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  • Losing A Regular Photography Gig


    Last year was a pretty good year for me on the work front. This year started off well too, but then I went away on safari and came back on 1 July to find that my main photography gig had pretty much disappeared from under my nose.

     

    So what happened?

     

    Well, as most of you know I have been photographing homes for a new realtor who opened up here at the beginning of 2018. I was the first photographer that they contacted when they set up shop and I agreed to do the work for a bit less than I would ordinarily charge as they promised me good volumes.

     

    At first the volumes weren’t that high, but as their concept of selling any home at a fixed commission amount regardless of the asking price caught on amongst locals, the work started pouring in. I was covering a very wide area, sometimes travelling over 100km and shooting up to 5 properties a day.

     

    I relished the gift of regular work and I also got to see parts of my city I didn’t even know existed (we have a population closing in on 4 million, so it’s not a small town). The client paid on time and I was getting along really well with the agents I was working with. Whilst the jobs were being co-ordinated from another city, the agents were all asking for me to shoot their listings because, well… my work was much better than the other people they were using. Not only that, I delivered on the same day I did the shoot whereas the others were constantly dropping the ball and taking a few days to deliver. Eventually there were only 2 of us working the entire metropolis.

     

    During the height of this gig it did cross my mind that I could potentially be setting myself up for drama by allocating so much of my time to this one client. If something happened and they either went out of business or they decided to use other people, what would I do? I had, in a sense, become very reliant on them, so there was a high degree of risk. I didn’t have an employment contract with them, so they were under no obligation to continue to use my services if they didn’t want to.

     

    Around Easter time this year I met with the local team and they told me that they were expanding their operation from 4 agents to 7 and that I needed to either clone myself or create my own team to do the photography I couldn’t get to when the wheel started turning faster. They loved working with me and knew that they could count on my work ethic to propel their company forward. I won’t lie, I worked my ass off for these guys. My systems were so streamlined that I could photograph a massive 6 bedroom home in under 30 minutes and have the edited images up on the cloud within an hour of returning to my office.

     

    Then I told them I was going on safari for the last week of June.

     

    I went, we had an amazing time in the bush and when I got back I told the co-ordinator I was back and ready for them. But there was hardly any work coming in. I checked their adverts and I could see that they were giving the jobs in the areas I had previously been covering to other people. What the…? The quality coming through was hideous to say the least, but this didn’t seem to matter to them.

     

    I contacted one of the agents I did most of the work for and she told me that the company now had lots of photographers in Durban and that she as the local principal agent no longer had a say in who they could use. The Head Office was assigning all the work and basically each agent had their own photographer. But she also mentioned that the company was changing their business model from a flat fee to 4.5% commission. Bloody hell. Reduced demand for the service and more service people to go around. Talk about a sudden way to nose dive!

     

    I was still getting a few jobs, but I had gone from averaging 3 a day to maybe 2 a week in July and August. This simply wouldn’t do. Not at the original rate I had agreed to anyway. So at the end of last month I sent the co-ordinator an email advising her that unless she could give me a minimum of 20 assignments a month, I would no longer be able to shoot for them at the same rate. No response came. Boom. There went about 75% of the income I had been earning monthly for the past 18 months.

     

    I’m sure I’m not the first freelancer who has had this happen to them and I certainly won’t be the last, but it is very difficult to take on the chin. I had allowed one client to dominate my calendar, thus putting my eggs in one basket that I really had no control of.

     

    On the upside working with them has allowed me to build up a pretty decent portfolio in the property sector and I am now coming up first in Google for geographic based searches for what I do. I don’t get many calls from estate agents these days, but I do get a fair amount of calls from Airbnb hosts and recently I did a nice job for an interior decorator who has promised me more work in the not too distant future. I can charge these clients my usual rate, which is great (when it results in an order).

     

    I learned a great deal about not only the RE photography industry, but also my own capacity to perform when I had this gig. I am a much better photographer now and I am looking forward to building up a more varied client base in this specialised field.

     

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    The feature shot I am showing here was taken for a different agent. This home has a remarkable retractable roof, opening up the entire kitchen and dining area into an alfresco delight. Glory, I’m even beginning to talk like an agent now. :)

     

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    Edited by Dallas


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    Dallas

    Posted

    An update: yesterday one of the agents I worked for at this company called me to say that she has insisted that the coordinator continue to assign her listings to me to photograph, provided that I agree, of course. I can’t afford to turn work away, so what I have done is agree with a proviso - any jobs they give me can only be done at 8am or will have to fit in with my plans for any day. They are happy with that, as am I. 
     

