Why Real Estate Photographer Prices Vary So Much

April 06, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

So, this question seems to come up a lot with real estate agents and I thought it deserved it's own article to address this.  The dreaded pricing questions...  Everyone seems scared to broach this subject, but fear not, I speak only the truth.  And the truth can set you free...even if it hurts me in the process.
 

Why do real estate photography prices vary so much?  What's the difference between one professional photographer and the other?
 

To address this question, I think we need to first identify the types of real estate photographers that are out there.  I have come up with 3 different classifications of real estate photographers you will typically find:
 

Low Ballers                         Mainstreamers                         High Rollers

                                                                     

Low Ballers:
 

The "Low Ballers" are aptly named because their primary goal is to take as much of the market share as possible by undercutting the competition so it's not worth it for other professional real estate photographers to try and compete.  This is the most infamous category of photographer in the business and hated by all real estate photographers.  This category not only drives the price expectations down, but other real estate photographers are now having to explain their pricing and potentially having to reduce their pricing to stay marketable when there really isn't too much skin in the game.  Sounds pretty good for the real estate agent though, right?  I mean, you are getting a "professional photographer" and saving money on marketing costs at the same time...

You know the ol' adage, "You get what you pay for."  This is no exception to that rule.  Their pricing is low for a reason.  If you saw a house on the market for half the price of comparable market-value, you'd say, "What's the catch?"  The same goes for this situation. 

There is typically one of two reasons for this stark difference in pricing: 
 

They are not actual real estate photographers!  Photographers are not always the most well-paid bunch and sometimes they need to supplement their income by expanding their portfolio to other markets.  So, why not the real estate market?  They think that, if they can take a photo of a squirrel eating a nut in the wild, then real estate photography should be a breeze, right?  I mean, the furniture doesn't move.  Oh, so naive... 
 

PLEASE, I IMPLORE, make sure you are getting an ACTUAL real estate photographer.  You wouldn't hire a painter to build a deck just because they fall under the "home improvement" category.  The same goes for photographers.  There are too many types of photographers out there for them to know the nuances that are required to specialize in these fields.  A real estate photographer may not know how to take portrait photography, or vice versa.  Make sure to do your research and find out if this is their specialty.  Likelihood says that if they are half the price of most photographers, they are probably not real estate photographers by trade.
 

OR

 

They are self-proclaimed "real estate photographers" and they just don't know what they are doing.

Sorry, but I tell it like it see it.  I don't want to berate them too much, but if they knew how to properly do real estate photography, then there is no way they could charge what they do because they would LOSE MONEY.  It wouldn't make sense in a normal business model.  The simple fact is, they can do this because they DO NOT KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING!  I mean, the back-end processing of the photo can take much more time than the actual photo shoot itself if you do it right, so how can you charge $50 for an entire photo shoot and processing.  Between the drive time, the setup, the shoot, the back-end processing, the tour, that may possibly amount to less than the rate you would pay a McDonald's employee these days.  I don't think you want to hire a photographer with the equivalent skill set of a McDonald's employee when it comes to your livelihood, do you?  This is the definition of a hobby, not a profession.  So, they are probably charging just for their time at the photo shoot which can ONLY mean they do not do any back-end processing or they batch process all photos with the same settings.  RUN FROM THIS!  Poor math skills may also be a good indicator of poor photography skills.  Do you think that the same settings can be used for an interior shot as an exterior?  What about a room that is really dark versus a room that has multiple windows?  IT CANNOT BE DONE!  There is no Staple's "Easy Button" that transforms photos into front-cover pages on a magazine.  Trust me, I've tried...


 

If you like variety in quality, then the "Low Baller" may be the photographer for you.  You might get a nice array of overly dark pictures, crooked pictures, pixelated pictures, poorly-framed pictures, and maybe a few OK ones.
 

As a professional real estate agent, why should you settle for non-professional photos to represent your listings?  In my previous blog I discuss the importance of first impressions in today's online real estate market.  Trust me, I can tell this category of photographer a mile away and it just looks bad...  You know how many photo shoots I've done that are re-shoots for these type of photographers?  Your "low-cost" solution has now cost you 2 photo shoots and additional time/marketing to get the right results. 
 

