How to Start a Successful Real Estate Photography Business: A Step-by-Step Guide!
Real estate photography is a burgeoning field for photographers and can lead to a steady career for many. It stands apart from other photographic disciplines in its combination of art and business. To set up a real estate photography business, you need to understand both.
With all the planning involved, starting a business can be extremely overwhelming. This blog hopes to break down the process of starting a real estate photography business, complete with actionable tips.
- Understand the market
- Get the right gear
- Build an impactful portfolio
- Fill out the paperwork
- Set a price list for your services
- Spread the word about your business
- Grow your client list
Before we take a deep dive into the steps to start a real estate photography business, let’s set some context if you’re a novice in the industry.
- The goal of your photography is to drive real estate sales. Therefore, working with realtors is where you can succeed or fail.
- It is not just your skills as a photographer that get you clients, but also your soft skills and professionalism.
- Additionally, realtors and home-owners expect photographers to be able to provide a wide variety of services – from Aerial Shots to 3D Home Tours.
Keeping this in mind, focus on honing a broad skill-set, while also creating a niche to ensure you have a steady stream of loyal clients. Without further ado, here is your comprehensive guide on how to start a real estate photography business!
1. Understand the market
First and foremost, familiarize yourself with the industry and niches within the real estate photography business. Understanding each segment will help you buy the right equipment, build a diverse portfolio, and choose a specialty.
a.) Residential photography business
Residential photography includes condo units, townhomes, multi-family buildings, and luxury properties priced at over a million dollars. Most photographers shoot exterior and interior images, with an increasing demand for aerial shots and video as well. In the US market, residential photography businesses usually deliver 20-30 edited images. You typically get a lot of repeat business from the same realtor-client.
Note that luxury properties tend to be the most lucrative, as well as the most demanding. It is especially suited to those photographers who’re already established in the business, and are well connected to realtors dealing with such properties.
b.) Commercial photography business
Commercial photography differs from residential photography in a few aspects. Residential photography businesses usually deliver images to their clients with a limited license. Until realtors can sell the home, they alone can use the photos. While the home is still on the market, the photos cannot be used for any other purpose than for marketing and selling the house.
On the other hand, commercial photographs have fewer licensing restrictions. They have broader permissions and longer usage terms. For example, if a photographer is hired to take photos of a restaurant in town, the restaurant owner can use the images for several years for promoting their business over a variety of media (broadcast, magazines, print articles, web, etc.)
There are three main reasons why commercial photography jobs are usually more expensive than residential photography:
- The value of commercial photos is higher. If a company makes more money from them in the long term, they are more valuable to the client.
- Commercial jobs are more scarce, as they are not needed as frequently.
- Clients hold commercial photographers to a higher standard. They usually require both higher-end equipment and more experience.
c.) Architectural photography business
Architectural photography clients are typically architects, civil engineering firms, contractors, designers, or home builders.
When we hear the term architectural photography, we tend to think of exotic, modern building designs. However, architectural subjects for real-world clients don’t usually fall into that category. Architectural photos typically focus on the flow of a single space, functional design, or the quality of construction.
- The pricing and licensing of architectural photography are quite similar to commercial photography. The significant difference is that in the former, the focus is on accentuating each building’s structure and details.
- Architectural photographers often work with their clients to decide on the exact features to highlight. When shooting, they carefully consider the lighting, angles, and environmental factors such as the weather and time of day.
Most photographers also use better lighting rigging, more accurate tripod heads, and high-end tilt-shift lenses to achieve a high-end product. More time is also spent in post-processing to ensure that every part of the image looks just right.
d.) Interior photography business
As the name suggests, interiors are concerned with the flow and design of interior spaces and rooms. The focus is more on the emotional aspects– how the color, design, and furnishings evoke a certain mood or feeling.
Clients of interior photographers are usually architects, interior designers, magazines, realtors for luxury homes, staging companies, and owners. The subject can be of any type, size, and price – especially if it has a unique design or story. Aside from luxury homes, other subjects could be businesses and products, such as high-end furniture inside a staging home.
