The Agent Podcast - EP80 - Tim Ray - The Art Of Photography
[00:00:00] Tim Ray: I think the stat is 97% of buyers are using the internet. And that might seem like a no-brainer, but let's translate what that means. If they're using the internet, they're looking at what pictures. Right. And so, you know, personal experience. I bought homes, right? We just moved back here to Colorado about four years ago, and the sheer amount of properties on the market is stunning.
[00:00:26] Tim Ray: And so when I open. Fill in the blank. realtor.com, Zillow, whatever it may be, where we're just doing our own research prior to talking to an agent or in between working with an agent. If there was a listing that had no photos or bad photos, I skipped it. Right? There's thousands more to to choose from, and if it's not presented well or doesn't even have a picture, I'm just moving on to the next one.
[00:00:48] Tim Ray: So, I know that's kind of anecdotal, but it is, you know, my personal experience supports the data that 97% of people are looking online for Sure. And so if they're looking online, you wanna present it Well
[00:01:09] Ray Sjolseth: Hello and welcome back to another episode of The Agent Podcast Today I'm here with my friend, Tim. Tim, welcome to the show.
[00:01:16] Tim Ray: Hey, thanks for having me, Ray.
[00:01:17] Ray Sjolseth: Appreciate it. Yeah, glad you're here, man. So, Tim, why real estate?
[00:01:21] Tim Ray: I had a feeling that question was coming. . Why Real estate? Boy, I tell you this was about, we've been in business 16 years now and. Where it all started was me and a love for aviation and my wife, and kind of a, a passion, a hobby for photography.
[00:01:37] Tim Ray: She was working at Kodak which I know is kind of gone by the wayside now, but that was her full-time job. And I was flying for the military flying C one 30 s and I had just gotten a radio-controlled helicopter as part of my aviation passion. I'd never flown one of these. I'd heard they were very challenging, so I bought one.
[00:01:55] Tim Ray: It was gas power. And I was trying to learn how to fly this crazy thing. I hadn't fully mastered it when I got deployed over to Afghanistan. And in Afghanistan they had a plywood hut with lots of computers and you could go on there and email home, surf the internet in your downtime. And so I was on this, this forum dealing with radio controlled helicopters and how they work and how they fly.
[00:02:19] Tim Ray: Totally geeking out on this stuff and. Came across one of the forums, I think it was titled aerial Photography or something like that. So I clicked on it and I started looking through there, and there was the, the whole gamut, right? You had some people who were essentially duct taping a a camera to their radio controlled airplane and seeing what it looked like from up there.
[00:02:39] Tim Ray: But there were two or three people who were doing this as a, as a real gig, as a full-time job. And some of their work was just, They were putting a DSLR camera on a special fixture underneath a radio-controlled helicopter. They would take this thing up in the air and get cover photos for magazines.
[00:02:57] Tim Ray: One guy was in North Carolina and one [00:03:00] guy was in San Diego, and I saw this work. I thought nobody would ever know or believe this was this janky , you know, thing from a model helicopter spewing smoke and fuel everywhere. It just looked great. I sketched out kind of a business plan, if you will, on a, on a yellow pad of paper.
[00:03:17] Tim Ray: In my hut over there in Afghanistan. And I'm thinking this whole time, like this would be a lot of fun. But my wife's gonna think I'm crazy. Long story short, I came back home from deployment told her about what I was thinking and I couldn't believe it. She, she thought it sounded like a good.
[00:03:30] Tim Ray: So we were super nervous about even investing the couple thousand bucks. We weren't very well to do at the time. And you know, we, that was a big, a big ask to put that kind of money into it. So we took the risk, and I wanna say that first year we made about $10,000 back. And that was all shooting real estate primarily commercial developments or high end, you know, multimillion dollar residential properties.
[00:03:53] Tim Ray: But, It caught on like wildfire. This is before drones existed. So that perspective now that everybody's familiar with was completely new in, in our neck of the woods. So that led one thing led to another. People started to ask us to shoot the interiors of their homes and yeah, the real estate business was launched.
