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 may overlap, and what budget you should consider.

Real Estate photography is a subset of Architectural photography and for most projects usually a streamlined workflow is offered in form of a fix-price package. That is especially the case if you want a standard real estate property being photographed. For specialty and luxury property the requirements usually change.

Real Estate photos have a short life-cycle, just for the purpose of selling the property and tailored to the needs of a real estate agent, however, there’s a difference between standard properties and luxury properties regarding how you want to present them.
For luxury property I recommend to decide for an architectural photo shoot which adds different angles and frame compositions, follows trends and guidelines.

Architects, Interior Designers, magazines, builders and other professions do want the photos for their portfolio, marketing purposes or publishing and therefore the images have a different purpose, audience, a longer life-cycle, and a different emphasis.
Branding aspects come into play.
The time allocated for Real Estate photography and Architectural photography is different, the focus differs, the composition and angles differ, and the level of detail and customization differs.

Architecture Photography projects are fully customizable, whereas Standard Real Estate photography (as a cost-effective fix-price package) follows a streamlined process and structure. Of course, you still can add and customize a Real Estate shoot, however, once your customization changes the scope and time-needed… the project gets costlier and is may be heading into the direction of architecture photography 🙂

I am applying the same diligence to all my projects and the creation / composition of those images. So, you could ask why you should spend more money if you can get the same result for a $250-$400 budget?
You don’t get the same result — the difference starts with the time allocated for the photo shoot and for the $250-$400 which is a typical Real Estate photo shoot budget for a ‘normal’ property it is a 60+ minute 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. Angles and variety of compositions is tailored to a typical Real Estate shoot and the expected look & feel.
Some of the photos I am making during a Real Estate 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 2+ hrs) will lead to more diverse, refined, high-end results and a different look & feel, let’s call it the architectural magazine style with a stronger branding message.

For example I might or not opt for tethered shoots to verify shots on-location. I have time to evaluate, modify, and optimize angles as needed for cohesiveness and story. I can identify ideal Hero shots and decide for the best framing of that particular scene. The degree of room and scene styling is usually higher for an architectural shot. Ideally an Interior Designer (ID) is involved. If styling is involved, another question is if we move from room to room and make adjustments or whether the entire house is fully staged and ready upfront.

Forgettable vs. Non-Forgettable images

Think about advertising or magazines: it is your brand, quality, and style — that needs to come across in a single photo or a series of photos.
Even when the project scope is just about ONE single exterior shot (a.k.a. the distinguishing Hero shot) it might take a day or two of work to get that done.

Of course not all projects require that much time but if planning, production and post-production is required to be in an advanced format then it can’t be done in just a few hours.

Some of these images might be used for all major branding and advertising and may be the company makes millions with it’s product, brand image and then it is worth to commission a high end photo shoot. Remember a photo represents the brand.

Especially in advertising and brochures you mostly look at such modified images (post-production compositions) and you feel the difference without thinking it looks unreal (which would be a standard photo with over-editing).
Advanced photography brings up the costs, 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 and reaches and attracts customers who eventually increase the revenue.
Now it is understandable that each 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 or full-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. 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 mini and 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 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 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) 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 (air space related, city-related, or if e.g. other 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 can be made part of my production efforts or can be 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 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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