2. Get the right gear
The equipment for this field of photography is rather straightforward. You can start your own real estate photography business even on a modest budget and still deliver professional results. Similarly, you don’t need to master complicated processing techniques. However, a basic understanding of exposure, raw processing, bracketing, and layer masking will be helpful in many situations.
a.) A sturdy tripod
Your camera’s support system is going to be your companion for many of the jobs you do. Therefore, the absolute best tripod for real estate photography is a big, tall, sturdy one.
Furthermore, having a solid, heavy tripod will help to keep your images framed perfectly from one shot to the next. This will minimize your need for using alignment functions in post-production, whenever you need to create HDR or other composite images.
b.) An ultra-wide lens
While having a solid tripod to shoot from is essential, having a lens with the right focal length is as important. Your real estate photography business will involve you shooting a range of subjects, from vast exteriors to cramped interiors. Therefore, one job could require medium, ultra-wide, and telephoto focal lengths.
- Exteriors of a property are easy to photograph with a normal zoom such as a 24-70mm f/2.8 or 24-105mm f/4. On APS-C crop sensors, the common mid-range zoom lenses are 18-55mm or 16-50mm.
- However, for interiors or anything where space is tight, you’ll likely need a lens that goes even wider. On full-frame, the two most common focal ranges are 14-24mm and 16-35mm. On an APS-C crop sensor, 10-20mm and 10-24mm are common.
Any ultra-wide lens will get the job done. However, there are also specialty lenses that are made primarily for architecture and real estate work: tilt-shift lenses.
- A tilt-shift lens is an incredibly useful tool that allows you to have all the vertical lines (walls, doors, pillars, etc) stay vertical, instead of “leaning” up or down whenever you angle your camera up or down.
- Keep in mind that getting a tilt-shift lens is mostly a matter of in-the-field convenience and perfection. It’s not truly necessary unless you’re shooting a lot of very high-end work.
c.) The right camera
As far as camera bodies are concerned, you just don’t need an “exotic” camera body. This is because real estate photography doesn’t require features like extremely high frames-per-second, (FPS) or advanced subject tracking autofocus. Your main priorities are simple:
- A camera that provides great image quality from its raw files
- Good bracketing features and a flash hot-shoe.
Thankfully, even beginner cameras these days have great image quality at their lower ISOs. Professional cameras do offer more resolution, greater dynamic range, and more advanced bracketing functions, but using proper shooting technique (and the right lens) will be the most important factor when it comes to the final image. Also, many wireless camera control apps offer remote control for exposure and image preview.
d.) Using wireless flash
When working with flash in real estate photography, the professional results that you can achieve are worth it, specifically when using wireless flash off-camera to either bounce off a ceiling or directly illuminate subjects in a room with a diffuser such as an umbrella.
Keep in mind that if you go down the path of using wireless flash in your photos, it will add time to both shooting and post-production. Some jobs are super quick, with only a few minutes to shoot, and require rapid turnaround time.
e.) Bonus – Drones for aerial photography!
Drones have become incredibly popular lately, and almost every genre of photography has realized the benefits of being able to put a camera up in the air. When you start your own real estate photography business, you can greatly benefit from aerial photography and videography.
Thankfully, all of the latest popular drones from brands like DJI, such as the Phantom 4 Pro, Mavic Pro, and Mavic Air, include both raw image capture and auto-bracketing for aerial photos of a property even in tough light, resulting in beautiful images if processed correctly.
3. Build an impactful portfolio
An impactful portfolio is immensely important when you’re starting a career in the real estate photography business. It is a unique way to show your professionalism and also your creative side. This is the moment when you can impress your potential clients with your best work. The quantity of work is not as important as its quality– exclude everything you are not proud of and that does not represent your style.
Keep in mind that your online portfolio can be a valuable marketing tool when you’re setting up a real estate photography business, acting as your resume and an advertisement for your services all in one. That being said, be careful when processing images- don’t misrepresent the property.