[00:04:10] Ray Sjolseth: So fast forward to today. First question, do you still have that remote control helicopter?
[00:04:16] Tim Ray: No. I've sold that one long ago.
[00:04:20] Ray Sjolseth: Do you guys do advanced drone photography now?
[00:04:24] Tim Ray: We do now. It's a whole lot easier. We have several employees. We've got about 10, actually 11 employees now. We serve Colorado, Florida, and Alabama with professional photographers.
[00:04:34] Tim Ray: And in each one of those locations we have a drone operator or, or, We're using the d i products now that basically fly themselves, so it makes it a whole lot easier.
[00:04:43] Ray Sjolseth: Do you have to have a FAA license for those to operate that as a commercial photographer
[00:04:47] Tim Ray: I'll say right off the bat, not everybody does, but we do.
[00:04:50] Tim Ray: It's called a part 1 0 3 or Part 1 0 7 license. Requires a little bit of testing. You can take a $200 course. It's, it's actually relatively involved as a, as a [00:05:00] commercial and military pilot, myself. I've had to go in and actually study the stuff. It, it does take some time. But once you get that license, then yes, you can do it for commercial purposes.
[00:05:09] Ray Sjolseth: So everybody and their mom has a cell phone and tries to use that to take pictures today. How has that affected your business over the last, I don't know, five years, let's say?
[00:05:19] Tim Ray: Yeah, great question. So honestly, for a short time, I was doing a little blog. Called bad real estate photo of the day. That's kind of our way to, to promo that.
[00:05:31] Tim Ray: You need professional real estate photography. Right? And, and that was our favorite thing to pick on was, was the real estate agent that went in and would take a picture with their cell phone. It just oftentimes was not good. And it's a combination between not being professionally trained and just poor equipment.
[00:05:47] Tim Ray: But advance to today and things have changed quite a. I don't know if this is a great time to segue into it, but I'll go ahead and do that unless you stop me. We, we started noticing computational photography became the thing. Google came out with it in their pixel phones. Apple shortly followed suit.
[00:06:04] Tim Ray: They kept a leapfrogging each other with their camera technology. Samsung jumped in and it was pretty impressive to see what you could do. In a nutshell, it's a computer more than it's a camera, right? And so you would have a, a DSLR camera that, that a pro would use to go in and shoot real estate. But in some cases, we were seeing cell phone shots that looked pretty good.
[00:06:25] Tim Ray: The, the layman version of why that's happening is, is the phone is taking multiple exposures in fractions of a second and using its computer processors to merge those all into a single.
[00:06:37] Ray Sjolseth: Tim to ask you a question too. Part of that is the whole revolution of why there's multiple lenses in cameras now, right? Because it's taking it from multiple perspectives and everything's being overlaid.
[00:06:47] Tim Ray: That that's partially true though. We'll use sometimes the zoom lens and the wide angle lens to merge an image together. I know like the pixel seven is doing that. I think the iPhone 14 is doing some of that stuff.
[00:06:57] Tim Ray: But but for sure what it's doing is using the main [00:07:00] lens and just taking. Dozens or hundreds of exposures and merging 'em all together from a single lens. So it's able to capture the bright exposure areas and the dark exposure areas and balance them all out much more effectively than just with a single shot in, in reality, that's what we're doing most of the time with real estate photography.
[00:07:17] Tim Ray: There's different techniques out there, but one of them is to take three to five exposures, and some of them you'll see through the window perfectly, but the whole room will be really dark, and then others, you'll, the window will just be blown. The whole room will be bright. And what we're doing is taking those on the back end into computer software, merging 'em all together, and it's just a lot more time to do the same thing.
[00:07:38] Tim Ray: Now you gain some advantages in, in, with a pro camera, a bigger sensor, better lenses, you know, overall the picture's gonna turn out better but cell phones are
[00:07:47] Tim Ray: catching up pretty quick. So let's talk about what came next. You're seeing this transition happening in the market. You're constantly fighting for client acquisition, for your photography business.
[00:08:02] Ray Sjolseth: What did you decide to do?
