In this interview, we are joined by Lee Murray – Real Estate Photographer at LJM Photography. With 20 years of experience flying for a major low-cost carrier as a captain, Lee knows how to overcome obstacles even at the trickiest property shoots.
LJM Photography is based in Stockton Heath, Cheshire and does thousands of miles a month, helping their clients to outperform the competition.
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Who are LJM Photography and Lee Murray?
LJM Photography is a photography company predominantly specialising in real estate
photography and corporate photography. I work alone and I am based in Stockton Heath,
Cheshire. I have been in business for just over one year as a real estate photographer.
How did I decide to become a full time real estate photographer?
For me, the pandemic put quite a lot of things into perspective. I have been an airline Pilot for well over 20 years flying for a major low-cost carrier as a Captain. The airline profession was hit very hard with covid restrictions, and I felt I needed to branch out into other pursuits.
I’ve always been a very competent photographer, and I was confident my skills could be put to good use. I have always had a passion for photography, and I’ve had a camera in my hand for as long as I can remember, much to the annoyance of my Wife and children 🙂
I am a very technical person coming from an aviation background, and I feel there are many similarities between operating a camera and flying a plane. I find the many aspects of photography, such as composition and lighting, very satisfying; I guess this is what steered me down the path of real estate photography.
While creativity does play a large role in real estate photography, there is an even bigger technical aspect to it, such as mastering the light while pushing the camera to produce the best images possible also post-production plays a large role in making my images stand out.
There is nothing more satisfying than blending multiple flash and ambient exposures in Photoshop to produce stunning images.
I know, I’m such a geek;)
What are the primary responsibilities of a real estate photographer in 2022-23?
For me, the primary responsibilities are to remain professional and courteous at all times. Always show up on time and keep the client informed at every step of the shoot. I think the pandemic has put a lot of people on edge, so whenever I am in someone’s home, I’m always sure to put on my mask and social distance to put the client at ease; however, most of my work is through Estate Agents so many of the homes I photograph are vacant.
If this is the case, I’m always mindful about respecting the client’s property and valuables, making sure to leave items in the property the way I found them, for example, turning off all the lights and securing the property when I have finished a shoot.
What obstacles at work do you encounter?
In the beginning, the biggest obstacles I have faced as a Photographer is miscommunication and misunderstandings. If I am photographing a very expensive house, for example, it’s very important to communicate with the Estate Agent so I can hone in on the most important features of the property that makes it more attractive to buyers.
It’s not as easy as wandering into someone’s home and randomly taking 30 pictures, you really have to think like a photographer and a salesperson, to do this you must establish a very clear framework between yourself and the Agent.
This also extends to video work. If I’m producing a video for a company, it’s very important I know what that company is about, what are the key selling points that can put that business in the best possible light. For this communication is of paramount importance.
What milestones have you set for the studio in the next 12 months?
I seem to be doing more and more video work, not just real estate, but promotional videos for businesses. Also, I am receiving lots of enquiries for corporate portraiture work. This is definitely one aspect of the business I will be growing over the next 12 months. I also have to turn work down because I’m so busy at the moment, so employing a second photographer is something I will be looking at.
What is your photography style?
As I said previously I love the technical side of photography, so working with the correct lighting is so important for me, and it definitely shows in my images.
Many Photographers just turn up at a property and take HDR images, this is where you combine 3 images to balance the exposure, without using flash. This allows for quick editing, and for me is a big shortcut.
The technique I employ is flambient photography where you combine flash images with bracketed ambient images and merge them together in Photoshop.
This method gives you a perfect colour rendition and gives you very sharp, crisp and bright images.
What is the LJMPhotography signature?
I would say my signature is that of simple but effective compositions that produce bright and pleasing images.
This is achieved mainly through having good technique and a thorough understanding of lighting.
How many miles per month you do?
Thankfully my clients are quite local; however, I do rack up the miles. I can easily reach 1000 miles per month, much less than the miles I accumulated in my previous job as an Airline Pilot.
How did you get your first photography client?
It was through dogged determination and knocking on doors. My first client was an estate agent in Warrington. I still do lots of work for them now. I will be forever grateful that they gave me a chance, as real estate photography is not an easy business to break into.
What is the most expensive property you have worked on?
From memory, I think it was in the region of £850,000. To me, property value doesn’t mean much. I approach every property with the same work ethic and mindset, whether working on a £2 million property or a £50,000 property.
I strive to achieve the best results I can, no matter the value.
How do you organise time around photoshoots?
This is one of the most challenging aspects of photography, the work, life balance and
working unusual hours. Having a very understanding Wife that works from home really helps, especially having two children.
If it was not for my wonderful Wife I must admit, it would be a struggle. I’m somewhat of a workaholic, and turning work down does not come easy to me, that’s why I think it’s very important to set boundaries to leave time for family life.
What are LJMPhotography top three photography tips?
My number one tip would be to use a tripod.
There is nothing worse than a lopsided image. Also using a tripod allows you to slow down the shutter speed, this gives you an image that
is crisp and free from camera shake, as the tripod gives you a steady platform to shoot from.
My other tip would be to avoid using your smartphone.
While modern phones have come a long way with respect to image quality, they just don’t cut it in the world of real estate photography. You are really limited to a very tiny sensor that does not produce the best images in low lighting conditions. Also, the wide-angle lenses on smartphones give you a very unnatural distorted look. I am amazed at the number of estate agents that still shoot properties on their phones, it looks very amateurish.
This is also backed up by the video reviews I produce for estate agents. When I ask the clients what stood out the most about the sale of their property, the vast majority always make a comment on how amazing the photography was and how they believed that it was one of the biggest factors to a speedy sale.
I have included a section about this topic on my website and you can clearly see a difference between taking a picture on a phone against a professionally taken photo using good composition and lighting, there really is no comparison.
My third tip would be to study lighting and composition.
You can have the most expensive camera in the world, but if you don’t have a basic grasp of lighting and composition you will not produce good images. There are lots of resources online to learn these techniques, and they’re not that difficult to learn with lots of practice.
If you were to advise your younger self, what would it be?
Never be afraid to fail. The best lessons, and opportunities, in my life, have presented
themselves as a direct result of failure. The best advice I could give my younger self would be not to take it personally and look at failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. The other lesson would not be to skimp on advertising.
I really am passionate about photography; I feel it gives you the opportunity to slow down and be present while taking in things around you.
Modern-day technology has taken away our ability to stop and look at things; having a camera in hand forces you to be more mindful about your surroundings. I love every aspect of photography, and I think this shows in my work. I also enjoy meeting the many different characters in our industry.