In this interview, we are joined by Darren Rawson, a Specialist Interior and Drone photographer based in Yorkshire and founder of DPR Interior Photography. Having spent 23 years in Police, Darren is meticulous and produces captivating images and videos highlighting the best of each project he shoots.
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Who are DPR Images and Darren Rawson?
DPR images is my photography and videography business. I specialize in a certain type of photography, that being architectural and interiors. Any residential or commercial property, interior or exterior, that’s my expertise. That’s what I’m doing. That’s what I love photographing and videoing.
I’m a retired policeman. I did 23 years in West Yorkshire Police in various roles from traffic, road crime team, motorcycle unit, surveillance, undercover unit and intelligence. I’m a happily married man with two young kids who are still at school.
The main hobbies I’ve got are my kids’ hobbies. In particular, my 6-year-old, who I taxi here, there and everywhere. When I get the chance, my other hobby is trying to capture some interesting photos or videos for my enjoyment.
So it’s safe to say that my full-time job other than photography is definitely my kids.
How did you decide to become a full-time real estate photographer?
Well, I’m not actually full time. I’m part-time and the reason for that is I was retired back in 2015, due to being diagnosed with a heart condition.
So that changed everything for me. I’d gone from being in high adrenaline, exciting, dangerous police roles and very physically fit all of a sudden having all these restrictions.
I couldn’t go to the gym anymore, which I used to spend my life doing. I became very inactive, because of the condition I had. The restrictions had a profound effect on me and it took some time to adapt.
I’d always been interested in photography, but this was nothing more than a very occasional hobby. Up until that point, I didn’t have the time to spare, but being retired changed that.
I’d experienced some photography and videography in the police, but only from a technical point, definitely not a creative one. After I’ retired my wife who worked at a local estate agents decided to start her own estate agency business with a friend of hers.
As they were only just starting out I volunteered to try and do some of the property photographs for them.
That’s really where it started. I had to start learning more about photography, more of the technical side, I had to learn about how you take property photography with some basic do’s and dont’s. I had to learn a lot about post-editing and it was all a really steep learning curve.
I didn’t know anyone that did that style of photography. So it was all self-learning through various free and paid tutorials online, through to books. Basically, trial and error, doing things and something would go wrong or not turn out how I wanted it to, then had to figure out how to put it right.
I’m a really focused individual and when I was doing the photography for my wife and a business partner, I wanted it to be the best that it could be. If you put my photography skills on levels, 1 to 10, ten being the best, they probably needed something around three. That was good enough for them to put photos on the property portals and how they marketed their various properties.
So once I got to that level, they were content.
I got to that level very soon, within a matter of months, but because I’m a focused individual, it wasn’t enough. I had to keep going and improving.
So I’d be doing photographs for them for average houses that were going up for sale. But I would go to the extremes in how I would photograph that property.
What would be moved, how I would stage it to the post-editing and I would really go beyond what they needed with removing things in a post such as colour casts, wires showing from underneath a TV for example.
Obviously nothing that was a permanent fixture, but I’d be doing anything else I could to make the pictures look the best they could. I would spend far too much time doing that, but that’s my personality.
Before my heart issue, I used to do a form of bodybuilding to the extreme. Now I couldn’t do that anymore. I turned my focus to photography, which meant that I go to the far ends to do the best I possibly can because of my personality. That’s still the philosophy I have now, trying to produce the best I possibly can.
Doing the photography for my Wife’s business started as a hobby. Due to my condition, it took me longer to photograph a property than some other property photographers. So because I started from scratch and how long it took I didn’t charge them for anything for the work I did. So I made no money, but from a mental perspective, it gave me something to focus on other than my health.
So it wasn’t until about four years later that I actually decided it was time to start asking for payment.
That’s where I decided to open up and start working for other people and not just exclusively for my Wife and her business partner. Because of the work I’d done for them and the philosophy I have, I gained a lot of experience. The type of photography I could produce at that point was good enough for me to approach different types of businesses, such as holiday homes, interior designers, and architects and seek work from them.