[00:08:04] Tim Ray: Well, seeing as good as the cell phone, camera market had gotten, I decided to run a crazy experiment. We, we took a cell phone camera. I went with my best photographer, our co-owner, Mike, and we used a model home from a client that that uses us for our photography services.
[00:08:26] Tim Ray: And we took identical shots from identical perspectives. So he set up the DSLR camera. I was standing behind him with the cell phone taking a picture, and we then processed them all like we would normally do for a client and stripped all the data off of 'em. So you couldn't tell where the shot came from.
[00:08:43] Tim Ray: And we kind of had an AB test. And we sent these ab photos to several different clients. So one was this model home and then three or four other clients we did this with. And we said, Hey, just, just pick your favorite photos, A or B, and to our dismay. And a little bit of just [00:09:00] embarrassment I guess.
[00:09:00] Tim Ray: We were running about an 80% rate of people picking the cell phone shot. Now remember, more goes into that than just walking in and taking a picture with the cell phone. There's the lighting conditions, there's knowing how to shoot, you know, angles, composition, that kind of stuff. But nevertheless, that said quite a bit for the cell phone technology.
[00:09:17] Tim Ray: And we started exploring whether it would make sense for us to start shooting with a cell phone. That, that sounds silly at first, but think about the time savings as a business on training photographers on the backend workflow in the office where we could save a bunch of time. However, we couldn't really overcome the idea that you're paying for a professional.
[00:09:35] Tim Ray: And it's gonna look really funny when we just walk in with an iPhone, you know, and start snapping photos. So I don't know if that's a good look and, and really when you enlarge the picture, you start getting into some of the details. The DSLR pictures would excel. But we're just aware of our market that most of the time it's a small computer screen or phone screen online and, and often in real estate, you just don't need that.
[00:09:56] Tim Ray: Long story short, we decided. We changed some editing techniques on [00:10:00] the DSLR side and, and realized that we can still do better with the pro, with the pro cameras as professional photographers. But that's what opened my eyes up to, Hey, you know, all the real estate conventions we go to, we get a wide range of responses, right?
[00:10:14] Tim Ray: Oh, I can't believe how affordable your professional photography is. And oh my gosh, you guys are so expensive, I'd never pay that much. So it just, and, and to me that's, that's perfect. That's exactly the response we should be. But what it indicated to me is there's a market out there for DIYers, and so if the cell phones can be almost as good as pro, then if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
[00:10:36] Tim Ray: Like Right, let's give, let's give our customers the opportunity to go into a property and take pictures with their cell phone. If they have a, a cell phone, then I'm gonna call, you know, iPhone 12 or later kind of generation. Then in most cases, you can, you can pull this off, you can get near pro results.
[00:10:54] Tim Ray: That's what stimulated us to, to build the app.
[00:10:56] Ray Sjolseth: So let's talk about the app. There are a ton of apps out there, right? Film camera, pro camera, raw, a bunch of different things out there. What is different about your app specifically for real estate agents?
[00:11:10] Tim Ray: Yeah, you bet. Thanks for the question. You know, the, the big thing is it's specifically designed, it's specifically designed for real estate agents and short term rental owners.
[00:11:18] Tim Ray: The app itself is free. You can download it and watch eight video tutorials on how to take better real estate. So it'll teach you, Hey, think about the lighting, the time of day. Think about the height you're holding the camera at. Think about keeping your vertical lines vertical decluttering. We've got about five minute, you know, eight, eight different five minute videos on how to set up your home and get the best possible.
[00:11:40] Tim Ray: Results. So that's all free. You're welcome to download the app, check that out, and then, you know, shoot your own shots if you like
[00:11:47] Ray Sjolseth: the pausing right there real quick, Tim.
[00:11:49] Ray Sjolseth: Yeah. So guys, for everybody listening, like I've done this and I went through the tutorials, honestly, and under an hour, you're getting a free photography course that applies to your life.
