Friday, November 13, 2015

Looking to Move Toward the High-End

Really nicely designed condo space shot for Airbnb a couple weekends ago (
Shot on the Olympus OMD E-M1 with the M. Zuiko 7-14mm f/2.8, 0.4" at f/8.0 and ISO 200.

I've been working in the low end of real estate photography for a good while now. Calling my local market foothold a monopoly would be hyperbole, of course, but given my neglect of deliberate marketing (and even lack of a dedicated website for my brand) people know me by word of mouth, and I am generally agreed upon as a reliable provider of above-average real estate photos with low-overhead and high-turnaround time. Basically the dream for realtors dealing in sub-$300K and strictly rental properties (my shoot for Silo Point continues to be my one and only outlier in that equation... would love to have a client like that again).

Lately my idle hours have been spent navigating varied tutorials written on real estate photography, some featuring things I know already, others showcasing the different available styles currently big in the mainstream market. Naturally these tutorials showcase higher end listings, the kinds of spaces with lots of custom furniture and lighting to create a genuinely one-of-a-kind space. More than the information in the tutorials, I find myself focused on these cleverly designed spaces as subjects I really want to photograph. Sometimes I've been lucky enough to shoot such spaces on my current contracts, but because the nature of the work necessitates low-overhead and high-turnaround I don't get to invest the time and effort I'd really like to, so they always end up looking just above-average at best.

But I really want to get out of this low-end trap I'm in. I don't want to lose momentum in the advancement of my business all because of the high-volume nature of building a successful business purely on low-end work (to a degree, it's the difference between wage slavery and salaried work). Thus I am committing to a new plan of income stream sacrifice for necessary portfolio building (which also includes actually developing a dedicated portfolio showcasing website again).

Clients straddling the line between low and high-end, or who have investments in both spheres of real estate, are plenty obvious in the scheduling process based on the content of our dialogue. They usually pay attention to little details such as when the light comes through the windows, and remark on how well their spaces are lit naturally. Because the nature of my contract demands high-turnaround, I usually book these clients amid a mess of others less attentive for sake of making big earnings for that day. Currently I'm operating on a breakneck pace that fits driving to a listing, the shoot, and driving to the next listing all within tight 1-hour blocks, ultimately leaving only 20-30 minutes for the actual photography for each space (it's insane, but I'm good at operating under such pressure). Without the time to really ingest a space and deliberately consider how it is lit, I will never create the kinds of images I want to be creating.

The change I am committing to right now is to isolate these clients with higher end considerations, take the gamble on the preparation of their spaces and allot maybe 2 or 3 hours to their listing to allow for relaxed, considered, creative investment in the photographs taken for those properties. Instead of the shotgun volume of shots (4 corners of each room and 1-2 straight on, my current autopilot standard angles), I will consider only the angles which best showcase the room (maybe 1 or 2 of the strongest angles, more if the room is just that good), and develop images with very calculated techniques using flash and compositing (the kind of editing processes that delineate high-end real estate photography from photographers I admire). In post, rather than quickly punching each image with a preset and delivering as product, I will construct pieces of art that sell a space unquestionably (and not be begrudged the time investment because they will be images I am personally invested in at the inception of their capture). Rather than a mammoth block of 40 mediocre images, I will deliver 12-15 with the highest considerations.

Or so that is the ideal of how I'm envisioning this personal time and income stream investment playing out. Suppose we'll see how well it goes in practice.

The sacrifice of 2 blocks of time for standard shoots to enable this kind of invested image capture translates to a few hundred dollars in sacrificed income. Once upon a time that would have sounded awful to me, but at current it plays rather well into maintenance of mental health and retaining passion for photography as an art form beyond the burnout of photography as business. And as a happy aside, it's a liberating thing to realize your personal considerations of health and passion can comfortably trump the capitalist freight train of business.