So at this point I began to branch out and approach other businesses who needed architectural/interior photography.
Also at that point, it wasn’t long after the pandemic hit and there was then another need for my wife’s business, and that was videography.
The government had said that estate agents and the property market could continue while the other restrictions were on. They were clearly hoping that walkthrough videos would prevent physical property viewings, it didn’t actually stop physical viewings, but it did help me develop another set of other interesting skills.
So with very little experience, other than using my own phone for doing family videos, I wanted to make sure that that the videos I produced for them were the best possible.
So the cycle started again, me doing various tutorials for video, different techniques, the technical and practical side of it.
Paying for tutorials, doing free stuff online, books, learning about post-editing and so on. During the pandemic, the property market boomed, so I gained a huge amount of experience.
So now having all this experience in photography and videography I wanted to make sure that I could provide a more professional service. So I applied for a small government business loan followed by a grant. Invested in new cameras and video equipment like gimbals, remote triggers and drones.
That meant that I was in a position to offer a number of different products, all based around my specialism in property photography and videography.
Are you a fan of drone real estate photography?
I’m definitely a fan of drone photography and videography. The perspective you can get from up above is great. It adds to the dimension of ground photography. Combining ground and air-based photos and videos of a property can create some fascinating images and videos.
In fairness, though, I am only new to using drones, but because I’m an experienced photographer, the only thing that I’ve had to get my head around is being able to fly a drone.
I think when it comes to using drones I have an advantage. Some drone businesses startup with people obtaining their CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) permission to fly.
They’ll offer broad drone, photography, videography services, but it’s clear that they have little or no photography experience. So when it comes to using a drone, I can rely on all the photography and videography experience I have.
It’s not just a case of producing a photograph or a video from high up. It’s actually looking at a scene through the drone’s camera and working out the focal point, the horizon line, some leading lines, where do I want the viewers to look, etc. Photography and videography skills take time to learn, and it involves more than just having a drone.
You’ve got to be able to show the ability to be able to take photographs and videos. Although I don’t have many hours worth of flying experience, all the drone footage, photos that I’ve taken so far have been really well received by clients and that is down purely and simply because I am a photographer, videographer not just a drone pilot.
What are the primary responsibilities of a real estate photographer in 2021-2022?
Well, if you’re talking about an estate agent, my job is to produce photographs that are going to be captivating to buyers or people wanting to rent.
If a customer is looking at one of the property portals the first picture they come across is normally the exterior. I want them to be drawn into that picture so that they want to click in and have a look at more of the other photographs.
If I’m creating captivating images and videos I’m increasing the interest of a potential buyer. So from an estate agent’s point of view, my job is to help them get people to physically view the properties.
If the agents have done everything else right then hopefully this leads to a quicker sale, rental at a price they wanted to achieve.
All the clients that I deal with are all different, such as holiday homeowners. That’s another different perspective. They use different kinds of portals, where better quality photography/videography can stand out more.
The job there is to not just produce captivating photos, but add lifestyle photographs as well Ultimately what I want to try to do here is give the potential holiday makers, a little taste of what they may experience if they book that particular property.
It’s taking photographs with the best sunlight, the best light coming into the properties, making it as appealing as possible and that’s where the level of finish is more important in comparison to an estate agent.
That’s the same for owners and managers of serviced accommodation (Airbnb and others) as well, it’s similar to holiday home shoots.
Then you go up to the next level, which is interior designers. They may have created a space, which may involve physical building work as well as decorating, various physical structures, furniture and so on.
So it’s important for me to understand what they’re trying to achieve with their designs.
To make sure I highlight, showcase and capture, not only a look but also the atmosphere of that space. This is where collaboration becomes more important, so I like to get the designers input whilst I’m shooting.
I have two iPads set up, one that I use to control the camera remotely and the other one that I use as a remote display for the client. It shows exactly what I can see from behind the lens.
When it comes to the staging of a particular shot, it is something that can be physically arranged, viewed and agreed at the time.
