The Common ThreadYou’re walking down the street on a cool Monday morning. You’re sort of but-not-really late for work and, with this in mind, your pace is somewhat brisk; but not so fast as to show up a bunch of power-walkers at the mall and make enemies out of an incensed group of old ladies in sweatsuits. Dogs bark and sprinklers make their fitz-fitz-fitz sound as you round the corner. You stop, glance at your watch, look up, and there it is. You see it day in and day out and is there to tirelessly build a presence in your mind; remaining there for your thoughts to instantaneously observe and assess. It is, of course, the omnipresent and ever ubiquitous real estate headshot, nestled helpfully within the signage outside of a home listed for sale.
It’s attached to a brownstone, or shellacked to a wall, or affixed to a gate. It’s a rectangle or a square or if the weather’s been unforgiving maybe a rhombus. It’s black and white or contains more colors than there are names for them.
It comes in a myriad of designs and variations and has been re-sketched, retooled, reshaped, and reworded since realtors were selling real estate. Despite all this, each and every one of them has one unmistakable and unshakeable trait in common. One common thread brings each and every piece of marketing asset together, whether it be a stack of brochures in a lobby in Philadelphia or the signage of a brownstone in Manhattan. That thread is, of course, the realtors headshot.
You’ve decided to hire a professional photographer for your real estate business. This is a good, no, fantastic decision. The reason why this is a fantastic decision is for two reasons.
1. Your Headshot is Your Brand
The first reason is that your headshot ultimately is the end-all ambassador for the brand that is you. Companies like Nike, Apple, Adidas, and Prada all have an incredibly diverse marketing portfolio and have to worry about hundreds, if not thousands, of things at any one given moment that define their brand. Not only do they have to worry about each and every product in their inventory being out in the world and altering people’s perceptions of their brand (or hopefully in the very least preserving it), they have to allocate mental resources and company processing power into each and every marketing asset that’s out there doing the same.
When I say marketing asset, I’m not just referring to the multi-million dollar times-square billboard placement that’ll run through March. I’m referring to everything; whether it be the aforementioned billboard or a vertical side banner on an ecom side. There are so many points of interest in the matter that it’s mind-boggling, and I wouldn’t want to be any sort of entity that has to worry about that many things at once shaping how people view me as an entity.
New York Realtor Lauren Carden, says on the matter:
“People want to work with someone they trust, and one way to start establishing that trust is by forming a brand that’s consistent with your image, personality, and who you really are. Your photo represents a first impression, and so you want that first impression to be as professional as possible while accurately representing you. ” – Lauren Carden
Luckily you, as a realtor, don’t. Your main product is yourself (we’re speaking irrespective for now of your properties) and there are no variations on this. For this reason, you only have a few marketing assets to worry about and can devote your resources into other things. Nevertheless, one of these assets is of penultimate importance because, as a photo of you, and with the main product being you, your photo is the marketing asset that most encapsulates your brand. Your photo is, in effect, is your brand.
Real Estate Headshot, circa 2018
2. First Impressions Are EverythingWhen someone walks by your listing, or sees your card, or observes any piece of signage advertising your services, they make an immediate and all encompassing first impression that instantly and irreversibly defines how they think of you. A study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science and cited on psypost.org found that glancing at a person’s face for 33 to 100ms was sufficient time to form a first impression. That’s thirty-three milliseconds, or thirty-three thousands of a second. To put that into perspective, a humming-bird beats it’s wings once every 66 milliseconds. This means, of course, that people are cementing their perception of you and your brand at half the time it takes a hummingbird to flap its wings.
While that’s insane, it’s also important; as thirty-three ms is about the time it takes for someone to look up from their morning coffee and see your face on a real-estate sign as they’re sitting at an intersection.
Getting a Good Headshot from a Headshot Photographer
Now that we’ve discussed why you need a good real estate headshot, we can go ahead and move into how you should get a good one. I feel like articles are always lacking in one area or another. They’ll tell you why you need to do something but not how you need to do something. Or, conversely, they’ll give you the how but not the why. Today we’ll do both.