Mainstreamers:
 

The "Mainstreamers" are those that have priced their photos in order to appeal to the masses.  These are mainly professional photographers that are going after the lower to mid-range properties since there are so many of these fish in the sea.  These photographers try to stay competitively priced as to not scare potential customers away but still know that they need to charge more than the "Low Ballers" to stay in business.  Quantity is their primary objective.   So, they choose to take shortcuts to limit the amount of time spent on their photo shoot and backend processing to keep their overhead low, even if it's at the expense of quality. 

So, there are a few or a combination of a few things that are likely to happen here that keep them at this price point:
 

They set a maximum time limit they will spend on the photo shoot They will say something along the order of they can do your photo shoot for X dollars for a 30-minute session.  I know this can be enticing because we all understand how valuable your time is but BEWARE OF THE TIME STAMP (especially one less than an hour).   Either they are going to end up rushing through your photo shoot and miss key shots or they are going to charge you more to stay longer.  Either way, it's bad news for you.  Remember, they are just thinking about getting to the next photo shoot as quickly as possible.  Based on my experience, to do a real estate photo shoot in 30 minutes (even a very small house), you have to pretty much not say a word, take one to two shots of each room (skipping unimportant rooms), and disappear like the proverbial wind. 
 

So, let's just hope you are not one of those realtors that actually wants to talk to the photographer and give your ideas, because they won't have time to listen to you and keep their schedule.  They are too focused on getting done in the time window and moving on to the next shoot to listen to your thoughts.  They are not looking for interesting shots to highlight the features of that house, they are just looking for stock shots that work with the majority of houses.  Very cookie-cutter.  They will always try to take the bare minimum number of photos to get by to cut down on shoot and processing time.  This could be OK for some, but it will end up looking like every other home out there, which is not the point of this whole exercise.  You need to stand out from the rest.  Otherwise you might as well just throw up some cell phone pictures and hope for the best.
 

They take shortcuts on the back-end photo processing.  I'm sure some photographers will hate me for revealing this, but many have a preset button that they run all their photos through automatically and that's it...  I'm not discounting that they may have come up with their own presets unique to them, but batch processing is batch processing, however you want to spin it.  Every photo is not the same and deserves different treatment to be it's best.  I've seen some photographers deliver the photos and never even took a look at them after they were processed!  They leave little surprises for you to find like ghost images, sun flare, and other artifacts for you to search out and find. 

I don't think you should have to play "Where's Waldo"  looking for these flaws in your photos. 

 

I've even seen where they combined two completely separate photos and still delivered them to the client!  That just proves they didn't even look at the photos at all because it was so blatantly obvious...  I mean the tree should obviously not be coming out of the shower (at least where I come from).  Nothing irritates me more than a so-called "professional" who doesn't do at least a final check after the job is done to make sure it is up to standard.  Listen, if you don't take a few minutes to at least admire your work, then you don't care enough and are in the wrong business.

 

They do the old "a-la-carte" pricing to appear less than their competition.  This is common where they will advertise the lowest price of just the photo shoot so it appears as if their prices are lower.  They fail to mention that you don't get any photo touch-ups, sky-replacement, virtual tour, or other common items that should be done in a lot of photo shoots.  They figure they can charge you $10 per photo for touch ups or $30 for sky replacement and make back the money lost.  You are already locked in since you paid them for the photo shoot.  By the time you add it all up, you don't know what hit you.

Of course, the "Mainstreamers" will always try to up-charge you for same-day service since they know the importance of getting the listing up ASAP.  So, even if it takes them no time to batch process the photos (hey, some can do this without looking), they will still delay delivery unless you pay a premium.  Not to mention the quality of the photos will most likely be underwhelming at best.