So they can see all the elements within the picture from cushions, a picture, a lamp, a rug, a chair, all the different parts of their creation. It’s much easier for them to see what the end photograph is going to look like.
Obviously, post-editing does enhance the photograph, but ultimately they get more of an input of the photographs that are being created, which is really important because it’s the interior designer’s work.
Working with an architect means that you’re likely to be working with a few different kinds of businesses within that project. An architect may have designed home, but there could be an interior designer involved in finishing the interiors.
You may have landscape gardeners outside. You may have a specialist kitchen company, you may have bespoke furniture, staircase and so on. Working with an architect means that you could end up capturing every part of a building.
That’s when all of my skills and experience come into play. From trying to capture the external or internal architecture of a building, to how all the interior designs enhance that space. Considering all of the different elements that is my kind of heaven.
One important thing that I learned from following another photographer is when you finish everything, photos, videos, editing, leave them, go away. Do something else, have asleep.
Then go back, look at them again. Before you send them to your client, just to make sure, give yourself a fresh set of eyes.
One of the current obstacles that I’m coming across is taking drone footage. Being an old-style bobby I want to make sure that I do everything by the book. Making sure that I can legally take off from a certain location and all the other things that you have to consider.
There are occasions where you can’t use drones; I had one recently where it was in a flight restricted zone and the practicalities of finding somewhere to be able to take off, keeping the drone in visual line of sight etc, just wasn’t possible.
I just had to resort to different tactics by using a telescopic pole. It’s eight meters fully extended, so it gives me a decent height.
It’s not as good as being able to use a drone, but considering what I can legally do I’m not putting anyone at risk and I’m staying within the law.
What milestones have you set for the firm in the next 12 months?
I think what’s happened in the last 18 months, has impacted people in different ways. I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself, but ideally, I want to gain more architectural clients.
There’s more opportunities, I think, to work with all the different people I want to work with. Plus it’s being able to produce that higher level of photography/videography that I really enjoy.
Describe your photography style; What do you love doing and what not?
My photography style is to achieve a natural finish. If I’m looking at a room there’s different things you can use, you can bracket which is commonly known as HDR (high dynamic range).
You can use artificial lighting or another way is taking various different ambient shots, along with flash shots, which I then blend in post. I will start with a flash photo and put the ambient on top and then brush in the ambient light to bring back shadows & contrast.
So that the picture looks as natural as possible when it’s finished. In all honesty, I’d say that I love all the different techniques that I use and there’s genuinely nothing I dislike about what I do.
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I’ve got a lot of family that are in or have been in building trades, property trades. My wife was an estate agent, my Dad was a builder and some of my uncles were joiners. So I’ve got a lot of years of experience of different aspects of the property. I appreciate property as well, nicer properties.
Some of the things that I saw created, knowing how they’ve created them from scratch. I like to think that that gives me a little bit of an advantage. If I go into a certain property that’s been completely renovated and interior designers have been in, all these different tradespeople creating these bespoke wonders.
I always think that I’ve got a better understanding. I’m trying to highlight, those important things that, some photographers may not consider.
If it’s me, that’s left down to certain staging elements, which is quite often, I like the minimalistic look.
Things that are in the scene they’ve got to enhance the scene. If they obstruct the view, something that’s in the foreground, too tall and blocking it must be moved. If I’m working with somebody like an interior designer I try my best to understand what they’re trying to achieve.
And then when it comes to creating these photographs as a collaboration I think with my past and experiences I’ve had with properties and so on, I can give them suggestions, they may think one thing, but then I’m may suggest or give an alternative to improve the composition.
Ultimately a photograph when it’s finished is balanced, as well as captivating. The fact that I’m quite obsessive with what I do I’m my biggest critique. Because of that, I always go above and beyond, always spend more time than maybe I should.
Hopefully anyone that actually works with me will see that in the images or the videos that I produce.
How many miles do you do in a month?