    The thing about shooting real estate for low amounts is that while it only takes me around 20 minutes to photograph the average home, I need to also factor in travel and editing time. Combined those overheads mean that a typical single appointment can suck up about 2 hours of a day. If a client can only see me at say 11am and they are a 15 minute drive away, that means that I must get in my car at 10.40am, get there, faf around with the client for a few minutes, do the job and then get back home an hour later. The editing, while now streamlined, still takes another 40 minutes or so. If I was shooting 2 or 3 properties a day this would be worth it for me, but for only 1, not so much. That’s why I have said if the appointment is first thing in the morning I can at least provision the rest of my day for other work, be it website development, product photography, or my new gig of making videos for another client who sells music gear. 
     

    Anyway, I am happy that I am at least getting support from one of my clients. 

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    Anthony

    Posted

    Good news, Dallas.

     

    Do you edit in your vehicle on your laptop?

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    Dallas

    Posted

    Thanks Anthony. No, I still edit at home but I have largely automated the process with Lightroom, Aurora and Enfuse. I still have to go over the final shots manually, but it's literally a few seconds per image now. When I first started doing this work the editing would take me about an hour or more just to do 20 shots on 1 property. The software batching still takes about 30 minutes to actually run, depending on how I do it. The last few places I did I used Lightroom's new HDR batching feature which is way faster than passing the stacks off to either of the other programs, but the results are not quite as good. Aurora does a great job for exteriors and Enfuse is best for interiors, so if I am doing a really nice place I will stick with those methods. "Meh" homes only get the Lr treatment. :) As soon as I am done I use Lr to export the final shots in a very low res format to Google Drive where the agents then do whatever they do with them. The system works very well. 

     

     

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    Greg Drawbaugh

    Posted

    it is nice to know quality still counts with some customers.  Our world seems to be headed to the bottom for what many are willing to pay for experience.  Hopefully this works out in the end now that the agents are on comission and need your image to draw in their potential customers.

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    I'm still fighting a price war that I don't want to be in, unfortunately. The problem here is that for every job there are about 100 photographers and even those who know nothing about real estate or architectural photography are quite happy to throw their lot in with lowball offers. I just lost a job I quoted on for a game lodge because they thought that my $1200 quote was too much. This in spite of it being a 3 hour drive from my home, an overnight stay and then a 3 hour drive back. I guess somebody saw the opportunity to get a little holiday for the cost of fuel and offered to do it for free. :( 

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    Interesting story. Yep, all the eggs in one basket is so dangerous, and I see it a lot with small businesses. Sometimes there's simply nothing they can do about it even when they know it.

     

    It's amazing you can shoot a place that fast! I would have assumed 2-3 x that long. I guess they have it all ready to go, and you don't need to do any adjusting.  I have also heard that clients want it yesterday. Having done very few gigs, I don't know if I'd enjoy that environment, though you've seem to have perfected your process to deal with their expectations.

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    39 minutes ago, GB111 said:

    Interesting story. Yep, all the eggs in one basket is so dangerous, and I see it a lot with small businesses. Sometimes there's simply nothing they can do about it even when they know it.

     

    It's amazing you can shoot a place that fast! I would have assumed 2-3 x that long. I guess they have it all ready to go, and you don't need to do any adjusting.  I have also heard that clients want it yesterday. Having done very few gigs, I don't know if I'd enjoy that environment, though you've seem to have perfected your process to deal with their expectations.

     

    Yup, it's a finely tuned process. I can thank Olympus, Lightroom and a few other programs for that. Generally for RE work I photograph what I find "in situ", but I do provide the clients with a link to this article I wrote so that they can prepare the space beforehand. Most serious sellers do.  

     

    Alas this same client and I have now parted ways permanently over a copyright infringement by one of their clients that they weren't prepared to take my side on. Their client had the cheek to use my images on their Airbnb listing. I called them out on it and offered to give them better images properly taken and licensed for Airbnb. They had a little frothy and proceeded to complain to the agent's head office about my "unethical" behaviour. Then this person also had the cheek to call me a "scam artist" on my Google Business page. The salt in the wound was the agency principal telling me that they had paid for the images and they were free to give them to whoever they wanted for whatever purpose. I balked on that and told them where they could get off. 

     

    I will miss the regular work they assigned to me, but honestly, that company are just exploiting photographers left and right and as such deserve to follow many other "disruptor" businesses in the real estate industry down the drain. I am now ironically focussing more attention on the Airbnb market, but working directly for the hosts, not for Airbnb (who are also exploiting photographers left and right). 

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