[00:12:00] Ray Sjolseth: Like literally household shots with your kids, any properties that you're going to list, all of that stuff. So at least check out the. I'll drop a link here in the show notes so you guys can grab it, but it's worth it for literally under an hour you get an unbelievable photography, photography course from Tim.
[00:12:19] Ray Sjolseth: Sorry, keep going. I just had to say that cuz it's so true. Like there's so much value just in the tutorials.
[00:12:25] Tim Ray: Yeah, no thanks Ray. We put a lot of time into making those and the downside is you'll have to look at my ugly mug for part of 'em, but hopefully you'll find some value there. The paid portion of the.
[00:12:34] Tim Ray: That's where essentially you'll say, Hey, start new project. You type in the property address and then our camera app will open up. There's a few things about that, that camera app that will help you with real estate photos. A a big deal in real estate photography is getting all your vertical lines straight.
[00:12:48] Tim Ray: So we've got some guidelines built into the camera app that will help you do that. You pick either 20 photos for 40 bucks, or 40 photos for $74, and as you. It will give you a count. So you keep track of all those and when you hit your 20 or 40 shots, you just hit complete project and they all get uploaded to our servers.
[00:13:07] Tim Ray: From that point, we have actual human beings that take those images and edit them. These are professional photo editors. It will go in and do a variety of things that, the basic stuff like fixing the lighting conditions, brightening the room, straightening the lines that weren't quite perfect perspective, correct.
[00:13:25] Tim Ray: Some of the more fun stuff. If it's a cloudy day outside, you're gonna have a blue sky. They replace the sky for you. Fires in the fireplace, they'll put a virtual fire in there, looks real looks inviting. TV screens, instead of being black and reflective, they put a TV image on there. So a lot of the work that would take a real estate agent or short term rental owner, honestly, a couple hours probably of photo editing, offload 'em off your phone, bring 'em into your photo editing software and do all this work and you wouldn't get results as good.
[00:13:51] Tim Ray: Our people are pros. It's what they do all day. I like to not oversell it. Okay? This is a shot taken with a cell phone, right? It's not a pro [00:14:00] coming in, but in some cases, depending on the house, you can't tell the difference. And in other cases, you know, in every case, I'll guarantee it'll be better than the shot that comes out of the cell phone as it was.
[00:14:10] Tim Ray: Those get delivered to you the next. We've got a 24 hour turnaround, so the next day you'll have an email with a nice gallery with all your shots available to download and use them for marketing.
[00:14:19] Ray Sjolseth: So for anybody that's doing short-term rentals, Airbnb owners leases, apartment leases, guys, this is a no-brainer, right? For 40 bucks, 20 images edited, turned around in 24 hours to improve your listing. That's.
[00:14:36] Tim Ray: Great for startup agents too, right?
[00:14:38] Ray Sjolseth: Yeah, a hundred percent. Yeah. How did you guys decide on the 24 hour turnaround time? Like what prompted that? Like where does the sense of urgency come from on your end?
[00:14:47] Ray Sjolseth: Honestly, it's what we're, it's, it came from our photography background.
[00:14:50] Ray Sjolseth: It's what we're already doing for our professional customers. So they hire one of our photographers to go out and, and shoot a property. We do the same thing. The advantage we gained is we already had [00:15:00] the workflows, the system, the office manager, all that kind of stuff. So we were able to take that experience and, and use it for app development.
[00:15:07] Ray Sjolseth: I love it. That's awesome. What is the, what's the future of the app? Is there gonna be a video component of it at some point?
[00:15:15] Tim Ray: You know, there's several different, wow, man. I've never developed an app. Okay. And I, I could talk for a while about lessons learned about things that didn't go well. Funny one, what's next for the app?
[00:15:27] Tim Ray: Honestly, some of the basics are next for the app. One of the things that, despite all the beta testing I had done and some of my friends had done, and coworkers had done, we had a, actually it was our first paying customer a few weeks ago. Cause we just launched this thing about three weeks ago and.
