The Complete Guide to Getting Started In Real Estate Photography
I’ve been in the real estate photography business for a couple of years now, and I’ve learned a lot along the way.
The single most important takeaway and getting started with real estate photography is to not worry about the equipment so much as you should the relationship with real estate agents.
When you get started or want to dive into real estate photography, the first thing you need to consider is the cost to enter into this niche. It can be super expensive and it can also be super affordable and here’s how to do it.
Real Estate Photography Equipment
The minimum qualifications for the equipment you need is a DSLR camera, one that you can control manually: a wide-angle lens—be careful to not get a fish-eye lens; and an adorable tripod. Trying to avoid a tripod under $100—usually those will not last very long and are not very sturdy—you will see a noticeable difference between a cheap tripod and a higher-quality one.
There are a handful of tricks every real estate photographer does in every home. These tricks are what sets apart the real estate photographer from anyone else with the camera.
The most basic trick is to photograph the room and not the furniture. Be sure to show the dimensions of the room as much as possible in the photo. This is why you need a wide-angle lens.
In every room take a photo in landscape mode to show at least three walls. The third wall doesn’t necessarily have to be all in the same picture, but enough to show that there is a wall there. This will properly display the dimensions of the room for anyone looking at the home online.
The next trick is to not angle your lens up or down—even if it’s slightly angled. Keep your camera light switch height and most of your photos.
For those tight spaces, it may be necessary to take a portrait shot of the room. This might be bathrooms, laundry rooms, or closets.
If you do have to angle down, always take the first shot with the camera being level at light switch height. This will ensure that you are taking the most professional photos and providing that option to the agent.
Pro Tip: if you’re using Lightroom, then creating the second image takes but a few extra seconds.
The other trick is to bracket your shots. Bracketing is taking 3 different exposures to produce one shot. This is under the assumption that your camera is shooting in RAW mode and not jpeg.
Shooting in raw will save the most amount of information for that photo—think of it as a digital negative. If you have three of these at different exposures—properly exposed, underexposed, and overexposed—then you are capturing the most amount of information to put into a photo and develop the highest quality you can.
Most high-end Real Estate photographers will use flash in their photography, but I will not cover that in this article. If you want to check out how to develop flash photography, check out this article here.
Marketing Your Service
Now that you have your equipment, you can start promoting your service. The quickest way to get clients is to get between 3 to 5 trial clients. You want these clients to pay some money so you can cover your costs. When I started out, I charged $75 per shoot.
From my experience, agents do not want to pay a lot of money for photos. The irony is that they treat photos as a liability instead of a marketing asset that they can use throughout their career. So you don’t want to start right out the gate with a premium price. You need to start small, get your foot in the door, scope out the project, and find the needs of the agents in your area.
Word of Caution
Please do not quit your day job and jump into this with two feet—if you’re wanting to go into high-end real estate photography, you’re going to have to spend some time figuring out the process that works best for you.
Scoping the Project & Setting Yourself Up For Success
When it comes to pricing your service, you won’t know exactly what to charge until you start taking pictures and developing them. Keep track of the time that you spend driving to the location, photographing the home, and developing the pictures.
When taking the photos of the home, ask the agent what’s more important to them. Some ideas are wide-angle shots, details of the home, see-through Windows, Aerials, pictures of the community, or simply better than cell-phone quality.
This will allow you to focus on the priorities of the agent versus the quality of the images—however, these may overlap.
When developing your photos, pay attention to the software you use, the time spent developing the photos, and the method of delivery—this could be Dropbox, Google Drive, wetransfer.com, or another third-party site for file transfer.
When you deliver photos to the client, ask them what’s important to them for delivery. What would make it easier for delivery? What could you do better? What other services would they like to see?
Throughout this process you also want to ask the agent what are some other priorities of other agents in their brokerage. This will give you a glimpse of what other agents are looking for.
Ask the agent how they are marketing their photos— are they using Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest or any other social media platform. This will give you an idea of how to either better optimize your photos, come up with other services you can offer, or simply know how to better deliver the photos to your client.
For instance, here in Utah there are Companies who offer virtual tours, social media posting, video content, and photography. In researching the competition, a lot of these companies are not doing one thing very well. so I’m able to charge a premium for my service, develop a system to higher it out, and deliver high-quality content to my clients.
