In order to become a real estate photographer, you will have to first develop your skills as a photographer and then market your services to real estate agents for a fee. Listing agents have come to realize that offering a compendium of pictures of the property, gives potential buyers useful information about the place for sale. You will have to invest in camera with a special lens that allows you to photograph the entire room and then learn how to best handle the equipment. Learning how to take photos for real estate agents also involves developing your communication skills so you can sell your services effectively. The Real Estate Photographers of America and International Trade Association allows you to register so real estate agents can find you to obtain your services.

The business of real estate photography involves an individual or a team, who are hired to take quality pictures of properties for sale. The main aim of this is to attract potential buyers to view the property. Due to the competitive nature of the real estate industry, the demand for quality property photos is always there. Proper lighting and point of view helps a property stand out above the competition, driving potential buyers to view the property.

This type of business will be best suited for people who have photography experience and an eye for architectural detail. Contacts in the real estate industry are an added bonus. It is also beneficial for the person to enjoy working outside or away from an office setting. Being in the field requires reliable transportation and an ability to transport gear, sometimes on foot for extended amounts of time, as well.

How does a real estate photography business make money?

Real estate photographers make their money from each of their photo session. A lot of them charge according to the type of property involved. When photographing personal property for real estate agents, they are paid prior to or on a shoot and based on the number of images which they have been contracted to provide. For commercial clients, a deposit is paid up front. The remaining balance is invoiced to the customer upon delivery of images.

The service that a real estate photographer can offer is not just relegated to real estate photography. Here are some additional services you can offer;

  1. Video: this is one of the most premium services a real estate photographer can offer. Usually, with the aid of a steadycam, the layout of the house is shown in the most exquisite ways. To make the effect more influential, photographers add music. However, you should note that it is not all types of music that is permissible to be used for commercial real estate videos. For this you should collaborate only with those music webpages that let you use music paid or free. This service can cost from a thousand dollars and above.
  2. Photos made with drone: this is a type of photograph that is taken with a drone in order to get the bird eye view of the house in question along with the neighborhood. This services costs about $200 an hour to $5000 per photoshoot.
  3. Architectural 3D rendering: this service can cost about $500.
  4. Teach photography classes and host seminars.
  5. Offer online classes.
  6. Offer instructional videos.
  7. Blogging about real estate photography

A typical day at a real estate photography business

Typically, the time of a real estate photographer will be split between running the business and working in the “field” during the photo sessions. A typical week will include the following activities:

  • Meeting with clients to confirm what parts of the structure they need photographed and if they have any special requests or needs for the photo shoot.
  • Surveying property prior to a shoot to get an idea of lighting, time of day for exterior shots, etc.
  • Identifying the best angle for each shot and staging the area.
  • Editing photos
  • Sharing photos with clients
  • Following up with client to ensure they received images
  • Re-shooting or re-editing images (if necessary)
  • Administrative work: Entering information into accounting software and paying bills/payroll
  • Marketing and networking: Checking in with past clients to see if they have any other properties that need to be photographed, attending realtor’s meetings, and calling real estate agents and businesses, reminding them of the services you offer.

Real estate agents have come to realize the value that a quality picture of the property they are trying to sell can bring to their real estate listings. For this reason, the demand for real estate photographers is high, allowing businesses to decide for themselves exactly how much volume they accept.

However, it is advisable to first research the area you intend to start your business in. This is because some places may already be saturated and as such, breaking into the industry will be a lot more difficult. Another advantage of carrying out your search first is that you may identify an area in the industry where needs are not being currently met, and as such, take advantage of it to have an edge over your competitors. To further expand their businesses, many business owners have opened satellite offices in other areas of the country.

Real estate photography requires an eye for detail, architecture, and lighting. Having these skills under your belt will enable you to deliver photos that require little editing and ensure a smooth post-processing experience. You must also possess strong communication skills and should be able to work under the pressure of deadlines.

Since your long-term success requires a balance between your photography prowess and business acumen, novice entrepreneurs are urged to take a business planning course before getting started.

Costs involved in starting a real estate photography business

While the growth potential is high, many business owners start out as sole photographers. This helps them to reduce the cost that will be involved in starting up the business and even eliminating the need for a physical location. Industry leaders indicate that a budget of $10,000 or less should be sufficient.

To get started, you will need the following items:

  • Camera: obviously, to start a photography business you will need a camera. Even though you do not need a top-of-the-line model, you should make sure it has the ability to change out lenses and add a cable release, flash, and wireless trigger.
  • Wide and ultra-wide angle lens
  • Flashes: You will need several, designed for different sized spaces.
  • Light stands
  • Tripod
  • Editing software: you can make use of the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom and the SLR Lounge Lightroom Preset System.
  • Dropbox or other file sharing software

You can also make use of the various franchise opportunities that are available in real estate photography. Even though this will translate into a higher startup cost, it is advantageous in the sense that it will provide you with additional resources and investors that could help accelerate enterprise growth. Franchising will cost you from $15,500 to $45,000.

