Real Estate Photography: A Practical Guide to Success

(Last updated on June 17th, 2022)

You have decided to become a real estate photographer. But where do you start? Real estate photography can be lucrative. If you add planning, foresight, and hard work, it can become a highly successful and satisfying career. Below I offer tools, tips, and a clear path towards landing clients and a career crafting stunning images of real estate.

What Exactly Is Real Estate Photography?

Real estate sales account for nearly $3 trillion of the United States economy. This economic figure is driven by images of homes, offices, and commercial buildings as it is often the first introduction a potential buyer has to a home. Placing emphasis on real estate photographers to create their best images of a property.

To gain a solid understanding of what makes a good real estate photograph, head over to any online real estate website. Zillow and Trulia are two popular home browsing websites. A search will reveal a handful to dozens of images for each property.

An example of a well composed and lit interior real estate photograph
An example of a well-composed and lit interior real estate photograph.

These images highlight the best features of a home and help sell the house. With a little practice, you can craft these images and earn anywhere from a couple hundred to over a thousand dollars per property.

As a real estate photographer, you will need to know more than just how to operate a camera.

  • Business Savvy
  • Time Management
  • Producer Skills
  • Industry-specific knowledge
  • Networking

This set of skills is worth cultivating. As a real estate photographer, you will be putting in the time and work with tasks outside of photography. For example, each location will require preparation and planning for success. Think about how many rooms a property has and which one is the most unique. Is the yard a major part of the property’s appeal?

Having a conversation with the realtor before you visit the property will help you decide what equipment is necessary and the best time of day to create the images.

Traditionally real estate photography is conducted in tandem with a realtor. You work with them and the property owner to produce the images. Once the images are delivered, you move on to the next property.

Choosing the right avenue of real estate photography is worth considering. You can become a freelancer, start your own real estate photography business, or work only in stock photography.  The key is to develop a plan and move forward with specific tasks and goals. With a concise roadmap, you will be set for success as a real estate photographer.

Stock Photography

Stock photography is a great avenue to build passive income through your real estate images. Building a large portfolio of high-quality real estate photos on a stock website will provide commercial, editorial, marketing, and other uses for your images in perpetuity. The best part of stock photography is that once the images are uploaded the work is done and the income will trickle in.

Be sure to spend some time reviewing copyrights, including exclusive copyrights. If you want to use images you create with a stock image portfolio, you must disclose this in a contract. Conversely, if you want only the realtor or real estate company to have the only rights to the images, this also needs to exist in the contract.

As the photographer, you can define the type of copyright to the images. While there are many types of copyrights, in order to use your images on a stock website, you need to make sure the correct verbiage is in any contract you sign.

If you are part of the hired staff with a real estate company, the images you create while on the clock may become the intellectual property of the company. Be sure to ask about this during the hiring process.

Selecting the Correct Gear

The Camera

The vast majority of real estate photography will be viewed on a screen. Be it a desktop or laptop computer or a tablet or smartphone. The thing to consider is image quality. Full-frame cameras have a greater dynamic range but are not necessary for real estate photography. Dynamic range is the total stops of light a sensor can render without losing detail in the shadows and highlights.

A high frame rate is also unnecessary. Real estate photography is a slow endeavor with well-thought-out compositions. You also do not need high-tech and advanced autofocus modes. Most images will be focused manually, yet the basic autofocus is accurate enough for real estate photography.

Anyone can become a real estate photographer it just takes hard work and practice
Anyone can become a real estate photographer, it just takes hard work and practice.

The two most important features you want to consider when purchasing a camera for real estate photography are the ability to trigger an external flash or strobe and the ability to bracket exposures. Like this camera or this camera.

An external lighting source will help you balance uneven light. You want the camera to have a hot shoe on top where you can attach an external flash or trigger device. Below I will talk about how to use one in difficult lighting situations.

Bracketing exposure is a simple way to expand the dynamic range of a camera. Bracketing means creating a series of images that are one-stop of exposure apart. This allows you to include the details of a particularly bright area, like an exterior window, while also including detail in the shadows.

For example, your first image would be underexposed with two full stops. The next image will be one-stop underexposed. The next is perfectly exposed. The last two images in the set will be overexposed with one and two stops, respectively.

