Rules for Hiring a High-Quality Photographer

Don’t let poor listing photos or restrictive copyright terms stymie your marketing efforts. Here’s what to look for in the right photographer for your real estate business.

Fourteen of the last 15 homes Erika Villegas has sold went under contract within 10 days. One of them was previously listed by another agent and sat on the market for nine months at $199,000. When Villegas, SFR, a sales associate with ERA Mi Casa Real Estate in Chicago, relisted the property for $209,000 in May, it sold in five days. What made the difference, she says, was the photography. While the first agent put crooked photos taken with a cell phone of the home online, Villegas used a professional photographer.

“People are looking online first and foremost,” Villegas says. “They’re seeing these homes and then contacting their agent to request showings. We have to approach marketing from that perspective.”

Finding the right photographer for your listings can be a daunting task, especially if you’re a new agent or have had negative experiences in the past. But professional photography can make all the difference in the world to you and your clients. Learn how other real estate pros identified the right photographer for the job and what qualities to look for when it comes to photography services, image rights, and costs.

Choose someone who’s familiar with real estate. Villegas says she chose her photographer, Tony Escareno, director of photography at 360 Media Services in Chicago, because he understands the business: His wife is a real estate agent. So, he’s willing to work around an atypical schedule. “He’s not a ‘this is how we do things’ kind of person,” Villegas says, adding that Escareno is open to taking creative, nontraditional listing photos. She adds his photography to Canva and Xpressdocs templates to create printed marketing materials. “People have been surprised by his work.”

You might find photographers with specific qualifications you seek at networking events. Nico Hohman, broker-owner of Hohman Homes in Tampa, Fla., met his photographer, Sean Febre, at a local Chamber of Commerce event. Hohman says he appreciates that Febre, owner of central Florida–based photo and video marketing firm Febre Frameworks, is also a young entrepreneur. Even more appealing is that Febre’s company, which grew from a two-person team to 20 employees in 10 months, focuses exclusively on real estate and isn’t dabbling in other types of photography. Febre’s photography packages start at $100 and increase based on the square footage of a home; virtual tours cost $50; and video walkthroughs are $150.

Pay attention to their professionalism. Real estate photographers are an extension of the agent and how they conduct business, says Brandon Doyle, e-PRO, a sales associate with RE/MAX Results in Minneapolis. So you want someone who shows up on time, conducts themselves in a professional manner around clients, delivers images in a timely manner, and stays up to date on the latest technology.

Doyle uses Spacecrafting, a Minneapolis-based real estate photography and videography company, which he discovered during a broker open house a few years ago. The company offers standard photography packages starting at $185, 3-D virtual walkthroughs starting at $275, and aerial photography and video starting at $175. “Agents aren’t photographers, and there are people who are better at it,” Doyle says. Using professional photography is “part of our value proposition for our clients.”

He credits Spacecrafting photographers for helping one of his clients fetch an asking price of about $400,000 within the first week the home was on the market. “Photography is the most important thing you can do in selling a house,” Doyle says. Not only is he attracting buyers, but he’s also landing prospective sellers. “Every time we meet with a seller, they always say they’ve looked us up online and are impressed with our photos.”

Shoot “sharable” photos and video. “We highly publicize listing pictures and videos on social media and through email,” Hohman says. On his most recent listing—a property that had previously been on the market under a different agent for four months with no offers—he had Febre shoot photos, interior video, and aerial drone video. Hohman’s marketing attracted nearly 30 buyers and three offers in less than a month. “We got positive feedback on how well the home shows, so I believe a lot of the attention from prospective buyers came from the really great listing pictures and videos,” Hohman says.

The 15 photographers at Spacecrafting collectively shoot 60 to 90 homes per day. Jennifer Terrell, director of sales and marketing at Spacecrafting, says the company works with agents on how to best tell the story of a home. “We don’t nickel and dime our clients by saying, ‘You’re going to get 18 images or 25 images,’” she says. “We truly believe in the variety of things agents can do to showcase the home.” For agents who want to take their marketing to the next level, Spacecrafting also offers night photography or twilight images, lifestyle videos, architectural or aerial video, and 3-D tours.

Make sure they’re committed to the industry. Febre says you want a photographer who isn’t “the jack of all trades and the master of none.” Think of a photographer’s website as their storefront: Is it well laid out? Does it feature the type of real estate images and videos you’re looking for?

Ashley Endris, ABR, a sales associate with Latter & Blum Shaw Properties in Gulfport, Miss., uses a photographer who’s an affiliate member of her local REALTOR® association. She says that ensures the photographer understands what it means to be a REALTOR®. Healthy communication is also key when working with a photographer, she says. “You need someone who can take negative feedback. I had one client who didn’t like the photos. My photographer wasn’t offended; he just did it over.”

Ask for fast turnaround. Often, in real estate, time is of the essence, so hiring a photographer who can edit and deliver images and video files quickly is important. Endris receives her images via Dropbox in 24 to 48 hours, paying $85 for about 25 photos. Febre’s company offers next-day delivery. For a 3-D tour package, Doyle receives three links from Spacecrafting: one for a branded tour with a downloadable PDF floor plan, another for an unbranded tour he uploads to the MLS, and another to download the listing photos.

Know the terms of image use. Copyright infringement is a serious legal issue for real estate professionals. Some individual photographers or photography companies have restrictions around how and when their images can be used. It’s important to remember that listing photos posted on the MLS are often syndicated to other real estate websites and listing aggregators such as®, Zillow, Trulia, and others. That may inadvertently violate a photographer’s copyright terms.

In February, Zillow was ordered to pay $8.3 million to VHT Inc., a nationwide photography services company, for image copyright violations. This involved listing photos commissioned by everyday real estate professionals that appeared on Zillow after the home was sold, a violation of VHT’s terms. Katie Johnson, general counsel for the National Association of REALTORS®, recommends that practitioners find a photographer who offers unrestricted permission for use of listing and marketing photos. NAR offers members sample image agreements you can use when contracting with a photographer.

Many photography companies list their terms of use on their website. Spacecrafting, for example, has a nonexclusive agreement with its clients, meaning its images can be used for promotional purposes for an unlimited period of time. However, the company doesn’t allow rights to its images to be transferred to third parties, such as another company, builder, interior designer, developer, or others, without written consent.

One last tip: If you’re displaying listing images from an IDX feed on your site, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act provides safe harbor from liability in case those images violate any company’s terms of use. Simply registering with the U.S. Copyright Office for $6 will help protect your company if someone contacts you about a listing photo on your site that you had nothing to do with.