weren’t many classes you could take online or even workshops, especially on a remote island in the pacific! One thing that really took me to the next level was contacting a very good friend of mine who was a professional photographer in San Diego. He and I met in college and now he was shooting for luxury hotels and resorts. I called him up and asked him if he would come to Hawaii where I lived at the time and teach me how to improve my shooting skills. I offered to pay for his flight and he agreed to come out for a week!  I set up several shoots and let my clients know we would need the whole day to photograph the listings. My friend, Darren, also set up a photo shoot at one of the Hotel/Resorts. This way we would have plenty of time to shoot on location and to learn his post processing computer skills. He taught me shooting techniques, business techniques and how to use studio lights. Looking back, I created my own one-on-one workshop!

I highly encourage you to attend workshops and even look for a personal coach and do the same thing I did.  It will be an investment, but it will leap frog your skills overnight and the potential for much higher earnings!

Ethan Tweedie is an Austin-based commercial photographer. He photographs some of the World’s most compelling architectural spaces and specializes in Architectural Photography, Interiors Photography, Hotel and Resort Photography. He will be teaching a class on Architecture and Real Estate Photography at the 2019 Texas School of Professional Photography. Learn more his class at www.TexasSchool.org.