In post-production, you will blend these images to create a high dynamic range (HDR) image that showcases all aspects of the room without looking unrealistic. Of course, there is one piece of equipment you will need to do this and it is essential to real estate photography, the tripod.

The Tripod

A tripod is fundamental to crafting stunning images. It allows you to work in low light. A tripod facilitates accurate and consistent image bracketing. Best of all, it makes you look like you know what you are doing.

The tripod consists of two parts, the legs, and the head. The legs are self-explanatory. Some lock with a twist-lock while others lock with a switch. The head is the part that rests on top of a tripod and holds the camera.

A ball-head provides the greatest flexibility in a small compact package. A simple ball-head with one or two knobs allows you to work smoothly. Find one that works for your workflow and be sure to confirm the tripod head supports the weight of your camera.

The Lens

Real estate photography relies predominantly on wide-angle lenses. The ideal focal length for real estate photography is anywhere between 10 and 24mm. Often you will be working in small rooms and interiors. The goal is to get as much of the room in the image as possible. When homes are staged with furniture, this becomes more of a challenge.

Be sure to get a lens with a minimum aperture of f/4. While having a wider aperture could be handy in lower light situations, paying the extra money for the one or two stops of exposure is not worth it. Use a tripod and an external flash.

The curved edges of a fisheye lens are unnatural and distracting
The curved edges of a fisheye lens are unnatural and distracting.

Avoid fisheye lenses. These novelty lenses introduce too much distortion. A wide telephoto lens or a fixed focal length lens will do the job just fine. Be sure to use an aperture of f/8 or greater to maximize your focus.

Many real estate photographers use what is known as a tilt-shift lens. These lenses have moving elements. This shifts the plane of focus and correctly renders angles. They come in fixed focal lengths and when used correctly can speed up your workflow and improve image quality. However, they have a steep learning curve and are costly.

Keeping the camera level on the camera will help keep angles aligned. The best real estate images are created when the camera is higher up in the room. Bring a stool to stand on if you need to gain a few extra inches.While distortion is normal when creating images, most editing software allows this to be corrected with lens settings.

I recommend setting up a preset that you can apply to your images when you import them onto your computer. This way the distortion is taken out before you even cull and edit your images.

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How Much Does a Real Estate Photographer Make?

Real estate photography is your job and you deserve to be paid adequately for your time and images. Deciding a rate or how to charge is a challenging aspect of professional photography.

You will be working odd hours and doing far more than photography. Track your time. If you take a phone call with a client while on a walk, that is billable. If you have to attend an open house on a weekend, bill the time.

What equipment do you own? Do you need to purchase new lights? A camera? Build these expenses into your calculations. At the end of the day, your rate should value your work, equipment, and time while providing adequate income.

Many real estate photographers charge a single rate for a property. They consider the time it takes for planning, photographing, editing, and equipment costs. This also includes travel time.

Below is a chart highlighting typical rates in the industry but it is worth doing some more research. Ask a colleague or associate in the industry how much they charge. Get a sense of your local market and be competitive. You do not want to charge too little to undersell yourself. Nor do you want to overcharge and be pushed away by potential clients.

Here are some things to consider when calculating a rate.

  • Expenses go beyond equipment.
  • Charge different rates for different properties.
  • The bigger the house the more you charge.
  • Adjust pricing for the time of day.
  • Changing light requires more equipment and time.
  • Higher-end listings mean a higher rate.
  • Be sure to ask the realtor what the asking price is before you offer a bid.
  • If you have a drone it could be a powerful way to create unique content.
  • Keep prices on the low end of your local market in the beginning.
  • Every few months audit your portfolio, workflow, and clients; adjust prices accordingly.
Homes under 3,000 square feetStart at $200 for two to three images per room and four exterior images.
Homes over 3,000 square feetStart at $300-400 for two to three images per room and four exterior images.
Additional PhotosConsider add-on packages that include more images.
Charge per square footStart around $0.09 to $0.12 per square foot.
Drone FootageOne minute of professional video can be anywhere between $200 to $400

