There's a lot more to getting started in real estate photography than just learning some new skills or getting a wide-angle lens. In this video I went through a 3-stage process covering seven different areas of your business, and I think this will help you get your new venture off to the best possible start.
What if you're moving to a new city or town?
This process can also work really well for an established real estate photographer who is moving to a new location. Essentially they are starting a new business, but they'll be a little further down the path than the photographer starting from scratch.
What about established photographers who are staying where they are?
Again, this process is still helpful for them. If you've been doing real estate photography for a year or more then you should be well-established, but maybe there are still some gaps in your business that you need to assess.
Here's what we covered in this episode (you can jump to the different sections in the video timeline):
0:00 - Intro and welcome
1:16 - Intro to this 3-stage process to get started in real estate photography.
3:21 - Stage 1
15:50 - Stage 2
18:07 - Stage 3
20:22 - What if you're already well-established as a photographer?
How to get started in real estate photography ... or restart in a new city
How do you get started in real estate photography? Or what can you do to reinvigorate an established business, or perhaps start again in a new location? That’s what we’re going to look at in this session, because I think there’s a lot of confusion around how to start doing real estate photography – photographers think it’s just about learning the right skills, but it’s a lot more than that.
What we’re going to look at also has application for photographers at any stage. So even if you’ve been doing real estate photography for 5 years, or 20 years, it’s always helpful to review where you are, and look at the foundations of your business to see if there is more you can do there.
"How do I get started in real estate photography?"
But to start things off, if a photographer came to me and said, “What do I need to do to get started as a real estate photographer?” I’d suggest that there are 7 areas that I think need to be functioning well, and in terms of the process I’d break it down into maybe 3 different stages. Stage 1 and stage 2 is where you build your foundation and get things going, and it’s not until stage 3 where you start working with paying clients.
So during stage 1 you’ll want to work on your skills, your online presence, your numbers, the growth of your business and how that will happen, add-on services and the upselling of those services, time management and brand positioning.
So just to be clear, you’ll work on each of those during stage 1, you’ll develop them further in stage 2, and you start working with clients in stage 3.
Get the right gear:
So let’s go through these Stage 1 activities, and we’ll start by looking at the skills you need, but before you can work on your skills you need to get the right gear, and if you are just getting started then just about any DSLR or mirrorless camera will do. Canon, Nikon, Sony – they all do great cameras, so spend whatever your budget can afford.
I've got an old Canon 5D Mark 2 here that does a great job with still photography, so the camera body you currently have might be just fine. The only caveat I would give there is that you may want to be offering video services in addition to still photography, so having a camera that can also shoot 4K video is going to be helpful there.
Now I don’t want to get bogged down in details about the gear, so very, very quickly, here’s what else you’ll need:
A wide angle lens out to at least 17 or 18mm, plus longer focal lengths so you can get some detail shots.
You’ll need a strong, steady tripod that does not wobble around
A tripod head, and I’d recommend a geared head rather than a ball head. I’ve been happy with this Manfrotto 3 way head, but there are lots of options out there. Just make sure it’s a geared head if you can.
You’ll also need at least one flash or speedlight that you can use off-camera, but just make sure it’s got a LOT of power so you can overcome the shadows on a bright, sunny day.
Finally, you’ll probably need a way to remotely fire the shutter, and something that operates over a wifi signal and allows you to review your shots remotely on a tablet or smart phone is a good option there. Some cameras have wifi built-in, otherwise something like this Camranger that you connect to your camera body via USB is great.
Now if you’ve got any questions about specific gear and what you should get then drop a comment and I’d be happy to help you with your specific situation.
Work on your skills:
So, how do you shoot interiors? Well, I won’t go deep into that now, but typically you’ll shoot multiple exposures either with or without flashes, and then blend the images together in post or send the images to an editor, and if you want to learn more I’ve got some videos outlining those techniques on my website at buildaphotographybusiness.com … or you can leave a comment here and I’d be happy to help out.
What’s important here is that I want you to get very good at what you do BEFORE you start selling your services. Don’t start working with any clients until you can consistently shoot great images or you could get yourself in all sorts of trouble.
