Architectural Photography vs. Real Estate Photography — is there a difference?

Architecture + Real Estate Photography
Architecture + Real Estate Photography

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What is the difference between Real Estate photography and Architectural photography? How do I know what I need?

This article shall provide you with an idea where the differences are, where those fields can overlap, and what budget you should consider.

To make things confusing in the beginning … I’d like to say that you can budget your project –whether you are a Real Estate professional or an Architect– for $200-$400 and call your project either way: architectural photo shoot or Real Estate photo shoot.

You can also provide a $500 to $2000 budget and it still can be named either way. The outcome will be different as the article will explain, however, I wanted to make clear that a Real Estate agent who markets a luxury multi-million dollar property can very well see that their own marketing budget is quite big and they need to present such property in an appropriate way even if the property is sold in 1 day and the photos life-cycle might end.

Builders and architects on the other hand want to use photos for marketing or portfolios and therefore the images have a longer life; also the images might appear in magazines or will be used for competitions and project bids.

I am applying the same diligence to all projects and the creation and composition of those images. So, you could ask why you should spend $1000 if you can get the same result for a $250 budget? You don’t get the same result — the difference starts with the time allocated for the photo shoot and for the $200-$400 which is a typical Real Estate photo shoot budget for a ‘normal’ property it is a 60-90 min time window to make things happen. Common Real Estate shoots require all rooms to be photographed and it has to happen in the allocated time-window.
Some of the photos I am making during that assignment will be the same high-end photos you would get as part of your custom architectural photo shoot project, BUT an Architectural Photo Shoot (that starts with e.g. 2-3 hrs) will lead to more refined, high-end results because I have enough time to create certain results which I can’t achieve in a 60-90 min session. E.g. I might or not opt for tethered shoots to verify shots on-location. I have time to evaluate, modify, and optimize angles.

Forgettable vs. Non-Forgettable images

Once again back to the 1 exterior shot a client might need for the brand new car dealership and advertising: the client doesn’t just want a ‘nice’ photo, sharp, well composed, and at the right time of the day. That photo is undoubted a good one and can be done for a few hundred dollars, however, if you want that outstanding image that no one else has, the client need to invest in advanced editing which brings the photo to a point where a person looking at it feels that it is somehow different which keeps the attention longer and makes the person remember that photo (equals Brand) later. Especially in advertising you mostly look at such modified images (post-production compositions) and you feel the difference without thinking it looks unreal. That brings the costs up to a few thousand dollars, depending on the effort that is spend on the photo and the goals. However, if a client realizes that there’s only one or a few images that have to convey the message,… then the client knows that it is worth the investment. A few thousand dollars production costs might reach and attract customers that eventually increase the revenue by millions. Now it is understandable that every client sets its own value and budget for something and photo is not equal photo.

Time needed for a shoot depends on the shoot list (what has to be photographed and in what way)

But time is relative as we know — it doesn’t have to be a half-day of shooting, may be you just have a micro project with only a few photos of 1-2 rooms or e.g. 1 exterior commercial façade and that might be feasible in 2 hours. You need to tell me exactly what your goal is and what you need.

How to plan and work with your photographer – a checklist of things to think about

It all comes down to the goal, project size, specifics, time and planning

For an high-stake Architectural Photo Shoot the time-frame for small projects should be 2-4hrs (4hrs==half-day photo shoot) and for larger and more complex projects a day (8hrs==1 day shoot) or multiple days. That allows to accommodate different lighting, weather, seasonal situations and well planned shots. In Architectural photo shoots you’ll find not only wide-angle overview images but also more narrow, specialized and detailed views.
The way of composing an image is slightly different.
Also, irrelevant scenes or portions of scenes are intentionally omitted.

Ideally, Architectural shoots are carefully staged and add accessories, decorations, color spots, or go an alternative route by showing the place lived-in, or with people (often ghosts) and pets. For a perfect outcome the spaces should be in perfect condition, styled, and photographed at the right time.
A refined post-processing is applied to my Architectural projects, therefore it is necessary to tell me how you intend to use the images: online, print media type, etc.
All hourly session rates include the time for the photo shoot and post-processing (level-1 == enhancing the appeal: brightness, color correction, perspective correction), delivery, commercial usage license. Advanced editing and / or creating compositions goes extra and can take up many extra hours. 

In the end the client must decide how much time should be invested, which must-have shots and lighting conditions shall be part of the result, and what budget shall be allocated.
Real Estate ‘format’ is up to 90 min (depending on the size of property) and pricing is outlined in my Real Estate my package pricing.
High-stake Real Estate ‘format’ can basically be a synonym for Architectural Photo Shoot and starts at 2-4 hours. More complex multiple unit projects require more time. I also do offer an upgraded Real Estate photography format that adds more time and angles to the photo shoot — basically the upgraded format is a more custom architectural shoot.

Some thoughts

More time allows for example to visit a location multiple times in order to get all shots at the best time of the day with regard to natural light. That is valid for interior and exterior photos. All rooms have a ‘best time’ to be photographed and exteriors of course as well. We cannot direct the sun, so we have to wait and work-around that fact. After having said that you will recognize why I said that I can come up with some brilliant shots in a 90 min session but I cannot produce perfect photos for all exterior sides or rooms (lighting-wise) and when I have a narrow time window. So, light and weather are important factors and involve time.

Commercial buildings: the client knows best what time is involved to get from A to B in the building or facility and if there are restrictions et cetera. The number of shots, shot list, and the specifics determine how much time is needed. I need to trust your honest judgement, however, I can only do as much as time allows during a photo shoot time-slot and you can’t just estimate the allotted time window too low.

Businesses in general: all the projects are so much different that it comes down to an architectural shoot starting at with a minimum of 2 hours for small projects (like a few overview photos of the exterior and interior).

Multi-unit residential condos or apartments, builder’s model homes: if the scope of the project involves multiple units and most often extended exterior (club houses, community exterior, pool, fitness, et cetera) it is best to consider that as an architectural shoot with a half-day or more time available.

Exteriors: there’s a big weather- and time-of-day relevancy, however, I do offer re-scheduling to hit the right day or time. Please have in mind that aerials might require permits if e.g. more than private property is involved.

People: some architectural photo shoots might want people (e.g. volunteers or professional talents) to be in the photo — that adds quite a bit of time needed for the photo shoot. Talent hire is ideally performed by the client.

Aerials: in many cases aerial shots add nice perspectives to the project — aerial setup and taking the shots takes time as well. If permits are required it is best if the client takes care of that because it can be a lengthy, time-consuming process.

Video: if video becomes part of the project the required project time of course goes up quite a bit. Video Editing is a time-consuming process as well and if you have a storyboard in your mind, it is great to let me know, because that requires time in order to plan the shoot around it.

Architectural Photography Checklist

How to plan and work with your photographer – a checklist of things to think about

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Comments (3)

[…] The angles matter: wide or narrow angle, it makes a difference and the use of it depends on the object and purpose of the shot. The eye point matters because it either emphasizes something or can be used to do the opposite. As a photographer you want to find the strongest angle, or an interesting angle to support the message of the shot. For architectural shots a very narrow shot that focuses on just a detail area can lead to a strong photo. Here’s a big difference to the common definition of Real Estate photography, see also my article: Architectural Photography vs. Real Estate Photography — is there a difference? […]

This was extremely helpful, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge on these processes! As a Real Estate Photographer primarily, I find Architecture extremely fascinating. You are right, it does require different perspectives and time allocated to say the very least.

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