Real Estate Photography Tips

  • With the right tools in your camera bag, you can start practicing. I always recommend practice to any photographer. Be it Eli Locardi or your 10-year-old niece. Photography is a craft and requires consistent refinement and improvement.
  • Before you create any images of a home or office building, walk through each room and gain a sense of the location. You want to see the home as a home, not a subject first. Pay attention to the architectural details in each room. Take notes, to help you remember each room’s features.
  • If the homeowners are present, ask them to rearrange furniture to improve your compositions. Furniture and molding can become leading lines, drawing the viewer’s eye into the body of the image.
  • With each room, you want to emphasize the key feature. If it is the brick fireplace in the living room be sure to emphasize the fireplace. If the granite island in the kitchen is the selling point of the kitchen, showcase this by framing it with the outlying counters.
  • Avoid bad weather. Dull gray clouds make everything look flat. Plan your photography session for a day with good weather. A few clouds in the sky are preferable to bluebird skies. As a bonus, you will have a great sunset to include in the session.
  • When scheduling a photo session with the realtor, be clear about the lighting conditions you want. Most realtors have a sense of what good light is and the importance of lighting in photography.
  • Use an app such as Photopills to plan your photography sessions. This app will tell you when the golden hour begins and when the sunsets. You can even infer which way the shadows will fall. Thinking about the light ahead of time and the property orientation will vastly benefit you when on location.
Foreground elements improve the image quality
Foreground elements improve the image quality.
  • Think like a landscape photographer. This genre of photography is about slowing down and crafting a specific composition. Every element in the image is in place for a reason. There is balance and cohesiveness. Using these strategies is critical when creating the key exterior images. 
  • Including foreground elements in your real estate photography will serve to pull the eye into the image. Balance dark areas with bright areas and use the rule of odds. These compositional tips will greatly improve your images.
  • At dawn or dusk, you can use the home’s interior lighting to add a dynamic element to the image and make it pop. This will highlight the interior while showcasing the exterior in deep golden light.
Using interior lights at dusk or blue hour can create stunning images
Using interior lights at dusk or blue hour can create stunning images.
  • Light painting is a clever way real estate photographers balance tricky lighting conditions. The idea is to take a series of exposures while using an external flash to “paint” light on darker areas of the image. Then you blend all the images together. This can be an alternative to bracketing. Learn both methods and keep them in your tool chest.
  • When using a flash unit, be sure to bounce the light off a white, or near-white surface to reduce the harshness of the shadows. You want to create fill light, not overdo the additional light. Having a reflector or two on hand can help with fine-tuning harsh light by bouncing bright light into shadows.
  • Create a universal image list you can refer to at each property. Expand it to custom fit each location after talking with the client. You want to walk away with at least three to four solid images of each room and at least two to three images of each exterior side. This will guarantee a happy client and potentially build your stock library.
  • Talk with the homeowner. What is their favorite room? Why?. Having a conversation with them will often reveal unique features of the home that ultimately will help sell the property.

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How to Find Real Estate Photography Work

Finding a client seems daunting. Put your ego aside and cold call realtors. Create a template email that highlights your work and send a blast to a bunch of realtors at once, just be sure to BCC everyone. You may cast 100 lines but if one or two of them bite, you will land a job.

Your network of contacts and clients will not grow unless you put yourself out there. When you land a client, be professional and create the best images you can. You want the realtor to not only be impressed with your images, but also with your work ethic. Make an impression on your first few clients and give them a reason to tell other realtors about your work. 

Real estate photography is the work of creating images for someone else. Remember this. The images you make (even if for a stock website) are not for you. Set any personal creative values aside when working with realtors. The images you are creating are for clients who expect professional and high-quality work.

Build Your Portfolio

If you are just getting started, lean on friends for help. Ask them if you can photograph their home. Stage your own home to create more images for your portfolio. You will not land any clients without showcasing what you can do.

A website is a powerful marketing tool. It is your portfolio’s home and how you can be contacted. Your website can also serve as a photo delivery service to your client.

Spend time researching other real estate photography websites to gain a sense of how they are arranged. Emulate them to create your own. Once you have three to four properties photographed, pick the best images to highlight your work.

Client Review

Before you leave the property, review the images with the client. This empowers them and gives them buy-in to the process. The realtor may catch a missed photo, allowing you to create it before leaving.

This is a great way to build a reputation as a professional photographer who values the work created and respects the client’s time. It will offer the realtor an opportunity to ask questions about your images and gain a better understanding of your workflow.

The Eye in the Sky

One of the most practical uses for a drone is real estate photography. Having one could vastly improve your product as a business. While they are an expensive tool, starting anywhere between a couple of hundred dollars to over a thousand, drones can potentially raise your revenue.