Now once you learn the basics of how to shoot you’ll want to start building a portfolio of images so you’ve got some content to put up on your website and social media channels. How you build that portfolio is up to you, but do whatever you can to get into some different homes and get a mix of shots in different lighting situations – for example, maybe you could ask friends and neighbours if you can shoot their home, and work with people you know before you reach out to any potential clients. Now doing this will not only expand your portfolio, but it also gives you experience, and importantly it will give you confidence to handle any situation you get with paying clients in the future.
Build your online presence:
The next area to work on is your online presence. You need to build a website that looks great, because your website says a lot about you and your brand. Make sure it presents you the right way as it’s often going to be the first impression people have of your business.
Does it make you look like a pro? Does it share the right message? So get your website looking really good in stage 1, and again this is all before you start chasing clients.
If you are just starting out then you’ll need to be active on all of the major social media platforms. This is more than just starting a page – you need to get content up there. So on Instagram, share at least 12 images so you complete your grid, and do the same with Facebook, LinkedIn, and any other channel where your prospects hang out. Then you need to stay active on those social media platforms, so keep putting out new content every week so you’ve got something new up there all the time.
Know your numbers:
Next up, you need to know the numbers for your business, such as what it costs you to do a shoot so you don’t price yourself too low, and that’s a big mistake a lot of photographers make. You don’t want to start too cheap as that makes it too hard to raise prices later, but you won’t know if you’re too cheap unless you dig deep into your numbers and know them inside out from the very beginning.
If numbers aren’t your thing, and I understand that a lot of creatives find the numbers side difficult to process, get someone who is good with numbers to help you.
The reason I say that is because your pricing is really important, so instead of starting off cheap while you learn the skills, it’s probably better to learn the skills before you start selling your services, and then set your prices accordingly.
So instead of saying, “I want to be charging $250 for my photos but I’m not good enough yet”, and so you start off at $100, get your skills up there so that you bring enough value at $250 and charge that right from the beginning. That’s going to set you up so much better and you’ll be pushing yourself and delivering more to your clients because you want to reflect that $250 price point from the beginning, and that’s going to really help you as well.
Identify potential clients and how you will promote your business:
The next area to work on in stage 1 is your growth, and you’ll want to start by identifying your potential clients so you know who your target audience is, and how many of them are in your area. So find your targets, learn about them, learn about your industry and your local market and spend some time learning about their needs and find out where you can help them. This is important, because you need to know this stuff so you know how to engage with them and how you’re going to connect with them.
Add extra services:
What’s next? Well, real estate photography is not a high-income service, so you want to get as much revenue from each job as possible. The way to do this is to upsell additional services like video, floor plans, 360 tours, drone shots and anything else you can offer. Again, this is something you want to work on from the beginning, so in stage 1 you’ll need to master these extra skills, or at least make plans for how you could hire staff or subcontract other people to do it.
But whatever you do, make sure your business can deliver services beyond photography because that’s going to make a big difference to your profit margin for each job you do.
Manage your time:
The next area to work on is time management, and this is important because a lot of photographers struggle with real estate photography sucking up so much time for each individual job, but they don’t charge enough to justify spending 8 hours on a single project.
So during stage 1, work on how you’ll manage your time, and two things you can do there are to, firstly, outsource your photo editing to another party, and secondly, setup booking and invoicing processes that are automated so you don’t need to deal with that each day.
A lot of photographers say that they have time to do everything themselves, but as I’ve said in a previous video, if it’s cheaper for you to edit the photos yourself than to outsource them, then you’re not charging enough for your time and that’s a big problem.
So at the very least, even if you choose to edit everything yourself at the start, at least make sure that your rates are high enough that you can afford to outsource your image editing at any time in the future.
Define your brand:
The final category to work on is your brand. By that I mean, identify the position you want to occupy in your market and set the criteria that everything you do needs to meet. You don’t want to walk into your brand position by accident – define it, and be consistent with your brand across everything you do.
Now when thinking about your brand, also consider what makes you different. What’s your story? What’s your background? You need to have a reason for why a real estate agent in your town should choose to work with you instead of any other photographer, and sharing your story and giving some depth to your brand is a great way to do that.
For more on that I did a video last year called ‘How to get clients in a saturated market’, so go and check that out for more on how to use your story.
Alright, so those are the 7 areas to work on, and I know it sounds like a lot of work but I would be reluctant to start seeking clients until all of those areas were completed for stage 1. You need to go in as a professional and you need to show competence across all 7 of those areas from the beginning. And if you do that it’s going to pay dividends for you later on.