Firstly, you should really be hiring a photographer that specializes in portraiture and narrows that focus even further into headshots. While a diverse skill set in photography makes a photographer more able to do a wider spectrum of things, there really are specific aspects to portraiture that someone with less experience isn’t going to know. It takes a very, very long time to learn not just indoor lighting but outdoors as well; and with neither you nor the photographer having really any control over the latter, it’s best you hire someone that knows what he or she is doing. Again, this photo not just represents your brand but is it when you’re not present, and with outdoor headshots especially being so popular amongst real estate agents, it’s better to have someone that can take control of the situation and knows what to do with your surroundings.
While I’m not necessarily trying to plug myself, I’m certainly not going to link to some other photographer’s portfolio for examples. I’d be that guy that walks into a voting booth and doesn’t select himself.
Below are various examples of corporate, real-estate, and commercial portraits for you to get an overview.
I don’t think it’s especially important that you hire someone that claims to specialize in real-estate headshots. There absolutely are some aspects to realtor headshots that do require some knowledge (vertical or horizontal placement and how either will fit in with your ad/current marketing trends and how present-day headshots look for example), but for a photographer to claim he/she specializes in them and nothing else sounds more like a sales pitch than a legitimate claim.
DO: Hire a headshot photographer. Preferably one with real estate experience.
DON’T: Hire a headshot photographer that claims it’s their undying trade specialty (seriously, who literally only does real estate headshots as their sole occupation and form of income?)
Realtor headshot, circa 2019
Hire an Experienced Photographer Because They’ll Direct You. Newer Ones Won’t
Anymore, when I get on set, I immediately start setting things up, issuing directions, and answering questions. When I first started out, that wasn’t the case. I was tentative in all of my actions and not confident in orchestrating their outcomes. My photos were never bad (maybe once or twice they were so-so), but I danced around their setups with the steps of someone that generally knows what they’re doing but still has to somewhat hope for a good outcome. Now before taking a photo I to a high degree know exactly how it’s going to turn out and exactly what it’s going to look like.
This being said, people want to be directed. In my event and conference photography (www.joejenkinsphoto.com/event-photographer-nyc), group shots are inevitable. People begin arranging themselves in shapes and formations from past group photos. Usually they achieve a moderate degree of success before invariably requesting I tell them what to do and where to go – typically commanding ‘Joe! Direct us!’ in a somewhat frustrated vein. It’s become so consistent anymore I don’t wait for it but just immediately begin issuing commands and telling people where to go (which is occasionally fun when done for people that aren’t used to taking orders).
The same is true of your images. You want a headshot photographer that’s going to show up and know exactly what to do, how to pose you, and where to place you. It is unequivocally not your job to know what’s going to make for the best backdrop (though you can suggest), how to position your arms, or what sort of expression to make. While you can certainly offer your input on the matter, at the end of the day it’s the photographer’s job to both know and execute this.
Choose a backdrop that fits your real estate, not someone else’sThis one is fairly straightforward, but I’m constantly seeing people off the mark here. High end commercial real estate typically yields headshots that are taken either in-studio and on a seamless backdrop or in the very least indoors; evoking a corporate feel. It fits into an overall aesthetic adherent to the industry and for this reason, you’ll see a number of agents that sell commercial properties on white seamless.
Headshots for residential properties, on the other hand, are typically taken outdoors and involving a property of some sort. In Manhattan and Brooklyn, for instance, there are a wealth of brownstones for sale at any one given time. As a result, many a realtor headshot is taken in front of one as it both effectively conveys a residential atmosphere and as well illustrates what they sell.
Don’t choose yours based exclusively around what someone else is doing. Find what works for you, what suits your taste and product, and what will best illustrate what you’re selling.
Don’t Over-Smile Like A Crazy Person in Your Headshot But Don’t Not-Smile at all
One thing I’ve learned about taking headshots (and I’ve taken a lot of them, whether real estate or otherwise) is that maintaining a blank, neutral expression is either a practiced thing or something that simply comes naturally to a very small percentage of the population. Those magazine covers you see of Leonardo Dicaprio or Barack Obama, where they’re maintaining expressively blank and commanding expressions; those are tough. Extremely tough. Excruciatingly tough. Do you have any idea how hard is it to look expressive with no expression? Most of us that live within the plane known as reality just look like grim-faced sociopaths in photos where we don’t smile.