A tough one to answer really. I do a lot of local stuff, but then there might be odd jobs where I may have a round trip of more than a hundred miles or more. It’s never consistent from one month to another.
On what projects do you work on at the moment? / Recent or upcoming projects?
I’ve spent a lot of time in the last few months, networking with different businesses, architects, interior designers. developers and some other trades, such as windows specialists.
So there’s a few things in the pipeline. Some in North Yorkshire, some in Derbyshire that I’m hoping will start fairly soon.
We see you offer virtual staging as an add-on to your services, how do you explain to your clients the importance of it?
I think it’s an important consideration, particularly to estate agents. Some of the properties that I photograph are fantastic, gorgeous properties, but they may be unoccupied and empty. I can only do so much as a photographer to captivate people for a certain room if it’s completely empty.
Some people struggle to visualize living there, for whatever reason. In offering virtual staging it’s a quick, simple and cost-effective way to create a space.
Such as adding furniture, pictures, lamps including lighting, which is far more appealing to potential buyers. When it comes to the point of buyers physically going to see a property, hopefully, this will help inspire their imagination so they can see if it works.
How did you found your first client?
My wife starting her business. She’s the one that gave me the opportunity, and that’s where everything started.
What was the most expensive property you worked on?
There’s one that springs to mind, but I couldn’t give you a value. It’s safe to say it’s way more than I could ever afford!
It’s more appealing to me when the properties are unique. This was one of the most interesting properties I’ve worked on so far. It’s a barn conversion that was turned into a holiday home.
Basically, a couple took an old run-down barn and completely renovated it. This building is so interesting, so much care and love were put into this renovation, it’s really gorgeous from the kitchen to the main dining hall and the gallery from the upper floor with all the exposed beams.
There’s just so many things about this building that were absolutely gorgeous. I spent full day there and I enjoyed every minute of it.
After I’d obtained my drone permissions I went back and took some more footage.
What a magnificent building and setting, definitely one of my favourites.
How do you organize your time around photoshoots and personal life? Any tips?
I do have restrictions with the heart condition that have.
I have a young family as well. If I’m going to do anything that’s to do with my business, it’s going to be first thing in the morning and I aim to finish work in time for school pick up. There are times when I may have to work beyond, but me and my wife are good team so it’s never a problem. I think I’ve achieved quite a good balance so far.
What are your top 3 real estate photography tips?
Probably the best tips I could give would be to estate agents dealing with their customers.
You cannot emphasise enough the fact that their property is the biggest asset that most people have, so when someone is selling a property, make sure the property is ready for photographs.
Tidy up, clean up.
Make it as minimalistic as you practically can; Make the property as neutral as you possibly can. Take down family photographs.
Tidy up outside.
And if there’s any little things that DIY things that need doing, do it, get them done before you get your photographs done.
I provide a consideration list of things to do. Go get the customers to go through it and understand that, this will be for one day. The property will then look its best.
This will help get people in the door and hopefully get you a quicker sale.
If you were to advise your younger self, what would be?
I think it would be take on photography sooner.
Find yourself a photographer that specializes in the things that I enjoy, and learn as much as you can. As soon as you get the opportunity, set up your own business.
I love everything about what I do now. To be able to make a living from doing something that you love when you love everything about it. I don’t think there’s a better job than that.
If you’re looking for a photographer, try and make sure that you get the right photographer.
There are lots of photographers out there, some with very broad skills in different specialisms, but my experience is – if you want an architectural photographer, you wouldn’t go to somebody that specializes in food photography, because it’s a completely different skillset.
If you want an architectural photographer, try and look for someone in that niche. Because you will find that their focus, their energy and their finished product is more likely to give you the type of finish you want.
Depending on the type of photography that you’re looking for, food photography, head shots, architectural etc pick a photographer that specializes in the kind you want.
Then when you find that photographer, look at their work. Is their finished work something that you want for yourself, for your business, for your brand. If it is great, if it isn’t keep looking at other specialists photographers, until you find somebody whose work has the finish that you want.