Now the next stage is where you build upon what you did in stage 1, and this is where you start finalising things before you start getting clients. Here’s what you’ll want to do:
When it comes to your skills, keep on building your portfolio so you gain more experience and there are no surprises for you when you start working with clients. It’s really important that you do that.
The next area is your online presence, and this is where you’ll want to continue creating content, and increase the frequency of your posts if you haven’t yet done that.
Next up is your numbers, and stage 2 is where you might create your pricing material and your packages for your clients. You’ll want to get everything in order so it’s really easy for you to share your pricing with someone when they request it. I would also add your real estate photography prices to your website, but we might talk more about that another day.
Next up is the growth of your business, and in stage 2 you’ll want to start very deliberately building connections with people. Now how you do that is up to you – you could visit offices, you could make phone calls, send letters or postcards, or whatever, but build a connection so that they at least know who you are. That’s all you’re aiming for at this stage – move from a point where you are unknown to a point where you are known. You don’t need to sell just yet – just build a connection.
Next is upselling, and in stage 2 you’ll want to build your upselling process. For example, how will you encourage your clients to add extra services? Can your online booking process do what you want it to do? How will you upsell when clients call you on the phone? These are the things you need to think about, even in those early stages of your business.
Alright, now we move on to stage 3, and that’s where you finally start selling your services and getting clients. Again, you don’t want to move into this without first building that strong foundation underneath it all.
Don’t rush it – you want to focus on doing things well, not just doing things fast.
So in stage 3, this is where you’ll go to those people you’ve established a connection with, and you’ll make an offer to them to work with you. Don’t sit back and wait for things to happen by accident, but if you know that you’ve got a great service and that your business is running like a well-oiled machine, then go out there and start getting clients. This is where all that work you put into Stage 1 and Stage 2 comes through for you.
Now if you’ve got any questions please leave a comment, but basically that’s what it all looks like if you are starting from scratch.
What if you're an established real estate photographer moving to a new city?
So the next question is, what if you’ve already established yourself in one area as a real estate photographer and you’re moving to a new town or city? Well, if that’s you, then you should already have a lot of this done, but it might be worth reviewing each category and make sure it’s strong.
For example, is your website as good as it can be?
Do you know your numbers, and are they updated for the new area you’re in?
Have you clearly defined your brand, or is this move a good time for you to re-position your brand so you attract a different type of customer?
These are all things you want to work on, and then really it comes down to identifying your target market and building connections, so I would invest most of your time into doing that, and if the rest of your foundation is strong then it shouldn’t take long for you to get some clients in that new city.
What if you're an established real estate photographer who is staying where you are?
Moving on, what can you do with this model if you’re already established in an area? Again, I would go through each of those seven categories and see where you could improve, and be really critical of your business.
For example, do you need to put more work into your online presence?
Is your website ranking on page 1 for local search terms, and are you getting good engagement numbers on Instagram and Facebook and elsewhere?
Have a look at your analytics for your channels and see if there’s room for improvement. What type of posts are performing well? What other types of content could you be sharing? Dig deep into it and spend some time carefully planning your social media content.
Next up, have you got your numbers right, or do you need to increase your fees? And importantly, are you maximizing the revenue for each individual job that you do by encouraging your clients to book additional services? If you’ve been focusing too long on just the photography side, and if you’ve been neglecting the business side and the systems you’ve established in your business, then these are the things you’ll need work on.
Next, are you doing enough to actively grow your business? A lot of photographers really struggle with this, so take a step back and plan your growth strategies instead of being haphazard about it.
Another thing - how well are you managing your time? This is a big issue for a lot of real estate photographers, but you can get it under control and have a viable business, and it comes down to outsourcing and automating things wherever you can so that things happen without you needing to do it all yourself.
Finally, have you clearly defined your brand, and are you consistent in the delivery of your message and content?
These are all areas for you to think about, even if you’ve got years of experience behind you. I know a lot of photographers rushed things when they got started years ago, so maybe some of you established photographers need to go back to some of this foundation stuff, and take another look at all of that. Go to each of those seven areas, and if you’re not a 10 out of 10 for any of them then take some time to make changes.
Now if you have any questions about that, as always, leave a comment below and I’ll try to help, or if you want some 1-to-1 coaching on any of this then you can drop me a message about that as well.