Ideally, you will want a portfolio that has a minimum of 15 images (both interior and exterior photos) when you’re starting out. If you can get more than 15 photos, that’s great, but remember, this portfolio is a representation of your skill.
a.) Go to a nice neighborhood
When you’re building a portfolio for your real estate photography business, think about which neighborhoods around you have the nicest homes. This doesn’t mean just mansions, or the most wealthy neighborhood, but rather which area is always clean and appealing to the eye. The three things to look for when choosing an exterior photo for your photography portfolio are:
- Available Angles– Since you’ll be limited to shooting from around the sidewalk area and unable to walk on the front lawn, you’ll need to make sure a good angle is available. Make sure no trees are blocking important elements of the house. Make sure any cars parked in the driveway won’t ruin the shot. If the house is beautiful, but the angle isn’t there, you’re better off finding a different home.
- Curb Appeal– It’s the reason that the home most likely grabbed our eye. It can be the color brick used and the way it sits in its surroundings. It can be a wrap-around porch with a beautiful railing. Something that makes the home stand out. Those are the exact features you’ll want to seek out and photograph.
- Landscaping– The landscaping elements of a home are going to be extremely important as well. Trees that are too large and block the house itself are not what you need. Look for the well-tended gardens, the perfectly laid paths, and the freshly mowed lawns. You want it to look like real thought and effort was put into the landscaping features surrounding the home.
b.) Shoot for your friends and family
Since you need diversity in your portfolio, you’ll need diversity in the homes you photograph. That’s where your family and friends come in. Don’t assume that your portfolio needs to be pictures of the most beautiful homes. Realtors aren’t always selling the most expensive and amazing homes. In fact, most homes aren’t expensive and amazing.
Think about which family member or friend has a put-together home. Once you find a willing person to let you photograph their home, make sure you stage the rooms properly. Declutter the room and give it a bit of a touchup to help bring out the eye-catching detail of the space. At the minimum, photograph the kitchen, living area, master bedroom, and best available bathroom.
c.) Visit open houses
Realtors hold open houses all the time to get possible buyers in the door. Sometimes reservations are necessary, but for the majority of open houses, it’s an open-door policy. If you approach this situation correctly, you’ll have the opportunity to get into and photograph some nice homes without needing to rely on your friends and family’s homes.
In an ideal situation, the agent will be super interested in what you are doing and might even ask for your number to hire you to shoot another listing. Whether you choose to call ahead or just show up, what you’re going to say to the realtor is going to be generally the same.
- Explain that you are looking to build your photography portfolio, compliment the house, and how it’s staged.
- Ask politely, as if they would mind letting you come in and take a few photos.
- Tell them that you would be more than happy to send them the images and allow them to use the images for marketing purposes.
Some realtors will give you a flat “no” right away, and that’s okay. Understand that they are busy trying to make a sale and that open houses can be hectic. If you do get a yes, make sure to respect any people that are viewing the home.
d.) Bonus – Reach out to local businesses!
Real estate agents need photographers for their listings, and they are a great first place to start, but there are so many more options as well. Think about local businesses that work in the residential sector.
Know of any interior designers that could use some better quality photography? What about a painting company that might want photos of their finished work? Or a furniture maker with a nice showroom? The possibilities are nearly endless.
When you do reach out, be honest and tell them you’re looking to build your portfolio and that you’d like to offer them free, high-quality images.
4. Fill out the paperwork
Paperwork lays the legal foundation of any business. With your paperwork in order, you can safeguard yourself against any unlikely lawsuit and potentially save yourself thousands of dollars in lawyer’s fees.
It is important that you are aware of the basic business structures that exist, along with the specific permits, permissions, and contracts you may need before opening a real estate photography business.
a.) Pick a business structure
Your business structure affects how much you pay in taxes, your ability to raise money, the paperwork you need to file, and your personal liability. When you’re starting a real estate photography business, you’ll need to choose a business structure before you register your business with the state. Here are some common business structures-
A sole proprietorship is easy to form and gives you complete control of your business.
- Sole proprietorships do not produce a separate business entity. This means your business assets and liabilities are not separate from your personal assets and liabilities. You can be held personally liable for the debts and obligations of the business.
- Additionally, keep in mind that it can be hard to raise money because banks are hesitant to lend to sole proprietorships.
Partnerships are the simplest structure for two or more people to own a business together. There are two common kinds of partnerships: limited partnerships (LP) and limited liability partnerships (LLP).
- Limited partnerships have only one general partner with unlimited liability, and all other partners have limited liability. The partners with limited liability also tend to have limited control over the company, which is documented in a partnership agreement.
