Commercial Real Estate Photography – Here’s What You Need to Know

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Show, don’t tell - here’s how to make your commercial real estate photography look and feel perfect for each space.
Commercial real estate photography guide

How to Ace Your Commercial Real Estate Photography Shoot

Listing a commercial real estate space is a multi-step process, but nothing is as critical as a first impression. Before a potential buyer or tenant even scrolls to the description, they’re looking at the space itself: photography, videos, and layout diagrams. Buyers reportedly spend approximately 60% of their time on a commercial property listing looking at photos. The visuals should come first, which is why it’s so important to invest in quality, professional commercial real estate photography for each listing.

It’s easy to tell the difference between a photo taken with a phone and a well-designed, well-lit photoshoot with professional equipment. So when you’re planning your photography commission budget, it could be more attractive to do it yourself or hire the cheapest option. But when you’re hiring a professional photographer, you aren’t simply paying for the finished product; you’re paying for their expertise, experience, time and effort, and the equipment needed to present your space in the best possible light. 

As you prepare a strategy to list a property, keeping the following in mind before hiring a photographer for a commercial real estate space. 

What to Expect from the Photography Process

Each photographer has their own style, but most commercial real estate shoots start with an initial consultation, breaking down the number of final shots needed, basic details of the property, and discussions about availability and weather-dependent shooting schedules. Most photographers like to scout a property and bring some equipment to get an initial impression before scheduling a shoot. This allows both the photographer and the listing agent to meet in person and tour the space, working out ideas of what should be highlighted and any special equipment the photographer might need on the day. 

Next, a shoot is scheduled. Some photographers prefer to work alone; others like having a hand or resource in a listing agent to help navigate the space. Working with the office or building manager is key, as the photographer will need access to the building and the opportunity to reserve common areas for shoots. 

Once they’re wrapped, you can expect watermarked selections from the shoot for your approval within a few business days. Of course, the faster you decide which ones you’d like to highlight for your listing, the faster the photographer can finalize them and send them for publication. 

Estimated Professional Photography Costs

Because most photographers have different skill sets, equipment, and levels of experience, your costs are going to vary pretty substantially. For a team of photographers, lighting specialists, assistants, stagers, models, and post-production editors, the costs will be significantly more than an individual wearing many hats. And depending on your market, photographers may be in high demand and more expensive than other places in the country. 

Pricing structures also vary. Some photographers charge for real estate photography by the hour; others charge by square footage. There might be day rates for shoots requiring dawn/dusk photography as well as additional costs for aerial drone photography and specialized equipment needed to perfectly capture the essence of your space. 

As with most contractors, it’s wise to bring in several photographers to take a look at your space, get their perspective on how to best portray the property, and get an estimate on the scope of the project once they’ve actually seen it. But as you start to research professional commercial real estate photographers in your area, here are a few examples of how much a project may cost:

  • High-Rise Office Spaces

Because of the larger size and value of high-rise office spaces, costs for professional photography are going to be higher than those of smaller, lower-quality commercial real estate listings. These shoots, especially if they involve multiple buildings or floors, could extend to a few days of photography, raising the price of a photographer’s services. 

Expect to pay between $3,500-5,000 for photographer fees, marketing use licenses, digital production charges, and incidentals like assistant’s fees and mileage. 

  • Mid-Rise Office Spaces

Single property shoots in a mid-rise office space aren’t as involved as high-rise shoots, so expect to see an estimate between $2,000-3,500. 

  • Small Retail/Professional Spaces

Smaller, single-unit properties that need to demonstrate the property’s context within a neighborhood are easier and less complex to photograph, so you might see fees between $1,200-2,000. 

How to Find a Professional Commercial Real Estate Photographer in Your Area

One good way to find great commercial estate photographers is to simply check your competition. Who’s got the best visuals in your area? While many listing agents don’t credit their photographers on the listings, it’s common practice in the usage licensing process to allow the photographers to use their clients’ work in their online portfolios. Doing a reverse Google Image search on a listing may yield the original photographer online.

Word of mouth, referrals, and some basic online sleuthing are also great avenues for finding qualified professional commercial real estate photographers. But there are also several directories for specialized photography services you can find in your area:

  • AIAP – A longtime organization known for its promotion of independent architectural photographers, the Association of Independent Architectural Photographers is an excellent resource to find qualified photographers in your city. 
  • APA National – The American Photographic Artists is a non-profit that helps photographers with business planning, creative assistance, and finding clients to help further their work. 

Delivery Time

Depending on the number of photos taken and the complexity of the space, turnaround is beholden to the post-processing stage of the project. Photographers take great lengths to identify the best photos in their initial shoot, sort them by quality and type, then work to enhance the original image to provide the finest final product possible. This process can take a few days to a week for real estate projects, with the photographer sending “comps” or examples of their work to you to view and approve before finalizing your selections. Once you’ve settled on a gallery and made your suggestions, expect a few more days before the final images are delivered. All-in-all, you’re looking at a two-week window for the planning, production, and post-production process before you’re ready to post the photos to your listing site. 

Usage Licenses and Model Releases

Usage licenses dictate the terms of the agreement between the client and the photographer and who gets to use the final product – and to what extent. 

Even though you’re paying for the final product – the professionally-produced photography of your property – the final photographs are not usually owned by you. Some real estate-oriented photography businesses and services like Listing Essentials allow for ownership over the final photos, but this is increasingly rare.  In most cases, photography commissions are considered the intellectual property of the photographer, meaning they’ll issue you a license to use them for your needs. Thankfully, experienced photographers include language in their licensing agreements to allow for standard marketing uses by the client. These should cover the bases for your property listing: website, social media, real estate directories such as, and printed marketing materials in perpetuity. Other uses may not be included in the standard agreements, so be sure to be clear with your intentions and get everything in writing before you sign on the dotted line. 

For any models you may want to use, you’ll need a model release form to use their likeness in the final photographs. Experienced photographers should have a standard form on hand for these instances, but if you’re shooting a busy lobby in a commercial building, you’ll want to inform people in the building that they may be used in promotional materials. If you feature a passerby in your photography, be sure to get a release for their likeness to avoid liability in the future. 

As with any creative field, dealing with photographers for a commercial real estate project can be difficult, time-consuming, and often expensive. But with a bit of know-how and a solid, mutual understanding of what you’re trying to achieve with a photoshoot, you should be able to navigate and streamline the process to get the best results – and stand out among the pack – with the strength of your listing’s photography. 




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