Sunday, March 7, 2010

Real-Estate Photography: Lucrative and Easy to Market

Real-Estate photography is a great market for learning new skills, and earning money to support your vision.  The marketing is far simpler than the more artistic jobs, and it's easy to build up a portfolio.

The average client is looking for clean shots (preferably some depth to the image with almost no shadows) and for only a few creative images (maybe none at all).  But before we dive into that, you will need a portfolio!

Building a Portfolio:

Building a solid portfolio will take time and practice, but should be very accessible.  Chances are you have plenty of friends and family that are more than willing to let you come and take photos of their homes.  Choose the nicest homes from the people you know, and ask them to let you shoot in their home for your portfolio.   Things to keep in mind as you do this, and all future real estate shoots include:  having all lights on, fireplaces lit, and everything looking clean and lined up.  You don't want your images to look sloppy because a pillow is on the floor, or old kleenex's are sitting on the coffee table.  Also, make sure the blinds are just the way you want them, whether it's all open, pulled up, or closed.  The little details really matter in this business!

Onces you have a solid portfolio, and are confident with your shooting abilities, it's time to market your work!

Capturing the Images/ Basic kit you will need:

So how exactly do you go about capturing the images and making them look great?  This is where the technical skills kick in.  Here is a list of the tools you will need at the very least to begin.  Don't stress about the price of everything because as far as starting a business is concerned, this is comparatively very cheap.  You will be able to pay it off quickly if you market correctly.

-DSLR - any model released in the last year or two should suffice, just make sure you can manually control shutter, ISO, and aperture.

-Wide-angle zoom lens.  I use the Nikon 12-24mm f/4 and find that to be wide enough for almost any situation.  Since you don't need a wide-open aperture for this type of shooting, a cheaper lens will work well also.  When I switch to the full frame D3S soon, I will use the 14-24mm f/2.8 which is wider than the 12mm because it is on a full frame sensor.

-Tripod - longer exposures will not work handheld.  Your images MUST be very sharp.

- At least one flash, two for larger rooms (any of the brand name strobes will work, but for more power, check out the AlienBees B1600 Unit's they actually cost less than some of the small strobes, and will make your job easier)

-Some device to trigger the flashes-  I use pocketwizards, but cybersyncs work as well.  Nikon and Canon Flashes have TTL mode which allows you to fire other flashes through the one on your camera, and AlienBees come with sync cords, and can be triggered by any other flash as well.

-Light stands (Also hopefully an assistant to move and hold lights but that's definitely not necessary!)

-Photoshop - You will need to edit the images with layers to combine window exposures with room exposures.

That should be about it to get started.  You may find you need more flashes, but experiment with one or two and see what you can achieve with just those.

Now onto the image capture process!  Take some time and familiarize yourself with all the gear at your own home.  That's the best way to learn the flashes, so that when you are out shooting for your portfolio, you can realize the vision much faster.  One of the most simple setups is taking your flash on camera, and aiming it at the ceiling above you and a bit forward.  It kind of goes against what is taught (get flashes off camera) but it works very well for this type of work.  It's a great way to start because you won't have any harsh shadows.  I find this works best in smaller rooms unless you are using a very powerful flash.

Set your shutter speed to allow some light from the lamps in the room, and set the white balance to flash.  With these settings, you can have your flash as the dominant source, and the other lights will just add a bit of warmth to the image  Usually a setting of about 1/50th is perfect for ambient.  Always make sure to set your aperture to a fairly closed setting.  I prefer around f/9 or f/11.  This will give sharpness to the whole room, keeping it all in focus.

The best angle for real estate shots is often the most obvious one.  For small rooms it's usually the angle you see when you walk into a room.  Shoot at a diagonal across the room and you will fit more in the shot.  Think of the aesthetics of each shot, and what is the best feature about the room that you need to show (size, fireplace, cozy, etc.).  If you can have some symmetry in the shot, use that to your advantage, but make sure it's perfectly centered!  When it comes to camera height, I typically like to be about 5 feet up.  This is closest to what most people see naturally so it works well.  Depending on the room, though, sometimes lower will be better.  Set your camera up to be level (hopefully your tripod has a built in level, but if not there are levels that you can attach to the hot shoe).   If it is not set level, your lens correction later on will be much more difficult.

Like any other style of photography, real estate looks best in the early morning, or late afternoon, near the golden hour.  This is mostly true to the shots of the outside of a house, but can make matching the window light to the interior light much easier.  There are two methods for creating balanced shots like this.

Method 1:

The first, and easiest, being straight from the camera.  I discuss this in depth here.  To achieve this result, first set your aperture to about f/7.1 or maybe a little more open for more flash power.  As stated in the Aperture 101 article: Aperture controls flash, shutter controls ambient.  Remember this!  It may be the most important thing you ever learn about flash!   From there, turn your camera to spot metering mode, and place your focus point over the window.  Then simply adjust your shutter speed to what the meter reads as correct.  You should now be perfectly exposed for the outside, but it's time to bring the inside exposure up.

I build up my interior exposure one flash at a time.  This way I can find out what each flash is doing, and get just the results I want before adding in another one.  Setting them all up at once will make your job much harder and take more time.  Make sure to choose an angle that does not show reflections in the windows, also watch your flash placement with regards to this. (more reasons why I prefer method two, though some camera purists may disagree)

Now that you have interior and exterior matched up, take the shot, and you should be all set!  The only editing you will need is your basic adjustments, and distortion correction.  This method is the easiest and works well, but sometimes it's too difficult to match interior to exterior, and if it's too bright outside you will have to use a longer shutter speed that will not allow any of the lamps to show in the image.  Another reason for method two!