For this reason, you should definitely smile in your headshot. You’re operating within a commercial space anyway and so you want to look as friendly as possible. Don’t overdo it and look like you’re at a club, on drugs, but definitely convey an approachability and social-sense that’ll make people look at your photo and be like ‘I’d buy a commercial loft from that guy.’ Or ‘I’d get a bank to help me purchase a four bedroom house from that girl.’
Again, you want to look friendly, approachable, and helpful. Don’t go nuts and overdo it as you do want to simultaneously look like an authority on the matter, but a smile goes a long way.
A Makeup Artist is Really, Really Good at Makeup
Men don’t have so much to worry about this issue (unless you’re somewhat shiny a large percentage of the time), but makeup artists absolutely do make a difference. They’re better at blending tones, applying the right amount of eye shadow, and on the whole achieving a level of polish that the average person simply isn’t capable of.
I’m not knocking your makeup application abilities, but this is something this person does for a living. Their lives revolve around it and as a result, they’re going to have an exponentially higher degree of proficiency on the matter than you do.
I’ve tied my shoelaces every day for the entirety of my life and am, if questioned, probably pretty proficient on the subject. If I met someone that did it professionally though, for a living, tallying eight+ hours a day on the subject; well I’d probably see all sorts of loops and knots I never knew existed
Do you think any of the models in the ads you look at do their own makeup? They absolutely do not. Because it’s an ad. Used to sell something. And your real estate headshot is an ad. Used to sell you.
Afterwards you can go to a happy hour, sit there, and shimmer.
This one’s fairly easy (though maybe you don’t feel that way). If you’re wondering how to dress for your headshot session, simply put on what you’d to a showing. I should say that if you wear a lot of patterns and stripes, avoid doing so on the day of your shoot, as they can divert attention away from the central point of the image (you).
Outside of dressing like you would for a showing simply because I’d imagine you’ll be looking your best, you’ll as well be conveying authenticity. When you walk into a room and greet your viewers, they won’t be surprised by the person and complain later on they’ve been catfished by a real-estate agent.
If you’re looking for a more objective take on the matter and appreciate things broken down in a more scientific sense, feel free to head on over to: https://www.helpscout.com/blog/psychology-of-color/
They’ve written a nice article on how color fits in with marketing and how various tones/shades/hues elicit different emotions.
Your License and Copyright
The world is populated by a group of very laid back and easy to work with headshot photographers (like myself) and a group of individuals that are not-so-easy or at all-laid back. The latter group can be a bit more difficult to work with and will do things like itemize the shoot and the proofs as two separate costs (as in some photographers will charge you $x for the shoot itself and then $y for the actual headshots thereafter; which is ridiculous but whatever) and act as if outfit changes warrant massive alterations to the cost structure (they’re called looks. It’s a thing).
People such as this generally remain more cognizant of the fact that all of us, as photographers, maintain copyrights on the images we take. What this means is that despite being an image of you, I as the photographer hold the copyright. The reason this can be problematic is because in any future marketing materials you purchase, I could technically cite violations of those copyrights and seek compensation; punitively if I want to.
I, of course, would never in a million years actually do that; though there are those that would and do.
This being said, make sure you either own the copyright on your headshot or have no restrictions on how the images are licensed for marketing materials. This doesn’t necessarily mean you demand a contract, as a simple confirmation via email will do do (make sure you keep the email, of course).
Your Use Case
I once did a round of headshots for a fintech company. There were around eight employees and, after taking the first shot, the marketing director and person responsible for coordinating the shoot came over and mentioned that the images were going to be framed in circular buttons on the bio site. This was mentioned, for the first-time, midway through the shoot, casually, and within a space of thirty seconds. Because of this, I gave it a bit of thought but, being in the middle of the shoot, didn’t allot the matter a huge amount of attention.
I continued along with the photo session as I normally would, submitted the contact sheet a few days later, and all was well within the world – until I got an email from the marketing coordinator stating that only a small percentage of the headshots were usable and that each staff’s favorite would not work with their specific formatting requirements. The headshots were no different from any I’d taken in the past (and the reason I was there to begin with was because of the photos I’d taken for the company founder, two years prior), but because of the very strict use case requirements they had, they were initially under the impression that nothing I’d produced they could use.
