The Hardest Thing about Real Estate Photography

David Besnette

I’ve been doing Real Estate Photography for many years now, and during that time I’ve grown, my skills have improved, and I’ve made it into a full-time career that keeps me busy almost nonstop.

For that, I am grateful.

I’m also grateful that I get to do something that I love, and earn a living at it.   The satisfaction of ‘being my own boss’ and being able to pick and choose projects, and people I work with is priceless to me.

When I started in this field of Real Estate Photography, I wasn’t great at it.   I had some experience with photography in general, but not of shooting homes.

It started when we (my family) decided to move into a larger home.   After scouring Zillow for prospects, I was stricken by how lame most of the photos were.   I thought to myself  “I can do better than this.”

Poor Quality

The often poor-quality photography on the MLS was the motivation for me to get into this industry

At the time, not really.  Mine were maybe a bit better, but I had a long way to go.   I foresaw years of learning, trial and error, and hits and misses to be able to evolve into a serious Real Estate / Architectural Photographer.

I knew that this – the learning curve – was part of the territory, and I was prepared to immerse myself into the field, and learn everything I could about it.

I bought courses, tutorials, spent countless hours on YouTube, and accepted almost any job that came my way.

I also did it for fairly cheap in the beginning – just to get a portfolio, and some practice.

As the years went by, I got better – a lot better.   I now shoot for many of the top realtors in my area, and I am frequently in multi-million dollar luxury homes.

In hindsight, I had no idea what I would come to realize is the biggest challenge, or hardest “thing” about Real Estate Photography.  It was not what I expected.

I expected the greatest challenges to be:

  • Learning Technique
  • Learning Equipment and Settings
  • Building Business and Clients

Yes, these all presented challenges, but they were to be expected.   The challenges that I didn’t expect were the ones that have almost broken me physically and mentally at times.

The Hardest Thing about Real Estate Photography

I should say “things” really, as there are two categories that jump out at me.

  1. It is almost impossible to keep a sane, predictable schedule
  2. It is a Herculean feat to keep any sort of work-life-family balance

These are the two – most notably when you achieve ‘success’ do these two items become exponentially harder.

1) Keeping A Predicable Schedule

In the beginning I had so little work that I scheduled really by memory.   A realtor would say “Hey, can you shoot a house for me Tuesday at 1pm?”    I’d accept, remember it, and show up.

That is, until I screwed that up and double booked and forgot about one of them.   The realtor was forgiving, but that was a moment that I got serious about Calendaring.  I now put everything on the calendar, and send out invites to everyone involved.  I am meticulous.

However, maybe it’s just me, but most shoots do not stay as scheduled.   There is a very strong element of panic and chaos in this industry, and ALMOST ALWAYS a shoot will have to be changed, or rescheduled in some way, often at the last minute.

If you’re fully booked, this is a major problem to reschedule, and this is where the work-life-family balance gets hosed.   I start having to double and triple book on a day, and then processing is super late, or obscenely early in the morning.   It’s a cycle that seems to happen every week in the busy season.

People say to me “Why don’t you just say no?”

Well, when your top realtors account for 75% of your income, you don’t want to lose them.  Of course they want your quality, but if you say no, they may be forced to use someone else.    It’s a difficult dynamic to manage.

Why Do Shoots Change or Reschedule So Much?

Oh my I’ve heard every excuse in the book.  It’s amazing what will throw off a shoot.

excuse

Here is a very partial list of why shoots are cancelled, rescheduled, or run way longer than they should:

  • Cleaners didn’t show up
  • The electronic lockbox battery is dead
  • It’s a “divorce situation” and the sellers are at the home fighting
  • Seller is “freaking out”
  • Sellers just decided not to move
  • Wrong directions given to home that is out of cell phone range
  • Window washers show up during the shoot and refuse to come at a different time
  • Electricity goes out
  • Covid
  • Seller is sick (non-covid)
  • Dog peed on the carpet
  • Stagers didn’t show up
  • Sellers didn’t like the staging so they want to change it
  • Weather issues

The list goes on..and on.

This past year (2020) almost broke me.  I was scheduled to the max, kids were at home due to the pandemic, and it seemed like every single shoot with few exceptions had last minute, or day of changes.

This would throw everything off, and stack shoots on top of each other, cutting into processing time, family time, and me time.

2) Work Life Family Balance

Family Time

Planning for and taking. this weekend off during the busy summer months to go hiking with my son was very challenging

This is related to #1 above of course.

The typical weekly scenario for me would be to, towards the end of each week – I would look forward to the coming week, schedule things appropriately, and spaced out, and build in time for processing.   I would also build time in for exercise, family time and downtime.

By late Saturday or Sunday, the emails, texts and calls start flooding in.   “So-and-So needs to move from Tuesday to Monday” and “We need to add video and 360 tours to the shoot on Thursday.”

On this point, few realtors “get” that adding video or 360 adds significant time to the shoot, as well as planning for equipment, battery charging, etc.

This is not to mention the inevitable “last minute urgent shoot request” from your top realtor that has to happen tomorrow, and by the way, it’s 6000 square feet.

I tried.  I really did.   Every week I would dust myself off, and try to regain the sanity for the following week, and the cycle would start over.  I don’t know if it’s just me, or if all realtors experience this especially during the high season.  If you do, please let me know.  It will make me feel better.

What about just saying NO?

People ask me this all the time.    There are “turn and burn” companies like this one that will schedule you for 90 or so minutes.  If the home isn’t ready – too bad.   Rescheduling may or may not happen – it all depends.

I am not turn and burn – I’ve worked very hard to “earn” the top realtors that I work with.   They are busy for a reason, and unfortunately, real estate is a chaotic, fluid, emotional and dynamic industry.   The realtors deal with this too, and my top ones aren’t intending on causing the chaos – that comes from the down the chain – like from the sellers.

The don’t want to use anyone else but me, and I take pride in that.   However, I can’t go through another year like last year .  My physical health took a toll – not to mention several injuries and burnout.

The Solution

The solution is really, that I need help – a backup, or an assistant that can take some of the lower end listings, help with processing and cover me when I am, or want to be gone.

A tough nut to crack though – as finding someone obsessed with quality, who won’t end up being competition, and who is reliable is not easy.    I am on the lookout but it hasn’t happened.

I’ve also raised prices several times in the past few years to shake off some of the ‘bottomfeeders” as I call them.

I am also adopting the attitude that if there are “habitual offenders,” or realtors that cause too much crisis and the payoff isn’t worth it – I am ok letting them go.   Too many “crazies” will ultimately adversely affect quality, and my sanity.

I’m still learning.   I’d love to hear how some of you other Real Estate Photographers get through your busy times, and how you attempt to keep a work-life-family balance – and your peace of mind.

How would YOU Shoot it?

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