[00:15:42] Tim Ray: I reached out to her and like, Hey, gimme feedback. I'm, I'm dying to improve this thing and know how your experience was. And she fortunately had glowing remarks, but she did have one criticism, and that was that she had selected the 20 photo pack and realized at the end of 20 shots she wanted more. And unfortunately, the way our app was designed is, you, you can't change.
[00:16:04] Tim Ray: So she had to delete everything she'd done, start. Which is of course a bad customer experience. Right. And then do the 40 photo pack. So we've already got, hopefully it'll roll out here in the next couple of days. We got with the developers and now you can change midstream. So I'm expecting a few more of those little things that aren't big.
[00:16:23] Tim Ray: Wow. App improvement actions, but it's something that, that will improve the user experience, you know, incrementally. So we're knocking out some of those things first. I think the next big thing that's going to come. Is the ability for a online interface to where you can do the same thing. So right now it's all about, it's self-contained in your cell phone.
[00:16:42] Tim Ray: You use our camera app to get all the pictures, but we're aware that some people may have photos already on their computer. They may take 'em with a different camera. We want the ability to drag and drop those shots into our server, and we can do the same, you know, processing service from the from the web. I.
[00:16:57] Ray Sjolseth: Let's go into the value of photography and what that actually means for a property. I think a lot of people, agents, real estate professionals for sale by owners, landlords don't understand the perception and like the human psychology of what a beautiful image can do. Can we talk about that a little bit?
[00:17:19] Tim Ray: Love to I think, I think the stat is 97% of buyers are using the internet. And that might seem like a no-brainer, but let's translate what that means. If they're using the internet, they're looking at what pictures. Right. And so, you know, personal experience. I bought homes, right? We just moved back here to Colorado about four years ago, and the sheer amount of properties on the market is stunning.
[00:17:47] Tim Ray: And so when I open. Fill in the blank. realtor.com, Zillow, whatever it may be, where we're just doing our own research prior to talking to an agent or in between working with an agent. If there was a listing that had no photos or bad photos, I skipped it. Right? There's thousands more to to choose from, and if it's not presented well or doesn't even have a picture, I'm just moving on to the next one.
[00:18:09] Tim Ray: So, I know that's kind of anecdotal, but it is, you know, my personal experience supports the data that 97% of people are looking online for Sure. And so if they're looking online, you wanna present it Well it's a little bit of a old statistic at this point. There's a 2010 Wall Street Journal article that most of us professional photographers love to cite.
[00:18:27] Tim Ray: Again, this is 2010, you know, 12 years ago. And it's. Realtors or, or properties that have professional photos will sell, I think it was between a thousand dollars and $117,000 more for, for that much more than a property without professional photography. That's the data that Wall Street Journal had compiled, you know, with, with prices going up.
[00:18:48] Tim Ray: Now I can imagine that number's probably changed, but listing prices increase. So that's another thing. And then the last little stat that's out. Kind of independent studies. So who knows, I don't really have the source, but 32 to 50% faster sales time when you've got pro photos versus, you know, some crooked dark shot taken with a cell phone or something without our app
[00:19:09] Tim Ray: So, and then the last piece that I really can Besides how much faster and how much more money you'll get for the listing and that kind of thing is, is this the image it presents for, for you as a short term rental owner or as a real estate agent? You're a professional, right? You're, you have a business and photos are the thing that give over and over and over again.
[00:19:28] Tim Ray: Once you've done it, you can use that photo in your online marketing and your print marketing. That's gonna show who you are and how you care about presenting yourself and the images of your. And so the better that photo can be, the better you're gonna look. I have a few of our longtime professional customers who even if the property that they've listed has already sold, they listed it goes, you know, sold the same day, they'll still pay us to come in cuz they want to add that to their portfolio of, Hey, here's how we market properties. It's marketing themselves.
[00:20:00] Ray Sjolseth: Yeah, I think there's you know, a branding part of this that's I. Who you are as an agent or a landlord or an Airbnb host, where if you make that small investment, whether it's pro or from your cell phone with you know, your, your super editing behind the scenes, that people will remember that and they're gonna make decisions based upon what they see.
