Everyday Challenges of a Real Estate Photographer, part 3: Plan but be flexible

This post is dedicated specifically to the Real Estate Photographers out there. Yes, agents that read this will have a better perspective of what to expect; however any photographer will be one step ahead of the game if they follow a couple key suggestions here.

Planning is one the most important things you can do as a photographer, and it’s especially true of Real Estate Photographers. Why? Because unlike other types of photographers, you don’t often have control of what you’re shooting. There’s no set or backdrop where you control the lighting (or lack thereof). You also don’t control the condition the property is in. If the property is a dump, for example, there’s little you can do.


Some things you need to have planned out before showing up to a property:

1. Check and double check your gear.
Make sure all batteries are charged, including cameras, wireless triggers, and wireless flashes. Always count on your expected time to be doubled, so you’re never caught off guard – even when things turn disastrous.

2. Bring back ups.
If you have the opportunity to have a 2nd camera body on hand, bring it. You never know when something unexpected will happen – that’s what makes it “unexpected”. This also applies to memory cards. Cards are small and get lost. Or you may have forgotten to back up important work on a card and need another one for the current job. These things happen, so predict any possible outcome.

3. Research the property.
Know which direction the front of the house faces. The front exterior, as explained in this post, is the “money shot” for a property, and you want to prioritize based on having the most available natural light, free of direct glare from the sun into the lens, and hopefully with as little shadows as possible. Also know what types of shots you may be shooting. If you know there are shots of the community, or you may be taking large view shots, bring lenses that will accommodate the job. The last thing you want to have to explain to the client is “how you have this amazing lens for just this kind of shot, but you left it at home.”

Now you know some thing you can prepare for. But what if what you are asked to do falls outside of what you planned for? Clients have ideas of what they want shot and how they want it shot. It varies from person to person, based on preference, so another prerequisite to the job is to be patient and know when to be flexible.

Here are some situations where you have to be flexible:

1. Shooting dark scenes.
The agent needs a shot of the front of the house, has placed a large emphasis on it, but is only available to give you access to the property during a time where the whole front of the house is in shade (or worse, is half in shade, half in bright sunlight). It’s never a problem to recommend another day for the shoot (or for that specific shot). Depending on your schedule – and the realtor’s – it might be in everyone’s best interest. But if that’s your only chance, you have to work with it. Do your best, and we recommend working on how to deal with dark, shadow-filled shots in advance. It might not be the ideal shot, but you have to work with it. To avoid any surprises, let the agent know what to expect. If they see the conundrum, but don’t offer any viable solutions, it’s hard for them to hold it against you. They’re informed and know what to expect.

2. Clutter on the property.
Even though we recommend informing the agent (and homeowner, if applicable) that the property should be ready to shoot, we still get properties that require moving furniture, cleaning up, moving clothes, and even sometimes cleaning up garbage. Unfortunately this happens. Whether it’s the agent not communicating to the homeowner – or the homeowner simply not listening or caring – you need to be prepared to do some moving and re-positioning. Of course, moving whole rooms (which we have done, unfortunately) should fall outside of this example. Make sure you are upfront about this in your policy, asking the agent about the condition of the property on first contact.

3. Homeowner and the agent in your shots.
We always tell agents to expect to give us full access to the property for the length of the shoot. On top of preparation, re-arranging furniture, and capturing the shots, the last thing you want to have to worry about it who is going to come around the corner to make a surprise cameo. We admit that we don’t always have control over this, and some agents will not communicate this to the homeowner (in fear of sounding rude or inconveniencing them). Sometimes, you’ll just have to plan around them. If this is the case, we recommend having an assistant to stand guard near doorways where they might come in, being vocal about when you’re shooting so they don’t enter the room, or even firing off test flashes before your shot to let them know you’re shooting.

Those are some of our suggestions for planning and being flexible. We want to hear your thoughts on the matter? Any horror stories out there?

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