 

High Rollers:
 

This category goes after the high-end listings as their primary target market.  The "High Rollers" know that the real estate agents are not as focused on price as the property value goes up.  As you probably already are aware, your commission can be pretty lucrative on those million-dollar listings...  Well, the "High Rollers" know this as well and price accordingly.  Also, pricing high weeds out potential requests for lower-end listings so their portfolio stays nice and tidy and "upper class". 

"High Rollers" know that the higher-end listings typically take extra marketing effort by the agent since it is a smaller audience they are selling to.  So, all the extra add-ons such as aerials, twilights, videos are pushed at a premium price.

PRICE DOES NOT ALWAYS EQUATE TO QUALITY.  Though a higher price can allude to quality, this can also just mean that the photographer understands the high-end market and are pricing accordingly.  These expensive homes typically have luxury amenities and beautiful architecture, which can make any picture look better all by itself.  Unfortunately, I have seen plenty of "High Rollers" that do the same photo shoot batch-processing and, as a result, give less-than-desirable photos.

 

 

So, what is the best choice here?  You have basically said that all the categories can be flawed.  Where does your company fall if that's the case?

 

I agree, I may have shot myself in the foot by creating these categories and giving faults in each, but I am simply trying to give information.  The goal of this whole exercise is to tell you that judging your photographer based on price alone is just not enough info.  As I have illustrated, all "professional" real estate photographers are certainly not created equal. 

 

So, what about our company?  I believe that if If I were going to classify Vanishing Point Galleries, I'd say we fall in our own classification.  If I were going to name it, I'd call this the "OCD" category. 

Yes, I made up a whole new category since I believe we don't follow the normal paradigm.  So, why the OCD category?  Don't laugh...let me explain first.  When harnessed correctly, OCD can be a powerful tool when it comes to photography.  From the composition of the photo, the lighting, the position of the furniture, all the way to the photo processing, you get strict attention to details and quality unlike those "normal" companies...   We want...no we NEED to give you the best possible photos of your listing.   We spend an abnormal amount of time on the back-end processing alone which is really makes all the difference in these photos.  No batch processing here.  We can't just let the photo go without tweaking it so the balance is just right.  When I say can't, I actually mean, we are compelled by our OCD!  Of course, we are not going to try and up-charge you for spending the extra time on the photo processing... isn't that what you're paying the professionals for?  Don't worry, we can still get you the photos in a timely manner, but we aren't going to do it in 20 minutes like the other guys, that's for sure.  We spend multiple hours on the back-end processing alone but it is worth it.  Of course, we make sure to allocate a small fragment of time to admiring our work once we are done.  We feel if we are happy as professionals, we know our customers will be completely blown away!

 

Our scheduled photo shoot will not be a 30-minute hit-and-run either.  We will need to spend a little longer to get the results we want, but we will make sure to ask you about the features you want to accentuate and even work with you to make sure the rooms are staged to look the best prior to taking the photo.  It's the details that matter...hence the OCD.  We offer all the high-end add-ons such as high-level aerials, twilights, or video tours but we also make sure to be very price-conscious so we can not only appeal to the higher-end homes, but make it affordable for the lower to mid-price homes as well.  We want every listing to have the opportunity to have extraordinary photos.

 

But, no matter what you choose to do, please be informed.  Know that all professional photographers are NOT created equal.  Real estate photography is a specialized field and takes some skill to get it right.  Not just any professional photographer can jump into the real estate photography field because they have a camera and tripod.  There is much more to it.  If you are OK with sub-standard photos for a lower-end listing, then maybe you should go with the "Low Ballers".  Trust me, no one is even going to try to compete with these prices.  Be aware though that, if your listing doesn't sell, don't be surprised if you end up calling on us to do a re-shoot for you.  Aside from that, I'd say that QUALITY DOES MATTER if you want the listing to have the best chance it can.  To get this, you may not spend the least amount, but the savings you can get from selling quickly can easily supersede the cost difference.  Honestly, the difference of $100 or so may end up saving you thousands in other marketing costs.  So, don't get scared off or get too stingy because this can cost you in the long run.
 

Of course, the decision is yours.
 


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