Disclaimer: I am not a CPA or a license tax consultant— with that said I can share with you my experience as a real estate marketer here in Utah and what I do.
Utah recently passed a law that any digital products are taxable. With that comes the need for a tax ID from the state. you need a business license for the city you will be operating from, a Sales and Use Tax ID number, and an EIN number ( for third-party companies to contract you out).
You will also need invoicing software— I use Wave apps to deliver my invoices and collect payment. avoid using PayPal at all costs. Sometimes I use venmo.
When invoicing your service— and if your state taxes you for digital products— what I do is charge my clients for the service of taking & creating photos and video and Bill them $1 for the digital product. This way I only taxed them for the $1 and the state of Utah taxes me for that dollar. Did the Utah tax office tell me that if the digital product and service are on the same line in an invoice, then I’m taxed on the service as well— so I have to separate the service and the digital product.
To set apart your service from the other Real Estate photographers you’re going to have to think outside the box. There are numerous Real Estate photographers who do Real Estate photography part-time, as a side gig, or just an added service to everything else they’re doing. This system is not sustainable. You need to think and grow out of real estate photography and more into the needs of the real estate agent if you want to go this route.
The first thing I did was to get a drone license in order to offer it for free in my high-end real estate marketing package. This sets me apart right off the bat. I learned how to do flash photography, this set me apart from the people who do it part-time or as a side gig.
The second thing I did was to offer video. I currently use an iPhone 11 Pro with a DJI Mobile 3 gimbal to film real estate video. Of all of the videos I’ve shot and produced, this set up out performs DSLRs on many accounts. It’s the easiest to setup, light weight & fits into my camera bag, and the dynamic range produced in-camera makes our production workflow quick, easy, and professional.
The third thing I did was to offer Zillow videos and leveraging Zillow’s 3D Tour platform. Even though the client does not get to provide feedback on these videos, I’m able to put the agent’s branding information and my branded information and upload it to Zillow. This not only gets the agent in the more exposure, but this also helps rank their listing in Zillow.
Zillow’s 3D Tour platform also allows you to host the virtual tours indefinitely unlike other platforms where you have to pay a subscription fee to host it. Using Zillow’s platform allows the agent to use their past listings to win future listings since they won’t have to pay continual hosting fees.
To become a Zillow certified photographer, you have to provide 2 video tours to Zillow. I did this by going to open houses on the weekend and asking the agent if I can give them a free Zillow tour. Agents will not turn down free marketing. You’ll need to produce 5 Zillow 3D tours to get certified.
The fourth way I set myself apart is to offer social media content. Sure, your photos can be posted on social media, but are they optimized for social media? Create Square images for the agent to use on Instagram or in their Facebook ads. Let that agent know that they can upload their photos to Pinterest and put a link to their website— not the property.
This will help the agent create more of an online presence, backlinks to their site, and build their portfolio as they use your service. After a while of using your service, they won’t want to use anyone else because then their photos will either look lesser in quality or not consistent.
The other way I set myself apart from other photographers is I know how to do Facebook marketing. Even though this is a more expensive service, it provides an additional income to my real estate marketing business and I still get to do photography.
Offering additional services like these incorporate the work that I do and leverage the professional effort I offer in this industry.
Hosting a virtual tour might be an option to explore in your area. Here in Utah, there are a couple of virtual tour companies, but they’re not very popular for the tour platform. I’ve experimented with some virtual tours, you can check out Real Tour Vision for more details. They allow you to host the images onto a platform with the agent branded on the site; but in my opinion it’s no different than putting the photos and videos on social media.
I’ve had numerous agents push back on using a tour from Real Tour Vision and very few actually want the tour.
This is something that you’ll have to ask your agent if it’s something important to them—and if it is, then you will want to consider jumping on that bandwagon to either blend in with the other professionals or set yourself apart from everyone else.
If you’re looking into getting into real estate photography, my recommendation is to approach it from a marketing angle instead of a photographer angle. Most agents understand that marketing is a large part of their business—they need to market—and if they don’t mark it they do not eat.
You need to be on the team of the real estate agent and continually crafting your skill—even if it means learning something new, investing in courses, or learning through traditional hustle.