Ask Appy: Am I Stuck in Real Estate Hell For All Eternity?

Ask Appy: Am I Stuck in Real Estate Hell For All Eternity?

T asks: Does a photographer HAVE to shoot real estate to get into architecture? I have a wedding photography business that has produced a six-figure income five years in a row so I don’t need real estate to pay the bills. However, I definitely want to move out of weddings and into full-time architecture over the next, let’s say, 5-10 years. Is that possible without doing real estate?

Shooting homes for real estate listings doesn’t interest me at all. However, architecture photography interests me a lot. Shooting for real estate that is designed by architects and shooting for the architecture is really interesting. Shooting commercial architecture really interests me. Hotel/resort photography interests me, too.

No, you don’t have to photograph real estate, but for those of us that don’t have friends, connections, alumni, etc in the architecture world – it can be VERY difficult to get a ‘break’. Real estate photography is a great way to leverage skills as a photographer, rather than connections, to get access to architectural spaces and start building a portfolio.

It’s also a great way to make a living with a camera, and is still far better than sitting in an office all day, especially if you are able to pull down $100k+ a year from it as you mentioned you are doing. I still think a bad day as a real estate photographer is better than a good day in an office.

I built my entire career on photographing real estate and then taking a few extra hours to make pictures for myself that the realtor never saw. They didn’t have to know it only took 2 hours to shoot the house, but that I was booking the time slot for four hours in order to spend the extra couple hours making photographs for me and my portfolio.

I practiced lighting, tilt shifting, longer focal-lengthing, styling, etc, whenever I had the chance, so that when the cool hotel, interior, architecture job came along, I had the skills and was ready to go. I also had the portfolio because I only showed the cool stuff on my website – never the dingy apartments or terribad stucco dogshit tract homes that I shot day in and day out – I can tell you a million stories about photographing some utter McMansion in Orange County. Just get one old fashioned in me and prepare for a night of entertainment – but they never hit my website!

The unfortunate truth in the world is that a lot of times, who you know can be more important than what you can do. Some of the biggest photographers in the business got their start through connections – maybe they went to architecture school but found they preferred photography, or maybe they were friends with a high-profile architect who got them their first gig. For those of us who didn’t have those connections, grinding out real estate gigs for a few years might be the best thing you ever do for your career.

MH Asks: I know you’ve said in the past that you get clients to approve compositions on-site or they have to just trust your judgement. Have you ever had to deal with bigger corporate clients (like hotel chains) where they send someone to site with you, and they want to shoot a variety of compositions and then have proofs sent back to the boss in the office or HQ for approval before editing? Would you go along with that or would to stick to your guns and charge for everything shot on the day?

This is a really tough situation and I’ve been in it before – so you aren’t alone. What it seems to me is that when this happens, there is a systematic breakdown of trust in the decision making or management chain from the hiring party. The ‘boss’ doesn’t trust their ‘marketing director’ to get the job done, who in turn, doesn’t trust you to take pictures. Thankfully this has not happened to me in years but I remember it happening to me at a hospital shoot back in 2014 or something. It was brutal!

I had one person try to pull this on me a couple years ago, and I pretty much shut it down immediately. I can’t remember the exact phrasing I used, but I tried to convince them in a helpful way that it was a bad idea. Perhaps saying something like “this will slow us down significantly, and if we want to get to everything on the shot list, we need to move quickly, as the light will change.” Another line might be “I’m happy to send some proofs over after shooting, but it’s completely unnecessary to share them right now as they aren’t edited and will be tough to get an accurate idea of how they look until they are.”

Lastly – if you know going into it that they are going to do this – have them draw dumb little red lines on a floor plan, and just stick the camera exactly where they want! But this is a time for healthy boundaries; you’re not being a high maintenance artist for setting some basic parameters about how you work. Can you imagine any other contractor putting up with this?

“‘Ey boss, here’s a picture of the trim. Can you confirm that it’s straight before I nail it in?”

AJ Asks: What is your preferred method for getting paid from a client? Wire Transfer, ACH, Credit Card, Cash, Check, etc. Are there any methods of payment you wont accept? Also do you still use Blinkbid for sending bids and invoices or have you moved into a different system? Oh and did you buy a Camranger 2? What are your thoughts on it if so?

ACH or check are my two accepted methods. For print sales I also accept credit cards but the fees can be substantial so I try to push for ACH in that situation. I’ve had a few clients pay me in cash but I’m not a fan of walking around with thousands of bucks in my shoulder bag between location and apartment. Honestly I also hate the accounting aspect of cash, so I try to steer into ACH, check, credit, etc.

I’m still using Blinkbid, yup. And yeah, I have a Camranger 2 – though the verdict is still out, I’m not a fan of many of the changes (though I admit it could be me being stubborn about change!)

To submit a question to Ask APA, navigate to our contact page and select the “ask an architectural photography related question” button from the dropdown. Answers are reflective of the questions and we make no guarantees that your question will be answered (or answered well, for that matter). Questions are copied verbatim or edited for clarity depending on our mood.

Mike Kelley is an architecture and interiors photographer who has photographed projects all over the world. He is a self proclaimed airplane food enthusiast and the founder of the Architectural Photography Almanac.
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