Though it took about twelve hours of additional work to correct, all was remedied, said headshots are now up on the company site, and everyone will resume sending one another cards on the holidays.
The reason I felt this story was pertinent is because you absolutely need to think not only about how your images are going to be used, but how many different uses there are and any pre-existing designs they’ll fit into. Don’t go into the shoot thinking every shot is absolutely the same and that the images the photographer produces will fit neatly into the slot that is your design; it may not. A business card has different dimensions than a billboard and a billboard has different dimensions than a flier.
Discuss the formatting beforehand with the photographer and ensure that your headshots are going to work for your intended uses. To be safe, you can take shots that are both vertically (portrait mode) and horizontally (landscape) oriented.
Going Through A Full, Unedited Contact Sheet is Hell
As a headshot photographer in New York City, one of the most photo-heavy markets in the world, I pass shoots daily. Not only do I pass by shoots at a daily rate but I get very judgy over how they’re being conducted (I can’t help it). I’ve been taking headshots for long enough that I can typically get a sense of what the image is going to look like based around what the photographer’s doing and what sort of set-up they’re working with.
Not too long ago I saw graduation shots being taken in the West Village. The photographer may as well have had her camera on burst fire mode as she was shooting at about 3-5 frames per second. I inwardly cringed as taking 3-5 frames per second of something that isn’t essentially moving (a person’s face in a headshot, for instance) is typically a bad idea. It’s a bad idea because it creates a massive amount of not just extra work, but extra work of an unbearably tedious nature. A camera’s burst fire mode is typically for journalists taking photos of people as they move; not for stationary subjects that are sitting there looking the same from one moment to the next.
Going through five hundred photos that all look for the most part the same is, to be clear, excruciating. Outside of the fact that it’s incredibly time-consuming and fairly boring, there’s a lot of choice paralysis involved and not a recommended method for how to spend an afternoon; moreover when you’re looking at yourself. You may claim that you’ll go into your session with a variety of poses and expressions, but unless you’re experienced and comfortable on camera (which most people aren’t), there’s likely only going to be three or four end poses that will be distinctly different from one another.
For this reason, I’d recommend you think about whether or not you want the photographer to narrow down the initial set to the obvious choices and as well weed out duplicates. It will make your life intensely easier in the long-run.
Just Because Someone Else has a Headshot Doesn’t Mean it’s Good
People have a tendency to do what other people do; oftentimes regardless of whether it works or not. Not only do they have this tendency, but once it’s slipped into the group consciousness, it’s pursued rather tenaciously. If you need evidence of this (which you probably don’t since it’s fairly well-known, but for argument’s sake we’ll say you do) you really don’t need to go any further than a dating app like Tinder.
If you’ve never used Tinder, it’s one of the most proliferate trend-producers I’ve ever before witnessed. A couple years ago, I noticed a profile that cited each state the girl had lived in prior to the one she currently resided in. It looked a bit like this:
OH => PA => TX => CA => NY
A couple months later I began noticing these breadcrumb trails in more and more profiles until eventually it was a trend so prevailing it seemingly populated thirty-percent of profiles. Every other profile I visited had this large chain of states the person had lived in prior to ending up in New York. What was the reasoning behind this?
Those people had simply come across other people employing the same social-schematic.
If anybody actually sat down and thought about it, does a string of states you’ve resided in really make you more compatible with someone? Is a girl going to visit some guy’s profile and go ‘omg this guy has lived in texas. Where’s my phone. I need to call my mom.’ Of course not.
This being said, simply because one person has a type of headshot for real estate does absolutely not reflect whether or not it’s good/effective/well-done. Give the matter some critical thought if you’re shopping around for examples and styles you’d like to emulate, but simply because something exists does not mean it’s any good.
Headshots can be stressful, time-consuming, and confusing. Hopefully, however, this article rid some of the mystery surrounding the topic and let you go into your next session with a clearer head and a calmer demeanor. When done properly, though, they can be a fantastic investment with an incalculable level of ROI.