Here are some ongoing costs that you will incur in your real estate photography business:

Until you decide to open a home office, your overhead expenses are fairly minimal. Items you should budget for include:

  • Website maintenance – $100 to $1,200 annually
  • Accounting software – up to $300 per year
  • Editing software – $48 to $150 per year
  • Business insurance
  • Fuel costs
  • Marketing materials
  • Payroll and payroll taxes – hire photographers on a freelance basis to reduce insurance exposure and payroll expenses.

Like most startup businesses, the profits does not start coming right away. It may take about one to three years for things to stabilize and for significant and steady profits to start rolling in. Independent real estate photographers average an annual profit of $50,000, with many exceeding $90,000 per year. Considering the low overhead costs, profits stand to climb exponentially for each freelancer/employee you add to your team.

Steps to start a real estate photography business

Once you’re ready to start your real estate photography business, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:

  1. Learn photography: in order to start a real estate photography business, you need to have the prerequisite knowledge. If you are already skilled in real estate photography, then you may want to skip this, else, this should be your first point of call. You can take photography courses at your local college, community center or school, where you will learn how to capture, shape, transmit, save and print digital photos. You will also learn how to use both digital and film cameras, lenses and film. Get experience developing film and setting different exposures. Even though photography is a practical course, it is still possible to learn it over the internet.
  2. Get certified: a certification from a trusted body will help you increase your credibility as a real estate photographer. The Professional Photographic Certification Commission allows you to take an exam and obtain the Certified Professional Photographer certification. The Photography website provides access to study questions, links to online resources and a glossary of terms. Judges review 20 images you submit as representation of your work. They assess your skills, knowledge and ability to produce pleasing photographs. For architectural photos, judges look for good quality of light, color, density and appropriate contrast.
  3. Have a business plan: a well-researched and written business plan is a step in the right direction towards starting your own real estate photography business. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
  4. Form a legal entity: by establishing your business as a legal entity, you will be able to prevent yourself from being personally liable if your real estate photography business is sued.
  5. Register for taxes: in the United States, you will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
  6. Open a business bank account: you should never combine your business and personal accounts together. When you start your business, ensure that you get a dedicated checking account for your real estate photography business because it keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
  7. Obtain necessary permits and licenses: Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
  8. Get business insurance: getting an insurance plan for your business is highly advisable for people who own a business. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
  9. Clearly define your brand: your brand is the unique selling point of your business and also how your business is received by the general public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
  10. Establish a web presence: a business website is a must have for real estate photographers and it also allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers.

Tips for jump starting a real estate photography business

  1. Prior to the shoot, send each client a task list. This should include suggestions on how to prep the property. You don’t want a situation when you will arrive to start the photo-shoot and the property is in disarray.
  2. Even though you do not need to buy the most expensive camera in order to be a real estate photographer, you should make sure that you’ve invested in a Digital Single-lens Reflex (DSLR) camera, an ultra-wide angle lens, and a tripod.
  3. Practice whenever you get the chance in order to improve your photography skills, irrespective of the subject.
  4. Be flexible. You may have to revisit a property multiple times to capture proper lighting. You might also consider learning how to create a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image, which involves taking three different exposures and combining them in order to get an even exposure and detail in the highlights and shadows of a landscape or architectural image.
  5. Provide your clients with both web-based and full resolution photos.
  6. Don’t be in a hurry to partner with a large real estate company. Always take your time to review their rules before partnering with a large real estate company. Many of them require a non-compete contract and offer minimal compensation for your work.
  7. Make sure that you consistently offer quick turnaround on your jobs.
  8. To ensure you are properly compensated, require clients sign a contract that defines the details of your job, as well as what you require of them.
  9. Plan ahead for the seasonal lulls. From November to January and August to September, the work will be inconsistent. With the right marketing strategy in place, you should be able to find work year round.
  10. Make us of Google Maps and Google Earth to determine the best time of the day to get the best shots of a property.

How to promote and market a real estate photography business

If you want to market your real estate photography business, then you should include a website and an active role on social media sites in your marketing strategy. To get the best results, you should make use of Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, and Tumblr. In Addition, The Real Estate Photographers of America & International (REPAI) offers the public an effective way to identify the best in the industry. Photographers are urged to invest in membership and take advantage of this useful tool.

It will also be necessary for you to network within the community. Visit local real estate offices and commercial businesses that are on the market, leaving pamphlets that showcase your work. Ads in real estate magazines and online forums are also an effective way to generate leads.

In order to entice potential clients, you can offer your new clients discounts and offer to re-shoot and re-edit (should the need arise) the photos for no extra payment on their part. Deliver quality service by arriving on time and delivering your images by the defined deadline. You should also follow up on your customer to ensure that they were satisfied with the level of your work. An unsatisfied client can really derail your path to success.

Ajaero Tony Martins