- Limited liability partnerships are similar to limited partnerships, but give limited liability to every owner. An LLP protects each partner from debts against the partnership, they won’t be responsible for the actions of other partners.
Limited Liability Company (LLC) lets you take advantage of the benefits of both the corporation and partnership business structures.
- While the limited liability feature is similar to that of a corporation, the availability of flow-through taxation to the members of an LLC is a feature of a partnership rather than an LLC.
- LLCs protect you from personal liability in most instances, your personal assets — like your vehicle, house, and savings accounts — won’t be at risk in case your LLC faces bankruptcy or lawsuits.
b.) Register your business
Your location and business structure determine how you’ll need to register your business. Determine those factors first, and registration becomes very straightforward.
- For most small businesses, registering your business is as simple as registering your business name with state and local governments.
- Remember, if you don’t register your photography business, you could miss out on personal liability protection, legal benefits, and tax benefits.
The next step would be to apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN), in case you do not have one already.
- It is important to get an EIN as it serves as your federal tax ID.
- You need it to pay federal taxes, hire employees, open a bank account, and apply for business licenses and permits.
You may also need a state tax ID. The need for a state tax ID number ties directly to whether your business must pay state taxes.
- Sometimes, you can use state tax ID numbers for other functions, like protection against identity theft for sole proprietors.
- Tax obligations differ at the state and local levels, so you’ll need to check with your state’s website.
c.) Apply for a Photography License
As a rule, the local governments require a license for photography of a certain type. Even if a photographer is going to open a photography studio, they need to get a special permit.
The laws in all cities are different, so you need to make two calls to get information about business licenses for photography. First, you need to call the state licensing board, and then address the local city hall.
Providers, employees, state/local governments, and customers should know that your business is completely legal. The business license for your real estate photography business ensures that you are absolutely legitimate and can be trusted. In addition, it allows the photographer to apply for an annual tax return confirming the legitimacy of the business.
d.) Get Business Insurance
Professional photographers and videographers need photography insurance to protect their assets from the cost of lawsuits and property damage. The specific policies you need depend on how you run your real estate photography business.
- At a minimum, you will need general liability insurance in case you’re sued over injuries or property damage, such as if a client sues you over an accident at a photoshoot. In events like these, general liability pays your legal fees, plus many policies cover the cost of immediate medical attention for injured customers, vendors, and other third parties.
- However, you should also consider getting commercial property insurance. Commercial property insurance covers business-owned structures and the contents of those structures. For photographers, that may include studio and office space and any furniture or fixtures within. This can also mean just your photography equipment—this is called contents-only and typically is purchased by photographers who rent studios and offices.
- Most photographers can get their general liability and property insurance in a Business Owner’s Policy (BOP). This is a package policy insurers developed to get small business owners these fundamental coverages at a reduced rate. For example, a photographer might pay $600 to $1,400 for the two policies, but only $500 to $700 for a BOP that combines them.
e.) Draw a Photography Contract
Photography contracts are legally binding agreements made between a photographer and a client, customer, model, or other parties regarding the professional services of the photographer. To be sure that clients are happy with their photos, contracts are essential to any photoshoot session.
Photographers should use contracts to protect their time and work as independent contractors or business owners. Contracts that are clearly laid out and agreed upon also help to avoid miscommunication between contractors, in this case, photographers and their clients.
Tip: Be clear in your terms from the get go. State your conditions on your online photography booking portal to let customers know what they can expect from your services!
Contracts of any kind are meant to outline the expectations, rights, and responsibilities of the involved parties to help avoid and resolve any conflicts. Photography contracts can include terms of payment and any contingencies to allow for additional prints or redo sessions in the case of poor weather or sickness. You should seek the services of a lawyer to draw up a contract for you.
f.) Optional – Get a Drone License
To fly a drone for commercial purposes (such as Aerial Photography) in the United States, you must first obtain a Remote Pilot Certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). To fly under Part 107 you must:
- Get a Part 107 Certificate from the FAA
- Register your drone
- Follow all Part 107 rules and regulations
This certificate demonstrates that you understand the regulations, operating requirements, and procedures for safely flying drones.