Method 2:

This involves more photoshop work, but will make the shoot a bit quicker, and guarantee no reflections in the windows.  It's a dual-exposure method, where the first shot I take is metered for the window exposure.  I turn off all lights in the room so that no reflections appear on the windows, and capture the image.

The next shot is your properly exposed interior.  Be sure not to move the camera at all, so that the photos match, and you will save time in post-production.  I set the shutter to around 1/50th for the interior lamps to show through (depending on the lamps), and build in my flashes one at a time until it's evenly exposed.

When it's time for post-production, I perform my basic raw adjustments on each image, and open them in photoshop.  I then copy the window image over the main exposure, mask it in black so that it does not show through, and use the lasso tools and paint brushes to paint in the windows.  It takes a lot of time and practice to master this, but with a bit of effort it will become a quick and easy process.  After the exposures are blended, perform your basic adjustments and a distortion correction.

One cool trick that will help the photographer who has only 1 flash, is to angle it differently and capture multiple exposures.  The images can then be combined through some low-opacity layer painting, allowing you to cheat your way to a great looking exposure.  I've done this before when 4 flashes were not enough!

Editing your work:

Editing is what will take your captures to the next level, and make your work stand out.  Many photographer's know how to capture the image, but not how to edit it properly.

After merging images that I have together to balance the exterior and interior lighting, I perform my distortion correction adjustment.  Just go to Filters-Distort-Lens Correction, and a whole slew of options will pop-up.  These adjustments take some experimentation and time, but will make your image look a thousand times better.

Assuming you don't need to level the image (camera was on a level tripod) vertical perspective is the one and only adjustment you will need to make.  Typically, because you are shooting higher up than the middle of the room, you will need to slide it towards the minus side.  A low to the ground shot would mean the opposite.  Once the vertical lines look straight and match the grid, your good to go.  Occasionally you will also need to remove pin-cushioning or barrel distortion, but these will be obvious as you use the vertical slider.

From there I use the shadow-highlights technique discussed here.  After this, I create a new layer, and burn or dodge the shadow's and highlights with a very low setting like 5%, and the protect tones option checked.  Then I take the method discussed here, and make the colors pop a bit more.  The final step is sharpening which is applied more heavily to real estate images.  You can learn the best way to sharpen by clicking here.

Seems like a lot to do up front, but after you've edited a few it will get much faster and easier.

Marketing your work:

Marketing real estate photography is a lot simpler and more direct then other, more creative types of work.  You already know who your clients are!  Real-Estate agents and agencies.

Not only will you want your portfolio for the potential new clients, but also a leave-behind.  I created a 2-sided glossy ½ page featuring all my contact information and my 2 best photos, one on front and one on back.  I ordered them through for about $80 for 250!  These will really impress the clients and gives them something to file away for when they need a photographer.  The other piece I always leave is my business card.  I also ordered this through overnight prints.  They run about $50 for 500 double-sided cards.  Make your cards specific to this type of photography so the client believes that this is your main focus (even if it isn’t..muh hahaha!)

Do your research, and ask other photographers, and the realtors what they generally charge/pay for a shoot.  The best way to price is by asking what the client’s are specifically needing from a shoot.  I have one agency that always needs 10 images of a property, so I created a base price that includes the 10 images fully edited, then a per image price past that.  Most clients like to have a stable set price that they will always get. Keep track of your pricing with regards to different clients.  There are photographers who charge per image, others by the hour, and many other variations that include more and more fees.  I keep it simple to not confuse the client, but at the same time, am very specific about what I will do at a certain price (i.e. multiple trips to the property, copies of CD’s, hours spent shooting).  The more specific you can be the more headaches you will save yourself later.

Call the real estate offices, and ask if they have someone in charge of photography.  Bigger agencies generally have a person managing/approving photographers to work with them.  If they do not have a person in charge, ask for the numbers of each individual realtor and set up a meeting to introduce yourself and pricing, and show off your portfolio.  Watch out for some realtors who may spend a lot of time trying to get a discount rate.  They will generally always expect a discount, so don’t even bother dealing with them.  The best advice I have for this is to go with your gut, the money won’t be worth the headaches. 

If you do get a hold of the photography manager, get ready to bring plenty of leave-behinds and cards for all agents to the office.  Also have your portfolio ready to show off your best work!

This should be all the information that you could possibly need to get started.  Please leave comments below if you need more explanations on any of this!

That’s the BUZZ for Today… Please check back soon for more!    


Ray Kirton said...

Hi Connor
What an informative site/blog you have.

I am an amateur photographer and am constantly reseaching in the health field.

In addition, I am now taking an interest in learning about using manual settings on a digital camera to achieve better shots...... in an attempt to create a possible income from an enjoyable pastime.

I haven't looked through all of your information as yet, but thanks for your easy style of teaching.
Regards.........Ray Kirton...Ph:64 3 337 3489..Skype...ozziekiwi1

Alex Don said...

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Stephen K. Shefrin Photography said...

Nice article, some nice recommendations for contacting realtors.

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