[00:20:26] Ray Sjolseth: Like we don't read, we are visual creatures, right? Oh, cool. This place has three bedrooms. Great. Let me look at the. And that's it. That's the deciding factor
[00:20:35] Tim Ray: That's true. I mean, , the whole, going through this exercise of marketing this app again, is trying to get words as concise as possible. I wanna, you know, fortunately I've got this 30, 45 minute podcast episode to just go on and on about it.
[00:20:50] Tim Ray: But when you're trying to present this new idea to somebody, how do I say it in five words? Cuz they lose attention after that. I lose attention after that when an ad's, you know, shown to. But what speaks volumes are before, after shots. So we've really been plugging those in our marketing of, Hey, here's what it looked like when it came right out of the cell phone, and then here's what happened after our editors put their editing magic on it.
[00:21:12] Tim Ray: And it's a night and day difference. In fact to the point where one particular shot, actually the same lady that I was referring to our first customer in, in New Mexico, she took the shot of the outside on a cloudy. We replace the sky and everything. And I'm getting a lot of feedback where there's skeptics going. That was taken on a different day. Oh, that's not real. So but the photos work. The photos were a thousand words. Right?
[00:21:34] Ray Sjolseth: Yeah. It's a huge difference. Dark and stormy to bright and cheery, right? Like literally. Oh, exactly. I love. Tim, what would be a couple points that you would give real estate agents when it comes to branding their listings or you know, marketing their properties as a professional photographer in and out of thousands of properties in multiple states at this point, what are some things that you would tell agents they could help either level up or improve their.
[00:22:05] Tim Ray: I'll talk not the photography side real quick, just because we've had 16 years of working with hundreds of agents, thousands of agents probably. Right. And, and we can see a difference. You know, I've heard a couple of your previous guests, I think maybe I might be getting my episodes mixed up, but John Shipman, I think was one of talking about, Hey, you can get into this and dip your toe in the water, and that's about the extent of the success you'll.
[00:22:28] Tim Ray: Or you can pour everything you've got into it. Right? And we see that difference regularly. We see the difference of people who are fully invested, fully committed to real estate. That's what they do. They're out there helping people constantly. Their presence is known, they're marketing themselves. And they're just cranking out business.
[00:22:46] Tim Ray: And you can just tell it's, it's not a get rich quick scheme. It's just, I've decided to put my efforts into this. And they are the ones that rise to. Then we see the other end of agents who only really intend to take a listing here and there. It's, it's kind of that whole takes money to make money.
[00:23:03] Tim Ray: It's true. Like it takes time too. It takes just that time investment to, to sell who you are and make people realize that you are an expert in your market. You're out there helping and, and, and being a powerful presence. So of course the photography component is, is a piece of. Granted, you know, I'm sitting here as a professional photographer, so I'm, I'm biased.
[00:23:22] Tim Ray: But I do think the, the data supports that the, the people, the real estate agents in all three states that we work in, that we see that are top notch, are using pro photography. It, it's like anything, I am not an expert at investing. I'm just not, and. I pay somebody who is an expert to help me with investing, right?
[00:23:42] Tim Ray: I am an expert at photography, so that's what I do. And in the same way, these real estate agents that, that are succeeding they're not experts at photography. They don't have time for that. In fact, it's not even worth their time to go in and and take these pictures when they can be interfacing with their clients.
[00:23:58] Tim Ray: So I'm not saying. In order to be that if you do pro photos you're gonna suddenly become the top agent. But I will say that one thing the top agents have in common is all doing pro photos.
[00:24:09] Ray Sjolseth: I love it. Tim, where can people find you?
[00:24:13] Tim Ray: A couple of places. We're on the apple App Store. We're on Google Play.
[00:24:16] Tim Ray: And then you can get to both of those links directly through our website, which is use sell it.com. Not sell as in sell, s e l l, but sell as in cell phone. Little play on words. So that's yousellit.com.
[00:24:32] Ray Sjolseth: Tim, this has been great, man. Thanks for joining me today.
[00:24:36] Tim Ray: Hey, thanks Ray. I appreciate you having me on.