Drones offer a unique vantage point
Drones offer a unique vantage point.

By creating photos from above, a potential buyer will have a unique view of the home. These images, while still uncommon, are becoming more ubiquitous on real estate pages. Drone images offer a sense of scale that helps someone better understand a property.

Use the drone to create professional videos. A well-edited video can bring in an extra couple hundred dollars per project. These videos often offer a different perspective beyond still images.

If you happen to be a skilled drone pilot you may consider producing a virtual tour of a property. Carefully flying from room to room gives the viewer a sense of walking through the home.

There are barriers to drones in real estate photography. They require extra time and planning. In the United States and other countries, you need an operator’s certificate to use a drone for real estate photography. The wind is a huge barrier. Everything else could be perfect but high winds will ground a drone. This could become a logistical challenge if you have to plan another time to return to a property.

Before you consider using a drone in your real estate photography, create a cost-benefit analysis that is tailored to your business and workflow. This will help you determine if the drone is worth the extra cost and time.

Post Production

After a real estate photography session, the realtor will expect the images within 48 hours at the most. Time is money and they expect a quick turnaround. Be sure to build editing time into your workflow and time management.

Choosing the right software to cull and edit the images comes down to preferences. If you are using a tripod to create well-exposed images in-camera, editing could be streamlined and efficient. Always create RAW files to collect the highest information and exposure latitude.

Lightroom and Photoshop are two popular programs used by photographers. They have powerful editing features and facilitate a fast and productive workflow. They do cost money, which could be rolled into your expenses as a real estate photographer.

Many free programs are just as powerful as Lightroom. Darktable and Raw Therapee are among the most popular. I have been using Lightroom and Photoshop for almost 15 years and have invested too much time learning the ins and outs to justify switching platforms, so for me, the subscription costs are worth it. If you are just beginning, explore these free programs before committing to a subscription.

Once you have a few projects under your belt, you will start to see a personal style develop. Pay attention to how you edit your images. Most of your images should have the same look and feel. When this happens, create presets you can bulk apply to images as a starting point.

This is a swift way to work across possibly hundreds of images you may create on a single project.

Using leading lines is a powerful way to engage the buyer
Using leading lines is a powerful way to engage the buyer.

The Business of Real Estate Photography

You have to wear and fit into many different hats. Real estate photography is about more than creating beautiful images. You need to know how to file taxes, how to market your product and send an invoice. Networking is often considered work, but when building a business it is a powerful tool. Be sure to consider this when calculating your rates.

Taking a few business classes is a smart idea. You need to know how to successfully run a business. By learning the nuances of operating a business, you will be able to grow faster and save money.

While you do not need to get an MBA in business you should know how to write off your mileage and equipment purchases. Any travel-related costs associated with projects can also be a tax write-off.

Marketing is another important thing to become proficient at. Use social media to your advantage but try not to get sucked into it. Sites such as Twitter, Instagram, and even TikTok can be very powerful in growing your business, but like all social media, these services can take away a lot of time and energy from you.

Now Head Out and Book Your First Client

Once you select your equipment, spend time learning how to use the camera, tripod, and lighting. You want to be efficient and creative. Practice as much as possible, and continue to grow as a photographer. Avoid creative ruts.

Master the editing and technical side of real estate photography. Learn how to light paint and bracket effectively, yet realistically. Understanding the nuances of lighting techniques will help you highlight a property professionally and create stunning images. Remember to represent the home or building realistically. Do not misrepresent the property.

In the end, you have to have fun. Real estate photography offers a challenging, fast-paced career that is satisfying and enriching. Practice becoming the best real estate photographer you can be and you will never work a day in your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Real Estate Photography?

Real estate photography are the images associated with any type of property. They are used to help sell homes or commercial locations.

Do I need expensive equipment?

Real estate photography does not require the most expensive equipment on the market. It is more about your skills as a photographer than gear.

How do I find a client?

Cold call and email realtors. Once you have a portfolio of real estate photography, throw yourself into the waters.

How much should I charge as a real estate photographer?

Some photographers charge $0.09 to $0.12 per square foot. Others charge flat fees around $200-300 for a home less than 3,000 square feet and $400 or more for a larger home.

Can I use a drone to create images?

A drone could be a powerful tool in real estate photography. It helps create a different perspective that could catch the eye of a potential buyer.

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