(Editor’s Note: We welcome Sara Kempner to Photofocus. Sara is an outdoor photographer specializing in fine art landscapes, lifestyle and sport and recreation imagery. She is based out of the Comox Valley, BC, Canada. When not taking photos you can find her on her mountain bike or snowboard while out enjoying all that Vancouver Island has to offer.)
It’s no secret that many photographers need to diversify in order to make a living at their trade. Personally speaking, I entered the industry primarily as a landscape and nature photographer. Living in a small town and being new on the scene, I had to find ways to supplement my income aside from stock and print sales. One of the ways I’ve done this is by taking real estate photos for property managers and homeowners who are renting out accommodations on short-term rental websites such as Airbnb and Vrbo.
Real estate is more than just fancy homes
When you think about real estate photography, you might think of grand mansions, architecture magazines or trendy commercial spaces. The real estate genre in itself is a specialized field for those that do it as a living and there are entire companies that are dedicated to providing high end services that include video, drone footage and floor plans.
That being said, there’s a sub-niche out there available for photographers who are interested in dabbling in real estate photography without wanting to fully concentrate their careers around it.
So where do you find this sub-niche? Rental properties! There are currently over four million Airbnb listings worldwide, with 660,000 properties for rent in the US alone. Vrbo has another two million listed rental properties. With those numbers continuing to climb, there’s a good chance that there’s listings in your area, and a potential demand for quality imagery to help owners increase their bookings.
Below are a few tips to help you get started with real estate photography in the rental accommodation field.
Know what you’re doing!
This should go without saying, but make sure to study up on how to shoot interiors and practice before looking to find work. There’s a wealth of information on the internet to help you learn and luckily, it’s super easy to practice right in your own home. Make sure to hit every room, including the bathroom (often the trickiest room to shoot due to the smaller size and presence of mirrors).
Once you’ve mastered your own home, try at a friend or family member’s house to get experience with other layouts and lighting. Also practice editing your shots and coming up with a consistent look to your photos.
Pricing and preparation
Do a little market research and see what other photographers are charging in your area for real estate photos. Pricing is often based on the square footage of the house, or the number of rooms that you’re required to shoot. Remember to factor in your travel time, mileage and insurance costs.
Be prepared to talk to your client before the shoot to get any pertinent information. Get clear expectations of what they’re looking for and any special shots that they may want.
It can be good to confirm that the place is tidied up and ready to shoot. I like to recommend that the place is decluttered, distractions are removed and windows are clean. The last thing you want to do when you show up on a shoot is to have to clean or tidy the place up!
Looking for work
Now that you’re feeling confident shooting interiors and have set up some pricing guidelines, it’s time to look for work. Advertising locally on social media platforms or other online forums is a good way to start. Be sure to include example photos so that people can see your work.
Alternatively, look through local Airbnb listings to see which ones could potentially use an upgrade to their photos. It’s pretty easy to see which listings have dark, crooked cell phone pictures that don’t optimally show the space. Write the owners letting them know the services you provide, making sure to be polite without being pushy.
You can also find local property managers and send them an email with your information.
First and foremost, it’s paramount to be respectful and careful when in other people’s homes or properties. Always take your shoes off and move carefully through the home, especially when using your tripod inside.
In the short-term rental field, not every rental is going to be beautiful and easy to shoot. You may be shooting a single, dark room as part of a room share listing, or a house that hasn’t been updated since the 70s. It’s your job to make the space look as inviting as possible. Take multiple angles of shots in bigger rooms, and don’t forget to take detail shots of special décor or features that makes the property unique.
Amenities such as washer/dryers, parking areas and barbecues are also important to capture. Finally, don’t forget about the exterior shots, even if the location is an apartment building. Show off the curb appeal or any view that the listing may have.
Agents, property managers and rental owners in general will usually appreciate a quick turnaround time for their images so try to get your pictures sent off as soon as possible. Deliver a thorough album of images and let the listing agent choose which ones to use. I always prefer to give more options than not enough.
In conclusion, shooting vacation rental properties is a specialized genre that may not be as exciting or inspiring as your regular field of photography, but can be a good source of supplemental income. It can also be a good way to network within your community and broaden your skills as a photographer. If you think it might be a good fit for you, I encourage you to give it a try, you never know where it might take you!