I’m often asked about the logistics of a farm and ranch shoot. How does it work? Do I need to be there? Does the seller need to be there? How long does it take? This post answers some of the most common questions in detail, and lays out the best practices that I’ve established over the past 10+ years of shooting ranches.

Ideal Shoot

An ideal photo/video shoot for a ranch property goes like this… I arrive at the property with my gear and meet the real estate agent who drives me to the headquarters and we briefly discuss some of the major selling points of the ranch. I already know a lot about the property because the agent sent me a MapRight link, a KML file, and a marketing writeup a week ago. We knew the weather would be good because we’d been watching the forecast for the past week. We’re off to a good start.

After discussing the major features of the ranch, the agent and I briefly tour through the HQ compound including the main house, outbuildings, barns, and other improvements at this site. The interiors of each building have been de-cluttered and cleaned prior to our arrival. Everything looks ready to shoot.

Then we get into the agent’s truck and she drives me around to some of the not-so-obvious spots that would make for good photos and videos. After about thirty minutes of touring, the agent drops me back at my truck and departs, leaving me to my work.

Shooting generally starts at the HQ with interior photos and videos of houses and other attractive improvements on the inside. Then I shoot exterior HQ photos. After that, I make my way to a spot or two to setup a timelapse camera, and get it started shooting. Then, using my own truck, I make my way around the rest of the property, shooting photos and videos as I go. I launch the drone a few times from strategic spots on the ranch.

At the end of the day, as the sun sets, I capture a nice sunset timelapse and still photos for cover shots. Lights off, gate locked, depart for home.

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Why is this the ideal shoot?

After years of trial and error on literally hundreds of ranches through the years, this is the major takeaway:

Best results are achieved when the photographer works solo.

Solo means what it sounds like… No agent, no seller, no assistant. This sounds counter-intuitive to most of my clients at first. “How will you know where to go? What if you need help? Don’t you need someone to drive you around?”

The answer is typically, “No.”

When a seller or agent accompanies me, my attention is divided. I have to keep up a conversation, answer questions about my work or my drone or my camera or my other recent projects. When someone is driving me around in a truck or a mule, we stop less frequently for potentially good photo opportunities. I change my workflow so that it doesn’t look like I’m crazy. When solo, I often double-back, repeat stops, move timelapse cameras, swap lenses, re-do drone flights with two different drones, come back to certain spots when the light is better, and so many other things that might seem strange to an onlooker, so they often don’t happen the same way.

A photo shoot with an onlooker is a great example of the “observer effect.” In science, the observer effect is the theory that the mere observation of a phenomenon inevitably changes that phenomenon. This is true in real estate photo and video. By observing the photographer, the photographer inevitably changes his workflow — even when he’s trying not to.

I realize it’s not always possible to work solo. If someone must be present at a shoot for security reasons, seller’s wishes, or any other reason, the agent is the best person to fill that role — at a distance.

It is almost never advisable for a seller to accompany the photographer.

Sellers are wonderful. They can be super nice, they can point out interesting spots, and they have the ability to fix things up for a shoot. But all of these things should be done before a photographer arrives. Sellers are not great partners for a photo shoot in most cases. Here’s a story that illustrates why.

The $600 Jeep ride. Sellers were present on a shoot in Edwards County one sunny day in the spring. We had just about wrapped up the shoot, and the agent and seller had both been present. The agent had to leave to go to another appointment, but the seller suddenly remembered a “cave” that we hadn’t seen. The agent asked the seller to take me to the cave, and he left. Five hours later, I returned to the HQ with the seller, but there was no cave to be found. The extra time riding around cost the agent an additional $600 with literally nothing to show for it.

Sellers tend to want to show their visitors everything. Every rock, every tree, every blade of grass, and every whitetail doe, because they’re super proud of their property — and they should be. But sellers don’t contribute to the efficiency of a shoot. We are there to photograph the highlights, and to complete the project in a reasonable amount of time. Sellers almost never contribute to that overall goal, partly because the seller is not responsible for the invoice at the terminus of the project, and partly because the seller believes that a photo shoot must include every single scene or subject that is available on the ranch.

Sellers should be put to work ahead of time to clean up and prepare the ranch for the shoot. This is the single biggest success factor that can be achieved ahead of time!

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1.) Photographers and videographers work best when they are left alone to concentrate on their work. This doesn’t mean that no one can be present at the ranch. It means that an agent or seller should briefly consult with the photographer, make sure things are in good shape, answer any questions that the photographer has, and then stay out of the way. Staying out of the way can mean departing the ranch, or just hanging out with the seller while the photographer works.

2.) Properties should be prepped BEFORE the photographer arrives. That means de-cluttering interiors, hiding trash, moving trucks and trailers, straightening up the barns, mowing the grass, etc. When cleanup happens during the shoot, you’re being billed for the time that we’re waiting, and you’re likely not going to be completely happy with the results of your fast-and-furious cleaning attempt.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do I (the agent) need to be present?

No. For most straightforward listings, I am given a map and a gate combo, and I never see another human.

Does the seller need to be present?

Please, no. If at all possible, shoots are most efficient when the seller is not present.

How will you get around the ranch?

My 4×4 Toyota Tundra and I have been through a lot together. We can usually get around a ranch just fine without any assistance. Today’s satellite maps are pretty great at helping us identify roads. And if the roads aren’t good, and we might need an ATV or UTV to traverse the property, please let us know in advance, and we can arrange to bring one or borrow one for the shoot.

How will you know the good spots for photos?

Again, the maps are pretty great at helping us identify roads and interesting spots. But if there are specific locations that you definitely need shot, and they aren’t obvious, drop some pins on your MapRight or show us those spots while we tour the property before we begin.

How long does it take to shoot a ranch?

It depends, of course. Various factors affect the duration including the acreage, the quality and quantity of roads, the topography, the uniformity of the land, the number and size of improvements, and whether or not we’re incorporating a sunrise or sunset. Most ranches typically take at least two hours, and we have done some ranches that take three days. Once I see a map, I can generally give a pretty fair estimate of duration.

What about sunrise or sunset?

Most high-end properties can benefit from a sunrise or sunset, but we almost never recommend sunrise shoots. The weather is just too hard to predict, and the costs are incurred regardless of whether the sunrise looks good or bad. With sunsets, the weather can be monitored throughout the day, and if it looks good for sunset, we can stick around, but if it looks bad (overcast, rain, or completely empty sky) we can cancel, saving you time and money.

Case in point… I once had to shoot a sunrise for a magazine article. They just wouldn’t settle for a sunset. On the eighth trip, there was finally a sunrise that wasn’t completely overcast or foggy. Client paid for eight trips to this property that was 45 minutes away from my home, eight hours of photography, for a single sunrise photo. Sunrises are beautiful, but impossible to guarantee.

What’s the best time to shoot?

Most exterior photos of farm and ranch properties look best in the 2-3 hours after sunrise or before sunset. Summer midday is the worst in terms of sunlight. In spring, fall, and winter, we can usually shoot any time of day for good results.

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