Google “real estate photography classes,” and you will find 2.8 million results. “Real estate photography courses” will net you 1.5 billion results (yes, that is billion!) Why the huge interest in taking pictures of real estate? The Internet! The face of the real estate industry has changed.
“Agents have discovered that quality photography makes for a crucial first impression and listings featuring professional, visually pleasing photography receive more views, shares and sales,” declares professional photographerTom Wallace.
Right Place, Right Time
Eleven years ago, an encounter at church with a house-hunting friend planted the seed. Their friend pointed out the horrible images of homes in the Sunday newspaper. She flat-out said Tom could take much better photos and should start taking them for realtors.
Always the student, Tom researched and discovered an underserved market. Hmmm … maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea! A tax analyst, Tom became one of the area’s first real estate photographers. He took shots on the side for five years while crunching numbers in his day job. The opportunity was there, and he wanted to offer quality work and excellent customer service as the business grew.
Tom has had a camera in his hand since he was a youngster—the family even had a darkroom installed in a bathroom. He was in the middle school photography club and yearbook editor. His love of shooting grew in high school, and he was editor of the high school yearbook. A Pulaski native, Tom spent childhood summers in Charleston, S.C. At the age of 9, he took a picture of his 4-year-old cousin feeding ducks at Charlestown Landing—and entered and won his first photo contest.
He has extensive knowledge of photography principles and techniques that made him successful taking wedding, high school senior and family photos. He applied all that proficiency to houses and hotels. He took online classes in real estate photography and joined several industry associations.
Change Is the Name of the Game
Two years ago, covid settled over the New River Valley (and everywhere else), eliminating a critical component of real estate sales—the open house. Even now, homeowners aren’t thrilled to have strangers tramping through their homes. This led to a need for 3-D video tours and floor plans. Buyers were looking at photos, taking virtual tours and buying houses. The business grew, requiring an additional employee to handle all the work. Enter wife Christy, who, of course, had been working every spare minute anyway.
Christy Wallace is also an award-winning photographer and had her own camera when the two met. She enjoys seeing the character of different houses. She focuses on capturing the interiors, Tom on the exterior. Tom says Christy is too modest. Her attention to the “little things” can make or break a shoot. She does a walk-through and spots things that create a distraction or the places that need a little something added for aesthetics.
Working together allows the pair to capture twice the homes in a day. Or, when necessary, they can go in opposite directions for shooting assignments.
– An Agent’s Secret Weapon
Usually, listing agents contract for photography services. Professional pictures make the property look good, so the house sells faster and for more money.
Times have changed in another way; buyers used to call and request to see five or six homes from the Sunday listings. Now, after seeing online photos, buyers narrow down their choices and want to see one or two. As the market continues to change, real estate professionals have little inventory, and homes sell sight-unseen in person. That early bird is quick to hop on the worm.
Depending upon property and house size, agents receive 30 to 40 images and more than 100 for large properties. Tom strives to edit all the photos from shoots within 24 hours, having the package to the agent the following morning. Likely he burns a lot of that commodity known as “midnight oil!”
Although photographers are not required to be licensed, they are bound by the same ethical requirements as agents. Photographers can enhance a photo (making a cloudy sky blue or making the grass look greener.) But they cannot remove permanent objects like power lines, street signs or other eyesores.
Things to Come
The future will include aerial shots and videos to complement still shots. Agents are looking for images to showcase a property as well as show off the neighborhood and nearby amenities.
The absentee home builder is another market that seems to have found the Wallaces. Not the construction company, but the future homeowner. A weekly photo diary showing construction progress is sent to the client, allowing them to spot potential problems or changes that need to be addressed.
Adding equipment and learning new technology isn’t cheap. Just one camera lens can come with a $5,000 price tag. Tom and Christy have received diplomas from certified flying programs in drone photography. To take commercial drone shots, the FAA requires a license. And taking the exam is $170 (each attempt).
Primarily, the photographs are featured in real estate agents’ marketing materials. They are shared on Realtor.com, Zillow, Trulia and print advertising. The Wallaces also shoot for hotels, builders, developers and even restaurants (those drool-worthy food photos just may have been taken by Tom or Christy!)
You can take a peek and do some dreaming on their website, www.RealPixs.com.
Tips for Beginners
• Learn your camera’s settings
• Purchase the best equipment you can afford
and learn how to use it
• Investigate the best time of day for photos
• Experiment and learn how to use interior lighting
• Practice and find the right camera angles to
get the best-looking shots
• Get the shot right in the camera to eliminate
need for post processing
• Learn to use post-processing software to edit photos
• Develop a ‘Home Prep Instruction Sheet’ for
clients before the shoot
Text by Jo Clark
Photography by Tom and Christy Wallace
Jo Clark is a freelance writer and photographer as well who earned her MBA at Radford University. Her first camera was a Kodak Brownie received on her 6th birthday.