5. Set a price list for your services
To be a profitable photographer, you need to understand how to price your photography based on your time, effort, and market value. It is a great idea to refer to a real estate photography business plan to map out your expenses and price your services accordingly. Focus on covering your costs, but then as your business grows, you can adjust your rates to truly reflect your talent.
a.) Factors to Consider
Location impacts the cost of real estate photography in a deeper way than any other factor.
- States or cities with high real estate sales volume will typically have higher costs.
- For example, in areas like New York City, Washington D.C, Seattle, LA, etc., the pricing for a photographer will be a bit steeper.
- In a location with more competition in skill, prices can reflect a level of experience that intends to sway a client to work with their company or photographer.
When creating a pricing list, it is important to account for the cost of transportation within the prices.
- A photographer’s means of travel to and from a location can become expensive when they move from different shoots across the day.
- Some packages are created with the transportation costs in mind, but others require a client to give a reimbursement for any transportation costs acquired.
It is important that you also consider your start-up costs and fixed expenses while pricing your services.
- Equipment – here you should include wear, tear, and repair costs.
- Studio Rent – even if you are working at home, take into consideration rental cost, so that if needed your payment will cover it.
- Marketing – these are expenses for advertising, creating a portfolio, etc.
b.) Pricing Strategy
Novice photographers are urged to be careful while pricing their services. The easiest way to decide what rates to offer when getting into the real estate photography business is to figure out what others are charging in your market. A simple google search can help you with that. Let’s take an example.
- Assume that photography groups in your city offer 15-20 photos for around $100-150.
- The photos offered at those rates are the high-speed, “minimal effort” variety, where the photographer is probably at the house for less than an hour.
- Aerial photos are around $150-200, and 360 tours and walk-through videos are around $200-300.
- So if you’re just starting out a real estate photography business, you could charge $80 for 15-20 photos to get some experience.
Remember that you will not want to be a low-priced, low-quality photographer for the long haul. The goal should be to increase the appeal of your photos, services, and skillset and adjust rates upward as demand for your services increases.
Some other factors to consider include the size of the property and the time of the shoot.
- The larger the house, the more rooms, and features you’ll need to capture and edit. It only makes sense that you charge based on the property you’re shooting.
- You might charge under $200 for homes 3,000 square feet and under and over $200 for 3,000 square feet and up.
- Sometimes it’s difficult to coordinate shooting times with the homeowners and the real estate agent, which means you might be given unconventional hours to shoot.
- Shooting high-quality photography at sunset or in the dark will involve more equipment and editing than daytime shoots, so get all the details before you provide your client with your final rate.
c.) Discounts to Attract Clients
When you’re still building a real estate photography business, you need to give realtors and homeowners an incentive to hire you, a novice, instead of a seasoned real estate photographer. A good way to incentivize your services is to offer attractive discounts.
Keep in mind that good discounts are well-thought-out, goal-oriented and mutually beneficial. A well-crafted discount addresses any photography pricing hesitations your clients may harbor, and makes them feel good about their decision to invest.
Some common types include:
- Introductory Discount: This kind of discount stays active for a limited period and provides a too good offer to miss. Although they do not offer quick profit, they guarantee long-lasting relationships. A great decision is to offer not more than 20% for the coming season.
- Special Offer Discount: The main goal is to collaborate with customers that have already revealed interest, but are not ready to pay the full price. What you should offer- a particular day of photo sessions with lowered prices.
- Value-Added Discount: It works for those clients who are fond of your work, but high prices fear them. You just add a bonus option/product to a regularly priced service.
6. Spread the word about your business
Your marketing efforts when running a real estate photography business need to be thoughtful and detailed to appeal to potential customers. Here are several key marketing tips to ensure your business thrives.
a.) Create your Marketing Material
Create business cards and flyers that include your portfolio website and your social media platforms so potential customers can see your photography in action. Make sure you also include contact information like your name and your email address so clients can reach out to you easily. Stand out from the crowd by displaying a stunning real estate photo, that highlights your strengths, on the front of the business card or flier.
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b.) Meet Real Estate Agents
Cold calling a realtor can be a bit intimidating, but it could also lead to future jobs. When you set up a real estate photography business, make sure you are selective about which agents you reach out to.
- Check the local listings in your area to find agents who have at least a dozen listings in the last several years. This means they will be busy enough to justify hiring a professional photographer.
- You should also check if the agent is using non-professional photos in their listings, as this means they’ll be looking for help in this area.
When you call a realtor, keep your opening brief and friendly. Your value proposition is that you’re a local photographer who can help them with professional photographs that will help sell the listing. So be persuasive, but not too pushy.
c.) Use Social Media Posts to Boost Your Profile
When it comes to social media marketing, your best option is to choose one or two platforms and focus primarily on cultivating an audience on them. Maybe you decide Instagram and Facebook are where you’ll get the most views and can connect with customers. In fact, with effective call-to-actions, social media is a great way to convert visitors to customers!
- You should then put your energy into posting engaging content on these platforms regularly so followers are reminded of your work and your business profile.
- Upload a great property image on your Instagram or informative videos on your Youtube account once a week to keep your content current and interesting for people.
- Search for similar accounts on social media and follow them so they are encouraged to follow you back.
- Comment on posts by other photographers to build your profile and stay connected to the online community.
The more you engage with social media, the more you can use it as a tool to market your work and expand your clientele.
d.) Establish Your Web Presence
- Get your business listed on Google My Business: Google gets traffic of almost 3.5 billion per day! By listing your business on Google My Business, you not only improve your local SEO ranking but also increase your visibility owing to the incredible number of daily visitors to Google.
- Add your business to Reserve with Google: To help the local businesses further and improve the user experience, Google has introduced “Reserve with Google”. It enables the users to directly book appointments with the businesses and reduces drop-offs to a great extent.
Leverage Reserve with Google to Make More Money
7. Grow Your Client List
Landing clients can be a challenge for your business can be hard, especially in the fast-paced, competitive world of real estate. Finding clients, from agents to private sellers, can help you take your business to the next level, building a sustainable source of income and increasing your client list one job at a time.
a.) Ask for Referrals
In the real estate industry, word of mouth is a very valuable way to find new clientele. Don’t be shy about asking for referrals, as this is often how you build a successful photography business. Start with family and friends, asking them to send along your name and professional site to anyone looking for a photographer.
You can also ask your current clients to refer your real estate photography business to other clients, especially if they know someone looking to sell their home. If you’ve worked with an agent in the past, approach them for a referral as well in a professional email or phone call.
Tip: With a photography booking software, your clients can leave glowing reviews and referrals on your booking portal!
b.) Pursue High-Value Clients
As you broaden your search for your next client, focus on contacts that will add high value to your business.
- This means looking in specific geographic areas where you know property values are high and in demand.
- Look for potential clients who need a photographer, or who may need help boosting their listing with better photos.
Reach out and let them know what makes you different from other real estate photographers, as well as what you can offer them. Even just letting them know you’re open to new photography work, and that you are operating in their area can lead to new jobs down the line.
That was the end of our guide on how to start a real estate photography business. We hope that you had ample takeaways from what we had to say and gave you some clarity on the process!
The real estate photography business can be tough to crack- there are several players in the market and the competition is intense. However, an impact portfolio coupled with professionalism and exemplary service can put you at the top of your game.
To make your business a reliable income stream, maintain consistency in your process and look. You don’t need a lot to achieve beautiful pictures, so start with basic gear. Expand as you build your clientele and diversify into more technical and demanding niches, such as architectural photography and luxury real estate photography.
You might think that you have too many hats to wear, from being a photographer to handling the day-to-day admin of your studio. What if there was a solution that could seamlessly automate your booking process, and marketing initiatives and give you real-time analyses of every appointment?
To streamline your business right from the beginning, we recommend using real estate photography scheduling software. Set your booking rules, explicitly state your terms and conditions, have scheduling flexibility, and more to create an efficient booking journey with Appointy’s photography studio booking software!
We at Appointy, help business owners grow and run their businesses with our online scheduling software. This blog was a part of our ‘Manage your Business’ category, where we provide expert tips, and resources, or simply talk about the challenges that small and medium businesses face every day.
If you have any thoughts on this blog or would like to chat about your business struggles and achievements, let us know in the comments below.
We love a good talk!